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Monday, May 17, 2021

Review: The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner

 Title: The Yellow Bird Sings

Author: Jennifer Rosner 

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publish Date: March 30, 2020

Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:

The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.

In this make-believe world, Róza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Róza must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.

Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope―a whispered story, a bird’s song―in even the darkest of times.
"

My Two Cents:

"The Yellow Bird Sings" is one of those books that I missed when it initially came out (March 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning to really shake everything down). I had heard so many good things about it and so when I finally picked it up, I was kicking myself that it took so long for me to get to it. It is a great story of resilience and love.

In the book, Roza and her young daughter, Shira, are on the run from the Nazis. They take refuge in the hay loft of a neighbors' house but feel anything but safe. It's a hard existence having to be silent all the time and deal with the elements. Roza finds herself drawing the unwelcome attentions of the husband of the family but all of these tradeoffs are better than what they could face at the hands of the Nazis.

Eventually hiding isn't enough and Roza makes a decision that may save both her and Shira but it will mean being torn apart. As a mother of two daughters, it is so hard to imagine having to make the choices that Roza makes throughout the book but when you're talking about the boundless love of a parents, I see her motivation. The way the author lays out the choices was truly wrenching. The writing of the book was so amazing and really pulled me in.

The detail in the book was really great. I was struck by the way that both the conditions in the barn and the description of all of the danger Roza faced were captured in the book. You can smell the dirty hay. You can feel how hurt Roza's feet must have been. You can clearly picture how lost Shira felt without her mother.

This was a heart-wrenching story with one of the best stories I've read in a long time!


 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Review: Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenberg

Title:  Finding Napoleon

Author: Margaret Rodenberg

Format: ARC

Publisher: She Writes Press

Publish Date: April 6, 2021 (Today!)

Source: Author


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "With its delightful adaptation of Napoleon Bonaparte's real attempt to write a novel, Finding Napoleon offers a fresh take on Europe's most powerful man after he's lost everything. A forgotten woman of history--Napoleon's last love, the audacious Albine de Montholon--narrates their tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal.

After the defeated Emperor Napoleon goes into exile on tiny St. Helena Island in the remote South Atlantic, he and his lover, Albine de Montholon, plot to escape and rescue his young son. Banding together African slaves, British sympathizers, a Jewish merchant, a Corsican rogue, and French followers, they confront British opposition--as well as treachery within their own ranks--with sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, but always desperate action.
When Napoleon and Albine break faith with one another, ambition and Albine's husband threaten their reconciliation. To succeed, Napoleon must learn whom to trust. To survive, Albine must decide whom to betray.

Two hundred years after Napoleon's death, this elegant, richly researched novel reveals a relationship history conceals."

My Two Cents:

"Finding Napoleon" is the story of Napoleon Bonaparte as he is defeated and exiled to the small island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic. While he is able to take some of his allies to include his mistress, Albine, and her husband, he is torn from his beloved son, who remains with his cruel wife, Marie Louise. This is a good book infused with a lot of historical detail, a treat for my fellow history lovers.

Before reading this book, I was not really familiar with Napoleon's time on St. Helena. I had read of him getting exiled but I don't believe I had read anything about what his time was like there. In fact, until I read this book, I don't think I had ever looked at where St. Helena was on the map and just how far from home Napoleon was. Once on St. Helena, Napoleon is under the ever watchful eye of the British soldiers who want to prevent another escape like Napoleon carried out on Elba. Napoleon is down but not out and is constantly plotting ways to make his escape and get back to the life he knew and the son he loves.

St. Helena comes with its own cast of characters that Napoleon and Albine interact with. I particularly loved Betsy, a young teen who fancies having Napoleon as a friend, and Tobyson, a young boy who always seems to be with Betsy and represents the tension between keeping slaves and allowing for more free men on the island. Although they are secondary characters, every scene with Betsy and/or Tobyson were some of my favorites. They add a lot of light to the book.

