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Guest Post: The Gifts of Memoir by Christine Hale

tlc tour hostChristine Hale, author of A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations, is stopping by to talk about the gifts of memoir.  Please give her a warm welcome.

Readers often ask me why I wrote a memoir. I began as a fiction writer (my first book, Basil’s Dream, published in 2009, is a novel). But the year my mother passed away, 2000, the material that would become this memoir asserted itself. In fact, it hijacked me. I was granted a 10-day residency at an artists’ colony, precious time to work on a revision of the novel. But when my busy life dropped away from me, all I could do was grieve my mother: her death, her hard life, and the tangle of love and misery that had been our relationship. I spent the whole residency writing about her life and my childhood. When I went home and got busy again, I completely forgot what I’d written. A year or so later, my computer’s hard drive was failing. Pulling off the files I wanted to save, I found that material– almost 100 pages! I read it, realized it was memoir, gulped, felt sick, and put it aside.

But I couldn’t stop writing about my life. Only after my mother died did I begin to really get to know my father, so that revelation had to be explored on the page. The solitary Buddhist retreats I undertook every year or so were other-worldly I just had to write about them. And the together-tattoos with my teen children, that strange and funny tale had to be told.

Much of what now comprises A PIECE OF SKY, A GRAIN OF RICE was originally published as separate personal essays. I had a nagging feeling that these apparently separate threads all belonged together, but for the longest time– years– I couldn’t figure out how or why. Only in retrospect is the answer crystal clear: the stories belong together because they are all about reconciliation: me coming to terms with the path I’ve traveled– and the people I bruised and learned from and was bruised by along the way.

By the time I began pulling the separate threads together into a book, around 2007, I’d been writing and teaching writing for a long time. So I knew I faced quite a technical challenge. Ultimately I figured that the only structure that could handle so many memories from so many points in time was collage. Think of photos pasted to a poster board– layered, overlapping, some partially obscured, others fore-grounded. The placement appears random, but the creator of the collage has a sense, conscious or intuitive, of where each photo belongs.

I worked on the book by shaping each memory into a little story, with careful attention to sensory detail (this is the advice I give to every would-be memoirist). I cut the longer stories into pieces and arrayed them in the way that felt “right.” I let the tattoo stories, which were happening as I worked on the book, be the through-line, because I wanted the book to have some momentum– some narrative drive– through time. I revised and refined the collage many times, with input from a small group of writer friends I rely on as first readers. It’s very rewarding to discover that my readers do “get” that the book’s structure mimics the way our own processes of recollection and introspection work: seldom a straight line.

I came to understand myself more clearly through the process of creating the book. When I work with people writing memoir, I tell them this is the gift they can expect to receive, if they can be both unflinching– courageous enough to see themselves and others as they really are– and self-compassionate- -merciful enough to accept, forgive, and learn from their humanity.

I want my readers to take away a feeling that they are not alone in their doubts, fears, confusion, strivings, and hopes. That these feelings are the essence of being human. I often hear from readers that they identify with the struggles and the triumphs in the book, that they are reminded of their own sweetest memories, that they feel reconnected with people they’ve lost, or that they have new insight into someone who was a powerful and painful mystery in their life. It’s amazing and satisfying that readers can get from the book their own personal version of what I got from writing it: clarity and release.

About the Book:

Christine Hale grew up amid abuse, depression, dysfunction, alienation and isolation—her mother’s, but also, because her view was the lens that controlled the family—her own, her father’s and her two sisters’. She became a writer, a prodigal daughter, a single parent, a Buddhist disciple, and, late in midlife, a newlywed. In this non-linear memoir, she meditates upon the broken path she’s traveled: two divorces, an abandoned career, too much solitude, an unconventional and transformative relationship with a female spiritual teacher, and two children lost to young adulthood but recovered, in part, through an odd ritual of repeated tattooing.

