Friday, October 30, 2020

The Orphan Collector

Title:  The Orphan Collector
Author:  Ellen Marie Wiseman
Publication Information:  Kensington. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1496715861 / 978-1496715869

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

Opening Sentence:  "The deadly virus stole unnoticed through the crowded cobblestone streets of Philadelphia on a sunny September day, unseen and unheard amidst the jubilant chaos of the Liberty loan parade and the patriotic marches of John Philip Sousa."

Favorite Quote:  "Desperation was a powerful thing."

The flu came to Philadelphia in September of 1918. It is believed to have arrived with sailors coming to the Navy Yard from Boston. The city's crowding and close quarters caused the disease to spread fast, particularly through the more impoverished population. Unfortunately, city officials authorized a rally for the Liberty loan campaign that supported the war effort. That event brought over 200,000 city residents together for a concert and parade. (Social distancing, anyone?)

That is where this book begins. Thousands were infected that day, and over 12,000 Philadelphia residents ultimately died of the disease. Based on demographics and economics, the city's immigrant populations were particularly hard it.

Within this context of history is the personal story of Pia Lange, a thirteen-year-old German immigrant. Her mother brings her and the twin brothers to the parade. Her father is away serving in the army. Days later, her mother is dead, and Pia is left to care for her baby brothers. A desperate need for food leads Pia to leave their tenement apartment. She attempts to make sure that her brothers will be safe for what she hopes will only be a short while.

Sadly, she wakes up days later in a hospital and then is shuttled off to an orphanage. The fate of her brothers is at the heart of the conflict of this book. A neighbor, Bernice, devastated by her own grief makes a life altering decision. Pia channels all her energies in the coming years to find her brothers, and Bernice to ensure that she does not.

The history of the orphanages as told through Pia's eyes is devastating and tragic, particularly as so many were left orphaned and in these institutions as a result of this epidemic. The book does portray that Pia find both detractors and helpers on her journey; however, the good are very very good and the bad are horrible! Bernice goes from being a tragic figure to one make deliberate choices to harm. She also becomes the epitome embodying hatred towards immigrants who she deems responsible for her sorrows. (Sadly, this too sounds familiar even today.)

In this very historical novel, the author also introduces an element of magical realism. Pia can apparently feel the pain and distress of others through touch. It seems an odd touch and more a literary device to provide connections in the book that might not otherwise have happened.

Ultimately, the historical setting of this book is timely, but the story is about the personal conflict between Pia and Bernice and all that they each represent. Are there inferences to be drawn about the current pandemic and the current political climate? I leave that for you to decide.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Mirror Man

  The Mirror Man
Author:  Jane Gilmartin
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778309649 / 978-0778309642

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:  "The first time he saw his own replica, laid out on a bed, its eyes closed as though it might be dreaming, Jeremiah choked on his own breath."

Favorite Quote:  "If there's one thing I've learned from all of this ... it's that no one, none of us, is ever really who we think we are. We tell ourselves lies to feel better, but they're just lies. The truth is a lot harder to look at. But the trick is, you can't let it crush you. You either accept who you are, or you change it."

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


What if you could walk away from your life for a year with no repercussions (or so you think), get paid $10 million, and then return to your life as if you had never been gone? That is the deal Jeremiah Adams makes with his employer, ViMed Pharmaceuticals. The objective is a year long experiment to test ViMed's cloning capability through the use of a drug called Meld.

Is the name Meld a note to Star Trek? I don't know, but that is what immediately comes to mind. In Star-Trek, a mind-meld was a technique that allowed a Vulcan to tune into someone else's mind through the use of a fingertip touch. Typically, it was used with a human subject. Mr. Spock, being Mr. Spock, could also mind-meld with non-human life forms.

Anyways, I digress. Meld, in this book, is a drug that allows transference of consciousness and memories. The person controlling the administration has the ability to pick and choose what to transfer and also to plant new ideas. What could possibly go wrong? Right?

