Sunday, June 27, 2021

Faye, Faraway

Title:
  Faye, Faraway
Author:  Helen Fisher
Publication Information:  Gallery Books. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1982142677 / 978-1982142674

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

Opening Sentence:  "The loss of my mother is like a missing tooth:  an absence I can feel at all times, but one I can hide as long as I keep my mother shut."

Favorite Quote:  "I think there's more to God than the big beardy feller in the sky. I know that God is on earth, in people, in good deeds. God is in the big things, and the small things. He's under the fingernails of our daughters, and he's in all the kindnesses we show people. I know that what people call 'God's work' can be called 'lightening the burden' for another human being. My kind of God might be a bit different from yours, maybe that's all."

The book poses a question. "What about your past? How often would you travel there, given the chance? Often? Never? And when you got there, would you think about staying forever?"

Somewhere along the way, it provides an answer. "You have to choose between the past and the present, and there really is no choice, Faye, it's a no-brainer. You can't live in both, and if you don't choose between the past and the present, then one day that choice may be made for you, and you may not like the way it goes."

In between, the book is an emotional look at grief. Faye lost her mother as a child; that loss makes her who she is and is with her at every moment of her life. Although Faye had a loving, caring childhood even after her mother's death, is happily married, and has a full, vibrant life, a part of her longs for her mother.

The book is also a look at faith and belief. Faye's husband is a pastor. His faith is kind and gentle and about providing for and helping people. His vision and support helps Faye address her doubts.

That is the philosophical bent of this book which is compelling and thought provoking.

Then, there is the plot of the book. Faye has a box from her childhood. It once contained a gift she received. Now, it holds memories so strong that she cannot let go of the physical object. "We keep stuff in order to hang on to what's important, but it's an illusion ... These objects are not bridges to the past, they're bridges to memories of the past. But they are not the past."

In Faye's case, however, the box becomes a literal bridge to the past. She finds herself back in the time before her mother died. She is there as an adult but interacting with her mother and her own younger self. The collision between past and present is a challenging one. Faye's husband and her daughters are her anchor to her real life. Her longing for her mother is her draw to the past. Which does she choose, and what if she finds herself in a position where the choice is made for her?

The character I find "missing" from the book is Faye's younger self. Theoretically, there is only one Faye - the little girl who loses her mother and grows up with that sense of loss. However, this story is so much about the adult Faye that the little girl is almost an aside. This is especially true of the ending.

This back and forth continues, and the turmoil continues. The ending, when it comes, is not really a surprise. However, for me, it crosses the boundary of plausibility. It takes the book from an intellectual and emotional consideration of possibilities into an unrealistic science fiction realm. That being said, the longing for people gone and the pull of an opportunity of more time with them is one I and, I think, everyone will relate.


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

Monday, June 21, 2021

Nowhere Girl

Title:
  Nowhere Girl
Author:  Cheryl Diamond
Publication Information:  Algonquin  Books . 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1616208201 / 978-1616208202

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:  "My first near-death experience occurs at the age of four, when the brakes fail, with my dad at the wheel, sending us hurtling down the Himalayas."

Favorite Quote:  "I've noticed people often complain about the monotony of life. How sometimes very day is just like the last and they all blend together. Do they know how lucky they are? But maybe that's the problem with a smooth pleasant routine, you begin taking it for granted."

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


Review

Cheryl Diamond, born (I think) with the name Harbhajan Khalsa Nanak, becomes a New York City model at age sixteen. She publishes her first novel at age twenty-one. She has since published a second novel and this memoir. She currently lives in Luxembourg. Before, however, comes an entire lifetime, filled with more than most people live in their entire lifetimes. "By the age of nine, I will have lived in more than a dozen countries, on five continents under six assumed identities. I'll know how a document is forged, how to withstand an interrogation, and most important, how to disappear."

Her family - parents, brother, sister, and her - is on the run. The first half of the book is country to country, identity to identity, and life to life. Parts are a child's adventure. Many more parts are sudden goodbyes, no friendships, and constant new beginnings. Some other parts get even more harrowing with abuse, interrogation, and escape.

The question that is not addressed until almost the middle of the book is why? Why is this family on the run? What and who are the running from? The events described make the first part of the book so very sad, but the constant question of why lingers. When finally answered, it is not quite as I expect, but it provides the needed context. I think I would have preferred the context earlier if only to shift the focus from that question to the actual events. Given the current structure of the book, the question of why looms over the entire first half of the book, overshadowing some of the events themselves.

The answer to the "why" seems to be the fulcrum of the book. Before comes the childhood, such as it is. After, although still a child, the book jumps to the emergence into adulthood. What stands out throughout the book is the fractured relationships of this family. I am still not entirely sure of why the fractures exist and why they loom larger and larger. How and why does abuse and violence find its way into this family? How is it allowed to remain? The fact that the constant moves and no past and no future leaves them nobody but each other. That kind of the dependence perhaps leads to many things. This is one family member's perspective; part of me is left wondering what story would show from a different perspective.

I am also not entirely sure of the fate of some of the family members, but perhaps that is the nature of a memoir. This story is not over yet. However, it does leave me wondering about what happens to the others particularly Frank and Chiara. One point of closure is offered. "Your father loved you. That was never a lie. But you outgrew him, Harbhajan. Simple as that. He's a con man, who gave birth to an idealist. And after a certain point, the two just don't go together anymore."

The truth of this memoir is truly stranger than fiction.

About the Author

Cheryl Diamond is now a citizen of Luxembourg and lives between there and Rome. Her behind-the-scenes account of life as a teenage model, Model: A Memoir, was published in 2008. Diamond´s second book, Naked Rome, reveals the Eternal City through the eyes of its most fascinating people.

About the Book

Cheryl Diamond had an outlaw childhood beyond the imaginings of most. By age nine, she had lived in more than a dozen countries on five continents and had assumed six identities as her parents evaded Interpol and other law enforcement agencies. While her family lived on the run, she would learn math on an abacus, train as an Olympic hopeful, practice Sikhism and then celebrate her bat mitzvah, come to terms with the disappearance of her brother, become a successful fashion model, and ultimately watch her unconventional yet close-knit family implode. Diamond’s unforgettable memoir, NOWHERE GIRL: A MEMOIR OF A FUGITIVE CHILDHOOD (Publication Date: June 15, 2021; $27.95), is a harrowing, clear-sighted, and surprisingly humor-filled testament to a childhood lost and an adulthood found. With its page-turning candor about forged passports and midnights escapes, this is, in the end, the searing story of how lies can destroy a family and how truth can set us free.

