Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Black Swan of Paris

Title:  The Black Swan of Paris
Author:  Karen Robards
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 480 pages.
ISBN: 0778309339 / 978-0778309338

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Summer 2020 Historical Fiction Blog Tours from Harlequin Trade Publishing free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "When the worst thing that could ever happen to you had already happened, nothing that came after really mattered."

Favorite Quote:  "As she'd already learned to her cost, there were no guarantees in life, no guarantees that the person you loved would be here from one day to the next, no guarantees about anything all all. And this was war. Death waited around every corner. It came rocketing out of the sky, zipping through the air, blasting up from the ground. It came with no notice, no warning, no chance to say goodbye."

The Black Swan of Paris is a nickname "... inspired, she assumed, by her coloring - black hair, milky skin, and changeable blue-green eyes." The woman behind the nickname is Genevieve Dumont, a performer with star power. She is French, and yet she entertains theaters full of Nazi soldier and the Nazi elite. Some view her as a Nazi collaborator. No one, not even those closest to her, know who Genevieve truly is or what she hides in her past.

Paris 1944 - war, espionage, family, personal and community losses, danger, and a love story. This story has so many elements of a great read. The one thing I could do without, however, are some graphic descriptions of torture. Yes, that was real during World War II. Yes, it happened. I think the inclusion of the graphic descriptions in this book do not add to the story. I think the horrors of war are terrible enough without the descriptions.

Putting aside those descriptions, the book does a wonderful job of finding a balance between the different elements of the book. That, for me, has to do with creating a strong, believable main character in Genevieve. In each element - espionage, family, the past, and the love story, this is very much Genevieve's story. The reading has some slow parts, but overall, this story really does make for a wonderful, fast paced book. In fact, I could see it becoming a movie. The writing paints a vivid image  

I love when books  I read, although unrelated to each other, touch upon the same stories. This book makes several references to another entertainer who made Paris home, Josephine Baker. "... in the summer of 1931 when her parents brought their daughters to Pairs to celebrate her sister's fifteenth birthday. The highlight of that trip had been being Josephine Baker..." Josephine Baker is an inspiration for Genevieve. The parallels are interesting. Both women are performers, and both use their "star" status as part of the war effort. Their stories, of course, are completely different, but they shed a different light on the history of the Resistance.

What I love about books is that they tell the story of the role of civilians - particularly women - in the Resistance. In this book, the primary focus is Genevieve, but many of the other main characters - Lillian, Emily, Berthe - are also strong, independent women fighting for their lives and their freedoms. The conquest of this war effort is a true collaboration of a team not fettered by gender stereotypes. Genevieve's strength and the courage of these women is the real story.

These two books also highlight the risks artists and performers took. Their positions allowed unique access and freedom of movement. Genevieve is, at the beginning, a reluctant participant. She feels like she has no choice, and with everything that has gone before in the her, nothing much to lose. Over the course of the story, though, the resistance becomes much more personal.

The Black Swan of Paris
Blog Tour

Author: Karen Robards
ISBN: 9780778309338
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Publisher:  MIRA Books

Author Bio:
Karen Robards is the New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than fifty novels and one novella. She is the winner of six Silver Pen awards and numerous other awards.

Book Summary:
For fans of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris comes a thrilling standalone by New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards about a celebrated singer in WWII occupied France who joins the Resistance to save her estranged family from being killed in a German prison.

In Occupied France, the Resistance trembles on the brink of destruction. Its operatives, its secrets, its plans, all will be revealed. One of its leaders, wealthy aristocrat Baron Paul de Rocheford, has been killed in a raid and the surviving members of his cell, including his wife the elegant Baronness Lillian de Rocheford, have been arrested and transported to Germany for interrogation and, inevitably, execution.

Captain Max Ryan, British SOE, is given the job of penetrating the impregnable German prison where the Baroness and the remnants of the cell are being held and tortured. If they can't be rescued he must kill them before they can give up their secrets.

Max is in Paris, currently living under a cover identity as a show business impresario whose star attraction is Genevieve Dumont. Young, beautiful Genevieve is the toast of Europe, an icon of the glittering entertainment world that the Nazis celebrate so that the arts can be seen to be thriving in the occupied territories under their rule.