Day 1, Jeremiah realizes that this might not be quite the dream he envisioned. As a starting point, he is to be essentially hermetically sealed in an apartment, with all the luxuries he can want, with visits from those involved with the project, but with no other outside contact. Part of Jeremiah's job is to watch the clone live his life for a certain number of hours a day and determine if the clone's actions do entirely replicate his own or if there is any minute difference. Jeremiah realizes that he does not always like what he sees. This theme repeats through the book:
  • "Maybe it's better to never know how the world sees you. Maybe no one should see themselves like that. It surprises you. You don't recognize yourself, or maybe you do, and that's worse."
  • "Meld showed me a monster. How can we look at ourselves through someone else's eyes and not be fundamentally changed? I cannot defend what I've seen. I cannot live with the monster. I cannot escape him. We are not meant to sweet this. We're not equipped. It isn't right."
Jeremiah also learns to truly see - himself, his employers who decidedly have objectives he did not realize, and his family who he has previously perhaps taken for granted. This becomes also a journey of self-actualization for Jeremiah.

The adventure truly begins once Jeremiah realizes the ultimate goals of his employer and as his family is threatened. The book is a page-turner both in the look at its ethical issues and in the specifics of Jeremiah's story. Some of the events are shocking until you realize that the "bad guys" will truly stop at nothing to achieve their purposes. Some of the decisions of the "good guys" are unexpected, but the friendship depicted is a joy to see.

Without a spoiler, I will say that I love the ending! At that point, I wish the book kept going to see what happens next to all the characters. A sequel perhaps? I would read it.

About the Book

The offer is too tempting: be part of a scientific breakthrough, step out of his life for a year, and be paid hugely for it. When ViGen Pharmaceuticals asks Jeremiah to be part of an illegal cloning experiment, he sees it as a break from an existence he feels disconnected from. No one will know he’s been replaced—not the son who ignores him, not his increasingly distant wife—since a revolutionary drug called Meld can transfer his consciousness and memories to his copy.

From a luxurious apartment, he watches the clone navigate his day-to-day life. But soon Jeremiah discovers that examining himself from an outsider’s perspective isn’t what he thought it would be, and he watches in horror as “his” life spirals out of control. ViGen needs the experiment to succeed—they won’t call it off, and are prepared to remove any obstacle. With his family in danger, Jeremiah needs to finally find the courage to face himself head-on.

About the Author

Jane Gilmartin has been a news reporter and editor for several small-town weekly papers and enjoyed a brief but exciting stint as a rock music journalist. A bucket list review just before she turned 50 set her on the path to fiction writing. Also checked off that list: an accidental singing career, attending a Star Trek convention, and getting a hug from David Bowie. She lives in her hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts.

Author Q&A

What made you write this novel?
I love characters that are almost but not quite human. My favorite Star Trek characters are always ones like Spock, Data, and the Doctor from Voyager. Clones, to me, are about as almost human as you can get. Some of my favorite science fiction stories deal with clones. But there are so many good ones already out there I didn’t feel like I had anything to add, and I never really set out to try.

But I was reading something a few years ago that posed a straightforward and fascinating question: What would it be like to meet your own clone? The article I was reading left it at that, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I knew it might be interesting to write a clone story that focused not on the clone, but on the human, who had been cloned. I thought that presented a whole new set of ideas and issues within the topic. It sort of turns the whole thing around when you look at it from that human perspective. What would it feel like to see yourself replaced in your own life? There is something so creepy and sad about that idea. Also, though, I saw something hopeful. I think it brings up the possibility of making a change in your life or seeing the opportunity for a second chance, which is always a good thing to explore. Those are some ideas I tried to keep in mind as I was writing The Mirror Man.

Medical thrillers are all the rage. Why, do you think?
I think there is something intrinsically threatening about so-called Big Pharma – especially right now. In the midst of a global pandemic, the world is waiting for a viable vaccine to fix it, but there’s this nagging doubt that maybe it’s being rushed. We have government agencies relaxing rules on testing protocol, funding research with budgets the size of planetary systems, and all these drug companies racing to be the one that comes charging in on the white stallion to save the world. But poll after poll in the news says the public won’t feel safe getting vaccinated right off the bat, even if it means getting back to normal. And there are more people in the world today that don’t trust mandated vaccines to begin with – not even for the tried and tested ones for polio or mumps.

People don’t trust that these huge companies truly have the public’s best interest at heart. I think that really became more evident when pharmaceutical companies began advertising drugs on television and pushing people to “ask your doctor or pharmacist if (insert drug here) is right for you.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to suggest a drug to my doctor as though it were a brand of cookie that looked good on TV. I’d much rather my doctor had a more educated idea on what medicine I ought to be taking.

