Monday, May 31, 2021


Author:  Jill McCorkle
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1616209720 / 978-1616209728

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:  "Lately, Shelley hears things in the middle of the night, hinges creaking and papers rustling, but it could be anything - the dog, her son, a mouse, the wind - and she forces her mind to stop right there so she doesn't imagine possibilities that would terrify her, like a killer or a ghost."

Favorite Quote:  "X marks the spot. You are here. And x equals the unknown, what is missing, a mistake, as well as a kiss."

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


This story is like a memory. It entices and draws in with a glimmer here and a shape there only to slip away into the unknown. It remains nebulous and just beyond reach of complete comprehension. It is unclear where reality and perception blend for any of these characters.

This book is not plot driven for the chapters are more like vignettes. Events presented are not from the same perspective and jump through time and place, at times with no connection at all. This book is also not exactly a character study. For me, the characters never quite become clear or whole.

At its base, this is the story of four individuals. Frank, who is in his eighties, and his wife Lil. Shelley, a single mother, and her young son Harvey. What connects them on the surface is the house Shelley lives in for it is the house that Frank grew up in. It is the house that pulls him back as he explores his own memories. Franks returns time and time again, hoping to connect with Shelley and visit inside the house. Shelley, in her own fears, turns away. Given a different story setup, this behavior has all the elements of stalking.

In some ways, what also connects these four characters is their individual memories of their parents and the defining impact of those memories on their entire lives. Frank and Lil both lost a parent suddenly when they were young. Although just a child, Harvey has his own traumas and imaginations to deal with. Shelley's parent and childhood is one she wishes to leave far far behind her. In their own way, each individual has a pivotal moment in their lives with which they are trying to reconcile.

Is this the story the book is trying to tell? I am not really sure whether that is the intention, but that is what I leave with. This book is a struggle of each individual to come to terms with their past as it was and with the memories of their past as they see it to be. Lil's perspective, in fact, is told through notes, lists, and diary entries and her reflections as she mulls over these remnants of her past.

Oddly, a book that deals with characters coming to terms with past trauma should be moving and emotional. Perhaps, because of the changing perspectives and the nonlinear timelines, the emotional connection is somewhat lost for me. The book leaves me thinking but not moved.

This book is not an easy read - in terms of structure, character, or thought. It needs thinking and reflecting. The idea of the book is very real and very much a part of every person's experience. That being said, as a story, the book is challenging to read because each of the struggles is individual and does not really come together. The idea is unifying; the fiction is not.

About the Author

Jill McCorkle’s first two novels were released simultaneously when she was just out of college, and the New York Times called her “a born novelist.” Since then, she has published five other novels and four collections of short stories, and her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories several times, as well as The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Five of her books have been New York Times Notable books, and her novel, Life After Life, was a New York Times bestseller. She has received the New England Booksellers Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. She has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Garden and Gun, The Atlantic, and other publications. She was a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard, where she also chaired the department of creative writing. She is currently a faculty member of the Bennington College Writing Seminars and is affiliated with the MFA program at North Carolina State University.

About the Book

A mesmerizing novel about the burden of secrets carried across generations.

Lil and Frank married young, launched into courtship when they bonded over how they both—suddenly, tragically— lost a parent when they were children. Over time, their marriage grew and strengthened, with each still wishing for so much more understanding of the parents they’d lost prematurely.

Now, after many years in Boston, they’ve retired to North Carolina. There, Lil, determined to leave a history for their children, sifts through letters and notes and diary entries—perhaps revealing more secrets than Frank wants their children to know. Meanwhile, Frank has become obsessed with what might have been left behind at the house he lived in as a boy on the outskirts of town, where a young single mother, Shelley, is just trying to raise her son with some sense of normalcy. Frank’s repeated visits to Shelley’s house begin to trigger memories of her own family, memories that she’d hoped to keep buried. Because, after all, not all parents are ones you wish to remember.

Hieroglyphics reveals the difficulty of ever really knowing the intentions and dreams and secrets of the people who raised you. In her deeply layered and masterful novel, Jill McCorkle deconstructs and reconstructs what it means to be a father or a mother, and what it means to be a child piecing together the world around us, a child learning to make sense of the hieroglyphics of history and memory.

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

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Woman with the Blue Star

  The Woman with the Blue Star
Author:  Pam Jenoff
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778311546 / 978-0778311546

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 woman I see before me is not the one I expected at all."

Favorite Quote:  ".... when people look back on the history of this time, at what happened, they should see that we tried to do something."

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


This World War II story begins at the end in 2016 in Krakow, Poland. From a hotel room, a young woman secretly watches an older woman in a town square. Two women in 2016 and a story of WWII in Poland implies one, if not two, survivors of the war. The question is who for the women are not identified and how for the story is yet to be told.

The story then goes back to 1942. It goes back to Sadie and Ella. Sadie is young, Jewish, Polish girl. Ella is a young, non-Jewish, Polish girl. The author's note points out that this story is based on actual history, but not of Krakow. The author does not specify why she moved the location to Krakow.

The history goes as follows. Leopold Socha, a sewage work in the town of Lvov (now in the Ukraine), used his knowledge of the city sewers to protect a group of Jews from the Nazis. Think about that. People went down to and lived in the sewers with all the filth that entails to escape and to survive. In fact, the sewer may have been their only chance at survival.

This story builds on two Jewish families - Sadie and her parents and Saul, his father, and his grandmother. The sewer worker who helps them is Pawel. Believe it or not, the filth and the horror of the life in the sewer and Pawel's role in their survival almost fades into the background of this story. To some extent, it is explained in the book itself. "To live with fear or grief or any emotion constantly would be paralyzing. So I put one foot in front of the other and I breathe and I string the days together. It isn't enough ... I want more for my life. But this is the reality."

This book focuses on the friendship between Sadie and Ella. Ella is an orphan, living with her stepmother who is a Nazi collaborator. Ella accidentally sees Sadie through a sewer grate. Both are starved for friendship and companionship and recognize that need in the other. Ella risks herself to see and help Sadie. Sadie risks revealing their hiding place to visit with Ella. Through their eyes and their relationships, the story reveals different aspects of the war - the collaborators, the fighting, the home army, the raids, and so much more.

The horrors witnessed in this book, the emotions of the families, the impossible choices, and the friendship between these two young women draw me completely into the story and keep me furiously reading until the last page. Given the opening sentence and small cast of characters, I do guess the ending well before it comes. Yet, I keep turning the pages to see how and wish that perhaps it may be different from what I envision.

