Monday, September 14, 2020

The Book of Lost Friends

Title:  The Book of Lost Friends
Author:  Lisa Wingate
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1984819887 / 978-1984819888

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

Opening Sentence:  "A single ladybug lands featherlight on the teacher's finger, clings there, a living gemstone."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm trying to impress upon my students that everyone has a history. Just because we're not always happy with what's true doesn't mean we shouldn't know it. It's how we learn. It's how we do better in the future. Hopefully, anyway."

The "lost friends" is a historical reference to loved ones and friends lost to slavery. The term was used by the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a newspaper published out of New Orleans, Louisiana, for the African American community from 1877 to 1929. The newspaper was a project the Methodist Church. The "Lost Friends" was a section that published letters from people searching from loved ones in the hopes that it would reach them or someone who knew of them.

"'I have written all of them' She shows me her work, while I look down in wonder. 'These pages, by the beginning letter of the surname.' She turns to a page with R, which is a letter I know, there at the top, she reads off, 'Amalee August Rain.' I sit down beside her and she gives it over to me, an I turn through all the pages. 'I'll be,' I whisper. 'A book of lost friends.'"

As I contemplate the history, I am horrified and saddened beyond measure that such letters or such lists were made necessary in this nation that was built upon tenets of equality and freedom. It saddens me that conversations for and the word toward equity still continues today. We have not reached that goal. This specific aspect of history - the letters, some of which are reprinted in this book - will stay with me for a long time to come.

The book tells this story through Hannie Gossett in the aftermath of the Civil War and Benedetta in the 1980s. The story begins in Louisiana. Benedetta has come to be an English teacher in a small school. The school embodies the inequities that permeate the US school system. Benedetta sets out to capture her students imagination and teach them through their own history. Hannie's story is an integral part of the history of Augustine, Louisiana. She is slave who loses her entire family as the South grapples with the Civil War and the thought of emancipation. Hannie's family is lost through the actions of - ripped apart one person at a time in the trading of humans. Now, she is supposedly free, a sharecropper on the very farm where she and her family were slaves.

Hannie's voice takes a little getting used to, but this quiet book pulls me and does not let go even after the last page. I turn the page looking for more of what happens to Hannie. The book comes alive and leaves me with a visual and emotional picture of the time and the place.

Benedetta's story, in its own way, draws me in. I find myself relating to her relationship with books. "Books made me believe that smart girls who didn't necessarily fit in with the popular crowd could be the ones to solve mysteries, rescue people in distress, ferret out international criminals, fly spaceships to distant planets, take up arms and fight battles... Books made me feel beautiful when I wasn't. Capable when I couldn't be. Books built my identity." I also find myself sharing her struggle with how to best be an ally to her students.

The final chapter of the book somewhat comes out of nowhere in Benedetta's story. Yet, it leaves behind an important lesson as does the rest of the book. "We all have scars. It's when you're honest about them that you find the people who will love you in spite of your nicks and dents. Perhaps even because of them. The people who don't. These people aren't the ones for you."

Most of all, I appreciate this book for the sad history it leads me to research further in nonfiction sources. The challenge and struggle of that history continue on.


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

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Road Out of Winter

Road Out of Winter
Title:
  Road Out of Winter
Author:  Alison Stine
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0778309924 / 978-0778309925

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested."

Favorite Quote:  "'The world's gone crazy,' Grayson said. 'No,' Janey said, looking out the window. 'It was always this way.'"

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

The world is an eternal winter. Actually, we don't know if it is the entire world because phone, internet, and all connection has been lost. It is definitely eternal winter in Ohio and Appalachia. The apocalypse is never explained, but at the beginning of the book, it is no longer new to this community. The book begins at a point of desperation with people trying to flee the winter and society devolving into lawlessness and profiteering.

Wil, Grayson, and Dance are all alone, each having been abandoned by family. Wil lives alone and runs a weed farm. Grayson and Dance are also surviving. The theme of abandonment and the search for love plays out throughout the book. There is also an unrequited romance in the book, but it does not really seem to serve a purpose other than to be there and to clearly identify a character type. Reading the author's interview, it appears that identifying a character is the point.

This ragtag group creates its own family until it doesn't.  The overarching theme still becomes every person for themselves. The family comes together and then dissipates just as quickly and easily. That, however, is the main emotional impact (or lack thereof) of the book. Everything that happens is just there. For all its harrowing circumstances - an apocalypse, drugs, lawlessness, looting, destruction, murder, rape, suicide, and more, the book does not elicit an emotional reaction from me. I never truly connect with or vest in the characters.

The story becomes literally a story of the road. The main characters - Wil, Grayson, Dance, and those who join them on the road - carry through the story. Yet, the book feels like vignettes of each challenge they face and each community - the town, the Church, the Skate State, the Occupied Forest, the dressed in white folk and so on - they encounter. With just a bit of background added, those could almost stand individually as short stories for each community represents a stereotype. The stories are vivid and descriptive, but the characters binding the story together seem to remain the same throughout. The ultimate climax of the book is at best a tenuous connection that truly does not have to do with the theme of living in a post-apocalyptic world.

One thing I do not understand in this book is the geography. Will stars off in Ohio and is bound for California to find her mother. She has a phone connection long enough to map out somewhat of a route. Later of the journey, they manage to find some maps. Yet, the rest of the story references West Virginia and Tennessee. Looking at a real map, those two states are not on a route from Ohio to California. Suspending disbelief, it could be said that forced detours and lack of direction cause this group to veer off. However, the reference to West Virginia and Tennessee almost seems to imply that they headed off the in wrong direction - east - to begin with. Warranted, where they are becomes somewhat irrelevant to the story, but it is a jarring detail.

The ending, when it comes, provides no closure. It is not a cliffhanger but does appear to be simply a stopping point. I wonder if a sequel is planned to continue the journey. At this time, I don't know that I will follow further along the road out of winter.

Author Bio

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

About the Book

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER (MIRA Trade; September 1, 2020; $17.99).

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

Author Q&A

1. If Wil had a favorite song, what would it be?
I feel like she would have grown up listening to country, and to the music her mama liked, as I did, like Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gale. I think she would really like Kacey Musgraves, and would have snuck a copy her albums to her friend who was raised very strict. But I think Wil’s favorite song would be Burning House by Cam. It was on the radio when I was writing. I used to sing it to my son. The lyrics speak a lot to Wil’s situation: “stay here with you/til this dream is gone.” It would have been on the radio when she was driving home from seeing the person who could never love her the way she wanted, driving through the place that could never love her back.

