Young Korean Refugee Sacrifices Love and Education for Stability in If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

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My Review:

This wonderful debut novel, If You Leave Me, centers around five characters growing up during and after the Korean war.  Haemi is a spirited, willful and independent 16 year old refugee who lives with and feels responsible for her widowed mother and her sickly younger brother, Hyunki.  She and her lifelong friend, Kyungwan, are experiencing young love, but he wants to get an education and be a better man before he expresses his feelings.  Kyungwan’s older, wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has no immediate family, and he also takes a liking to Haemi.  Before he goes off to war he asks her to marry him, with the hope that when he returns he will have family waiting for him.  Jisoo can ensure less struggling and provide food and medicine for Haemi and her family.  Despite her connection with Kyungwan, her hope of having a life with him, and her desire for education, she ignores her emotions and accepts Jisoo’s proposal, knowing this union will provide stability and financial security for her aging mother and sick brother, and will allow all of them to continue living together.  Understanding he cannot provide the security Haemi needs, Kyungwan leaves.  Jisoo returns from war and he and Haemi have children, but she struggles with life and loss, and has a difficult time finding peace with her decisions.  After 11 years, Kyungwan returns for a short visit…

If You Leave Me is a war story and a love story; life choices are influenced by the Korean war and the challenges of being a refugee.  Crystal Hana Kim takes us through 16 years and we witness the struggles…what they do for love and what love does to them.  This is a generational saga with multiple prospectives over time, and we see how the old and the young are influenced by western culture as it is integrated into Korean life. Families are torn apart during the civil war in Korea, and the people are desperately trying to repair their lives. If You Leave Me is about difficult decisions, the security found in new families, and the unforgettable ache of lost love.  If you loved Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, you will love this one!

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Crystal Hana Kim Book Talk

Upbringing

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Crystal Hana Kim and as always, hearing from the author enhanced my understanding of where the story ideas came from and gave me a deeper appreciation for the creativity, effort and final product.  I learned that Crystal’s  Korean maternal grandmother came to New York to help raise her for a few years when she was a baby and then returned home to Korea where she goes to visit every year.  Crystal remains close to her grandmother and they keep in touch through texts and selfies.  Her parents are immigrants and throughout her childhood they spoke Korean,  were influenced by the culture and ate Korean food at home.  When Crystal went to school she felt people did not understand her or know who she was.  When she told a boy she was Korean he said no, she must be either Chinese or Japanese.  Shocked to realize Americans knew little about Korea she decided she would one day write about her culture and her family’s country.

Grandmother

Crystal’s grandmother often tells her stories about her youth and how she was a teenage refugee and had to flee her home during the Korean war.  She talks to her about poverty and the restraints on women and how marriage gave her stability even though she wanted an education, likely influencing Haemi’s character development in If You Leave Me.  (In order to fulfill her dream of education today, Crystal’s grandmother is taking harmonica lessons and is in a poetry class!)

Research

Research for the novel started with Crystal’s knowledge of Korea and her own personal family experiences and traditions, and then expanded to a civilian focused effort, interviewing many of her Korean relatives.  Her hope was to create a novel that was vivid, descriptive and portrayed family and cultural history with integrity, and I believe she was hugely successful.  I loved If You Leave Me and highly recommend it.

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Q & A with Crystal Hana Kim

Q:  I enjoyed the multiple perspectives in If You Leave Me, and each character painted a vivid picture of their life and surroundings.  I know you are a first generation American…have you been to Korea?  How much of your story came from your experiences or people you know? Did your parents’ experiences influence your story?

A:  I grew up going to Korea every summer because my mother’s side of the family all live there. She wanted to make sure that my sister and I spent as much time with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins so that we could maintain strong ties despite the physical distance. The stories in If You Leave Me are all fictitious; my favorite part of writing is creating characters, lives, and circumstances. My grandparents all survived the Korean War, and the tragedy of this war did inspire me to write about this particular time, but the characters are all my own. 

Q:  All your characters were flawed and realistic – and the war and political situation influenced their life choices and decisions.   In addition, the western cultural influences had an impact and it seemed like traditional values were being challenged by new thinking.  Do you think people who live through these type of unstable times and suffer terrible loss can recover from them and find happiness?

A:  I’m an optimist, so yes, I believe in the resilience of humankind. However, I do think that the ways in which we cope with violence, civil war, hunger, and tragedy depends on the individual. There are so many factors that shape our individual selves, from our family relationships to cultural expectations to our access to class, privilege, and opportunity. In If You Leave Me, my goal was to create a complex, diverse group of characters who felt as real and human as possible.   

Q:  We never find out who received the yellow dress but are made to feel like Jisoo bought it for another woman.  Why did you choose not to tell us who received it?  Did it not matter? (It came up in the book discussion!)

