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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Author Interview: Lorelei Brush, Author of "Chasing the American Dream"

 Today I am thrilled to welcome Lorelei Brush here to A Bookish Affair for an interview. Don't forget to check out my review of "Chasing the American Dream" from yesterday and come back tomorrow for a guest post from Ms. Brush!

Author Lorelei Brush

  1. Chasing the American Dream takes place in a very different time period than your first book. What inspired you to visit World War II and the 1950s through this book?

I’ve found my source of inspiration for both of my books in conundrums I’ve faced in my life. My first book, Uncovering, takes place in northwest Pakistan, an area of conservative Islamic beliefs. I lived and worked there for two years, directing a USAID-funded education project and had the privilege of working with an inspiring group of dedicated Pakistanis. These women and men were committed to bringing the best possible education to children. Part of the difficulty we faced was a prevalent belief that girls didn’t need an education. I wanted to figure out how woman with Western values—like me and my female staff—could manage a full work and personal life in such an atmosphere.

For Chasing the American Dream, I was inspired by a puzzle in my family. As I was growing up, my father told my brother and me tales of his adventures during World War II as part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He sounded like a superhero with his sneaking about behind enemy lines and sending coded messages to the Allied forces. His stories were full of swashbuckling actions, and yet my experience of him throughout the 1950s was of an angry, unfulfilled man. Why was he so angry? What happened during the war that precipitated his strong negativity?

  1. What was your research process like? What was the most interesting tidbit you found in your research?

After I retired from my paying job, I spent about six months in the National Archives where the OSS records are stored. It was a treasure trove! I could trace my father, who was a Captain, from the day he set sail for Europe to the day he returned to the U.S. Almost everything he’d told us kids turned out to be a fabrication. (There’s a “tidbit” for you!) He’d never been “behind enemy lines.” He’d never acted like a “superhero.” So, why did he need to portray himself as one? I believe, now, his war was a huge disappointment. It didn’t give him the chance to be the hero he wanted to be. And he was angry. My challenge was to figure out how he might have acted in the 1950s to work out that anger. And, of course, to become a more loving father.

  1. Did you know, before you started, about the historical events you describe?

Though I was a child in the 1950s, I wasn’t particularly aware of the politics of the time. I knew about the Red Scare, as we regularly had drills about what to do in a nuclear attack (i.e., we had to crawl underneath our school desks). I heard about Joe McCarthy. But for the book, I had to do a lot of research to figure out how McCarthy’s accusations hurt individuals. I also had to research lots of details about the last year of World War II. My father left a badge saying he was in the Target Forces, but I had no idea what that was. When I found out he was tracking down German scientists, my imagination went into overdrive, and I had a big story to tell.

  1. Who was your favorite character to write about in this book?

I loved writing about Jacob, who is a Jewish electrician required by the Third Reich to assist in building V-2 rockets. The protagonist, David, liberates the labor camp, meets Jacob, helps him come to the U.S., and involves him in the adventures of the 1950s. Jacob grapples with what it will take to forgive himself for his activities in the camp, his survivor’s guilt. His process is grueling and critical to his own well-being. I, too, went through a process of forgiving as I grappled with my father’s lies and anger. Writing this story allowed me to create an alternative story of how he might have spent his life with greater happiness and satisfaction.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

My advice would be to take a conundrum, a persistent niggling issue, and devise characters who work through it. It’s an excellent way to find inspiration and produce a gobsmacking good novel. Some writers advise authors to “write what you know” or “write from your life.” I think this idea of “rewriting” your life, solving one of life’s puzzles, is a corollary to that: home in on an enigma and invent a story that untangles the threads and weaves them together into a more beautiful whole.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Review: Chasing the American Dream by Lorelei Brush

 Title: Chasing the American Dream

Author: Lorelei Brush

Format: Digital

Publisher: Mascot Books

Publish Date: February 2, 2021 (Today!!!)

Source: Author

What's the Story?:

Description: "Chasing the American Dream captures the quest of one man—David Svehla—for justice against those whom he knew to have committed crimes against humanity during World War II. To his horror, his mission transforms into a fight with the U.S. Government which threatens his own American Dream. A central theme of the book is the question of when the government is justified in suppressing information from the public and when it has a moral responsibility to release the information. Think: the coronavirus, the Patriot Act, and back after the World War II, the bringing of over 1,000 Nazi scientists to the U.S. when they were known to have supervised labor camps."

My Two Cents:

When "Chasing the American Dream" opens, World War II and ending and David is part of an elite unit fighting to evacuate and close a gruesome Nazi camp that used forced labor to build rockets for the Axis Forces side of the war. David is fully committed to doing what is right and believes that the bad will be punished. Fast forward ten years later, David is still very much haunted by what he witnessed in Europe and so he is especially shocked to see someone from his past that he very much believed got what was coming to him long ago. He sees a brutal Nazi from the camps simply riding the bus in Ohio as if none of the terrible things he did mattered just 10 years later. This is a story about how even noble acts can be interpreted incorrectly if the acts don't suit a particular narrative favored at the time.

I have read plenty of World War II books and definitely many about the atrocities that the Allied Forces uncovered when they were liberating the various occupied places. This book gives you a glimpse of that but what really makes this book interesting is how it covers the period 10 years later when the United States is now dealing with other crises: the Red Scare and the Cold War. David's frame of reference is very much informed by the world he experienced ten years prior where all Nazis were to be punished to fit their crimes. It was interesting to see how he grappled with how what he felt was truly fair and just becomes up for debate as the United States focuses on fighting the Cold War.

I was a little familiar with "Operation: Paperclip" before this book but this book really brought it to life for me. In the 1950s, countering the Soviet Union and engaging in things like the Space Race becomes so important to the U.S. government that they will do whatever it takes to win, including bringing Nazi scientists (enemies of the previous war) to the United States without punishment in order to gain an advantage over the Soviets, no matter how morally murky it makes things. This book does a great job of showing how such a big shift in policy, culture, and beliefs could happen in a relatively small amount of time.

The detail in the book was really wonderful and it is clear how much effort the author put into creating David's world, both in Europe and at home. I loved reading about these events that I did not really know that much about as the shame of giving into quick wins over the Soviet and even the Red Scare itself are a blight in American history and are not often talked about.

They say that those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it. This book made me think of other times throughout history where right and wrong are blurred and bent in order to pursue a particular goal without caring about the context or what the ramifications are. The best books are those that make you ponder things long after you close the book. This is one of those!


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