What no one knows about Genevieve is that she is Lillian and Paul de Rocheford's younger daughter. Her feelings toward her family are bitter since they were estranged twelve years ago. But when she finds out from Max just what his new assignment entails, old, long-buried feelings are rekindled and she knows that no matter what she can't allow her mother to be killed, not by the Nazis and not by Max. She secretly establishes contact with those in the Resistance who can help her. Through them she is able to contact her sister Emmy, and the sisters put aside their estrangement to work together to rescue their mother.

It all hinges on a command performance that Genevieve is to give for a Gestapo General in the Bavarian town where her mother and the others are imprisoned. While Genevieve sings and the show goes on, a daring rescue is underway that involves terrible danger, heartbreaking choices, and the realization that some ties, like the love between a mother and her daughters and between sisters, are forever.

Author Website: http://karenrobards.com/
TWITTER: @TheKarenRobards
FB: @AuthorKarenRobards

Buy Links:
Barnes & Noble

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Things in Jars

Title:  Things in Jars
Author:  Jess Kidd
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1982121289 / 978-1982121280

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "As pale as a grave grub she's an eyeful"

Favorite Quote:  "Stories, particularly the bad ones, are told in their own time." 

1863 in London is a time both of wealth and poverty. Birdie is an unusual woman for the times. She calls herself a widow. She lives independently with her seven foot tall, rescued housekeeper. She is a private investigator with many stories in her past, stories she does not want shared with the world.

The plot of the book is a missing child, a parent who would rather not involve the police, and a private investigator hired to find the child. Added to that is the back story of the private investigator, people from her childhood who are now part of this missing persons case, and a literal ghost from her past.

This book took me two weeks to read, which is long time. I kept picking it up and putting it down. I read other things in between. I wanted to know how this story ends. I wanted to know what happens to Christabel, Birdie, Ruby, and even Rose. I wanted to know who and what Christabel was. By the end, I liked Birdie's story and the way the plot of this book ties to her history. However, I found myself not wanting to read the book to get to the end of the story. I finished by one day deciding I was going to read to the end.

One issue is that initially the focus of the story is a missing child. This is no ordinary child. The initial descriptions are of a cage, snails, and heads bitten off of snails. At the same time, the descriptions are of a child calmed by stories - dark, disturbing stories but stories nevertheless.

The description of a "merrow" eventually comes up. As with the background of Himself by Jess Kidd, the idea of the merrow is found in Irish folklore. However, this book does not really go into that history and background. It is the setting for the book but not the story.

I want to know more, but more never really comes. Although the book starts with the missing child, this is ultimately Birdie's story. The child, her oddity, and her ultimate fate become secondary to Birdie's story. The "things in jars" are the background to Birdie's story not the story itself. That leaves me wondering why that background? It also leaves me wondering if that background, why is not developed more?

I also think the writing style got in the way of the story. Here are one description... "The red hair that peeps out from under her widow's cap is rich in the firelight, is likely abundant. When she raises her dirty-green eyes to him his mind conjures images of fickle wood nymphs in dappled glades." This description is of the main character, Birdie. Birdie is an independent, pipe smoking, private detective. The words of the description do not match the personality. It does not fit the character or the story.

Ultimately, this story set in folklore, darkness, oddities, and disturbing images turns into a much more prosaic one of the scars of childhood. I wish it had been more.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Glass Hotel

Title:  The Glass Hotel
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0525521143 / 978-0525521143

Book Source:  I read this book based on the author's prior work.

Opening Sentence:  "Begin at the end:  plummeting down the side fo the ship in the storm's wild darkness, breath gone with the shock of falling, my camera flying away through the rain..."

Favorite Quote:  "There's something in it ... It's possible to know you're a criminal, a liar, a man of weak moral character, and yet now know it, in the sense of feeling that your punishment is somehow underserved that despite the cold facts you're deserving of warmth and some kind of special treatment. You can know you're guilty of an enormous crime ... you can know all of this and yet still somehow feel you've been wronged when your judgement arrives."

To some extent, this book is similar to Station Eleven by the author. The story winds through past and present through the many different perspectives - Paul, Vincent, Jonathan Alkaitis, Olivia, and others. Not all the characters are directly connected, or so it seems. The book shifts between narrative styles. Character threads pick and drop sometimes in the middle of a chapter. Just when I think I have figured out who the story is about and where it's going, it shifts.