A:  Ah, the yellow dress! I prefer books that do not tie up every loose end, that instead allows room for the reader to make their own judgments. What the yellow dress represented—mistrust, disloyalty, and the fracturing in Haemi and Jisoo’s relationship—were more important and interesting to me than neatly concluding whether or not Jisoo bought a dress for another woman.  

Q:  Haemi loses everything over the course of her short life…her father dies, she spends her childhood caring for her widowed mother and ailing brother, she gives up her relationship with Kyunghwan so her family has financial stability, she sacrifices her will to be educated to become a wife to a man she doesn’t love and she loses her brother.  She mentions several times how she has a hard time recovering after pregnancy.  She also was so angry and seemed to recognize this and try to control it at times.  Did Haemi have post partum depression or a mental illness? 

A:  Haemi had to sacrifice a lot for her family, and yet there were real moments of joy in her life as well. For example, even in her relationship to Jisoo, there is a form of love in the earlier years of their marriage. Even though she finds motherhood difficult and is not the perfect caretaker, she also deeply loves her children. I wanted her life to be complex and yet realistic to the time she grew up in. 

I specifically depicted Haemi struggling after pregnancy because I wanted to write about a strong female character suffering from post partum depression. Haemi tries to articulate how she is feeling to those around her, but they cannot comprehend her illness and thus have no empathy for her. I wanted to showcase how frustrating this could feel for a mother of young children—in addition to suffering from post partum, she does not have the vocabulary to articulate her illness to others.   

Q:  How long did it take you to write this book?

A:  In 2011, when I started my graduate studies in MFA at Columbia University, I began writing about Haemi and Solee. I was interested in their mother-daughter relationship and their circumstances. As I wrote scenes from their perspectives, the other characters began to take shape. At first, I thought I was working on an interconnected short story collection about a Korean family over three generations. In 2014, I realized that I could take part of that collection and turn it into a novel. At that point, the premise and scope of If You Leave Me was born, and it was published a few years later in 2018. 

Q:  Would you ever consider writing a book centered on one of the daughters as a continuation?

A:  Yes, I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing a book about the daughters in their adult years! I think it would be interesting to explore the different trajectories these daughters’ lives would take as they grapple with their childhoods, their mother’s leaving, and Korea’s modernization. I also think this could be a way to explore immigration to the United States, which, as the daughter of Korean immigrants, I would love to write about.  

Q:  What 3 books have you read recently that you recommend?

A:  There are so many books I’d recommend! Chemistry by Weike Wang was published in 2017, but I read it this year. Chemistry is a funny and moving story about an indecisive Chinese American Phd Chemistry candidate trying to understand what she wants out of life. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell) is a slim, powerful, eerie, and odd conversation between a sick young woman in a rural hospital and a young boy. It’s an unsettling book that is difficult to describe but that will stay with you for a long time. The Return by Hisham Matar is a memoir about the author’s return to Libya to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his father decades before. 

Q:  What books are on your nightstand that you are looking forward to reading?

A:  I am very excited to read Heavy by Kiese Laymon, Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, and American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. 

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Crystal Hana Kim holds an MFA from Columbia University and is a contributing editor for Apogee Journal. She has received numerous awards, including PEN America’s Story Prize for Emerging Writers, along with fellowships and support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Born and raised in New York, she currently lives in Chicago.

Memories of the Past, a Vision to the Future, and the Power of Music Join Together in this Magical Wartime Love Story.

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In Another Time  by Jillian Cantor is a wonderful historical fiction novel with deep characters who love books, music and each other.

In 1930s Berlin, Max, a German bookshop owner sees Hanna playing what she loves most, the violin.  He is enchanted and in an attempt to get her attention, he brings her what he loves most, a book.  After his dedicated pursuit, he wins her over, and the relationship between the two blossoms. German life during the rise of Hitler is not easy and to make matters worse, because Max is not a Jew, Hanna’s family is not supportive.  Then Max has an unexplained disappearance which causes Hanna to be worried, angry and confused.   She steps back from their relationship for a time, but the love between them is powerful and eventually it draws them back together.  

Antisemitism is increasing in Germany and although Hanna, so focused on her violin playing, does not take much notice, Max worries about her and his Jewish friends.  Hitler and the Nazis are taking over, panic is starting to set in and his longtime Jewish neighbors are in terrible danger.  When Max sees them in distress he reaches out to offer help.  Max has a huge secret that he believes can save those in danger, but when his beloved Hanna is looking the Nazis in the eyes, can he bring her to safety?

In 1946 Hanna finds herself in an open field with her less than pristine violin and no memory of the recent past.  Hitler is dead, the train station has been bombed, she has no idea what happened to Max, and she has lost her memory of the last 10 years of her life.  Hanna’s sister comes to get her and bring her back to her home in London where she searches for opportunities to play her trusted violin in an orchestra.  Her love for music and Max are the only things she remembers and without him she focuses on playing violin to bring peace and joy to her life, and to give her a purpose.  Will Hanna and Max cross paths again?  In Another Time is a heartbreaking story of love, and survival in difficult times, and the ability to learn the truth.

