Search Results for: erica goss

Guest Review: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

magamb★ ★ ★ ½

… the grandeur of the Amberson family was instantly conspicuous as a permanent thing: it was impossible to doubt that the Ambersons were entrenched, in their nobility and riches, behind polished and glittering barriers which were as solid as they were brilliant, and would last.

If only, if only …

How do you enjoy a 300+ page book with a protagonist who is an arrogant, petulant, jackwad with no obviously redeeming qualities for the first 300 pages? Well, it’s tough. But if it’s as well The Magnificent Ambersons, it’s possible.

Sure, that’s a little bit of a spoiler — George Amberson Minafer does develop a couple of redeeming qualities in the last 30 pages or so. But you know what? The book is almost a century old, you’ve had plenty of time to read it if you’re worried about spoilers.

The plot is straightforward: At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, an impossibly rich family produces an arrogant twit as the only heir. Unbeknownst to him, the economy is changing and the family is beginning to fall on hard times. Too proud to admit it, they continue living as if they have all the money in the world. Meanwhile, the twit falls for a girl who’s humble, kind, and wise. For some inexplicable reason, she falls for him, too. Things happen, they don’t get together and the bottom falls out on the Ambersons. There’s family drama, too — between the financial crisis, health problems, love, old flames, and scandal, there’s plenty to entertain a reader (if they can put up with younger George).

Most of the characters are pretty thin — there are exceptions (George’s mother, aunt, and non-ambassador uncle, are the best) — but even the developed ones aren’t as fleshed out as we would have them today. But it fits with Tarkington’s overall style. It’s very, very difficult to like most of the people on these pages. So the ones you’d normally sort-of like, you end up really enjoying.

What makes this book work is Tarkington’s style. It’s hard to describe — highly detailed (for example, there’s so much attention paid to clothing and fashion that you’d almost think Gail Carriger had a hand in this), with a dry sense of humor, and plenty of cultural commentary. He changes his focus repeatedly: he’ll jump months or years at at time, and summarize events from those months in a paragraph or less and then cover a single evening in 15 pages, so he can highlight what matters and ignore the rest. But better than the plot (or characters), you get lines like this: “Some day the laws of glamour must be discovered, because they are so important that the world would be wiser now if Sir Isaac Newton had been hit on the head, not by an apple, but by a young lady.” How do you not keep reading for things like that?

Tarkington takes time out from the narrative to say:

Youth cannot imagine romance apart from youth. That is why the roles of the heroes and heroines of plays are given by the managers to the most youthful actors they can find among the competent. Both middle-aged people and young people enjoy a play about young lovers; but only middle-aged people will tolerate a play about middle-aged lovers; young people will not come to see such a play, because, for them, middle-aged lovers are a joke– not a very funny one. Therefore, to bring both the middle-aged people and the young people into his house, the manager makes his romance as young as he can. Youth will indeed be served, and its profound instinct is to be not only scornfully amused but vaguely angered by middle-age romance.

I assume that captures the spirit of the late 19th early 20th Century — if you take out the word “play”; and put in “film” or “show” it does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of the early 21st Century, too. Which is a pretty nice achievement for a piece of writing.

The book isn’t a chronicle of the changes to the American culture/economy due to industrialization, it’s a family drama. But if you pay attention to what’s going around the lovebirds, cads and gossips, you can see those changes taking place. It’s a temptation for someone to cheat a little when writing historical fiction and make characters seem smarter than they are by knowing how predictions would actually turn out, Takington’s not above falling into that. Note what Eugene Morgan, early designer of automobiles says:

“With all their speed forward [automobiles] may be a step backward in civilization– that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to being invented.'”

That was 98 years ago, think what he’d say now about the automobile’s impact on culture (he’d probably cite James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere).

A dull(ish) story, full of unsympathetic characters acting foolishly (on the whole), with a quaint writing style that somehow makes it all work. I can’t explain it, I’m just glad I read it. You just might feel the same way, give it a shot.


Mailbox Monday #377

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Jenny & Her Dog Both Fight Cancer by Jewel Kats, illustrated by Claudia Marie Lenart for review.

Jenny, a young girl undergoing treatment for cancer, discovers that her best friend, Dolly, also has cancer. Dolly is the family’s dog, who has always been at Jenny’s side through trying times, and Jenny vows to support Dolly as well. This bittersweet tale is a story of mutual devotion and loyalty. While the prognosis is not good for dogs with cancer, Dolly’s love provides enduring hope and support for Jenny on her healing journey.

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated by Whit Stillman for review.