What is so important about stories such as this one is that they remind us of man's atrocities towards man. The hope is that we may learn from these stories, research the histories, and then vow to never let it happen again. What is also important is the fact that these two young women transcend their differences to find friendship, and that along with the atrocities, such periods in history also brought out heroes who brought help and hope. Perhaps, one day we will learn.

About the Author

Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the NYT bestseller The Orphan's Tale. She holds a degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her JD from UPenn. Her novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and 3 children near Philadelphia, where she teaches law.

About the Book

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of courage and unlikely friendship during World War II.

1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.

Q&A with the Author

Why did you decide to write this story?

While looking for an idea for my next book, I discovered the incredible story of a group of Jewish people who had hidden from the Nazis by living for many months in the sewers of Lviv, Poland. I was struck by the horrific circumstances which they endured, as well as their ingenuity and resilience in surviving there. I was also moved by the selflessness of those who helped them, most notably a sewer worker, and by their search for human connection in such a dark and isolated place. 

After twenty-five years of working with World War II and the Holocaust, I find a story that makes me gasp, I know I am onto something that will make my readers feel the same way. This was certainly the case with the true inspiration for The Woman With The Blue Star.

How much research went into your story?

Immersing myself in the world where my story is set, whether the circus in The Orphan’s Tale or the sewer in The Woman With The Blue Star, is always one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of beginning a book. I had so many questions: What did the sewer look and feel like? How was it possible to eat and sleep and even see in the dark underground space? Fortunately, there was an excellent non-fiction book, In The Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall, that explained so much of it. I learned that there were so many dangers beyond getting caught by the Germans, from drowning to floods. Every day was a battle for survival.

When I decided to move the story to Krakow, Poland (where I had lived for several years), I planned a research trip there. Those plans were scuttled by the pandemic, but I am lucky enough to still have good friends there who put me in touch with experts on the sewer and the city to help me (hopefully) get it right.

What takeaway message do you hope readers get from your book?

Sadie and Ella, two women from completely different worlds, form a deep bond that has profound and lasting consequences. I hope readers will see in them the ways in which we can transcend our differences and connect. I also hope readers recognize the ways in which reaching out to someone, even in the smallest or most fleeting way, can have a tremendous impact on that person’s life as well as his or her own.

What can you tell me about your next project?

My new book is set in Belgium and inspired by the incredible true story of the only Nazi death train ever to be ambushed on its way to Auschwitz.

Do you have any specific writing rituals, such as a certain pen, drink, outfit, etc?

I find that my writing routine has evolved over the years. For example, at one point I went in to my office to write, at another I went to a coffeeshop, now sometimes I am on the couch. I have written in castles and mountain getaways, but I have also written in my doctor’s waiting room and in my car. There are certain constants, though. I love the early morning and I would write from five to seven every day if I had the chance. I just love getting that first burst in before the day gets hectic. I am a short burst writer, which means I have no stamina. If you give me eight hours in a day, I don’t know what to do with that. I would much rather have an hour seven days per week. And as much caffeine as possible!

Which character is most like you and why?

In this book, I suppose I relate to Sadie because her sense of isolation in some ways reflects what we have all felt during this pandemic.

Readers can't get enough of WWII stories. Why the interest?

Personally, my love for the World War II era comes from the years I spent working in Krakow, Poland as a diplomat for the State Department. During that time. I worked on Holocaust issues and became very close to the surviving Jewish community in a way that deeply moved and changed me. More globally, I think World War II has great resonance for authors and readers. There is a drive to capture and tell stories from survivors now while we still have a chance. There is also a great deal of archival material that became available to authors as researchers after the Cold War ended that provides new ideas for books. And as an author, my goal is to take my reader and put her or him in the shoes of my protagonist so she or he asks, “What would I have done?” World War II, with its dire circumstances and stark choices, is incredibly fertile ground for storytelling.

Your stories are always Jewish related. What is the universal idea that captures readers of all backgrounds?

I would not describe my stories as “always Jewish related” but rather predominantly set around World War II and the Holocaust. This era is not only important in its own right but has many uniersal themes regarding human rights, prejudice and hate that are very relevant for our times.

Where do your stories come from? Do you do research?

I do research for new ideas and I am generally looking for two things. First, I would like to take a true bit of history and illuminate it so that readers can learn. Second, I am looking for an incredible, untold story. I have worked with World War II and the Holocaust for twenty-five years and if I find an idea that makes me gasp with surprise, I’m hopeful readers will feel the same way.

Do you work from an outline or do you write from the seat of your pants?

Well, I’m a “pantser” and that means I write by the seat of my pants and not from an outline, at least most of the time. So I don’t have a neat idea of where the book will wind up. I have an opening image and some general idea of where I will wind up and if I am lucky there are one or two high moments that I can see along the way, like lighthouses to guide me. But I am sometimes surprised by the end and that was certainly the case with The Woman With The Blue Star. That moment when you realize it is all going to come together is just one of the best feelings ever.

You are a bestselling author. How many books are expected from you per year? How many edit passes does your novel go through?

I used to write a book a year, but I’ve slowed down and now it is more like 18-24 months. I really prefer that creatively. My manuscripts go through many rounds of edits. The first round of changes are usually big picture and then it goes back and forth with the feedback getting increasingly more granular with each round of revision until my editor, agent and I are all satisfied.

Is there anything about you or your work that you'd like to share with readers?

I consider my books that are set around World War II and the Holocaust to be love songs to the people who lived through that most horrific period. I try to approach it with a great deal of respect and do them justice. On a very different note, I’d like to share that I always love connecting with readers. I invite each reader to find me online – through my website, Facebook author page, Twitter, Instagram or wherever they are hanging out.

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Clover Girls

  The Clover Girls
Author:  Viola Shipman
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2021. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1525811525 / 978-1525811524

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Beach Reads Summer 2021 tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Dear Mom and Dad: The first week at girls's sleep away camp started out totally scary."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes a wake-up call doesn't mean reinventing and forgetting who you were. It means reinforcing and remembering who you are..."

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


As with The Recipe Box and The Heirloom Garden, this book is set in beautiful coastal Michigan. Emily, Veronica, Elizabeth, and Rachel meet at sleep away camp as kids. The camp is about canoeing, and swimming, and lake living. It is also about friendships, jealousies, grudges, and competitiveness. The girls promise to be friends forever. Their friendship lasts through multiple summers, but sadly the grudges last much longer. 

Years later, they have for the most part lost touch. Emily has died. Veronica is a former model, now wife and mother. Liz is divorced, estranged from her own children, and primary caretaker for her terminally ill mother. Rachel is unmarried with no children, working as a political campaign and media spin doctor.