I enjoy narration by two characters alternating chapters as it is easy to read and it compels me to read just one more chapter, and then just one more, always wanting to know what is going to happen next…Jillian Cantor created interesting characters and I get immersed in her writing with the World War ll setting,  appreciative for the research involved in historical fiction.  I adored The Lost Letter published 2017, and I highly recommend In Another Time too!

Q & A With Jillian Cantor

Tell us a little bit about In Another Time.

In Another Time is the story of Max, a German bookshop owner, and Hanna, a Jewish violin prodigy, who fall in love in the 1930s outside of Berlin as Hitler is rising to power. Max narrates the story in the 1930s, before the war, and Hanna narrates beginning in 1946, after the war, when she wakes up in a field with only her violin, no memory of the past ten years, and no idea what happened to Max. Max’s story moves through the 1930s as Hanna’s moves through the 1940s and 50s. I wanted it to be a love story between Max and Hanna but also a love song to books and music in our most trying times.

When I learned about Max’s huge secret, the special closet door in his bookshop, it first made me think of the novel Exit West where Mohsin Hamid wrote about doors people went through to get to other countries.  He mostly used it as a metaphor for immigration, allowing him not to have to focus on the physical journey. In In Another Time, I was unprepared for the magical time travel that happened in the closet but was pleasantly surprised.  Unexplainable, supernatural elements like this are not often used in historical fiction.  How did you come up with the idea?

I really wanted to explore the question of what made people leave, or not leave, Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the lead up to WWII. I spoke with a Holocaust survivor who’d been a young Jewish girl in Berlin at the time. She said her parents refused to leave, saying it was their country too. They were Germans too. So I thought a lot about what it means to love your country, and feel allegiance to your country even if terrible things start happening. And how hard it would’ve been to fathom how horrible everything would eventually get if you were living there in those years. The question I set out to answer before I even sat down to write the book was, what if you had every way and means possible to leave, even a magical escape, would you still want to stay? 

I just accepted the magic and immersed myself in the lives of the wonderful characters, Hanna and Max.  Did you ever consider explaining more of the details regarding time traveling through the closet?  How did you decide what to explain and what to leave unsaid?

I definitely don’t see this a science fiction novel in any way, even though time travel does play a small role, like you said. So I never wanted to get bogged down in the details of how it worked. And Max is a bookshop owner, a reader, not a scientist, so I didn’t believe as a character he would get bogged down in these details either. My goal was to explain enough to make the plot and Max’s actions make sense, but not too much where the book became more science fiction than historical fiction. 

Your novel has Max’s story and Hanna’s story each from their own perspective. Did you write them alternating chapters like we read them, or did you create each character’s narrative separately?

  I wrote them exactly in the order that you read them, as they appear in the book now, alternating chapters. It did get a little confusing, and at a certain point as I was drafting (about 100 pages in) I stopped, and made a giant chart on the wall of my office to keep track of where each character was in each year, how old each was, etc.! But I felt I needed to write the book the way it would eventually read so I could get the pacing and the story arc right in the first draft. When I went back and revised, however, I did pull each story out and revise each one separately to make sure it was all coherent and made sense in order. 

All the chapters are narrated by Max or Hanna except for one. Why did Elsa have her own chapter?

Elsa is married to Max’s best friend, Johann, and she has a small but important role in the novel. The chapter she narrates allowed me to give the reader information that neither Max nor Hanna could’ve known.

What are you reading now (if you even have time) and what do you recommend?

I’m reading a lot of research for the next novel I’m writing right now! But I have a giant to-read pile sitting on my desk that I plan to get to once I finish drafting my next book: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce, and The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer, just to name a few. One upcoming historical novel that I got to read early, and that I highly recommend, is The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar. It’s out in July – look out for it!

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Music did actually keep people safe during World War ll; here is a video that tells a story of a woman who survived Auschwitz.

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If you would like to hear some orchestra music, here is a clip from my teenage son’s most recent concert with the NORWALK YOUTH SYMPHONY .

According to Google:  Listening to music can help reduce stress according to many studies. It can help relieve a person from anxiety, depression, and other emotional and mental problems. Music is also capable of eliminating physical exhaustion as it allows the body and mind to relax.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the USA Today bestselling author of THE LOST LETTER, THE HOURS COUNT, MARGOT, and, most recently, IN ANOTHER TIME, which is a March 2019 Indie Next pick. Her work has been translated into 10 languages, and has been featured as a Library Reads pick, and in People Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Glamour, and PopSugar among others. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

Living in the Metropol Hotel in Russia Can be Fine…A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles…New Video Interview!