2. Which character in ROAD OUT OF WINTER do you most relate to?
Wil. We were a few months into the pandemic when I realized I actually am Wil. Writing her made me realize I’m stronger than I know. I can get my family cross-country safely. I can make it work. All of her plant knowledge is my own, which I gained from living in rural Appalachia for so long, and from my friends and neighbors. I cry more than she does, though.

3. What was your favorite scene to write? No spoilers!
Everything involving the skaters, though it scared me too. My son is a skater and my partner is (and I used to be, before getting hurt!). Friends of ours have a homemade skate ramp out in the country. Several of my friends basically have their own compounds which, I’m not gonna lie, is a dream. Anytime I can convey the wildness, strangeness, and the abandon of rural Appalachian Ohio is a good writing day. It can be scary but it can also be really fun, living in the middle of nowhere. You can do what you want, to both good and bad results.

4. Who was your favorite character to write and why?
Jamey. In my real life, in part because of my disability, I’m quiet, especially in new situations. I hold back. Jamey says the things I wish I could. She’s also, as my smart friend and early reader Ellee pointed out, a survivor: she can be sarcastic and harsh sometimes because of what she had to endure. Her defense mechanism is pretending not to care. But she does care, deeply.

5. Why was it important to you to have a queer character in your story?
I didn’t consciously set out to make Wil queer and I don’t know that she would call herself that exactly, if she has that language or community yet. She loves who she loves, but her experience of romantic love in a small town has been things just not working out. Nobody really seeing her. That was also my experience for a long time. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself bisexual in the past few years, despite having had long-term relationships with both men and women. That was how I grew up, in a small conservative town. Wil wants love, and the woman she loves wants something else, a bigger life, that Wil always hoped she could make somehow right here where she grew up. My experience is that sometimes you have to make that life elsewhere. Sometimes rural spaces are not the friendliest, home is not the easiest. But I am very proud and glad to have a bi woman in a rural space in my book. I guess I wrote the book I needed when I was young and couldn’t find. It’s still hard to find bi characters, especially in adult literary and commercial fiction. It’s even harder to find them celebrated. We seemed to be skipped over quite a lot. Often I feel invisible, like my life and experiences and struggles don’t matter. Being bi is just who she is, it’s not a plot device. Just a fact, as it is in life.

6. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I like to surprise myself so I am mostly just plunging into writing. The best stories come from dreams, in my opinion. Then once you have the dream, you need to wait a little while until characters and the main events take shape. I usually know the three main acts before I start to write a book, but that’s it. I start to know the end by about the middle. With ROAD OUT OF WINTER, I knew nothing, because the book originally did not go where I wanted it to and so I stopped writing. I thought they were going to go clear across the country and so I stopped. When I came back to the manuscript a few months later, I realized, no, they were never supposed to get out of Appalachia. And I finished the book.

7. Where is your favorite place to write?
I can work anywhere, and have had to, being a single mother for most of my child’s life. But a lot of ROAD OUT OF WINTER, and my next book, were written and revised at The Westend Ciderhouse, a cidery and bar in my town. I would go in the afternoon—they opened early on Fridays—and had my favorite table. Nobody bothered me. Several of the bartenders were my friends but they knew I was working. It was very quiet, and kinda dark and cool, and I would just write—and drink one cider, until it was time for my son to come home from school. I write better in bars than in coffeeshops. I guess I’m just that type.

8. What's the worst writing advice you ever received?
That you need the approval of a teacher or professor or workshop or a degree to write. Writing is being a collector and interpreter of experiences. You don’t have to study writing formally or major in it, and looking back, I kinda wish I had explored more of my other interests in music and theatre and art. All that would have helped my writing too. Don’t let go of the other stuff that makes you happy. Everything you do helps fill your well as a writer—other art, sports, travel, friendships. Books are your best teachers. The best thing you can do to be a better writer is to read, to experience, to write, and to live.

9. What is the best book you’ve read this year?
The best book I read this year so far was Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I read and loved all the books in the trilogy. They were some of the first books I could get through in the early days of the pandemic, when my mind and heart were all over the place. They helped center me, in part because they made me feel seen. The trilogy focuses on women, queer folks, bi folks, and how we might survive in a world that doesn’t really see or even want us—and that matters to me.

10. What are you working on next?
My second novel TRASHLANDS is coming out from MIRA in the fall of 2021. It’s about a single mom at a strip club at the end of the world. She has to choose between being an artist, being a parent, or being in love, which isn’t much of a choice at all but the kind that women throughout time have been forced to make. And I’m starting to write my next novel, about a reporter who is hard of hearing (like me!) and is called back home to investigate something really bad.

Buy Links

Harlequin
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Last Story of Mina Lee

Title:
  The Last Story of Mina Lee
Author:  Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0778310175 / 978-0778310174

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Margot's final conversation with her mother had seemed so uneventful, so ordinary - another choppy bilingual plod."

Favorite Quote:  "She wondered how many women had been trapped - in terrible marriages, terrible jobs, unbearable circumstances - simply because the world hadn't been designed to allow them to thrive on their own. Their decisions would always be scrutinized by the lives at which they were able to sacrifice themselves, their bodies, their pleasures and desires. A woman who imagined her own way out would always be ostracized for her own strength."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

Mina Lee is an immigrant who comes to the United States alone from Korea at the age of forty-one. Margot Lee is her daughter. Mother and daughter love each other, and yet Margot wants that separation from her mother, from Koreatown in Los Angeles, and from the lifetime of growing up "different" as immigrants are often labeled. Mina continues to live in Koreatown; Margot has built a life in Seattle. Unfortunately, Margot discovers that her mother has died. The book then goes back and forth between Mina and Margot's perspectives to reveal how and why.

This premise sets up what should be a powerful story of the immigrant experience - both first and second generation. The book does tell that story to an extent. The book makes several statements about the immigrant and the American experience. "All of it would be shattered, too. Because their life would be part of the lie that this country repeated to live with itself - that fairness would prevail; that he laws protected everyone equally; that this land wasn't stolen from Native peoples; that this wealth wasn't built by industrious white men, "our" founders; that hardworking immigrants proved this was a meritocracy; that history should only be told from one point of view, that of those who won and still have power. So the city raged. Immolation was always a statement." Statements such as this are all true and all relevant, but they remain statements rather than woven into what should be an emotional story.