Diamond, whose acclaimed first book, Model: A Memoir, earned her accolades as “America’s next top author” in The New York Times Style Magazine, begins her story with her earliest memories as a four-year-old in India. Even at that tender age she had been schooled by her complicated and controlling father to never make a mistake, never betray the family, and never become attached to a place or other people. As the family continent-hopped, switched religions, paid for everything in cash, assumed new names time and again—always one step ahead of the law—young Cheryl (then called Bhajan) developed the burning need to achieve and win approval. By twenty-three she had seen so much of the world, but only through a peculiar lens that had somehow become normal. And she was plagued by fundamental questions: Who am I? And how can I find the courage to break away from the people I love most – because escaping is the only way to survive.

“For a long time, I felt that having had such a strange and often traumatic childhood had somehow marked me and made it impossible to be understood or connect with the outside world, to ever have a good life,” Diamond reveals. “It was only when I forced myself to begin to open up, make friends, and talk about what I had survived that I realized how many people had gone through similar challenges. Perhaps not as many, but enough that we genuinely understood each other. I decided to write NOWHERE GIRL because I came to see how many people carry some sort of shame or fear about not fitting in, often never voiced. But the very act of baring our darker side actually brings people closer—rather than the judgment we so fear.”

“An absolutely breathless read,” says Paul Haggis, Academy Award-winning writer/director of Crash, Million Dollar Baby, and Casino Royale. “NOWHERE GIRL is a courageous, heart-breaking, and beautifully written story of a girl doing everything in her power to protect the ones she loves.”


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

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Stepsisters

Title:
  The Stepsisters
Author:  Susan Mallery
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0778312038 / 978-0778312031

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:  "'Mom, I think I'm going to throw up.'"

Favorite Quote:  "What she hadn't counted on was the fact that she couldn't see a way out. Which would have been something she could manage if only she'd been able to pretend that she wasn't the problem. Because her being the problem implied the only thing standing between her and happiness was herself, and how on earth was she supposed to fix that?"

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


Review

Daisy lost her mother as a child. Her father Wallace married Joanne, who was mother to Sage. Together, Wallace and Joanne are parents to Cassidy. Wallace and Joanne divoerced when the girls were still kids. 

Daisy is a trust fund baby and lives in a large mansion in Los Angeles. She is married to Jordan and mother to two children. An original Monet (really!), a live-in housekeeper who is more family than the family, and an LA mansion - Daisy is that kind of rich. Her husband Jordan dated Sage first. Daisy and Jordan are now having problems and are separated.

Sage has travelled the world and been married and divorced three times. She is back in LA and living with her mother, who is on the hunt for the next rich guy.

Cassidy has seen the world as a travel writer but has no lasting bond. An accident brings her to LA to recover as Daisy takes her in at her father's request.

Daisy, Sage, and Cassidy are the stepsisters. They are not adults but with a whole of unprocessed, unsaid, unacknowledged baggage from their childhood.

This story is all about the resolution of that baggage, and the rediscovery of sisterhood. There is laughter. There is crying. There are arguments. For some, there is also romance. There is betrayal. There are devastatingly bad choices. Through it all, there is also a discovery of love and of genuine liking.

Although at times a soap opera, this book is an escape and a summer beach read. Joanne ends up the villainous one, with no redeeming qualities demonstrated in the book. The men in the book are almost completely one-dimensional - selfish and hurtful or pretty near perfect. The focus is truly the three sisters, who are each in their own way flawed and hurt. The book is about coming to terms with those flaws, seeking and giving forgiveness, and love despite the flaws.

All that being said, I am surprised the direction in which the drama of this book went. It is unexpected and, to me, unnecessary. The fact that it is quickly resolved after is even more surprising. Let's just say that I don't know that I could be as forgiving as the characters in the book were. I don't know many (or any!) people who would. Perhaps, though, that is the lesson of the book. Forgiveness is as important, if not more so, for the one giving it as the one receiving it.

About the Author

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives―family, friendship, romance. She's known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages. Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

About the Book

#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery pens a love story of a different sort…a heartfelt tale of friendship between two women who used to be sisters.

Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.
Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts—she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.

Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects—or wants—to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.

Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again…or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.

Q&A with the Author

Love the cover of THE STEPSISTERS. Summer Sun! Tell us what your new novel is about.

THE STEPSISTERS is the story of two women falling into friendship. Daisy and Sage’s childhoods intersected for a few years, when Daisy’s dad was married to Sage’s mom. The girls were classmates and rivals but never friends, not even when they lived together, and certainly not after their parents divorced. As teens, Daisy had a crush on Sage’s boyfriend Jordan. After graduation, Sage left to live a more glamorous life in Europe, and Daisy married Jordan.

The story starts when the stepsisters are in their thirties. Daisy’s marriage is in trouble, Sage is back in LA from a life that was not nearly as glamorous as it appeared from the outside, and their shared half-sister needs their help. As they get to know each other as adults, they uncover long buried secrets, begin to see the events of their past with new eyes and discover they might even maybe like each other. Until one of them does something that could forever sabotage any chance of a forever friendship.

There were so many moments in THE STEPSISTERS that stabbed me right in the heart while writing. Daisy is one of those heroines you root for from page one, a nurturer at heart. She’s such a caring mom, you can’t help but love her. Sage has sharper edges—and a sharper tongue—but she had a harder life. I don’t want to say too much, so I’ll just say that this is the kind of book that’s going to stick with you in the best possible way. 

What makes stories about women's friendships so compelling?

Friendship stories are compelling because they’re relatable, aspirational and infinitely variable because no two women are friends in the exact same way. Most women are hardwired to crave connections. It’s a primal need, to be part of something larger than ourselves. To feel known, cared for and cared about, loved, accepted. Friendship stories feed that need as we’re reading—especially over the past year when so many people have felt isolated during the pandemic. As we read, we recognize ourselves and our own friends, and we internalize lessons about respect and opening our hearts.

Do you have to do any research to write your novels, or is it all living and observing?