Yet, Station Eleven still surprising came together as a whole. Unfortunately, that also means this book suffers from the high expectations set by the other.

If I think of each character, his or her story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Put all together and interspersed with each other, the flow is more challenging. This book is much easier to read and understand once I stop envisioning the whole and start seeing each character as a vignette. 

The outcomes of each character's story are not necessarily connected to seemingly main plot line of the book. Some, in fact, seem somewhat random.  That perhaps is my biggest reason for my reaction - the randomness of what happens to the individual characters. It's like a pinball machine. An action sets things in motion, but then the character are buffeted from consequence to consequence.

All the characters have a connection to the hotel, but given that the title and the cover, I expected the hotel to feature a greater role in the book. I am introduced to that beautiful setting, and then it somewhat disappears.

Finally, the characters themselves are somewhat shrouded in the mist that appears on the cover. Perhaps because of the shifting narratives or perhaps by design, the characters are not particularly likable and do not evolve into characters I relate to.

The one theme that appears to repeat is the power that money conveys and the extent to which people will go to acquire and retain that power. "Money is its own country." Ultimately, that money and its source have its own ramification in these character's stories. As the book description states, the "plot" of the book is about a Ponzi scheme.

However, plot is a bit of a stretch as this book does not follow that plot line really. It is inferred from the events leading up to the collapse of the scheme and about the ramifications for different people. If
the Ponzi scheme is like a rock dropped in a pond, the "plot" of this book is all about the ripples - perhaps concentric, perhaps not connected, eventually subsiding back into the quiet of the pond.

Based on how much I enjoyed Station Eleven, I am puzzled by this book but still look forward to seeing what Emily St. John Mandel writes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright

Title:  The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright
Author:  Beth Miller
Publication Information:  Bookouture. 2020. 338 pages.
ISBN:  178681742X / 978-1786817426

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The shop labels were still on the rucksack."

Favorite Quote:  "There are things I want to do before I'm too old, and they are things you want to do."

Mrs. Bright is a woman of a certain age and at a certain point in life. She has been married for a long time. Her daughter is grown and out of the house. She works in her husband's business, managing one of the stationery stores. She is still in touch with two friends from childhood. She still writes letters to her friend in Australia. So, what's the problem?

The friend is not writing back even though for years, they have written each month like clockwork. Her daughter has moved out, but is she truly independent. Her marriage is comfortable, but is that enough? Nothing is quite wrong, but then again, nothing is quite right.

Kay Bright takes a drastic step. She leaves her husband. No warning. No conversation. She decides that it is time for her to do all the things that she once dreamt of doing. She wants to go to Australia to see why her friend is not writing back. She wants to fulfill her dream of going to Venice. She wants to pursue the love for photography that she once had. She wants to do things.

Many books have been written in recent years about individuals at certain junctures of life deciding a change in needed. This is Your Life, Harriet Chance. Britt-Marie Was Here. Eleanor Oliphat is Completely Fine. Clock Dance. The True Story of Arthur Truluv. The Lost Letters of William Woolf is about both a character of a certain age and about letter writing. However, in this book the letter writing seems more a literary technique than an integral part of the story.

My reaction to these books has varied depending on the development of the main characters and depending on the authentic feeling of the emotions and relationships. This book deals with many serious, emotional issues:  terminal illness, infidelity, the end of a decades long marriage, and a longing for the road not taken.

The book is a quick and easy read, but it seems to stay at the surface of all the emotions and relationships. A terminal illness becomes a footnote in these story. The end of a marriage leads very quickly to rebound encounters. The revelation of a years old secret is a nonissue. I keep waiting for more.

The story also becomes to some extent about Kay's daughter. I suppose the common theme could be women trying to find their place in life, but unfortunately, it does not quite work. The shift between the individual lives of mother and daughter and then also their relationship with each other scatters the focus of the story. Add to that the sexual innuendo and actual sexual scenes (including a threesome!) in the story of both the mother and the daughter create a jarring note in the story. Sadly, Kay Bright herself comes across as a self-centered character. Not having an sympathetic main character is the final challenge that keeps me from engaging with the story. I don't necessarily want to follow along on her journey to discover herself.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Red Sky Over Hawaii

Title:  Red Sky Over Hawaii
Author:  Sara Ackerman
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778309673 / 978-0778309673

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Summer 2020 Historical Fiction Blog Tours from Harlequin Trade Publishing free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "when I close my eyes, I still see the fiery glow of lava in Halema'uma'u crater."