The book is partially narrated by Albine, which was a really interesting choice. The switching narration between third person and first person when Albine is narrating worked really well and breathed a lot of interest into the book.  Another thing that I didn't realize until reading this book is that Napoleon wrote his own fictional book. I loved the inclusion of the "Clisson" passages in the book. You get to see another facet of Napoleon through his writing, which helps to bring some humanity to this larger than life man.

The writing of the book is really good. I loved the way the author wrote both the primary and secondary characters and wove them into the narrative. The book has some great bits of world building, particularly once Napoleon arrives on St. Helena. You can imagine what it looks like and what it smells like. The detail is really rich and wonderful.

I really enjoyed this debut novel and can't wait to see what Rodenberg writes next!


 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Review: Paris in Ruins by M.K. Tod

 Title: Paris in Ruins 

Author: M.K. Tod 

Format: eBook

Publisher: Heath Street Publishing

Publish Date: March 30, 2021 (Today!) 

Source: Author


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Paris 1870. Raised for a life of parties and servants, Camille and Mariele have much in common, but it takes the horrors of war to bring them together to fight for the city and people they love.

A few weeks after the abdication of Napoleon III, the Prussian army lays siege to Paris. Camille Noisette, the daughter of a wealthy family, volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and agrees to spy on a group of radicals plotting to overthrow the French government. Her future sister-in-law, Mariele de Crécy, is appalled by the gaps between rich and poor. She volunteers to look after destitute children whose families can barely afford to eat.

Somehow, Camille and Mariele must find the courage and strength to endure months of devastating siege, bloody civil war, and great personal risk. Through it all, an unexpected friendship grows between the two women, as they face the destruction of Paris and discover that in war women have as much to fight for as men.

War has a way of teaching lessons—if only Camille and Mariele can survive long enough to learn them.
"

My Two Cents:

 In 1870, Paris is being torn apart in a fight between self-determination and the foreign Prussian Army seeking to bend the French to their will. The gorgeous city is now a place of chaos and destruction, beset by violence and chaos. With the advent of war, people from different walks of life are on much more equal footing: each pulled into a fight for survival. Mariele and Camille were both born to a life of luxury but the war rips all of that away. Both of them will be forced to fight for their survival and for those that they love. Will they be able to rise to the occasion?

Both of the heroines at the center of the book are fascinating! Both of them are willing to leave their extremely comfortable lives in order to find some way to contribute to their country. Camille finds herself tending to the wounded in a theater-turned-hospital, run by none other than famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. Camille is also called into service as a spy to watch the communards. Mariele works hard to save the children orphaned by the war. Camille and Mariele will be called on over and over again to show what they are made of and both will discover that they are made of tougher stuff than they realized. These are two heroines that you can stand up and cheer for!

Paris is one of those places where although I have never been, I want to read about every chance I get. The Franco-Prussian War is really not a time period that I have read much in and so it was amazing to see how quickly war descended upon the country and how quickly things turned upside down. The detail in this book was fantastic. The author does a great job of bringing Paris under siege to life. There are so many different groups at odds during this time period and the author infuses great historical detail so that you can understand all of the different motives that helped to throw the city into chaos. This is a wonderful tale of resilience, strength, and hope - perfect for my fellow historical fiction lovers!


 

 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Author Interview: Elizabeth Bell

Hello and happy Monday! Today, I am thrilled to welcome Elizabeth Bell, author of "The Lazare Family Saga." All four books in the series are out now!

 
1. All four books in the Lazare Family are now out: did you know from the beginning that you wanted the series to be four books? Did you write all four books before publishing the first book?

When I started this project back in the 1990s, I thought I was writing a single novel. I knew it would be doorstopper-sized, but so were my inspirations: Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, Alex Haley’s Roots, and John Jakes’s North and South. My final word count is over half a million, so I broke up the narrative into four books of 400-500 pages each. Because the characters’ lives are so interconnected, because I wanted to include both foreshadowing and callbacks and truly make the story satisfying, I waited till I’d written a complete draft of the whole series before publishing Book One, Necessary Sins.