Jane Austen’s funniest novel is also her least known-until now. A sharp comedy of manners set in the 1790s, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP centers on Lady Susan Vernon: impossibly beautiful, charming, witty, and completely self-absorbed. Recently widowed, Lady Susan arrives, unannounced, at her brother-in-law’s estate to wait out colorful rumors about her dalliances circulating through polite society. While there, she becomes determined to secure a new husband for herself, and one for her reluctant debutante daughter, Frederica, too. As Lady Susan embarks on a controversial relationship with a married man, seduction, deception, broken hearts, and gossip all ensue. With a pitch-perfect Austenian sensibility, Stillman breathes new life into Austen’s work, making it his own by adding original narration from a character comically loyal to the story’s fiendishly manipulative heroine, Lady Susan.

What did you receive?

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 256 pgs.
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Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor is told from two points of view, including that of poet Emily Dickinson, and the reader is given a glimpse into the secluded life of the poet through her own eyes as well as those of the new maid and Irish immigrant, Ada Concannon.  Concannon has had wanderlust for some time, and her daydreams have pushed her out of favor with the family her siblings and mother work for, pushing her into a new life in America.  Although she will miss her sisters and family very much, she’s eager to see the world beyond her home.

“‘You cultivate possessiveness,’ Vinnie once told me.  ‘You smother Sue, and every other acquaintance, with friendship.'” (pg. 27 ARC)

“Oh, chimerical, perplexing, beautiful words! I love to use the pretty ones like blades and the ugly ones to console.  I use dark ones to illuminate and bright ones to mourn.  And when I feel as if a tomahawk has scalped me, I know it is poetry then and I leave it be.”  (pg. 40 ARC)

The Dickinson’s are well respected in Amherst, though Emily’s recent withdrawal from society has become part of the town’s gossip.  As a maid in the Dickinson household, she is privy to the inner workings of the family but is also expected to maintain its secrets.  O’Connor has created a believable Emily in terms of action and manner, and her portrayal of immigrants, particularly the Irish, rings true.  O’Connor adopts Dickinson’s style of economical word use to tell her story and it works really well.  These foil characters work well together, as a mutual respect blossoms and friendship emerges between these women.

“But how can I explain that each time I get to the threshold, my need for seclusion stops me? The quarantine of my room–its peace and the words I conjure there–call me back from the doorway.  Ada could not truly appreciate that the pull on me of words, and the retreat needed to write them, is stronger than the pull of people.”  (pg. 52-3 ARC)

“From now on I shall be candle-white.  Dove-, bread-, swan-, shroud-, ice-, extraordinary-white.  I shall be blanched, bleached and bloodless to look at; my very whiteness will be my mark.  But inside, of course, I will roar and soar and flash with color.” (pg. 121 ARC)

Readers will be thoroughly taken in by this novel about Dickinson and the Irish immigrant’s life, and O’Connor provides a real motivating factor for Emily’s seclusion from the outside world.  As Ada’s life is threatened, Emily is forced to act and in so doing, she must leave the home in which she finds solace.  Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor is stunning and one that should not be missed.  A definite best book of the year.

About the Author:

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970, Nuala O’Connor is a fiction writer and poet. Writing as Nuala Ní Chonchúir she has published two novels, four collections of short fiction, a chapbook of flash fiction and three full poetry collections – one in an anthology. Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily will be published in 2015.

Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Translation Studies (Irish/English) from Dublin City University. She has worked as an arts administrator in theatre and in a writers’ centre; as a translator, as a bookseller and also in a university library.

Nuala teaches occasional creative writing courses. For the last four years she has been fiction mentor to third year students on the BA in Writing at NUI Galway. She lives in County Galway with her husband and three children.

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

Source: Harper
Paperback, 128 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn, an actress herself, has embarked upon an ambitious collection that looks at the narcissistic and self-mutilating world of Hollywood through the eyes of actresses’ whose lives ended prematurely by their own hands or through the actions of others.  From the famous Marilyn Monroe to the less well-known Barbara La Marr, Tamblyn calls into question the need for perfection among female actresses and how hard it is to find work once these actresses reach a certain age.  There’s also one poem about Lindsay Lohan, which readers may have various reactions to, including shock, dismay, and possibly laughter. (if you want to read what happened when she read the poem, beware it is a bit of a spoiler about the poem)

From "Thelma Todd" (pg. 3-5)

At the bar I run into Nancy,
drinking away her forties,
her eyes are flush broken compasses.
Lost between age fifteen and fifty.

Fermented blood.
Deep-sea drinker.

I do not look into her ocean.
The fish there float to the bottom.
I fear I'll go down there too,
identifying with the abyss.
Washed up.
Banging on the back door of a black hole.