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NEW…

Author Amor Towles recently visited The Metropol Hotel and takes us on a tour!

My Review:

If you missed this one in hardcover, now is the time to grab a copy in paperback!  True to all the hype, Amor Towles has written a masterpiece.  I loved the premise of a Russian aristocrat being under house arrest for life in a fancy hotel due to a controversial poem he supposedly had written when he was younger.  A Gentleman In Moscow is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, and his life in the Metropol Hotel, from the 1920s on. Friendship, connection, loyalty and the ultimate pursuit of how to live, are beautifully explored with Towles’s skillful storytelling; while the elegant aristocrat creates a life for himself inside the hotel, 30 crucial years of Russian history were happening in the outside world.

I was late to the party in taking on this rather large book, but when I recently learned it took place in a hotel I was intrigued.  Initially Thurston Hall at George Washington University (a former hotel turned dorm) came to mind, and then I thought of Zach and Cody (of Disney Channel fame 2005-2008) and their suite life in the Tipton Hotel in Boston.  In A Gentleman In Moscow, Alexander Rostov was not allowed to leave the premises of the fancy hotel across from the Kremlin, but lucky for him there was a restaurant and bar, seamstress and lots of rooms to discover and explore.  The elements of glamour softened the blow of being incarcerated and unable to go outside, yet in my mind I questioned whether Rostov’s sentence was really a punishment or was it protection from the harsh realities of Russia outside the Metropol doors during that time. The pace of the book was on the slower side, not the kind of story you read in a day but rather the kind you savor and reread as you go, as one might do when there is nothing else to tend to and no place to go.  It meandered around the Metropol with wonderful stories, descriptions and character exploration. I felt as if I were actually wandering around the different rooms and stairwells and experiencing life in the elegant Russian hotel myself.  I enjoyed how the Rostov found a way to continually learn, grow and enjoy his life, develop many relationships, and dress, eat and live well, all under a strict, watchful eye and government punishment.  A Gentleman in Moscow was a beautiful combination of a fictional, highly imaginative story paired with important Russian history… and a unexpected surprise at the end!   I highly recommend!

CBS This Morning’s correspondent, Elizabeth Palmer visits the Metropol Hotel with Amor Towles and you can plan a stay there too!

Visit the Metropol Hotel website.

A Gentleman in Moscow available in paperback here.

In April 2018 it was announced there would be a tv production of A Gentleman In Moscow.  No news since then, but here is the article.

If you are interested in living in a hotel like Count Alexander Rostov did, you may want to read this!  I’m not pushing it but there are definitely some benefits… here is more to read!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Having worked as an investment professional in Manhattan for over twenty years, he now devotes himself fulltime to writing. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback and was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. The book was optioned by Lionsgate to be made into a feature film and its French translation received the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald. His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, published in 2016, was also a New York Times bestseller and was ranked as one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the St. Louis Dispatch, and NPR. Both novels have been translated into over fifteen languages.

Mr. Towles, who lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children, is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, obsolete accessories, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers.

The Danger 1940’s Food Tasters Faced is highlighted in At the Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino (includes video interview)

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My Review:

According to Google, “coming together and sharing a meal is the most communal and binding thing in almost every place in the world”.  Eating together, and eating at all is usually considered a good thing, but after reading Rosella Postorino’s latest novel you may just change your mind!

Based on truth, At the Wolf’s Table is about a group of German women in 1943 who are recruited by the Nazis to taste Hitler’s food before each meal to ensure it to be poison-free.  As food becomes scarce and people are going hungry, these women are shuttled to the “Wolf’s Lair” in the morning to have full breakfasts and early lunches under the scrutiny of armed Nazi soldiers, then returned home and brought back at the end of the day for full dinners.  After forcing themselves to fully consume each course they wait for illness to kick in, eating to stay alive and at the same time fearing death.

Newly married and all alone, Rosa has lost both her parents, her husband Gregor has gone off to war and she has moved to the country to live with her in laws outside of Berlin.  She has been recruited as a food taster for Hitler where she “would participate in the liturgy of the lunchroom together with other young German women- an army of worshippers prepared to receive on (our) tongues a Communion that wouldn’t redeem us.”  Rosa tries to make friends with the other tasters but relationships between the women are strained; some of them are Nazi supporters, some are not, and some are hiding something; Jewish roots, affairs, pregnancy, rape, abortion…nobody is sure who to trust.  Rosa’s husband is declared missing, and as her loneliness intensifies, she develops a risky relationship with one of the soldiers.  Will her husband ever be found?  Will she escape the perils of war?

At The Wolf’s Lair provides a unique setting that highlights secrets, betrayals and sorrow amidst the constant fear in everyday life during World War ll. I enjoyed this story and recommend it!

