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Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 CDs
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Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, includes not only past experiences with her siblings, her mother, and her father, but also editorial notes and emails between herself and her editor as she struggles to write a book about writing — a book the ends up being a memoir of a writer.

Readers take a journey with Tan through memorabilia and letters between herself and her mother. It is an emotionally read memoir, with deeply sad losses from her childhood and her own internalized memories of slights she received from her parents.  Imagine how children view our comments and reactions to their behaviors; Tan makes a study of those things in her memoir as she strives to assess her own writing and her own quirks as a writer.

Through her creative reflections on her past and her own writing process for The Valley of Amazement and other books, readers are given a glimpse into her life, her emotional baggage, her forward thinking perspective on women and their accomplishments, and her devastation over the recent election. Do not think she’s overly political here, because it is more about her emotional reflections on those events and how she perceived her parents would have voted.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, is a valley of amazement all its own, and readers of her novels will enjoy learning about her struggles with her parental relationships, the secrets she uncovers and speculates about, and her emotional confessions about it all.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Amy Tan is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan’s adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition into the jungles of Burma. In addition, Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot on encouraging children to write.

Currently, she is the literary editor for West, Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Source: William Morrow
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams tells a twisted and dark tale reminiscent of Rebecca‘s Gothic nature and the secrets held back from the main character Virginia Fortescue — you may remember her sister, Sophie, from A Certain Age.  The narrative shifts between the early 1920s (Virginia’s present) and the Great War where as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charming doctor, Captain Simon Fitzwilliam.  Their relationship starts out as a friendship, but you can tell that there is a spark between them from the start — almost a magnetic pull.  Virginia, unfortunately, carries a great deal of baggage and has an inability to trust men because of her father and the death of her mother. Meanwhile, Simon is bent on protecting her by any means, including keeping secrets and telling lies.  Their relationship seems doomed from the beginning.

The pacing of this novel between the time lines, plus the additional twists and suspenseful moments, can leave the reader fatigued as they try to see through the lies and get at the truth.  Like Virginia, who is the main narrator, the readers is left wandering in a fog of lies with little light to guide them.  The relationship of Simon and Virginia is passionate, but the deeper connection they felt is so easily broken by the lies of others and the circumstances they cannot control.

Many years pass and the darkness has poisoned what was once between them.  It makes it difficult for the reader to have faith in the relationship at all given all that has happened and the inability to find even a little truth in the lies.  It’s like in all the years since WWI, Virginia remains that same naive girl who is easily lead astray.  Simon is a character who is hard to get a handle on because of Virginia’s inability to see who he truly is for nearly the entire novel.

What’s even more frustrating is the last third of the novel seems out of left field in places and overly dramatic (like a soap opera), which again may be related to the Gothic feeling of the novel.  Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams is enjoyable in many parts and definitely dramatic.  There is definitely a lot to discuss with a book club.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 11+ hours
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a young adult novel examining not only racism, but also life as a 16-year-old girl, Starr Carter, after witnessing the murder of her childhood friend Khalil by a police officer. (there’s a read-a-long at Book Bloggers International, if you’re interested) Following the death of Khalil, his murder is viewed not as the life of an unarmed teen who will never graduate high school or go to college but as the death of a drug dealer and a gang banger. Starr is forced to re-live those moments beside him as a unprovoked traffic stop turns into something tragic. Along the way, this young woman realizes that not only has she abandoned her old friends for the new ones at her suburban prep school, but that she has a voice that should be heard — loud and clear.

She also has to come to terms with where she comes from in Garden Heights — “the ghetto” — to where she wants to be as an educated woman capable of making her own life choices. Her double life comes to a head as she must reconcile the two halves of her identity — Starr Carter and Williamson Starr — to emerge on the other side of tragedy as a confident young lady. Starr also needs to stop placing labels on herself, all of her friends, and especially her white boyfriend, Chris — who let’s face it is mature beyond his years if he can refrain from sex and let her cry on his shoulders instead.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a multi-layered novel about racism, poverty, justice, and healing. Starr and all of us need to review our own prejudices to see where justice can be had and how to bring together communities for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Another one for the Best of List this year.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine, published by HarperCollins, begins with an interview between the author and film maker and director Christopher Nolan about the making of the Dunkirk film.  This serves as a preface to the overall story, which examines the societal and political atmosphere in the late 1930s. He also tackles the myth of Dunkirk and the so-called “Dunkirk Spirit” — what it meant to individual soldiers and how it mirrored or did not mirror the actual events of the biggest defeat and evacuation in WWII history.

