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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.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook; 14 CDs
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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana — which was our September book club selection — is an expertly woven tale of Caroline Ferriday’s lilac girls, or the Ravensbrück rabbits, who were experimented on in a German WWII camp.  Ferriday, who was a real woman, is a socialite who soon realizes that her work with French nationals is more about helping others than it is about her social status, even as she falls for a married French actor and considers a different life for herself.  Told in alternate points of view — Ferriday, polish teen Kasia Kuzmerick, and a young ambitious German Dr. Herta Oberheuser — Kelly’s trifecta pushes readers deep into the emotional baggage of WWII and the relationships that carry each woman through.  Clearly well researched, Ferriday comes to life as a woman with little else to do but mourn her father and help those in need, while Kasia has a lot to learn even as she plunges headlong into the resistance to impress a boy.  Meanwhile, Herta — the most educated of the three — seems to have learned little compassion for others, instead remaining focused on how to get ahead as a medical professional, no matter the cost.

Even the German doctor appears sympathetic at first, until we see how camp life hardens her against humanity.  Kasia wears her camp damage on her at all times, pushing even her family away when it is clear she needs them most.  Meanwhile, Ferriday’s romantic troubles seem trivial in comparison, though it is clear they will push her into something that will become her life’s work — a search for justice for those who need it most.

It will be hard to look away from these women as they deal with the harsh experiments perpetrated by the Nazis, and they are set on their own paths and learn how best to move on with their lives after the war is over.  Kelly has lived with these women for some time, and it shows in her deeply dynamic characterization of the real-life Ferriday and Oberheuser; Kasia and her sister also are clearly based on real life accounts as their sisterly bond becomes a rock on which they can rely in even the toughest moments.  Even if you think you’ve read everything about WWII, this is not to be missed.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana – is a harrowing look at guilt — misplaced or not — and the affects of bonds between siblings, mothers and daughters, and even strangers during wartime.  Nurturing supportive relationships with other women can ensure survival.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Martha Hall Kelly is a native New Englander who lives in Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years, raised three wonderful children who are now mostly out of the nest and Lilac Girls is her first novel. She is hard at work on the prequel to Lilac Girls.

Dark Lady: A Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer by Charlene Ball

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 300 pgs.
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Dark Lady by Charlene Ball is a fictional account of Emilia Bassano’s life in the late 1500s. She is rumored to be the “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets and is considered the first professional female poet. Ball has taken a format that resembles journal entries in that they jump forward in time, but the narrative is not told in the first person. She was a young woman who was sent to live with the Countess of Kent at a young age and much of her family were musicians at court. She often felt held back by the social norms in which women were passed about as property and often judged as fallen or bad women just based on appearances. Many of her actions seem haphazard and naive, which is to be expected for a girl sent away from her home at a young age.

“It was a day of sun and white waves on the water that curled around the prow of the boat. Emilia moved closer to Lord Hunsdon, wrapped in his cloak against the chill of the morning. Earlier the sky had been soft pearl gray, and now it was streaked with scarlet, purple, and deep crimson.” (pg. 13)

“Emilia made a face. ‘Don’t bring raw noses into my parlor, I beg you.’

‘And should I leave my poor nose at the door waiting in the cold? Shivering, dripping, unkerchiefed?'” (pg. 87)

Ball infuses Bassano’s tale with beauty and darkness, but there also is humor. Despite the tragedies in her life, Bassano strives to take her fate in her own hands. She meets a young playwright named Shakespeare, a man who wants to be a professional poet with a patron, but his works and his carefree attitude capture her attention away from a lord who has protected her when she needed it most. She is torn between her gratitude for the man who has protected her all this time, despite his own marriage and family, and the passion she knows lies beneath the disguises of a married player. The interactions between Bassano and Shakespeare are eerily familiar to those in the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” at least in terms of the cross-dressing and cloak-and-dagger tactics Bassano and Shakespeare engage in.