2. Tell us about your latest, "Sweet Medicine," which just came out in February. Who is your favorite character? What is your favorite scene?

I'll pick my blood transfusion scene, an incredibly risky procedure in 1860 before doctors understood either blood types or infection. I consulted with real medical professionals in a Facebook group called Trauma Fiction, and I took a deep dive into Victorian medicine. So many 19th-century medical texts have been digitized by Google Books—with illustrations! They're not for the faint of heart, but they're invaluable. The final blood transfusion scene works on both literal and symbolic levels, and it epitomizes the book's title, Sweet Medicine.

A fan-favorite character is the patriarch of the Lazare family, René. The saga begins with his conception, and the final Epilogue is from his point-of-view as an octogenarian. Those are the only pages in the first-person. I didn't plan them that way, but that's how René gave them to me. That Epilogue really felt like a gift, and it ties the whole saga together. Not wrapped up with a bow—history and life are messier than that—but nevertheless in a satisfying conclusion. René is the most progressive of the characters, and he's got the best sense of humor, both of which are essential to his appeal. So if I have to pick one character, it would be him.

3. What was your research process like for "Sweet Medicine?" Has your research process changed at all from the first book to the last?

Because I was already familiar with my time period and settings, much of my research for Sweet Medicine was refreshing and deepening what I already knew. I went back to my research notes from years ago to guide me. What did I want to emphasize? What did I need a better understanding of? I've always cast my research net wide, so I was also reading—and listening to—new books. I discovered Clara Brown, an important real-life supporting character, through an audiobook called Frontier Grit about strong women of the American West. Then I chased down other sources about Mrs. Brown, a formerly enslaved woman who was a true entrepreneur. Fortunately, I work in a university library.

4. How are you feeling about the Lazare series ending? Do you have any future books planned?

I'm experiencing something akin to empty nest syndrome! My babies are all out in the world! The Lazare Family Saga is the culmination of nearly three decades of research, revision, and persistence. I've had some people try to tell me I have more books in me, but I don't think I do. These characters' struggles and triumphs are so personal for me. I feel as if every word of this series is written with my blood. It's also a matter of having limited time and energy. My challenge now is to make the most of this magnum opus. I'm planning new formats, audiobooks and hardcovers, and I'm striving to reach new readers.

5. I know your path to publishing was not clear cut. Why did you end up choosing the path you chose? Do you have any words of wisdom for other authors trying to get published?

After nearly three years of knocking on the gates of traditional publishing and receiving only rejections, my choices were: 1. Throw your life's work into a trash can, or 2. Publish your work independently. I hate that this is the case, but it doesn't matter if you've written a good book. It matters if you've written a low-risk, easily marketable book. Aspiring authors should decide whether they're going to write the books that are in their hearts or if they're going to write to market. Occasionally, these two things align, but often they do not. For me, they did not. Agents and editors looked at my work, saw risk, and dismissed it as worthless to them. That's why it's been so gratifying to receive glowing reviews, including two Editors' Choice designations from the Historical Novel Society. My work does have merit and it does have an audience; it just doesn't fit into traditional publishing's pigeonholes. My advice to aspiring authors is: If you don't write to market—and if you don't know someone in publishing—be prepared to publish your work yourself and find your own audience.

6. If you could bring three people, real or fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring with you?

Instead of company, can I have a library?


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

TLC Book Tours: The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper

 Title: The Girl in the Painting

Author: Tea Cooper

Format: ARC

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publish Date: March 9, 2021

Source: TLC Book Tours


 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Australia, 1906

Orphan Jane Piper is nine years old when philanthropist siblings Michael and Elizabeth Quinn take her into their home to further her schooling. The Quinns are no strangers to hardship. Having arrived in Australia as penniless immigrants, they now care for others as lost as they once were.