Before her death, Emily wrote letter bringing the three friends back together at the summer camp.

The book goes back and forth between their youthful summers and their present as the women remember their friendship and determine if it can be rebuilt. At the same time, the women reflect on their own lives and what is complete and what is lacking. "I've been stuck between two worlds for a very long time: the girl who had so many dreams, and the woman who had to push them aside to be a grown-up."

While the past and the present, the recipes, the flowers, and the people mingle so beautifully in the other two books, the book does not find that same anchor. The structure is there for the sections on the past are stories of camp activities - swim test, sing alongs, talent show, a dance, and a rope burn race. The issue is that the women as adults engage in the same activities. At times, it seems silly. At times, it seems to reach for an emotional connection that, for me, just cannot embody itself in the activity. It is not just a trip down memory lane. Unfortunately, it makes the sections of the past and the present blur, and the book is no longer about adult, middle aged women at a crossroads in their lives. The fact that a main argument hinges on the outcome of a race just does not ring true and does not resonate with me.

The other issue is that the book seeks to make political statements based on Rachel's career in campaigns and politics. The author makes a very clear point:
  • "It used to be that the two parties could come together in the best interests of the country, but today's political system is like The Hunger Games."
  • "We've lost touch with the importance of meeting in the middle, of talking, of recognizing and respecting each other's differences and background and all the beauty that brings to this world."
I won't say which side she represents or whether or not I agree. For me, the introduction of politics into what is essentially a book about summer camp is a jarring note.

I love the beautiful Michigan setting. I love the premise that our closest friends can push us and challenge us in a way to help us grow. Unfortunately, however, I end up not the reader for the way the story comes together.

About the Author

Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother's name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.

About the Book

As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman's novels never fail to deliver a heartfelt story of friendship and familty, encapsulating summer memories in every page. Fans of Dorthea Benton Frank and Nancy Thayer will love this new story about three childhood friends approaching middle age, determined to rediscover the dreams that made them special as campers in 1985.

Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where they called themselves The Clover Girls (after their cabin name). The years following that magical summer pulled them in very different directions and, now approaching middle age, the women are facing new challenges: the inevitable physical changes that come with aging, feeling invisible to society, disinterested husbands, surly teens, and losing their sense of self.

Then, Elizabeth, Veronica and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily – she has cancer and, knowing it’s terminal, reaches out to the girls who were her best friends once upon a time and implores them to reunite at Camp Birchwood to scatter her ashes. When the three meet at the property for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, another letter from Emily awaits, explaining that she has purchased the abandoned camp, and now it belongs to them – at Emily’s urging, they must spend a week together remembering the dreams they’d put aside, and find a way to become the women they always swore they’d grow up to be. Through flashbacks to their youthful summer, we see the four friends then and now, rebuilding their lives, flipping a middle finger to society's disdain for aging women, and with a renewed purpose to find themselves again.


Excerpted from The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman, Copyright © 2021 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House Books.


Grocery List
Milk (Oat, coconut, soy)
Fizzy water (cherry, lime, watermelon, mixed berry)
Chips (lentil, quinoa, kale, beet)
Cereal (Kashi, steel-cut oats, NO GMOs! VERY IMPORTANT!)

Whatever happened to one kind of milk from a cow, one kind of water from a faucet and one kind of chip from a potato?

My teenage children are seated on opposite ends of the massive, modern, original Milo Baughman circular sofa that David and I ordered for our new midcentury house in Los Angeles. Ashley and Tyler are juggling drinks while pecking at their cells, and it takes every fiber of my soul not to come unglued. This is the most expensive piece of furniture I have ever purchased in my life. More expensive even than my first two years of college tuition plus my first car, a red Reliant K-car that would stall at stoplights.

I still don’t know what the K stood for, I think. Krappy?

That was a time, long ago, when that type of negative thought would never have entered my mind, when the K would have stood only for Konfident, Kool or Kick-Ass. But that was a different world, another time, another life and place.

Another me.

Another V.

I steady my pen at the top of a pad of paper emblazoned with the logo of my husband’s architectural firm, David Berzini & Associates.

Los Angeles is the latest stop for us. My family has hopscotched the world more than a military brat as David’s architectural career has exploded. He is now one of the world’s preeminent architects. David studied under and worked with some of the most famous midcentury modern architects—Albert Frey, William Krisel, Donald Wexler—and has now taken over their mantles, especially as the appreciation for and popularity of midcentury modern architecture has grown. Now he is working on a stunning new public library in LA that will be his legacy.

I glance up from my pad. A selection of magazines—Architectural Digest, Vogue, W—are artfully strewn across a brutalist coffee table. The beautiful models stare back at me.

That was my legacy.

“Mom, can I get something to eat?”

This is now my legacy.

I glance at my children. Everything old has come back en vogue. Ashley is wearing the same sort of high-waisted jeans that I once wore and modeled in the ’80s, and Tyler’s hair—razored high by a barber and slicked back into a big black pompadour—looks a lot like a style I sported for a Robert Palmer video when every woman wanted to look like a Nagel woman.

Yes, everything has made a comeback.

Except me.

I look at my list.

And carbs.

My kids, like my husband, have never met a Pop-Tart, a box of Cap’n Crunch, a Jeno’s Pizza Roll or a Ding Dong. My entire family resembles long-limbed ponies, ready to race. I grew up when the foundation of a food pyramid was a Twinkie.

I again put pen to paper, and in my own secret code I write the letter L above the first letter of my husband’s name. If someone happened to glance at the paper, they would simply think I had been doodling. But I know what “LD” means, and it will remind me once I get to the store.

Little Debbies.

You know, I actually hide these around our new home, which isn’t easy since the entire space is so sleek and minimal, and hiding space is at a premium. It took a lot of effort, but I, too, used to be as sleek and minimal as this house, as angular and arresting as its architecture. Anything out of place in our butterfly-roofed home located in the Bird Streets high above Sunset Strip—where the streets are named after orioles and nightingales, and Hollywood stars reside—is conspicuous.

Even now, on yet another perfect day in LA, where the sunshine makes everything look lazily beautiful and dipped in glitter, I can see a layer of dust on the terrazzo floors. Although a maid comes twice a week, the dust, smog and ash from nonstop fires in LA—carried by hot, dry Santa Ana winds—coat everything. And David notices everything.

Swiffers, I write on the pad, before outlining “LD” with my pen.

David hates that I have gained weight. He is embarrassed I have gained weight.

Or is just my imagination? Am I the one who is embarrassed by who I’ve become?

David never says anything to me, but he attends more and more galas alone, saying I need to watch the kids even though they no longer need a babysitter and that it’s better for their stability if one parent is with them. But I know the truth.

