"Brake Failure" Alison Brodie

Brake Failure

"Is it too late to tell him you love him when you're looking down the barrel of his gun?"

Ruby Mortimer-Smyth is an English debutante, destined for Ladies Day at Ascot and taking tea at The Savoy. She knows the etiquette for every occasion and her souffl├ęs NEVER collapse. 

She is in control of her life, tightly in control.  Until fate dumps her down in … Kansas. 

Ruby believes that life is like a car; self-control keeps it on the road, passion sends it into a ditch.  What she doesn't know is, she's on a collision course with Sheriff Hank Gephart.  

Sheriff Hank Gephart can judge a person.  Miss Mortimer-Smyth might act like the Duchess of England but just under the surface there's something bubbling, ready to explode.  She's reckless, and she's heading for brake failure.  And he's not thinking about her car.

With the Millennium approaching, Ruby gets caught up in the Y2K hysteria.  She joins a group of Survivalists, who give her a gun and advise her to stockpile basic essentials, such as gasoline and water-purifying tablets.  So she bulk-buys Perrier, Gentleman's Relish and macaroons. 

Ruby, far from home, is making Unsuitable Friends and "finding herself" for the first time.  She falls in with a gang of Hells Angels and falls foul of the law.  At every turn, she comes up hard against Sheriff Hank Gephart, whose blue eyes seem to look deep into her soul.  She desperately wants him but knows she can never have him.

She's angry at the emotions he arouses in her.  Pushed to her limit, she bursts from her emotional straightjacket.

As the clock strikes midnight of the new Millennium, she's on a freight train with three million dollars, a bottle of Wild Turkey and a smoking gun.

What happened to Miss Prim-and-Proper?   And why did she shoot Mr Right?

This seemed like an appropriate read for New Year's Day! After my rather unspectacular New Year's Eve which was very tame and uneventful, Brodie's novel had me thinking back to 1999 and just how different the atmosphere had been then with the worries about Y2K and also the enormity of facing a whole new millennium. Brodie's novel is also as much about new starts, new resolutions, seizing life and facing your fears as the Y2K issue, which also seemed to make it a good read on a day when everyone starts to look forward and set goals for the coming year. 

The main character is Ruby and Brodie uses the relationship she has with her sister Claire to exaggerate the differences between them and help the reader build up a very clear picture of the girls.

"[Claire] waved as if Ruby was far out to sea. She always had to do something that stopped a room talking. Leading the maitre d" like a favoured slave, she sailed over, her eyes raking up and down Ruby's suit. "You look like a dental nurse." 

"Claire was supremely self possessed, assured that life would give her what she wanted or, if not exactly what she wanted, then something better. Ruby was distrustful of life. A skin rash and neck pain (meningitis) would have her hurrying to Doctor Strachan."

I enjoyed the passages about the sisters and their "battle" to out do each other. Brodie's writing is funny and light, it is akin to scenes from popular comedy sitcoms about families and women trying to out manoeuvre each other and there are some very witty descriptions. I particularly liked Claire's response to a some of the guests at an event when they spoke to her:

Claire winced like someone listening to a loudspeaker test. 

The story continues to move along a lively pace, taking our protagonist away from her dream of living in Paris and instead dumping her down in Kansas. Ruby is devastated about having to move to Kansas but as the novel develops, so does Ruby. Brodie keeps us entertained as Ruby sets out on a new journey to reinvent herself by discovering new friends, new places, new things as well as taking some time to take stock, step back and look at her relationship with her new husband Edward. 

I must admit I didn't really develop much sympathy towards Ruby, in fact at times I think she became such a kind of "Miranda" style character that although it was amusing and funny, it felt like I was laughing at her more than with her. Ruby's responses to people, certain situations and her attempts at poetry make for good reading but she is unaware just how ridiculous or childlike she might appear to people or how misguided she is in her abilities - particularly at poetry writing and inventing slogans for beauty projects- and sometimes that made me feel a little uncomfortable or mean.

The Praries
Mighty prairies, far and near
We ride them and we have no fear
The coyotes howl, and bison ponder
What threats await in that there yonder?