Favorite Quote:  "People get knocked off their path all the time. Important thing is you know your Hõk˜upa'a, your North Star, and you bring yourself back on course. The sooner the better."

1941. Hawaii. Pearl Harbor. US enters WWII. This is the history against which this book is set. Some of the history used in the book...

The Kilauea Military Camp was originally built as a rest and relaxation facility for military members and their families. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the facility was used as an interment camp for people of Japanese and German descent. People were rounded up and held on suspicion simply for their ethnic heritage. Families were torn apart, and lives were destroyed.

In the 1940s, Mauna Loa erupted. The army bombed the lava flow to prevent it from reaching the city of Hilo. Per the author's note, the timeline has been changed somewhat to match the timing of the story, but it did occur. According to recent news stories, a hiker discovered unexploded bombs near the crater earlier this year.

The Ãinahou Ranch, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is a home built in what is now Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Supposedly, one of the originals purposes of the home was to provide a hideout or haven against a Japanese invasion.

Now the story....

Lana Hitchcock arrives back on the Big Island to see her father. They have been estranged for many years.  Unfortunately, nothing goes as Lana envisions. Her father passes away before her arrival. She meets her neighbors who are of German heritage reconnects with one of her father's old friends, who is of Japanese heritage. The attack on Pearl Harbor happens. To protect her old and new friends, Lana runs with them to a home that her father built, apparently for this very purpose.

The rest of the book is about what happens to Lana and her friends in this new home. Although the book is based on the events of the war, the war itself and the resulting internments fade somewhat into the background of this story. I wish more had been described about the history, but this book goes in a different direction.

For one, a love story develops and takes center stage. The love story I could do without, but that part of the book does raise the question of trust in a relationship and the balance between duty and the responsibility to do the right thing. The book description is very clear that romance is an element of the story. I do, however, wish that the history of internment and its impact on the families had been developed further. The ending too wraps it up neatly without looking at the impact beyond.

The completely unexpected part of this story is what the description refers to as "the magic on the volcano." That descriptor is not a figure of speech. A significant portion of this book is magical realism and the presence of certain powers in a child, in an adult, and in the environment itself. Again, this aspect of the story looms larger than the story of war that I was expecting. Perhaps, it is about the power of belief  and its ability to sustain us through tough time? Perhaps, that is what I need to believe.

That being said, the background of the war against the beautiful, haunting environment of the Hawaii volcanoes creates a readable story of what happens when good people do the right thing and stand together and for each other. That is a lesson well worth reiterating again and again.

Red Sky Over Hawaii
Blog Tour

Author: Sara Ackerman
Publication Date: June 9, 2020
Publisher:  MIRA Books

Author Bio:
Sara Ackerman is the USA Today bestselling author of The Lieutenant's Nurse and Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she's not writing or teaching, you'll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.

Book Summary:
For fans of Chanel Cleeton and Beatriz Williams, RED SKY OVER HAWAII is historical women's fiction set in the islands during WWII. It's the story of a woman who has to put her safety and her heart on the line when she becomes the unexpected guardian of a misfit group and decides to hide with them in a secret home in the forest on Kilauea Volcano.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, all she can do is untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property in the forest on Kilauea Volcano. America has been drawn into WWII, and amid rumors of impending invasion, the army places the islands under martial law. When they start taking away neighbors as possible sympathizers, Lana finds herself suddenly guardian to two girls, as well as accomplice to an old family friend who is Japanese, along with his son. In a heartbeat, she makes the decision to go into hiding with them all.

The hideaway house is not what Lana expected, revealing its secrets slowly, and things become even more complicated by the interest of Major Grant Bailey, a soldier from the nearby internment camp. Lana is drawn to him, too, but needs to protect her little group. With a little help from the magic on the volcano, Lana finds she can open her bruised heart to the children--and maybe to Grant.

A lush and evocative novel about doing what is right against the odds, following your heart, and what makes a family.