About the Author:

Christine Hale’s prose has appeared in Hippocampus, Arts & Letters, Prime Number, Shadowgraph, and The Sun, among other literary journals. Her debut novel Basil’s Dream (Livingston Press 2009) received honorable mention in the 2010 Library of Virginia Literary Awards. Hale has been a finalist for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Presently, she teaches in the Antioch University-Los Angeles Low-Residency MFA Program as well as the Great Smokies Writing Program. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

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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

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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.

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington

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Paperback, 220 pgs.
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Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington is a novella and collection of short stories that at the heart follow the Rio Grande river that splits New Mexico in two and its surrounding landscapes — the flat lands, the mountains, the dams, the dust, the heat, and heavy rains.  Harrington’s literary fiction treats the subject of PTSD with careful precision in the story of Daniel Arroyo, a Vietnam veteran unable to forget even his earliest trauma, the death of his sister.

“For Daniel, the migration of the sandhills became the promise never broken, the putting to rest of old seasons, the beginning of new.  Grandmothers would tell grandchildren, as they held hands during walks along the river, and pointed toward the sky.  His own grandmother would soon tell him about the cranes, only in Spanish.” (pg. 3 ARC)

Arroyo’s childhood was full of familial argument and happiness, but the death of his sister nearly rips them apart, sending his family flying apart.  His struggles are compounded by his guilt and by his confusion over his own feelings for his friend.  Off to war, his mind and heart returned more burdened than before, and it is clear that his nightmares are affecting his marriage to his high school sweetheart and his relationships with his son and daughter.

In the second half of the book, Harrington explores the moments in Arroyo’s life and those who lived in the home before and who purchased various pieces of furniture.  She explores the sadness these families have seen, their most intimate moments, their struggles, and even their contentment with one another.  Told through the eyes of furniture or those who have known the Arroyo family, Harrington paints a broader picture of this microcosm.  The second half may at first blush appear separate from the first, but readers will soon draw the connections from the strands she leaves.

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington is a wonderfully written look at our roots, our fears, our guilt, and all of the moments that make up our lives.  The good, the bad, the happiest, and the saddest moments.  Harrington’s work is detailed and emotionally grounded, but she never shies away from the dark moments of war and death.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Corran Harrington is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Santa Fe Writers Project finalist, a Hidden River Arts Eludia Award finalist, a Bosque Fiction Contest finalist, and a New Millennium Writings Award semi-finalist whose short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. A former lawyer, Harrington also has a background in cultural and linguistic anthropology. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Visit her on Facebook and Twitter.

Lost Kin by Steve Anderson

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Hardcover, 328 pgs.
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Lost Kin by Steve Anderson, the third book in the Kaspar Brothers series, is the search for a lost brother in post-WWII Munich, Germany.  The war has created a chaos in which the residents of the area struggle to rebuild their lives, while at the same time, people displaced by the war try to find their own way.  The Soviets are seeking traitors and those who once lived in their territories, and there are others who are running from them.  But it seems that no one wants the Jews.  Captain Harry Kaspar, a German-born man, comes upon a dead body and a Cossack refugee, Irina.  He wants to know how she knows his brother, but before he can get answers, she vanishes in the night.

Harry’s an odd fellow, a man who is eager to return to America as his stint in Munich winds down but also someone who has looked for his brother, Max, for a long time.  When Irina surfaces and knows his brother’s name, it raises those old feelings of brotherhood.  He embarks on a dangerous journey to find out what happened to Max.  But will his own darker past catch up with him before he can return home to America?

Anderson weaves in the historical elements of the occupied mansions, the found clothes, the downtrodden lives of these people, and the black market and bartering system that have now taken hold.  But his character, Harry, was a little flat.  His emotions were in check quite a lot, unless he was assessing the latest woman in front of him — whether it was his live-in Maddie, the refugee Irina, or the camp leader Sabine.