So, I think medical thrillers are big right now because people are pretty easily convinced that an industry that seems motivated more by profit and less by altruistic science just might have the capacity for evil. For a lot of people, that distrust is already there.

What are your thoughts about cloning?
I find the concept of cloning to be fascinating. The thought of having a clone – someone who could say, clean the bathrooms for me, make dinner, go to a meeting in my place – is sort of tempting. But there are all these sinister elements about cloning, and a whole lot of ethical questions, too, that are a lot more serious. What if we created clones for harvesting body parts in the event that we got sick or injured? What if we used them to fight our wars or for bomb disposal and other dangerous endeavors in our place? Would the auto industry begin using clones instead of test dummies for crash test data? Presumably, a clone would feel every bit as real and human as the host it sprang from, but would it be? Would clones have the same rights and privileges of personhood if they were mere copies? Would they be entitled to such rights and privileges? And if they didn’t get them – what then? Would they organize and rise up against us?

There is a lot to consider about human cloning and I only touched briefly on these questions in The Mirror Man, but I think we – as a society and as a species – ought to start thinking about it.

How did you research this novel?
Because the main focus of The Mirror Man is more the psychological changes of the protagonist as he watches his clone, it isn’t a book that’s especially science laden. That being said, the science (even though most is invented) had to be believable and plausible and so, is based on real science.

For the cloning aspect in the story I researched the way cloning is currently done in mammals – via cell transfer and embryotic implantation. But I also needed to identify ways in which scientists might grow a human clone quickly, so it would reach a full, adult maturation rate in about 48 hours. I read a lot about Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the pituitary gland of our brains and its effect on how our bodies grow. The research was intriguing and sent me down so many rabbit holes dealing with the role this hormone plays in cell repair, muscle mass, weight gain, and even life expectancy. The articles I saved and the notes I took might well come in handy for a future novel.

I also did some research for Meld, the invented drug in the story. I wanted to create a drug that – if two people took it together – could offer a literal glimpse into someone else’s mind but one that could also be used to transfer brain patterns and consciousness from the main character into the clone. In the novel, the drug is used in a myriad of ways – not only to copy a mind, but also as a promising medical tool and as an illegal recreational drug with dire consequences. For Meld I researched the areas of the human brain such a drug might act upon – especially our aptly titled mirror neurons which are responsible for making us yawn when we see someone else yawn. (If yours are especially active, you might have yawned at the very thought of that. If so – sorry!)

Do you believe human cloning is possible?
As the lead scientist in The Mirror Man likes to point out, “the science exists.”

Human cloning is absolutely possible. We are already so adept at cloning animals that there are actual companies out there whose entire business model is built on cloning our dogs and cats. And people do that more often than you’d imagine. Did you know Barbara Streisand has had something like five clones of her favorite dog? It’s true. And we all know the story of Dolly, the sheep with the dubious distinction of being the very first mammal to be successfully cloned in 1996. From dogs and cats and sheep it isn’t a giant leap to cloning humans. Essentially, the science is the same. What’s stopping us (thankfully) isn’t the feasibility, but the ethical and moral dilemmas associated with human cloning.

While many countries have passed laws that prohibit human cloning, the US currently has no such legislation (although some states do). Congress has proposed many bills to that effect, but none have been enacted into actual law. The reason for that is partly because things like medical stem cell research overlap the science of cloning. But there are reams of material written on the ethical implications of human cloning from agencies including the World Health Organization, and there are ongoing congressional discussions to agree at least on some level of regulation. But at the moment, in the US, human cloning is both scientifically possible and essentially legal. That’s just a tiny bit terrifying.

Talk about the meaning of identity in your book.
It didn’t take me long to understand that what I was really doing with The Mirror Man was writing a story about self-identity. It’s a topic that finds its way into a lot of what I write and is strangely compelling to me. My favorite line from David Bowie’s song “Changes” is this: I turn myself to face me, but I never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker.

I find that idea fascinating. We all have this idea of who we are, and how we come across to other people, but it’s probably not the truth. The way we see ourselves is muddled with all these filters and little lies. We are all, in a sense, just fakers. I wanted to explore that concept, so I came up with a way to put a character in a situation where he literally had to turn and face himself – to see himself exactly as everyone else sees him -- from the outside. Cloning seemed an obvious choice for a science fiction writer.