Here is an article about one of the real food tasters from WWll…

http://m.spiegel.de/international/germany/hitler-food-taster-margot-woelk-speaks-about-her-memories-a-892097.html

And a video interview…

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MNcZyBqJCzk

Goodreads Summary

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Rosella Postorino is an internationally bestselling author and an editor. She speaks fluent English, Italian, French, and German. At the Wolf’s Table is her first novel to be translated into English.

Thorough research and the use of music set the stage for The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

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My Review:

I loved Lynda Cohen Loigman’s debut, The Two Family House, and she has written another emotional family story, this time taking place in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Filled with detail and charm, she clearly knows how to use research to create an authentic atmosphere in her latest novel, The Wartime Sisters.  Her fully formed characters seemed like real people to me, and thanks to her skilled storytelling, and unique use of music to create scenes, I felt like I was living at the Springfield Armory during the war.

This is a story of sisters. Ruth is the older, smart one; she likes to read and do math.  Not a looker, but is capable and given responsibility in the family.  Millie is three years younger, gets away with everything, and receives all the attention because she is the pretty one.  Now adults, parents gone, Millie has a young son and her husband has gone off to war.  She cannot support herself and her boy so they go to live at the armory with her older sister Ruth and her family.   Ruth has two children and works at the armory, and her husband is an officer and has gone off to war.  Bad blood and secrets between the sisters linger while they learn to co-exist at the armory, but with the tragedy of war and loss, and the importance of family, the gift of time often heals wounds.

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Music was an important part of this book, and Lynda Cohen Loigman shares:

HOW MUSIC HELPED TO SHAPE THE WARTIME SISTERS

Early on in my research, I read a line in a book about the Springfield Armory that mentioned an opera singer who worked as a cook at the Armory cafeteria. When I read this line, I knew I wanted to create a character like that – a woman who would work behind the stove preparing food for the factory workers, but who would have another, more creative and outgoing side to her. From that one line (and a lot of subsequent research), I shaped the character of Arietta. She is the daughter of an Italian immigrant, a former vaudeville singer who performed in theatres owned by Sylvester Poli in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Unlike Arietta, Sylvester Poli was a real person – an immigrant himself, and the owner of several vaudeville theatres throughout the northeast. He started in New Haven, and built his theater empire from there.

In the story, Arietta has a big personality and an even bigger heart. She is a wonderful friend and support for Millie, and very protective of her.

I had the best time listening to 1940’s music, trying to come up with the songs I wanted to include in my story for Arietta to sing. My favorite was a song called “A Pair of Silver Wings,” originally performed by Kay Kaiser, and later sung by Dinah Shore.

One of the pivotal scenes in The Wartime Sisters takes place during a concert that was held on the Armory grounds, put on by the Victory Parade of Spotlight Bands radio show. This scene was modeled on a real concert that occurred at the Armory in September of 1943. Benny Goodman performed for a crowd of thousands on Armory Hill, and the radio show was broadcast throughout the country.

Of course, in my version, I had to move the date slightly, and also make sure that Arietta had the opportunity to perform. The last song she sings at my fictional concert is one that helped to shape my character, Lenny. It’s called “Why Don’t You Do Right,” and Peggy Lee recorded it with Benny Goodman in 1942. It has a particularly haunting and almost ominous melody, perfect for my scene. There were so many additional songs I wanted to include, but I was only able to add a few more to the story. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope you get a chance to listen to them too!

Research is a huge part of writing a novel and here Lynda shares:

THE RABBIT HOLE OF RESEARCH – BALANCING THE “HISTORICAL” WITH THE “FICTION” 

Immersing myself in research can be tremendously rewarding. But after a while, there is a fine line (at least for me) between research and procrastination. I could research forever, and never stop to develop my characters or think about my plot. In many ways, knowing when to stop is the most difficult skill to develop.

In researching The Wartime Sisters, my goal was to create an accurate picture of daily life at the Springfield Armory, from the perspective of both the residents and the workers. I spoke many times with the curator of the Armory museum to try to get all of the details right. But there were two questions that gnawed at me, for which I couldn’t find answers. At the end of the day, one of the answers mattered, and one really didn’t. And I had to force myself to let go of the question that I knew wasn’t going to further my story.

The question that mattered had to do with the Armory’s “On To Victory” dance that occurred in February of 1943. There was an article about the dance in the Armory Newsletter, full of photographs and all kinds of information about the evening. I learned how many tickets were sold, the refreshments that were served, and the name of all the musicians and entertainers who performed. There were detailed photos of various people in attendance so I could see what they were wearing. I read about the war bond raffle and the jitterbug contest. There was, however, one crucial piece of information missing: the article didn’t mention where the dance was held. The curator of the museum had no idea, and neither of us could believe that the venue wasn’t mentioned in any of the articles we found. Finally, after seeking additional help from the Springfield Museums, we found the answer through a ticket advertisement in an old edition of The Springfield Republican. The dance had been held at the Springfield Auditorium.