What did he expect would happen to my body after two children and endless moves? What did he expect would happen after losing my career, identity and self-esteem? It’s so ironic, because I’m not angry at him or my life. I’m just…

“Why don’t you just put all of that in the notes on your phone?”

“Or just ask the refrigerator to remember?”

“Yeah, Mom,” my kids say at the same time.

I look over at them. They have my beauty and David’s drive. Ash and Ty lift their eyes from their phones just long enough to roll their eyes at me, in that way that teens do, the way teens always have, in that there-couldn’t-be-a-more-lame-uncool-human-in-the-world-than-you-Mom way. And it’s always followed by “the sigh.”

“I like to do it this way,” I say.

“NO ONE writes anything anymore,” Ashley says.

“NO ONE, Mom!” Tyler echoes.

“Cursive is dead, Mom,” Ashley says. “Get with the times.”

I stare at my children. They are often the sweetest kids in the world, but every so often their evil twins emerge, the ones with forked tongues and acerbic words.

Did they get that from me? Or their father? Or is it just the way kids are today?

The sun shifts, and the reflection of water from the pool dances on the white walls, making it look as if we are living in an aquarium. I glance down the long hallway where the pool is reflecting, the place David has allowed me to have my only “clutter”: a corridor of old photos, a room of heirlooms.

My life flashes before me: our family in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York at the holidays, eating colorful French macarons at a café in Paris, lying out on Barcelona’s beaches, and fishing with my parents at their summer cottage on Lake Michigan. And then, in the ultimate juxtaposition, there is an old photo of me, teenage me, in a bikini at Lake Birchwood hanging directly next to an old Sports Illustrated cover of me. In it, I am posing by the ocean where I met David. I am crouched on the beach like a tiger ready to pounce. That was my signature pose, you know, the one I invented that all the other models stole, the Tiger Pose.

I was one of the one-name girls back then: Madonna, Iman, Cher, V. All I needed was a single letter to identify myself. Now V has Vanished. I have one name.


“Lunch. Please!”

My eyes wander back to our pool. I would be mortified to wear a bikini today. I am not what most people would deem overweight. But I have a paunch, my thighs are jellied and my chin is starting to have a best friend. It was that photo in all of the gossip magazines a year or so ago that did it to me. Paparazzi shot me downing an ice cream cone while putting gas in my car. I had shuttled the kids around all day in 110-degree heat, and I was wearing a billowy caftan. I looked bigger than my SUV. And the headlines:


V has Vanished Inside This Woman!

If you saw me in person, you’d likely say I’m a narcissist or being way too hard on myself, but it’s as hard to hide fifteen pounds in LA as it is to hide an extra throw pillow in this house. I get Botox and fillers and do all the things I can to maintain my looks, but I am terrified to go to the gym here. I am mortified to look for a dress in a city where a size two is considered obese. The gossip rags are just waiting for me to move.

My eyes wander back to the photos.

I no longer have an identity.

I no longer have friends.

“Earth to Mom? Can you make me some lunch?” Tyler looks at me. “Then I need to go to Justin’s.”

“And you have to drive me to Lily’s at four, remember?”

I shudder. A two-mile drive in LA takes two hours.


Ashley looks at me.

There is a way that your children and husband look at you—or rather don’t look at you at a certain point in your life—not to mention kids in the street, young women shopping, men in restaurants, David’s colleagues, happy families in the grocery.

They look through you. Like you’re a window.

It’s as if women over forty were never young, smart, fashionable, cool…were never like them, never had hopes, dreams and acres of life ahead of them.

What is with American society today?

Why, when women reach a “certain age,” do we become ghosts? Strike that. That’s not an accurate analogy: that would imply that we actually invoke a mood, a scare, a feeling of some sort. That we have a personality. I could once hold up a bag of potato chips, eat one, lick my fingers and sell a million bags of junk food for a company. Now I’m not even memorable enough to be a ghost. This model has become a prop. A piece of furniture. Not like the stylish one my kids are stretched out on, but the reliable, sturdy, ever-present, department store kind, devoid of any depth or substance, one without feeling, attractiveness or sexuality. I am just here. Like the air. Necessary to survive, but something no one sees or notices.

I used to be noticed. I used to be seen. Desired. Admired. Wanted.

I was the ringleader of friends, the one who called the shots. Now, I am Uber driver, Shipt delivery, human Roomba and in-home Grubhub, products I once would have sold rather than used.

I take a deep breath and note a few more grocery items on my antiquated written list and stand to make my kids lunch.

They are teen health nuts, already obsessed with every bite they consume. Does it have GMOs? What is the protein-to-carb differential?

Did I do this to them? I don’t think so.

Even as a model, I ate pizza, but that’s back in the day when a curve was sexy and a bikini needed to be filled out. I pull out some spicy tuna sushi rolls I picked up at Gelson’s and arrange them on a platter. I wash and chop some berries and place them in a bowl. I watch my kids fill their plates. Ashley is a cheerleader and wannabe actress, and Tyler is a skateboarding, creative techy applying to UCLA to study film and directing. Ashley wants to go to Northwestern to major in drama. They will both be going to specialty camps later this summer, Ashley for cheerleading and acting, Tyler for filmmaking and to boost his SAT scores. My eyes drift back to my photo wall, and I smile. They will not, however, spend their days simply having fun, singing camp songs, engaging in color wars, shooting archery, splashing in a cold lake, roasting marshmallows and making friends. A kid’s life today, especially here in LA, is a competition, and the competition starts early.

There is a rustling noise outside, and Ashley tosses her plate onto the sofa and rushes to the door. In LA, even the postal workers are hot, literally and figuratively, and our mailman looks like Zac Efron. She returns a few seconds later, fanning herself dramatically with the mail.

“You’re going to be a great actress,” I say with a laugh. Ashley starts to toss the mail onto the counter, but I stop her. “Leave the mail in the organizer for your dad.”

Yes, even the mail has its own home in our home.

“Hey, you got a letter,” she says.

“Who writes letters anymore?” Tyler asks.

“Old people,” Ashley says. The two laugh.

I take a seat at the original Saarinen tulip table and study the envelope. There is no return address. I feel the envelope. It’s bulky. I open it and begin to read a handwritten letter:

Dear V:

How are you? I’m sorry it’s been a while since we’ve talked. You’ve been busy, I’ve been busy. Remember when we were just a bunk away? We could lean our heads over the side and share our darkest secrets. Those were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? When we were innocent. When we were as tight as the clover that grew together in the patch that wound to the lake.