Despite Jane’s mysterious past, her remarkable aptitude for mathematics takes her far over the next seven years, and her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael flourishes as she plays an increasingly prominent part in their business.

But when Elizabeth reacts in terror to an exhibition at the local gallery, Jane realizes no one knows Elizabeth after all—not even Elizabeth herself. As the past and present converge and Elizabeth’s grasp on reality loosens, Jane sets out to unravel her story before it’s too late."

My Two Cents:

In the late 1800s, Michael and Elizabeth go to Australia to reunite with their family. What they find is that the family they thought they were reuniting with is no more. So they are forced to build a new life in a new country that is often difficult to find footing in. Fast forward to the early 1900s, Elizabeth and Michael are older now and established. They pluck Jane out of an orphanage. She has a head for a numbers and easily slides into Michael and Elizabeth's lives, becoming more than just a partner in her business. In each other, they each find the family that they never had before and have been yearning for. Jane is happy with her new station in life so when Elizabeth begins to face a lot of different troubles that seem to affect both her physical and mental well-being, Jane is especially concerned about unraveling how Elizabeth's past continues to shape her present. This is a great historical fiction with a brush of mystery!

I loved the characters. The author does a great job of showing what motivates Michael, Elizabeth, and Jane. Each of them has so much tragedy in their backgrounds that drive them to do whatever it takes to prevent tragedy from striking again. Jane was especially interesting to me. We get to see less of her background but the way she finds herself involved with Michael and Elizabeth was fascinating. Jane speaks before she thinks things through but she has a gift for numbers. Although she doesn't show it, she really cares for Michael and Elizabeth and the way she dives in to uncover Elizabeth's past when she starts to have seemingly unexplained mental episodes was really endearing.

 I loved the mystery at the center of this book so between that and the wonderful setting, I was hooked! I have read so little historical fiction set in Australia. I loved reading about what it was like both when Michael and Elizabeth first arrived and when Jane meets both of them in the 1900s. The author does a wonderful job of bringing Australia to life, a place where so many people with such different life stories and from so many different places came together. The detail was rich and I loved how vividly everything was described. You can see the streets, you can smell the air - this really was a treat!

Historical fiction lovers who like great settings and secrets will enjoy this book!




Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Review: Odd Woman Out by Melanie Chartoff

Title: Odd Woman Out 

Author: Melanie Chartoff 

Format: ARC

Publisher: Books Fluent

Publish Date: February 2, 2021

Source: PR


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "From her 1950s childhood in a suburb she describes as an "abusement park," to performing Molière on Broadway, to voicing characters on the popular "Rugrats" cartoon series, Melanie Chartoff was anxious "out of character," preferring any imaginary world to her real one. Obsessed with exploring her talent and mastering craft, fame came as a destabilizing byproduct. Suppressing a spiritual breakdown while co-starring on a late-night comedy show, Chartoff grew more estranged from whoever she was meant to be. But given a private audience with a guru, she finally heard her inner voice, played by '70s soul singer Barry White, crooning, "Get out, baby!" All the while, she's courted by men with homing pigeons and Priuses, idealized by guys who want the girl du jour from TV to be their baby rearer or kidney donor.

Go backstage on Broadway, behind the scenes on network television, and inside the complicated psyche of a talented performer struggling to play the role of a complete human. Odd Woman Out intimately exposes the nature of identity in the life of a performing artist, snapshotting the hopeful search for a self Chartoff could love, and someone else's self to love, too."

My Two Cents:

"Odd Woman Out" is the memoir by Hollywood actress, Melanie Chartoff. As a kid of the 90s, I know her as the voice behind a couple of the characters on "Rugrats." She had a fascinating career before that in a world that was certainly not easy for actresses. She gives us a glimpse into both the gilded acting world as well as her personal life and background, including a difficult childhood. Candor, humor, and honesty are the hallmarks of this book.