This premise also sets up what should be an emotional story of the relationship between a mother and a daughter. Again, the book does tell that story to an extent. "But if she allowed that story to continue to be told, over and over again - that her mother was a nobody, anonymous, an immigrant who couldn't speak the language, another immigrant who worked a job that no one else wanted, another casualty of more important people - she would be letting them win, wouldn't see? She would be allowing them to sweep her mother away like dirt and dust." It is clear that mother and daughter love each other. However, Mina's chapters are primarily from before Margot's birth or with a baby, and Margot's chapters are after Mina's death. So, the readers hears the relationship but at the same time the relationship does not fully realize because the perspectives do not overlap.

Mina is a single mother, and Margot's father has never been part of her life. In fact, she does not even know who her father is. This premise sets up a story of women, more so than I could have imagined from the book description. Again, it has the potential to be a story of strength and survival. Yet, again, somehow, it does not ultimately leave that lasting impression. 

Finally, there is the mystery of Mina's death. What happened, and which of the themes of the book does her death relate to. The ending, once it comes, leaves with a question. Really? With all the buildup and the potential, this is what happened. Let's just say it is anticlimactic and veers away from all the themes of the book.

Ultimately, the story had amazing potential, but somehow manages to stay at a distance in all its themes. It feels like the story is told not lived. Passages such as the following contribute to that reaction. "Beauty is a construct, but theory is not at the reality we live, she thought. Theory didn't live in the bones. Theory didn't erase the years of self-scrutiny in a mirror and not seeing anyone at all, not a protagonist or a beauty, one a television sidekick, a speechless creature, who at best was 'exotic,' desirable but simple and foreign." The emotion of the story - which should have packed quite a punch - remains just out of reach. It leaves me sad because it was a missed opportunity.

Author Bio

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a graduate of UCLA and the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s The Margins, The Offing, the blogs of Prairie Schooner and Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Love (or Live Cargo),” was performed for NPR/PRI’s Selected Shorts in 2017 with stories by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Phil Klay, and Etgar Keret. THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE is her first novel.

About the Book

THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE (on sale: September 1, 2020; Park Row Books; Hardcover; $27.99 US/ $34.99 CAN). opens when Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, doesn’t return her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous and invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot's present-day search is Mina's story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she's barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

Author Q&A

1. What was your inspiration for writing The Last Story of Mina Lee?
I wanted to write a story that I had never seen before, a story that explored the complicated interdependence between an immigrant mother and her American-born daughter, the ways in which they love, need, and sometimes resent each other. For example, as the only child of an immigrant single mother, the protagonist Margot loves her mother more than anyone in this world. She needs her. But at the same time, she resents how, growing up, she has to work at her mother’s store over the weekends and during school breaks. She resents how her mother refuses to talk much about her past, and Margot’s father, her origins as well. I also wanted to write a story that centered women, in particular marginalized women, and show how they not only live but lead extraordinary lives. Although this novel begins with a tragic ending for Mina, she is nonetheless very much the hero and the heart of this story—a woman who took risks and created change, a life for herself in surprising and unconventional ways.

2. Did you have to do any research during the writing process?
I didn’t need to do much research while writing this book because I’m very much a product of the communities that I write about. I might’ve asked friends or people I know some questions about Korea and Korean culture, but it was all very casual.

3. Korean food is mentioned throughout your book. Was this done intentionally?
As Margot tries to figure out what happened to her mother on the night of her death, she experiences Koreatown as an adult for the first time in her life. As she goes out to eat at Korean restaurants with her friend Miguel and spends time in her mother’s apartment by herself, Margot realizes that food was not only a way for her mother to show love; it was a way of teaching Margot how to nourish and take care of herself in a world that is often harsh.

4. How important is Korean food in your life and what is your favorite Korean meal?
I always say that “Korean food” is just “food” for me. It’s very much a part of who I am, and was perhaps, as it is in many immigrant families, one of the principal ways my mother showed me love. I don’t have a favorite Korean dish because I love so many of them depending on the occasion, the weather, the mood. But some of my favorite banchan (side dishes) include yangnyeom gejang (spicy raw crab), myeongnanjeot (fermented pollock roe), and kkaenip (pickled perilla leaves). All I need is one of those and a bowl of rice.

5. What was your favourite food-related scene to write and why?
There are so many food scenes, moments, and images that I love in this book. But the most memorable food scene for me is about three-quarters through the novel—after Mina and her friend Mrs. Baek reunite after over twenty years apart. They go to a restaurant and have soondubu jjigae together. I love the delicacy, the tenderness of this scene, how each of these two characters is attempting to rekindle and navigate this friendship with the guardedness that comes from being hurt and heartbroken so much. Mina also realizes that despite how strong and supportive Mrs. Baek has always been, Mrs. Baek needs Mina and friendship just like everyone else. Mina played and can play a large role in Mrs. Baek’s life and her survival too.

6. Which character in the book do you relate to the most?
I like to believe that I am both all of my characters and none of them at the same time. But I’m closest to Margot in age and certainly I know the challenges of being the daughter of an immigrant single mother. I also know how difficult it can be in your twenties. That was actually a terrible time for me because I found myself being pulled, or pulling myself in so many different directions. But I had to make all those mistakes to get to where I am today. I’m glad that decade is over!

7. Even though the Korean War technically ended in 1953, major turmoil still exists today between the North and South. How has Korea's past and present situation directly impacted your life?
Both sides of my family come from what is now North Korea. As children, my parents fled the north during the war. So at the age of 13, my father left his home in advance of his mother and siblings, not knowing that a permanent border would forever keep them apart. For his entire life, he never knew what had happened to them, if they survived the war or if they continued to live behind the border, a border that continues to divide not only a culture and country but real families whose lives and identities have been shattered.

There were so many painful things, worries and regrets, traumas, that my father and mother did not talk about when I was growing up. Silence was a form of protecting us, and themselves. But the silences in my family also left me with a lack of understanding of my parents, just as Margot never quite knows her mother’s story, even if the reader does. It’s these silences that I’m attempting to capture and write through and out of in my work. I think one of the beauties of fiction is how it can bring together the impossible in one story. For me, the conversations that would and could never happen in my life happen in this book.

