Review: Lemons in the Garden of Love, by Ames Sheridan

About the book Lemons in the Garden of Love

Lemons in the Garden of Love

  • Publisher : She Writes Press (May 11, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 248 pages

It’s 1977 and Cassie Lyman, a graduate student in women’s history, is struggling to find a topic for her doctoral dissertation. When she discovers a trove of drawings, suffrage cartoons, letters, and diaries at Smith College belonging to Kate Easton, founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916, she believes she has located her subject.

Digging deeper into Kate’s life, Cassie learns that she and Kate are related―closely. Driven to understand why her family has never spoken of Kate, Cassie travels to Cape Ann to attend her sister’s shotgun wedding, where she questions her female relatives about Kate―only to find herself soon afterward in the same challenging situation Kate faced.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Ames Sheldon

Ames SheldonAMES SHELDON: was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Wayzata, Minnesota. After graduating from Northrop Collegiate School, she attended Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in English. After graduating, she worked in the legal department of a chemical company, as a reporter at two newspapers, as office manager of a start-up auto salvage business, and eventually as a grant writer and development officer for a variety of nonprofit organizations, ranging from the Sierra Club in San Francisco to the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minneapolis Public Library. She has an M.A. in American Studies and was lead author and associate editor of the groundbreaking Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States (R.R. Bowker, 1979). In the process of working on this monumental reference book, Ames discovered her love of women’s history and of using primary sources for research. Her debut novel, Eleanor’s Wars, won the 2016 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Best New Voice: Fiction. Her second novel, Don’t Put the Boats Away, was published on August 27, 2019, by She Writes Press. Her third novel, Lemons in the Garden of Love, will be published in 2021.

Connect with Ames:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

As a woman who was given my mother’s vintage original copy (then little more than a pamphlet) of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and as a woman who has fought for reproductive rights my entire  adult life (often with my mother beside me) I was eager to read Lemons in the Garden of Love when it was offered to me for review. This, I thought, was a story I could really relate to.

The parallel stories of Cassie, a grad student in the 1970s, and her aunt Kate, several decades earlier, are compelling reading. Both women were intellectually curious, passionate, and trapped in marriages to cold men. Both women found themselves facing a similar challenge. And both women had to deal with family members who were slaves to conservative views of gender roles, at best, and generally dreadful, at worst.

What I loved about this novel, was that you could tell that author Ames Sheldon had a personal investment in the story. Indeed, she is so committed to reproductive rights and  women’s healthcare that fifty percent of the proceeds from this novel are being donated to Planned Parenthood. That’s an amazing legacy, but so is this novel, which captures the very different experiences of women in the earlier and more recent twentieth century. As well, I really appreciated the technical knowledge that Sheldon included in her story, like how to make your own diaphragm from liquid latex and a darning ring, as many of our great-grandmothers had to do.

Beyond the technical detail, however, I liked how distinctive the two main characters’ voices were. Cassie is very much a contemporary woman, even if the seventies are considered “historical” now (as someone born in 1970 I have difficulty with that), and Kate’s words in her journals are stiffer, and more formal, really cementing her in the early twentieth century.

Overall, I feel Lemons in the Garden of Love is an important read. We must know where we came from as we face an increasingly autocratic future. We must take care not to repeat the worst parts of our history, and honor the best. Most importantly, we must continue to tell our stories, our mothers’ and grandmothers’ stories, and those of our sisters in spirit.

Goes well with grilled chicken, asparagus, and sauteed mushrooms.

 

Spotlight: The Takeaway Men, by Meryl Ain

BNR The Takeaway Men

 

About the book, The Takeaway Men

  • Publisher: SparkPress
  • Pub Date: August 4th, 2020
  • Pages: 265 pages
  • Categories: Historical / Jewish Literature / Sibling Fiction / Holocaust

Cover Med Res Takeaway MenWith the cloud of the Holocaust still looming over them, twin sisters Bronka and Johanna Lubinski and their parents arrive in the US from a Displaced Persons Camp. In the years after World War II, they experience the difficulties of adjusting to American culture as well as the burgeoning fear of the Cold War.

Years later, the discovery of a former Nazi hiding in their community brings the Holocaust out of the shadows. As the girls get older, they start to wonder about their parents’ pasts, and they begin to demand answers. But it soon becomes clear that those memories will be more difficult and painful to uncover than they could have anticipated.

Poignant and haunting, The Takeaway Men explores the impact of immigration, identity, prejudice, secrets, and lies on parents and children in mid-twentieth-century America

Praise for this book:

“At a time when the darkness of the Holocaust is being whitewashed, Meryl Ain’s remarkable debut novel illuminates the postwar Jewish American landscape like a truth-seeking torch. An emotionally rich and lovingly told saga of survivors, with great sensitivity to what was lost, buried, and resurrected.” Thane Rosenbaum, author of The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, and Elijah Visible.