Dark Lady by Charlene Ball looks at the life of one female artist in a time when men dominated society and women were pawns. While she was strong in many ways, it was clear that she was still a victim of her own naivete and her inability to protect herself from situations that could harm her. Readers may find that the format and style keeps them at a distance from the main character as the story unfolds, but she certainly led an interesting life full of colorful people.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Charlene Ball holds a PhD in comparative literature and has taught English and women’s studies at colleges and universities. Although she has written nonfiction, reviews, and academic articles, writing fiction has always been her first love. She has published fiction and nonfiction in The North Atlantic Review, Concho River Review, The NWSA Journal, and other journals. She has reviewed theater and written articles on the arts for Atlanta papers. She is a Fellow of the Hambidge Center for the Arts and held a residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. She attends fiction workshops by Carol Lee Lorenzo, and she belongs to a writers’ group that she helped found. She retired from the Women’s Studies Institute (now the Institute for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) at Georgia State University in 2009 and has been busier than ever with writing and bookselling. She also volunteers with her congregation and other social justice groups. She and her wife, Libby Ware, an author and bookseller, were married in May 2016.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Conceit & Concealment by Abigail Reynolds

Source: the author
ebook, 354 pgs.
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Conceit & Concealment by Abigail Reynolds is Pride & Prejudice set in an alternate history in which Napoleon successfully invaded England. It has been six years since the invasion, and it is clear that England has not succumbed to foreign rule quite yet. When Elizabeth Bennet meets Fitzwilliam Darcy for the first time, she is told he is a French sympathizer. Although not like other wealthy men who have struck deals with the occupying rulers, Darcy faces Lizzy’s condemnation, even as she finds his company pleasant.  The French in charge of Meryton are less than civil, with one commander making illicit passes at the Bennet sisters, forcing one into hiding.

Even as Wickham lurks among the French soldiers, Darcy is unphased by his presence because he has more conflicting emotions to deal with.  He’s slipped in his conversations with Lizzy, and he’s even allowed Georgiana to spend time with her and her sister, Jane.  It’s been a long road of protecting his sister from harm, but all could come apart if he continues to trust Lizzy with his secrets.  Too much hangs in the balance for Georgiana and the fate of England.  When Darcy is no longer able to care for Georgiana, he is forced to make a leap of faith, one that could leave Lizzy’s reputation in tatters.

Reynolds’ latest novel is wildly creative and engaging — espionage, uprisings, and alternate history — that will leave readers on edge as beloved characters are arrested as traitors and subjected to torture at the hands of the French.  The secrets are swirling around Hertfordshire and London, and Darcy’s family is at the center of most of it.  Readers will have a hard time not reading into the wee hours of the night.  Conceit & Concealment by Abigail Reynolds is one of my favorites and highly recommended. Another for Best of list consideration.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Abigail Reynolds may be a nationally bestselling author and a physician, but she can’t follow a straight line with a ruler. Originally from upstate New York, she studied Russian and theater at Bryn Mawr College and marine biology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. After a stint in performing arts administration, she decided to attend medical school, and took up writing as a hobby during her years as a physician in private practice.

A life-long lover of Jane Austen’s novels, Abigail began writing variations on Pride & Prejudice in 2001, then expanded her repertoire to include a series of novels set on her beloved Cape Cod.Her most recent releases are Conceit & Concealment, the national bestsellers Alone with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections, and Mr. Darcy’s Journey. Her books have been translated into five languages. A lifetime member of JASNA, she lives on Cape Cod with her husband, her son and a menagerie of animals. Her hobbies do not include sleeping or cleaning her house.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 479 pgs.
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Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, which was the readalong selection for June at War Through the Generations, is a complex story in which Anna Schlemmer has kept her activities during WWII in Weimar secret, even from her daughter Trudy. Although Trudy was a young girl during the war, she remembers very little and what she does remember often comes to her in snatches of dreams and makes little sense. She’s tried to pry the past out of her mother ever since finding a portrait of herself, her mother, and a Nazi SS officer in her drawer at their farm in New Heidelberg, Minnesota.

“It is one of the great ironies of her mother’s life, thinks Trudy Swenson, that of all the places to which Anna could have emigrated, she has ended up in a town not unlike the one she left behind.” (pg. 73)

Blum’s novel shifts from the points of view of Anna and Trudy and shifts in time from WWII to the 1990s, where Trudy has begun a project to interview Germans about their time during the war, as her colleague strives to save the stories of Jews who escaped the Holocaust. But this story begins with a young girl looking to get out from under her father’s thumb in Germany, as war is beginning to seem more likely. Anna falls for a young man, and their relationship is doomed from the beginning. What transpires from that love affair onward takes Anna on a journey into darkness where she is alone and very aloof, even from the local baker, Mathilde Staudt, who agrees to take her in.

