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Chicken Soup & Homicide by Janel Gradowski

Source: Janel Gradowski, the author
Ebook, 223 pgs
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Chicken Soup & Homicide by Janel Gradowski is the second in the Culinary Competition Mystery series, but readers can jump right into this series without worrying that they have missed something in previous books.  Amy Ridley is paired with Sophie from Riverbend Coffee in the Chicken Soup Showdown charity competition against some of the more polished chefs in Kellerton, Michigan.  Chet Britton has been a star chef in town and he has the ego to match, but his employees and many others in town find his demeanor abrasive.  He’s left a lot of scorched earth behind him in his rise to fame, but Amy isn’t there for the competition with him.  She’s in the competition to win money for her charity, as are many of the other competitors.  When Chet Britton ends up dead, Amy is thrust into the thick of it as a suspect.  Her best friend, Carla, is on the top of the list when a new detective takes over, and even dating a local cop Shepler doesn’t help.

“She should start wearing skull-and-crossbones patterned aprons to warn others of the possible dangers of competing with her, even though she certainly wasn’t the one committing the murders.”

“‘I honestly can’t figure out what that detective is doing.  This is a high-profile case, and the police department seems to have assigned some kind of bumbling idiot to it.  Shouldn’t my relationship with Chet have raised a red flag? Beyond that, I humiliated him a few weeks before he was murdered by demoting him at the restaurant he built.  I’m not sure if that detective hasn’t found that information or if he’s afraid of me.'”

Gradowski has a great sense of comedic timing.  Her one-liners will have readers laughing out loud.  Amy Ridley is a spunky character who has no qualms about hiding behind laundry bins to overhear conversations and also tends to be very careful when waging into her own investigations of town murders.  Should this cook be looking for killers among her friends, family, and fellow residents, probably not, but that doesn’t stop her.  Even as she’s investigating crimes, she’s thinking up recipes and reaching out to troubled friends.  She even finds the time to reach out to her vanishing husband.

Chicken Soup & Homicide by Janel Gradowski is fun and mouth-watering.  Readers will be looking to their kitchens longingly as the recipes are brewing and stewing, but never fear, there are recipes to try out in the back of the book.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

 

 

 

 

Enter her giveaway here. (available through March 8, U.S. residents only)

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart

Source: A gift
Hardcover, 272 pgs
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One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, which will be published in April, has crafted a testament to artistry and the adaptability of the human mind.  Set in Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, Kephart transports readers across the ocean from Philadelphia, Pa., to the cobbled streets of Italy.  Nadia Cara is a young teen who builds nests by weaving seemingly incongruous materials together, making things of beauty.  She’s an artist on overdrive as other parts of her life disappear and flounder amidst the detritus of memory.  She knows that she’s struggling, she knows that she is becoming someone she does not want to be, but she also knows that she is powerless to stop it.

“On the bridge a pigeon flutters.  The pinked sky is fatter now, and the birds are awake, and I remember something Dad read to me once about the flooded River Arno.  How when it filled with broken thingstrees, bridges, mirrors, paintings, wagons, housesit looked like it had been nested over by a giant flock of herons.”  (pg 10 ARC)

“Every nest is a miracle.  It is something whole. A place to hide. A rescue.”  (pg 76 ARC)

Her father, a professor, and her mother, who works with at-risk kids, have brought the family to Italy, hoping that things will improve, that her father can finally write his book about the flood of the River Arno, and her brother earns credits for his cooking-related independent study.  Nadia has little to cling to beyond her family and her nests of stolen things, but she soon is bowled over by a young man, Benedetto, on a Vespa with a pink duffel.  Like the birds flying, Nadia longs to be free — not free from her family — but free from the confines of her damaged mind.  She struggles with her memories and drifts among them when she least expects it, and her nests are the fruit of her labors, helping her to be at ease with her situation and her loss.

Kephart has the ability to transport readers into her settings, showing them the corners of the cities her characters live in and visit like a tour guide.  She is careful to keep her descriptions informative and beautiful to ensure readers are not bogged down by a list and are seeing these locations for the first time — absorbed in the painting created.  Her affinity for birds is multiplied in this novel as Nadia has an affinity for creating beautiful nests out of found and stolen things.  These birds and these nests represent the beauty of Nadia’s life but also the precarious nature she faces and strives to overcome through artistry and building new connections with Benedetto, her family, and Katherine, a mud angel who came to Florence to help it recover from the 1966 flood.

