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Monday, July 15, 2019

Interview with Meghan Holloway, Author of Once More Unto the Breach

I am so very pleased to have Meghan Holloway, author of "Once More Unto the Breach" here on A Bookish Affair today. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and you can check out my review here!

What was the inspiration behind "Once More Unto the Breach?"

I love the World War era. That entire first half of the 20th century speaks to me. I grew up hearing my grandparents’ stories of the Second World War. I had a number of great uncles who were in the European theatre. Each one came home, but each one returned so marked from his experiences. It was such a period of tumult and horror on a global scale that had never been seen before, and it was met with this incredible tenacity and courage. There is a reason that generation is called the Greatest Generation. This period shaped entire generations in their art, literature, philosophy, politics, everything. The World Wars had such an influence on society, and we still feel that influence today. That period of history is close enough to still feel very real to a modern audience, and it is such rich, rich fodder for the intensely human story. 

I have always wanted to write a tale set in the era, and when the character of Rhys came to me, I knew this story of love, family, home, and the regrets we carry with us was one I needed to tell.

What is the strangest or most interesting thing you found out in your book?

I think one of the most interesting things I learned about writing while working on ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is the challenge of creating a seamless balance between story and rich historical detail fleshed out through research. I found it easy to get carried away with including every fascinating tidbit I found related to the period, and I had to be mindful of adding detail only as it related to the plot and furthered the tale. For example, try as I might, there was no way for me to include details about the slugs used in WWI to detect mustard gas. That might have been the strangest historical detail I discovered, and, while fascinating, it would not have served the story in any way. There is a difference between rich detail and enriching detail, and it is a fine line to walk, particularly with a historical setting.

What do you want readers to know before they read your book?

I think regardless of the era or setting in which I write, I am always exploring the human condition, the labyrinth of the mind, and the grittier side of our existence. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is a tale of war and loss, but also one of family and hope. It is about the love we have for those closest to us, the ease with which we can wound the people we care for the most, and the lengths to which we will go to seek atonement. 

I would also like readers to know how much I appreciate their willingness to spend their hard-earned money and valuable time on my story. I would like to thank readers for joining me on the journey Rhys undertakes in my tale. 

I loved so many characters in the book but there was something special about the inclusion of Otto. Can you tell us why it was important to you to include a dog like Otto?

Unlike my other characters, Otto is actually based on someone near and dear to me:  my standard poodle, Aidan. Standard poodles are a phenomenal breed. They are intelligent, sensitive, sweet, and incredibly human in their mannerisms. And in the spring of 1942, they were one of the thirty-two official breeds classed as war dogs by the Army. It was not until 1944 that poodles were cut from the list before the German Shepherd was declared the official dog of the US Army in 1946. The Nazis were infamous for their use of K-9 unites and had up to 200,000 dogs trained. While they primarily used German Shepherds as war dogs, poodles are of German origin, and I took a bit of creative liberty with the character of Otto. I did not originally have Otto outlined in my plot, but as I was writing, a big, black poodle crept out of the Forest of Fontainebleau and joined my protagonist’s journey. Anyone who knows me knows I have a deep and abiding love for dogs, and the inclusion of Otto was an ode to the constant, pure, faithful companionship dogs offer us.

Rhys and Charlotte were such great characters! It's hard for me to pick who I liked better. Who is your favorite character in this book?

That is really a hard pick. Each character is a favorite for a different reason. I love Rhys’s steadfast nature, his unwavering code of honor, and his willingness to do what needs to be done, even when it is painful for him. I love Charlotte’s pragmatism, her strength, and her cunning. And I have a soft spot for Henri, my antagonist. He views the world through an artist’s lens, but he has a very warped viewpoint. He is undeniably a sociopath, but he also loves dogs, believes women are highly underestimated, and has his own sense of justice. He and Rhys are truly two sides of one coin, but he utterly lacks Rhys’s humanity and compassion. Henri is an appalling character for many, and rightly so, but he was the character I enjoyed writing the most.

This is your debut novel - do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

This is my debut as Meghan Holloway, but I actually had two books published under a pseudonym years back. The publishing house I worked with went under, and both stories have been out of print for a few years now. But my advice to writers is this:  Keep writing and be willing to accept criticism, especially when it is constructive. Writing a story is hard work, but it is not until the editing process that it becomes a novel and you cannot edit a blank page. When it comes down to it, you have to treat writing like it is a job. Make the time every day to put words on paper. You are often entirely too close to your story to recognize its weaknesses and where it needs bolstering. Listen when others make suggestions. And realize that once your story is out there, not everyone is going to love it. The reader’s opinion is his or her prerogative.

If you could choose any three people (fiction or non fiction) to be with you on a deserted island, who would you pick and why?

Hm…As long as I could summon rescue when I was so inclined, have plenty of food provisions, and am not having to rough it too extremely, could I just take my poodle? Some days, a deserted island feels like the perfect writing retreat. 

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Meg! I would love for readers to join me on social media. My website is, and readers can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the handle @AMeghanHolloway. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH is available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook format.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Thing About France!