These poems are at best depressing and at worst horrifying. These sparkling actresses are snuffed out by the pressures of Hollywood, but they also have their own demons chasing them. Tamblyn’s sense of the tragic is acute when exposed in lines like these: “But first she said, I’m sorry, Charles, it’s over between us,/tied together the sheets of their love letters,/climbed out the window of his soul.//” (from “Dominique Dunne,” pg. 25) and “I’m going to floss my teeth with the public hair/of the Hollywood night air,/memorize my lines before I snort them.//” (from “Bridgette Andersen,” pg. 30-1) These women’s lives and those of living actress continue to become objectified, and it’s hard to imagine living with that on a day-to-day basis. In many ways, the collection almost suggests to those female actresses who have lived in Hollywood longer, continue to work, and do not fall into a spiral of depression that they are the exceptions.

There is a sense of fight in these poems, as if Tamblyn is calling attention to these tragic stories not only to encourage female actresses to shun these arbitrary pressures, but also to call attention to the public’s role in these tragedies. Celebrity lives have become fodder for the American public, and these poems want to demonstrate the darkness that can follow such attention. Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn is an ambitious collection of poems that will have readers thinking about their own roles in celebrity gossip and objectification.

About the Poet:

Amber Rose Tamblyn is an American actress, author and film director. She first came to national attention in her role on the soap opera General Hospital as Emily Quartermaine. She also starred in the prime-time series Joan of Arcadia, portraying the title character. Her feature film work includes roles in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Grudge 2, The Ring, and 127 Hours; she had an extended arc as Martha M. Masters on the main cast of the medical drama House, M.D. She also had a starring role on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men during its eleventh season as Jenny, the illegitimate daughter of Charlie Harper.





China Dolls by Lisa See

Source: Random House
Hardcover, 400 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

China Dolls by Lisa See spans pre-WWII, WWII, and after the war when Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese were constantly stereotyped and pushed to the sidelines, and when America goes to war against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, proving you’re American becomes even more important.  Grace Lee has left Ohio in a hurry and ends up in San Francisco with crushed dreams and no friends, until she meets Helen Fong, who is from a traditional Chinese family in Chinatown.  She’s uptight and traditional, harsh on Grace and later on Ruby Tom, but she’s also searching for her own path, wishing that her own dreams could be realized.  Hollywood is often considered the land where dreams come true, but in this case, these Asian women find their dreams in San Francisco, though those dreams are often marginalized by their own pettiness and the world that looks down on their culture and abilities.

“Helen and I sat on the floor a little apart from the other ponies, who massaged one another’s feet, stretched, and gossiped.  Every day Helen arrived at rehearsal in a dark wool skirt, long-sleeved black sweater, and charcoal-gray wool stockings, but she quickly changed out of them.  To my eyes, it seemed like she was shedding not just layers of clothing but layers of tradition.” (page 47 ARC)

Grace is a broken young woman of seventeen and very naive, and in many ways Helen and Ruby are all too happy to teach her lessons about the real world, but they often underestimate her resiliency, her willingness to forgive, and her determination to succeed.  Whether she is running from her past in Ohio, her failed attempt at stardom at the Golden Gate International Exposition, or the rumors that circulate around her during WWII, Grace must turn inward to find her strength and remain true to her dream.  She may take advantage of every opportunity around her when it presents itself, even if it comes as something tragic befalls her friends, but she never purposefully creates those opportunities.  Ruby and Helen, on the other hand, are downright Machiavellian, though in Helen’s case, her machinations come from an emotional devastation that she struggles to keep hidden daily.

“I don’t want to remind them”—and it didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out I was talking about the FBI and the WRA—”I exist.  I don’t want to risk being sent to Leupp to join my parents.  I want to forget all that.  You left your mother behind.  Now I’ve left mine.” (page 262 ARC)

China Dolls by Lisa See is about chasing your dreams, making them come true, and all the petty jealousies and ups and downs that come with that, particularly in show business.  See masterfully weaves the history of the time period into these ladies’ lives.  It would be an excellent selection for book clubs as it raises questions about racial discrimination, inter-race relations, and prejudices within cultures based on socioeconomic and cultural differences, as well as what it means to be patriotic.

About the Author:

Lisa See, author of the critically-acclaimed international bestseller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up, whether in the past or happening right now in the world today. Ms. See’s new novel, Shanghai Girls, once again delves into forgotten history.  Visit her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

17th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

Mailbox Monday #233

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  August’s host is Bermudaonion The Reading Fever.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, which I won from Caribousmom.