8. "Movement for her mother was essentially an experience of loss that Margot, American-born, could never imagine. And Yet, Margot herself had inherited the same anxiety about driving fast, particularly on freeways. She thought too much about the experience of speed itself, its danger, rather than getting somewhere at last." Can you speak to the experience of movement for both women?
What I really love about the structure, the dual narrative, of this book is that we experience how both Margot and Mina, are at turning points in their lives; they are both thrust into new narratives about themselves, new ways of being alive. For example, the book begins for Margot with the death of her mother which forces her to question who she is without her. (Who is Margot if she is not someone’s daughter?) While the book begins for Mina when she enters the United States in order to start a new life after the death of her husband and daughter. (Who is she now without being someone’s mother or wife?) Both of them are in mourning, mourning the dead as well as their past identities and lives. They are both terrifyingly unmoored and free to reinvent themselves. What story should they each tell now about who they are? So movement is very much tied to identity in this book.

9. Why did Margot resist embracing her past so much?
It’s important to note that Margot never experiences the Mina that we, as readers, see, know, and love throughout this book. Margot never witnesses her mother fall in love. She never knows the full story of why she had fled to America. Although her mother clearly makes so many sacrifices for her, Margot views her mother as often harsh, secretive, inaccessible. For this reason and in the context of a society that often doesn’t fully embrace other cultures, as an adult, Margot resents her mother; she is ashamed of what her mother represents because she has internalized some of the mainstream views, even xenophobia and racism against her. She judges her mother by the standards of the larger culture: “Why didn’t her mother learn to speak English?” Of course, this is only until her mother dies, which opens up the opportunity to finally get to know her mother, not only as a mother, but as a woman with an extraordinary story and life.

10. What is the number one take away you want your readers to leave with after finishing Mina's story?
I hope this books sparks conversation about the mysteries, the secrets, and the silences within our own families. I hope this story encourages readers to ask the questions they’ve always wanted ask of the people whom they love the most. I hope we risk discomfort more.

11. At one point, she said that "the fear of hell kept her alive." How much did religion play a role in Mina's life?
Religion and places of worship play an important role in immigrant communities, often serving as resource centers where people find each other and themselves. For Mina, church is a place where she can simply insert herself every Sunday and feel as if she belongs through sermon and song. For the most part, she doesn’t involve herself too much socially in the church, but she finds solace once in a week in the crowd.

12. Do you have plans for another novel? If so, can you share with us any details?
Yes, of course! I’m writing my next novel which also takes place near Los Angeles’ Koreatown and centers on the life of a Korean American family still grieving the mysterious death of the mother five years ago. Since I live in California where the housing crisis is very real and ongoing, the book explores issues of gentrification and homelessness through the lens of an immigrant family, struggling in their own ways to belong.


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

Sunday, August 30, 2020

One Perfect Summer

Title:  One Perfect Summer
Author:  Brenda Novak
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 432 pages.
ISBN:  0778310035 / 978-0778310037

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

Opening Sentence:  "Gripping the steering wheel tightly, Serenity Alston navigated the winding freeway heading east toward Donner Summit."

Favorite Quote:  "But I have plenty of experience with trying to meet everyone's expectations so they won't reject me. It's easy to become a slave to that - to lose yourself in it." 

The premise of this book is based in the current trend toward commercial DNA testing for medical reasons or just as an experiment in learning more about your heritage. Serenity Alston sends off her swab to 23andMe and, much to her shock, discovers that her DNA matches that of two women - Lorelie and Regan. They are not her siblings. She does not know them or even know of them. Together, the three half-sisters decide to meet to see if they can possibly discover the connection between them.

The lives of the three have followed very different paths. Serenity grew up in an affluent, loving family surrounded by her parents, siblings, and other family members. Lorelei was found abandoned in Florida and grew up in the social welfare system; she is now married and a mother herself. Reagan was raised by a single mother with high expectations.

When they meet, they are all at a turning point in their individual lives beyond just the discovery of sister. These crossroads are about the relationships in their lives but also about them as individuals. "Not every change comes about peaceably, even changes that are for the best."

Some of this book is contrived. The three women gather in beautiful Lake Tahoe at Serenity's family cabin. There is an initial moment of discomfort, but sisterhood somehow comes instantly and easily. The comfort, the openness, and the love between sisters comes so very quickly. The ending picks up on recent news headlines somewhat out of left field and then does not really take that anywhere. It is somewhat of a jarring note in an otherwise totally family based book. To me, the resolution of the their connection is not needed because the story is more about where these women are headed rather than where they come from.

The book has other story lines that are introduced but not really followed. What happens to the neighbors and the recovery of one in particularly? What happens to Lorelei's husband? How does Serenity's family - her siblings in particular - react to the results of the DNA test? Not following these threads means the story stays focused on the three women, but then what is the need for them to be included? Just background or filler?

The book, of course, has romance including some graphic scenes. For the most part though, the romance is the summer read background of the book. The romances are not brought to a conclusion, which I appreciate because this is a story of these women not the romances. Rather than a loose end, in this instance, it keeps the focus on the story where I would rather see it -  on the women and the bond between sisters.

What I do appreciate about the book is the independence and strength of the women as they navigate the challenges of their lives. What I also appreciate is the sisterhood, even though it is too easily achieved. That kind of a support system, if any individual is able to find it, deserves celebration no matter how it is achieved. Over all, One Perfect Summer ends up one easy to get through summer read.


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

Saturday, August 29, 2020

In Five Years

Title:  In Five Years
Author:  Rebecca Serle
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1982137444 / 978-1982137441

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

Opening Sentence:  "Twenty-five."

Favorite Quote:  "You mistake love. You think it has to have a future in order to matter, but it doesn't. It's the only thing that does not need to become at all. It matters only insofar as it exists. Here. Now. Love doesn't require a future."

What would you do differently if you knew the future or thought you saw a vision of the future? What would you do if that vision was completely differently from the direction you think your life is heading? What would you do if that vision implied that you might betray the important relationships that exist in  your life at this moment? How would you spend those five years?

These are the questions Dannie Kohan is struggling with. She is happy in her life - in a long-term stable relationship with a wedding being planned, in a stable career heading for success, and surrounded by love and friendship.

Then a dream or a vision shows her a completely different future - a different place and different relationships. Dannie believes in the reality of the vision.

This book is very much a love story. Dannie is planning a wedding, but the man in her vision is not her fiancé. This book is very much a love story, but it is not the one you expect. "I have been asked if I've needed help so many times that I have been allowed to forget the question, the significance of it. I see, now, the way the love in my life has woven into a tapestry that I've been blessed enough to get to ignore."

It is the story of two best friends and the men who love them. A lot of it is about life in New York - the big city, which I can do without for it is the cliche image of that life with the glamorous career, the tourist locations, and the name dropping that implies. At the same time, the book is about unexpected news that upends all you thought about what life was going to be. Without a spoiler, I will say that this is not a light hearted read. It is about the challenges of navigating a life altering occurrence both for the person facing that and for the surrounding loved ones.