How long has it been since you talked to Rach and Liz? Over 30 years? I guess that first four-leaf clover I found wasn’t so lucky after all, was it? Oh, you and Rach have had such success, but are you happy, V? Deep down? Achingly happy? I don’t believe in my heart that you are. I don’t think Rach and Liz are either. How do I know? Friend’s intuition.

I used to hate myself for telling everyone what happened our last summer together. It was like dominoes falling after that, one secret after the next revealed, the facade of our friendship ripped apart, just like tearing the fourth leaf off that clover I still have pressed in my scrapbook. But I hate secrets. They only tear us apart. Keep us from becoming who we need to become. The dark keeps things from growing. The light is what creates the clover.

Out the cabin door went all of our luck, and then—leaf by leaf—our faith in each other, followed by any hope we might have had in our friendship and, finally, any love that remained was replaced by hatred, then a dull ache, and then nothing at all. That’s the worst thing, isn’t it, V? To feel nothing at all?

Much of my life has been filled with regret, and that’s just an awful way to live. I’m trying to make amends for that before it’s too late. I’m trying to be the friend I should have been. I was once the glue that held us all together. Then I was scissors that tore us all apart. Aren’t friends supposed to be there for one another, no matter what? You weren’t just beautiful, V, you were confident, so funny and full of life. More than anything, you radiated light, like the lake at sunset. And that’s how I will always remember you.

I’ve sent similar letters to Rach and Liz. I stayed in touch with Liz…and Rach…well, you know Rach. For some reason, you all forgave me, but not each other. I guess because I was just an innocent bystander to all the hurt. My only remaining hope is that you will all forgive one another at some point, because you changed my life and you changed each other’s lives. And I know that you all need one another now more than ever. We found each other for a reason. We need to find each other again.

Let me get to the point, dear V. Just picture me leaning my head over the bunk and telling you my deepest secret.

By the time you receive this, I’ll be dead…

My hand begins to shake, which releases the contents still remaining in the envelope. A pressed four-leaf clover and a few old Polaroid pictures scatter onto the tabletop. Without warning, I groan.

“Are you okay, Mom?” Tyler asks without looking back.

“Who’s that from?” Ashley asks, still staring at her phone.

“A friend,” I manage to mumble.

“Cool,” Ashley says. “You need friends. You don’t have any except for that one girl from camp.” She stops. “Emily, right?”

The photos lying on the marble tabletop are of the four of us at camp, laughing, singing, holding hands. We are so, so young, and I wonder what happened to the girls we used to be. I stare at a photo of Em and me lying under a camp blanket in the same bunk. That’s when I realize the photo is sitting on top of something. I move the picture and smile.

A friendship pin stares at me, E-V-E-R shining in a sea of green beads.

I look up, and water is reflecting through the clerestory windows of our home, and suddenly every one of those little openings is like a scrapbook to my life, and I can see it flash—at camp and after—in front of me in bursts of light.

Why did I betray my friends?

Why did I give up my identity so easily?

Why am I richer than I ever dreamed and yet feel so empty and lost?

Oh, Em.

I blink, my eyes blur, and that’s when I realize it’s not the pool reflecting in the windows, it’s my own tears. I’m crying. And I cannot stop.

Suddenly, I stand, throw open the patio doors and jump into the pool, screaming as I sink. I look up, and my children are yelling.

“Mom! Are you okay?”

I wave at them, and their bodies relax.

“I’m fine,” I lie when I come to the surface. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

They look at each other and shrug, before heading back inside.

At least, I think, they finally see me.

I take a deep breath and go down once more. Underwater, I can hear my heart drum loudly in my ears. It’s drumming in such perfect rhythm that I know immediately the tune my soul is playing. I can hear it as if it were just yesterday.

Boom, didi, boom, boom… Booooom.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Falling Woman

  The Falling Woman
Author:  Richard Farrell
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1616208570 / 978-1616208578

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:  "...and then my seat gives way and black sky siphons me through a gaping hole in the fuselage, my body aspirating through the suddenly ruptured coach-class ceiling like a lottery ball in a pneumatic tube."

Favorite Quote:  "The most extraordinary moments in life are often the most ordinary ones. Why is that so hard to see?"

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


Erin Geraghty is facing a death sentence - a battle with a cancer from which there is no recovery. She is interrupting her treatment to go away for a week to a survivor's retreat. Her daughters are away in college. Her husband wants her to stay and plans the next step of the treatment. Erin leaves. She gets on a plane. The plane explodes at 30,000 feet. Everyone on board dies, except one. Erin. What are the odds of that - anyone surviving at all and then the person surviving being the ones with possibly only months to live?

On the other side of the plane crash is Charlie Radford, a young National Transportation Safety Board investigator. Charlie is dealing with the scars of his childhood, the challenges of his marriage, and his need to prove himself without fully understanding what that means. Health reasons prevented Charlie from his dream of being a pilot. The study and investigation of plane crashes seemed an alternative. What lessons will he learn from investigating Erin's survival?

The beginning of the book is challenging to follow as it introduces many different characters, goes between Erin's story and Charlie's story, and goes between time periods - the day of the crash and a Congressional hearing months later. I find myself confused for a while until the story settles more into its chronological sequences in the days following the crash.

The set up lends itself to a book with philosophical musing and epiphanies about life, a book with important life lessons, and a book with statements on faith and belief. That does come to an extent, for this event is life altering, not just for Erin but also for Charlie.

However, this character driven novel ends up more about the issue of privacy and the violation of the privacy for political reasons. The plot of the book is simple. A plane crashes. A team investigates. Did someone survive or not? If so, who and how?

Subsequently, the book goes in the direction of the government and politics and the media coverage of the crash and the ensuing investigation. Unfortunately, both the government and the media are portrayed in a negative light. The one-sided presentation is stereotypical and lacks depth.

The most interesting thing about this character driven book is that I enjoy the story but do not care for either of the main characters. They are imperfect and flawed, which should make them more real and relatable, but somehow it makes them less empathetic. I feel sorry for Erin as a terminally ill individual. Yet, the story reveals details of lies and an affair and an unhappiness in her marriage left unexplored. I end up feeling more sorry for her family. Charlie fights the demons of his childhood but, time and time again, shuts out and refuses to communicate with his wife who he professes to love dearly. I end up thinking more about her than him. Realistic? Perhaps. Empathetic? No.

At the end, the book's premise was intriguing and promising. The story keeps me reading until the end, but I leave not fully satisfied, looking for something more.