“The author’s tale is sensitively composed, a thoughtful exploration into the perennially thorny issues of religious identity, assimilation, and the legacy of suffering.” Kirkus Reviews

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About the author, Meryl Ain

Author Photo AinMeryl Ain’s articles and essays have appeared in Huffington Post, The New York Jewish Week, The New York Times, Newsday and other publications. In 2014, she co-authored the award-winning book, The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last, and in 2016, wrote a companion workbook, My Living Memories Project Journal.  She is a sought-after speaker and has been interviewed on television, radio, and podcasts. She is a career educator and is proud to be both a teacher and student of history. She has also worked as a school administrator.

The Takeaway Men is the result of her life-long quest to learn more about the Holocaust, a thirst that was first triggered by reading The Diary of Anne Frank in the sixth grade. While teaching high school history, she introduced her students to the study of the Holocaust. At the same time, she also developed an enduring fascination with teaching about and researching the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case. An interview with Robert Meeropol, the younger son of the Rosenbergs, is featured in her book, The Living Memories Project. The book also includes an interview with Holocaust survivor, Boris Chartan, the founder of the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, New York.

Meryl holds a BA from Queens College, an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an Ed.D. from Hofstra University. She is a lifetime member of Hadassah and an active supporter of UJA-Federation of New York.  She lives in New York with her husband, Stewart. They have three married sons and six grandchildren. This is her first novel.

Connect with Meryl:

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Review: Low Water Crossing, by Dana Glossbrenner

BNR Low Water Crossing

About the book, Low Water Crossing

  • Genre: Literary Fiction / Family Saga
  • Series: Sulfur Gap, book two
  • Independently published
  • Date of Publication: July 19, 2020
  • Number of Pages: 476
  • Scroll down for the giveaway!

Low Water CrossingLow Water Crossing is a tribute to those who endure heartache and nevertheless celebrate, to those who wait—and live full lives while waiting.

A backhoe unearths a human skeleton buried on Wayne Cheadham’s West Texas ranch. The investigation points a grisly finger at Wayne’s first wife. And so begins the wild ride through twenty-five years of love and heartbreak.

Wayne’s a highly eligible bachelor who runs into trouble, first because he’s naïve, and next because, well, life is unpredictable. He’s a loveable guy with a peaceful outlook. Just about anyone wants the best for him, dang it. To cope with sadness, he arranges for an old steel-girded bridge to be placed in the dry pasture in front of his house. Says it helps him adjust his perspective. Others say it’s the world’s largest yard ornament. He takes in stray emus and abandoned horses and becomes a mentor to a loveable little boy without much family. He sits and ponders his plight at a low-water crossing over the creek.

A cast of characters from the fictional small West Texas town of Sulfur Gap—the staff of a high school burger shop hangout on the Interstate, coffee groups at the Navaho Café, hair stylists from the Wild Hare, a local sheriff and his deputies, and the band at the local honky-tonk—knits together the community surrounding Wayne, and all bring their own quirks. People you’d find anywhere, some with thicker Texas twangs than others.

The town, the ranch, and familiar Texas cities such as San Angelo, Abilene, and Austin provide a backdrop for universal themes of love, grief, and loyalty.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Dana Glossbrenner

Dana GlossbrennerDana Glossbrenner has lived in West Texas all her life. She is the author of Women Behind Stained Glass: West Texas Pioneers (non-fiction) and The Lark: Book 1 of the Sulfur Gap Series.

Connect with Dana:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

While I have not read the first book in Dana Glossbrenner’s Sulfer Gap series, I had no problem jumping into the power and the poignance of Low Water Crossing.

Opening with a first-person narration by Wayne Cheadham, the pivot point around which this whole novel revolves, this story is told in sections, which are then subdivided into chapters, each one depicting a significant moment in that character’s life. Wayne is in every “book” but the three pov characters, Lucy, Cynthia, and Lou, are the three women in his life, their stories told sequentially, chronologically, beginning soon before he entered their spheres.

It’s a structure that means we are a bit distanced from Wayne as we only hear his thoughts during interludes, but it’s also a structure that shows us his character through the eyes of these women. Lucy, his first love, who is just seventeen to his twenty when they meet and marry, is also mentioned throughout the novel, and in many ways it is her story that sets the pace and tone for the others. Cynthia comes next, and it’s through her eyes that we see Wayne come into his own as a man, and as a father. And finally there is Lou, who brings joy back into his life.

