I was so pleased when HarperCollins reached out to ask if I’d be interested in reading Jessica Barry’s new novel, Don’t Turn Around. First, I’m thrilled that publishers are able to send books again- as a reviewer, quarantine has brought a whole new level of appreciation of publishing houses. Second, her debut novel, Freefall was a phenomenal read.
I could not put this book down. For those that read No Exit by Taylor Adams, remember that gripping edge-of-your-seat feeling you got when reading that book? Don’t Turn Around is right up there with it.
The style of Don’t Turn Around, while fast-paced and captivating, is a bit different than books out there. There’s no build up of backstory, the novel opens with Cait, a struggling writer and a driver with Sisters of Service, an organization that that helps when in sensitive situations while promising anonymity, picking up her client, a wife of a Texan politician who pales in the light of her husband’s stardom, Rebecca. These two strangers are destined to Albuquerque, but this journey is one that will face a myriad of challenges as they learn they have more than the will to survive in common.
The narrative switches their route to Albuquerque, flashing back to both Cait’s and Rebecca’s life of how they ended up where we see them now. I’m personally not always a fan of that style, it can be confusing, but here it creates a sense of mystery and is very alluring.
I read the book without reading too much of the description and I think it made the reading experience even better. So I’m not going to mention a lot of the plot here, because I think this is just one of those books that I want to shove in your hands and implore you to just read it and come talk to me when you’re done.
Several months ago now, I read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins that opened my eyes to the struggles some people face to come to America. Seeing the news about immigrants being denied asylum or held in camps was frustrating and I felt powerless. I also felt detached, their walk of life was so different than my own that I simply couldn’t relate. American Dirt opened my eyes and made the situation so much more visceral. As soon as Oprah picked it I was so excited! ⠀ ⠀ What I didn’t see happening was the backlash this book would receive. I wondered if people read the same harrowing story I did, because if so, it was nothing but compassionate and inspiring.
Someone with Oprah’s team called me to ask more questions on how I felt about the book and I’m beyond honored to share that around the 4:44 timestamp of her latest Oprah’s Bookclub episode on AppleTV+, you’ll hear me recommending this book to others. It’s a hot two seconds of glory, but it’s more than I ever dreamed possible.
The book review and “bookstagram” community has lead to so many opportunities and enjoyment for me. I’m continuously humbled by opportunities like this or someone commenting letting me know they appreciate my reviews which lead them to read the book themselves. I love connecting to other readers that share this love of reading, so thank you!
Curiosity and mischief can sometimes get the better of us. This is something Corey Halpern, a permanent resident of the Hamptons ,learns as he develops as pastime for breaking into rich people’s homes. The Sheffield’s home is one of the homes that is very familiar to him, his mother has worked for the family for many years. Corey harbors some resentment for this family for how the Sheffield’s reacted to his mother dropping an expensive vase.
With careful and meticulous planning, Corey orchestrates his break in. But this planning soon crumbles beneath his feet and what happens next is a fast-paced plot of death, forbidden acts and consequences. Jason Allen’s debut shows that he is a masterful storyteller with lyrical prose and a plot development that makes you think.
Thank you Park Row for allowing me to participate in the blog tour.
Q&A With Jason Allen
Q:What inspired you to write THE EAST END?
A: Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.
Q:What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?
A: The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.
Q:What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?
A: Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.
Q:Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?
A: I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.
Casey Barrett was a new author to me that I discovered by participating in a Blog Tour. AGAINST NATURE is the second book the Duck Darley series. Duck Darley is an unlicensed private investigator in Manhattan that isn’t your typical PI. He’s a PI that thrives on brute strength and doesn’t always approach a situation with the methodical level-headedness we generally expect to see with someone of his profession.
PI Darley receives a phone call from his ex-partner, Cass, telling him her boyfriend who was writing an exposé about doping on the East German Olympic team has been found dead and she’s suspects murder. This launches PI Darley on his search for the truth, with some antics that are both foolish and brilliant. This is a fast-paced book that was a joy to read.
I also read the first book, UNDER WATER, and the storyline is contained enough that AGAINST NATURE is readable as a stand-alone, it’s mostly character development you’ll miss out on if you read by itself.