Once that challenge is revealed, the book goes where I expect it to. There is no surprise after that; the book remains about the journey getting there. Part of me travelled along on that journey of friendship. Part of me wishes that the book had gone somewhere more unexpected to match the fact that begins in an unexpected direction.

I love the premise of this book and was excited to see where it went. Part of me is disappointed at the direction; part of me walks away with life lessons that we would all do well to remember. The main lessons from the book is that life is unexpected, the reality that you think you see may not be what it seems, people have a tendency to take for granted the love and support that surrounds them, and that so often, people settle for what is comfortable unless someone or something jars them out of that comfort zone.


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

Monday, August 24, 2020

Impersonation

Title:
  Impersonation
Author:  Heidi Pitlor
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1616207914 / 978-1616207915

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

Opening Sentence:  "I once saw a woman in a library pick up a biography of Mother Teresa."

Favorite Quote:  "'Sometimes people aren't nice,' I began. 'Then why are you always telling me to be nice?' Because someone has to break the cycle. Kindness can be contagious. And it has to start somewhere, right?"

***** Blog Tour *****


Review

Allie is a ghostwriter. A nondisclosure clause is an integral part of every assignment. Her books have been successful, but she is not successful. She is lways struggling to make ends meet and create a stable life for her and her son. Her contracts never seem to be comparable to the money going to the stated author or the publisher. On top of that, her latest project is cancelled, and rent and other bills are way past due.

A new project brings Lana Breban, a successful, strong woman who is an economist, a lawyer, and a women's advocate. She is married, a mother, and a vocal feminist. The focal point of the memoir is to be motherhood. Allie is to be the ghostwriter. From the inception to the culmination of this project, Allie's voice and her story cover a lot of issues that have dominated the headlines in recent years.

I love books that reference other books. Allie is trying to read a book titled To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolff. She describe the book as follows. "Someone had once said of the book, 'Nothing happens, and everything happens.' The same could be said about life, I thought." The reference to the book repeats over and over again though the narrative as Allie in unable to move forward with her reading. To me, the description and Allie's inability to move forward with her reading is a metaphor for this story and for where Allie is in her life. To some extent, nothing happens, but a lot of ground is covered in this book.

The time period is 2016-2017 in the United States, the time leading up to and subsequent to the the 2016 presidential election. Political commentary becomes part of this book, with what I feel is an accurate description of the emotional upheavals that many people went through during that time. Given the time period, the #metoo movement becomes a background for this book along with the women's marches. Given that Allie is always struggling for money, the issue of pay equity is there. On a more personal level, the book is very much about relationships and about motherhood. Allie's love for her son and her attempt at trying to do the best for him shines through. Watching the differences between Allie's household and Lana's also highlights the conversations around privilege and class.

I am not always a fan of books that are character driven rather than plot driven, but this one works. Allie, in all her imperfections, becomes a character I relate to. Perhaps, it is the time period and the emotion of it. Perhaps, it is her joy in motherhood. Perhaps, it is the constant balancing act between home, work, and relationships. Perhaps, it is because I find ghostwriting a fascinating subject. Perhaps, it is the insight into the publishing world from an author who has long been part of the industry.

Mostly, though, I think it is the way Allie's character is drawn. I fall in love with Allie's voice and fly through the story to see where it goes.

About the Author

Heidi Pitlor is the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage. She has been the series editor of The Best American Short Stories since 2007 and the editorial director of Plympton, a literary studio. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post, Ploughshares, and the anthologies It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art and Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers. She lives outside Boston.

About the Book

As the longtime series editor of The Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor brings her talent for capturing the zeitgeist to her remarkably timely new novel, IMPERSONATION (Publication Date: August 18, 2020; $26.95), which follows a single, working-class ghostwriter as she inhabits the world of her subject, a high-profile, powerhouse women's rights attorney. “Heidi Pitlor has written a wonderfully rare thing,” Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women. “A comedy of manners set in the 21st century that brilliantly grapples with some of the more thorny issues of class, privilege, and parenting of our day. Smart, funny, and generous in spirit, IMPERSONATION is an engaging meditation on who controls the narrative and why it matters.”

Years of striving to meet cultural and parental expectations for both career and family have drained Allie Lang's idealism. But on the cusp of #MeToo and the 2016 election, she is offered the job of writing a memoir for Lana Breban, who hopes a book about motherhood will soften her steely image. After years of working as a ghostwriter for other celebrities, Allie knows the drill: she has learned how to inhabit the lives of others and tell their stories better than they can. But this time, everything becomes more complicated. Allie’s childcare arrangements unravel; she falls behind on her rent; her subject, Lana, is better at critiquing than actually providing material; and Allie’s partner decides to go on a road trip towards self-discovery. At what point will Allie speak up for all that she deserves?

“I suppose being a kind of worker bee myself inspired the idea, as well as the economic disparities that exist within publishing,” says Pitlor, author of the critically acclaimed novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage and former book editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “When I was first an acquiring editor and later a part-time freelance editor with young twins and a teacher husband, things got pretty tight for us. I found myself shuttling between some fabulous work lunch at the Four Seasons with a well-known writer and a dinner of Kraft mac n’ cheese with my family. Twin diapers and daycare do not come cheap. When some more financially comfortable friend mentioned an upcoming eco-conscious vacation or their locally made toys, I grew frankly jealous, well aware that this was a first-world trouble. Still, I began to wonder if living according to certain ideals was only possible for the economically privileged.” Through this lens, with a satirical eye and a feminist bent, Pitlor, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Ploughshares, and elsewhere, scrutinizes the society that scrutinizes women, delving into the complex interplay between class, politics, and family, in and out of the public eye.

“IMPERSONATION is the book we need now,” says Anna Solomon, author of The Book of V. “An unflinching look at our current moment, and at questions few of us dare to ask. If our personas do good in the world, does it matter what we did to create them? How much hypocrisy are liberals willing to tolerate? Can women raise good men? Provocative, heartfelt, and often hilarious, this is a novel I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come.”


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

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Dazzling Truth

Title:
  The Dazzling Truth
Author:  Helen Cullen
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1525815822 / 978-1525815829

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was Christmas Eve."

Favorite Quote:  "Consider this - when you ask a child to draw you a picture, or tell you a story, they never refuse because they 'aren't creative.' We just learn as we get older whether we're allowed to call ourselves the anymore because we're trained only to invest time in what we are 'good at.' And its a tragedy - when we can't create purely for the joy it brings us. Don't be afraid to play, Fionn. It's good for the soul."