I definitely do research, though the amount depends on the book, of course. In The Stepsisters, Daisy is a nurse anesthesiologist as a direct result of conversations I had with a nurse anesthesiologist. My original plan was that Daisy, the daughter of a doctor, would be a doctor herself. But while talking about the realities of an anesthesiologist’s life and schedule, I realized that it wouldn’t work for the character I had in mind. So before I wrote one word, my research took her in another direction.

The book is dedicated to the woman who took the time to help me.

You've written so many novels. Of course, THE STEPSISTERS is your current favorite novel, but which book do you love the most?

I have many, but two spring immediately to mind because they were so much fun to write—Daughters of the Bride and The Friendship List. Daughters of the Bride was the only book that came to me fully formed. When I got the idea, I knew everything—I knew the mom and each of the sisters. I understood them. That book was a joy from start to finish.

I had to work a little harder to plot The Friendship List, but once I had the plot down and got to the fun part (writing the story), every day was a good writing day. With most books, there are five or ten scenes that I can’t wait to write, but with The Friendship List, it seemed like every day I got to write a scene I was really excited about. When I write, it’s almost like a movie playing in my head, so it’s very entertaining for me to see what the characters say and do as the scene comes to life.

THE STEPSISTERS was a different kind of pleasure—more internal conflict between the characters because of their history with each other, which led to such a heartwarming, soul-satisfying ending. I couldn’t do anything for a couple of days after finishing this story because my mind and my heart were still in it too deeply. I think it will stick with you, too.

Any tips for wanna-be writers?

Never give up. The world is full of incredibly talented writers who didn’t want it enough to keep going no matter what. The middle of a book is always hard, which means you’ll never finish a book if you can’t get through the middle. You’ll never sell a book if all you can write are great beginnings. You have to keep going, keep learning, keep improving. Try different methods so you can figure out what works for you. Write a great story, and readers will find you. And then write another. And another.

Social Links

Website: https://susanmallery.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SusanMallery
Twitter: https://twitter.com/susanmallery
Instagram: https://instagram.com/susanmallery
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/susanmallery/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/susanmallery
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/susan-mallery
Mailing List: https://susanmallery.com/join-mailing-list.php

Buy Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0778331806
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-stepsisters-susan-mallery/1137495093?ean=9780778331803
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/the-stepsisters-9780778312031/9780778331803
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778331803
Libro.fm: https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781488211577-the-stepsisters
Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Stepsisters/Susan-Mallery/9780778331803?id=7843731390040
Target: https://www.target.com/p/the-stepsisters-by-susan-mallery-paperback/-/A-81262171#
Walmart: https://www.walmart.com/ip/The-Stepsisters-Paperback-9780778331803/194267274
Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-stepsisters/9780778331803-item.html
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-stepsisters
AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-stepsisters/id1527864349
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Susan_Mallery_The_Stepsisters?id=8bn3DwAAQBAJ


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

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Warsaw Orphan

Title:
  The Warsaw Orphan
Author:  Kelly Rimmer
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1525811533 / 978-1525811531

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

Opening Sentence:  "The human spirit is a miraculous thing."

Favorite Quote:  "There are many ways to fight, but striving for justice is always worth the battle."

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


Review

The context of this book, of course, begins in World War II, specifically around the summer of 1943 in Warsaw. In the heart of Warsaw, the Nazis created a walled off Jewish ghetto. The ghetto itself became ridden with death and disease, and then, the transportations to the death camps began. Thousands, hundreds of thousands perished.

There were people who tried to help. Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker and nurse whose team is credited with saving the lives of 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the ghetto.

There were also those who fought. Organizations like the Jewish Combat Organization formed a residence and stated an uprising the summer of 1943 that lasted for about a month. The outcome of that uprising was not a surprise.

The book then goes beyond the war to the politics and upheaval as a new threat of a Communist regime emerges.

This is the historical background for this story that, according to the author's note, "could have happened." The story itself, as the cover suggests, is of two young people. Emilia renamed Elzbieta and Roman. Emilia is an orphan, adopted into a loving home but living a secret. Roman, with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, is a child living in the ghetto in constant fear of the death or disappearance of his family. Emilia is fourteen years old. Roman's age is around the same.

This is the second book I have read recently set in Poland during World War II. The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff is a story of life in the sewers as a survival mechanism; the fiction is set in Krakow although the history is of Lvov. This book does not mention life in the sewers but does bring in the sewers as an escape route out of the ghetto in Warsaw. The connection, as always, is fascinating and sends me on the search for more of the history.

This book beautifully depicts a range of emotions from grief and desperation to anger. The anger channeled leads to uprisings and the anger unbridled puts people at risk and in harm's way. The depth of that emotion is difficult for us to comprehend. Both Emilia and Roman show the progression of this emotion and the different directions in which it may lead. My favorite character are the social workers, a composite of the work of Irena Sendler and her team. They all have their stories and their "why", but their selfless devotion to saving lives is inspirational.

The most profound impact of this book for me is the age of the main characters. They are young - children. Yet, they sound and behave as adults for that is the reality of their lives. They survive but their childhoods are forever lost. The fact is that in surviving, they are the lucky ones no matter the other losses they suffer. So many were mercilessly killed that survival alone was the goal. Time and time again throughout this book, the events and then the reminder of their ages makes the emotion and the horror that much greater.

About the Author

Kelly Rimmer is the worldwide, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Before I Let You Go, The Things We Cannot Say, and Truths I Never Told You. She lives in rural Australia with her husband, two children and fantastically naughty dogs, Sully and Basil. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Please visit her at https://www.kellyrimmer.com/

About the Book

With the thrilling pace and historical drama of Pam Jenoff and Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author Kelly Rimmer's newest novel is an epic WWII saga and love story, based on the real-life efforts of two young people taking extraordinary risks to save their countrymen, as they try to find their way back to each other and the life they once knew.

Following on the success of The Things We Cannot Say, this is Kelly Rimmer's return to the WWII category with a brand new novel inspired by Irena Sendler, the real-life Polish nurse who used her access to the Warsaw ghetto to smuggle Jewish children and babies to safety.

Spanning the tumultuous years between 1942 and 1945 in Poland, The Warsaw Orphan follows Emilia over the course of the war, her involvement with the Resistance, and her love for Sergiusz, a young man imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto who's passion leads him to fight in the Warsaw Uprising. From the Warsaw ghetto to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, through Nazi occupation to the threat of a communist regime, Kelly Rimmer has penned her most meticulously researched and emotionally compelling novel to date.

