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Going Over by Beth Kephart

You must start with the toe-tapping video for Going Over by Beth Kephart. The music, the quotes from respected authors, the story summarized in the most eye-catching video about 1980s Berlin, at the height of punk rock and in a city fiercely divided arbitrarily by a literal wall and its politics, with Germans caught in the middle.

Source: Chronicle Books
Hardcover, 264 pages
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Going Over by Beth Kephart, which reaches stores in April, examines the division of a country and how it effects its people who are separated from their loved ones by a wall and barbed wire. Ada Piekarz, a professor of escapes and a graffiti artist, and her mother, Mutti, and grandmother, Omi, live in Kreuzberg, West Berlin, while Omi’s sister Grossmutter and Stefan live in Friedrichshain, East Berlin. Ada and her family can cross into East Berlin for visits occasionally, but the distance in time and space is too far for love to grow uninterrupted between Ada and Stefan, though it does remain strong in absence. Amidst this love story between Ada and Stefan is the love of a family, Omi and Grossmutter, who hold onto their pasts tightly, even the painful events when the Soviets and then the Stasi came.

“Omi is hiding. The shelter is dark, but Omi will be found, and her mother, and her best friend, Katja, too, who can trade cigarettes for flour, a used pair of boots for a wool jacket, a tulip bulb for a bird in a cage, and who will grow up and be old, who will become Stefan’s Grossmutter.” (page 111 ARC)

Kephart balances the points of view of Stefan and Ada beautifully, and the tension is built page after page as Ada says she can no longer wait for Stefan to decide whether to escape to West Berlin or not. Stefan is unsure if he should leave his grandmother who has lost so much, but he’s also feeling the guilt that comes with leaving her and being part of the reason she has already lost so much. Grossmutter is a woman who was talented and strong, but with the erection of a wall and the loss of her family, she’s become frail — at least on the outside — but she still has the power to surprise even her grandson.

Ada fronts strength, but even she has her limits as a punk painter of walls. She loves Stefan so much that it hurts, but she also loves the kids she cares for at the daycare where she works, including Savas. Savas’ story is here to remind us that Germans were not the only ones harmed by the wall and the separation of the country, but so too were the Turks who were called in to fulfill jobs that remained vacant. His family lives in the Turkish section of Germany, run by its own rules and rarely subject to German authority. It is this separation that leads to tragedy. Kephart demonstrates that differences make us stronger, that love can bind us together, and improve our lives despite the obstacles.

Kephart’s Going Over is stunning, and like the punk rock of the 80s, it strives to stir the pot, make readers think, and evoke togetherness, love, and even heartbreak — there are lessons in each.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, published in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.

Click here for the discussion questions for Going Over.

Also, a free sampler for Kindle.

5th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this is set in Germany.

 

 

11th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

To win 1 copy of Going Over by Beth Kephart, leave a comment about your favorite 80s band!

You must have a U.S. or Canadian address to enter. Leave your comment by April 5, 2014, 11:59 PM EST

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Source: William Morrow and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 502 pages
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Three Souls by Janie Chang — a stunning debut — is a sweeping novel set in late 1920s China when factions were battling for supremacy over land, wealth, the people, and politics — the Nationalists versus the Communists.  Song Leiyin is the third daughter in a large and wealthy family, and she loves pleasing her father with her good grades and is dutiful to her sisters and her father’s concubine, known as Stepmother.  She’s young and impetuous, and like her father often acts without taking a breath and thinking before she acts.  When she’s introduced to Yen Hanchin, a poet, her heart is captured by his intelligence and charm, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s translated Anna Karenina, which has been banned by her school but that she’s reading anyway.  Leiyin soon discovers that while her father had a Western education he’s still a very traditional man and not as liberal as some of their social peers, and when she pushes his limits of tradition too far, she has to live with the consequences.