Overall, readers may feel as though they are missing something, perhaps reading the previous two novels could fill in some gaps.  It’s almost as if the reader is thrown into the action here with a modicum of explanation.  Lost Kin by Steve Anderson is part mystery, part historical fiction, and part spy novel.  The historical fiction portions demonstrating the effects of war on not only soldiers, but also society were harrowing.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Steve Anderson was a Fulbright fellow in Munich, Germany. His research on the early US occupation in 1945 inspired him to write several novels centered on World War II and its aftermath. Anderson has a master’s in history and has worked in advertising, public relations, and journalism. He lives with his wife, René, in Portland, Oregon. Visit his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna & Giveaway

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Paperback, 400 pgs.
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Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna is sweeping historical fiction in which Ireland strives for Home Rule and many Irish men are sent off to France during WWI, as the headstrong Gifford sisters are forced to deal with tragedy, fear, and the consequences of their independent natures.  Grace, Muriel, and Nellie have lived privileged lives, but each has failed in one way or another to meet the rigid expectations of their Protestant and British loyalist mother, Isabella.  Their father often cowers in his wife’s shadow, preferring to avoid conflict, unless he means to protect his own ability to attend the Roman Catholic church.

“It mystified her that, having given birth to twelve children, they could all be so different.  When she had held each of her newborn children she had thought them so alike, cherubic mirror images of each other, but as the months and years followed, they changed, slipping away from her.” (pg. 28-9 ARC)

Through their efforts to carve out lives of their own, rather than get married and have families, each woman tries their hand at a profession.  While Muriel realizes she does not have the constitution to become a nurse, she soon finds she thrives as a wife to Thomas MacDonagh, a playwright and teacher heavily involved in the Irish Volunteers and the campaign for a free Ireland, and as a mother to their children.  Nellie’s brief moment with a man spurs her into action, helping those who need it most when the employers refuse to capitulate to the demands of their workers and the lockout leaves many families in Ireland near starving.  And when the soldiers return from war, she helps them find jobs.  Grace, however, knows that she wants to be an artist and pushes her mother and father to send her to art school where she excels.  However, as a woman, she finds that while her work is accepted, she is rarely paid.

“MacDonagh teased her unmercifully when the newspaper reports mentioned ‘the Gifford sisters looking like a musical comedy in their pretty pale linen dresses as they attended the demonstration’.” (pg. 139 ARC)

These sisters become the backbone of the Nationalist movement, doing what they can to support their husbands, lovers, and friends, as the seek justice for their fellow Irish brethren — even calling for women’s suffrage.  When it all comes to a head with the British on Easter in 1916, the Gifford sisters must rely on their inner strength to move forward.  Conlon-McKenna makes these sisters come alive, and their struggles take an emotional toll on the reader.  Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna is an emotional look at the families behind the rebellion and the tensions those families faced as some strove for Irish freedom and others remained loyal to Britain.

RATING: Quatrain

***Enter the International Giveaway by leaving a comment below with your email by May 31, 2016.  1 winner will be chosen.***

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!

About the Author:

Marita Conlon-McKenna is a hugely successful Irish children’s writer. Her first novel, UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE, sold 250,000 copies in the Irish market alone. Her debut adult novel, THE MAGDALEN, was a number one bestseller in Ireland, followed by PROMISED LAND, MIRACLE WOMAN, THE STONE HOUSE and THE HAT SHOP ON THE CORNER. She lives in Dublin with her husband and four children.

Visit Marita at her website: MaritaConlonMcKenna.com.

The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

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Paperback, 368 pgs.
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The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler is a stunning mystery that unravels piece by piece, and readers will first meet Mary Browning, an elderly woman in a writer’s group.  She believes she sees an apparition of her sister, Sarah, as a young lady walks into their public writing group.  This vision prompts her memories to resurface, and with the help of this young transcriptionist, she begins again on her memoir.  Leffler deftly weaves between the past and present, creating a multi-layered story that will capture not only the nostalgia of a former airplane pilot during WWII but also the immediacy of a young woman’s search for herself among the detritus of family drama.  Her characters resonate off of one another, like echoes of the past pushing forward the lives of the present into the future.  This ripple effect builds throughout the novel, until the final mystery is revealed.