Knowing the location was crucial to getting the description correct in my story. I wanted to be able to picture the hall, to see where one character stood and where another stopped to rest her feet. I wanted to know what it was like to enter the venue, to walk up the auditorium steps, and to set foot inside. This was a piece of information very worth the time and energy that went into its discovery.

At another point, however, I became fixated on a historical detail that wasn’t nearly as relevant. For whatever reason, I became obsessed with learning how it was that armory residents received their mail. They didn’t have mailboxes, so where was it delivered? Was there a separate mail room? Mail slots in the doors? I never found the answer, and the curator couldn’t help me. Ultimately, I had to let go of that small detail. I knew in my heart that writing about the specific path of a letter from the post office to the postman to my character’s hands wasn’t going to move my plot along. And, to be honest, it probably wasn’t going to be interesting for readers either.

So, there you have it – two tiny mysteries, but only one solved. The mail question continued to bother me for a while, but I forced myself to stop thinking about it. Instead, I focused on my writing and the contents of that letter I had been worrying about. Ultimately, what the letter said about my character was much more important than how it got delivered.

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Writing historical fiction is not an easy task, the research alone is endless and the commitment to accuracy seems like it could be a draining process.  I admire Lynda and so many others who put in the time to write such wonderful, creative and fulfilling stories, creating opportunity to learn about a specific time in history.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Lynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a law degree from Columbia Law School. Lynda practiced trusts and estates law in New York City for eight years before moving out of the city to raise her two children with her husband. She wrote The Two-Family House while she was a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. The Two-Family House was chosen by Goodreads as a best book of the month for March, 2016, and was a nominee for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction. Lynda’s second novel, The Wartime Sisters, was published on January 22, 2019.

33 Books for Vacation 2019

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Many authors I enjoy have recently released new books or have a new one being published this year.  Below are the beautiful covers with links to reviews and summaries so you can choose some books for the next snow day, a long ski weekend or a coveted beach getaway.  Catch up with the authors’ earlier novels this winter and order the new ones so you have a great stack for the summer!

The Best Books to Take on Vacation!

If you enjoyed the addictive psychological thriller The Wife Between Us,

you will love the latest bestseller An Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks.

If you enjoyed the Brooklyn Jewish family saga The Two-Family House,

you will love to read about Jewish sisters, secrets and the Springfield Armory in The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman.

If you loved reading about the internet, addiction and crime in The Truth About Thea,

you will love the new political thriller, Why We Lie, by Amy Impellizzeri, available March 2019.


If you loved these beach read favorites, The Forever Summer and The Husband Hour,

you won’t want to miss reading about the glamorous Hamptons in Drawing Home by Jamie Brenner, available May 2019.


If you immersed yourself in old New York and read about the Barbizon Hotel, The Dakota, and Grand Central Terminal, in The Dollhouse, The Address and The Masterpiece,

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you will want to read about the theater district, 1950s New York and the Chelsea Hotel in The Chelsea Girls: A Novel by Fiona Davis, available July 2019.

 

If you enjoy reading about family and tragedy set in Apartheid era South Africa and loved Hum If You Don’t Know the Words,

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you will definitely want to read about love, family bonds and three South African women in If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais, available July 2019.

 

If you enjoyed reading about tragedy and love in How to Walk Away

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you will want to add to your list Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center, available August 2019.

 

If you cried your eyes out and loved The Memory of Us and Before the Rain Falls,

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you won’t want to miss The Way of Beauty and the newest novel, The Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio, available March 2019.

 

If you enjoyed learning about a real World War ll heroine in Lilac Girls ,

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you will love learning about the Women of World War l in Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly, available April 2019.

 

If you were overflowing with emotion after reading The Orphan’s Tale,

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you will surely want to read about World War ll spies in The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.

 

If you were moved and impacted the story of racism and police violence in The Hate U Give,

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you will want read about hip-hop and the struggle to achieve dreams in On the Come Up by Angie Thomas.

 

If you loved reading about a love letter and World War ll Austria in The Lost Letter,

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you will want to read about a family secret and World War ll in In Another Time by Jillian Cantor, available March 2019.

 

If you adored learning about the all women spy ring from World War l in The Alice Network, 

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you will want to follow the journalist and pilot as they search for the Nazi war criminal in The Huntress by Kate Quinn.

 

If you enjoyed reading about the woman who made the final meals for death row prisoners in The Last Suppers

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you will want to add to your list this story of three generations of women and a dark secret in Forgiveness Road by Mandy Mikulencak.

So many books, so little time.  What will you take on your next vacation?

 

 

 

War, Women, Spies, Revenge and the Truth Revealed in The Alice Network…Who should be cast in the movie…and FAQ with author Kate Quinn.