In the novel, my character, Jeremiah is largely locked in this laboratory/apartment and made to watch his clone on a TV monitor for four hours a day. Even though he’s typically seeing mundane things – the clone interacting with his family and co-workers – the experience is difficult and eye-opening for him. While he has to admit that his double is every bit identical to him, he begins to despise who he’s watching. It makes him question fundamental things about his own identity.

Meanwhile, we have this illegal street use of a drug called Meld that allows people to see themselves through someone else’s eyes and it leads to a rash of suicides. It’s another way of looking at what the main character is going through, but the result is basically the same: It isn’t easy to face the truth of who you are.

There are a lot of figurative and literal mirrors in my novel. Jeremiah is often looking at his own reflection as he grapples with questions about his life. He spends quite a bit of time creating an avatar of himself for a video game. And, obviously, his clone is sort of the ultimate reflection. But he never fully understands what he’s seeing until he’s forced to face himself. And I had to bring him to that point in a very literal way. Hopefully, the novel will leave readers asking some interesting questions about their own identity.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Pull of the Stars

  The Pull of the Stars
Author:  Emma Donoghue
Publication Information:  Little, Brown and Company. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0316499013 / 978-0316499019

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

Opening Sentence:  "Still hours of dark to go when I left the house that morning."

Favorite Quote:  "I'd never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything was written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing."

Dublin, 1918. The war. The influenza pandemic of 1918. A maternity ward for those who are both pregnant and suffering from the flu. This is the dark background of this story. Given the current pandemic, it seems timely with lessons to be learned.  "The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the earth with each new form of life." Unfortunately, that is the not the story told.

A lot of the book focuses on the details of a maternity ward, with detailed descriptions of medical procedures. The main character, Julia, is a nurse tasked with the running of a makeshift ward to isolate maternity patients suffering from the flu. The story covers only about three days, but what a set of days. It appears that everything that could go wrong does. Although set in the influenza pandemic, this tale is much more about the challenges of maternity - exacerbated by the flu but still about the mother and child. As a reader, personally, I do not need the pages upon pages of medical details to get the gist of the trying times in which Julia found herself.

Part of this book focuses on one historical character. Dr. Kathleen Lynn was a doctor and an Irish activist involved in the suffragist, labor and nationalist movements. She was also a member of the Irish Citizen Army and later Sinn Féin. She was arrested and prosecuted for her role in the uprisings. She comes in and out of Julia's ward. Her story is never fully developed; that is not the point of the book. I would not have realized she was a historical figure but for the author's note, but that does send me off to research and learn a little bit more.

One aspect of the book that I do not truly understand is the title. Many references are made to "stars" in different context throughout the book:
  • "And most stargazers do come out on their own. Stargazers? That was Birdie. I explained over my shoulder:  Born face, looking towards the sky." (translation: babies born face up which is not the normal pregnancy presentation.)
  • "We could always blame the stars... That's what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stele - the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians though the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed."
  • "Thinking that maybe we were indeed the sport of the stars. With their individual silks, they tugged us this way and that."
The references are distinct, coming from the science at the time, language history, and some mythology. However, they do not coalesce into a theme that carries to the plot of the book.

Towards the end of the book, the story jarringly introduces two romances that seem to come out of nowhere. One comes from a relationship that I read throughout the book as more motherly or mentoring. (I did not see that coming!) The other literally is only hinted at and offered as an explanations for the unseen wounds of war. That thread is not not central to the book to begin with and to me undermines the impact of the scars war leaves in its atrocities.

Sadly, I am not the reader for this book. So disappointing.

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

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Dear Emmie Blue

Title:  Dear Emmie Blue
Author:  Lia Louis
Publication Information:  Atria / Emily Bestler Books. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1982135913 / 978-1982135911

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

Opening Sentence:  "The Fortescue Lane Balloon Release 2004: celebrating 50 years of excellence education!"

Favorite Quote:  "Maybe home isn't a place. It's a feeling. Of being looked after and understood. Of being loved." 

Emmie Blue went through a traumatic childhood. Her truth of that childhood event was not believed. It altered her life then and forever more. She needed a friend. Balloon Boy was there. He always has been and always promises to be.

Balloon Boy? Yes. Emmie sent her desperation up as a confession and a wish in a balloon as part of a school event. Against all odds, her balloon found a destination across the Channel in France. It found Balloon Boy, who answered back. A friendship was formed, a friendship that has been Emmie Blue's anchor ever since.