Two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Havaa, eight years old, hides in the woods and watches the blaze until her neighbor, Akhmed, discovers her sitting in the snow. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, and there is no safe place to hide a child in a village where informers will do anything for a loaf of bread, but for reasons of his own, he sneaks her through the forest to the one place he thinks she might be safe: an abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. Though Sonja protests that her hospital is not an orphanage, Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate.

2. Everyday Book Marketing by Midge Raymond, which includes a Q&A from me! I was so surprised when the book came.

Book publication is just the beginning… Everyday Book Marketing is for the published author who is not only a writer but who also may have another career, a family, and any number of other obligations that require fitting book promotion into a budget where both hours and dollars may be hard to find. This book will guide you on the journey from Writer to Marketing Pro, offering essential marketing tools along the way-including such book promotion basics as how to schedule a book tour and how to make the most of social media to how to keep the buzz going long after your launch date. Everyday Book Marketing is divided into easily accessible sections that cover not only what you’ll need to handle before publication, such as establishing a blog and website, but what you can do during your book launch and beyond. It also offers tips and advice for how to keep the never-ending tasks of book promotion manageable, whether you have ten minutes a day or two hours a day. Also included are Q&As with a range of authors and industry experts-from fiction authors and poets to librarians and event managers-who provide such invaluable tips as how to present yourself as an author, how to reach out to event coordinators, and how to find new readers both within your community and beyond.

3.  Always Watching by Chevy Stevens, which I snagged from Novel Books‘s ARC free pile.

In the lockdown ward of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. Nadine Lavoie is in her element. She has the tools to help people, and she has the desire—healing broken families is what she lives for. But Nadine doesn’t want to look too closely at her own past because there are whole chunks of her life that are black holes. It takes all her willpower to tamp down her recurrent claustrophobia, and her daughter, Lisa, is a runaway who has been on the streets for seven years.

When a distraught woman, Heather Simeon, is brought into the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit after a suicide attempt, Nadine gently coaxes her story out of her—and learns of some troubling parallels with her own life. Digging deeper, Nadine is forced to confront her traumatic childhood, and the damage that began when she and her brother were brought by their mother to a remote commune on Vancouver Island.  What happened to Nadine?  Why was their family destroyed? And why does the name Aaron Quinn, the group’s leader, bring complex feelings of terror to Nadine even today?

4.  TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, which I snagged from Novel Books‘s ARC free pile.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

5.  The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas, which I snagged from Novel Books‘s ARC free pile.

On the eve of 1941, newlywed Nerys Watkins leaves rural Britain to accompany her husband on a missionary posting to the exotic city of Srinagar, India. But when he leaves to take on a complicated mission elsewhere, Nerys discovers a new world. Here, in the heart of Kashmir, the British dance, flirt, and gossip against the backdrop of war, and Neryssoon becomes caught up in a dangerous liaison. By the time she is reunited with her husband, she is a very different woman.

Years later, Nerys’s granddaughter Mair Ellis clears out her dead father’s house and finds an exquisite shawl. Wrapped in its folds is a lock of a child’s curly hair. With nothing else to go on, Mair decides to trace her grandparents’ roots back to Kashmir, embarking on a quest thatwill change her own life forever.

6.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, which I purchased at Novel Books as it is the October book club selection.

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

7. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk, which I purchased at Novel Books as it is the September book club pick.

The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it traveled precious cargoes of silk, gold, and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centers of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left, and finally its towns vanished beneath the desert sands to be forgotten for a thousand years. But legends grew of lost cities filled with treasures and guarded by demons. In the early years of the last century foreign explorers began to investigate these legends, and very soon an international race began for the art treasures of the Silk Road. Huge wall paintings, sculptures, and priceless manuscripts were carried away by the ton and are today scattered through the museums of a dozen countries.

What did you receive?

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

Source: William Morrow, Harper
Paperback, 400 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan is the second novel in the life of Ellie Hogan (if you haven’t read Ellis Island, this review could contain spoilers), a young Irish woman who has traveled to New York City to help save her first love’s mobility and returned home to find her family torn by tragedy.  Beginning in the 1930s, Ellie has settled back into her Irish life without electricity and indoor plumbing, embarking on unconventional business ventures for a woman.  While her family may stand back and allow her to continue with her ambitions, the resentment and angst these businesses bring into their lives simmers beneath the surface.  Ellie is far from the conventional house wife and mother of Ireland, and she knows that she’s the star of her own small town’s gossip, but as long as her life is calm at home, that is all that matters to her.