Excerpt

Excerpted from The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer, Copyright © 2021 by Lantana Management Pty Ltd. Published by Graydon House Books.

1
Roman
28 March, 1942

The human spirit is a miraculous thing. It is the strongest part of us—crushed under pressure, but rarely broken. Trapped within our weak and fallible bodies, but never contained. I pondered this as my brother and I walked to a street vendor on Zamenhofa Street in the Warsaw Ghetto, late in the afternoon on a blessedly warm spring day.

“There was one right there,” he said, pointing to a rare gap in the crowd on the sidewalk. I nodded but did not reply. Dawidek sometimes needed to talk me through his workday but he did not need me to comment, which was fortunate, because even after months of this ritual, I still had no idea what to say.

“Down that alleyway, there was one on the steps of a building. Not even on the sidewalk, just right there on the steps.”

I fumbled in my pocket, making sure I still had the sliver of soap my stepfather had given me. Soap was in desperate demand

in the ghetto, a place where overcrowding and lack of running water had created a perfect storm for illness. My stepfather ran a tiny dentistry practice in the front room of our apartment and needed the soap as much as anyone—maybe even more so. But as desperate as Samuel’s need for soap was, my mother’s need for food eclipsed it, and so there Dawidek and I were. It was generally considered a woman’s job to go to the market, but Mother needed to conserve every bit of strength she could, and the street vendor Samuel wanted me to speak to was blocks away from our home.

“…and Roman, one was behind a big dumpster,” he hesitated, then grimaced. “Except I think we missed that one yesterday.”

I didn’t ask how he’d come to that conclusion. I knew that the answer was liable to make my heart race and my vision darken, the way it did sometimes. Sometimes, it felt as if my anger was simmering just below the surface: at my nine-year-old brother and the rest of my family. Although, none of this was their fault. At Sala, my boss at the factory on Nowolipki Street, even though he was a good man and he’d gone out of his way to help me and my family more than once. At every damned German I laid eyes on. Always them. Especially them. A sharp, uncompromising anger tinged every interaction those days, and although that anger started and ended with the Germans who had changed our world, it cycled through everyone else I knew before it made its way back where it belonged.

“There was one here yesterday. In the middle of the road at the entrance to the market.”

Dawidek had already told me all about that one, but I let him talk anyway. I hoped this running commentary would spare him from the noxious interior that I was currently grappling with. I envied the ease with which he could talk about his day, even if hearing the details filled me with guilt. Guilt I could handle, I probably deserved it. It was the anger that scared me. I felt like my grip on control was caught between my sweaty hands and, at any given moment, all it would take was for someone to startle me, and I’d lose control.

The street stall came into view through the crowd. There was always a crush of people on the street until the last second before seven o’clock curfew. This was especially the case in summer, when the oppressive heat inside the ghetto apartments could bring people to faint, besides which, the overcrowding inside was no better than the overcrowding outside. I had no idea how many people were inside those ghetto walls—Samuel guessed a million, Mrs. Kuklin´ski in the bedroom beside ours said it was much more, Mother was quite confident that it was maybe only a hundred thousand. All I knew was that ours was not the only apartment in the ghetto designed for one family that was currently housing four—in fact, there were many living in even worse conditions. While the population was a hot topic of conversation on a regular basis, it didn’t actually matter all that much to me. I could see with my own eyes and smell with my own nose that however many people were trapped within the ghetto walls, it was far, far too many.

When the vendor’s table came into view, my heart sank: she was already packing up for the day and there was no produce left. I was disappointed but not surprised: there had been no chance of us finding food so late in the day, let alone food that someone would barter for a simple slip of soap. Dawidek and I had passed a store that was selling eggs, but they’d want zloty for the eggs, not a tiny scrap of soap.

“Wait here a minute,” I murmured to my brother, who shrugged as he sank to sit on an apartment stoop. I might have let him follow me, but even after the depths our family had sunk to over the years of occupation, I still hated for him to see me beg. I glanced at him, recording his location to memory, and then pushed through the last few feet of people mingling on the sidewalk until I reached the street vendor. She shook her head before I’d spoken a word.

“I am sorry young man; I have nothing to offer you.”

“I am Samuel Gorka’s son,” I told her. It was an oversimplification of a complicated truth, but it was the best way I could help her place me. “He fixed your tooth for you, remember? A few months ago? His practice is on Miła Street.”

Recognition dawned in her gaze, but she still regarded me warily.

“I remember Samuel and I’m grateful to him, but that doesn’t change anything. I have no food left today.”

“My brother and I…we work during the day. And Samuel too. You know how busy he is, helping people like yourself. But the thing is, we have a sick family member who hasn’t—”

“Kid, I respect your father. He’s a good man, and a good dentist. I wish I could help, but I have nothing to give you.” She waved to the table, to the empty wooden box she had packed up behind her, and then opened her palms towards me as if to prove the truth of her words.

“There is nowhere else for me to go. I can’t take no for an answer. I’m going to bed hungry tonight, but I can’t let…” I trailed off, the hopelessness hitting me right in the chest. I knew I would be going home without food for my mother that night, and the implications made me want to curl up in a ball, right there in the gutter. But hopelessness was dangerous, at least in part because it was always followed by an evil cousin. Hopelessness was a passive emotion, but its natural successor drove action, and that action rarely resulted in anything positive. I clenched my fists, and my fingers curled around the soap. I pulled it from my pocket and extended it towards the vendor. She looked from my palm to my face, then sighed impatiently and leaned close to me to hiss,

“I told you. I have nothing left to trade today. If you want food, you need to come earlier in the day.”

“That’s impossible for us. Don’t you understand?”

To get to the market early in the day one of us would have to miss work. Samuel couldn’t miss work; he could barely keep up as it was—he performed extractions from sunup to curfew most days. Rarely was this work paid now that money was in such short supply among ordinary families like his patients, but the work was important—not just because it afforded some small measure of comfort for a people group who were, in every other way, suffering immensely. But every now and again Samuel did a favor for one of the Jewish police officers or even a passing German soldier. He had a theory that one day soon, those favors were going to come in handy. I was less optimistic, but I understood that he couldn’t just close his practice. The moment Samuel stopped working would be the moment he had to perform an honest reckoning with our situation, and if he did that, he would come closer to the despair I felt every waking moment of every day.