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart is the best of what it means to be a poetic novelist, and her young adult novels are challenging in word choice, theme, and symbols, but she never speaks down to her readers.  Her novels transcend age boundaries and foster contemplation among her readers, urging them subtlety to look past the surface into the heart of her characters and their stories.  Another Kephart novel bound for the Best of List!

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is a National Book Award finalist and winner of several grants and prizes, is the author of One Thing Stolen, Going Over, Handling the Truth, Small Damages, Flow, and numerous other novels, memoirs, and young adult novels.

 

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli

tlc tour host

Source: St. Martin’s Press and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
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The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli is about learning how to change direction when the path you’re on no longer suits, makes you miserable, or merely a new opportunity presents itself.  Part environmental cause, part journey to happiness, Soli creates a multilayered story with deeply flawed characters who not only create havoc in their own lives but in the lives of others.  She brings to life the dream many corporate drones dream of, running away to paradise, but even that is fraught with contradiction and disappointment.

“As was her new habit, Ann got up early and walked to the far side of the island where the camera was.  She sat behind it and stared at the view that it stared at, a veritable Alice behind the looking glass.  It was the real thing and its abstraction.  She felt she was on the verge of some grand truth while being suckered at the same time.” (page 150 ARC)

Ann and her husband, Richard, must face the reality that their business partnership with Javi, El Gusano, is a pipe dream dragged down by their philandering, spendthrift partner who expects their assets to shoulder the debt burden.  As they flee Los Angeles in search of an escape, they end up on an island near Tahiti with no WI-Fi or outside connections.  Soli examines the idea of perception — the view we have of our lives as we live them and the view that we have of those lives when on vacation or examining our chosen path.  The two views either can be nearly identical or they can be vastly different.  It is up to ourselves to change the courses we choose and to create the lives we want.  While there will always be an obstacle that challenges us, we must be inured to rise up and take the horse by the reins.

The irony of The Last Good Paradise is that the only paradise we will have is the one we make ourselves.  It is not a place that can be arrived at by plane, bus, or train, but a sense of peace from within ourselves that must be fought for and cultivated over time.

About the Author:

TATJANA SOLI lives with her husband in Southern California. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, won the 2011 James Tait Black Prize, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New York Times Notable Book. Her stories have appeared inBoulevard, The Sun, StoryQuarterly, Confrontation, Gulf Coast, Other Voices, Third Coast, Sonora Review and North Dakota Quarterly. Her work has been twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo

Source: Diary of an Eccentric
Hardcover, 240 pgs
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Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo, provides the right amount of literary humor from classics like Jane Eyre to modern characters like Katniss and Peeta from the Hunger Games.  Readers can turn to this little gem again and again for a good laugh.  Text messages are sometimes completely off the wall, but totally in character with either the fictional people or the authors who send the texts.  However, readers will garner more enjoyment from the conversations if they are familiar with the books and authors involved.

From “Wuthering Heights” (pg 114-119 ARC)

“i love you so much i’m going to get sick again
just out of spite

i’ll forget how to breathe

i’ll be your slave

i’ll pinch your heart and hand it back to you dead

i’ll lie down with my soul already in its grave

i’ll damn myself with your tears

i love you so much i’ll come back and marry your sister-in-law

god yes

and i’ll bankroll your brother’s alcoholism

i always hoped you would”

Some are visited more than once in text conversation, particularly Hamlet, and those conversations are fantastically done.  It’s fun to see Regan and Goneril fighting via text, as it is also humorous to see Heathcliff and Cathy profess their love for one another in the most Gothic ways possible.  There are others that could have been better, like the one for William Carlos Williams.  While readers will see the intent to play off of his famous poems, the text conversations could have been more inventive.  And the text conversation with John Keats was uninspired, though it recalled his famous poem Ode on a Grecian Urn.

What readers will love about the book is the use of modern technology and text-speak as classical writers and characters could use them with both their antiquated notions and points of view mixed with a more modern sensibility in some cases.  Ortberg has clearly given her imagination free reign here, and while in most cases, it pays off with a chuckle or a snicker, there are some cases where it falls flat. Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo, is a fun little bit of humor to cheer you up on a gloomy day.

About the Author:

Mallory Ortberg is a writer, editor, and co-founder of the feminist general interest site The Toast. She previously wrote for Gawker and the Hairpin, where she met Toast co-founder Nicole Cliffe.