I wanted to share an interesting tidbit that I got in my inbox with all of you! I love podcasts, especially bookish podcasts so this grabbed my attention. The French Embassy in the United States has a new podcast. Here is the press release:

If your readers are looking to seize this opportunity connect with French culture and practice their French, then The Thing About France, the new podcast of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy (among Apple Podcast’s “New & Noteworthy”) is a great go-to!

In the podcast, Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur interviews American authors, thinkers and artists with strong ties with France on various topics ranging from cultural appropriation to French translated literature in the US or simply their favorite places in France!  Guests include author David Sedaris; Jonathan Galassi, the head of the publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, critic Liesl Schillinger, Museum director Adam Weinberg, author Claire Messud and to come, artist Mickalene Thomas and as of today, New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik.

 In his episode Adam Gopnik speaks about French contemporary literature, French food, and music including Johnny Hallyday!

Additionally, for readers in NYC, they are holding a free workshop this weekend geared for kids (why don't I live closer???)

Albertine Books, the bookstore and reading room of the French Embassy in New York is hosting one of our new programs, Fly Away with Books, which aims at (re)connecting children with books through free workshops with french illustrators:
Workshops with French Illustrators: Fly Away With Books // Saturday, July 13, 2019 // 11:00 AM
Join us for workshops with French illustrators Lucie Brunellière, Cruschiform, and Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud as part of Fly Away With Books, a four-day festival that aims to (re)introduce children of all backgrounds to the pleasures of reading by offering them unique and playful experiences, using books as interactive objects to inspire fun and curiosity.
Workshops will include the following:
  • Geometry of Animals with Lucie Brunellière
    (ages 4+)
  • Colorama Memory with Cruschiform
    (ages 4-7)
  • Pop-up Art with Anouck Boisrobert & Louis Rigaud
    (ages 6+)

What are some of your favorite bookish podcasts?

Review: A Thread So Fine by Susan Welch

Title: A Thread So Fine
Author: Susan Welch
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Faodail Publishing
Publish Date: March 15, 2019
Source: PR

A Thread So Fine

What's the Story?: 

From "Can love for a secret child heal old wounds?
Introspective and artistic Shannon Malone and her more popular sister Eliza are Irish twins and best friends. In the summer of 1946 as womanhood approaches, both look forward to promising--but different-futures. When tragedy strikes and rocks the Malone family to the core, one sister leaves, possibly forever. The other, physically and emotionally scarred, vows to hold the invisible thread that runs between them. In the course of her journey, she discovers a secret child and the true meaning of family, but is it enough to bring her sister home?"

My Two Cents:

In "A Thread So Fine," Eliza and Shannon are two sisters living in the 1940s in the Midwest. They have always been close but two tragedies pull them apart. There is a tuberculosis diagnosis for Shannon and an unwanted pregnancy for Eliza. These two events will turn their family upside down. In the 1940s, a tuberculosis diagnosis means you get sent away in order to (hopefully) recover. An unwanted pregnancy out of wedlock in the 1940s means stigma and trying to hide secrets for Eliza. Both of these women will deal with their issues in very different ways, ever tied with the invisible thread that binds them as family.

You all know that I have a soft spot for stories about sisters. I have sisters and I am always drawn to stories about that very special bond. I really liked how the author created very unique personalities for the sisters. It was so interesting to see how they dealt with things so very differently. Eliza seems to want to push her family away, while Shannon tries to do everything in her power to keep that bond in mind. Without giving anything away, the ways that Shannon tries to keep her sister close to her heart throughout much of the book was particularly touching. A ton of the narrative is dedicated to Shannon trying to pull together her family through these acts and I really enjoyed reading about her commitment. 

The writing of the book was great! This is a very heart-wrenching story. I thought the pacing worked well and the author kept the story flowing. I also have to mention the historical detail in the book. It added a great sense of place. To some degree, both sisters are beholden to their time as far as how they are able to handle what life is throwing at them. Also, I really liked the cameo of Frances Perkins (another fascinating woman in her own right) in the book. Overall, this was a great debut and I am excited to see what else the author comes up with in the future!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Review: The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell

Title: The Poison Thread
Author: Laura Purcell
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publish Date: June 18, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy, and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor, and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea's charitable work brings her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted by the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person's skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets one of the prisoners, the teenaged seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another strange idea: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread--because Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations--of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses--will shake Dorothea's belief in rationality, and the power of redemption. Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer? The Poison Thread is a spine-tingling, sinister read about the evil that lurks behind the facade of innocence.

My Two Cents:

I had heard a lot of buzz about Laura Purcell's other books and with a synopsis like "The Poison Thread" has, I couldn't wait to dive into this book! Gothic tale? Suspension of disbelief? Tons of secrets? Sign me up! Rich and sheltered Dorothea believes she's doing something good when she begins volunteering at the local prison. She believes in the practice of phrenology, the idea that head size and shape determines character and mental abilities (oh, boy, you have to love the Victorians and their rather interesting pseudo-science). When Dotty befriends Ruth, Ruth begins telling her tales of her incrimination. Dotty isn't sure what to believe: is Ruth a murderer or just mad?

