“The Celebrants” by Steven Rowley – Review

By: Angie Haddock

The night after one of their own is tragically taken away from them, a group of five college friends form a pact: a promise to reunite every few years to throw each other “living funerals,” constant reminders that life is worth living, if not for them then for their late friend.


I have read all of Steven Rowley’s other novels (see one here), so I was super-excited at the chance to read the advanced copy of this one!

The characters in this one became friends in college in the 90s, and – aside from two of them who married – didn’t talk again for almost 20 years. The book goes back and forth between the “present,” where we learn that one has terminal cancer, and the past few “living funerals” that took place before his. During these flashbacks, we get to know all five characters well.

Marielle, the hippie-ish one, was the first to trigger their college pact to throw each other funerals while still alive. She does so because her marriage has dissolved and her daughter – birthed not long after they had graduated – is leaving for college herself.

Naomi is the other woman in the group, and she has a biting personality. She is also the child of Japanese immigrants who expected a lot from her. Their deaths, and the idea that she will never be able to prove her worth to them, triggers her to invoke her “funeral.”

Craig is a straight male, but one who works in the world of art galleries and brokering the sales of high-priced paintings. When he inadvertently decides a painting is “real” that ends up being deemed a forgery, he faces jail time. Marielle invokes the pact on his behalf, making his the first “ambush” funeral.

The last two members of the pact are the Jordans. They share the same first name, and are romantic partners living in New York. They are usually differentiated in the book by one being called Jordan, and the other Jordy. (Although we later learn that he does not like the nickname.) Jordan found that he had cancer a few years back, prompting the longtime couple to finally marry. His cancer was in remission, but now it is back and things aren’t looking good. The five friends have reunited for what we – and they – assume is Jordan’s funeral. But we’ll leave the slight twist for people who want to read this one – because I hate giving away an ending.

There is some nostalgia in here, especially if you were alive in the 1990s. And an obvious comparison could be made to “The Big Chill.” It also features some gay characters, which is a Rowley staple by now. (Write what you know, I guess?) Overall, I found it an enjoyable read. Not exactly groundbreaking, but enjoyable.

This one can be pre-ordered now, and I was able to read ahead through NetGalley thanks to the publisher, Putnam.

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“None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive” by Carolyn Prusa – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Ramona’s got a bratty boss, a toddler teetering through toilet training, a critical mom who doesn’t mind sharing, and oops—a cheating husband. That’s how a Category Four hurricane bearing down on her life in Savannah becomes just another item on her to-do list. In the next forty-eight hours she’ll add a neighborhood child and the class guinea pig named Clarence Thomas to her entourage as she struggles to evacuate town.


Contemporary fiction is a mixed bag for me. I was drawn to this one solely for the name, and the gloriously lavender cover. That doesn’t mean it was bad – it was just ok, though. If you are good with the “working mom trying to do it all and gets overwhelmed” stereotype, this one very much fits into that category. Also add in a semi-drunk mom, various pets and kids, and a gay best friend.

The hurricane adds a punch to the proceedings, though. The story has a tight timeline, taking place over just a few days, during which our main character goes from “eh, it probably won’t hit here” to “oh crap, I have to get these kids out of here”… and back. Spoiler alert: they go back into town, with the hurricane still coming, because her mom had failed to leave.

There are bits of the story that do take place outside of those few days, as we see flashbacks to our lead, Ramona, in her earlier, more carefree days. We also see her creeping marriage issues, various mommy moments, and memories of her own parents.

The link to Prince is very tenuous. She was a fan of his, especially back in her college days. The events here take place only a handful of months after his passing (Fall 2016). That’s it.

But I think anyone who was older than a toddler when he was still alive was (or should have been) a fan of Prince. Seriously?! But hey, the catchy name was enough for this fan to be intrigued, so I guess it’s a gimmick that worked?

The Purple One died on this date seven years ago. (April 21, 2016.) I read this book in February, but saved the review for today, to add a little purple into the day. For books actually about Prince, please see some of my previous reviews:

The Beautiful Ones

On Time

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“The Man Without Shelter” by Indrajit Garai – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Lucy, a young lawyer, is on fast track to partnership in her firm. Arnault, a convicted felon, leaves prison after two decades through a piece of evidence in his favor. The two of them come together during a rescue operation at the centre of Paris, and then they go on with their separate lives. Months later, their paths cross again at a camp for migrants on the edge of Paris.


This novella had some good points and less-good points. Let’s start with the writing itself. The author was born in India, moved to France, and now lives in the US. The language seemed a little “off” at times – just odd word choices or ways of phrasing things – but I attributed this to the author’s background. (By that I mean, I assumed that English isn’t his first language. This could totally be my own assumption.) None of these quirks made the story hard to understand. But, if you’re a person who lives for flowery language, or is on the hunt for the most amazing phrasings – this would not fit the bill.

The story itself is pretty solid. We have Arnault, the titular man without shelter, who finds himself in that predicament because he was just released from prison. We also have Lucy, a lawyer who sets to helping him. Lucy’s story is basically driven by Arnault’s, though, and I think his part is what shines through the most.

Where this book shines is in portraying a lead protagonist who is homeless. (How often do we see that?) It shows many of the obstacles Arnault faces, like not being able to renew his ID without a permanent address. It also shows, through the Lucy character, how the rest of us might unintentionally mistreat such people. Consider the following:

“The homeowners like her (Lucy), when they meet a homeless man, they want to know his past, more out of curiosity than compassion… And most don’t want to talk about their past… They want to talk about their present and events of society. They, too, are citizens with their rights to vote, their rights to privacy… They find it ruthless when others pry into their past and consider it appropriate because they’re homeless.”

On the other hand, I got a little suspicious toward the end, when the villains of the story turned out to be some other folks described as being with one of the “traveling clans” from “different parts of Europe” who only stayed for a while and then moved on. The way they were described made me think (again, maybe my own assumptions) that they were Romani? And making them the bad guys seemed a little harsh/racist. (But, I don’t live in Paris myself, and don’t know the beefs between homeless populations there.)

This was only novella-length, so a quick read. If you are interested in books set in Paris, or seeing life through the eyes of a homeless person, it might be worth a look. I was given a copy from the author’s publicist.

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