***** Blog Tour *****


Review

Tell all the truth but tell it slant
by Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

This poem is the inspiration for the title of this book set in a small village in Ireland. The heart of this book is about what the truth of the Moone family is and even more so what their individual truths are. To give a hint of it, a theme that finds its way into the book is the Japanese art of kintsugi or kintsukuroi. This art form takes broken pottery and repairs the breaks with gold, silver, platinum lacquer. Rather than hiding the breaks and the flaws, it celebrates them and acknowledges that the breaks are the beauty of the piece. What a lovely idea for art and what an even more beautiful concept for life.

The book begins with a tragedy for the Moone family, who lives on the small island of Inis Óg off the Irish mainland. The tragedy comes on Christmas Eve and on the birthday of the eldest Moone daughter. The family is Murdagh, Maeve, and their four children with the youngest at sixteen.

Two-thirds of the book then goes back through Murdagh and Maeve's history and the events - big and small - that lead up to the tragedy. This is a love story intensely written. It is also a story of when love alone is not enough to "save" someone. It is a story of the struggle with mental illness. It is the struggle of the one who suffers and the impact on family, friends, and community. The journey of this family is poignant and compelling.

The story winds its way back to the beginning event. The rest of the book is about the path forward for this family. At this point, the book changes directions completely. It's almost as if I read two completely different books. From an intensely personal story of a family in a remote setting, this book goes to the same family and its stance in Ireland's legal and political battle on a social issue. Stating the issue would be a total spoiler!

Given the setting, I can see the need to document history. That, in and of itself, would make an entire book. However, in this case, it really does lead to my feeling that this is two books in one - the first two thirds about a family struggling with mental illness and the last third about capturing a momentous turn in recent Irish history. The connection between the is drawn, but it is tenuous at best. My hesitation is not about the two individual pieces of the book. Both are stories that can stand on their own. It is just that they do not feel like they belong in the same book. I acknowledge the need to mark history, but I wish the book has stayed with the first two thirds and the intensity of that journey. 

About the Author

HELEN CULLEN wrote her debut novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf, while completing the Guardian/UEA novel writing program. She holds an MA in Theatre Studies from University College Dublin and is currently studying further at Brunel. Prior to writing full-time, Helen worked in journalism, broadcasting and most recently as a creative events and engagement specialist. Helen is Irish and currently lives in London.

About the Book

Poised to celebrate Christmas Eve on a beautifully scenic island off the coast of Ireland, the Moone family’s holiday is instead marred by tragedy. So begins Helen Cullen’s stirring family saga, THE DAZZLING TRUTH (Graydon House; August 18, 2020; $17.99 USD). Maeve and Murtagh Moone’s love story began in 1978, at Trinity College. As an aspiring actress and potter respectively, the two creative spirits were drawn to each other in an intense and lasting way, able to withstand almost anything, even Maeve’s bouts of crippling depression and anxiety. For a short time, anyway.

Marriage and children are the next chapters in the Moone family story, but Maeve struggles to reconcile her old life with that of the wife and mother she is supposed to be. Until one heartbreaking Christmas Eve in 2005 changes everything. Now each member of the Moone family must learn to confront the past on their own, until one dazzling truth brings them back together towards a future that none of them could have predicted. Except perhaps Maeve herself.

Q&A with Helen Cullen

1. How did you get the idea for THE DAZZLING TRUTH?
The Dazzling Truth was initially inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi – the practise of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The breakage, and the repair, remains visible to show the history of an object rather than something to be disguised, and so the pots become even more beautiful than before they were broken.

As any family spans decades, both hairline fractures and critical breaks, can damage its foundations. Some tragedies seem insurmountable; we can’t go on, and yet we do. Some cracks feel irreparable, but then often reveal themselves to be the gap we squeeze through so that we can find a way to keep moving.

The Moone family of the new book are no exception and as their narrative revealed itself to me, I became more and more convinced of how powerful it can be to confront the past, to stop burying inconvenient, uncomfortable or hurtful truths. Telling the story of Maeve, an actor from Brooklyn who arrived in Dublin in the 70s, her husband, Murtagh, and their four children, Nollaig, Mossy, Dillon and Sive, I was inspired by the power of the truth – how it can give your legs the power to keep walking, your heart to keep beating. And the setting for their story is very special to me - their lives on a fictional island on the west coast of Ireland was inspired by my own time spent on the Aran Islands in Ireland and in particular on Inis Oírr.

2. Where did the title come from?
It comes from an Emily Dickison poem, Tell all the truth but tell it slant. The theme of personal truth is a very important one in the novel - and in particular, how personal truths may not always align with what can be considered universally accepted truths. Sometimes it is only with acceptance of that that we can find peace. And sometimes that truth or awareness needs to creep up on us slowly as it would be too blinding if confronted too quickly or head on. My working title as I was writing the book had been Kintsugi as mentioned above but I wanted the title to reference the truth that is at the heart of the novel. I had spent some time thinking of it when one day the Emily Dickinson line just came me as I was sitting on the London tube. In the UK and Irish edition, the title is the full quote, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, but in America we opted for The Dazzling Truth.

3. Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I always really enjoyed spending time with Murtagh Moone, the father of the family, as he was the first character that came to me out of the ether and where the story began for me. He isn’t based on my own father at all but his great love for his children definitely is a mirror of how devoted my own father is to his six children and so I have a huge spot for him.

4. Which character do you relate to most and why?
I think it’s true to say that I relate to all of the characters in different ways– if I didn’t I’m not sure I would be able to write them with any empathy or authority.

5. How important is music to your writing process and to the novel itself?
It’s incredibly important to me. Every day, before I begin to write, I choose a song to listen to that encapsulates for me the energy or the feeling of the scene I want to work on. Sinking into the music, the physical world around me slips away, and I am able to cross the bridge from reality to the wonderland of the imagination. I also love working out the musical tastes of all the characters and curating a soundtrack for the novel as I’m writing – there is so much music scattered throughout. The song, Moon River, is definitely the theme song for The Dazzling Truth and I listened to it on vinyl record a lot while writing the book.

6. Do you find it easier or harder to write character and dialogue for the opposite sex?
The gender of the character doesn’t really affect my approach in that way – as individual characters some just tend to evolve more easily than others for lots of different reasons.

7. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m a pantser. I would really struggle to plot out a novel in advance and think if I did I would get bored with following the plan. I find the most exciting and engaging writing I do is usually a result of the narrative taking a surprising turn. At the beginning I tend to know in a big picture way what the story loosely is and what the closing image is that I’m working towards – everything else is a mystery until I discover it on the page.

8. What is your writing Kryptonite?
Anxiety – if I’m anxious about anything that is happening in the real world I find it really difficult to disconnect and focus on the writing. It would be amazing if I could use the fictional world as an escape pod but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for me.

9. Where is your favorite place to write?
I’ve learned not to become too superstitious or precious about where I can write as those things just become excuses for me not to get work done in the end but I do love escaping on writing retreats where the only thing I have to focus on is whatever book I’m writing. I’ve been to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig in Ireland a few times and absolutely love it there – despite the fact that I’m scared out of my wits by the resident ghost Miss Worby.

10. What book have you read recently that you loved?
There are so many wonderful books coming out of Ireland at the moment that it feels like a glorious age of literature. One of my all-time favourite writers and literary heroines, Anne Enright, published a new book this year called Actress which is unsurprisingly phenomenal. I recommend it whole-heartedly but also every single book the genius has written.

The book's title comes from a line from Emily Dickinson, "The truth must dazzle gradually." What appealed to you about that quote, and how was the title chosen?

11. What are you working on next?
I’m working on what will hopefully be my third novel and preparing a commence a PhD in October at the University of East Anglia.

12. What was the first book to make you cry?
I don’t remember the first book that made me cry but the last one was probably My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout which I loved.

13. What are you reading?
I’m always reading multiple things at the same time. Recently I’ve started Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell and Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A House is a Body

Title:
  A House is a Body
Author:  Shruti Swamy
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 208 pages.
ISBN:  1616209895 / 978-1616209896

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Sudha and Vinod had a modest wedding."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes, when you lose - when people die - it is very hard to make tears. You feel like you want to make tears but something inside you stops them and they press your chest. Like something sitting on it."

***** Blog Tour *****


Review

"The house is a body, a body houses souls." I love books where the author defines the book or references the concept important enough to be the title. I love the cover of this book - the fire and the heat it portrays. It invites you to find out more. This debut collection of stories is set in the United States and in India. It picks up on many Indian cultural concepts. Representation in books matters.

The book contains twelve short stories:  Blindness. Mourners. My Brother at the Station. The Siege. Earthly Pleasures. Wedding Season. The Neighbors. A Simple Composition. The Laughter Artist. Didi. A House is a Body. Night Garden.

As with any collection of short stories, every reader will find some more appealing than others. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, I was not the reader for this book and these stories. 

Starting with the first story, the book contains graphic sexual descriptions. I am not the reader for graphic descriptions. In addition, the book descriptions reads, "Dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity." To then find mundane, physical descriptions interlaced with stories that are more philosophical and poetic in nature highlights the descriptions even more so, making them a jarring interruption to the story.

The book description also "these stories are written with the edge and precision of a knife blade." The biggest issue I have with the book is that I don't feel like I understood the stories. Perhaps, for me, the story needed greater grounding to explain the situation or the concept. The stories seem to depict a moment - in the middle of a relationship. There is no context before and no resolution after. This is the nature of short stories, but a little context would help in the understanding.

Interestingly, I don't find that a fault  of the book. Rather, I take responsibility as a reader. There seems to be something I am missing that I don't really get the stories. I see glimmers of moments in the story that become real but the rest seems just beyond my grasp.

If not for the graphic nature of the book, I could see it being discussed in a literature class to discern the meaning and intention behind each story. I as a a casual, solo reader just did not get there. I am left with the sense of sadness that seems to permeate each story.

About the Author

The winner of two O. Henry Awards, Shruti Swamy's work has appeared in The Paris Review, the Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. In 2012, she was Vassar College's 50th W.K. Rose Fellow, and has been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, and Hedgebrook.

She is a Kundiman fiction fellow, a 2017 – 2018 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and a recipient of a 2018 grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her story collection A House Is a Body is forthcoming in August from Algonquin Books.

About the Book

Dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity in the twelve arresting stories of A House Is a Body. In “Earthly Pleasures,” a young painter living alone in San Francisco begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities, and desire and ego are laid bare. In “A Simple Composition,” a husband’s professional crisis leads to his wife’s discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy. And in the title story, an exhausted mother watches, hypnotized by fear, as a California wildfire approaches her home. Immersive and assured, provocative and probing, these are stories written with the edge and precision of a knife blade. Set in the United States and India, they reveal small but intense moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world.

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Rules of the Road

Title:  Rules of the Road
Author:  Ciara Geraghty
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0778309711 / 978-0778309710

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:  "Iris Armstrong is missing."

Favorite Quote:  "Memory is a strange beast, isn't it? It throws up such random things. Presents itself to us in different ways. Sepia-tinted, some of them. Black-and-white, others. Glaring Technicolor. Some are magnified. Larger than life. Insistent. And others are like the images you see when you look through the wrong end of binoculars. Distant and small. You doubt the truth of them."


***** Blog Tour *****


Review

The rules of the road are literal and figurative. Literally, this book takes place mostly over the course of an planned road trip, from Ireland all the way to Zurich, Switzerland. There is a beat up car, a ferry, an accident, opposite side of the road driving, a motorway, and a timid, shy driver. The unlikely companions on this trip are Eugene Keogh, Iris Armstrong, and Terry Shepherd.

Eugene Keogh is a frail gentleman suffering from amnesia. Doctor's advice is for his routines be maintained as best as possible; yet, here he is.

Iris Armstrong is a strong, independent woman. She also suffers from multiple sclerosis. She is the only one or whom the trip is intended and planned. She is on her way to a private clinic in Switzerland. Her intent is to end her own life on her own terms before her disease overtakes what she believes defines the quality of her life. Disclaimer:  This book is not about the ethics, morality, or politics of assisted end of life. Iris's decision is a given in this book. Terry's objection is not a moral or ethical one; she just does not want to lose her friend. If the fact that this book accepts Iris's decision with a moral, ethical, religious or other discussion will bother you, this is not the book for you.

Terry Shepherd is Eugene Keogh's daughter and Iris Armstrong's best friend. She is also a wife and a mother to two adult daughters. Her trip is entirely unplanned, and her father is along for the ride as he is under her care. Her intent is to use the time between Ireland and Dublin to change Iris's decision. She has no idea how or even if she can. She is even less sure of her own abilities to take this trip.