“We have three souls, or so I’d been told.
But only in death could I confirm this.” (page 1)

Chang’s approach to story-telling is not unique, but how it is presented is. We know at the start that Leiyin is dead, but like her we learn through her memories — siphoned through her three souls: yin, yang, and hun — how she came to be in limbo and how she lived her life. She was a young, headstrong girl in love with a Communist leader of sorts, who was also a poet and an editor of China Millennium. While he filled her head with new ideas about what China could become, he also filled her naive head with longing and lust. Her infatuation with him led her to defy her father, and while the consequences were overly harsh, they were in line with traditional Chinese thinking and practices.

Chang’s story unfolds slowly and Leiyin is forced to think about her actions without hindsight, but as an observer of her own life — reminiscent of one’s life flashing before one’s eyes before death. However, her struggle is only beginning as she learns how her actions had farther reaching consequences than she ever imagined.  She must come to terms with her behavior, life choices, and learn that things are beyond her control.

With allusions to the Leo Tolstoy novel, Chang brings to life the class struggles in China, the inspiration the Communist movement strove to ignite, and the tangled web of lies that many leaders on both sides pursued to craft future China.  Three Souls by Janie Chang is epic, heart-warming, and multi-layered, incorporating Chinese tradition, class struggle, and the burden of a life cut too short.

About the Author:

Born in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She holds a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. Three Souls is her first novel.

Find out more about Janie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.

12th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

8th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Source: Random House and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 256 pages
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The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith is a fresh short-story collection that spans the Vietnamese culture, myths, and the immigrant experience, straddling reality and the magical.  The Vietnam War hovers in the background of the characters’ lives as the mothers struggle to garner U.S. visas for themselves and their children born of American soldiers in “Guests” or in “Boat Story,” where a grandson asks his grandmother to explain her escape from Vietnam during the war.  Kupersmith’s style is clear and engaging, and the myths and magical moments are told in a storytelling style that is reminiscent of the oral traditions in Vietnamese culture.

“Whatever spirit had reanimated the corpse must have been a feeble one, for the body moved clumsily, legs stiff but head dangling loose as it struggled to keep its balance on the angry waves.  Grandpa sank down to his knees next to me, and we peered over the gunwale in helpless horror as the body tottered closer and closer.” (Page 8 ARC)

From ghosts in the Frangipani Hotel to the spirits in the woods, Kupersmith weaves in magic and myth seamlessly with reality. Her characters are oddities and not; they are rational but also open-minded about the unseen.  From the twin girls who border on feral to the young man who finds a ghost in the hotel, her characters are both real and unreal — they have a mystical quality.  The prose is witty, with a few moments that will leave readers chuckling.  At other times, the stories tackle serious issues like immigration and the soldiers who leave women behind with babies when the war is over, though with a sense of irony that never feels misplaced.

She can lull readers into a sense of complacency before her prose unsettles their world, and the mark of a great storyteller is one that can shift from male and female points of view with ease and who can create stories that will stay with readers long after they’ve been read.  The stories in The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith shift in setting and time, but the roots do not change, merely grow and curl as the tales unfold.

***U.S. residents can enter to win 1 copy of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel by leaving a comment by March 10, 2014, 11:59 PM EST.***

About the Author:

Violet Kupersmith was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1989 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her father is American and her mother is a former boat refugee from Vietnam. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College she received a yearlong Fulbright Fellowship to teach and research in the Mekong Delta. She is currently at work on her first novel.

7th book (Vietnam War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

6th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

10th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Ripper by Isabel Allende


Source: Harper and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 496 pages
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Young Amanda Jackson is the game master for an online game, Ripper, in which participants — including her grandfather — examine evidence of heinous crimes and try to solve them. Up until recently, the gamers had focused on Jack the Ripper and other past cases, but when a rash of murders with unusual elements surface after a bloody premonition by local psychic Celeste Roko, the members set their sights on solving the new crimes. Ripper by Isabel Allende, translated by Oliver Bock and Frank Wynne, psychologically gets under the skin of the reader as they meet with the Ripper members and become part of the characters’ lives — Indiana, a homeopathic healer and Amanda’s mother; Ryan Miller, an ex-Navy SEAL and security specialist; Pedro Alarcón, Miller’s business partner and former guerrilla fighter from Uruguay; Alan Keller, a socialite man quickly running out of prestige and pennies; and more.