Author Q&A:

Q: Would you tell us what inspired you to write Red Sky Over Hawaii?
A: I’ll start with saying that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (the setting) is one of my favorite places. There is a vast and unearthly beauty there, with a unique rainforest and ecosystem. I spend a lot of time exploring the backcountry and lava flows in the area. One day several years ago, I came upon a rustic old house tucked away in a remote part of the park. You would never even know it’s there. Needless to say, I was intrigued. When I dug deeper and found the house was originally built as a hideaway house in 1941 in case of a Japanese invasion, I knew I had to write a book about it someday. A year or so later, I met a woman who told me about her friend’s mother, who had been a little girl during the attack on Pearl Harbor and how her parents had been taken away and held for over a year by the FBI because they were German. I tracked down that story, which broke my heart, and decided I would merge the two and loosely base my story on them. Also, I’ve always been fascinated at how ordinary people band together during crises, and at the human capacity for resilience, so I wanted to explore this in my novel.

Q: Which character in this novel do you most relate to and why?
A: I would have to say Lana, though Coco might come in a close second. Lana was at one of those difficult crossroads in life, where everything seems to fall apart at once. Though the events of her life are different than mine, I’ve been through these periods where everything looks bleak and you have to pull it together just to survive.

Q: What challenged you the most while writing this story?
A: In terms of life, I had recently lost my father, and so writing about Lana’s father Jack and the house felt very parallel (my father was an architect who built his own house) to my own experience. It was a very emotional book for me to write, and yet I think it also helped me to work through my own grief. In terms of the writing, I didn’t have a whole lot to go on in terms of books or resources of what it was like at Volcano during the war. I’d had the opposite problem with The Lieutenant’s Nurse, since that was about Pearl Harbor. Luckily, I found one publication put out by the National Parks Service that saved me. I also had a few kupuna (elders) here that shared their memories with me. We are running out of living references from WWII, so I feel honored to get to talk story with them.

Q: You must do a lot of research for your writing. What was something interesting you learned while compiling research for this book?

A: When I set out to write it, I knew about the detainment camp at KMC (Kilauea Military Camp) but I had no idea that there was so much military activity up there. In early 1942 the Army 27th Infantry Division set up headquarters there and patrolled coastlines and trained for  another anticipated invasion. When researching, there are always so many unexpected things that turn up. I love it!

Facebook: @ackermanbooks
Twitter: @AckermanBooks
Instagram: @saraackermanbooks

Buy Links:
Barnes & Noble

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season

Title:  The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season
Author:  Molly Fader
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1525804553 / 978-1525804557

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Harlequin Trade Publishing 2020 Summer Reads blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Night in Northern Michigan was no joke."

Favorite Quote:  "They were little things, but it was always the little things that rubbed a person raw. That hurt the most." 

Life has not gone quite as Hope had envisioned it. She finds herself driving in the middle of the night to a place she thinks she's never been, or at least not so that she remembers. She has run out of options for herself and her ten-year-old daughter Tink (short for the nickname Tinkerbell). She is running. The reason, while not immediately stated, is clear from her black eye and other injuries and from the fear.

The destination is a farmhouse in northern Michigan. It is her mother's childhood home. Her aunt Peg still lives there, working the cherry orchard. The home is aptly named Orchard House.

Like Hope, Peg's life is not what she envisioned. She harbors memories and secrets of both joys and sorrows. She takes Hope in with no questions about her injuries or her arrival in the middle of the night. She asks only that if Hope is to stay, she help in the cherry harvest.

So begins a journey of healing for both of them. The beautiful rural setting, the grounding in the orchard and in a garden, a small town community who welcomes, and a precocious child who has lost some of her innocence to fear all contribute to that healing.

Gradually memories and understanding emerge. The past also comes back in a shocking, dramatic way to create the climax of the book.

The book is ultimately a sweet story of family - the one we are born into and the one we create out of love. It is about the lesson that it is never too late to make amends, connect, and create the family that might have been. It is also, as you might expect, about love stories - a new beginning and a love scarred by circumstances but never lost forgotten. The romance is unnecessary to the book. The story and strength of the women is sufficient, but the romance is expected for the genre.

The book is marketed as a summer read, and it fits that bill. It deals with serious issues of abuse in a relationship and substance abuse. However, it does so in the context of a heartwarming, small town, feel good story.

Through the secondary characters in the book, the story honors the diversity of the Michigan community. The women of the town, from different backgrounds, come together in friendship and sisterhood. While this is not a focal point of the book, I love seeing diverse characters because representation matters.

