Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Review: Hello, Stranger

By Sara Steven

Barbara Moran has never known how to be good.

As a child, she made strange noises, fidgeted constantly, and licked her lips until they cracked. She had "upsets" that embarrassed and frustrated her family. Worse still, she developed friendships with inanimate objects--everything from roller skates to tables to an antique refrigerator--and became obsessed with images of cathedrals.

She was institutionalized, analyzed, and marginalized, cast aside as not trying hard enough to fit in.

But after almost forty years, Barbara was given an answer for her inability to be like, and to connect with, other people: autism.

Hello, Stranger is the story of a misunderstood life that serves as an eye-opening call for compassion. Bracingly honest, Barbara describes the profound loneliness of being abandoned and judged while also expressing her deep yearning simply to be loved and to give love. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Reading about Barbara’s experiences proved to be an eye opener for me. I have a brother who is autistic, and he doesn’t have the ability to verbalize his thoughts or feelings. I’ve never heard him speak a single word. So much of my childhood consisted of trying to figure out what he needed, to go by his reactions, the emotions he’d display, and I couldn’t help but imagine that so much of what Barbara references from her own experiences could easily pertain to my brother.

While my brother’s diagnosis had come during the mid 1980’s, a time when I still feel there was so much to learn and understand about autism, Barbara’s childhood, teen years and much of her adult years were spent in the dark, shuffled between doctors who had no clue as to why she behaved the way she did, attempting to ply her with medications that only made her suffer more. All in the name of “progress”. Often, when she couldn’t become or live up to the person they’d wanted her to be, they would blame her. That she “acted up” on purpose. This was a hurdle we’d also faced with my brother, who would often behave in certain ways that was not relatable or accepted by many.

The friendships with inanimate objects really spoke to me, considering the toys or random artifacts my brother would carry around, depending on whatever was interesting to him at the time. One time, it was pencils, piles and piles of pencils he’d store inside a bag, and he’d take them out, one by one, focusing on the minute details of wood and graphite. There was the short-lived connection with balls; rubber, fiber, leather. All shapes and sizes, kept safe inside a carrier made of netting. There were many other connections he’d made with objects over the years, and while Barbara’s connection with her own special objects may sound far-fetched, I understand it. For her, this was a means in keeping sane during a time where her life was chaos, and a way for her to have someone (or something) that may have cared about her. It made me wonder if my brother had those same emotions about his own objects.

What so was motivating about Barbara’s story, was her ability to survive during the most difficult time in her life. Not only was she not living up to what “normal” had been perceived as, but she wasn’t sure who she was, or where she fit in. As the synopsis indicates, it’s an honest look into one woman’s struggle in finding her identity, while opening the eyes and hearts of those who had a narrow view on what being different means. Research has come such a long way since those days, and even since the time my brother had been diagnosed, with much more compassion and understanding. It was nice to verbally hear a voice, one that could very easily be that of my brother’s.

Thanks to KiCam Projects for the book in exchange for an honest review. Hello, Stranger can be purchased here.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Susan Meissner is having a great year...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Stephanie Carbajal
We're thrilled to have Susan Meissner at CLC today! Her latest novel, The Last Year of the War, published on Tuesday. Melissa A recently enjoyed it and will be reviewing soon. (She also enjoyed a bunch of Susan's earlier novels.) Berkley has one copy for a lucky reader!

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include As Bright as Heaven, starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing. (Bio courtesy of Susan's website.)

Visit Susan online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Synopsis:
Elise Sontag is a typical Iowa fourteen-year-old in 1943—aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.

The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.

But when the Sontag family is exchanged for American prisoners behind enemy lines in Germany, Elise will face head-on the person the war desires to make of her. In that devastating crucible she must discover if she has the will to rise above prejudice and hatred and re-claim her own destiny, or disappear into the image others have cast upon her.