Fast forward almost fifteen years later. As Emmie discovers, that friendship - and for her, that love - is not completely what she believes it to be. How will she handle that truth? 

The story arc of the book reminds me of the movie My Best Friend's Wedding. A want-to-be bride ends up the groom's best woman. She is torn between her own feelings and her desire to be there for her friend. She is surrounded by other strong friendships who are seeing her through this challenge. This book though adds in the dimensions of Emmie's backstory, and the fact that perhaps what she believes about her life and her friendships may not be the truth.

At the same time, this story about Emmie Blue herself, her reckoning with her past, and her journey to figure out what she wants her future to be. Although Emmie is now thirty years old, this story reads in many ways like a coming of age journey. At the beginning, Emmie is working in somewhat of a dead-end job, lives in a single room rented in a house, and has only a couple of friends. Her life centers around Balloon Boy - a "best" friend.

Mind you, nothing much happens in Emmie's story in this over three hundred page book other than Emmie's discovery of her own past and the truth about Balloon Boy. As a reader, I see the conclusion of her story coming way before Emmie ever does. As a reader, I discover that the main friendship of this book has many elements of an unhealthy relationship - some of Lucas's choices and Emmy's dependence on him. This is never really highlighted, but perhaps that is the point because it opens the door for Emmie's journey to come. Nevertheless, why does Emmie stay, and why do there seem to be no repercussions?

Part of the charm of the book are actually some of the secondary characters. Their stories are developed enough to be interesting but not so much as to compete with Emmie's story. Even in the side stories, I see the conclusions coming way before Emmie does. , and Emmie comes across as considerably younger, more innocent, and more immature than her age would indicate. Yet, I follow along waiting for her discovery. 

The story that starts off in a teenager's darkness ends up sweet and charming. The lasting impression.... Everyone should have a friend like Balloon Boy in their life. If you are fortunate enough to find joy like that, hold on.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Big Summer

Title:  Big Summer
Author:  Jennifer Weiner
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1501133519 / 978-1501133510

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

Opening Sentence:  "By the second week of September, the outer Cape was practically deserted."

Favorite Quote:  "The trick of the Internet  I had learned, was not being unapologetically yourself or completely unfiltered; it was mastering the trick of appearing that way. It was spiking your posts with just the right amount of read... which meant, of course, that you were never being real at all."

The cover and the title of the book imply a summer beach read about a "big" girl and the trials and joys that entails. Daphne Burg is a "big" girl. She has overcome many of the challenges that brought as a young woman. "I thought my body was unacceptable, and that I had to hide. That's what the world tells us, right? But, now, maybe, if enough of us stand up and show ourselves, just as we are, if we post about our thriving, busy, messy, beautiful lives, our daughters won't have to swallow the same lies." She is happy with herself (some of the time) and is now an internet influencer encouraging others to be the same.

Part of her, like many of us, never escapes the middle school years and the insecurities that entailed. For her, that experience is rolled up in Drue Cavanaugh, who was her best friend until she wasn't. Now, Drue is back, and she wants Daphne to be in her wedding. For many reasons, Daphne says yes. Part of the book devolves into reliving the middle school mean girl years and reads as if written for a young adult novel.

Then, much to my surprise and delight, the book turns into a mystery. Someone is murdered, and, of course, Daphne must find out the truth. "Everyone deserves justice, I thought. Even people who lie. And everyone lies. Especially on social media, where there were lies of commission and lies of omission on everyone's page, woven into everyone's public presence."

Sprinkled throughout are handsome men and gratuitous sex scenes I could do without. To some degree, they also don't ring true. The idea of bikinis and jumping into bed with men does not go with the idea of someone who has body image issues. Overall, the mystery takes center stage. That makes for a fun read. The solution to the mystery is a surprise, but when it comes, it seems a natural conclusion.

The book rounds out with a feel good, if cliché, lesson about life, acceptance, and the internet. "I'm not brave all the time. No one is. We've all been disappointed; we've all had our hearts broken, and we're all just doing our best. Make sure you have people who love you, the real you, not the Instagram you. If you can't be brave, pretend to be brave, and if can't do that yet, know that you aren't alone. Everyone you see is struggling. Nobody has it figured out."