“The cold was like a sudden blow to the body, but soon he was feeling the heady euphoria of a swimmer.  At moments like this — feeling weightless as he defied the treacherous currents, withstanding the near-freezing temperatures that made his bones creak, propelling himself with the powerful muscles in his arms and his back — he was once again the man he used to be.  After a few strokes he no longer felt the cold, and could focus on his breathing, his speed and his direction, orienting himself by the buoys that he could just pick out through his goggles and the fog.”  (page 150 ARC)

Amanda’s online detective game becomes more real than she expects, and the consequences of not solving the case are more dire than she would ever have imagined.  While her mother is free-spirited and lives on little, Amanda longs for something greater, taking cues from her father’s investigations as a policeman and the novels and books she reads on some of the greatest crimes in history.  Graduating from a fascination with wolves and vampires, Amanda has set in motion the ultimate game to pass time with her online friends, but when murders and kidnappings begin to hit too close to home, she has little choice but to take matters into her own hands.

Allende’s modern setting of San Francisco comes alive, with its mysterious fog obscuring some of the characters until such a time they are revealed in their full, flawed glory.  Although the plot is slow moving and the narrative jumps between characters — giving detailed descriptions of their pasts and current issues — Allende is creating a quilt of intrigue, leaving readers to shuffle through the red herrings and the clues to solve the mystery.  What’s stunning here is her characters, particularly ex-Navy SEAL Ryan Miller and his issues with PTSD following a raid in Afghanistan and Indiana with her unending capacity to give to others.  Ripper by Isabel Allende deliberately uncovers psychological motivations in each character, peeling back the skin a little bit at the time to reveal not only petty jealousies but the selflessness of love and family connection.

About the Author:

Isabel Allende is the bestselling author of twelve works of fiction, four memoirs, and three young adult novels, which have been translated into more than twenty-seven languages, with more than 57 million copies sold. In 2004, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award in 2012. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California. Find out more about Allende, her books, and her foundation and visit her on Facebook.

House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield

Source: Kaye Publicity
Paperback; 304 pages
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House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield is a heartbreaking tale of family secrets and how a family pulls together even when their bonds are frayed and challenged.  Jen Glass has the perfect life — a husband and two kids in a big house and a good career — but that life is shattered one evening when her house is invaded by strangers with guns.  Jen has a niggling suspicion that her husband has been keeping things from her, and her relationship with her daughter Livvy has been rocky — as most relationships between teens and parents are, but her son has been progressing in therapy for his selective mutism.  When she and her sister, Tanya, take off to make funeral arrangements for their estranged and low-life father, Sid, events are set in motion that cannot be undone.

“Tanya always made fun of Jen’s list making, so she had kept this one hidden away.  But what Tanya didn’t understand was that when you wrote a list, it forced you to organize your thoughts, so when the time came to act, you didn’t waste time on false starts and dead ends.  A list could make an unpleasant task go more quickly.  And this day, attending to the details of the passing of a man Jen hadn’t seen or talked to in almost three decades, couldn’t go quickly enough.”  (page 10 ARC)

The tension in the relationship between Jen and Tanya is pushed aside to deal with the unpleasantness of their father’s passing, but once the moment is over, they part ways, though Jen wishes they could erase the past and begin again.  The tension is similar in her relationship with her husband, Ted, who has been out of work for some time and taken to home improvement projects while he looks for work.  Unfortunately, Jen can’t control the progress or outcome, and it seems like Ted is barely trying and disappearing for long stretches with little to show for his time away.  Her suspicions increase when she finds messages from his former assistant and the fact that the clothes he wore to the gym are missing.  But Jen is barely scratching the surface, preferring to instead live in a happy bubble and ignore the truth.

Littlefield has created a family dynamic with a lot of moving parts, but she handles each character with a deft hand, ensuring that none of the lines blur and that readers can clearly discern their motivations, feelings, and secrets.  When the robbers enter the house even more of Jen’s controlled life is tested, and she must determine just how far she will go to protect her family from harm.  Woven into this thriller is the mystery of these men and where they come from and how they chose the Glass family as their targets.  House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield is fast-paced, thrilling, and psychological as Jen Glass is forced to examine the protections she thought she built high enough around her family and how her controlling methods have left them vulnerable to the unpredictable.