“Do you have anything else? Or is it just the soap?” the woman asked me suddenly.

“That’s all.”

“Tomorrow. Come back this time tomorrow. I’ll keep something for you, but for that much soap?” She shook her head then pursed her lips. “It’s not going to be much. See if you can find something else to barter.”

“There is nothing else,” I said, my throat tight. But the woman’s gaze was at least sympathetic, and so I nodded at her. “I’ll do my best. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As I turned away, I wondered if it was worth calling into that store to ask about the eggs, even though I knew that the soap wasn’t nearly enough for a whole egg. It wasn’t enough for even half an egg here on the market, and the stores were always more expensive than the street vendors. Maybe they would give me a shell? We could grind it up and Mother could drink it in a little water. We’d done that once before for her. It wasn’t as good as real food, but it might help a little overnight. It surely couldn’t hurt.

As I spun back towards our apartment, a burst of adrenaline nearly knocked me sideways. Dawidek hadn’t moved, but two Jewish police officers were now standing in front of him. Like me, my brother was tall for his age—an inheritance from our maternal grandfather that made us look bizarre when we stood with Samuel and Mother, who were both more diminutive. Even so, he looked far too small to be crowded into the doorway of an apartment by two Jewish Police officers. That situation could turn to bloodshed in a heartbeat. The Kapo operated on a spectrum from well-meaning and kindly to murderously violent, and I had no way of knowing what kind of Kapo were currently accosting Dawidek. My heart thundered against the wall of my chest as I pushed my way back to them, knowing even as I approached that intervening could well get me shot.

For everything I had been through and for everything I had seen, the only thing that kept me going was my family, especially Dawidek. He was my favorite person in the world, a burst of purity in an environment of pure evil. Some days, the only time I felt still inside was when he and I were playing or talking in the evenings—and that stillness was the only rest I got. I could not live without him, in fact—I had already decided that if it came to that, I wouldn’t even try.

“Dawidek?” I called as I neared. Both Kapo turned toward me. The one on the left, the taller one, sized me up as if an emaciated, unarmed 16-year-old was any kind of threat. I knew from bitter experience that the smart thing to do would have been to let Dawidek try to talk his own way out of this. He was nine years old but used to defending himself in the bizarrely toxic environment of the Ghetto. All day long, he was at his job alone, and I was at mine. He needed his wits about him to survive even an hour of that, and I needed to trust that he could handle himself.

But I couldn’t convince myself to be smart, even when I knew that what I was about to do was likely to earn me, at best, a severe beating. I couldn’t even stop myself when the Kapo gave me a second chance to walk away. They ignored me and kept their attention on my brother. “Hey!” I shouted, loud enough that my voice echoed up and down the street, and dozens of people turned to stare. “He’s just a kid. He hasn’t done anything wrong!”

I was mentally planning my next move. I’d make a scene, maybe push one of the Kapo, and when they turned to beat me, Dawidek could run. Pain was never pleasant, but physical pain could also be an effective distraction from mental anguish, which was the worst kind. Maybe I could even land a punch, and that might feel good. But my brother stepped forward, held his hands up to me and said fiercely, “These are my supervisors, Roman. Just supervisors on the crew. We were just talking.”

My stomach dropped. My heartbeat pounded in my ears and my hands were hot.—I knew my face was flushed raspberry, both with embarrassment and from the adrenaline. After a terse pause that seemed to stretch forever, the Kapo exchanged an amused glance, one patted Dawidek on the back, and they continued down the street, both laughing at me. Dawidek shook his head in frustration.

“Why did you do that? What would you do, even if I was in trouble?”

“I’m sorry,” I admitted, scraping my hand through my hair. “I lost my head.”

“You’re always losing your head,” Dawidek muttered, falling into step beside me, as we began to follow the Kapo back towards our own apartment. “You need to listen to Father. Keep your head down, work hard and hope for the best. You are too smart to keep making such dumb decisions.”

Hearing my little brother echoing his father’s wisdom in the same tone and with the same impatience was always jarring, but in this case, I was dizzy with relief, and so I messed up his hair, and let out a weak laugh.

“For a nine-year-old, you are awfully wise.”

“Wise enough to know that you didn’t get any food for mother.”

“We were too late,” I said, and then I swallowed the lump in my throat. “But she said that we should come back tomorrow. She will set something aside for us.”

“Let’s walk the long way home. The trashcans on Smocza Street are sometimes good.”

We were far from the only family in the ghetto who had run out of resources. We were all starving and any morsel of food was quickly found, even if it was from a trashcan. Still, I was not at all keen to return to our crowded apartment, to face the disappointment in my stepfather’s gaze or to see the starvation in my mother’s. I let Dawidek lead the way, and we walked in silence, broken by his periodic bursts of commentary.

“We picked one up here… Another over there… Mordechai helped me with one there.”

As we turned down a quiet street, I realized that Dawidek’s Kapo supervisors were right in front of us, walking a few dozen feet ahead.

“We should turn around, I don’t want any trouble with those guys,” I muttered. Dawidek shook his head.

“They like me. I work hard and don’t give them any trouble. Now that you have stopped trying to get yourself killed, they won’t bother us, even if they do notice us.”

Just then, the shorter policeman glanced towards the sidewalk on his right, and then he paused. He waved his companion ahead, then withdrew something from his pocket as he crouched low to the ground. —I was far too far away to hear the words he spoke, but I saw the sadness in his gaze. The Kapo then rose and jogged ahead to catch up with his partner. Dawidek and I continued along the street, but only when we drew near where he had stopped did I realize why.

We had been in the ghetto for almost two years. Conditions were bad to begin with, and every new day seemed to bring new trials. I learned to wear blinders—to block out the public pain and suffering of my fellow prisoners. I had walked every block of the ghetto, both the Little Ghetto with its nicer apartments where the elite and artists appeared to live in relative comport, and through the Big Ghetto, where poor families like my own were crammed in, trying to survive at a much higher density. The footbridge on Chłodna Street connected the two and elevated the Ghetto residents above the “Aryan” Poles, and even the Germans, who passed beneath it. The irony of this never failed to amuse me when I crossed. Sometimes, I crossed it just to cheer myself up.