The Alice Network

My Review:

The Alice Network, a suspenseful, dual timeline historical fiction novel, begins in the early 1900s…In 1915, stuttering Eve is identified as a good liar, speaks several languages and is asked to spy on the German soldiers in France during WWl.  In 1947, Charlie, a young, pregnant girl is looking for her beloved cousin, Rose, who disappeared in France during WWll.  Charlie follows a lead to located someone in London who can help and finds herself on a journey with Eve, now an older, often drunk woman with a secret past.  Together with Finn, the driver, they set off to track down Rose and ultimately are faced with old and painful memories.

While perseverance and bravery prevail, we learn the history of a women’s spy ring in France, based on real happenings – during challenging, dangerous and secretive times.   We follow the wonderful characters through the successes and failures of their lives, as they confront the ghosts of the painful past and unravel the mysteries of the wartime to discover the truth.  A fantastic novel, not to be missed.

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This is a photo of Louise de Bettignies, known as The Queen of Spies, the real woman who ran the spy ring called the Alice Network, right under the noses of the German soldiers.  Kate Quinn’s character, Lili is based on Louise.  Should the book become a movie, the author talks about her preferences for the cast.  Click the link below to see who she recommends.

http://www.katequinnauthor.com/uncategorized/the-alice-network-fantasy-movie-cast/

Q & A with Kate Quinn

Where do you get your ideas for writing?

KQ:  Generally something will hook me—a person, a historical event, a place—and it’s something so interesting, so cool, so off the wall, that I realize it would be a great hook to hang a story on.  For The Alice Network it was the realization that there had been this network of WWI spies, many of them women, who had been organized and led by a woman nicknamed “The Queen of Spies”—that was so fascinating to me, I had to write about it!

Writing a story that goes back and forth between two time periods musts be a difficult process.  How did you do it?

KQ:  Some authors, when writing a dual timeline, write all of one and then all of the other, then go about the work of intercutting them.  I might do that in the future for another book, but for The Alice Network, I cut back and forth between the two even while drafting my rough draft.  It helped me draw parallels between the two stories that much more easily.

Eve’s hands were a focal point and the cause a mystery throughout the story. The scene where we witness what happened to her was so gruesome and upsetting… how did you come up with it?

KQ: The thing with writing a dual timeline is that the timeline that takes place in the past must still have tension.  I can’t keep the reader in suspense about whether Eve survives whatever danger she encounters in WWI, because you see in the second, 1947 timeline that she’s alive.  So giving her the disfigured hands was an immediate way to set up a mystery: from the first time Charlie and the reader meet Eve, the question is “What happened to her hands to mak them look that way?”  It’s one of the questions that drives tension in the 1915 timeline, since you know at some point you’re going to find out what happened.

Smashing knuckles is a fairly standard torture throughout the ages, I’m sad to say, because people have so many nerve endings in their fingers.  Finger injuries are very painful but not life threatening, which is just the kind of injury torturers want to inflict on people from whom the are trying to extract information.

How did you come about including poetry references in your novel?

KQ: I love Baudelaire’s poetry—it’s both lush and disturbing in the imagery, perfect for my villain with his lush, disturbing tastes.  And with “Les Fleurs du Mal,” Baudelaire’s most famous volume of poetry, I saw the chance to incorporate the broader metaphor about women as flowers, and my various ladies with their floral names!

Which character did you identify with the most?

KQ: I identified more closely with the young Eve and her struggle with her speech impediment, because my husband has a stutter (it was his idea in part to give Eve her speech impediment) and I have for nearly 20 years watched his frustrations in dealing with the world that makes assumptions about people with stammers.

Unknown.pngTo commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the death of Louise de Bettignies, France issued a postage stamp with her likeness in 2018.

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The Alice Network was the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award Winner for best historical fiction.  Kate Quinn’s highly anticipated new book, The Huntress is available Feb. 26, 2019.

 

Goodreads Summary

author Kate Quinn

About the author:

Kate Quinn is a New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written seven historical novels, including the bestselling “The Alice Network,” the Empress of Rome Saga, and the Borgia Chronicle. All have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

The Mysteries and History of Grand Central Terminal in NYC revealed in The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

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My Review:

Choosing a book to read is personal and everyone gravitates toward what they believe will resonate with them.  My dance class book group is eclectic and we all have different and varied interests.  Last month we chose to read The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis.  This book choice was a huge success for our group – strong women characters, art history, Grand Central Terminal, and our common love and appreciation for early 1900s New York City and the 1970s when many of our early city memories began.

The Masterpiece is a dual timeline historical fiction novel, featuring Clara, a young woman illustrator trying to rise to the top of her career in a male dominant field of artists in the 1920s.  She teaches at the Grand Central School of art and aspires to be a well known illustrator.  Clara is confident and persistent, but when the depression hits, she becomes impoverish and is faced with setbacks and tragedy.