The book is still a quick, easily read, summer beach read. It's just not the exactly the one I expected, and that is a good thing in this case.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Hundred Suns

Title:  A Hundred Suns
Author:  Karin Tanabe
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1250231477 / 978-1250231475

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

Opening Sentence:  "The house of a hundred suns."

Favorite Quote:  "Brains are more effective than beauty. Only the world tries to make women forget it. They don't want us to be too smart ... They're scared that if they encourage it, we'll end up more intelligent than the men. With the secret being ... that we already are."

The house of a hundred suns is the central train station in Hanoi, Vietnam. The history underlying this book is the history of rubber plantations and Michelin tires and the history of the rise of communism in Vietnam. In the context of this history, the story is one of personal vendetta and revenge and a bit of a psychological thriller.

For the background and history, I find myself doing research as the history is not made entirely clear by the story. The French company Michelin has been around since the 1880s. Much of the rubber used in the manufacturing came from plantations in Vietnam. Originally, there were independent plantation owners. However, in a effort to streamline operations and manage cost and quality, the Michelins bought up and ran plantations. Terrible working conditions at these plantations led to the Vietnam labor movement and a communist led strike on the plantation in 1930. This uprising became the basis for the other uprisings to come.

The "present" time in this book begins in November, 1933 as Victor Michelin Lesage and his wife Jessie Lesage arrive in Vietnam to take over management of the Michelin holdings. Victor is a minor Michelin relation, and his hope is to prove himself in Vietnam and return triumphant with entry into the inner circle in France. Jessie is an American by birth but has reinvented herself in Paris. With each of them come the secrets of their pasts. Jessie is the central character to this story. It is through her eyes that we see Vietnam and the Michelin business there.

The Lesage with their young daughter Lucie take over the household, including the staff, of the prior managers. The main social life of the French in Hanoi occurs around the club. Here, Jessie meets Marcelle, who is the other voice of this book.

There is a lot going on this book. The lush tropical setting. The political climate in Vietnam at the time. Jessie's secrets and back story. Marcelle's secrets and back story. Virginia, New York, Paris, Hanoi. Communism. Colonialisms. Love stories. Marriage. Adultery. Revenge. I do wish the history of colonialism, the conditions on the plantations, and even the politics had been a more integral part of this story. After a while, the personal back stories made for slow going. The conflict is primarily between two manipulative women in privileged circumstances. Unfortunately, I find myself not connecting to either one or even finding them likable and thus to the story.

The history I learn I find in the outside sources I go to based on the names and places in the book. I wanted more in the book. From my research, it seems that this history is part of the volatile situation that ultimately led to the Vietnam War, the impacts of which still linger. For a book in this setting, I expected more of that history.

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Confessions on the 7:45

Confessions on the 7:45
  Confessions on the 7:45
Author:  Lisa Unger
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0778310159 / 978-0778310150

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review through the Fall 2020 mystery/thriller blog tour from Harlequin Trade Publishing.

Opening Sentence:  "She watched."

Favorite Quote:  "When we narrate our experience, we take control of it. And in controlling the story of our past, we can create a better future."

**** BLOG TOUR *****


The 7:45 is a train time - a time for commuters to be going home. Only one train ride features in this book, and only two confessions. Two strangers meet, and sometimes it is easier to tell your secrets to a stranger. Martha is having an affair with her married boss. Selena's husband is sleeping with the nanny. The ride ends, and that should be the end of that.

Of course, it isn't. Selena's nanny disappears. Foul play is suspected. Martha is the only one who knows about the affair and the only one who knows that Selena knows. Now, Martha is texting Selena. How? Why? Most importantly, what happened to Geneva, the nanny?

The book winds its story through different perspectives - Selena, Anne aka Martha, and a young girl named Pearl who has a story all her own that appears at the beginning to not connect but, of course, does. The book also winds through the past to slowly reveal how these characters find themselves on the 7:45. How all these characters tie together is at the heart of what happens to Geneva and the family drama that underlies this thriller.

The book description mentions the classic Strangers on a Train, a novel by Patricia Highsmith and the movie adaption by Alfred Hitchcock. That story is about two strangers who meet on a train. They discover that they both want to get rid of someone in their lives. The suggestion is made that they should exchange murders such that they will neither be caught. Let's just say it does not end well, but then again, one stranger is a psychopath.

This book does have the strangers on a train, but no such bargain is made and more connects these supposed strangers than at least one of them knows.