About the Author

Richard Farrell is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a former pilot who holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in Hunger Mountain, upstreet, New Plains Review, Potomac Review, Descant, and elsewhere. Originally from Worcester, Massachusetts, he teaches creative writing at Grossmont College in San Diego, where he lives with his wife and two children. This is his first novel.

Richard Farrell grew up obsessed with flying, and he began taking flying lessons at 16. “I spent countless hours staring at vapor contrails in the sky, identifying airplane silhouettes, and listening to the trembling whir of turboprops on winter nights,” he explains. “Well on my way to achieving my dream, I suffered a seizure in the cockpit of a Navy training jet, and my flying career ended. I was 23. I knew I could never again pilot an airplane, and I struggled with this for a long time, more than a decade. The loss of my pilot’s wings eventually led me to writing fiction, and THE FALLING WOMAN emerged from my journey as a fledgling aviator, and from the deep and rich mythology of aviation. It helped me reconstruct my dream.” 

About the Book

It gives me great pleasure to share Richard Farrell’s exhilarating debut novel THE FALLING WOMAN (Publication Date: May 11, 2021; $16.95), a deeply moving look at the tensions between family loyalty and personal desires, and a provocative examination of the value of privacy in this age of saturation media. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Farrell drew from historical incidents of passengers surviving impossible plane crashes, and from his own experience as a pilot, to craft this propulsive, complex tale. “What would you do if you were confronted with a miracle?” asks Robin Oliveira, author of Winter Sisters. “That is the essential question posed in THE FALLING WOMAN. Part mystery and part prayer, this page-turner about mortality is iridescent.”

Erin Geraghty is on her way to a survivor’s retreat when she boards her flight. Facing a losing battle with cancer, with diminishing hope of a full recovery, she considers herself essentially dead to her loved ones, resigned to a fate of failed medical interventions and long, painful goodbyes. Then she awakens in a barn still strapped to her seat, the sole survivor of the catastrophic crash of Pointer Airlines Flight 795. Assumed to have died in the crash, she is intent on remaining dead to the world and to her family, to live out her final days in peace. Charlie Radford, a young National Transportation Safety Board investigator, is part of the team sent to determine what caused the crash. When he hears a rumor of a survivor, he assumes it is a hoax, but as word of this “miracle” reaches the media and Congress, Radford is forced to track down “the falling woman.” Can he find Erin and convince her to come forward—and does he have any right to?

Tense, thrilling, and deeply profound, THE FALLING WOMAN examines what it means to be singled out by luck or destiny, and explores what we owe to our loved ones in our final days, and what we owe ourselves.

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

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Summer Seekers

The Summer Seekers

  The Summer Seekers
Author:  Sarah Morgan
Publication Information:  HQN. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1335622454 / 978-1335622457

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Beach Reads, Summer 2021 Blog Tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was the cup of milk that saved her."

Favorite Quote:  "Regreet achieves nothing, and it's isn't even valid because looking back with distance, isn't the same as looking forward when you're close up."

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


Sometimes, I need a feel-good story that goes where you expect it does and ends where you expect it to. All the boxes get checked. All the loose ends get tied up. All the stories work out. This book fits that bill completely. The Summer Seekers is a lovely summer escape and a perfect casual beach read. 

The Summer Seekers is the story of three women.

Kathleen is a eighty-some year old widow, living life on her terms. The name of the book comes from a travel TV-show she hosted in her younger days. Letters and a ring kept show the unresolved sorrow of her life. "If you don't misbehave when you're twenty-five, you don't have anything to look back on when you're eighty. If the time comes when I'm too decrepit to travel and maintain my independence I shall spend my days traveling through my memories, and when that happens I should very much like them to be interesting."

Liza is Kathleen's daughter. She grew up, only to see her mother forever leaving her home to go on another adventure. Liza has taken her life completely in the opposite direction, putting all her love and energy into a safe, comfortable home life. "Caring for people came naturally to her, but at some point she'd forgotten to include herself."

Martha is a young woman who has lived her life being forever reminded of what others see as her shortcomings. These opinions have been repeated so often that Martha believes them of herself. "Confidence comes from achieving something, and I've never achieved much. I'm a bit of a disaster."

The plot is simple. Kathleen seeks what may be one last great adventure. She hires Martha to be her traveling companion and leaves Liza in charge of caring for her home and cat in Cornwall away from Liza's own life in London.

Over the course of the book, the women challenge their own conceptions about their lives and make changes. Over the course of the book, relationships also flourish, including a new understanding between mother and daughter. The literal journey is also a journey of self-discovery for each of these women.

Even though all the pieces fit neatly in this book as they usually do not in life, the characters are what make this book work. I find myself relating to these women and seeing pieces of my own life reflected in theirs. The search for self-esteem and self-confidence, the pull to put everyone else's needs before ours, regrets for paths not taken, and the what ifs are all emotional journeys the many of us will relate to and provide the intensity of the book. The romances and the predictable course of the book lighten it back to a lovely summer beach read.

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.

About the Book

Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!

Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.

Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.

Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.

When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She's not the world's best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?

As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it's never too late to start over…

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by HQN Books.


It was the cup of milk that saved her. That and the salty bacon she’d fried for her supper many hours earlier, which had left her mouth dry.

If she hadn’t been thirsty—if she’d still been upstairs, sleeping on the ridiculously expensive mattress that had been her eightieth birthday gift to herself—she wouldn’t have been alerted to danger.

As it was, she’d been standing in front of the fridge, the milk carton in one hand and the cup in the other, when she’d heard a loud thump. The noise was out of place here in the leafy darkness of the English countryside, where the only sounds should have been the hoot of an owl and the occasional bleat of a sheep.

She put the glass down and turned her head, trying to locate the sound. The back door. Had she forgotten to lock it again?

The moon sent a ghostly gleam across the kitchen and she was grateful she hadn’t felt the need to turn the light on. That gave her some advantage, surely?

She put the milk back and closed the fridge door quietly, sure now that she was not alone in the house.

Moments earlier she’d been asleep. Not deeply asleep—that rarely happened these days—but drifting along on a tide of dreams. If someone had told her younger self that she’d still be dreaming and enjoying her adventures when she was eighty she would have been less afraid of aging. And it was impossible to forget that she was aging.

People said she was wonderful for her age, but most of the time she didn’t feel wonderful. The answers to her beloved crosswords floated just out of range. Names and faces refused to align at the right moment. She struggled to remember what she’d done the day before, although if she took herself back twenty years or more her mind was clear. And then there were the physical changes—her eyesight and hearing were still good, thankfully, but her joints hurt and her bones ached. Bending to feed the cat was a challenge. Climbing the stairs required more effort than she would have liked and was always undertaken with one hand on the rail just in case.