About the Author:

Sophie Littlefield grew up in rural Missouri, the middle child of a professor and an artist. She has been writing stories since childhood. After taking a hiatus to raise her children, she sold her first book in 2008, and has since authored over a dozen novels in several genres. Sophie’s novels have won Anthony and RT Book Awards and been shortlisted for Edgar, Barry, Crimespree, Macavity, and Goodreads Choice Awards. In addition to women’s fiction, she writes the post-apocalyptic AFTERTIME series, the Stella Hardesty and Joe Bashir crime series, and thrillers for young adults. She is a past president of the San Francisco Romance Writers of America chapter. Sophie makes her home in northern California.

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

Source: TLC Book Tours and Random House
Hardcover, 352 pages
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A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith is set in the 1930s when the United States was sending the mothers of soldiers overseas to France to the cemeteries where their children had been buried after WWI.  Smith bases her novel on the diary of Colonel Thomas Hammond, who began his career in the military with one of the pilgrimages of the Gold Star Mothers, and he appears as a young principled officer seeking to live up to his family’s illustrious military history.  As these mothers make their journey across the Atlantic to pay respect to their lost sons, Hammond is unaware how much the journey will affect him and these women.  Smith builds the story from a small island town in Maine where Cora Blake struggles alongside her neighbors to make ends meet as the United States wallows in Depression to the deepest emotional hum a human being can experience at a foreign graveside in a country that is still rebuilding after war.

“He was in grave number 72, identified by his dog tags, which were apparently nailed to a stake.  The second card asked that she state her relationship to the deceased and answer yes or no to the question: ‘Do you desire that the remains be brought to the United States?’” (page 15 ARC)

Cora Blake is a young widow, who also has lost her son to a war in Europe, but she’s just beginning to breathe and learn that there could be happiness around the corner with Linwood Moody, a recently widowed soil scientist.  Mrs. McConnell is an Irish-American who knows the struggle of working for the wealthier classes, while Minnie is a Russian-Jewish immigrant who has seen discrimination first hand.  Mrs. Russell is a woman who has been struggling with mental breakdowns for much of her married life, but is determined to see where her son died.  Just as determined as Mrs. Russell, railroad-heir Mrs. Olsen is seeking some form of closure from this trip.  Smith shines in her characterization of these mothers, showing how they are bonded over grief, but also that class distinction and experience can still separate them.  It’s a novel about the struggles for equality that still threatened to separate every American — immigrant or not — but how the great tragedy of war made no such distinctions when taking their sons.

“Cora’s world had expanded so rapidly, but not from the vista.  She remembered what Selma told her in the women’s waiting room in Boston.  ‘You got a lot to learn.’” (page 89)

Smith’s research into the time period, the Gold Star Mother’s tours, and the war itself — including the artillery and tactics used — shines through in the story, the plot, the characters, and the emotional roller coaster these women find themselves on.  Once in France, these women are swept along with military precision, but even the military is not prepared for the will of a mother’s love and her defiance against being told what will placate them the easiest.  They are here for the full experience, they want the truth of their sons’ sacrifices and will accept nothing less.  Along the way, they are treated to the best France has to offer, the eccentricities of Paris artists, the bigotry of Europeans who see Americans as arrogant, and the mysterious ways in which injured soldiers and American reporters, like Griffin Reed, cope.

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith is stunning without being overwrought with emotion, weaving the lives of these women and their children into reader’s minds and souls.  In reflective prose, Smith deftly handles the grief of these women, the tension between grief and duty, and the peace that comes from knowing their loved ones are at rest.  From the cutting edge of facial reconstruction to the remnants of war that could still be found in the weeds of Verdun, Smith has crafted a novel that breathes life into history, ensuring that we never forget the past.

To win a copy of this book, you must be a U.S. resident, age 18 and over.  Leave a comment below by Feb. 14, 2014, at 11:59PM EST.  