What makes this story work are the characters:
  • "Selena loved the liminal spaces. Those precious slivers of time between the roles she played in her life."
  • "His (Graham) behavior is something outside of  you that you don't control and can't fix. Don't hang your worthiness on his failings."
  • "She (Pearl) like the shadows That's where you got to see all the things that other people missed."
  • "The con always needed a mark. Even when the wolf was at his heels. Even though there was enough money to be quiet, comfortable, lay low for a good long time. He was the shark that couldn't stop swimming."
Even in the middle of affairs, violence, and murder, the characters seem real. That keeps me turning the pages to find out what happens. The thriller jumps into family drama and back again. Suspend disbelief, and jump on to see where this ride takes you as it captures you in its own reality. No disclaimer but I love the ending! 

Author Bio

Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of eighteen novels, including CONFESSIONS ON THE 7:45 (Oct. 2020). With millions of readers worldwide and books published in twenty-six languages, Unger is widely regarded as a master of suspense. Her critically acclaimed books have been voted "Best of the Year" or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, IndieBound and others. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Travel+Leisure. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family.

About the Book

Bestselling and award-winning author Lisa Unger returns with her best novel yet. Reminiscent of the classic Strangers on a Train, Confessions on the 7:45 is a riveting psychological thriller that begins with a chance encounter on a commuter train and shows why you should never, ever make conversation with strangers.

Be careful who you tell your darkest secrets...

Selena Murphy is commuting home from her job in the city when the train stalls out on the tracks. She strikes up a conversation with a beautiful stranger in the next seat, and their connection is fast and easy. The woman introduces herself as Martha and confesses that she's been stuck in an affair with her boss. Selena, in turn, confesses that she suspects her husband is sleeping with the nanny. When the train arrives at Selena's station, the two women part ways, presumably never to meet again.

But days later, Selena's nanny disappears.

Soon Selena finds her once-perfect life upended. As she is pulled into the mystery of the missing nanny, and as the fractures in her marriage grow deeper, Selena begins to wonder, who was Martha really? But she is hardly prepared for what she'll discover.

Expertly plotted and reminiscent of the timeless classic Strangers on a Train, Confessions on the 7:45 is a stunning web of lies and deceit, and a gripping thriller about the delicate facades we create around our lives.

Q&A with Lisa Unger

Q: Please give the elevator pitch for Confessions on the 7:45.
A: Selena Murphy is a young mother who is having a terrible day. When she gets on her commuter train home, it stalls, dying on the tracks. The beautiful stranger sitting next to her strikes up a conversation with a confession. Maybe it’s her awful day, or the drink she shouldn’t have had, or the dark of the train, but, whatever the reason, Selena shares a secret of her own. When the train comes back to life and Selena is finally headed home, she’s embarrassed. What would lead her to confess her darkest secret to a complete stranger? She hopes she’ll never see the mysterious woman from the train, ever again. But, of course, she will.

Q: How do the ideas come to you for these bestsellers?
A: Every novel begins with a germ. A little zap of interest that starts me on an obsession for a particular topic. It could be a news story I read, or a sentence I hear or just an image that inspires me. One time it was even a piece of junk mail! Then, if that obsession connects to something larger that’s going on with me, I start to hear a voice or voices.I follow those voices, and they carry me through the narrative.

Q: Can you explain the popularity of the psychological thriller genre?
A: People have a deep and abiding desire, a need even, to understand themselves and those around them. This includes having some insight into the darkest aspects of human nature. Crime fiction is the perfect place to explore some of the big questions people have about what makes people who they are. Also, in difficult times, crime fiction provides a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end where some type of justice is delivered. Not so with the real world. So I think there is some comfort to be found even in the darkest and most suspenseful novels.

Q: There are so many twists in the story. Did you know the ending before you plotted all of the surprises?
A: When I sit down to write, I have no idea what’s going to happen, who’s going to show up or what they’re going to do day to day. And I certainly have no idea how things will end. It’s kind of a crazy way to write a book, but I’ve never done it any other way. I write for the same reason that I read, because I want to know what’s going to happen.

Q: What would you like to do if you were not an author?
A: I don’t know! I’ve never wanted to be anything other than an author. Psychology has always fascinated me, so maybe being a psychiatrist or counselor.

Q: If Confessions on the 7:45 were made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the lead roles?
A: I would cast Scarlett Johansson as Selena and Gal Gadot as Martha. The supporting cast would be important, too, and Anne Hathaway would be perfect as Geneva and I’d love to see Bradley Cooper as Graham.