“It is as though Trudy has reached under a rock and touched something covered with slime. And now she is coated with it, always has been; it can’t be washed off; it comes from somewhere within.” (pg. 185)

Anna’s silence looms large over Trudy’s life, and it has foisted guilt upon her for a time she barely remembers and a man she suspects is her father. Her guilt is compounded by her mother’s unwillingness to talk about the past and the death of her stepfather, Jack – a former WWII soldier for America. Along the way, Trudy meets an older man who is half Jewish, Rainer, and she begins to see that her happiness does not have to be tied to the past.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum explores generational guilt and the effects of war atrocities on those who did not commit them but were considered just as guilty as those with whom they associated. Blum’s research is impeccable and her understanding of the guilt and horror of the Holocaust and WWII emerges in the characterization of Anna, Trudy, and so many other secondary characters. Readers will be submerged alongside Anna as she struggles to survive for herself and her child, doing things she would prefer not to. She is forced to remain practical and to deal with any one she encounters with suspicion and caution, and when the past is on another continent she wants her daughter to leave it there. Although I would have preferred greater resolution between Anna and Trudy — whose relationship appears broken from the start of the novel — the ending does provide some hope. The novel carefully explores the question of whether we can love those who save us even as they commit the most heinous crimes and whether the past is best left where it is in order for happiness to be found.

RATING: Quatrain

Read the discussions:

About the Author:

New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels THOSE WHO SAVE US (Harcourt, 2004) and THE STORMCHASERS (Dutton, May 2010) and the novella “The Lucky One” in GRAND CENTRAL (Berkeley/Penguin, July 2014). One of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers. Novel THE LOST FAMILY forthcoming from Harper Collins in Spring 2018.

The Darcy Monologues edited by Christina Boyd & Giveaway

Source: Christina Boyd
Paperback, 414 pgs.
Kindle, 415 pgs.
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The Darcy Monologues edited by Christina Boyd is a strong collection of 15 short stories set in modern times as well as regency. These stories get inside the head of Mr. Darcy during his tangled courtship of Elizabeth Bennet, and each begins with a quote from Pride & Prejudice that inspires the story. Some of my favorite authors for Pride & Prejudice variations are in this collection, including Janetta James, Joanna Starnes, and Beau North. There are some new favorites for me too, like J. Marie Croft for her witty teasing of Mr. Darcy by Col. Fitzwilliam in “From the Ashes;” and Natalie Richards’ portrayal of Darcy as a lawyer moving through the wild west and Elizabeth Bennet as a horsewoman in “Pemberley by Stage;” and the honorable Mr. Darcy in “The Ride Home” where he picks up Elizabeth after her date with Mr. Collins and she’s quite drunk. These authors are providing a glimpse into Darcy’s transformation (sometimes literal transformation) into a man worthy of Elizabeth Bennet’s love.

For those who love Pride & Prejudice and cannot get enough of the two main characters, this is a collection you’ll want to pick up right away. There was one or two stories in the collection that I was less than happy with — one felt like I was reading a synopsis of the story — but that can happen with any short story collection. The Darcy Monologues edited by Christina Boyd offers a look inside the evolution of Mr. Darcy from the taciturn man to one who has no choice but to express his feelings and come out of his shell to win the love of Elizabeth Bennet.

RATING: Quatrain

Exclusive to the tour, please welcome Ruth Phillips Oakland as she talks about why she loves Susan Adriani.

My Love Affair with Susan Adriani by Ruth Phillips Oakland

My love affair with Susan Adriani’s writing began nearly ten years ago, with the prologue of Affinity and Affection (which later became The Truth About Mr. Darcy.) At Netherfield, Mr. Darcy startles awake to find the object of his arousing dream sitting in the chair beside him. Darcy must battle his attraction, his arousal and his embarrassment, all while contributing to a painfully polite conversation with his alluring and observant nemesis. This delightful scene gives the perfect example of my favorite Mr. Darcy; intelligent, noble, and hopelessly in love. He is the straight man to Susan’s subtle wit. A beautiful duo. And there is so much more to admire in Susan’s writing besides her Mr. Darcy; her talent to craft plots, and her meticulous attention to historical accuracy capture my imagination and transport me to Regency England. From The Truth About Mr. Darcy to Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley to the numerous short stories I’ve read on-line, Susan not only entertains me, but I learn things too. How could I not become a fan?