“As they arrived back in Britain, most soldiers saw themselves as the wretched remnants of a trampled army.  Many felt ashamed.  But they were confounded by the unexpected public mood.  ‘We were put on a train and wherever we stopped,’ says a lieutenant of the Durham Light Infantry, ‘people came up with coffee and cigarettes.  We had evidence from this tremendous euphoria that we were heroes and had won some sort of victory.  Even though it was obvious that we had been thoroughly beaten.'” (pg. 27)

Levine draws parallels between the rise of youth culture in Britain, Germany, and the United States, but unlike the United States where the culture was freer, British youth culture was slightly more constrained.  In Germany, the Nazis used the rise of the youth to create a generation with a nationalist fervor through brainwashing.

Levine chronicles battles in the early days where the French military is woefully unprepared for the cunning of the German army.  He highlights the use of small groups of German soldiers who made it possible for the Panzer tanks to cross into French regions to the surprise of many.  Meanwhile, Britain remained in political turmoil until Churchill was named as Chamberlain’s replacement as Prime Minister, and even then, many began to fear that Britain would lose the war.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine is more than a recounting of a great defeat or an effort of survival, it is a look at the war from the perspective of the soldiers, politicians, and common people engaged in it.  The anecdotes and stories from these soldiers and others bring to life the war, particularly the lack of communication and the naivete of those who joined up seeking adventure.  Reality can certainly be a painful experience.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joshua Levine has written six bestselling histories including titles in the hugely popular ‘Forgotten Voices’ series. ‘Beauty and Atrocity’, his account of the Irish Troubles, was nominated for the Writers’ Guild Book of the Year award. ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, his history of the pilots of the First World War, has been turned into a major British television documentary. He has written and presented a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4. In a previous life, he was a criminal barrister. He lives in London.

Find out more about Joshua at his website, and connect with him on Twitter.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 528 pgs.
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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, available at HarperCollins, is a stunning and intricate look at the network of female spies during WWI (and later, in WWII) and how integral they were to many of the triumphs and near misses that occurred to bring down the Kaiser (and later, Hitler). Eve is just one of those spies, but the intersection of her story and that of Charlie St. Clair happens just after WWII as a pregnant young woman comes to England in search of the one woman who might know what happened to her cousin Rose. Both women carry extreme guilt for those they were unable to save and both have been broken by those failures.

“It was why she’d been hired, her pure French and her pure English. Native of both countries, at home in neither.” (pg. 25 ARC)

In a world in which men were called to war by posters seeking identical soldiers who would follow orders without question, Eve’s call to arms came in an unexpected way as she typed letters in other languages in an office. Her unassuming stature and her stutter rendered her nearly invisible and an outcast at once, and this is exactly what Captain Cameron sought in recruits. But she would need more than the ability to be invisible, she would need to transform into another person and be able to lie without being detected, even among those who were proud of their lie detecting abilities.

Both Charlie and Eve are women who face the double-standard — groomed to be or expected to want nothing more than to be mothers and wives but having the ability to be much more. Charlie, a walking adding machine, is searching for the cousin she loved like a sister who disappeared during WWII, and she bails on her mother’s hope for a brighter marriage. Eve is reluctant to join the search until a name from her past creeps up and her unfinished business rears its ugly head. Quinn has researched the network of spies well, but what she also has done is delved deep into the hearts of these patriotic women to uncover their desires, their fears, and their uncertainty in the face of the unknown.

Eve is real, a woman who should have lived during WWI and gained the respect of military men for her unwavering bravery, and Charlie is more than that wayward boarding school girl acting out. These women have experienced great loss and are forever changed by it. But together they realize that a future can still be had for the both of them, if they can only survive the past. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a sure winner and a “best book of 2017.” It’s a book you won’t want to put down but sad to see end because you don’t want to leave these heroines behind.

RATING: Cinquain

I was happy to participate in a TLC Book Tours online Junket with Kate Quinn. Please check out the video below:

Blogger Junket Video:

Photo by Kate Furek

About the Author:

Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

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

New Authors Challenge 2017

WWII Reading Challenge 2017

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 384 pgs.
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Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson (available for purchase at HarperCollins) is the story of “green” American journalist Ruby Sutton who is hand-picked to cover WWII in England by her editor at The American.  Splitting the costs of her employment, The American and Picture Weekly will get double the amount of stories from Sutton as she strives to report on the effects of war.  Her journalism colleagues in America seemed pleased that they were not picked to go, but when she gets to England, she realizes there are far more hoops to go through in order to get a story to print.  Across the Atlantic, she finds life in London agreeable and she makes friends quickly.