But that description makes it seem like this book is a romance, and while there are romantic entanglements, it’s really a broader story, a profoundly human story of love and loss, personal trauma and personal growth, making peace with time and circumstance, and making choices about what one wants vs. what one needs, and finding a balance between the two.

Author Dana Glossbrenner is deft with dialogue and rather sparing with description, giving us just enough detail to let our imaginations fill in the blanks. Her writing has a lyrical quality – simple language about complicated people – that makes you feel the wind in your hair even as you’re wanting to reach out and (alternately) give a character a good shaking or a comforting pat on the back.

Two images in this novel that I found quite profound are the bridge that Wayne had set on his property, so he could go and sit or stand on it and find new perspective, and the low water crossing of the title, which doesn’t refer to low water, but a low place where you might encounter water you must cross. It’s the latter I felt was especially metaphoric, as we have all come to low places in our lives where the only way out was through, but it felt like rushing water was making the journey more difficult.

Over all, this was a satisfying read, one I found myself truly immersed in, and while it isn’t entirely happy, it is both hopeful and full of the kinds of organic humorous moments that come from life.

Goes well with steak salad and iced tea.


Giveaway

TWO WINNERS: 1st winner gets signed copies of both books in the Sulfur Gap Series; 2nd winner gets a signed copy of Low Water Crossing.

 October 6-16 , 2020

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10/6/20 Review Reading by Moonlight
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10/8/20 Playlist The Adventures of a Travelers Wife
10/9/20 Review Bibliotica
10/10/20 Deleted Scene All the Ups and Downs
10/11/20 Author Interview The Page Unbound
10/12/20 Review Chapter Break Book Blog
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10/14/20 Review StoreyBook Reviews
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Review: The Ancestor, by Lee Matthew Goldberg

About the Book, The Ancestor

The Ancestor• Paperback: 348 pages
• Publisher: All Due Respect (August 20, 2020)

A man wakes up in present-day Alaskan wilderness with no idea who he is, nothing on him save an empty journal with the date 1898 and a mirror. He sees another man hunting nearby, astounded that they look exactly alike except for his own beard. After following this other man home, he witnesses a wife and child that brings forth a rush of memories of his own wife and child, except he’s certain they do not exist in modern times—but from his life in the late 1800s.

After recalling his name is Wyatt, he worms his way into his doppelganger Travis Barlow’s life. Memories become unearthed the more time he spends, making him believe that he’d been frozen after coming to Alaska during the Gold Rush and that Travis is his great-great grandson. Wyatt is certain gold still exists in the area and finding it with Travis will ingratiate himself to the family, especially with Travis’s wife Callie, once Wyatt falls in love. This turns into a dangerous obsession affecting the Barlows and everyone in their small town, since Wyatt can’t be tamed until he also discovers the meaning of why he was able to be preserved on ice for over a century.

A meditation on love lost and unfulfilled dreams, The Ancestor is a thrilling page-turner in present day Alaska and a historical adventure about the perilous Gold Rush expeditions where prospectors left behind their lives for the promise of hope and a better future.

The question remains whether it was all worth the sacrifice…

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Down & Out Books | Goodreads


About the author, Lee Matthew Goldberg

Lee Matthew GoldbergLee Matthew Goldberg is the author of THE DESIRE CARD, SLOW DOWN and THE MENTOR from St. Martin’s Press. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the 2018 Prix du Polar. The second novel in The Desire Card series, PREY NO MORE, is forthcoming. THE ANCESTOR will be out from All Due Respect books in 2020 along with a reissue of his debut novel. His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in the anthology DIRTY BOULEVARD, The Millions, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, Essays & Fictions, The New Plains Review, and others. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series(guerrillalit.wordpress.com). He lives in New York City.

Connect with Lee:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellThe Ancestor is one of those novels that isn’t easily categorized. It’s sort of a fantasy, in that one of the main characters is introduced to us when he wakes up after being frozen into the Alaskan ice for the better part of a century, but it turns into a thriller/suspense novel once he encounters Travis Barlow and decides they must be related, and that Barlow’s family is the key to his own identity and purpose. More than any of these, though, the language and imagery in this novel elevate it to literary fiction.

Lee Matthew Goldberg grabbed me by the scruff of my neck from the very first chapter, when Wyatt, cold, hungry, confused, still manages to kill, skin, and eat a wolf with little more than his bare hands and sheer determination. This, however, is just one of many visceral scenes that really make it seem as though we readers have stepped into the Alaskan wilderness (without appropriate gear) and must survive.

The juxtaposition of Wyatt’s needy desperation with Travis’s cozy (but realistically imperfect) family life, really kept me hooked, and the interconnected relationships of the Barlows, Wyatt, Travis friend Gray, and the rest of the population of the funky frontier town (well, it FEELS like a frontier town) grounded the story with the sense of place and time that the main character lacked.