Since that sparkling introduction to Susan’s work, we have met and become good friends, but to finally have the opportunity to have my work appear with hers in ‘The Darcy Monologues’ is truly an honor. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beauty of Susan’s story ‘In Terms of Perfect Composure’ in The Darcy Monologues, as well as the other fourteen stories written by many of my favorite Austenesque authors.

Please give Susan Adriani a warm welcome for her first visit here at Savvy Verse & Wit. Let’s grab a cup of tea and have a chat.

Susan, can you begin by sharing with my readers a six-word memoir about yourself?

Mom first, artist second, writer third.

How did you come to be inspired by Miss Austen as both a woman and then, as a writer?

Jane Austen was a woman who, despite the challenges of her time, managed to accomplish something that not only inspired, but brought pleasure to countless people. She was raised in what was very clearly a man’s world, where ladies (in the truest sense of the word) were not permitted to make a living for themselves, or even a name. To work was unheard of. She lived as a lady, and wrote her stories to entertain her family, and was not only acknowledged for her talent, but celebrated. (The Prince Regent was one of her biggest fans.) Her becoming a novelist, whether her name was printed on the cover or not, was an incredible accomplishment.

I began writing JA inspired fiction because of my love of her novels, most especially Pride and Prejudice. After many, many, many readings, I thirsted for more. At the time, only a few writers were daring to ask, “What if…”; I never thought I would be one of them. Writing was something I’d always enjoyed, but I didn’t really do it. I was an artist by nature, and, also by profession. But what started out as a challenge to myself (surely, I could write a novel, too!), eventually became a pastime I truly loved. If my stories can bring enjoyment to even one person, then that is all I can ask for; that’s enough to make it worth my time.

Can you offer readers a brief description of your story and tell us why you chose to set your story in the Regency era?

In Terms of Perfect Composure’ is a story based on a “What if” premise. What if Darcy did not stay in London for ten days after Bingley and Jane were reunited, but was persuaded to return earlier, in time to interrupt Lady Catherine’s visit to Longbourn? In my story Lydia has not betrayed Mr. Darcy’s involvement in her wedding, so Elizabeth knows nothing of his generosity to her family.

I set my story in the regency era because it’s the era I most enjoy. There are certain rules to follow, and societal customs to acknowledge, which not only pose a challenge, but which I enjoy trying to work within.

This year we’re coming up on the 200th anniversary of the publications of “Persuasion,” and “Northanger Abbey.” What were you trying to capture in your story, (In Terms of Perfect Composure) of Jane Austen in The Darcy Monologues?

Whenever I write anything related to Pride and Prejudice, I like to include some of Jane Austen’s own lines scattered within, be they quotes by her characters, or observations made by herself. ‘In Terms of Perfect Composure’ begins with precisely that: “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom does it happen that something isn’t a little disguised or a little mistaken.” I thought it could be something interesting, as Mr. Darcy abhors disguise of every sort, yet he does employ some deception when certain situations call for it. I can imagine, based on her writing and letters, that Jane Austen herself was not naïve to deception. She has a very good sense of it, and weaves it into many of her stories. Secret engagements, elopements, kept secrets, and ruinations of one sort or another fill her novels. But not every form of disguise ends in disappointment. Sometimes, as Darcy says, it really is, “done, and done for the best.”

The reactions to this upcoming release have been overwhelmingly positive from readers and I think that’s also in response to Mr. Darcy’s tremendous popularity throughout the past two centuries. Why do you believe that modern-day woman still find him so appealing?

I think Mr. Darcy represents an ideal. He is tall, and handsome, intelligent, and independent. He is loyal almost to a fault. Despite his mistaken pride and ill-conceived judgment, he is willing to take responsibility for his actions and right the wrongs he has committed. He is a man who is by no means perfect, but because he loves deeply enough, and steadfastly enough, he is willing to better himself. He not only becomes a man we can respect and admire, but one we eventually even come to love.

Did writing this story make you appreciate something about Jane Austen all over again?

Writing this story didn’t so much make me appreciate any one thing about Jane Austen more than any other, but I did realize something about myself. It’s been a few years now since I’ve written anything Austenesque, but even though so much time has passed, even though so many things have changed―even though I, myself happened to have changed―Jane Austen’s stories and characters continue to remain dear to me.

What can readers look forward to reading from you in the future and how can readers stay in touch with you?

I’m sorry to say I haven’t been actively writing any JA inspired stories; my focus has been on my family and writing an original novel for my very deserving, very patient twelve-year-old daughter. However, as many people know, I still have a full-length JA regency novel half-written: In Doubt of Mr. Darcy. It seems like a waste to just cast it aside indefinitely, so I do, absolutely, have plans to finish that up at some point in the future. Knowing how very persuasive Mr. Darcy can be, I may even write more.

Readers can connect with me at: https://www.facebook.com/sadrianiauthor/
or at my website: https://www.thetruthaboutmrdarcy.weebly.com

I am also designing book covers and have many Regency era covers for sale. You can contact me here to see my work and to contact me: http://www.cloudcat.com

The playlist:

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Previous Posts About the Book:

International Giveaway Information:

One winner will win the grand prize of 24 paperback books, each one autographed by the author, and mailed to the winner’s home.

The second winner will win their choice of either a Pride and Prejudice pocketbook or a Pride and Prejudice Kindle Fire Case with stand – Pride and Prejudice Book Cover Case for Amazon Kindle Fire 7″ and 6″ – Kindle Fire / Fire HD / Fire HDX tablet.

ENTER HERE!

GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!

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

Footprints in the Forest by Jeannette Katzir

Source: giveaway win from Diary of an Eccentric
ebook, 247 pgs.
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Footprints in the Forest by Jeannette Katzir, which I received from a giveaway and is an advanced reading copy, tells the tale of Chana Pershowski a young girl not yet fifteen who’s family is forced into a ghetto in Poland during WWII. Her brother Isaac loses his new wife and child, and that becomes a catalyst for the life they eventually live among the partisans. Fleeing Poland has to be the hardest decision Chana is forced to make, though she really doesn’t make it. As a young girl, she has little choice but to follow the orders of her mother and follow her brother into the wintry forest.

Her brother vows to protect her, as does his childhood friend Saul, who Chana views as strong. She’s had a crush on him for a long time, but he sees her as a little sister, and nothing in the forest is certain when the Nazis are looking for you. Running under cover of night and breaking camp when the Russian partisans decide to whether or not everyone is present makes life unpredictable at best. Being sent on missions when you don’t know how to shoot or make bombs can be deadly, even when you have protectors around you.

“I worked with gunpowder and straw, and was amazed to find how fearless I felt.  In a strange way, putting together a bomb reminded me of making sugar cookies with Mama.”

Katzir takes the reader on a journey through the forests with Chana the partisan and in the United States after the war with Chana the young woman finding her way in a world she still fears. Paranoia left over from the war threatens to keep her from happiness, and readers will wonder how far her PTSD will hinder her. Along the way, she learns to trust some of the partisans even against her mother’s ingrained advice, and she even learns to love.  But the war is far from done with her, and she needs to prepare herself for the ultimate sacrifice.  Chana is equal parts strong and weak, child-like and mature, and it is her makeup that leaves her at the mercy of others on a few occasions, especially when she makes rash decisions.

Three things bothered me to prevent a 5-star review: one that she wore a red coat in the snow-white forests when more than likely it would have made her a target, the resolution at the end seemed too rushed, and I’m hoping that many of the typos and grammatical and story line errors I saw were corrected in the final book.

Footprints in the Forest by Jeannette Katzir provides readers with a well-rounded look at what life in the forest during WWII looks and felt like for a young girl who hasn’t had time to find herself, let alone dream of how she wants her life to be in the future.  It also doesn’t gloss over partisan life and how women were perceived in those freedom fighting bands.

RATING: Quatrain

 

 

 

 

New Authors 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.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 371 pgs.
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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which was our April book club selection, is a novel that satirizes the aftermath of the Vietnam war, but it also is a serious examination of identity from the point of view of someone who is a subversive and a mole within the South Vietnamese military at the time of the war. The Captain, who remains unnamed, is in the South Vietnamese military but feeding information to the People’s Army of Vietnam (communists) through his childhood friend, Man. Meanwhile, their third childhood friend, Bon, has been trained as an assassin by the CIA. Balancing his friendship with his duty to the communists becomes a balance that the Captain often loses, but as he has so few real connections with others, it is his friend Bon who pays the highest cost.