Virginia, a divorced mother trying to make ends meet in 1974, gets a job at the dilapidated and filthy Grand Central Terminal in the information booth.  The building’s existence is in question – will it be preserved or is it in danger of being demolished?  While snooping around in the forgotten rooms above the train terminal she comes upon a beautiful painting.  Virginia’s search for the artist leads her to discover a famous illustrator who has since disappeared from history.

The characters are lively, with deep history and strong emotions…we really get to know them, understand their challenges and feel their passions.  The backdrop is New York City and the Grand Central School of Art above Grand Central Terminal.  A little mystery, a little art, a little love…tragedy, triumph and NYC…our book group loved it!

We had the amazing opportunity to FaceTime with Fiona Davis during our discussion and she provided us with insight into her writing process including her deep dive into research.  She told us Clara was written with Helen Dryden in mind, the woman who created the cover art for Vogue Magazine in the 1920s.

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In the story there is a character, Levon, who painted a picture of himself as a boy with his mother.  Fiona based that character on the painter, Arshile Gorky and here is that painting.

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When conjuring up Clara, Fiona had actress Tilda Swinton in mind.  Once you get to know Clara, this makes perfect sense!

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We learned that Fiona wrote this book in chapter order, rather than one timeline and then the next, keeping it interesting for herself as each day she was starting fresh with a different time period.  Her discipline is to be admired as she is on track to write a book a year…The Chelsea Girls will be published summer 2019.

In our book club, we are fortunate to have Brie, an artist/photographer, and she contributed with several photos of the current Grand Central Terminal, including the Whispering Gallery and the famous information booth, all shiny and clean.

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We all enjoyed the book and our special evening with Fiona.  Including the author in book group meetings adds such a unique and wonderful element to the discussion.  We look forward to welcoming more authors into our discussions in 2019!

Goodreads Summary

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About the author:

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

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I first met Fiona in 2016 when her debut historical fiction novel, The Dollhouse, was released.  Her first book talk was at the Westport Library and we connected.  That story took place at the Barbizon Hotel in NYC and coincidentally, my mother lived there during the time Fiona wrote about.  Since then, she has written The Address, which takes place at The Dakota on the upper west side, and now The Masterpiece.  She has returned to the Westport Library several times to participate in author and reader/writer events.  I was thrilled to be able to welcome her to my bookclub via FaceTime to discuss The Masterpiece!

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

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My Review:

With history, science and creativity, talented author Esi Edugyan tells the story of an 11 year old slave, in Barbados and his adventurous escape to freedom.  Washington Black, or Wash, brought up in the sugar cane fields, experienced more than his share of oppression, suffering and abuse.  When the slave master’s brother, Titch, visits the plantation and asks for the boy to be loaned to him, an unusual friendship and reliance developed between the two.

Growing up among brutal violence, Wash found Titch to be a father figure.  Titch was an abolitionist at heart and although he was focused on his scientific discovery of a flying machine, he provided opportunity for Wash as he taught him to read and nurtured his artistic abilities.  When Wash found himself in a dangerous situation, Titch abandoned his scientific experimentation to save him and they journeyed to the Arctic, where Wash gained his freedom, yet deep seeded scars of his past lingered, contributing to his ongoing struggle with truly feeling free.

The two parted ways and Wash clumsily navigated his first feelings of love and independence while he continued his quest for connection, respect and feelings of belonging, safety and equality.

Esu Edugyan’s characters are deep and well developed, and the story is heartbreaking, heartwarming, adventurous and rich with history.  When we learn and think about slavery we remember and try to understand the brutality inflicted on human beings, and the horrific mindset slave owners embodied, but the author brings to light more than just the struggles, abuse and loss of dignity, loss of self respect and self worth and loss of life…she reminds us of the incredible talents, contributions and genius that were sacrificed by taking away the rights of so many.

Finding love and pursuing scientific discovery began to fulfill Wash’s dreams for a well lived life yet, even when he was free and slavery was outlawed, he was haunted by his past.  “I became a boy without identity, a walking shadow, and with each new month I fell deeper into strangeness.  For there could be no belonging for a creature such as myself, anywhere; a disfigured black boy with a scientific turn of mind and a talent on canvas, running, always running, from the dimmest of shadows.”

This is a story of a slave, his passage to freedom, his never ending search for identity, love, family and success.  It is an incredible adventure from the islands to the Arctic and beyond.  Can we overcome setbacks from our youth, or do we carry scars that impact our life forever?

In Washington Black, Edugyan gives Wash physical scars from the past reminding us that we are made up of life experiences that cannot be erased, and who we are is developed from our life journey.  Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, for me this is a winner!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author as seen on Goodreads:

Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004’s Books to Remember.

Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, and has sat on many international panels, including the LesART Literary Festival in Esslingen, Germany, the Budapest Book Fair in Hungary, and Barnard College in New York City.

She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.