Q: Which of your books would you like to see televised or produced by Hollywood as a movie?
A: Any of them! Currently, THE RED HUNTER and UNDER MY SKIN are under options. So fingers crossed there! If I had to choose some others, I’d pick FRAGILE or INK AND BONE. I’d love to see my fictional town The Hollows come to life on the big or small screen.

Q: Which came first: the characters or the plot line?A: The characters, always. My stories always begin for me with a voice, someone with a story to tell.

Q: Why do you love Selena and why should readers root for her?
A: As most of my characters are, Selena is imperfect. The pressures she experiences from the world around her are matched by those she places on herself. She is struggling, but she also knows she has reserves of strength from which to draw to overcome the obstacles she faces, some of which are catastrophic. I think we’re all stronger and braver than we believe ourselves to be, so when we’re rooting for Selena, we’re really rooting for the warrior within us all.

Q: How do you come up with your stories? Is anything based on or influenced by real life?
A: Everything in fiction is autobiographical -- and nothing is! If we’re writing from a deep and authentic place, then all of our experiences, our observations, the people we meet, the situations we observe, the conversations we have and overhear, inform our fiction. Sometimes inspiration comes from the news, from travel, from questions I have about people and the world. My fiction is always influenced by my real life but in really layered and mysterious ways.

Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?
A: I worked for a publisher before I became an author, so I was lucky to have a lot of insight into the business of publishing. So I suppose I’d like to share what I knew going in that a lot of writers don’t. I knew that the book contract was not the end of the journey, but the beginning of the writing life. And that no matter where you are in your career -- an aspiring writer, or a published writer just starting out, or a mega bestseller, it never stops being about the writing. What you do on the page is always the most important element of your career, so never stop trying to get better.

Social Links

Author Website:
TWITTER: @lisaunger
FB: @authorlisaunger
Insta: @launger
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Paris Never Leaves You

Title:  Paris Never Leaves You
Author:  Ellen Feldman
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Griffin. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1250759897 / 978-1250759894

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

Opening Sentence:  "They were ripping off the stars."

Favorite Quote:  "There's no logic to intolerance."

"Collabo horizontale" or horizontal collaborators is the label given to French women who allegedly had relationships with German officers and soldiers during World War II after France fell into occupation in 1940. The women were viewed as traitors and often punished publicly after the liberation of France in 1944. Some estimates state that about 200,000 children were the result of such relationships.

Paris, 1944. New York, 1954. Charlotte and her daughter Vivi survived the war in Paris. They now live in New York. Charlotte ran a bookstore in Paris; she works for a publishing house in New York. Vivi was a baby in Paris. She is now growing up into an adolescent with lots of questions about her past, her father, her faith, and her heritage.

Charlotte lives forever in the shadow of her past. Her family lost. Her husband who died in the war. How she survived in Paris. The new life she has built in New York. The repercussions of and the guilt over her decisions made haunts her. The secrets she still chooses to keep haunt her. "No one but a fool would try to erase the past. The only hope was to guard against it." 

The struggle with the choices made extends to other characters in the book, mainly Horace and Julian. Charlotte's choices are ones of survival but even more so ones she makes because she falls in love - twice. More than survival, her story is one of romance.

The story goes back and forth between the past and the present. Within each time frame, the story shows glimpses of different times. It is not always a chronological sequence but rather one designed to show Charlotte's reckoning with her own past. Often there is no transition between these jumps, making the book challenging to follow at times.

I am not really sure what it was about this book, but unfortunately, I fail to connect with the characters or the story. The circumstances and some of the events that occur are dire but fail to elicit an emotional reaction. In fact, the characters come off as somewhat self-centered and unlikable. Maybe, it is the jumps in timelines. Maybe, it is the romance. Maybe, it is the physical descriptions. Again, I am not sure. I feel like the premise and the story is one that should have resonated, but unfortunately, it just does not for me.

The most interesting but sad lesson this book leaves me with is the presence of antisemitism in the United States in the 1950s. "So this was the way they got to you in America. No roundups, no camps, merely insidious cruelty to your children." That refrain repeats in different ways throughout the book. Unfortunately, it still fails to resonate with Charlotte's story especially given the eventual outcome of the book. It remains, however, an important lesson in history.

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