Goldberg excels at descriptions, of people and places, and at times I had to check my city-girl squeamishness. At the same time, his depiction of gold rush culture took me back to my childhood in the mountains of Colorado, where panning for gold has become a tourist attraction near more than one Rocky Mountain creek.

Overall, I found this both fascinating and compelling. Perhaps because I read it very quickly, I felt like I experienced a lot of the action with the characters, but I recommend The Ancestor to anyone who likes their adventure tales married to searches for identity, and no small amount of soul.

Goes well with: a stew made of game meat – venison or caribou – and a strong red table wine.


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Review: The Road to Delano, by John DeSimone

With apologies, this was supposed to post yesterday, and something went wrong with WordPress, so I’ve posted it today, April 7.

About the book The Road to Delano

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Rare Bird Books (March 10, 2020)

The-Road-to-Delano-coverJack Duncan is a high school senior whose dream is to play baseball in college and beyond?as far away from Delano as possible. He longs to escape the political turmoil surrounding the labor struggles of the striking fieldworkers that infests his small ag town. Ever since his father, a grape grower, died under suspicious circumstances ten years earlier, he’s had to be the sole emotional support of his mother, who has kept secrets from him about his father’s involvement in the ongoing labor strife.

With their property on the verge of a tax sale, Jack drives an old combine into town to sell it so he and his mother don’t become homeless. On the road, an old friend of his father’s shows up and hands him the police report indicating Jack’s father was murdered. Jack is compelled to dig deep to discover the entire truth, which throws him into the heart of the corruption endemic in the Central Valley. Everything he has dreamed of is at stake if he can’t control his impulse for revenge.

While Jack’s girlfriend, the intelligent and articulate Ella, warns him not to so anything to jeopardize their plans of moving to L.A., after graduation, Jack turns to his best friend, Adrian, a star player on the team, to help to save his mother’s land. When Jack’s efforts to rescue a stolen piece of farm equipment leaves Adrian?the son of a boycotting fieldworker who works closely with Cesar Chavez?in a catastrophic situation, Jack must bail his friend out of his dilemma before it ruins his future prospects. Jack uses his wits, his acumen at card playing, and his boldness to raise the money to spring his friend, who has been transformed by his jail experience.

The Road to Delano is the path Jack, Ella, and Adrian must take to find their strength, their duty, their destiny.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Rare Bird Books | Goodreads


About the author, John DeSimone

John-DeSimone-APJohn DeSimone is a published writer, novelist, and teacher. He’s been an adjunct professor and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. His recent co-authored books include Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan (Little A Publishers), and Courage to Say No by Dr. Raana Mahmood, about her struggles against sexual exploitation as a female physician in Karachi. His published novel Leonardo’s Chair published in 2005.

In 2012, he won a prestigious Norman Mailer Fellowship to complete his most recent historical novel, Road to Delano. His novels Leonardo’s Chair and No Ordinary Man have received critical recognition.

He works with select clients to write stories of inspiration and determination and with those who have a vital message to bring to the marketplace of ideas in well-written books.

Connect with John:

Find out more about John at his website, and connect with him on Instagram.


My Thoughts

MissMeliss2020The Road to Delano is novel, but it’s based in truth even if the characters aren’t all based on specific real people, and John DeSimone has written that truth in a way that is vivid and cinematic, while still being emotionally real.

While I’m not a lifelong Californian like the author, I did spend my teen years in the San Joaquin valley, in Modesto and Fresno, and while those years were in the 80s, not the 60s, I remember all too well the news coverage of Cesar Chavez’s last hunger strike – the one that was contemporary to my life – as well as picket lines at grocery stores. To this day, I feel guilty whenever I buy grapes.

It is for that reason that this novel gripped me so much. I knew the vagaries of the United Farm Workers’ battle for basic rights and fair work conditions, but I didn’t have a real connection to it. This book gave me that. It gave me context. It gave me a better sense of the history of central California. And, by framing the story as a novel, it also gave me just enough distance that I didn’t have to clench my fists, or walk away from the text and cool down before going back.

As the daughter of activist parents (my parents formed the Amnesty International chapter in Modesto when I was twelve or thirteen), I really appreciated some of the cultural touchstones that DeSimone worked into his story. As someone who grew up with Joan Baez’s music (my Mom was a fan) and later got to meet her (she came for a benefit and slept in a sleeping bag on our floor!) the scene with her singing “Blowin’ in the Wind”  – even though it wasn’t a scene of terrible importance to the plot – really made me feel like I was in the book, and not just reading it.

