Book Review: Charcoal by J.E. Rowney

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Charcoal, by J.E. Rowney, was an experience in and of itself. A quality experience, unique, and engaging.

It started out like any other book (so it seemed), setting the stage, introducing you to the characters, drawing your interest. At times, while the “mini-stories” were interesting, I wasn’t sure of their purpose in the book. These sort of short stories, encompassed in their own chapters, seemed to be additional entertainment or something that helped to flesh out the characters more. And, besides, even these somewhat unrelated mini-stories were interesting and kept the book flowing at a nice pace, so they definitely added value and interest.

But, then, I realized, there was nothing unintentional about any aspect of this novel. It was like a child cleaning every morsel of food off their plate and realizing that every aspect of the meal related to another aspect and complemented the entire ensemble. It is the same way with this book. Every aspect, every line, every chapter, even every breath felt as you took in this novel, prepared you in a way that you did not realize at the time. That is why I say that this book isn’t just a book, it is an experience.

Before you were fully aware of it, you were completely immersed in the experience of the book, and no longer felt like a bystander but experiencing the emotion, the pain, the turmoil, and even the moments of joy and ecstasy along with the main characters, especially Anna.

"Jess is dead, and it's my fault." Anna Macbeth has spent her whole life trying to escape from her past. She left the rural Yorkshire village where she grew up for life as a family lawyer in London, but what secrets did she take with her? When a familiar voice telephones her with tragic news, Anna knows that running away is no longer an option, and that she has to return to face her demons. What led Anna to flee from her home, and what is it that causes her to return? "Charcoal" unfolds a dramatic sequence of events that demonstrate the consequences of desires.  *Product description quoted from amazon.


This is a sad story, true. It is one that caused me to even ask myself, along with the main character, Anna, how things could have been done differently. At what point in time, could all of the pain have been averted, or minimized? How does one aspect of one character’s life affect another aspect and not only that but aspects of other people’s lives? This novel was almost a study in psychology itself (which IS my area of study, btw), helping one to understand the intricacies of this synchronous relationship between people, their thoughts, their behaviors, their actions (or lack of actions), and how there is no such thing as a calculated outcome and yet there are commonalities that exist when characteristics interrelate and interact on the playing field of life.

Even weeks after reading this book, and taking my own unplanned “break” from life while fighting off a cold/flu, I still would wake up in the morning thinking about Anna, the loss of her child, the loss of her best friend, the loss of her lover-who-shouldn’t-be-her-lover. It was as if I was feeling that pain with Anna, and not just reading about it in a book… even weeks after “hearing” the story of Anna. That isn’t something that all novelists or writers can accomplish, to be able to insert the reader into the storyline to a point where the book almost becomes real. Oh, sure, a momentary commonality with the emotion is fairly normal and attainable, but for the entire book, every morsel of every chapter, to interrelate and impact the reader to that point, that is a talent on the part of J.E. Rowney. And, to accomplish this when the is no commonality between the story and that of the life of the reader/reviewer, that is a gift. J.E. Rowney is that gifted and I would welcome another book by this author.

Note: I was provided with a review copy of this book. I have written this review honestly and voluntarily.

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