I knew the Ghetto inside and out, and I noticed every detail, even if I had taught myself to ignore what I saw as much as I could. I learned not to react when an elderly man or woman caught my hand as I passed, clawing in the hopes that I could spare them a morsel of food. I learned not to so much as startle if someone was shot in front of my eyes. And most of all, I learned to never look at the face of any unfortunate soul who was prone on the sidewalk. The only way to survive was to remain alert so I had to see it all, but I also had to learn to look right through it. The only way to manage my own broiling fury was to bury it.

But the policeman had drawn my attention to a scene of utter carnage outside of what used to be a clothing store. The store had long ago run out of stock and had been re-purposed as accommodation for several families. The wide front window was now taped over with Hessian sacks for privacy; outside of that window, on the paved sidewalk, a child was lying on her stomach. Alive, but barely.

The Ghetto was teeming with street children. The orphanages were full to bursting which meant that those who weren’t under the care of relatives or kindly strangers were left to their own devices. I saw abandoned children, but I didn’t see them.

I’d have passed right by this child on any other day. I couldn’t even manage to keep my own family safe and well, so it was better to keep walking and spare myself the pain of powerlessness. But I was curious about what the policeman had given the child, and so even as we approached her, I was scanning—looking to see what had caught his attention and to try to figure out what he’d put down on the ground.

Starvation confused the normal growth and development of children, but even so, I guessed she was two or three. She wore the same vacant expression I saw in most children by that stage. Patches of her hair had fallen out, and her naked stomach and legs were swollen. Someone had taken her clothing except for a tattered pair of underwear, and I understood why.

This child would not be alive by morning. Once they became too weak to beg for help, it didn’t take long, and this child was long past that point. Her dull brown eyes were liquid pools of defeat and agony.

My eyes drifted to her hands. One was lying open and empty on the sidewalk beside her, her palm facing upward, as if opening her hands to God. The other was also open, slumped against the sidewalk on the other side of her, but this palm was not empty. Bread. The policeman had pressed a chunk of bread beneath the child’s hand. I stared at the food and even though it was never going to find its way to my lips, my mouth began to water. I was torturing myself, but it was much easier to look at the bread than at the girl’s dull eyes.

Dawidek stood silently beside me. I thought of my mother, and then crouched beside the little girl.

“Hello,” I said, stiff and awkward. The child did not react. I cast my gaze all over her face, taking it in. The sharp cheekbones. The way her eyes seemed too big for her face. The matted hair. Someone had once brushed this little girl’s hair, and probably pulled it into pretty braids. Someone had once bathed this child, and tucked her into bed at night, bending down to whisper in her ear that she was loved and special and wanted.

Now, her lips were dry and cracked, and blood dried into a dirty black scab in the corner of her mouth. My eyes burned, and it took me a moment to realize that I was struggling to hold back tears.

“You should eat the bread,” I urged softly. Her eyes moved, and then she blinked, but then her eyelids fluttered and fell closed. She drew in a breath, but her whole chest rattled, the sound I knew people made just before they died—when they were far too ill to even cough. A tear rolled down my cheek. I closed my eyes, but now, instead of blackness, I saw the little girl’s face.

This was why I learned to wear blinders, because if you got too close to the suffering, it would burn itself into your soul. This little girl was now a part of me, and her pain was part of mine.

Even so, I knew that she could not eat the bread. The policeman’s gesture had been well-meaning, but it had come far too late. If I didn’t take the bread, the next person who passed would. If my time in the ghetto had taught me anything, it was that life might deliver blessings, but each one would have a sting in its tail. God might deliver us fortune, but never without a cost. I would take the bread, and the child would die overnight. But that wouldn’t be the end of the tragedy. In some ways, it was only the beginning.

I wiped my cheeks roughly with the back of my hand, and then before I could allow my conscience to stop me, I reached down and plucked the bread from under the child’s hand, to swiftly hide it my pocket. Then I stood, and forced myself to not look at her again. Dawidek and I began to walk.

“The little ones should be easier. I don’t have to ask the big kids for help lifting them, and they don’t weigh anything at all. They should be easier, shouldn’t they?” Dawidek said, almost philosophically. He sighed heavily, and then added in a voice thick with confusion and pain. “I’ll be able to lift her by myself tomorrow morning, but that won’t make it easier.”

Fortune gave me a job with one of the few factories in the ghetto that was owned by a kindly Jew, rather than some German businessman only wanting to take advantage of slave labor. But this meant that when the Kapo came looking for me at home, to help collect the bodies from the streets before sunrise each day, the only other viable person in our household was my brother.

When Dawidek was first recruited to this hideous role, I wanted to quit my job so that I could relieve him of it. But corpse-collection was unpaid work and my factory job paid me in food—every single day, I sat down to a hot lunch, which meant other members of my family could share my portion of rations. This girl would die overnight, and by dawn, my little brother would have lifted her into the back of a wagon. He and a team of children and teenagers, under the supervision of the Kapo, would drag the wagon to the cemetery, where they would tip the corpses into a pit with dozens of others.

Rage, black and red and violent in its intensity, clouded the edges of my vision and I felt the thunder of the injustice in my blood. But then Dawidek drew a deep breath, and he leaned forward to catch my gaze. He gave me a smile, a brave smile, one that tilted the axis of my world until I felt it chase the rage away.

I had to maintain control. I couldn’t allow my fury to destroy me, because my family was relying on me. Dawidek was relying on me.

“Mother is going to be so excited to have bread,” he said, his big brown eyes lighting up at the thought of pleasing her. “And that means Eleonora will get better milk tomorrow, won’t she?”

“Yes,” I said, my tone as empty as the words themselves. “This bread is a real blessing.”

Social Links

Author website: https://www.kellyrimmer.com/
Facebook: @Kellymrimmer
Twitter: @KelRimmerWrites
Instagram: @kelrimmerwrites

Buy Links

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-warsaw-orphan-a-wwii-novel-9781525811531/9781525895999
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781525895999
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-warsaw-orphan-kelly-rimmer/1137474902?ean=9781525895999
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Warsaw-Orphan-WWII-Novel/dp/1525895990/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=8-1
Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-warsaw-orphan-a-novel/9781525895999-item.html?ikwid=the%20warsaw%20orphan&ikwidx=0&ikwsec=Home#algoliaQueryId=54f840b83a6263bd9392639af45a4d19
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-warsaw-orphan/id1527559308
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=Jkj3DwAAQBAJKobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-warsaw-orphan


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

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

You Will Remember Me

Title:
  You Will Remember Me
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778331814 / 978-0778331810

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:  "Cold."