That was made easier because of DeSimone’s deft use of dialogue. (I hadn’t realized the word “bitchin'” was quite that old – I thought it was from my generation). Similarly, his characters, especially Jack, Adrian, and Ella – but also the growers, the families, the other members of Jack and Adrian’s baseball team – were dimensional. These were not real people, but they easily could have been, and they certainly felt real.

If you’ve ever heard the name “Cesar Chavez” and wanted to know the context of his fight, if you’ve ever seen people protesting the sale of grapes, if you’ve ever heard the song “Deportee,” or even if you’re just vaguely familiar with the plight of farm workers in America you will find value in this novel. But even if you’re just picking it up because it seems interesting, it is a worthy read, and an important story.

Goes well with beer and tacos. Because I needed both after finishing this novel.


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Tuesday, March 10th: Instagram: @jenabrownwrites

Wednesday, March 11th: Run Wright

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Thursday, March 19th: Girl Who Reads

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Review: A Friend in Deed, by G.D. Harper – with Giveaway for UK Residents

A Friend In Deed

About the Book, A Friend in Deed

 

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Troubador Publishing (October 18, 2018)
  • Language: English
  • Scroll Down for Giveaway

A Friend In Deed CoverBritain: a few years from now. A new populist political party has won the recent general election.

Duncan Jones, freelance political journalist and blogger, loses his weekly column at a national newspaper and turns to investigative reporting. The chance remark of a friend leads him to suspect that the Russians are directing the new British government’s policies and decisions. As he visits Moscow and Ukraine to discover more, scandal follows intrigue, dark forces attempt to silence him by whatever means possible and he turns to an unlikely ally for help.

A Friend in Deed is a fast-paced psychological thriller set in an all-too-believable near future. It is also the story of how one man confronts the traumas in his past and works out how to resolve them.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Goodreads


About the Author, G.D. Harper

I was placed third in the 2015 Lightship Prize for first-time authors, won a 2016 Wishing Shelf Award Red Ribbon, been shortlisted at the UK Festival of Writing for Best First Chapter, longlisted in the 2017 UK Novel Writing Competition.

In 2017, I was one of twelve authors selected for Authors in the Spotlight at the Bloody Scotland book festival in Stirling, showcasing who they considered to be the best emerging talent in crime fiction, and was the only self-published author to be chosen. I have spoken at numerous other book events, including Blackwells’ Writers at the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; a stand-alone slot at the Byres Road Book Festival in Glasgow, and the Aye Write! Book Festival, also in Glasgow.

I worked in Russia and Ukraine for ten years, which gave me the ideas for the plot and setting that I used in A Friend in Deed.

Connect with G.D.

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

melysse2019.jpgx100A Friend in Deed is set “a few years from now” but it’s eerily close to what we see happening in both the U.S. and the U.K. with the shifts in politics and the way the media is being manipulated.

In this novel, Duncan Jones, aka political blogger Richard Foxe, and novelist Mark Jackson is a middle-aged journalist finding himself a victim of the fading of print media when two things happen at once: his paper downsizes him, basically requiring that every story be a “scoop,” and he meets Tanya, a younger-than-he-is (but not scandalously young) woman from Ukraine.

From this simple setup comes a novel that grips you and doesn’t let go. Duncan is the perfect everyman. He isn’t a hero, he just wants the truth, even if that truth comes with a risk. And risk there is. Part spy novel, replete with an introverted tech genius, and part psychological thriller – are the connections Duncan is making too good to be true? Does his past really inform his present and future? – we follow Mr. Jones down the darkened paths of London, Moscow, and the internet in his attempt to write the perfect political expose and also conquer his inner demons.

I loved the pop culture elements that author Harper included in this novel, from the opening, with Jones staring (and being stared at) by a portrait of Peter Capaldi, to the references to Tanya eventually (maybe) appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. I liked that Jones experienced real fear and trepidation about involving his friends in his… adventures… and I really appreciated the use of the character Nigel to explain the ins and outs of contemporary (ish) hacking and internet security.

One nuance I really appreciated is that Harper writes really good friendships between men and women. Sure, there’s some flirting, but it’s meant in fun. It’s clear that Harper respects his characters and his readers, but that particular bit of craft really mattered to me.

Overall, this is a compelling story that is both an entertaining read and a warning to all of us to be informed citizens of our respective nations.

Goes well with: fish and chips and a microbrew beer.


