Book Review: “The Orchid Tattoo” by Carla Damron

I got a copy of this book as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC), so knew nothing about it before starting to read it. It had been suggested that I may be interested it as I had reviewed “Her Name is Knight” by Yasmin Angoe. I can understand why the link between the two books was made, but “The Orchid Tattoo” is the easier of the two to read, although covering some comparable issues of human trafficking and abuse, as it is much less graphic.

I was grabbed by the book as soon as I read the first sentence,

At 3 a.m., I should be home in bed like any normal person, but “normal” fits me about as well as “perky” or “has her shit together”.

Immediately I could relate to the protagonist and could expect that the book would be written in an engaging way – and I wasn’t disappointed on either front, although the protagonist works in a different line of work to me. Despite the different jobs, there were aspects of the protagonist that I could identify with, although some of her approach to handling things is different to mine. Having said that, the following line showed a commonality of how I approach life,

I tried not to think the worst, my mind conjuring up image after image of worst-case…

One thing that the book did well on the whole was the names. I always struggle with books that have a lot of names – and it can become particularly complicated if one person, for one reason or another, has more than one name (so it is ironic that I do this in my first novel, “Hijacking Japan“). One issue that can come up with names is ensuring that readers know how to pronounce names that they may be unfamiliar with – again, I have had to contend with this, and it particularly came up in my novel “FOUR“. In “The Orchid Tattoo”, the author does a good job on ensuring the reader knows how many names are to be pronounced, as with Jefe on Page 19.

Returning to relating to the protagonist, another line that stood out was the following in relation to how their desk looked,

… held more than the usual amount of clutter – work that I’d avoided, coffee cups that needed cleaning, and social work journals that would be tossed, unread

Generally I try to clear the clutter, but at the start of the academic year, I can see it already starting to build. As for coffee cups, I drink tea, but some colleagues have been known to question me about when some of my mugs have last been cleaned (I do try to do this on a daily basis now). At least I generally don’t have any work-related journals being ignored, though, admittedly, this is as so many are now electronic anyway.

The protagonist has mental health issues and also deals with people who have them, and, related to this, the following line stood out,

Therapy, medication costs… all spelled out in dollars and cents. Mental health recovery is not cheap.

I like this line, but the fact that the protagonist doesn’t come back and comment on measuring mental health only in terms of financial implications rather than emotional, for example, surprised me a bit. But that was more than made up for by the following text (albeit ‘killer’ when dealing with people who can have suicidal thoughts can have meaning beyond the usual day-to-day usage in this context),

This day would be a killer. When the depression fights for control over me, everything becomes so much harder. Dressing. Eating. Finding a parking space. It’s like my neurons fire on only half the available synapses.

These issues are built upon some pages later with the following,

It’s hard to describe my thinking when I go to this place. The thoughts are blurred, with no edges to them, not definable by language.

The protagonist hears a variety of voices in her head – something I don’t have to contend with – and the way these are integrated into the story works well, and her descriptions of what she has to deal with are great (as noted above), but I also like her openness with those around her, such as the following that she says to another character,

“I see a therapist because I have some mental problems. I take meds that help me. I take care of myself – mostly. I have a job. I do okay.”

On a completely different note, I am used to reading books in American English and usually there are no issues for those used to British English in relation to meaning, but this book did have one sentence that was slightly problematic (this should put a smile on the face of those who use UK English, while others will need to Google to find out what the issue is)

Somehow, I managed to heave my fanny out of the swing…

Anyway, overall, I found “The Orchid Tattoo” to be a very enjoyable read – despite the difficult nature of the main topic and other things that were introduced – and would highly recommend it.

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