“But my greatest fear of all was not having a voice of my own.” (pg. 5 ARC)

We all fear losing ourselves and not having a voice.  We are individuals in search of ourselves, but we also are sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends, among other roles that we play.  These connections can help us breathe life into our passions and desires, or they can stifle them.  The trick is to balance the needs and expectations of others with our own without hurting ourselves or those we care most about.

“… I learned how to squeeze my face closed and let myself soundlessly shudder, imagining my tears deep inside, dripping off my organs.” (pg. 31 ARC)

Mary has lived her life, much of it on her own terms, and while she has had a hard time compromising, she was able to do it for love, even to her own detriment.  When WWII was in full swing, she left home to do what she loved even as many told her she shouldn’t, and when she fell in love, she made a sacrifice that many would now see as unnecessary without having lived with the fear of persecution.

Very rarely is there a book that can equally make emotions soar and crash, taking readers on a complete journey wrought with obstacles and choices that you can only imagine facing.  For Mary Browning to have survived them and to have created a satisfying, but not ideal life, is nothing short of miraculous — much like when a heavy metal plane takes to the air with the birds and clouds.  The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler is equal parts coming of age story, WWII historical romance, and mystery, and it is so well balanced and amazing, readers will be left spent at the end of the runway.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Maggie Leffler is an American novelist and a family medicine physician. A native of Columbia, Maryland, she graduated from the University of Delaware and volunteered with AmeriCorps before attending St. George’s University School of Medicine. She practices medicine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and sons. The Secrets of Flight is her third novel.

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

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love & Giveaway

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Paperback, 336 pgs.
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The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love begins before the British become embroiled in war again, at a time when a dancing, music, and art are in full swing.  Hitler is making his moves, and as many foreigners have moved to Britain, they fear becoming targets because of the Fascist’s moves.  In particular, an Italian community, which applauds Mussolini’s focus on making the fatherland great again, has growing concerns that they too will be swept up in the persecutions/internments of foreigners.

“Antonio stood at the bedroom window.  The June morning was mild, almost milky.  It seemed to him that if he stayed perfectly silent, perfectly still, they would pass the house and leave him be.  And yet he knew that they would not.  At any moment — they would knock on the door.  The knock would be loud and hollow: a drumbeat, a summons.  There would be no anger in it, no private hatred.  The men were just doing their job, that’s all.” (pg. 3 ARC)

Antonio and Olivia meet under less-than-ideal circumstances at the Paradise Ballroom, and despite the instant disgust, something simmers beneath he surface for both of them.  In chapters that alternate between their stories from 1937 to 1947, Love weaves a tale of forbidden love, clashing cultures, and the pressures of war.  Antonio is pressured by his brother, Valentino, to join the Fascists, but he does not believe in their cause, and even though he has an arranged marriage, he wants to provide for his wife on his own through his talents.  Olivia is making her way in the world with the talents she has, dancing the tango, but even as she makes some ill-advised choices, she continues onward through the loneliness and pain.

When war is clearly coming, Olivia marries a bohemian Englishman, Bernard, who soon becomes Antonio’s patron, helping him find a musical tutor and gigs in London.  Bernard continues to be consumed with his work with refugees from the countries conquered by Hitler, and his wife is left to fend for herself much of the time.  Her passionate nature cannot be denied for long, and the outbreak of war is the only thing that can suppress it.  Love has created two characters driven by their passion for artistry, but each is confined by different circumstances — a strict moral culture and a fear of loss.

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love is more than a love story between two or even four characters, it is a look at how fear can cause even the most rational of us to employ terrible tactics to make ourselves feel safe.  Despite a slow build, Love has created a memorable family in the Trombettas, and their struggles become emotional for the reader. 