Ahhhh, there was a lot to love about this book. Dotty and Ruth make fantastic foils for each other. 
Dotty is from a good home. Although her mother died when she was young, she has always been taken care of and allowed to follow her desired pursuits. Ruth has had it rough. In a home where violence seemed ever present, she seems doomed to repeat the dark past of her parents. I loved the juxtaposition between these two characters. Dotty comes into the prison ready to judge through the phrenology that she holds in high regard without stopping to get to know the person she is judging. When Ruth begins to open up to her, Dotty realizes that sometimes you just need to sit back and listen before you can judge.

I also really liked the historical detail. Purcell creates a wonderfully dark setting for this book and I loved the gothic feel of it. The details of the very different lives between Dotty and Ruth also were fascinating. Dotty's position in society gives her a lot of freedom. Ruth's position holds her back in many ways. I appreciated that the detail allowed me to see just how vast the stratification between the haves and and have nots in this era were. 

This was a great story and now I need to go back and read Purcell's other work!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Review and Giveaway: Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

Title: Bethlehem
Author: Karen Kelly 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: July 9, 2019 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "A young woman arrives at the grand ancestral home of her husband’s family, hoping to fortify her cracking marriage. But what she finds is not what she expected: tragedy haunts the hallways, whispering of heartache and a past she never knew existed."

My Two Cents:

"Bethlehem" is a story told in two parts: one part in the 1920s and one in the 1960s in Central Pennsylvania and involves one of the families synonymous with Bethlehem Steel, one of the most powerful companies in the early 1900s. The book opens with a ghost story and whispers of people in the past. In the 1960s, Joanna moves to her husband's family home hoping that they can find happiness for her family when it seems like it might all be crumbling down. In the 1920s, Susannah is growing up in a rather idyllic life as the child of one of the storied families of the industrial powerhouse that is Bethlehem at the time.

I have been looking forward to this book for quite awhile. My husband was raised in Pennsylvania and in fact, we just learned that his grandfather once worked for Bethlehem as a typist at one time. I have been fascinated by some of the big names of industry but knew little about Bethlehem and the people behind it. You don't get much of that in this book but you do get a taste.

This book is much more character-driven and driven by the family secrets that seem to be buried throughout the book. You all know that I love a good family secret! The book has a large cast, which sometimes made it hard to follow what was going on and the roles that everyone was supposed to be playing. I did like the detail that the author gave in order to give the book a good sense of time. Overall, this was a solid read that whetted my appetite to read more about the titans of industry.


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Monday, July 8, 2019

Review: The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin

Title: The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel 
Author: Jeanne Mackin
Format: eBook
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: June 25, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are fighting for recognition as the most successful and influential fashion designer in France, and their rivalry is already legendary. They oppose each other at every turn, in both their politics and their designs: Chanel's are classic, elegant, and practical; Schiaparelli's bold, experimental, and surreal.

When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed young American teacher, visits her brother, Charlie, in Paris, he insists on buying her a couture dress--a Chanel. Lily, however, prefers a Schiaparelli. Charlie's beautiful and socially prominent girlfriend soon begins wearing Schiaparelli's designs as well, and much of Paris follows in her footsteps.

Schiaparelli offers budding artist Lily a job at her store, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiaparelli and Chanel's personal war. Their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights as the Nazis and the looming threat of World War II bear down on Paris."

My Two Cents: 

"The Last Collection" is the story of the storied rivalry between fashion powerhouses, Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. In Paris in the 1930s, they make some of the most desired clothes for the fashion elite. Chanel's designs are structured and classic. Schiaparelli's are bold and avant garde. Our main character, Lily, finds herself in Paris newly-widowed and ends up taking a job in Schiap's (as she is known to her friends) store so she has a first row seat to just how fevered the rivalry between Elsa and Coco will get.

I'm not exactly what you would call fashion-forward but I feel like I've read and know much more about Coco Chanel so it was nice to have some familiarity already there while getting to know Schiap. What a fascinating person! I loved reading about all of her designs that made heads turn during a time when fashion was reaching new heights as the world was about to be turned upside down by World War II. At her base, Schiap still believes herself to be an artist above everything else. I loved learning about her in this book and I had to take a look at some of her designs myself (look up her skeleton dress - it is wild!).

Lily is a great character in her own right. I felt for her - she was deeply in love with her husband and going to Paris was initially supposed to be an escape from her sadness. As she throws herself into her work as an artist, she begins to heal and to see that she can make a new life for herself without forgetting her past.

I really enjoyed the writing of the story. This was a well-done book and I loved the political undertones in the book. After all, fashion is political. I thought the historical detail in the book was fantastic. I loved seeing Paris during this quickly changing time period. This was a great pick!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Reading Challenge Update

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I didn't get a chance to do an update last month due to being really busy with moving back into our house (finally!). Both May and early June were not great as far as reading went but now I'm back into my groove so hopefully July will be looking better.
I read books from this many countries in May and June:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I have read 56 books for this challenge so far.

Take a look at my list! What else should I be reading?
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