She’d never been the sort to live in a just in case sort of way.

Her daughter, Liza, wanted her to wear an alarm. One of those medical alert systems, with a button you could press in an emergency, but Kathleen refused. In her youth she’d traveled the world, before it was remotely fashionable to do so. She’d sacrificed safety for adventure without a second thought. Most days now she felt like a different person.

Losing friends didn’t help. One by one they fell by the wayside, taking with them shared memories of the past. A small part of her vanished with each loss. It had taken decades for her to understand that loneliness wasn’t a lack of people in your life, but a lack of people who knew and understood you.

She fought fiercely to retain some version of her old self—which was why she’d resisted Liza’s pleas that she remove the rug from the living room floor, stop using a step ladder to retrieve books from the highest shelves and leave a light on at night. Each compromise was another layer shaved from her independence, and losing her independence was her biggest fear.

Kathleen had always been the rebel in the family, and she was still the rebel—although she wasn’t sure that rebels were supposed to have shaking hands and a pounding heart.

She heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Someone was searching the house. For what, exactly? What treasures did they hope to find? And why weren’t they trying to at least disguise their presence?

Having resolutely ignored all suggestions that she might be vulnerable, she was now forced to acknowledge the possibility. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so stubborn. How long would it have taken from pressing the alert button to the cavalry arriving?

In reality, the cavalry was Finn Cool, who lived three fields away. Finn was a musician, and he’d bought the property precisely because there were no immediate neighbors. His antics caused mutterings in the village. He had rowdy parties late into the night, attended by glamorous people from London who terrorized the locals by driving their flashy sports cars too fast down the narrow lanes. Someone had started a petition in the post office to ban the parties. There had been talk of drugs, and half-naked women, and it had all sounded like so much fun that Kathleen had been tempted to invite herself over. Rather that than a dull women’s group, where you were expected to bake and knit and swap recipes for banana bread.

Finn would be of no use to her in this moment of crisis. In all probability he’d either be in his studio, wearing headphones, or he’d be drunk. Either way, he wasn’t going to hear a cry for help.

Calling the police would mean walking through the kitchen and across the hall to the living room, where the phone was kept and she didn’t want to reveal her presence. Her family had bought her a mobile phone, but it was still in its box, unused. Her adventurous spirit didn’t extend to technology. She didn’t like the idea of a nameless faceless person tracking her every move.

There was another thump, louder this time, and Kathleen pressed her hand to her chest. She could feel the rapid pounding of her heart. At least it was still working. She should probably be grateful for that.

When she’d complained about wanting a little more adventure, this wasn’t what she’d had in mind. What could she do? She had no button to press, no phone with which to call for help, so she was going to have to handle this herself.

She could already hear Liza’s voice in her head: Mum, I warned you!

If she survived, she’d never hear the last of it.

Fear was replaced by anger. Because of this intruder she’d be branded Old and Vulnerable and forced to spend the rest of her days in a single room with minders who would cut up her food, speak in overly loud voices and help her to the bathroom. Life as she knew it would be over.

That was not going to happen.

She’d rather die at the hands of an intruder. At least her obituary would be interesting.

Better still, she would stay alive and prove herself capable of independent living.

She glanced quickly around the kitchen for a suitable weapon and spied the heavy black skillet she’d used to fry the bacon earlier.

She lifted it silently, gripping the handle tightly as she walked to the door that led from the kitchen to the hall. The tiles were cool under her feet—which, fortunately, were bare. No sound. Nothing to give her away. She had the advantage.

She could do this. Hadn’t she once fought off a mugger in the backstreets of Paris? True, she’d been a great deal younger then, but this time she had the advantage of surprise.

How many of them were there?

More than one would give her trouble.

Was it a professional job? Surely no professional would be this loud and clumsy. If it was kids hoping to steal her TV, they were in for a disappointment. Her grandchildren had been trying to persuade her to buy a “smart” TV, but why would she need such a thing? She was perfectly happy with the IQ of her current machine, thank you very much. Technology already made her feel foolish most of the time. She didn’t need it to be any smarter than it already was.

Perhaps they wouldn’t come into the kitchen. She could stay hidden away until they’d taken what they wanted and left.

They’d never know she was here.


A floorboard squeaked close by. There wasn’t a crack or a creak in this house that she didn’t know. Someone was right outside the door.

Her knees turned liquid.

Oh Kathleen, Kathleen.

She closed both hands tightly round the handle of the skillet.

Why hadn’t she gone to self-defense classes instead of senior yoga? What use was the downward dog when what you needed was a guard dog?

A shadow moved into the room, and without allowing herself to think about what she was about to do she lifted the skillet and brought it down hard, the force of the blow driven by the weight of the object as much as her own strength. There was a thud and a vibration as it connected with his head.

“I’m so sorry—I mean—” Why was she apologizing? Ridiculous!

The man threw up an arm as he fell, a reflex action, and the movement sent the skillet back into Kathleen’s own head. Pain almost blinded her and she prepared herself to end her days right here, thus giving her daughter the opportunity to be right, when there was a loud thump and the man crumpled to the floor. There was a crack as his head hit the tiles.

Kathleen froze. Was that it, or was he suddenly going to spring to his feet and murder her?

No. Against all odds, she was still standing while her prowler lay inert at her feet. The smell of alcohol rose, and Kathleen wrinkled her nose.


Her heart was racing so fast she was worried that any moment now it might trip over itself and give up.

She held tightly to the skillet.

Did he have an accomplice?

She held her breath, braced for someone else to come racing through the door to investigate the noise, but there was only silence.

Gingerly she stepped toward the door and poked her head into the hall. It was empty.

It seemed the man had been alone.

Finally she risked a look at him.

He was lying still at her feet, big, bulky and dressed all in black. The mud on the edges of his trousers suggested he’d come across the fields at the back of the house. She couldn’t make out his features because he’d landed face-first, but blood oozed from a wound on his head and darkened her kitchen floor.

Feeling a little dizzy, Kathleen pressed her hand to her throbbing head.

What now? Was one supposed to administer first aid when one was the cause of the injury? Was that helpful or hypocritical? Or was he past first aid and every other type of aid?

She nudged his body with her bare foot, but there was no movement.

Had she killed him?

The enormity of it shook her.

If he was dead, then she was a murderer.

When Liza had expressed a desire to see her mother safely housed somewhere she could easily visit, presumably she hadn’t been thinking of prison.

Who was he? Did he have family? What had been his intention when he’d forcibly entered her home? Kathleen put the skillet down and forced her shaky limbs to carry her to the living room. Something tickled her cheek. Blood. Hers.