RATING: Quatrain

GIVEAWAY: To Enter leave a comment with email address about why you want to read this book.  Open to U.S./Canada readers ages 18+

Deadline is May 11, 2016.

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!

About the Author:

Alison Love is a novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Mallingford, published in the UK and Germany, was described in The Times as ‘the kind of book that reminds one why people still like reading novels’, while her second, Serafina, is set amidst the political intrigues of 13th century Amalfi. Her latest novel, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom, has been published in the UK, the USA and Germany (as Das Lied, das uns trägt). Alison’s short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, and her story Sophie stops the clock was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2013.

 

 

The Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich

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Hardcover, 256 pgs.
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Tyson Palmer is The Total Package; he’s football’s biggest star quarterback with a pile of money, a hot bod, and a trail of broken hearts, including his own. His career as a star football player, with help from his father and those around him, is nearly over.  But a chance meeting at his college’s Homecoming with Ella Bella, a former tutor, has ramifications that he is blissfully unaware of thanks to his drinking and Percocet.  When he’s kidnapped and forced into rehab, Palmer comes to realize that forgiveness has to first start with yourself.  Signing with the Austin Mavericks, he has an opportunity to relive the golden days as a star quarterback, but he plans to do it differently.

He still has his critics, and one of them is Dani Carr, a sports commentator, who calls Palmer out for his egotism and his failure to win a Super Bowl.  There’s a deeper cause for her anger, one that will take Palmer a while to uncover.  Even as they argue back and forth, the foreplay is something they cannot ignore.  Stephanie Evanovich creates characters that are not only flawed, but forgivable.  Carr’s work with Marcus, who is the receiver the Mavericks have pinned their hopes on, brings her closer to Palmer.  Carr has focused on her anger for so long, it is hard for her to let go even when she feels pulled in by Palmer’s charm.

Palmer is a man who wants forgiveness, but he also wants to build the life he once dreamed about as a kid.  The Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich is a story about redemption and forgiveness.  It’s another great read from this author and would be perfect to pop in the beach bag or even to spend the afternoon with in the spring sun.

RATING: QUATRAIN

About the Author:

Stephanie Evanovich is a full-fledged Jersey girl who attended New York Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts, performed with several improvisational troupes, and acted in a few small-budget movies, all in preparation for the greatest job she ever had: raising her two sons. Now a full-time writer, she’s an avid sports fan who holds a black belt in tae kwon do.  Find out more about Stephanie at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

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Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig is a collection of short stories set during World War I, the Great War. Love is at the crux of each story, whether its a lost love or the love of a child lost to war, and these men and women are tested by the ravages of combat.  These writers have a firm grasp of the subject and readers will never question their knowledge of WWI or the human condition.  From a childless widow of German heritage living in France in “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb to a young wife left in Paris alone and estranged from her husband’s family in “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland, people are torn apart by war in many ways and those who are left behind to pick up the pieces are weary and forlorn.  They must pick up their skirts or what remains of their lives and move on, despite the pull of the past, the future that will never be, or the emptiness of their homes.

“But the trick was not to care too much.  To care just enough.” (from “An American Airman in Paris” by Beatriz Williams, pg. 244 ARC)

“Sixty years gone like a song, like a record on a gramophone, with the needle left to bump against the edge, around and around, the music gone.” (from “The Record Set Straight” by Lauren Willig, pg. 44 ARC)

These characters care, they care a lot, and even after the war is long over, the past still haunts them, at least until they are able to make amends or at least set the record straight.  How do you get past the loss of loved ones, do you wallow? do you seek revenge? how do you hold on to hope? Sometimes the war doesn’t leave a physical reminder, but a mental and emotional one — scars that are harder to trace and heal.  These stories are packed full of emotion and characters who will leave readers weeping and praising the hope they find.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig takes readers on a journey through and over the trenches and to the many sides in a war — crossing both national and familial borders.

Rating: Cinquain

Connect with the Authors:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m counting this as my Fiction Book Set During WWI.