4th book (WWI) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

 

7th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

4th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this is set in France.

 

 

 

4th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler

Source: Borrowed from Anna
Hardcover, 208 pages
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No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler is a well researched debut novel for young adults, though probably on the older end of the age range 11+ given the graphic pig slaughtering and mature themes.  Set in 1972 during the Vietnam War, it still has roots in WWII.  During WWII, the Japanese invaded and many of the inhabitants of Guam were used and abused by their captors, particularly the women.  Fifteen year-old Kiko Chargalauf inadvertently learns about his own family’s history with the Japanese invaders.  It’s more than he can take when he stumbles upon a straggler in the boonies on Guam behind his house, as he tries to separate reality from anger when he realizes the crimes Japanese soldiers committed against Guam’s residents.

“Stragglers are what we call Japanese soldiers who never surrendered after World War II.  As far as I was concerned, my parents used fear of stragglers as an excuse, like some people use the boogie man, when they didn’t want me to go into the boonies.  I shook my head.  ‘No straggler would last that long.’” (page 29 ARC)

At its heart, the novel is a coming of age story.  Kiko is struggling with his new responsibilities at the family tourist shop, as his brother is overseas fighting in Vietnam as a pilot.  But he also has become his grandfather’s babysitter as the old man’s dementia gets worse, transporting him to those terrifying days in WWII.  As Kiko struggles to become a man and still enjoy his childhood, he’s forced to grow up more quickly than he’d like — fighting every step of the way.

On the flip side, readers will see the internal struggles of Lance Corporal of the Japanese Imperial Army Isamu Seto as he not only scavenges for food, jumps at every noise, and tries to stay hidden from military forces that could imprison him.  Tenacity and courage bring Kiko, Seto, and the grandfather together as the past is forgiven and a mutual respect grows between them.  No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler is about perseverance, forgiveness, and growing up, but it’s also about how war threatens and shapes all of us, even those who are not directly fighting in it.

About the Author:

Christine Kohler is the author of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER. She is a former journalist, teacher and writing instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL).

3rd book (WWII and Vietnam War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

 

5th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

3rd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas

Source: William Morrow, HarperCollins
Paperback, 384 pages
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The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas is more than a debut World War II novel; it’s a novel about perseverance, passion, and the transcendent love of music that can overcome prejudice and hatred.  Simon Horowitz is a young violinist in Berlin in 1935 before the Nazi’s took full control.  His father is a prominent banker and his family enjoys special privileges, until one day they don’t.  Thomas weaves an age-old story of Nazi hatred and prejudice that takes everything from a single boy — his father, his mother, his siblings, and yes, his beloved 1742 Guarneri del Gesù violin.  Fast forward to 2008 and another young virtuoso, Daniel, who at fourteen wins a prestigious award for young violinists and catches the eye of a famed conductor.

“For a long second he blinked vigorously to adjust his eyes and steady his nerves.  All he could see were rows of mysterious shapes in the darkness, but somewhere out there his father sat, his heart beating as fast as Daniel’s.  A bead of sweat ran down his face, and he brushed it away with the cuff of his shirt as he took a few deep breaths to control the butterflies in the pit of his stomach.”  (page 9 ARC)

There are secrets kept in Daniel’s family, but he continues to have a deep loyalty to his family.  Rewind to the Nazi occupation of Berlin, and Simon is thrust into a camp — a camp he never knew existed but will never forget.  Even in the most dire situation, Simon remains tied to his music and the passion it raises within his bones and his heart.  Through this, he strives to survive and keep those he loves alive, even as the Nazis arbitrarily kill those around him.  As expected the images and horrors of Dachau will be seared into readers brains, but Thomas also hones the hope — the light — that shines on Simon in the camp.  He’s given the chance to reconnect with music in the most unexpected ways, and his reconnection ensures that the hope infiltrates the most unlikely of places.

“Routine only becomes dull when it’s safe; routine punctuated by terror remains as sharp as the first time you experience it.”  (page 159 ARC)

The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas is a heart-wrenching debut novel, with a satisfying conclusion that will leave readers breathless.  Daniel, Simon, and their families’ experiences will weigh as heavily as the melancholy sounds underlying the music they play, but beyond that the music they play continues to touch the lives of even their most hated enemies and competition.

About the Author:

Julie Thomas is the New Zealand based author of The Keeper of Secrets published by William Morrow for HarperCollins USA.

 

 

This is my 82nd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Always Watching by Chevy Stevens

Source: Novel Books
Paperback, 352 pages
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Always Watching by Chevy Stevens is well-paced, building the suspense and tension to a boil at the same time that it builds the characters, creating three-dimensional people — who in some cases are utterly terrifying.  Dr. Nadine Lavoie, whose appeared in Stevens’ Still Missing and Never Knowning as a therapist, is the protagonist, and as she searches the streets of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, for her drug-addicted daughter, finds memories of her childhood are even more frightening than she first thought.  For those who have read the previous books and were intrigued by the therapist, this has been a long-awaited novel.  In true form, Stevens has built a believable world from which the current Dr. Nadine Lavoie has come, and although she cannot remember her most defining moments from childhood, it is clear they have helped shaped her into the woman and doctor she is.

“At first, the pain of the cold and the humiliation is excruciating.  I think I’m going to scream from it, but then I focus on the sound of the river, a bead of rain dripping off a leaf, chanting my mantra in my mind, until I’m able to separate from the pain, aware of it, but distantly.” (page 231 ARC)

Heather Simeon, Lavoie’s suicidal patient at the hospital, is not just depressed about being unable to make her parents proud, but she’s also devastated by the loss of her miscarriage and terrified by the commune people who are harassing her and her husband, Daniel, and who always seem to be watching.  Her interactions with the good doctor stir up something in Lavoie that she’s suppressed for most of her adult life — a childhood spent in a 1960s commune with her mother and brother.  As the memories resurface, she has little choice but to seek out former members to confirm events and look for clues about her past.  But what she stirs up is a relative hornet’s nest that not only swarms her and her family, but also those around her.

Stevens’ novel is finely crafted, full of twists and turns.  And while there is some predictability in what happens, she maintains her focus on the psychological impact of those events, detailing gripping breakdowns and triumphant rebounds of strength.  Always Watching is a book that’s hard to put down, and what happens in those pages will not stay there — the events will likely haunt readers for some time afterward.

About the Author:

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. At open houses, waiting between potential buyers, she spent hours scaring herself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to her. Her most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for STILL MISSING. After six months Chevy sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her husband and daughter in the local mountains.  Photo Credit: Poppy Photography

Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel

Source: K.E. Semmel, translator
Paperback, 110 pages
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Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel is a collection of short stories translated from Danish to English.  This slim collection is not only nuanced, but powerful in how it uses stripped down prose to examine complexities in human relationships.  From the brothers who clearly have become estranged and strive to rekindle their brotherhood to a young poet coming to terms with a professor who is not as he remembers, these short stories are subtle enough to get under the skin and powerful enough to make an impression on the psyche.  Fruelund’s stories are short but no less indelible than a well-written novel; and at no point in the English translation will readers feel that something isn’t right — in fact, these stories seem both distinctly Danish and English.

Many of these stories seem to touch upon what the cover suggests — spilt milk.  The idiom everyone knows is “There’s no point crying over spilt milk,” but how true is that saying…should we not cry over the adversity we face and simply move on or is it okay to dwell and cry over those events even if they cannot be changed.  For instance, in “What Is It?,” a father helps his son from a second marriage move out of his shared apartment and into another, thinking all the while about failed marriages — of which the father has had three — and how similar patterns can play out in the lives of loved ones.  What advice could he possibly offer his son; how do they relate knowing that the father left his mother for a third marriage; and how does the son move on from one relationship to the next without questioning it?  Although some of these questions may not be answered, Fruelund provides the reader with enough to chew on.

From ” Hair”:  “Frands stands and goes out to the yard.  Yellow apples lie in the grass.  He walks to the garage looking for something to sit on and finds an old recliner.  With some effort he hauls it outside.  He sits facing the house and takes a nip from the bottle.  He lets his eyes wander over the house’s whitewashed facade.  Even in the half-dark it seems stained and porous, and he can see spots where the plaster has been cracked by frost.  The real estate agent had talked for a long time about how charming the house was.  An artist villa, he’d called it.  With space for children.  It was exactly what they were looking for, Mette had said.” (page 40 ARC)

Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund, translated by K.E. Semmel, is about ordinary people facing some pretty typical situations, but what makes each one unique is the parts outside the stories that we cannot see and that are only hinted at.  Fruelund explores not only jealousy and infidelity, but also regret and many other complex emotions that each of experiences with not only family but wives, husbands, lovers, friends, and neighbors.

About the Author:

Since the publication of his first book in 1997, Simon Fruelund has been one of Denmark’s most delightfully entertaining writers. He possesses a rare gift for creative reinvention. From his early realist-inspired stories (“Tide,” “What is It?” and “Hair”) to his later “pointillist” work (“Man on the Bus,” “Civil Twilight”), Fruelund finds new ways to express and shape his ever-developing artistic vision. He is the author of five books, among them Mælk (1997) and Panamericana (2012). His work has been translated into Italian, Swedish, and English, and his short stories have appeared in a number of magazines across the U.S, including World Literature Today, Redivider, and Absinthe.  For nine years Fruelund worked as an editor at Denmark’s largest publishing house, Gyldendal, but is now writing full time.

About the Translator:

K.E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, the Washington Post, Aufgabe, The Brooklyn Review, The Bitter Oleander, and elsewhere. He is the Publications & Communications Manager of The Writer’s Center, an independent nonprofit literary organization based in Bethesda, MD that offers over 300 workshops in writing annually and hosts around 50 literary events a year. It was recently named by Poets & Writers Magazine as one of 8 “places to go nationwide for writing classes”. For his work translating Simon Fruelund’s fiction, he has received a translation grant from the Danish Arts Council.

This is my 75th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Sense & Sensibiliy by Joanna Trollope

Source: TLC Book Tours and Harper
Hardcover, 368 pages
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Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is the first of the books in Harper’s Austen Project in which six bestselling contemporary authors use Jane Austen’s famous novels as a basis for their own modern versions.  With so many modern day versions, spin-offs, and continuations of Austen’s classic books, the expectations for the project are likely high, but this first rendition is a mixed bag.  While sticking very close to the original plots, Trollope’s main contribution to the original is an exaggeration of the characters — Elinor has too much sense (even more than Austen’s version) and Marianne is overly dramatic at every turn — and the introduction of modern technology, like Twitter, YouTube, iPods, and Facebook.  Although the exaggerated characters could be considered parody in a way, in some scenes they come off as merely annoying.

“It had been made plain to Sir John, from a young age, that the luxury of making choices in life simply did not exist without money.  Money was not an evil.” (page 42 ARC)

The social conventions of Austen’s time continue to play a role here, with characters motivated to find matches with money because without them, they will be destitute.  But in this modern society, it is hard to see that women would have just this option open to them, unless they are as shallow as Lucy Steele.  In fact, Elinor takes a job, at least part time until she completes her degree, but most everyone else seems content to sponge off their richer relatives, without much gratitude — though with relatives like these, it would be hard to muster gratitude.  Trollope clearly understands the foils that Marianne and Elinor play in the novel, and her exaggerations of their character in a modern society of social media may seem a bit much, but for young women constantly surrounded by their faults and mistakes, it might be believable.  Elinor, here, seems to represent a need in society for privacy, a greater need than society seems willing to allow unless people completely withdraw from society.  She’s strong, but at the same time, she’s vulnerable, as she pines for Edward.