Terry's story is the figurative road trip of this book. She lives her life in a small bubble of family, and mostly in the caretaker role for her father, husband, daughter, and friends. Slowly, through the book, her timidness emerges. Even more slowly and as a surprise to herself, she emerges from her comfort zone. In a book that includes serious issues - dementia, multiple sclerosis, and assisted end of life, the story is really about the woman navigating through her own outlook and approach to life. A book dealing with such serious issues ends up a sweet, feel good story of self-discovery and friendship.

For all the gradual revelation of Terry, the book comes to a rather abrupt ending. A testament to the characters and the book is that I wanted more. I wanted to see Terry truly emerge out of her shell and come into herself. There is a glimpse, but it is just that.

The cast of characters - Eugene with his Frank Sinatra story, Iris with her determination, Terry with her strength - along with all the people they meet along the road. For a book that deals with so much sadness, it leaves me more nostalgic than sad.

About the Book

In this emotional, life-affirming novel, two women embark on an extraordinary road trip and discover the transformative power of female friendship--perfect for fans of JoJo Moyes and Gail Honeyman.

The simple fact of the matter is that Iris loves life. Maybe she's forgotten that. Sometimes that happens, doesn't it? To the best of us? All I have to do is remind her of that one simple fact.

When Iris Armstrong goes missing, her best friend Terry—wife, mother and all-around worrier—is convinced something bad has happened. And when she finds her glamorous, feisty friend, she's right: Iris is setting out on a bucket-list journey that she plans to make her last. She tells Terry there’s no changing her mind, but Terry is determined to show her that life is still worth living.

The only way for Terry to stop Iris is to join her—on a road trip that will take them on a life-changing adventure. Along the way, somehow what should be the worst six days of Terry’s life turn into the best. Told in an irresistible voice and bursting with heart, Rules of the Road is a powerful testament to the importance of human connection and a moving celebration of life in all its unexpected twists and turns.

About the Author

Ciara Geraghty was born and raised in Dublin. She started writing in her thirties and hasn’t looked back. She has three children and one husband and they have recently adopted a dog who, alongside their youngest daughter, is in charge of pretty much everything.

Q&A with Ciara Geraghty

What message do you hope readers take away from Rules of the Road?
First and foremost, I hope they enjoy it. My mantra for writing is ‘A good tale, well told’. I don’t write fables or books with morals to be endured and lessons to be learned. I write about people and the messiness of their lives. Because, as everyone knows, life is messy. And complex. And complicated. I want my readers to read one of my books and maybe come away feeling less alone. That is the comfort I take from books as a reader, when I come across characters I can relate to.

What's the story behind the story of how you came to write it?
Female friendship and solidarity have always been very important to me. I wanted to examine the importance of female friendship, the impact it has, the difference it makes. When I was writing the book, we had two referendums in Ireland - marriage equality and access to abortion and both were passed with resounding majorities. While my book does not deal with these specific issues, it is a book about personal autonomy, bodily autonomy, a woman’s right to choose. My subject matter suddenly felt very relevant and positive and hopeful. While the book has a dark heart - Iris, one of my main characters, is determined to end her life in a clinic in Switzerland - I always meant for the book to be ultimately uplifting and life-affirming; a love song sung by women.

During the writing of the book, my father was dying of dementia. I found the writing of Eugene - Terry’s father in ‘Rules’ who has dementia - a very cathartic experience. This is one of the great things about writing; it helps me make sense of the world and the way I feel about it.

Do you have any specific writing rituals (outfit, snacks, pen,music, etc)?
Well, I’d love to get all ‘writery’ and say that I repair to a tall tower where I wander around in a caftan and smoke cigarettes from long, slender cigarette holders and wait for the MUSE to arrive…..Now, wouldn’t that be grand! But, no. Instead, I write at home, in the attic, at a desk, with a laptop. How pedestrian is that? I will say that, for me, the most important part of the process is getting my butt into the seat at the desk. The chair is an all-singing, all-dancing display of ergonomic engineering (it’s got wheels!) and this is important because one thing is for sure; I’m going to be sitting on it for a LONG time. Caftan and cigarette holders are optional (and rarely employed) but the rule I absolutely insist on is never, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, wait for the MUSE to arrive. I just steel myself and start writing. Even when I don’t want to. Especially when I don’t want to. Otherwise I’ll convince myself that the words have all dried up and the cupboard is bare.

Which character do you most relate to in this novel and why?
There are certain traits that I have in common with aspects of both Terry and Iris. Like Iris, I am a year-round sea swimmer. Like Terry, I am a mother who is coming to terms with the fact that some of her children are - technically - grown-ups. I have lived with both of these characters for the past four years and love them both equally, for different reasons. I’d say I relate more to Terry because Iris, for the most part, has it all figured out. She is a woman who knows what she wants and then goes right ahead and gets it. Terry is less certain, she is still feeling her way through her life. She tries so hard to be all things to all people, to the detriment of her own sense of self. As a woman writer who is also a daughter, a mother, a wife, a friend, I relate to this aspect of Terry. I imagine many women these days do. It is the great burden of being a woman, as well as being one of our great strengths.

What is your bucket-list trip?
In the current climate, even thinking about a bucket-list trip feels a bit revolutionary. Or like a plot in a science-fiction novel. However, I can reveal that tomorrow, I’m off to Kerry (in the south west of Ireland) for a week. For anyone who has never been to Kerry, I advise you to put it on your bucket-list immediately. Because of the mountains - the highest in Ireland - and the winds that rush in from the Atlantic ocean, rain is a frequent visitor there. BUT - because of the rain, the vegetation is vivid and lush and almost tropical, with the influence of the Gulf Stream. The place is falling down with ancient castles, monasteries, fairy forts and islands (including Skellig Michael for the Star Wars fans amongst you). The Atlantic may be ‘fresh’ (this is Irish for ‘biting cold’) but the waters are crystal clear and the sand is fine and white and an excellent exfoliator of skin. Afterwards, in the pub where you’re eating a bowl of seafood chowder and struggling to eavesdrop on the locals (the accent is as thick as an Aran jumper), you’ll suddenly realise you’re tingling all over. This could be your blood, doing its best to resume normal circulation after the icy immersion in the sea. Or it could be something else. Something a little more other-worldly. The magic of Kerry, rushing through your body, seeping into your bones, engaging every sense you’ve ever had. And a few you didn’t even know you had. Can you tell I’m looking forward to getting away?

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Author Website: http://www.ciarageraghty.com/
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