This book is more of a series of vignettes from throughout Chartoff's life. The stories are often funny and also poignant. The beginning of the book starts with Chartoff going to search for a sex toy to cure some of the ills of menopause and ends up being spotted by paparazzi. She touches on her difficult childhood with an abusive father and a mother who shrinks back until she seemingly blends into the walls. She also has some really lovely stories like finding the love of her life late in her life. I loved how Chartoff was able to effortlessly blend the sweet with the sour with the sometimes laugh-out-loud funny throughout the book.

I really liked Chartoff's writing style throughout the book. This book definitely has range. She can be funny and also really serious. Her honesty and self-deprecation draw you in from the beginning and make you feel the full range of emotions represented in the story. This is a very solid collection of stories and would be perfect who welcomes crying as much as they do crying. 


 


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Author Guest Post: Lorelei Brush, Author of "Chasing the American Dream"

 My Experience with Mascot Books, A Hybrid Publisher


 

 

On February 2, I had the thrill of the launch of my second novel, Chasing the American Dream. It’s a story in the genre of historical fiction, set in 1955. In a couple of sentences: David spots the martial stride of a brutal ex-S.S. Major he’d sent to Nuremberg. He reverts to habits he mastered in the Office of Strategic Services in a quest for justice yet finds himself in a fight with the U.S. government which threatens his own American Dream. 


Do feel free to order a copy, from Mascot or Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your favorite local bookstore!


But in the meantime, I’ll tell you about my experience in the realm of hybrid publishing, a venture I expect many of this community of authors may be considering. I’ve published two novels thus far with Mascot Books, which advertises itself as “a full-service hybrid publishing company dedicated to helping authors at all stages of their publishing journey create a high quality printed or digital book that matches their vision.” 

My experience is that they take very seriously that last phrase of working hard to help authors “realize their own vision for the work.” First, Mascot’s acquisition team reads the manuscript to be sure it measures up to their quality standards. I appreciated this stamp of approval, as I certainly want to publish books that others agree are of good quality. Second, the production staff begins each step by asking what the author wants for the book. Think title, cover, font. They then send options and are open to trying out proposed changes. 

 

My first book cover (Uncovering) was drawn by one of their graphic artists and was more creative and appealing than what I initially suggested, as though the artist had invested his time reading and absorbing the ambiance of the story. The editorial staff did an excellent job of copy-editing both of my books, with the addition of a summary of each book that, in one case, suggested an interesting shuffling of chapters. I loved the idea. In addition, I was pleased that the manuscript returned to me after each set of changes, with staff always making sure they were appropriately following through with my requests. They kept me up to date on what was happening, graciously responding to my numerous emails and calls. They truly produced products that “matched my vision.”

 

So far it may seem that this hybrid publishing business is everything an author could ask for: a process ensuring quality carried out by responsive individuals in a timely manner. All true. There are, of course, limits, largely in the task of publicity. Mascot offers multiple levels of involvement for their publicity staff. The basic level has them producing documents such as a PR page to send out to announce the publication and an order form. They send these along with a Marketing Guide and a Sales Guide to suggest the actions an author should take to publicize the book. The guides are full of useful information, no question. The “problem” is that, as is true these days even for traditional publishing houses, the onus of publicity is clearly on the author. It is possible to purchase a higher level of publisher involvement from Mascot, in which their staff contact local bookstores, potential reviewers and bloggers, and media outlets to set up launch events. However, in the three months publicity staff were working for me on my first book, they managed to schedule only one signing event and one review. I decided the investment wasn’t worth it for my second novel and have been more successful making my own contacts.


I hope these paragraphs give you a sense of the potential advantages and disadvantages of publishing through a hybrid—or at least this one hybrid. If you are someone who likes being in charge, who might balk at an editor’s suggestions of major changes to your manuscript, you might seriously consider the hybrid option. Do check on what each hybrid publisher will take on and what remains with you. And certainly check the costs. This isn’t an inexpensive endeavor. But following the path of hybrid publishing does ensure you have a great deal of control and your book is published in months rather than years.

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