Favorite Quote:  "That's what sly people do, adjust and pivot seamlessly without anybody noticing what's going on until it's too late. Of course, the cleverest among us never let on we're doing anything in the first place."

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


Review

Jack aka Brad aka Asher wakes up on a beach, not knowing who he is. The beach is in Maryland. He has an accent. A bumper sticker on a trailer triggers recognition and makes him think he should be in Maine. There are two women in his life. Lily in Maryland and Maya in Maine. Lily is Jack's girlfriend, and Maya is Asher's stepsister. The mystery of how and why Asher evolves into Jack is what lies between them.

Jack remembers neither. Both with pictures and stories and emotions try to convince him of their truth. The thing is, one is the truth, and one is wish and a plan to make a wish come true no matter what the cost or the consequence.

Of the three main characters, Asher aka Jack is the least interesting of the characters. I suppose that is in keeping with a character with amnesia who does not know which way is up, what is true, or who to believe. This book is much more the story of two strong women acting out of what each of them considers love. Unfortunately, one is love. The other is something else entirely with devastating consequences. What makes the story even more interesting is that both women have secrets and complicated pasts of their own. The book seamlessly weaves in the backstories into the current events of the book, making a cohesive whole.

Let's start at the end. I love the ending of this book because I do not see it coming. Without that end, the book would not have worked as well. With a limited cast of characters, this book is not a mystery. The villain is not a mystery. The "why" is not a mystery. Both are disturbed, disturbing, and dark but not a mystery. It is all about how twisted the villain can get and how far  it will go.

Let's just say that it goes pretty far! That's what makes this such a fun read. Each time I think the villain cannot go further, the story goes further both in terms of the horrors wrought in the past and in terms of current steps taken. For a book in which the villain is patently clear, the suspense of the story builds with each evolution of how dark will it go.

One jarring note about this book is the small town setting. A small town setting. Multiple disappearances. One or more murders. Everyone knows everyone. How is it that no one has ever before connected the dots as to the common factor between all those events? How is that no one figures it out?

The other jarring note is that Asher evolves into Jack and manages to disappear from his life. The villain's character is well drawn and capable to research, planning, and execution. How is it that Jack managed to remain hidden from her? How was she not able to follow and find him? That fact is not in keeping with the rest of her character

Despite these two notes, the story works. Even at the end, two questions remain, and each speaks to the success of this story. What happened in the past to make the villain the way she is? What happens after? The fact that I vest in the story enough to pose the questions make this a story that works for me. I wonder if a sequel or prequel is coming.

About the Author

Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing, and is now the author of The Neighbors, Her Secret Son, and Sister Dear. She lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.


About the Book

He wakes up on a deserted beach in Maryland, wearing only swim trunks and a gash on his head. He can’t remember who he is. Everything—his identity, his life, his loved ones—has been replaced by a dizzying fog of uncertainty. But returning to his Maine hometown in search of the truth raises more questions than answers.

Lily Reid thinks she knows her boyfriend, Jack. Until he goes missing one night, and her frantic search reveals that he’s been lying to her since they met, desperate to escape a dark past he’d purposely left behind.

Maya Scott has been trying to find her estranged stepbrother, Asher, since he disappeared without a trace. Having him back, missing memory and all, feels like a miracle. But with a mutual history full of devastating secrets, how far will Maya go to ensure she alone takes them to the grave?

Author Q&A

Describe YOU WILL REMEMBER ME in three words or fewer?

Twisted, dark, surprising.

What’s “the story behind the story.” The inspiration for YOU WILL REMEMBER ME. Where were you when the spark came to you?

A few years ago, a man from Toronto vanished from a ski hill in Lake Placid while there on vacation and showed up six days later in Sacramento. He had amnesia and couldn’t remember much, including the cross-country trip he’d made as he’d hitchhiked across the US. Everything worked out for the man in the end and he found his way home, but it made me wonder—what could have gone wrong? That was the genesis for YOU WILL REMEMBER ME.

A while later I had a vivid image in my head—a man waking up on a deserted beach without any recollection of who he was, or what he was doing there. I kept coming back to his story, how he’d arrived on that beach, what he’d do, and how much danger he was in. As I noodled the plot around, I wondered what might happen if he found his way home but had no idea he’d actually left the town years before, and unknowingly walked back into the dragon’s den. That was it. I needed to know what happened next, who was looking for him, and if he’d survive.

What did you have the most fun with, character or plot?

Hmm…both were tricky. Having multiple point-of-view characters (there are three) is always more complex than having one protagonist as you have to develop the character more quickly. I’d also completely underestimated writing a point-of-view character with amnesia. You can’t give them any backstory or memories, nor can you have scene after scene of somebody telling them about their past. YOU WILL REMEMBER ME was a tricky book to write, but it stretched me as an author.

Did the story end the way you’d initially thought?

I had three endings in mind, and when I pitched the book to my editor, I asked her, “How dark can I go?” She said, “As dark as you want.”

Do you have a favorite character?

They were all interesting to write for many different reasons, predominantly because they’re flawed. Maya was probably the most complex, certainly one of the darkest point-of-view characters I’ve ever written. Although Lily is a sunshine girl, she has her secrets, too, which were fun to explore. As for “the man from the beach,” unearthing him was a longer process, and I kept remining myself that because I knew his history, it didn’t mean he could because of the amnesia.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing, if at all?

My novels have definitely become darker–in that sense I’m taking more risks because I’m more confident in my ability to pull it off. With each book my process has also become more streamlined, and, six books in, I feel more in control.

Having said that, self-doubt always, always creeps in, particularly when I’m writing my first “skeleton draft,” which is a first, very loose version nobody will ever see. However, I’ve learned to trust my writing process. If I can get the bones of the story on paper, I’ll add layers and complexity as I go over the novel again and again in preparation for my editor’s eyes. I accept the finer details will come as I work through the story. I’ll figure out plot-holes if I allow myself time to work through them. Just like most people who draw, paint, or write music or books, the first draft will never be my best work. I’m glad I’ve accepted that because it stops me from being overly self-critical when I start a project. I also set myself deadlines and work hard to beat them.