“However, this morning his blue eyes shone wild with delight.  He looked the same as he had done when I had first fallen in love with him at sixteen.  Fresh and full of the heart of life, like the outdoors — a man made of earth and air.” (page 11 ARC)

While she’s bustling about with her businesses and her life outside the home, the trials of miscarriages and failed births weigh heavily on her and her husband.  Despite the passions she may feel for her husband, they are tainted by his failure to take joy in what she seeks to accomplish and her inability to mourn the losses of her children with her husband at her side.  The wall between them causes fissures in their marriage as they bitingly argue about the little things and the signs of things to come are ignored.  Her three years in New York changed her from the small town girl who wanted merely a husband and family into a woman who wanted the finer things and a better life.

With the lost children spurring her to make the dreams she had in New York a reality in Ireland, Ellie is able to better the lives of the town’s own daughters and wives, prompting these women to rethink their own roles.  Kerrigan takes the time to build up the changes seen in Ellie’s town of Kilmoy, and how those changes are tied to Ellie’s experiences in New York and her own personal devastation at home.  Tragedy strikes her home again, altering Ellie’s course once again and pushing her to run away to America.  In her grief, she reaches out and lifts those around her up, showing them the way to improve themselves, work for their own betterment, and to help others around them.  In many ways, this second book is about redemption and recovery.

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan is a solid second book in a series, but without having read the first book, readers may find it hard to relate to Ellie’s past and her current situation, particularly her burning desire to run away from Ireland.  However, there are enough hints about the past to guide readers who have picked up the second book.  Ellie is a strong woman who can inspire others to rise above their own poverty and misfortune, but who continues to struggle internally with who she is and wants to be.  Kerrigan’s poise and pacing help readers come to know Ellie as a troubled friend who is still finding her way, even as tragedy strikes and good opportunities present themselves.  There is hope that her journey is nearing a conclusion, and readers will hope that comes with the third book.

About the Author:

Kate Kerrigan is an author living and working in Ireland. Her novels are Recipes for a Perfect Marriage which was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year in 2008 and been translated into 20 languages, The Miracle of Grace, which has been adapted as a film script with funding from the Irish Film Board and Ellis Island, the first of a trilogy which was selected as a TV Book Club Summer Read in Britain and launched in the U.S. with Harper Collins in July 2011. Its sequel City of Hope is published by Pan Macmillan in Britain and scheduled for publication in America by Harper Collins in 2013

This is my 2nd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2013.

The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip

Source: Mingmei Yip, the author
Paperback, 320 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Skeleton Women‘s Heavenly Songbird Camilla returns in The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip (check out Chapter One) after a quick exit from Shanghai in the 1930s into Hong Kong.  She’s hiding out away from the gangsters she betrayed, but this once emotionless spy now must endure guilt and longing.  She does not know the fate of her love Jinying, nor of her lover Gao, but more importantly, she knows that her baby, Jinjin, is alive but not where he is.  Yip has a firm grasp of the atmosphere during this period in Shanghai, a time when gangs ran the government, businesses, and held everyone else at gunpoint.  The corruption, backroom deals, and fear permeate this novel, and Camilla is forced to return to Shanghai even though her life is clearly going to be in danger there.  Using her skills as a trained skeleton woman — which include seduction — she is able to disguise herself and create plausible stories on the spot, but the trick now is not to let her emotions rule her, which in some instances they do, leading to trouble.

“Unwilling to give up, I forced my tired feet to carry me into the hall and through the door to the next room.  Once I had stepped across the threshold, I noticed something different, even eerie, but I couldn’t pinpoint what that was–except it came with an unpleasant smell.  Instead of rows of cribs as in the other room, this one had only one single large bed in which was what looked like a huge lump covered with a black cloud.  I couldn’t tell what it was in the distance, but it was heaving like a collective heartbeat.  I went up to take a closer look.” (page 102 ARC)

While Camilla searches for her baby, she’s also searching for her lovers, but in the midst of her investigations she meets up with an American ambassador who could offer her protection from the gangs and falls into the hands of Rainbow Chang, a gossip columnist and head of the Pink Skeleton Women.  At many times, she is in danger, and in spite of this danger, she’s confident she has the perfect plan for escape, but given that the novel is told from her point of view, readers also will hear her inner demons and learn of her shaky confidence.  Wallowing in self-pity becomes a mantra for Camilla early on in the novel, and it becomes a drone in the background even as the plot moves forward, making it difficult to like the protagonist.  However, her determination to find peace and her family are rewarding and helps build an emotional connection with the reader, especially given her sordid past as a skeleton woman and a sad orphan.