The Last Year of the War tells a little-known story of World War II with great resonance for our own times and challenges the very notion of who we are when who we’ve always been is called into question. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

How much research did you have to do in order to write The Last Year of the War?
As a native and long-time resident of Southern California, I’ve long known what happened to Japanese-Americans living here in the US during World War II, but until just prior to writing this book, I hadn’t known that the same thing had happened to a smaller number of German Americans, so I had a lot to learn. The best resource I found on the topic is The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell. It is an excellent nonfiction look at the arrests, detainment, and repatriation of roughly 4000 German immigrants, all of whom were legal residents of the Americas. There is also a terrific website set up by the German American Internee Coalition, http://gaic.info, much of it maintained by the now-grown children of former internees. I had lived in southwest Germany in the early 1990's, so I was able to tap into my own memories of living in that country, but I still had to spend many weeks researching what it was like for civilians living there during the time of the Allied bombings and subsequent occupation.

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of writing The Last Year of the War?
The most rewarding aspect was meeting and talking with the former internees. Their mothers and fathers have all passed but many of the American-born children who were interned with their parents are still here with us to share from the standpoint of their humanity, not just history, about what it was like to live through this time. The challenge of any historical work I undertake is reconnecting with a past that is slowly disappearing. There is a little left of the former Crystal City internment camp, just a few cement foundations and a partially filled-in former swimming pool. The eyewitnesses are now all in their twilight years. In addition, there is the added dimension of knowing this was a difficult time for everybody involved. Complex decisions have to be made in a time of war. I’m not saying I would’ve made better decisions, but I do believe that fear led the way with respect to those in charge when wisdom would’ve perhaps taken us all down different roads. Fear doesn’t always result in wise decisions, but it does always prompt us to make them.

If The Last Year of the War were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
Filming would have to start today for me get my pick for Elise as a teenage girl! I would want to reel in the awesome talents of Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven on Stranger Things. She’s a captivating actress and able to make you believe she really is the person she’s playing on screen. For Elise as an 81-year-old woman retelling her story I have my eye on Ellen Burstyn who is mostly of Irish, German and French-Canadian dissent, according to IMDb. She’s been in films for decades, and I last saw her in House of Cards as Elizabeth Hale, Claire Underwood’s problematic mother. If I could go back in time and nab Keiko Agena, who played Rory’s best friend Lane Kim on The Gilmore Girls, that’s who I would pick to play Mariko.

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
Sometimes I like to read outside my genre; it’s a rare treat as usually I am reading for research or for the two book clubs I’m in. But I recently asked my publicist for an early copy of The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, a book set in the current day by fellow Berkley novelist Anissa Gray. I kept seeing its beautiful cover in early pre-release publicity and I was intrigued. Now out, it’s a beautifully woven story of sisters and family dynamics and regrets and hopes and dreams. This is her debut, but Ms. Gray is a fantastic writer and I think we will be seeing more from her.

If we were to visit you in the town where you currently live, what would be some must-see places to check out?
San Diego is full of such lovely places. We have the best zoo in the world and I’m not just saying that, we really do. And right near the zoo is Balboa Park, whose beautiful museum buildings and organ pavilion are of the Spanish Renaissance style. So beautiful. You must also cross over the Coronado Bridge and check out the Hotel Del Coronado, and then walk along the Silver Strand beach and watch the wind surfers. And then of course my favorite bookstore is Warwick’s, the oldest and greatest indie bookstore in San Diego in beautiful La Jolla. Old Town should also be on the list because it is San Diego’s ode to its beginnings, and you can enjoy some dynamite Mexican food and margaritas.

What is the strangest thing in your purse/handbag at the moment?
I have the lamest handbag ever. I never have anything good in it. Ever. Right now I have empty cough drop wrappers. One of those is surely the strangest thing in it because the only other things inside at the moment are a wallet, a pair of sunglasses, a pen, one tube of lipstick and some keys. I never have aspirin or a Kleenex or a nail file or a mirror or a comb. I suppose that means the strangest thing in my handbag in the moment is gobs of free space.

Thanks to Susan for chatting with us and Berkley for sharing her book with our readers.


How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here

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Giveaway ends March 26th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Book Review: The Last Woman in the Forest

By Jami Deise

Lately I’ve been pitched quite a few books about women and their dogs in the wilderness. Some might see that as a sign that I need to head into unforgiving nature with my German shepherd. I, however, read these books while grateful for the comfort and security of my suburban Florida home. Sometimes I read them outside on the swing in my backyard, but then the mosquitos chase me indoors. Thus is the extent of my outdoor adventures.