Mister H by Daniel Nesquens, Illustrated by Luciano Lozano

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 61 pgs
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Mister H by Daniel Nesquens, Illustrated by Luciano Lozano, is an early readers chapter book and a little too much to read in one sitting for younger children, like my daughter. For these younger kids, it is best to break it up by chapter for readings so the kids can see the accompanying illustrations, which are delightful, and absorb the story more thoroughly. Mister H is a hippo in search of Africa, his true home, and while he persuades a young girl to free him and leaves the zoo, the conclusion to the story is not a happy ending. Some may find this disappointing, but in many ways, it will help children learn that happy endings are not always available upon first try and that additional chances should be taken.

Nesquens uses a lot of words in this tale and these words can be sometimes large for younger readers, but with help from parents and teachers, kids should be able to sound out these larger words and add to their own vocabularies. Mister H is a tolerant animal in the park who plays with two rambunctious boys and when he is demeaned by a snooty lady in a pizza parlor. Throughout his adventures children will learn how to be persistent in reaching their goals and how to brush off meanness without resorting to similar tactics.

Mister H by Daniel Nesquens, Illustrated by Luciano Lozano, offers a great deal for children to learn about how to interact with others, especially those different from themselves, and how to keep trying even if at first they don’t achieve their goals. Wonderfully illustrated, and observant kids will have fun picking out the happenings that go on beyond just the text.

About the Author:

Daniel Nesquens has been writing children’s books for over ten years. He has published more than thirty titles, including My Tattooed Dad (Groundwood).

About the Illustrator:

Luciano Lozano is a professional illustrator whose work has appeared in books, newspapers, and magazines. He lives in Barcelona. Visit his website.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Source:  LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 368 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg is a perfect book for book clubs who want to discuss social and cultural issues.  Nordberg is a journalist in Afghanistan, and she stumbles upon a family with a son who is not what he seems.  He is bacha posh or dressed up as a boy in Dari — it is a technique used by families to save their families’ honor when they have only daughters.  The pressure on low-income, middle-income, and even rich families to have sons is great, and while there are rules in place, they can be bent.  Some families take their youngest girls and dress them as boys, and these girls are then allowed the same privileges as true sons — which means education, sports, being outside unescorted, and wearing boys clothes.  While these privileges only last a short while, the daughters mostly enjoy their time as sons, but there are some who prefer to be girls and wear dresses, but do what they must for their families to survive in society and earn the money they need to live.

“Often, as we have seen in Kabul, it is a combination of factors  A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.  They are all Afghans, living in a society that demands sons at almost any cost.  And to most of them, the health workers say, having a bacha posh in the family is an accepted and uncontroversial practice, provided the girl is turned back to woman before she enters puberty, when she must marry and have children of her own.  Waiting too long to turn someone back could have consequences for a girl’s reputation.  A teenage girl can conceive and should not be anywhere near teenage boys, even in disguise.”  (page 68 ARC)

Nordberg consistently brings in outside data about the culture of Afghanistan, and she admits that her efforts to apply logic to the situation is pointless, and yet she keeps trying.  These women have defined beliefs and adhere to their culture, even if they wish certain traditions and customs regarding women were different.  Even one female politician adheres to the culture because to outwardly thwart it would bring dishonor to her family and particularly to her husband.  Each of these women knows that to survive they must work within the system, and sons are regarded above everything, though women are considered property and as good as cash when making advancements in society — which is why many women were sold off into marriages at very young ages.  While some aspects of the culture are less arcane, it is clear that Afghanistan is resistant to “Western” ideas and ways, and when the Taliban is in charge, things are even more dire for women.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg touches upon a phenomenon that is more widespread than expected, but it is not documented, as these girls dressed as boys are considered acceptable so long as the secret is not widely broadcast.  While many would see this as a form of resistance in a rigid society, the women in these families do not see it that way in many cases.  It is merely a way to survive and maintain a honorable reputation in the eyes of society, and if dressing a girl like a boy magically results in a son being born, so much the better.

About the Author:

Jenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.  In 2010, she broke the story of “bacha posh” – how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg’s original research in the piece was used for follow-up stories around the world, as well as opinion pieces and fictional tales.  Check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review by Pamela Paul

Source: Henry Holt & Company
Hardcover, 336 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul, foreword by Scott Turow, is a collection of question-and-answers from The New York Times Book Review with authors, scientists, and more.  Some of these questions stay the same, like what their favorite books are, what genres are their guilty pleasures, and what books disappointed them.  Any book lover who does or does not read the Book Review (though why wouldn’t you) will want this book to get the inside scoop on writers and their writing and reading lives.

Pamela Paul knows just what questions other readers want answered from their favorite authors, and she knows that starting conversations about what people are reading can lead to some in-depth and interesting questions — even philosophical ones.  “Asking someone what she’s read lately is an easy conversational gambit … It also serves an actual purpose: we may find out about something we want to read ourselves,” Pamela Paul says in the introduction.

As Turow says in his foreword, “whether a given writer likes or abhors a given book, all writers probably would concede that … they are who they are because of every one of the books with which they’ve ‘stoofed’ themselves during their lifetimes.”  Book lovers of all ages will love this compilation because they will find something else to read, increase the size of their stacks, and experience the deep appreciation writers and artists have for one another and their work.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul, foreword by Scott Turow, is a fantastic compilation of interviews.  Some interviews are humorous, while others are more serious.  The book itself is likely to garner The New York Times Book Review a few more subscribers.

About the Author:

Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and the author of Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, Paul was a contributor to Time magazine and The Economist, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Vogue. She and her family live in New York.  Visit her website and her on Twitter.

72nd book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

Source: Dey St. and William Morrow
Hardcover, 304 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is one of the most honest, heartfelt, and engaging memoirs out there.  Cumming is the son of a Scottish family, and his father was verbally and physically abusive, but that’s just part of this story.  Despite the abuse, Cumming had dreams, dreams that he ultimately hoped to achieve and did, even if they just began as fantasies of escape.  As a young boy, he was given impossible tasks by his father on a Scottish estate where they lived as caretakers, and really they were given so that he could fail and be the subject of his own father’s wrath. His escape from that life was acting and school, but he was careful after several early incidents to never show too much passion or love for anything because his father would take it away.  Although his relationship with his father shaped some of his anxieties that he took with him later in life, it is his relationship with his mother that solidified his confidence in becoming the talented actor he is today.

“You see, I understood my father.  I had learned from a very young age to interpret the tone of every word he uttered, his body language, the energy he brought into a room.  It has not been pleasant as an adult to realize that dealing with my father’s violence was the beginning of my studies of acting.”  (page 4 ARC)

Parallels between Cumming’s past and that of his mother’s father, the grandfather he never knew, are drawn easily in his mind and throughout the memoir after he agrees to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s death in Malaysia sometime after WWII.  Like his mother, Cumming did not have a real relationship with his father, but unlike his mother, his father lived with him for most of his life until he left for Glasgow for acting school.  Shifting between past and present in his own life, Cumming also examines his relationship to his deceased grandfather and how memory is subjective and that most people remember in an emotional way.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is not about how his father drops a bombshell on him that he is not his son.  The memoir is about how Cumming is his own man and nothing like the abusive, angry father he had, and in many ways how he is more like the grandfather he never met.  This is a contender for the Best of list this year because it is told with such honesty, self-reflection, and humor that readers will not be able to avoid examining their own lives and familial relationships.

About the Author:

Alan Cumming is an award-winning actor, singer, writer, producer and director. He recently starred in an acclaimed one-man staging of Macbeth on Broadway, and appears on the Emmy Award-winning television show The Good Wife. He won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the Broadway musical Cabaret, a role he is reprising in 2014.  He hosts PBS Masterpiece Mystery and has appeared in numerous films, including Spy KidsTitusX2: X-Men UnitedThe Anniversary PartyAny Day Now and Eyes Wide Shut.  Photo by Ricardo Horatio Nelson.

25th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Scotland and England)

 

 

 

 

71st book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg

Source: Lake Union Publishing and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 174 pgs
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The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg is set in 1920s Singapore, and Agnes Hussein is a teenager living in a rundown family palace, known as Kampong Glam.  The palace is a symbol of the cooperation of among the British and her long dead ancestors, but some view the palace as symbol of bribery by the British.  She is not Singaporean only, but also part British and part Chinese.  Her family is eccentric, and to make ends meet, the family relies on her British grandfather’s pension and the small sum they earn from their equally eccentric borders.  Rosenberg has created a character in Agnes who is a bit all over the place in her thoughts and in her actions, much like real teens, and she’s the strongest part of the novel.

“Perhaps, in order to start afresh, we needed to do away with all the old structures, the old assumptions.  Would these precious old things need to be torn down in order to make way for the new? I had to admit to myself in all honesty that I did not know the answer.” (page 146 ARC)

While there are elements of the 1920s in the novel such as Agnes’ comments on her own hairstyle and clothes, there is little else to suggest the time period, other than her grandfather’s triumphs in the Great War.  Agnes is naive in many ways about men and the political workings of her home nation.  She is like most teens; she falls quickly in love, is blind to the loyalty right in front of her, and is oblivious to the plights and machinations of those around her.  While a quick and easy read, the reader could feel separate from the characters and the main action of the novel, and the novel may have been better served with a focus on the grandfather or her uncle.

The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg is a coming of age novel that draws in some elements of Singapore and the 1920s, and Agnes is a typical teenager trying to make her own way in the world without offending tradition and without giving up her own dreams.  While she is naive about the larger world around her, she remains loyal to her family and her ancestry as she strives to earn money enough to help keep up their home.  With a little more background on the 1920s and the relationship between Britain and Singapore, this novel could have been fantastic, but as it is, it was just a good read about a young teen growing up.

About the Author:

Liz Rosenberg is the author of more than thirty award-winning books, including novels and nonfiction for adults, poetry collections, and books for young readers. She has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Paterson Prize, the Bank Street Award, the Center for the Book Award, and a Fulbright fellowship in Northern Ireland in 2014. She is a professor of English and creative writing at Binghamton University, in upstate New York, where she has received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has guest-taught all over the United States and abroad, and has written a book column for the Boston Globe for the past twenty-five years. Her previous novels, Home Repair and The Laws of Gravity, have been bestsellers in the United States, Europe, and Canada. She and her husband, David, were raised on Long Island, and went to the same summer camp at ages seven and eight, respectively.

34th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

67th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

The Paradise Tree by Elena Maria Vidal

Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Paperback, 252 pgs
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The Paradise Tree by Elena Marie Vidal recounts the real life of Daniel O’Connor, the author’s great-great-great-grandfather, based upon his own letters and writing and family lore and woven into a work of historical fiction.  Daniel O’Connor was a young man during the potato famine in Ireland, and watched as his parents struggled against starvation, political wills, and bigotry.  Even as he had dreams of becoming a doctor, laws in the land of his birth forbade his ascension in the profession, despite his skill in setting bones and working as an apprentice with other non-Catholic physicians.  After running out of the funds to attend medical school, he set his sights on a new life — one that would take him across the Atlantic into the harsh wilderness of Ontario, Canada, in the late 1880s.

Vidal has crafted a tale based on fact, and although it is fictionalized, the prose has a very non-fiction feel, which leaves readers at a distance from the characters.  The factual feel of the novel can fall flat for readers looking to connect with the characters, especially as the years pass along and the interactions are few in dialogue and often seem more like a recounting of the past.  Daniel and his family are separated from one another for a long time as he makes his way in a new country and builds his own family, but eventually, he is reunited with some of his kin as they follow him to the new world.  Vidal does an excellent job of demonstrating the lifeline that the Catholic faith becomes for the O’Connor family and how it binds them together in the toughest of circumstances.

The Paradise Tree by Elena Marie Vidal is about the perseverance of family and faith in the face of a number of struggles, though at times the prose is a bit too dry.  The O’Connor family not only faces hardships in Ireland, but in Ontario as they literally cut out a life for themselves from the wilderness.  They must battle against prejudices toward Catholics in both settings and strive to be their own guidance in their faith, as there are few churches close enough to them to tend to their religious needs.

About the Author:

Elena Maria Vidal grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, “fair as the garden of the Lord” as the poet Whittier said of it. As a child she read so many books that her mother had to put restrictions on her hours of reading. During her teenage years, she spent a great deal of her free time writing stories and short novels.

Elena graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. In 1986, she joined the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Elena taught at the Frederick Visitation Academy and worked as a private tutor as well as teaching children’s etiquette classes. During a trip to Austria in 1995 she visited the tomb of Empress Maria Theresa in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna. Afterwords she decided to finish a novel about Marie-Antoinette she had started writing ten years before but had put aside. In 1997 her first historical novel TRIANON was published by St. Michaels Press. In 2000, the sequel MADAME ROYALE was published, as well as the second edition of TRIANON, by The Neumann Press. Both books quickly found an international following which continues to this day. In 2010, the third edition of TRIANON and the second edition of MADAME ROYALE were released.

In November 2009, THE NIGHT’S DARK SHADE: A NOVEL OF THE CATHARS was published by Mayapple Books. The new historical novel deals with the controversial Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. Elena has been a contributor to Canticle Magazine, Touchstone Magazine, The National Observer, and The American Conservative. In April 2009 she was a speaker at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. In August 2010 Elena spoke at The Catholc Writers Conference in Valley Forge, PA. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She currently lives in Maryland with her family.  For more information please visit Elena’s website and blog.  You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

 

 

 

 

 

23rd book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Ireland)

 

 

33rd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

65th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

3rd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff

Source: NetGalley/Kindle
ebook, 21 pages
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The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff is a complementary story to her new novel, The Winter Guest (my review), in which Maria finds herself married and estranged from her father in rural Biekowice, Poland, during WWII.  Maria, who is married to Piotr, finds that she is an outsider at her in-laws home, and is unable to share even her sense of loss with them after he was conscripted by the Germans.  She fills her days avoiding the scrutiny of her mother-in-law, and dreaming about what life will be like when her husband returns.  She feels alone now that she’s severed herself from her father, whom she caught selling information to the Nazis.  However, her father’s betrayal is the least of the secrets she will uncover.

“War had nipped at the edges of their tiny village, Biekowice, changing little things first, like the requirement of registration cards.  Later had come the food requisitioning that left the market so bare.  Piotr’s family had not been affected as badly as most — the farm produced enough simple fare to keep their stomachs full.”

While she lives in relative comfort, Maria must remain strong for herself and a young Jewish girls she discovers hiding in the family barn.  Maria is a young wife who is still finding her place in her new family, while at the same time trying to make sense of the families around her who turn in their neighbors or make other deals with the Nazis to survive.  When she is faced with the dilemma of a little Jewish girl, it is clear that her father’s betrayal propels her to take a different action.  The Other Girl by Pam Jenoff expounds upon a minor character in her novel, The Winter Guest, giving readers a glimpse into how much the paranoia and fear had begun to permeate even the smallest villages as Nazis traipsed through the city squares and fought through the countryside.  It’s too bad that this story is so short; it would make a good novel.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.  Visit her Website and Facebook page.

22nd book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Poland)

 

 

 

32nd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

27th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

Source: Diary of an Eccentric
Paperback, 352 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff explores the bonds between sisters, particularly twins, and how those bonds can be tested and crack beneath the pressures of war and persecution.  The Nowak twins live in a small fictitious town in Poland, Biekowice, and are charged with raising their two younger sisters and brother after the death of their father.  Ruth is considered the more feminine and nurturing of the sisters, while Helena was adventurous, gathering wood and setting animal traps with their father from a young age.  Ruth was the first to fall in love and have her heart broken, and this heartbreak helped to define her views on family and loyalty, while Helena has yet to fall in love and does the best she can to provide for the family as the Nazis move across Poland and take over not only Krakow, but smaller villages along the way.

“As I stroll beneath the timeless canopy of clouds, the noises of the highway and the planes overhead fade.  I am no longer shuffling and bent, but a young woman striding upward through the woods, surrounded by those who once walked with me.”  (page 8 ARC)

Jenoff is a talented story-teller and her ability to transport readers into the harsh conditions of a rural town in Poland during WWII is nothing short of miraculous.  Readers will feel the biting cold, the harsh stares of neighbors looking for information to sell to the Nazis to get ahead, and feel the warmth of the Nowak family even as it struggles to stay together.  Ruth weighs loyalty above everything, while Helena places her family’s happiness above her own for so long that when she sees happiness for herself within her grasp, she wants to hold it close and not have to share it.  Like all sisters, Ruth and Helena share the burdens of bringing up their siblings alone, keeping food on the table and checking on their mother who is in a Krakow hospital.

Helena stumbles upon an American paratrooper in the woods and the Nowak family’s trajectory becomes skewed.  Jenoff has created twin sisters who are connected but seeking their own individuality while keeping their family together.  These dynamic women must face their own fears, as well as the reality of the WWII knocks on their door, literally.  The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff demonstrates how the unexpected can be a blessing and a curse, how families can pull together even when they don’t really like one another at that moment, and how guilt can compel us forward to make things right.

This book was phenomenal, well told, and would be a great pick for book clubs — also it is likely to make the 2014 Best of list.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.  Visit her Website and Facebook page.

21st book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Poland)

 

 

 

 

31st book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

26th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.