 

The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb

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Paperback, 336 pgs.
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The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb will immerse readers in the religious fervor of Judaism, which is both beautiful in its confinement and infuriating in its inability to be more flexible. Opening with Maya Kerem reminiscing about her parents, the novel seems as though it’s going to be a love story about her parents, but then, readers are introduced to German Jew Walter Westhaus, whose life is shattered one night by the Nazis in 1938.  The tragedy he experiences in his apartment pushes him into blind action, leaving his homeland to board a boat and travel not to Palestine as he and his fiance dreamed but to Bombay, as he follows a man with a brown felt hat.

“They are alone for four days and their recognizable lives become obliterated, irrelevant.  For both of them, this time is not joyful, but necessary.” (pg. 199 ARC)

Despite the complications and the religious context, the story of Walter is one that is familiar, a man who becomes lost in the face of trauma and who wanders to find meaning in what’s left of his life.  The man with the brown felt hat befriends him among the spices and dreams of a different life for Walter.  He begs Walter to come to America and become a scholar of religion and faith.  This is a friendship held at a distance, a connection that allows Walter to meet Sol Kerem and Rosalie Wachs, with whom he will be connected in the most beautiful and impossible ways — creating a deep love and braided life that is beneath the surface of all that they are.

The poetry of the Torah and the other texts examined in Rabbinical school by Walter and Sol mimic the beautiful relationship between Sol, Rosalie, and Walter, an impossible braid that cannot be broken because if it were, all strength would be lost.  While Gottlieb’s characters are each lost in their own way, when they come together, they find the strength and faith they need to keep going, even when they are miles and countries apart.  Like the intertwined relationships of the novel, Gottlieb weaves in religious texts and rituals in a way that is seamless and artistic, making beautiful the impossible.

“…the secret of these weeks will resound in my bones as private music that only I will be able to hear.” (g. 70 ARC)

The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb is a rapture where decisions are not analyzed but made, and where love is the driving force of faith.  Even in death, a story can live on, unraveling its intricate and closely held secrets for all to behold.  It’s a mystical take on the average lives we lead and how they compare to the dreams of something more that we harbor in locked places.

Rating: Cinquain

About the Author:

Amy Gottlieb’s fiction and poetry have been published in many literary journals and anthologies, and she is the recipient of fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. She lives in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m calling this my A Fiction Book set during WWII.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman is a fanciful collection of short stories in a variety of forms, including those that use letters, poetry, and stories within stories. In the introduction, Gaiman explains what he means by trigger warnings and subsequently explains the seeds that began the stories and the thought processes behind them.  Readers who like surprises may want to skip the explanations and head right into the stories, because on their own, you can see how trigger warnings might be necessary for some readers.

“I’m thinking rather about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. … And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead.” (pg. XV)

Stories in the collection are twisted, have dark shadows that play at the edges, and will have readers contemplating what on earth they’ve just read.  “A Calendar of Tales” was a fun experiment conducted with the help of Twitter in which statements from strangers spawned ideas for stories, and these tales are spontaneous and captivating with images that references the months of the tales.  Readers will love the tone used by Gaiman, who builds little mysteries one word at a time.  Gaiman has chosen his formats and language very carefully — sucking readers in quickly and astonishing them by the end.  However, one story — The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, previously reviewed here — that makes an appearance in this collection may be better read in its illustrated format — it’s so much richer.  But one of the creepiest and unsettling stories in the collection is “Click-Clack Rattlebag” in which a young boy asks for a scary, but not too scary story before bed from his babysitter.  The story that’s told is not what the babysitter or the reader expects, and it will have readers looking very closely about the shadows at the edges of the room.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman was a satisfactory collection and while the theme seems to be the inescapable past, many of these fanciful stories also seek answers to what happens when you begin forgetting or when the future you expected does not come to pass.

Other Reviews:

The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains

About the Author:

Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, and his blog.