She picked up the phone and for the first time in her life dialed the emergency services.

Underneath the panic and the shock there was something that felt a lot like pride. It was a relief to discover she wasn’t as weak and defenseless as everyone seemed to think.

When a woman answered, Kathleen spoke clearly and without hesitation.

“There’s a body in my kitchen,” she said. “I assume you’ll want to come and remove it.”

Social Links

Author Website
Twitter: @SarahMorgan_
Facebook: @AuthorSarahMorgan
Instagram: @SarahMorganWrites

Buy Links

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

Sunday, May 16, 2021

A Theater for Dreamers

  A Theater for Dreamers
Author:  Polly Samson
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2021. 336 pages.

ISBN:  1643751492 / 978-1643751498

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's a climb from the port and I take the steps of Donkey Shit Lane at a steady pace, a heart-shaped stone in my pocket."

Favorite Quote:  "Have some adventures ... Dare to dream."

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


Leonard Cohen - singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. Charmaine Clift - Australian writer, essayist, and George Johnston's wife. George Johnston - Australian journalist, war correspondent, novelist, and Charmaine Clift's husband. Axel Jensen - Norwegian author. Marianne Ihlen - Axel Jensen's wife, later Leonard Cohen's girlfriend and muse, and subject of Leonard Cohen's song So Long, Marianne.

These historical figures crossed paths in the 1960s on the Greek island of Hydra. This is the setting, history, and story that this book builds on. It introduces fictional characters - eighteen year of Erica, her brother, and a group of young, idealistic friends. They come seeking escape and adventure. Erica comes armed with blank journals, aspiring to be a writer.

The title of "theater" and "dreamers" conjures an image. The description of "utopia," "idyllic," and "bohemian" conjures an image. Unfortunately for me, the image scatters in the story. 

Erica and her brother emerge from the death of their mother, unexpected bequests upon that death, and what is clearly an abusive household at the hands of their father. Yet, that thread remains unresolved. It serves only as an impetus to this journey.

The book begins in London and arrives in Hydra partially by way of the hippie trail. There are incidents on the journey, but the journey seems inconsequential and immaterial to the destination. Perhaps, the book would be better served beginning with their arrival on the island for the origin and path of the journey do not build or contribute to the rest of the book.

The true beginning of the story - with this group's arrival on the island - introduces an even wider cast of characters than the six who arrive on the island. It is the inhabitants of the islands who become the true heart of the story. Interestingly, the book and the description refers to the expatriates on Hydra as a colony. Even with the wide cast of the book, the overall number of foreign residents does not seem large enough to constitute a colony. Nevertheless, it becomes challenging to follow the characters and the relationships. I find myself taking a break to research some of the nonfiction history of this cast to provide context for the context is not to be found in the book. I am glad I knew the nonfiction basis of the book to be able to do the research. Simply reading the entire book as fiction would like be more challenging.

With a wide cast of characters, I look for one anchor. Given the setup, that should be Erica. 
The most interesting character to me is Charmaine Clift, for her story focuses on the role of women and the challenges faced by women in different professions as she finds her own career taking a back seat to that of her husband.

Unfortunately, the book proceeds in a scattered fashion and does not provide the character or plot development in a main character or a main plot line. To some extent, this book is like a mosaic in which the individual pieces are interesting but do not quite come together to form a whole. Sadly, I find the history interesting, but I find myself not the reader for this book.

About the Author

Polly Samson is a writer of fiction and a lyricist. Her words have appeared on four number one albums, including Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell and David Gilmour’s On an Island. She has also worked as a journalist and in publishing, including two years as a columnist for the Sunday Times. Samson was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018. Her first novel, Out of the Picture, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Award, and many of her stories, including those from her first collection Lying in Bed, have been read on Radio 4. A second collection of short stories, Perfect Lives, was a Book at Bedtime. She has written an introduction to a collection of Daphne du Maurier’s earliest stories and has been a judge for the Costa Book Awards. Her 2015 novel The Kindness was named a Book of the Year by both the Times and the Observer.

About the Book

In April of 1960, a young Leonard Cohen arrived on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, dreaming of completing his first novel under the warmth of the island sun. Just twenty-five years old, the charismatic poet was welcomed into the community of artists and writers who also made their home on the island, including the Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, the Norwegian painter Axel Jensen, and Axel’s gentle, doting wife Marianne, who would soon become Leonard’s muse, inspiring his classic songs “So Long Marianne” and “Bird on the Wire.” Now, based on this bohemian community and their legendary exploits, Polly Samson’s A THEATER FOR DREAMERS (Publication Date: May 11, 2021; Hardcover; $26.95) transports American readers to the idyllic, sun-soaked island of Hydra in the same way that Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins took readers to the coast of Italy. Hailed as “an impressionistic, intoxicating rush of sensory experience” by The Sunday Times and as “a blissful piece of escapism… [and] a surefire summer hit” by The Guardian, A THEATER FOR DREAMERS debuted as an instant UK bestseller upon publication last May, and was named a best novel of the year by The Times and The Sunday Times, The Spectator, The Daily Mail and many more.

When eighteen-year-old Erica arrives on Hydra, the world teeters on the edge of cultural, political, sexual, and artistic revolution. Fresh off the boat from London, with nothing but a bundle of blank notebooks and a burning desire to leave home in the wake of her mother’s death, she is embraced by the troubled queen and king of bohemia, Charmian and George, and by the proto-commune of poets, painters, and musicians that revel in dreams at the feet of their unofficial leaders. Among these artists, she will find an unraveling utopia where everything is tested—the nature of art, relationships, and her own innocence.

Both a writer of fiction and a lyricist, Polly Samson has also worked as a journalist and in publishing, and her words have appeared on four number one albums, including Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell and her husband David Gilmour’s On an Island. She was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018, and her 2015 novel, The Kindness, was named a Book of the Year by The Times and The Observer. “It was Charmian Clift’s 1959 memoir Peel Me a Lotus that set me on the path to the Greek island of Hydra, and to a fascination with Charmian,” she explains. “My (extensive) research uncovered a cache of over 1500 photographs of the community she and her husband fostered on the island, which included the young Leonard Cohen, Gregory Corso, Axel Jensen, Goran Tunstrom, and Gordon Merrick. I became fascinated by identifying all the people in the photographs, and began immersing myself in this bohemian circle, dreaming my own novel set among them into being.”

Roiling with the heat of a Grecian summer and based on true events, A THEATER FOR DREAMERS is a spellbinding tour-de-force about the beauty between naïveté and cruelty, chaos and utopia, artist and muse—and about the wars waged between men and women on the battlegrounds of genius.

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