Finally, the book has recipes - cherry ones, of course. I am not familiar with Michigan cherries so I learned something, Michigan producers grow both sweet and tart cherries, producing 70 percent of the US production of tart cherries. One variety of sour cherry, the Montmorency cherry, is used in cherry pies and also marketed as juice. In the past couple of years, the juice has garnered a following in the health community for its benefits. With this story and its recipes in mind. I think I will be looking for Michigan cherries on my next grocery trip.

Food, friendship, and family - the perfect ingredients of a summer read.

The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season
Blog Tour

Author: Molly Fader
Publication Date: June 6, 2020
Publisher:  Graydon House Books

Author Bio:
Molly Fader is the author of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets. She is also the award-winning author of more than forty romance novels under the pennames Molly O'Keefe and M. O'Keefe. She grew up outside of Chicago and now lives in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter, @mollyokwrites.

Book Summary:
For fans of Robyn Carr, commercial women's fiction about three generations of women who come together at the family orchard to face secrets from the past and learn to believe in the power of hope and forgiveness.

In cherry season, anything is possible...

Everything Hope knows about the Orchard House is from her late-mother's stories. So when she arrives at the Northern Michigan family estate late one night with a terrible secret and her ten-year-old daughter in tow, she's not sure if she'll be welcomed or turned away with a shotgun by the aunt she has never met.

Hope's aunt, Peg, has lived in the Orchard House all her life, though the property has seen better days. She agrees to take Hope in if, in exchange, Hope helps with the cherry harvest—not exactly Hope's specialty, but she's out of options. As Hope works the orchard alongside her aunt, daughter, and a kind man she finds increasingly difficult to ignore, a new life begins to blossom. But the mistakes of the past are never far behind, and soon the women will find themselves fighting harder than ever for their family roots and for each other.

Author Q&A:
What message do you hope readers take away from The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season?
Oh wow! So many! I hope they think about about the power of memory in their own lives. That memories are what make us - good and bad. Mothers are fallible in a million ways and most are just trying their best. Grace and forgiveness feel better than resentment. When times are tough - get yourself some chocolate cherry brioche? :)

What's the story behind the story/how you came to write this novel?
Well, the opening scene literally just arrived in my head. Mom with a dead cell phone driving through the dark dark Michigan night. She’s absolutely out of options. Her daughter isn’t speaking to her. And she’s been beaten up.  As far as opening scenes go it’s one of my absolute favorites. Women out of options, out of pride, trying SO HARD to do the next thing… I love it.

Do you have any specific writing rituals (outfit, snacks, pen,music, etc)?
I wake up early, make the coffee and go. Sometimes the internet is a little too distracting so I need to turn it off. But most days, that’s how it works. Some days - when I go on retreats or I’m really behind - I work in the morning, go for a long walk, come back and have a beer before writing some more. When I was a newbie writer I had a few more tricks I needed - there were books I wrote listening to the same album on repeat, but now I can’t have any music. I’ve written some books in different rooms in the house -because for whatever reason that’s where the writing magic happened. The McAvoy Sister’s was written almost entirely in my daughter’s bed room… I have no explanation for it.

Which character do you most relate to and why?
Honestly, all of them in different ways and in different parts of the story. I have never been in the situation that Hope has been in but there have been parts of motherhood when I find myself in situations outside of my control and I have to treat my kids like adults. Or expect them to act like adults. And I know it’s not fair, but it’s what happens sometimes. I can also really relate to how she can find a million reasons to beat herself up as a mother - but struggles to see what an amazing job she’s doing. I think most mothers understand that reality.

I also understand Peg’s reluctance to open herself up to more pain. And how what she thinks is keeping her safe is actually a prison. And I can also appreciate her - If I don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen - stance. I think that’s a very real part of human nature.

And frankly even Tink - I LOVED how she used what power she had to make her point clear. The story about Tink and the broken leg - that came from real life. My kid’s friend spent most of a year wrapping his leg up in an ace bandage and telling everyone it was broken - it was like he was conducting a very specific social experiment on us. And then one day… done.

What can you tell us about your next project?
Oh, I’m so excited about it. The title is always changing… so we’ll skip that part and get right to the good stuff...

Sarah Beecher has died and everyone in Greensboro, Iowa has shown up for her funeral. She was a beloved Administrator and Nurse at the Nursing School who has lived almost the entirety of her life in this small town. Her daughter’s are there - each battling some real life demons but supporting each other, despite old resentments and feuds. They are absolutely firm in the knowledge that Sarah Beecher had no secrets.