Giveaway

Giveaway to Win all 3 paperbacks of GD Harper’s Psychological Fiction Trilogy (Open UK Only)

  • Prize features all three books, Love’s Long Road, Silent Money and A Friend in Deed

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Review: Emerald City, by Brian Birnbaum

EmeraldCityAbout the book, Emerald City

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Dead Rabbits LLC (September 6, 2019)
  • Language: English

 

Set in Seattle, Emerald City follows Benison Behrenreich, the hearing son of deaf royalty. His father, CEO of a multimillion-dollar deaf access agency, has bribed Myriadal College officials for Benison’s spot on their powerhouse basketball team, where he struggles to prove himself and compensate for his father’s sins.

Julia Paolantonio has recently lost her father to a drug relapse. Her mother ships her off to live with her estranged granddad, Johnny Raciti, during the summer before her freshman year at Myriadal. Johnny offers her a deal: bring him Peter Fosch – tormented college dropout and the best drug runner west of the Cascades – and he’ll give Julia’s freshly widowed mother a board seat on his mobbed-up securities firm.

When Benison’s father is arrested for defrauding government subsidies for the deaf, the Behrenreichs are left vulnerable to his company’s ruthless backers – namely Johnny Raciti – forcing Julia and Peter to navigate the minefield left in the aftermath.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Goodreads


Brian BirnbaumAbout the author, Brian Birnbaum

Brian Birnbaum received his MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College in 2015. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, The Smart Set, Potluck Magazine, LUMINA, 3AM Magazine, The Collagist, Anti-Heroin Chic, and more. His debut novel, Emerald City, is forthcoming in 2019 with Dead Rabbits, whose NYC reading series is spinning off into a literary press funded by a former Amazon dev manager. He also hosts the Dead Rabbits Podcast. Brian is an only Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), and works in development for his father’s deaf access company.

Connect with Brian:

Website | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

Every so often you encounter a book that just blows you away. For me, this summer (September is still summer), Emerald City is that book. Sure, the description sounds like any number of other books – Seattle, crime syndicate, family drama – these are common pieces – but Brian Birnbaum moves them distinctly uncommon ways.

First, there’s his use of language. It’s gritty, it’s present, it’s very, very real. I felt like his characters were people I would have run into on buses, in bistros, or in board rooms, as the situation might require. Then there are his characters, Julia, Johnny, and especially Benison. These characters aren’t merely dimensional, they practically leap off the page and get in your face, demanding that you listen to their stories.

And let’s not forget to talk about the Deaf culture that’s woven through the story. At no time does this addition feel like a ploy to make Emerald City unique or noticeable; rather, it’s completely organic, both incidental and important (yes, it’s possible to be both).

Reading this novel, I often felt like I had to pause and catch my breath, but I loved feeling that way, because it meant I was immersed in the story. I cannot wait to read Birnbaum’s next creation, and I foresee a long and successful career.

Goes well with a rare steak, twice-baked potatoes, and a Jameson & Ginger with a twist of lime.

 

 

 

Review: The Hollow Middle by John Popielaski

The-Hollow-Middle-coverAbout the book, The Hollow Middle

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Unsolicited Press (December 4, 2018)

The Hollow Middle follows Albert Lesiak, an aging English teacher in Connecticut, who receives a windfall in delayed acknowledgment of the government’s complicity in his father’s cancer death and decides that it is time to live a different life on land he owns in Maine.

When his wife Mary suggests that they could foster or adopt autistic twin boys she fell in love with on a website and could use the stipend money in furtherance of Albert’s vision, Albert gradually perceives himself as possibly adapting to the role of patriarch.

A meditation on the curiosity of making sense and the dilemma of becoming true, The Hollow Middle ambles, mostly, and goes still for periods of various duration, acting like it’s not beholden after all to the rhetorical.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Unsolicited Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


JohnPopielaski-Bio-PictureAbout the author, John Popielaski

John Popielaski is the author of several poetry collections, including, most recently, Isn’t It Romantic? which won the Robert Phillips Chapbook Award from Texas Review Press. The Hollow Middle is his first novel.

Connect with John:

Find out more about John on his website, and follow him on Facebook.


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellThe Hollow Middle is not a fast read. In fact, it’s mindfully, even meditatively slow. It’s the kind of novel you read a few chapters of over a mug – or several – of tea, take time to digest them, and then go back for more. This is not a bad thing. In fact, the stillness of this book is an asset, because it means you really get to know the protagonist, Albert Lesiak.

In the initial chapters, Albert comes off as both prickly and kind of pompous. He’s detached from the world, an observer, rather than a real participant. You get the sense that things like sticky fingers would offend his sensibilities.

Despite this, he’s not a shallow character. He’s clearly leading an examined life and made decisions based on his perceived results.

And then everything changes.

But within that change, Albert remains surprisingly constant. His wife, Mary, serves as both chorus and director at different times, suggesting changes (adopting two boys being the biggest one) and then sitting back while Albert plays with all the angles and finds his own peace in the decision.