However Ruby is the one to have the last laugh. And it's great to see her transformation - which begins very comically - become something more serious and significant, although not without a lot of scraps, humour and near misses along the way!

Being English in Kansas seems to make Ruby a minor celebrity! The questions people ask her about England are a little stereotypical but I did enjoy the repeated reference to Princess Diana and her car crash. These sorts of references also help to remind us of the historical setting of the novel and the events that are affecting the actions and emotions of the characters. As well as perhaps a more subtle reminder of the metaphor of brakes, speed and travel which appear throughout the novel. 

"Brake Failure" then hurtles towards a great climax. I really enjoyed watching all the pieces of the story slot into place so that the prologue eventually made sense. I liked the way Brodie tied up all the lose endings and weaved all the sub plots together for a rewarding ending. This is such a feel good read; the prose is full of sparkle from the characters who are easy to picture and brought to life with authentic dialogue including well written dialect and accents. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys romance, comedy, chick lit and is looking for a light read. Combining the idea of the world's anticipation of a 'meltdown' in the run up to Y2K with the more emotional and psychological 'meltdown' of a character in her marriage and her relationships with her family, makes a great recipe for a book with enough suspense, humour and romance to keep readers entertained. 

"Brake Failure" will be published on the 9th January 2017. It is based on Brodie's actual experience of living in Kansas in 1999 and below is a blog post borrowed from her website explaining a little more about the inspiration behind the book. 

This New Year’s will be pretty uneventful for most of us, apart from drunken Uncle Billy reversing into the mailbox, or grandma getting cheeky with the hot new neighbour.But sweep your mind back sixteen years.  Can you do that?  If you can, you will remember the Y2K bug.  When the US government was spending $150 billion preparing for Armageddon.  When Hong Kong was stockpiling food.  When English ladies were hoarding tins of Gentleman’s relish and turning their koi carp ponds into trout farms.I am a Scot and I was living in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, during Y2K.  My Kansas friends were pretty relaxed about it, although they did follow official advice to prepare for the unknown.  TV warnings ranged from “prepare as if for a six-day blizzard” to “run for the hills!”I didn’t know what was going to happen.  The whole world didn’t know what was going to happen.  Virgin Airlines cancelled all flights on that night.  Would every computer on the planet think the date had gone back one hundred years when those numbers switched to zeroes? Thankfully, there was no Armageddon but there were still glitches; as The Kansas City Star reported on January 2:  “Trouble still looms”“If you think the only time to worry about the Y2K bug is on January 1, then you’re underestimating the problem” said Bruce McConnell, director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center.Six American nuclear power plants had problems.  The doors in a federal building would not lock.  A US spy satellite was knocked off line.  In France the Syracus II military satellite system was running on a software patch while technicians desperately worked to fix it.But some people got lucky. One glitch caused Microsoft’s MoneyCentralWeb site to vastly overestimate the worth of some customers’ portfolios.  And the online mailbox had emails dated 2099.But we all survived.The only folks who’d been relishing the prospect of Armageddon was a group of Survivalists I met.  They had been prepping for years for this eventuality.  They felt vindicated; they’d been right all along.  But they were about to be disappointed.One second after midnight of the new Millennium, the whole world had a stockpile of water purifying tablets, gasoline and non-perishable food on their hands.  And me?  I had a year’s supply of Petal Soft toilet paper (my partner refused to even think of using a dock leaf in an emergency).Sixteen years on, everyone has forgotten Y2K.  Although, funnily enough, I recently met a Canadian banker in Barcelona one drunken evening, who told me of the panic he and his work colleagues had gone through protecting their money in the run up to 2000.He assured me he would buy my romcom novel (which is set in the months leading up to Y2K in Kansas), but I know he won’t.  You know how I know?  Cos he left my contact details under an empty bottle of Rioja before he staggered off into the night.“Brake Failure” is releasing on Amazon on January 9, 2017
Alison Brodie
You can follow Alison Brodie on her website on www.alisonbrodiebooks.com or on Twitter @alisonbrodie
For more recommendations and reviews from me you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk) 


  1. Thank you, Katherine, for taking the time to read Brake Failure and for this wonderful review. x

    1. Thank you for letting me read your book! Xx


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