Trollope has done a superb job with the youngest sister, Margaret, a young girl struggling with her emotions after her father’s death, being pushed out of the only home she’s ever known (Norland), and moving to a new school without her friends.  Bill Brandon is still reserved and quietly watching in the background, still considered boring by Marianne, and still caring, but there is a dynamic Trollope adds that will have readers cheering for something that was not in the original.  Meanwhile, John “Wills” Willoughby is even more dastardly in Trollope’s novel, yet he is still partially redeemable if you can buy that marrying for money is still a motivator in society, which it might still be among the more wealthy families.  Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is more focused on the excess in modern society as seen through her take on Marianne, Margaret, Elinor and the other characters, which can be extrapolated from their reactions to events and relationships.  Although readers would expect a more cohesive melding of the modern world with Austen, Trollope has created a new commentary on society that applies more easily to the modern world’s emphasis on excess and self-promotion.

About the Author:

Joanna Trollope is the #1 bestselling author of eighteen novels, including The Soldier’s Wife, Daughters-in-Law, Friday Nights, The Other Family, Marrying the Mistress, and The Rector’s Wife. Her works have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and several have been adapted for television. She was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1996 for her services to literature, and served as the Chair of Judges for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012. She lives in London and Gloucestershire.  Find out more about Joanna on her website.  Photo credit: Barker Evans.

This is my 74th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek

Source: Harper Collins
Hardcover, 512 pages
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Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek (who was inspired to write the book after a poll similar to a recent one in Politico) is a highly detailed account of the Kennedy White House, but it also provides an inside look at the political machine the United States has become — from the bureaucrats with aspirations to rise above their stations to the military with its tunnel-vision to stop Communism at all costs.  One of the big takeaways from this book is JFK’s ambition to become president even when he won his first House seat — it was clear that he was bored with “small time” politics and merely cared about big picture issues, particularly foreign policy.  Dallek repeats most of what people already knew about Kennedy — that he liked the ladies, had an illness he hid from the press, and came from a rich family with some skeletons in the closet.  However, what Dallek provides is a comprehensive look at how dysfunctional an executive branch can be, particularly one with a young president at the helm who surrounds himself with the smartest of men (those that accepted the positions) and is forced to keep on less-than-desirable men for political reasons.  The interplay between the groups, the president, and even the brothers Kennedy is contentious, but it also becomes paralyzing.  However, it was not beneath Kennedy to use underhanded tricks or to dupe the press to get what he wanted.

“As Rusk sat in Kennedy’s living room, waiting to see the president-elect, he noticed a copy of the Washington Post sitting prominently on a coffee-table — it announced Rusk as secretary of state.  When Kennedy entered and saw the headline, he ‘blew his top,’ asking Rusk if he was the source of the leak.  Told no, Kennedy called Post publisher Philip Graham to chide him for printing the story.  After Graham explained that Kennedy was the one who had told him, Kennedy said, ‘But that was off the record.’  Hardly, since it was exactly what Kennedy wanted; Kennedy had no interest in giving Rusk a choice of accepting;”  (page 99 ARC)

Dallek carefully demonstrates his statements through dialogue from the men in the room with Kennedy when foreign policy issues were discussed, citing their own books, statements, diaries, and/or notes — not to mention the declassified government documents.  There are even quotes from Jackie Kennedy about private conversations she had with her husband or from conversations she overheard.  What’s telling about the situation when Kennedy was president is that he had the book knowledge from FDR and other presidents to guide him in building the best team, but that circumstances outside his control and his inability to ignore advice and go with his gut instinct often landed his administration in political hot water, like after the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.  The defeat left a bad taste in the administration’s mouth, which may have fueled the military’s fire to win anywhere at any cost against Communism — hence the entry into the Vietnam War.

For those interested in Kennedy the man, this is not the book; but for those interested in how an idealist with big aspirations and big ideas about solving foreign policy issues gets caught up in the political machine and essentially worn down, this is the book for you.  Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek is not a linear tale, but does touch upon the forces at work against the Kennedy Administration and how the administration pulled the wool over its own eyes when it came to foreign policy issues.  In many ways, the book chronicles a young president’s dream of greatness that fell short of its goals, not because of an assassination, but because of inexperience and failing to ask the right questions.

About the Author:

Robert Dallek is an American historian specializing in American presidents. He is a recently retired Professor of History at Boston University and has previously taught at Columbia University, UCLA, and Oxford.

These are my 68th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.