Book Review: First Floor On Fire by Michael Russell

This is a gritty, angry story, brilliantly told. 

I’ve given it five glowing stars. 

Michael Russell First Floor On Fire

This book is full of discord, anger and tension, experienced through immediate immersion in the life of the main character, Nevaya. The reader experiences her anger, her disadvantage, and the acid burn of prejudice and discrimination on her soul.

Russell’s portrayal of Nevaya is confronting, yet the reader cannot help but feel empathy with her, despite her cynicism and anger at the circumstances of her life. Her character is developed through her thoughts and responses far more than her words or behaviours, although those are as bold and defiant as her thoughts and attitudes. Her language is powerfully written in the gangland style of North Philadelphia – the writing is so sharp and cutting, one cannot avoid reading this book in Nevaya’s voice. The reader is strongly positioned to see her point of view and develop a strong sense of identification with her, despite her rough edges, and (in my own case) having no experience whatsoever of the kind of life she has lived.

The reader also gains insight into some of the reasons for the failure of schools and social authority structures to understand the motivations and actions of young African-American people, or to meet their needs in any real way: the cumulative effect of decades’ worth of disadvantage and segregation, even within their own communities, is too great to be overcome. Russell delivers this message powerfully through this fringe-of-gangland narrative.

The most uncomfortable part of this story for me, however, was not in the brutal violence or raw language. I found it incredibly difficult to stomach the actions and self-justification of those authority figures who should have been looking to protect and nurture the kids, but instead were only seeking to serve themselves. Had it not been for the perspectives of the two teachers who really did nurture their students and seek to improve their chances in life, the picture would be very bleak indeed.

This is a gritty, angry story, brilliantly told.

You can purchase this ebook at Amazon.

I’ve given it five glowing stars.

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Book Review: The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S Alderson

This book has all the ingredients needed for a great mystery/thriller … 5 stars for ‘The Lover’s Portrait’.
You’re sure to enjoy this fantastic book.

30000039This book has all the ingredients needed for a great mystery/thriller: history, intrigue, conspiracy, heartbreak, action and suspense. It may sound contrived or mundane to say that a book is a “page-turner” and that one “couldn’t put it down”, but it really is true of ‘The Lover’s Portait’. Set in Amsterdam, t’s a well-designed, fabulous historical puzzle, solved decades later by someone who has no intention of becoming a detective; rather, it is through her dogged commitment to the truth that she uncovers the answers. The author has woven together a number of compelling plot lines to construct her own work of art. It is free of gratuitous violence and sex, making it suitable for Young Adult audiences as well as older readers.
The story moves at a great pace, keeping the reader fully engaged in Zelda’s quest for the truth. The characters are well-developed and very believable. Zelda, as the main protagonist, is flawed and realistic, while the antagonist is both intelligent and cold-hearted, and is therefore very easy to dislike. This is paralleled in the ‘historical’ characters in the story: the protagonists are likeable and genuine, both oppressed for different reasons, while the author has very effectively characterised their NAZI antagonist as cruel and vindictive through his own motivations and actions without resorting to any typecasting or cliche.  Throughout the novel, the author succeeds in using the natural empathy of the reader to drive their interest and engagement in the characters and plot without the reader being aware of any such positioning.
As the novel draws to a close, Anderson pulls the various story lines together into a neat and satisfying conclusion, albeit tinged with sadness and regret.
5 stars for ‘The Lover’s Portrait’.
Read it. You’re sure to enjoy this fantastic book.
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