Into this funeral walks Kitty Deveraux - legendary star of stage and screen. And she’s there to tell Sarah’s daughters their mother was not who they thought she was.

And neither are they.

It’s got two timelines! Family secrets! Twists! Seriously, I enjoy it so much. AND it’s based in part on my mother’s experience at St. Luke’s Nursing School in Iowa.

Have you been to the cherry festivals in MI?
I have! I’ve been to the cherry festival in Traverse City. I competed in a cherry pit spitting contest and ended up spitting the pit on my shoe. I was an embarrassment to my kids and husband. Luckily there was plenty of cherry ice cream (thank you Kilwin’s!) around with which to console myself after that poor showing.

Actually I spent part of almost every summer of my life in Michigan. First along Southern Lake Michigan - St. Joseph’s and South Haven. And then in Northern Lower Michigan - Traverse City, Boyne City and Petosky. A few summers on Beaver Island. I have enjoyed The Cherry Festivals, The Tulip Festivals, a million Beer Festivals and the odd Elvis Festival. 

Why did you decide to use a cherry orchard?
I wanted to set the book in Michigan. I knew I wanted it to be rural and agricultural and lots of hard work. And after all the summers in Michigan - picking up bags of fresh washed cherries from road stands all over the state - a cherry orchard seemed perfect!

Author Website: http://mollyfader.com/

Buy Links:

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Big Lies in a Small Town

 Big Lies in a Small Town
Author:  Diane Chamberlain
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1250087333 / 978-1250087331

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The children knew it was finally spring, so although the air still held the nip of winter and the grass and weeds crunched beneath their feet, they ran through the field and woods, yipping with the anticipation of warmer weather."

Favorite Quote:  "Perhaps now that she'd told the story, it would lose its power over her. She hoped she would never have to repeat it to anyone ever again."

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration ran a competition through the Section of Painting and Sculpture in the Treasury Department for artists to produce work to be displayed in government buildings where all would have access to it. Many of the designated buildings were post offices being constructed. (See also The Truth According to Us, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, and The Giver of Stars for other book set around the history of the Works Progress Administration.) This program is the historical context for this book.

Anna Dale, from New Jersey, is one of the artists selected to paint a mural for a post office. However, her original sketch to go in a New Jersey post office does not happen. Instead, she is reassigned to design one for the post office in the small town of Edenton, North Carolina. She travels there to learn about the town, so as to be able to capture its essence. She meets with both welcome and resentment - for being a woman, for being an outside, for beating out a home town boy in the competition, and for breaking the social norms of Edenton culture.

Decades later, Morgan Christopher is a former art student currently in prison. A woman offers a way out of prison only if she agrees to restore a mural in time for the opening of a gallery in Edenton. Morgan jumps at this second chance even though she has no connection to this woman, no connection to Edenton, and no knowledge of art restoration.

In this way, an artist - Jesse - unites these women across decades. The book goes back and forth between Anna and Morgan. Anna's story is hers. Morgan's story is the slow discovery of Anna's story through the oddities discovered as she restores the painting. Morgan's story is also of her redemption and the discovery of a path forward for her life beyond her incarceration and the accident that led to it.

The story does have some loose ends. Anna's story has themes of mental illness and its possible hereditary factors. Anna is referred to as the artist may went crazy in many different ways throughout the book. Her mother suffered from mental illness. The reasons for Anna's behavior are ultimately explained, but the correlations and differences between mental illness and a trauma response are never clarified.

Edenton, North Carolina in the 1940s brings forth the story of a male-dominated culture and of segregation and racisms. Both of those remain the background for this story is about Anna and Morgan, both of whom are on the periphery of this culture. The element of racism particularly seems muted in this book given the historical facts of the time and place. Given the conversations around the world still taking place, I wish more of that reality had been depicted.

The story is slow to build, but there is an "aha" moment when it comes together. In that way, it mirrors the mural itself. The cleaning and restoration process is painstakingly slow, but the painting reveals its secrets in many "aha" moments.

The ending brings everything together in a neat package. Life is not that neat, but the book does keep me reading until the very last page to see every connection. In fact, I turn the last page to see if there is more. The characters come to life, and I want to know what happens next. That, for me, is the sign of a great read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.