My latest entry in the literary world of snow and woods came courtesy of Diane Les Becquets, whose second novel, The Last Woman in the Forest, combines wilderness tales with women’s fiction and mystery. Marian Engström works as a dog handler in the woods of Canada, using the canines to track endangered wildlife. Devastated by the death of her co-worker and lover, Tate, Marian begins to wonder if Tate could have been the serial killer who’d brutally murdered several young women in nearby and other wilderness areas over the years. She reaches out to Nick, the retired forensic profiler who’s dying of cancer and who made a name for himself tracking this killer. Can Marian and Nick find out the truth about Tate before Nick succumbs to his disease?

The prose in The Last Woman in the Forest reads more like literary fiction than suspense, with third-person point of view that lingers on the description of snowy woods. (There are also several detailed descriptions of murders, which are jarring in juxtaposition to their picturesque locales and might trigger those sensitive to violence.) Les Becquets alternates between Marian and Nick’s points-of-view (the murders come from the victims’) and past and present. Reading how Marian and Tate fall in love, how he woos her with compliments but then leaves her cold if she questions him or does something he disapproves of, made me wonder about the fine line between a serial killer’s psychosis and typical male dating behavior.

Because Tate is dead when the book opens (his cause of death isn’t revealed till much later, but it’s clear from the beginning that Tate died alone in the woods), the book lacks the feeling of suspense and high stakes that a killer on the loose would provide. While Les Becquets does establish that someone out there doesn’t want Marian to continue her investigation, these moments are so few and far between that they do not add up to that feeling of hot breath on the neck of the protagonist.

I enjoyed Les Becquets’s voice, and I liked the blend of women’s fiction and suspense. Even though I guessed the ending, the combination of these genres and the alternating timelines gave the book’s structure an unpredictability despite the binary nature of its central mystery. I also enjoyed seeing Marian’s growth from the uncertain new dog handler to a confident woman ready to face the truth about her boyfriend and its consequences.

Very few women will ponder the question of whether the man they love is a serial killer. But thematically, the dilemma is much broader than that: How many of us have wondered, at one time or another, whether we really know the person on the pillow next to us at all?

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Diane Les Becquets:

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Excerpt from Wildflower Park: Oopsy Daisy

Wildflower Park - Part 3: Oopsy Daisy by Bella Osborne

Life’s not always a walk in the park…

When Anna is dumped by her fiancé, she moves in to her own place on the edge of the gorgeous Wildflower Park and pledges to stay off men and focus on her career, but a handsome new colleague seems to thwart her attempts at every turn. And when she receives an accidental text from a mystery man, could it be the new start she needs? Or someone she really shouldn't be falling for?

Anna’s neighbour Sophie is a stressed-out mum-of-two with a third on the way. Her husband is a constant frustration, and their children are a regular source of newly-invented swear words and unidentifiable sticky surfaces.

Luckily, Anna and Sophie have each other – and Wildflower Park proves to be a sanctuary as they map out a path to find the happiness they both deserve…


Fantastically funny, this irresistibly heart-warming novel will charm fans of Milly Johnson and Jill Mansell.

Excerpt:
‘Oh, I’m not leaving them.’ Anna did a sigh of relief followed by a sharp intake of breath and she almost inhaled a marshmallow. If she wasn’t leaving the children was she expecting to move them in too? Sophie continued. ‘I’m going to get up early so I’ll be there when they wake up and then they’re off on holiday with the Kraken for two weeks.’

Anna was hugely relieved about this. She’d forgotten Karen was taking the children away for a while. ‘It might do you both good to have two weeks together without the children.’

Sophie was already shaking her head. ‘No way. I can’t do this any more.’ Her voice cracked and she pulled a tissue from her pocket and blew her nose loudly. ‘This isn’t what I wanted, Anna. I wasn’t meant to end up like this. I don’t know how it happened.’ She looked wretched sitting crossed-legged in the chair with her swollen belly stretching her top to the max. She was six months pregnant and she looked it. ‘I had plans … big plans. I was going to go places … see stuff. Not stay in the Midlands and wipe bums for the rest of my life.’