“So after seemingly endless gentle twisting in all the auspicious and inauspicious directions and angles, with the application of just a little strength, the lock finally surrendered with a long-awaited sigh of release.  I couldn’t help but feel satisfaction at the culmination of my courtship of the lock.”  (page 249 ARC)

The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip is peppered with poetry, proverbs, and more, and it’s a solid follow-up to Skeleton Women (which does not have to be read first), though the ending could be an opening for a third book.  Yip is talented and understands how to create a story that is deep in its passions and exciting in plot.  While Camilla can be hard to love, her plight is age-old.

About the Author:

Kensington author Mingmei Yip believes that one should, besides being entertained, also get something out of reading a novel. Her new novel is Skeleton Women is about survival, letting go, and finding love and compassion.

Her debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion is the story about the last Chinese Geisha and also that of courage and the determination to succeed and attain happiness. Her second novel Petals from the Sky, a poignant Buddhist love story, is about wisdom, compassion, when to persist and when to let go. Her third novel Song of the Silk Road is an adventure love story between an older woman and a younger man with a three million award on China’s famous, dangerous route.

For more about the author and her books visit her Website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy

Source: Book Expo America 2010
Hardcover, 136 pages
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The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is an adaptation of her mother’s poesiealbum (poetry album) into a narrative poem, peppered with images and actual entries, and a WWII historical time line as well as a resource listing and a section catching up with Jutta Salzberg’s family and friends and their ultimate fates.  This powerful hybrid poem/memoir not only examines the horrifying snowball effect of Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews, but also how Jewish children still found ways to maintain their childhood and enjoy the joyous moments they still had.

Salzberg lived in Hamburg, Germany, and was the daughter of a Polish born Jew who emigrated to Germany before the Nazi’s came to power, and the poetry album, much like American autograph books, begins in 1938, which became a pivotal year for Jutta.  Her father was a successful, belt, suspender, etc. salesman, who is eventually dismissed from his job because he’s a Jew. As a young lady on the verge of womanhood, she is capable of not only enjoying gossip and games with classmates, but also understand the deep seriousness of the changes around her.

Parents (page 32)
He sags
and I think how Father could use something
to hold him up--
a belt,
a suspender,
a garter...

She also has the ability to question the changes around her within the context of the words from her friends, like respecting one’s elders. Jutta wonders how she can respect someone like Hitler, who is her elder, when he spread such fear and hatred.  There is great tension in this short, narrative poem/journal as a young girl tries to find the silver lining in her circumstances, remember her friends, and enjoy moments with her family, while at the same time worrying that her immediate family will be unable to leave Germany for America as the consulate will not issue them U.S. visas.  The section of the narrative poem that is the most heart-wrenching is when Jews are forced to seek out kindness from strangers in America who just happen to have their same last name.

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is powerful and a great testament to her mother’s memory, her own family’s past, and the hope generated by that remembering.  The book is not only a year of goodbyes between Jutta and her family and friends, it also contains information that may not be as well known, including the role of Jutta’s cousin Guy Gotthelf in the French Resistance and the impact of one Jewish man, Herschel Grynszpan, on those left behind in Germany when he avenged the murder of his own family back in Germany.  Lasting, eye-opening, and a must read for young and old.

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books — fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — for people of all different ages, and especially for young people. Before starting her writing career, she was a newspaper editor, and a lawyer with a Washington, D.C. law firm. She has a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan. She lives in Maryland and spends as much time as she can kayaking and otherwise messing around in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  Also please check out the article on her family’s journey in The Washington Post, and her own article on finding the journal in the same publication.

Also, check out her new book, Imperfect Spiral, which is published today!

Danielle Snyder’s summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, the five-year-old boy she’s watching, runs in front of oncoming traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, outsiders use the accident to further a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn Humphrey, the sweet kid she had a surprisingly strong friendship with, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her. Through a new relationship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, she begins to work through her grief, but as details of the accident emerge, much is not as it seems. It’s time for Danielle to face reality, but when the truth brings so much pain, can she find a way to do right by Humphrey’s memory and forgive herself for his death?

On July 27, 2013, at 3:30 pm for those in the Alexandria, Va., area, Debbie will be with Beth Kephart in a joint event at Hooray for Books.

This is my 45th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

The Inspiration Behind Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Vivienne Schiffer, author of Camp Nine, about her inspiration for the book (my review). 

Today, she graciously offered to share with you the story and share a photo of the real cemetery that inspired her journey into the internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Please give her a warm welcome.

Camp Nine was inspired by my personal experience growing up in Rohwer, Ark., a town that was so small it was the perfect spot to hide nearly ten thousand Americans of Japanese ancestry where virtually no one would find them. There, my grandfather, Joe Gould, Sr., a wealthy landowner, sold hundreds of acres to the federal government to build what was euphemistically called the Rohwer Relocation Center. The United States government maintained that the Japanese Americans of California, Oregon and Washington were being simply “relocated” for their own protection, and for the protection of the war effort in sensitive military areas. In fact, it was pure racism. Powerful business lobbies on the West Coast didn’t want the Japanese Americans there. They’d been trying to exclude them for decades. Finally, they had the perfect excuse, and the federal government was the perfect ally.

By the time I was born fifteen years later, not only was the camp gone, even memory of it seemed to have faded. But how odd even that was. In 1942, the population of tiny Rohwer, Ark., swelled almost one hundred fold, from around one hundred people, most of them poor white and African American tenant farmers, to nearly ten thousand people, well educated city dwellers and prosperous farmers from somewhere far away. When the war ended, Rohwer abruptly shrank back to a population of one hundred, and fifteen years after the fact, not a soul in town mentioned that anything had ever happened. The only signs available to a small child were a brown government sign pointing the way over a dirt bank supporting railroad tracks, an incinerator smokestack, a tar-paper barracks formerly used as a hospital, and the ghost, the thing of beauty, the specter that crouched under the trees and hid in the cotton field: the haunting and lovely cemetery.

Copyright Vivienne Schiffer

That there were camps in the Deep South is news to even the well-informed. Japanese Americans from the camps did interact with their neighbors, and there were culture clashes. Unlike their counterparts in the western states, the Arkansans had never had any personal interaction with anyone of Asian ancestry. Their knowledge was limited to stereotypes and cartoons. Fear and resentment were real and were amplified by gossip. But the prisoners were Americans first. The only ethnic group required to prove their loyalty to the United States, men from the Rohwer Camp were a part of the “Go for Broke” team, the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit, the most highly decorated combat unit of its size in American military history. The 442nd famously liberated Rome (although they were stopped at the gates so that newsreels could record only white soldiers entering the city) and rescued the Lost Battalion of Texans in one of the most celebrated battles of the European theatre.

Camp Nine honors the Japanese Americans who endured their ordeal with grace and dignity, as well as those Caucasian Americans who protested their mistreatment and sought to make their lives better.

Thanks, Vivienne, for sharing your inspiration with us.

If you’re interested in reading about how WWII impacted U.S. communities, especially after the government began establishing internment camps for Japanese-Americans, you should check out Camp Nine.

Guest Post: The 200th Anniversary of Sense & Sensibility

Depending on how much you love Jane Austen and her books, you may already know this, but Sense & Sensibility turns 200 on October 30 and was her first published novel.

According to GoodReads:

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

While not my favorite of Austen’s work, it’s an accomplishment to have a novel still be well-known and popular among readers almost 200 years after publication. I’m sure many authors would be pleased to have such an accomplishment.

Today, Mary Lydon Simonsen, author of Mr. Darcy’s Bite, will share her thoughts on the 200th anniversary.  Please welcome Mary:

Hi, Serena. Thank you for having me back at Savvy Verse & Wit. It’s always a pleasure.

You asked me to write about the significance of the 200th Anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and my reaction to it and Austen’s novel.

I recently took one of those online quizzes to see which Austen character I most resemble. As it turns out, I am Elinor Dashwood, the main protagonist in Sense and Sensibility. Even though I like Elinor, I have a lot of problems with this novel. I don’t think Edward Ferrars deserves Elinor, and I think Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon are poorly matched. I would like to strangle Lucy Steele and perform surgery on John Willoughby. Although Austen wraps up the story with a happily-ever-after ending for Marianne and Elinor, I don’t think that’s the way it would have played out in real life.

Having said all that, you can still appreciate Austen’s genius with her brilliant prose and delightful wit in this story of a family of four females trying to survive without a strong male presence in their lives. But it is mostly because of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s novel that it is now front and center (that and Emma Thompson’s 1995 brilliant film adaptation).

But in my opinion, Austen’s masterpiece is Pride and Prejudice. Like Edward Ferrars, Fitzwilliam Darcy is a flawed character, but because of his love for Elizabeth, Darcy evolves, recognizes his shortcomings, and becomes a man worthy of her love. It is because of these two strong characters that most of my stories are re-imaginings of Pride and Prejudice, including Mr. Darcy’s Bite. Although Darcy is a werewolf, it is primarily a love story. Obviously, there are difficulties when a loved one grows fur every four weeks, but our favorite couple is determined to climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every full moon until they find their dream.

I did write a short-story parody of Sense and Sensibility titled Elinor and Edward’s Plans for Lucy Steele in which Elinor doesn’t wait on Edward to make an offer of marriage. Instead, Elinor hops in the driver’s seat and drives the bus (or phaeton) herself. I wanted to shine some comedic light on a story that has a lot of darkness in it.

Every author hopes that with each succeeding work of fiction, they become a better writer. I certainly think that is true of Jane Austen. Although flawed, Sense and Sensibility is still a novel well worth reading. In fact, the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America is using this novel and Austen’s anniversary as the focus of their meeting in Fort Worth this month. It will be the main topic of conversation among hundreds of Jane Austen admirers now and for decades to come.

Thanks again, Serena, for having me.

Mary, it is always a pleasure to host you.

Guest Post: Victor Volkman Talks About Small Presses in the Modern Era

We’re almost midway through the month, and today’s guest post is from Loving Healing Press Inc.‘s Victor Volkman.  The press has been in operations since 2003, and is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The press also has a number of imprints, one of which — Modern History Press — published two volumes of Sweta Vikram‘s poetry, which I’ve reviewed and whom I’ve interviewed on the blog (click the links to read the reviews or interview).

I hope you enjoy today’s guest post from Victor.

Small Presses in the Modern Era: Loving Healing Press Inc.

My name is Victor R. Volkman and I am the president of Loving Healing Press Inc., which encompasses self-help and personal growth books as well as additional imprints like Modern History Press, which focuses on stories about the struggle for identity in contemporary times. Today I would like to address the question: “Why continue to struggle against mass market producers?”

That is a very good question and one which is germane to the reason why I founded LHP and its imprints. Specifically, there are important healing methods to expose and important stories to tell that are ignored by mainstream media. Specifically, there is only so much you can do with a website and if you want to engage someone in a meaningful discourse as opposed to topical news, opinion, or gossip, the longer format of the book is still the best way to go. In this guest post, I’ll highlight some specific books and why we continue to fight against the tide.

LHP addresses some very difficult topics that are rarely heard in the mainstream media, except with the perception that they are “terrible and nothing can be done about it”. This all started in 2003 with my first book at LHP, Beyond Trauma: Conversations on Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR), which highlights a brief therapy that can bring tremendous relief to sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) regardless of its source: combat, motor vehicle accident, domestic violence, rape, and so on. Best of all, it can be learned and applied effectively in a matter of a few weeks training. This is something the world needs now more than ever!

Getting further into trauma, we have a series of books about sexual abuse recovery from just such a survivor Margie McKinnon who has gone on to found a worldwide network of peer-support groups called “The Lamplighters.” Margie has written books for us which highlight a specific, seven-stage program called R.E.P.A.I.R. in different editions for adult survivors, children and adolescents, and even toddlers. Again, Margie’s vision of hope and recovery runs counter to the culture’s manifestation of victims being “scarred for life” with little chance of normal relationships.

Switching gears to our Modern History Press, we focus on books from people who have no access to ordinary media and are telling stories that you aren’t going to hear on the nightly news. For example, Issam Jameel’s Iraq Through a Bullet Hole: A Civilian Wikileaks is a highly documented factual account of his attempt to return to Iraq to resume a normal life after years of exile and the sheer chaos and mayhem of the new normal in Iraq. Shaila Abdullah’s Saffron Dreams (click for Savvy Verse & Wit review) tells the fictional story of a Muslim-American woman in the aftermath of 9/11 trying to make a new life while grieving her husband who as lost in the destruction of the World Trade Center itself. There’s a story you won’t find anywhere else! MHP’s “World Voices” series is focusing on English-speaking writers from around the world, including Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. MHP includes not only biography but also fiction and poetry as well. We’re anticipating the launch of new chapbooks by South African poet Nick Purdon and African-American poet Regina Jemison this spring.

Returning to the question, why struggle against mass-market producers? Because there is a whole world of stories out there to tell and with it the possibility of change for the better. Finally, with the mass-market acceptance of the eBook platform’s we’re seeing the last barriers fall between us and the conglomerates because the eBook has created a level playing field where no one may claim the “home court advantage!”

Thanks, Victor, for providing your thoughts on small presses in the modern era for the Indie & Small Press Celebration!

About Victor Volkman:

Victor Volkman is a Senior Software Engineer at UGS in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He writes for CodeGuru.com other print/online publications. Former part-time instructor at Washtenaw Community College, now serving on CIS Faculty Advisory Board.

He’s also webmaster for the Traumatic Incident Reduction Association (TIR.ORG) and the editor of Beyond Trauma: Conversations on Traumatic Incident Reduction and several other books on TIR.  And is a features editor for TIR Association quarterly newsletter.

He’s the owner of Loving Healing Press.  Check out this interview with Victor.