As I said, it’s a slow novel, almost more of a character study than anything else, and yet, it’s also compelling.

Author John Popielaski uses language with a combination of eloquence and economy of phrase that is refreshing to read. I found myself repeating sentences out loud because I was drawn to their rhythm. The characters feel like real – if slightly eccentric – people, and the situation is an interesting consideration of how we do or don’t change when we suddenly have the money to do whatever we want.

Goes well with: hot tea and shortbread cookies.


Tour Stops TLC BOOK TOURS

Wednesday, January 2nd: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 3rd: Life By Kristen

Friday, January 4th: she treads softly

Monday, January 7th: A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, January 8th: Lit and Life

Wednesday, January 9th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog

Thursday, January 10th: Instagram: @bookwormmommyof3

Tuesday, January 15th: Literary Quicksand

Wednesday, January 16th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, January 17th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, January 17th: Broken Teepee

Monday, January 21st: Jessicamap Reviews

Wednesday, January 23rd: Girl Who Reads

Review: Hiddensee, by Gregory Maguire

Hiddensee, by Gregory MaguireAbout the book, Hiddensee

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (October 31, 2017)

From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.

Buy, read, and discuss Hiddensee:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gregory Maguire Gregory-Maguire-AP-2017-Photo-credit-Andy-Newman

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly StepsisterLostMirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes WickedSon of a WitchA Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Connect with Gregory:

Website | Facebook


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I’ve been a fan of The Nutcracker in all its variations since a family friend gifted me with a copy of the book A Very Young Dancer when I was five. Forty-two years later, I still can’t get enough of it. The Tchaikovsky music is ever present in my iTunes playlist, and I spend the month of December watching every single production of the ballet that makes it to cable. (Ovation‘s annual ‘Battle of the Nutcrackers’ is a favorite event.) Somewhere in a box, I even have a wooden nutcracker doll, sent to me by my oldest auntie, when she and her husband were stationed in Ramstein, Germany in the 1970s.

My point is, The Nutcracker is part of my DNA, and the reason I was initially drawn to read and review this book, Hiddensee.

The thing is, Gregory Maguire’s novel has no resemblance to the story we all love. At first, that was disappointing. I was looking forward to an in-depth look at the Nutcracker-Prince’s story. I was hoping for the unresolved sexual tension between Herr Drosselmeier and Klara (known as Marie in some versions of the story) to be resolved.

That is not what Hiddensee is.

Instead, Maguire’s novel is the origin story of Dirk Drosselmeier, the boy who grows up to become the toymaker who creates the famous doll.

In terms of style and craft, Hiddensee is excellent. Maguire has a way of using simple language to create vivid scenes, evoke real emotion, and immerse us in whatever world he’s choosing to inhabit. In this novel, he recreated the tone of all those early E.T.A. Hoffman (who wrote the original Nutcracker fairy tale) and the Brothers Grimm, mixing in more than a little German romanticism. If you’ve ever read Rilke or Goethe, you will be extremely comfortable with Hiddensee, because it has that faintly dreamlike quality those two poets used to great effect.

In terms of story, I was a little disappointed. Oh, I was invested in young Dirk as a character, but I was expecting a Nutcracker story, not a coming-of-age story about a young man. As well, I found that this novel lacked Maguire’s typically excellent pacing, having a start-and-stop effect that I found a bit off-putting.

Perhaps my perception was colored by expectation, or perhaps in the twenty years since Maguire gave us Wicked (and I was an early reader of that novel), he’s lost sight of his goals, because I’m honestly not entirely sure what story he was trying to tell. Dirk is an interesting young man, but there was an air of detachment about him – almost as if he was on the Asperger’s spectrum – that kept me slightly disconnected from his story.

Then, too, there was the fact that every time the story started to rev up, it seemed to stall.

Don’t get me wrong, an ‘average’ offering from Maguire is still more engaging than any offering from a host of other authors, and there was much about this story to love – introductions to German philosophy included – but if you’re going into it expecting it to be a rehashing of the ballet or the fairy tale, you will be disappointed.

Bottom line: read this without the ballet goggles and you’ll find much to enjoy.

Goes well with chestnut pastries and strong coffee.


Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 31st: BookExpression

Wednesday, November 1st: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, November 2nd: Man of La Book

Friday, November 3rd: The Desert Bibliophile

Monday, November 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, November 7th: The Sketchy Reader

Wednesday, November 8th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Wednesday, November 8th: Reading Reality

Thursday, November 9th: Broken Teepee

Friday, November 10th: Literary Quicksand

Monday, November 13th: Sara the Introvert

Tuesday, November 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, November 15th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick

Friday, November 17th: Based on a True Story

Review: Rarity from the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton

About the book, Rarity from the Hollow Rarity from the Hollow

 

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Dog Horn Publishing; 2nd Revised edition edition (November 3, 2016)

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out,and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage — an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It’s up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.