What's your favorite part about writing/being an author? What do you find challenging?

I love the camaraderie of the writing community, it’s like nothing I’ve experienced elsewhere. Authors, readers, agents, publishers—we all love books and it’s truly wonderful. In terms of writing, I love the initial anticipation of starting a new book where everything is open, and the only limit is my imagination. I also adore when I get to the editing part and think, “Yeah, I believe I’ve got something here” — that’s always such a rush.

What is your writing process like?

Very structured, and the more I write, the more I plan. My novels start with an idea—something that pops into my head such as the news story for You Will Remember Me, or a radio segment for Sister Dear—maybe a discussion I overheard. I noodle the thoughts around for a while as the main characters take shape. The next step is to write an outline. I start by jotting down the big picture plot points, which I then use as stepping-stones to build and write the rest of the outline. I fill out personality questionnaires for my main characters to understand them better, and search for photos on the internet to build a gallery I stick on my pin-board. By this point I’m raring to go.

At first, I write a basic manuscript that’s a little over two-thirds of the final word count, then layer and develop until I’m happy calling it a first draft, and send it to my wonderful editor, Emily. That’s when the real editing work begins, which is incredibly exciting because I know the story will become a thousand times better with her expert input.

What was the most unique research you had to do for a book?

That’s such a great question and my dubious search history has definitely got me flagged somewhere. I think the most unique bits so far are how to get rid of an extra body in a graveyard without it being detected, how to muddle a crime scene enough to mess up forensics, how allergy meds can jumble your memory, how a person can die while working under a car, and, more recently, how to hire a hitman on the dark web (for Book 6). Like I said: dubious!

Who or what are your literary influences?

I’ve had a long-standing love-affair with both Lisa Jewell and David Nicholls’s books. I discovered Lisa Jewell’s first novel, Ralph’s Party, at the airport back in 1999, and have all her books. She has a shelf to herself! I adore how she expertly shifted from rom com to family drama to domestic suspense throughout her career, and her stories always pull me in.

A friend gave me David Nicholls’s One Day when it published. I devoured it in a matter of days and ordered all his other books so I could do the same. His characters are so rich, his dialogue perfect, his stories funny yet poignant, he’s an auto-buy author for me and I love his work.

I must also mention Jennifer Hillier. While waiting for my son at our local library I spotted her debut Creep on a shelf. Intrigued by the cover, I picked it up, read the blurb, took it home and couldn’t put it down. It was a turning point in my writing career. When I was younger, I mainly read thrillers, but after a personal tragedy in my early 20s, I could only stomach light-hearted reads. Creep reminded me of my love of thrillers, and I realized the second book I was working on, The Neighbors, was far grittier than my debut (rom com Time After Time). Jennifer’s book gave me that final push I needed to cross over to the dark side. Fun fact: we live in the same town and have become great friends. Jennifer is an inspiration to me and fiercely talented, and I have all her books. I’ll read anything she writes!

Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?

No! Thankfully, my books aren’t true crime. I do sprinkle little details here and there my family would recognize: Superman pajamas, a stuffed toy, mud runs—those kinds of things but otherwise I pull very little from my life. My job is to make things up and it’s a part of the process I thoroughly enjoy.

How are you adjusting to promoting a book during a pandemic? 

I never have to ask, “Does my bum look big in this?” – which is brilliant! In all seriousness, I flipped events online very quickly and I’ve had a blast ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I miss in-person events and can’t wait until we can have them safely again, but the reach with online is so broad, it can’t be underestimated. I adore meeting and chatting with readers and other authors virtually—people who I wouldn’t otherwise get to see. There are no geographical restrictions, either. My mother was disabled, and being able to offer events to people with physical limitations, and who can’t get to an in-person event is so important. Once things return to normal, I do hope we keep the online component.

Another great thing that came out of the pandemic for me is First Chapter Fun. Back in March 2020, when Covid first hit Canada, a group of us were discussing how we could help promote one another and give our books a boost. I half-jokingly offered to read the first chapter of their novels on Facebook and Instagram, and within a few days I had over 40 daily readings lined up and launched First Chapter Fun. I read for 53 days in a row (didn’t think the “must do hair and make-up” thing through very well), introducing viewers to a new novel and author each day.

In May 2020, I teamed up with my partner-in-fictional-crime, powerhouse author Hank Phillippi Ryan. We created a new Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/firstchapterfun and www.instagram.com/firstchapterfun. We read twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday (the days with a “T) on both platforms simultaneously at 12.30 pm ET, and already have readings scheduled until the end of 2021. All the previously aired episodes are saved and can be viewed at leisure. It’s a wonderful community where we share the love of books, and introduce new and/or new-to-you authors twice a week. Our goal is to keep your “to be read” pile completely out-of-control and, or so we’ve been told, we’re succeeding.

The one thing that surprised me the most about the writing industry is how genuine, welcoming, and helpful authors and readers are. This project is a way of paying it forward.

What kind of advice would you give to aspiring thriller READERS?

Try different sub-genres, of which there are many. Perhaps you love police procedurals, or psychological thrillers may fascinate you. Maybe you don’t want something overly graphic, so cozies might be to your taste, or alternatively you could go hard-boiled noir. I think some people have the impression thrillers are all blood, guts and gore, but that’s not the case. There’s something for everyone. Take Jill Orr, author of the Riley Ellison Mystery series. Sure, people die in her books, but her novels are laugh-out-loud funny. She’s a comedic genius.

What are you working on now?

My 6th book is done and in my wonderful editor’s hands. It’s written from the anti-hero’s point-of-view, which I’ve never done before, and is the story of Lucas, who hired a hitman to kill his wife. A month later, Lucas receives a partial photograph of his wife in the mail. Who sent it? What do they know? And, more importantly, what do they want? I can’t wait to introduce you to my characters! In the meantime, I’m plotting and outlining Book 7, but it’s too early to give anything away.

Social Links

Author Website
Twitter: @HannahMMcKinnon
Instagram: @hannahmarymckinnon
Facebook: @HannahMaryMcKinnon
Goodreads

Buy Links

BookShop.org
Harlequin
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s


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