Anna put down her drink and went and gave Sophie another hug. She hated to see her like this. ‘What needs to change to make you happy again?’

Sophie sniffed. ‘Swapping Dave for Hudson would be a start.’ She gave a hiccup of a laugh.
‘You’d soon get fed up with his pretty face and perfect body. Yuk.’ Anna gave a pretend shudder, passed Sophie back her hot chocolate and Sophie gave a brief smile. ‘And I bet he leaves wet towels on the floor too.’

‘If it means he’s walking around naked, that’s fine with me.’ Sophie sipped her hot chocolate and gave herself a creamy moustache. ‘Hmmm,’ she said contentedly and Anna wasn’t sure if it was the hot chocolate or the thought of a naked Hudson making her emit the happy sound.

‘Dave isn’t all bad, though. I’m sure we can come up with a list of his good points.’ Anna scanned the room for a pen and paper. She had various ways to solve problems.

‘I’m not workshopping my marriage,’ said Sophie emphatically.

‘Fair enough.’ She had a point. ‘How about Relate counselling?’ Sophie shook her head. ‘Then how do we resolve this?’

‘I don’t think we can,’ said Sophie and she sniffed back more tears.
Anna’s phone pinged and she quickly scanned the message. Thanks for a great evening. Hope you got home safe. C.

Anna couldn’t hide the small smile before her eyes darted back to Sophie. Sophie was watching her. ‘It’s just Connor. Carry on,’ said Anna, gesturing with her hand.

See excerpts from part one: Build Me Up Buttercup and part two: A Budding Romance.

Bella Osborne has been jotting down stories as far back as she can remember but decided that 2013 would be the year that she finished a full length novel.

In 2016, her debut novel, It Started At Sunset Cottage, was shortlisted for the Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year and RNA Joan Hessayon New Writers Award.

Bella's stories are about friendship, love and coping with what life throws at you. She likes to find the humour in the darker moments of life and weaves these into her stories. Her novels are often serialised in four parts ahead of the full book publication.

Bella believes that writing your own story really is the best fun ever, closely followed by talking, eating chocolate, drinking fizz and planning holidays.

She lives in The Midlands, UK with her lovely husband and wonderful daughter, who thankfully, both accept her as she is (with mad morning hair and a penchant for skipping). (Bio courtesy of Amazon.)

For more about Bella, visit her website or follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


Thanks to Avon for including us on Bella's tour. Visit all the other stops:


Monday, March 18, 2019

Spotlight and Giveaway: Tomorrow There Will Be Sun

Dana Reinhardt's debut novel, Tomorrow There Will Be Sun, published last week. We're excited to feature it today and thanks to Viking, we have THREE copies for some lucky readers!

Two families take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; but the idyllic façade soon begins to melt away. Despite the picturesque accommodations—sunning and swimming with their dearest friends in the world along for the ride— Jenna can’t seem to get out of her own head. Her husband Peter acts secretive and defensive about calls from a certain coworker, while their daughter seems entranced by their friends’ ne’er-do-well teenage son. The expansive property feels like tight quarters as tensions mount and the weather grows stormy. As the two families fold in on themselves, news of a rift between local cartels in Puerto Vallarta drifts unnoticed in the background. The doting staff reassures them that there is nothing to worry about, so they don’t—until they’re forced to reckon with very real trouble in paradise.  

Funny, suspenseful, and sometimes plain old drunk, TOMORROW THERE WILL BE SUN is a book fit for any bag, whether you’re jetting off for your own vacation, or curling up at home only wishing to be transported far, far away.

“TOMORROW THERE WILL BE SUN is escapist fiction without the empty calories, a witty and wise tale of all the ways reality bites. Dana Reinhardt is the Nora Ephron we’ve all been missing.”
—Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of The High Tide Club

"A smart, funny novel about what happens when a family must contend with itself in paradise. If you can't escape to your own gorgeous villa, Tomorrow There Will Be Sun is the next best thing."
—Laura Dave, author of Hello Sunshine


Photo by Chelsea Hadley
Dana Reinhardt lives in San Francisco with her husband and two teenage daughters. TOMORROW THERE WILL BE SUN is her debut adult novel. Visit Dana at her website and on Twitter and Instagram.