“It was a stomach-emptying, life-draining thing, her entire body trying to turn itself inside out, her world reduced to the bunk on which she was marooned and the bucket sitting next to it.” (pg. 14, ARC)

However, the reality of war is not far away, as she must endure the bombings from the Blitz and the hefty losses that surround her every day.  She may not have family back in America, but she certainly has an adopted family that she clings to and watches endure war with little complaint.  From her editor, Kaz, to the photographer she’s assigned, Ruby become part of a journalistic family that will soon face some tough roads ahead.  Her life becomes even fuller with Bennet, though he appears and disappears from her life constantly.  But the war leaves her little time to reflect as she becomes more integral to the paper’s success.

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson is a wonderful historical fiction novel that touches not only on the tribulations of war, but also the relationships that can form quickly between strangers.  With a bit of intrigue and suspense as it pertains to the Blitz, Robson’s novel offers a glimpse into the lives of the British during a precarious time in history.  Plucky Sutton will win readers’ hearts with her resolve and her ability to navigate the choppy waters when secrets come to the surface that she expected to remain buried in the deep sea.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.

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

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Source: Berkley
Paperback, 384 pgs.
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A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner pivots on the life of the Queen Mary, a luxury liner that crossed the ocean to entertain the wealthy and was later converted to carry troops across the Atlantic and war brides back to America after WWII.  Katrine Sawyer, Phoebe Rogers, and Simone Robinson are war brides hoping to return to the arms of their American husbands, and they share a stateroom together and exchange camaraderie until one woman’s secrets come to the surface threatening to upend all of her plans for a new future in America.  In the present, Brette Caslake is a reluctant medium who visits the old ship to help an old friend from her past, as she deals with her own decisions about whether she wants to start a family.

Meissner’s historical fiction elements are vibrant and and emotional.  Simone struggles to flee her home in Paris after the Gestapo raids her father’s shoe repair shop, while Phoebe is just eager to return to the arms of her husband and introduce him to his son.  However, Katrine has fled Germany and a secret past that she will have a hard time escaping.  The stories set during WWII are the strongest, and while Phoebe is a war bride on the ship and seems to take a central role as Katrine’s friend, her backstory is a little lost to the reader.  Meanwhile, the present day story is developed slowly throughout the novel until the end where it seemed a bit rushed.

There are a few magical elements that have to be taken at face value, but overall the novel is enjoyable.  It also raises questions about how one can come to forgive someone who comes from a land where you bore so many losses and traumas?  A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner is about the future happiness just out of reach and what it takes to get there, especially when everything is stacked against you.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Susan Meissner was born in San Diego, California, the second of three. She spent her childhood in just two houses.  Her first writings are a laughable collection of oddly worded poems and predictable stories she wrote when she was eight.

She attended Point Loma College in San Diego, and married her husband, Bob, who is now an associate pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, in 1980. When she is not working on a new novel, she is directing the small groups ministries at The Church at Rancho Bernardo. She also enjoy teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with my family, music, reading great books, and traveling.

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 327 pgs.
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A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is set in the early 1920s when times were beginning to change and women were feeling a little freer to do more than marry and have children. Told from the points of view of Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue, New York, and Miss Sophie Fortescue, a naive younger daughter of an inventor who recently became wealthy, Williams weaves a mystery that can only come to light when the intersection of two similar panes of a prism come together unexpectedly. (I’ll leave the final panes of that prism a mystery) The novel brings to life the cloistered life of a newly rich family as a juxtaposition to old, wealthy families in New York society. Even as the clash of new and old money continues on the surface, bubbling underneath is a desire of women in both realms to break free into the world of Jazz, booze, and freedom.

“‘Still, it was a passion of yours, wasn’t it? There was a reason you loved it, there was a reason you loved flying that had nothing to do with shooting down other airplanes and killing people. So that reason must still exist inside you, waiting for the — the — tide to go back out.'” (pg. 110)

Theresa’s marriage has grown stale, as she’s tolerated her husband’s discreet dalliances and the birth of a child just months after her own first born. As she strives to take a risk and begin her own affair, she finds herself caught up in the same traditional web of matrimony and security as the young man she falls into bed with seeks more. A principled man, an ace pilot during WWI, Octavian Rofrano grabs onto her offerings like a life preserver. It is not until he becomes Sophie’s cavalier that he begins to see that there can be more to life than a casual love affair with a married woman.

Meanwhile, Theresa’s bachelor brother Ox has fallen in love with the slip of a girl, whose innocence has been cracked by a trip to Europe with her inventor father and her sister. Sophie has fallen for his charms, until she begins to see the wider world around her, and all of its possibilities. How these lives become tangled into a treacherous web will rivet readers to every word on the page. Williams has created a socialite set and a set of new money players who are drawn into tragic circumstances beyond their control. A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams raises questions about experience and innocence, age and beauty, love and lust, and emptiness and fulfillment — how do we reach our full potential without knowing our past and leaping into the future? Can scandal ruin it all?

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

United States of Books: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 342 pgs.
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Entertainment Weekly says, “In this richly moving novel about a woman who returns home to take care of her father, Kingsolver draws heavily on the state’s Native American and Hispanic cultures.” (Arizona)

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver on its surface is about a broken young woman who finds that she is drawn back into the web of her childhood in Arizona. It’s a childhood that she doesn’t look back on fondly and one that she barely remembers, other than two tragic events and the distance between herself and her father. She had taken the best part of her childhood with her when she moved away, and that was her sister, Hallie. Codi is forced to return home to care for her father because Hallie has taken it upon herself to delve into the political jungles of Nicaragua to help people with their agriculture, despite the danger to herself.

“All morning I’d felt the strange disjuncture that comes from reconnecting with your past. There’s such a gulf between yourself and who you were then, but people speak to that other person and it answers; it’s like having a stranger as a house guest in your skin.” (pg. 40)

Codi is faced with some hard truths about her past and her father’s mythology about who her family is and was, but she also must face the harsh truth that she’s been running away from home since she was 15. She must learn to re-see the beauty in the Arizona dessert, mesas, farmland, and its people, who have a rich Native American history and connection to the land that is dying all around them. She’s a deeply flawed character who pursued a medical degree because she wanted to please her father, only to shy away from becoming a certified doctor by failing to complete her residency. She’s gun shy about relationships and she walks away at a moments notice, but it shouldn’t surprise those around her because she never really settles in — there are no pictures on the wall.

“Pay attention to your dreams: when you go on a trip, in your dreams you will still be home. Then after you’ve come home you’ll dream of where you were. It’s a kind of jet lag of the consciousness.” (pg. 9)

Readers should not expect the issue of the dying land or the environmental issues raised in the book to be resolved, and even the relationships Codi has with her father and her past boyfriend Loyd are a bit murky, though expected given the landscape and how little people speak to one another about their feelings. The weaving of Native American and Hispanic culture is well done, and it is through her time with Loyd that she begins to realize that she is not an outsider and that she never was. Home is where you belong, even if there is pain and heartache attached to it.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver is meditative, disjointed, and almost dreamlike in places, but at its core, it is a journey through the heart of family and finding a place in it.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family’s attempts to eat locally. Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list.

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Marlene by C. W. Gortner

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 432 pgs.
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Marlene by C.W. Gortner is a glittering historical novel of the famed actress Marlene Dietrich who defies her mother to become an actress after she realizes she will never become a famed violinist as her mother expected. Oblivious to her sexual appeal and to the rumors at the academy in Weimer where she studies violin with a private tutor, Marlene believes she has improved her talent, until her tutor divulges why he forged her grades. Rather than do her duty like her sister would have done, Marlene takes a different approach to this realization, seeing it as an opportunity to escape from under her mother’s strict rules.

“The first time I fell in love, I was twelve years old.” (pg. 3)

Her cloistered life with her mother and sister could not shield her from the theater or life in the limelight, as her uncle held events in his home with local actresses, writers, and others. She was drawn like a moth to the flame, and she could do little to stop herself from taking the path that lay before her — no matter the consequences, disapproval, or hardships. For all her unconventional behavior and antics, she was a woman of conviction and an iron will to achieve her goals. She survives WWI and WWII but not without permanent scars, but her strong character helps her survive even Hollywood and her critics.

“Few took him seriously — in fact, most scoffed at his diatribes — but his party had gained momentum, winning twelve parliamentary seats in the recent elections. His followers wore distinctive swastika-emblazoned armbands, marching down the boulevards and handing out crude pamphlets on corners, extolling a rabid nationalistic agenda that I found contemptible.” (pg. 170)

Marlene by C.W. Gortner will not disappoint fans of Gortner’s previous works, which also have exalted the profiles of other strong and unconventional women throughout history. He is their champion. Marlene is strong and unconventional, but her eccentricities shine through in Gortner’s novel, illuminating her complexities as a woman in a new country making a career and a woman who still believes that Germany is her home even if the Nazi’s rendered it asunder.

RATING: Quatrain

For more information about the book, check out Harper Collins’ website.