Will Lacy’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy,comedy and satire. It is a children’s story for adults, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended.

Praise for Rarity from the Hollow:

“The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in years.” —Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former editor for Reader’s Digest

“Quirky, profane, disturbing… In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.” –Evelyn Somers, The Missouri Review

. “…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse…tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…profound…a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” — Awesome Indies (Gold Medal)

“…sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…a brilliant writer.” —Readers’ Favorite (Gold Medal)

“Rarity from the Hollow is an original and interesting story of a backwoods girl who saves the Universe in her fashion. Not for the prudish.” —Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author

“…Good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” — The Baryon Review 

“…Brilliant satires such as this are genius works of literature in the same class as Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’ I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.” — Marcha’s Two-Cents Worth

“…I know this all sounds pretty whack, and it is, but it’s also quite moving. Lacy Dawn and her supporting cast – even Brownie, the dog – are some of the most engaging characters I’ve run across in a novel in some time….”  — Danehy-Oakes, Critic whose book reviews often appear in the New York Review of Science Fiction

“… The author gives us much pause for thought as we read this uniquely crafted story about some real life situations handled in very unorthodox ways filled with humor, sarcasm, heartfelt situations and fun.” — Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ Magazine

Buy, read, and discuss Rarity from the Hollow:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Robert Eggleton

Robert EggletonRobert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from1982 through 1997.

Today, he is a retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Author proceeds support the prevention of child maltreatment. http://www.childhswv.org/

Connect with Robert:

Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI first read Rarity from the Hollow two years ago, when the author, Robert Eggleton contacted me and asked me to consider it. It seemed interesting, edgy and different, so I took a chance, and was immediately hooked on his concept and his story. I was supposed to review it then, life got in the way, and it was a year (and a revised edition) later before I wrote a review. Somehow, that review got eaten by WordPress, and after far too much patience on Mr. Eggleton’s part, I’ve rewritten it and am posting it now.

Described as a ‘fairy tale for adults,’ this novel looks at PTSD, poverty, child sexual abuse and child murder – any one of which could be considered a trigger for most readers – wraps them in literary science fiction, and gives us a protagonist in Lacy Dawn (who is also the primary POV character) who is sensitive, spunky, inquisitive, and manages to contain within herself a combination of too much awareness and childish innocence that should not work, but strangely does.

Calling this novel a fairy tale or science fiction, while accurate, is also limiting, because it’s so much more than both. Parts of this story are quite tragic – when we first meet Lacy Dawn, she is coaching her best friend Faith on a spelling test, her father is abusive and her mother is battered in both body and spirit. Within a few chapters, Faith has been killed, but her spirit lingers and her relationship with Lacy Dawn does as well, but then, our heroine also talks to trees, understands her dog Brownie, and has an android boyfriend named DotCom who is also recruiting her for a business venture (no, nothing salacious).

(As an aside, DotCom is my favorite of the supporting characters – but that’s probably because of my decades old crush on Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

In many ways, Rarity from the Hollow feels like a coming-of-age novel for adults. As we experience the end of true childhood and the beginning of adolescence with Lacy Dawn, we also confront the leftover issues from our own childhoods – our relationships with our friends and families, our own choices about sex and love and when to act on each, how we handled college and our first careers.

Unlike Lacy Dawn, we don’t have magical abilities or help from androids from other planets. We have to muddle through our lives in a world that is increasingly dangerous and frightening, but novels like Rarity from the Hollow give us the ability to engage in self-reflection while living vicariously through fictional characters. Author Eggleton has couched some very important truths in a story that is equal parts entertaining and provocative.

Not to be overlooked are some truly comic moments. DotCom’s anatomy changes as he moves toward an adult relationship and there’s a creative use of a laptop and the inner wish that perhaps he should have worn clothes that is described in a way worthy of a Monty Python sketch.

If you enjoyed Piers Anthony’s Mode series (which I haven’t read in over twenty years), or are a fan of the work of Douglas Adams (Not just The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m addressing those who like Dirk Gently, also.) you will likely enjoy Rarity from the Hollow, because Robert Eggleton excels at mixing the absurd and nearly preposterous with the incredibly real. However, even if you’re not a fan of those authors, I still recommend this novel. It’s sharply written, well crafted, genre-defying, and totally worth the time spent reading it.

Goes well with anything you enjoy, but I’d recommend Mexican street tacos – the kind where you get a kilo of grilled steak and a stack of tortillas and fill them yourself – and a bottle of Indio or Negra Modelo beer.