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.” (pg. 1)

In many ways the opening of the novel will signal to the reader that everything told by the Captain may be untrue or at least partly. But he also seeks to set himself up as a sympathetic character who is torn not only by his heritage — the son of a Vietnamese mother and French priest — but also by his knowledge of America from being abroad at school and his communist leanings. After fleeing Vietnam with the General when the Americans lost the war to the communists, the Captain longs to return, but he is repeatedly told that he must remain a mole among those exiled to America to ensure they are not planning a return. He is forced to swallow more of the bitter pill that his life is not his own, even in America.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen provides a deep look at issues of mixed cultures and races, how they are treated in Vietnam and America during this time period, and how difficult it was to reconcile defeat on either side. It also asks the bigger questions about revolution and the disillusionment of passionate idealists. Corruption of any revolution can occur, and that can be the most devastating for the passionate idealist, but how does it affect those who can see both sides of the equation? And is the real crime to have done nothing or to not have truly chosen a side to be on — right or wrong?

RATING: Cinquain

What the Book Club Thought:

The discussion compared the novel to 1984 and to Catch-22 for its satire, but mostly, we were engrossed in the plight of the Captain and his identity issues. We found it hard for him as a European-Vietnamese man with communist and American-leaning tendencies to reconcile all that he was and commit himself to one cause. Overall, most of the members at the meeting “enjoyed” the book, though one or two members were less than thrilled by the disembodied scenes in the interrogation room, which they felt took them out of the story.

About the Author:

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. His next book is a short story collection, The Refugees, forthcoming in February 2017 from Grove Press.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 530 pgs.
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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a sweeping tale of World War II from the perspective of a German, Werner, and a French blind girl, Marie-Laure. Werner is a smart, young German boy who lives in an orphanage, while Marie-Laure is a young girl who goes blind and lives with her father in Paris. Both have faced some hardships, but both remain hopeful that life can be beautiful. Told from both perspectives as the war takes hold of Europe, Doerr creates a tale that is carefully woven together and tethered to the myth of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that some say is cursed and others say can provide miracles to those who possess it.

Doerr does an excellent job of not only creating characters on both sides of the war with compelling stories, but also ensuring that there is a light of hope in each story to keep readers going. While the subject of WWII has become fodder for a number of novelists, very few will tell the story from the perspective of a young man swept up into the military because he dreams of a better life and learning that he cannot get in the orphanage. Readers will see a well crafted novel full of dynamic characters and symbolism, but they also will see that men and women on both sides of the war are not that different from each other and that the politics of the time is what drove the violence and indecency.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and for good reason. It’s a must read for those who love historical fiction and are looking for a detailed take on lives on both sides of the war.

RATING: Quatrain

If you missed our read-a-long in March at War Through the Generations, check it out.

Readalong:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

New Authors Challenge

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 56 pgs.
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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan is a Newbery Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, and the author notes that he was inspired to write about the 11 slaves listed as property for the Fairchilds estate in 1828. The slave-related document only listed the slaves as “woman” and “boy”, etc., and no ages were given.  Bryan ascribed ages and names to these slaves and gave them jobs on the estate, and the stories he tells in a free-verse poetry format are telling.  My daughter and I read this together in February for Black History Month, but it is a book that has lessons that should be taught to kids everyday.

Bryan’s illustrations aim to breathe life into the dreams of these slaves, those who are bound to an estate with little hope of freedom, except in their minds.  They have skills praised by their owners, and any money they earn from the neighboring plantations enriches their owners.  It’s hard to see how this life could not make the slaves feel hopeless, but Bryan’s free verse poems recall the inner freedom their skills and accomplishments can bring — they have dreams of something more, if not for themselves, for others who they teach and mentor along the way.  From musicians to architects and doctors, these slaves had dreams that out shined their current situations.

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan demonstrates the harsh realities of slavery, while still providing children with a glimmer of hope and joy.  It speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit, as well as the darker drive to control others and deem them less worthy for arbitrary reasons.  The illustrations are bright and dreamlike, and kids will be drawn in.  My only complaint is that the free-verse is very narrative, and less rhythmic than expected.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Ashley Bryan grew up to the sound of his mother singing from morning to night, and he has shared the joy of song with children ever since. A beloved illustrator, he has been the recipient of the Coretta Scott King—Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award; he has also been a May Hill Arbuthnot lecturer, a Coretta Scott King Award winner, and the recipient of countless other awards and recognitions. His books include Sail Away; Beautiful Blackbird; Beat the Story-Drum, Pum Pum; Let It Shine; Ashley Bryan’s Book of Puppets; and What a Wonderful World. He lives in Islesford, one of the Cranberry Isles off the coast of Maine.