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

C.W. Gortner is the author of The Last Queen, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Tudor Secret. He holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall and experienced life in a Spanish castle. His novels have garnered international praise and been translated into thirteen languages to date. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights and environmental issues.

He’s currently at work on his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about the early years of Lucrezia Borgia, as well as the third novel in his Tudor series,The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles (US) or Elizabeth’s Spymaster (UK).

Half-Spanish by birth, C.W. lives in Northern California.  Visit him on Facebook and Twitter.

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After Alice by Gregory Maguire

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 304 pgs.
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After Alice by Gregory Maguire is a bit like being at the tea party with the Mad Hatter.  Everything is topsy-turvy in the real world and in Wonderland, but the only difference is that readers are familiar with the characters in Wonderland.  Ada, a girl who has a steel corset to keep her erect, finds herself falling down the rabbit hole after Alice.  While she spends a lot of time looking for Alice and meeting the characters her friend has already met and interacted with, she makes little impact on the Wonderland world and it seems to have little impact on her until nearly 200 pages into the story.

Maguire makes a point of highlighting Ada’s disability, but when she seems to freely wander about Wonderland without the aid of her corset, Ada, herself, does not appear to reflect on that much.  Readers could deduce that 10-year-old Ada is free of the constraints of society, the vicarage, and proper behavior once she sheds this corset, but there is little time spent on that.

“‘Perhaps I could join your troupe.  I should like to go to the garden party, too,’ said Ada. ‘I am hunting for a friend, you see.  I’m afraid that she may be lost.’

‘She’s no more lost than Paradise,’ said the Tin Bear.  Everyone looked at him. ‘Do you think even Paradise Lost could find itself in this fog? Really.'” (pg. 126)

There are a great many references to Noah’s Ark, Paradise Lost, and the like, and while readers can presume they are meant to be amusing in the land of wonder, they tend to fall a bit flat as there’s no real context or build-up to their usage.  For much of the novel, readers wonder why they are transitioning from the present to Wonderland — following Ada who is following Alice and following the governess and Alice’s sister, Lydia.

Although framing stories are often irksome, in this case, a frame might have improved the narrative here.  Allowing Ada to be the beginning and the end, while we examined what life was like without Alice in England.  However, even that would have made for a mostly uneventful story.  After Alice by Gregory Maguire is really just a case of a story chasing its own tale to no avail.

RATING: Couplet

About the Author:

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includesWicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.  Find out more about Maguire at his website and follow him on Facebook.

The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 448 pgs.
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The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor is a dazzling dream of a young maid who worships the starlight in the dresses of London actresses on stage and loves to dance.  Dolly Lane has started from a small town and when her childhood love returns from WWI a broken man who no longer remembers her, she makes a tough choice to follow her own dreams.  Told from three points of view — Dolly, Teddy, and Loretta — readers are given a wide view of how lives were changed by war.  Gaynor’s leading ladies are different but similar.  Dolly wants to be in the limelight and Loretta has achieved that dream, and how these ladies lives become entwined is a stroke of chance.

“He pours milk into his tea. ‘I’m not that bad.  Am I?’
‘Yes, you are. Honestly, darling, sometimes it’s like spending time with a dead trout.  And you used to be such tremendous fun.'” (pg. 35 ARC)

Loretta is a brave woman who takes her life and makes something of it, living her life as she chooses. She becomes a famous actress and spurns the trappings of her family’s expectations. Dolly, on the other hand, has dreams but is waffling as to how to achieve them. She leaves the employment of a rich household to become a maid at The Savoy in the hope that she will meet someone to change her course, but what she doesn’t realize is that she must muster up the courage to make the most of even innocuous meetings.

“Instead, I tug at the counterpane on my bed, straightening the creases I’ve made by sitting on it.  A habit of mine.  If I can’t untangle the knots in my heart, it seems that my life must be spent untangling everything else, setting things straight, making neat all that has been messed up.'” (pg. 44 ARC)

War is hammer that shatters the lives of those soldiers directly involved, but the reverberations travel far beyond the front lines, crippling families thousands of miles away and showing those inspired to help the wounded and others that their selfish concerns are shallow.  Gaynor has meted out the historical details so well, readers will become immersed in this glamorous and mundane world — the two sides of the coin between the dreamers and those who live in the spotlight.  The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor reminds us that dreaming is not enough; we must learn to reach for those dreams and bring them to life.

RATING: CINQUAIN

About the Author:

Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanicwas a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. A Memory of Violets is her second novel.

Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others.

Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. She appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences in 2014.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

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