How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here

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Giveaway ends March 24th at midnight EST.




Friday, March 15, 2019

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
Life and Other Inconveniences by Kristan Higgins from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The Prophetess by Evonne Marzouk
Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb from William Morrow
The Unbreakables by Lisa Barr from Great Thoughts' Great Readers (won in giveaway)
The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion from Text Publishing (e-book via NetGalley)
Postcards For a Songbird by Rebekah Crane from Skyscape
Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff from Crooked Lane Books (e-book via NetGalley)
The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton from Graydon House (e-book via NetGalley)
Valencia and Valentine by Suzy Krause from Kathleen Carter Communications
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez from Forever (e-book via NetGalley)
My Ex-Best Friend's Wedding by Wendy Wax from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)

Amy:
Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson from HarperCollins

Jami:
Envy by Amanda Robson from HarperCollins UK
Everything is Just Fine by Brett Paesel from Grand Central Publishing (e-book via NetGalley)

Sara:
Fifty, Four Ways by/from Katherine Cobb (e-book)
Starfish by/from Lisa Becker (e-book)
Until the Last Star Fades by/from Jacquelyn Middleton (e-book)
The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne from Little Bird Publicity (e-book via NetGalley)
If I Can Make It Here by/from Jamie Rose (e-book)


Book Review and Giveaway: The Things We Cannot Say

By Jami Deise

Kelly Rimmer’s novel about two sisters dealing with opioid addiction, Before I Let You Go, was one of my favorite books of 2018 (see my review). I was surprised to hear that she followed up that contemporary sociological portrait with an historical fiction offering, but I was so impressed with her writing, I had to take a look. It was not a wasted read by any means. Even though the two books are so different that it’s almost a surprise they were written by the same author, they are both extraordinary novels.

If you loved Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, Rimmer’s The Things We Cannot Say is a must-read. It begins in the Soviet Union in 1942, as the narrator marries Tomasz Slaski in a refugee camp – hardly the wedding she’d imagined to her childhood sweetheart. In present-day Florida, Alice deals with a meltdown from her son Eddie, who is on the autism spectrum and non-verbal. The meltdown makes her late in visiting her grandmother Hanna, who’s had a stroke that has left her non-verbal as well. In fact, the only way Alice’s “Babcia” can communicate is with Eddie’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication app. Frantic and seemingly aware that her time is short, Babcia is suddenly desperate for Alice to go to her native Poland and research people Alice has never heard of. Her grandfather, Tomasz, is on that list, which is confusing… Tomasz died of dementia a year ago. Why is he on the list?

I’ve read many historical novels that alternate between a World War past and a modern present, and I’ve almost always found myself bored with the less-than-life-threatening dilemmas of the modern-day protagonist. That was not the case in Rimmer’s novel, as Alice’s devotion to Eddie and the enormity of his needs are an overwhelming, heartbreaking challenge for the sympathetic mom. In the past, Alina is a teenage girl in newly occupied Poland, pining for her love Tomasz who has gone off to college, and avoiding work around her family’s small farm. When the Nazis come, her life is turned upside down in an instant.

Both of these first-person narrators are so well-drawn, readers will feel a pang of regret each time the narration changes. And the mysteries begin right away: Is Alina Alice’s grandmother, even though Alice’s Babcia is named Hanna? If so, how do Alina and Tomasz find their way back to each other? We already have Alice’s assurance that her grandfather Tomasz died only a year ago, so what is the mystery there?

The Things We Cannot Say kept me up all night reading, and then it broke my heart twice over. It also served as a prescient reminder, in the form of a line from Tomasz, reminding his wife that they must always remain vigilant, because the Holocaust also began with little slights and annoyances.

Kudos to Kelly Rimmer. I look forward to reading everything else she ever writes.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy to give away!

Visit the other stops on the blog tour.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here

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Giveaway ends March 20th at midnight EST.


More by Kelly Rimmer: