Enjoy the Crazy, Behind the Scenes Look at Suburbia in this humorous, satirical debut novel, White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf.

40390760.jpg

My Review:

Having grown up and currently living in a small town in suburbia, where over time, modest houses are knocked down and replaced by mansions, trees are removed so yards can have more sunlight, and neighbors have disputes over fences, branches, mailboxes and plowing, I have witnessed communities caught up in grievances surrounding property lines, barking dogs and early morning leaf blowing.  Author Julie Langsdorf creates Willard Park, a small town outside of Washington DC where amidst the community craziness we meet well meaning, imperfect characters living their lives to the best of their abilities. Those of us living in suburban areas outside of cities will relate to this slice of life, entertaining debut, White Elephant where neighborly tensions run high and add to the stress of everyday life, tired marriages and over exposed mortgages.

In this satirical debut that is a slightly exaggerated reality and consistently humorous, we are given a peak into suburbia and all the secrets.  Julie Langsdorf digs deep to uncover the real people in the neighborhood, their lack of communication and honestly with themselves and each other, their insecurities and private affairs along with their hopes and ideas of what it means to achieve the American Dream.  White Elephant is an enjoyable snapshot of Anytown, USA where crazy things happen and it’s just another day!

Q & A with Julie Langsdorf

Q:  How did you come up with the idea to write a book about neighborhood tension stemming from the presence of a big new house, nicknamed the White Elephant?

A:  I was inspired to write the book in 2005, when a series of articles in The Washington Post and other D.C. publications detailed the chaos that was going on in some of the area’s older, established communities. People were moving into these towns and tearing down the older houses and building new, often enormous houses, much to the older residents’ chagrin. Neighbors were egging one another, yelling at each other in the street, and suing each other. It was such a big, juicy mess I couldn’t resist writing about it. 

Q:  Did you grow up in suburbia and are any of the characters based on people you know?

A:  I grew up in a small town that bears some similarities to the fictional town of Willard Park. There’s a children’s library and houses that range from gracious Victorians to 1960’s split levels. The only character who is based on someone is Terrance, Ted’s twin brother, who is modeled after my own brother, Kenny—one of the sweetest people I know. 

Q:  Willard Park seemed familiar to me and I am sure to many who read White Elephant.  Do you think people living in many suburban towns experience similar disagreements?  

A:  I think it’s a widespread problem. I’ve heard from people all over the country who say it feels like their neighborhood! We all have different ideas about the American Dream; sometimes it’s hard to reconcile those concepts within a community. 

Q:  As I was reading I was thinking the characters belong in a soap opera and then again, this small town outside of DC is an example of so many upper middle class towns…from the dispute over the trees and new houses, to the intimacy issues and infidelity, pot smoking, truancy, illness, wannabe artists, small business owners, coffee shops, town festivals, and even a community theater performance of Annie Get Your Gun…it all rings true and seems like a microcosm of the country today!   So many things happen yet the story keeps moving forward smoothly as if all the craziness is just the norm.  The satirical storytelling with a window into peoples’ lives was a joy to read.  Where did you get all your ideas?   

A:  Thank you for saying that it’s a microcosm of what’s going on today! It really feels that way to me. Willard Park is dealing with the intense stratification we are all confronting these days. It’s so hard for people to see the ‘other side,’ and we are at risk of vilifying those who have a different perspective. There is a lot of craziness in this book, but I’m not sure it’s that much crazier than things that are going on in real life! I love the way community theater pulls a town together. There’s something so sweet about townspeople singing and practicing lines together just for the joy of it; it’s an interesting contrast to the divisiveness they are all feeling. My daughter was in Annie Get Your Gun when she was a child, so I picked that one. It’s such a wonderfully over-the-top show. I never really know where my ideas come from; I like to give my mind plenty of space to wander so oddball ideas can surface when they are ready to. 

Q:  You portrayed this slice of life humorously and with great insight.  There are plenty of secrets between neighbors, friends and family members and open communication is minimal.  Most of the characters do bad things but they all have their reasons and although I felt frustrated at times, I forgave them. True feelings are revealed and obstacles are faced, all the while everyone is on their solo journey, searching for their own happiness.  Things get so messy and the characters are deeply intertwined…how did you organize the web of neighborhood relationships…did you draw it out on paper first or did you just write and it grew together?

A:  Yes, communication is an enormous problem in the book—not just among those who dislike each other, but even among those who love one another. I think it’s a problem in real life as well. I hope readers will feel they understand why the characters make the choices they do even if they disagree with them, and will feel that they are all human, despite their flaws. I don’t map it out, but I did carefully track each character’s journey toward the end of the writing process to make sure everyone’s story hangs together with the characters with whom they interact. 

Q:  Was there anything in the story that didn’t make the final cut?  

A:  I cut Nina, the realtor, as a narrator. She was a fun character to write, but in the end I didn’t think her voice added enough to the story. 

Q:  How long did it take you to write White Elephant and what are you working on now?

A:  I wrote White Elephant in about three years, between 2005 and 2008. A long time ago now! When I finished it, the bottom fell out of the market, so it wasn’t the book’s time—but things have come full circle in recent years. I recently finished another suburban comedy set in a different kind of Maryland town. It, too, is told from multiple points of view, and is very topical. I can’t reveal any more about it just yet, but I will as soon as I am able to! 

Q:  What three books have you read lately that you recommend?  And what is on your nightstand to read next?

A:  I loved Daisy Jones and The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which I listened to as an audiobook; I highly, highly recommend readers experience it in that way. I also highly recommend Angie Kim’s debut novel Miracle Creek, which will be published this Tuesday. It’s a courtroom drama you do not want to miss. I’m currently reading Oksana Behave!, by Maria Kuznetsova, which is a complete delight. She has such a fresh, fun voice. Next up is Mandy Berman’s Perennials. 

I enjoyed and recommend White Elephant.  For another humorous book that gives you a behind the scenes look – this time in politics and journalism in the newsroom, check out Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota.

Goodreads Summary

17828747.jpg

About the Author:

Julie Langsdorf has received four fiction grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and her short stories have appeared in several literary magazines. White Elephant, her debut novel, was named a new book to watch for and an editors’ choice by The New York Times, a book not to miss by USA Today, a highly anticipated debut novel by The LA Times, a best new book by Southern Living Magazine and Real Simple, and a Library Journal best debut.

Advertisements

An unlikely relationship, a problem at the airport, and an interview with a famous writer…three parts, seemingly unrelated: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday delivers more than you would expect!

35297339.jpg

My Review:

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Asymmetry yet, do yourself a favor and buy it today!  Delve into this book to absorb what you can, then after, you may want to read the discussion questions.  Hint:  If you want to discover more…read Alice in Wonderland, read a Philip Roth book, then read Asymmetry again to make sense of it, and look up each character’s name and origin and anything else that can be googled.  You will be surprised and overwhelmed with the incredible amount of literary knowledge and evident research Halliday included in this masterpiece of a debut.

First we are observing a relationship between a young female editor and a much older, successful writer.  At times it may seem natural and then is also may feel highly inappropriate.  Next we are inside the mind of a muslim man detained at the London airport, and finally, we read an interview with a self centered, arrogant pulitzer prize winning author. Lisa Halliday’s novel, Asymmetry, is made up of three seemingly unrelated sections.  At a closer look you may find in Folly, the first section, editor Alice and writer Ezra are very similar to real life young Halliday and Philip Roth.  In Madness, section two, the author writes as if she is a Muslim man, with authenticity and knowledge of life in Iraq and a wartime mindset.  The final section is an interview with the brash prize winner where his true colors are evident and not altogether pleasant.

Without any spoilers, I must stop here!  My book group chose this novel and it was the most enlightening and interesting discussion to date!  If you would like more information about Lisa Halliday and Asymmetry, check out this author video interview.

If you have any comments or questions about anything related to Asymmetry, I would love to hear it!

Goodreads Summary

6476490.jpg

About the Author:

Lisa Halliday has worked as a freelance editor and translator in Milan, where she lives with her husband. Her short story ‘Stump Louie’ appeared in The Paris Review in 2005, and she received a Whiting Award for Fiction in 2017. Asymmetry is her first novel.

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

39863502.jpg

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.

Unknown.png

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.

Unknown.png

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

14056202.jpg

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.

Still Life With Monkey by Katharine Weber

38402227.jpg

My Review:

It is always a special treat and enlightening to attend an author talk, and recently I was thrilled to hear Katharine Weber speak about her new book, Still Life With Monkey with contributing editor and former Book Review section editor for Publisher’s Weekly, Sybil Steinberg.  Between research and literary knowledge, the intelligence on the stage was vast.  With sophisticated language and deep characters, Weber’s Still Life With Monkey is a must read for all book groups.  There are many stories within the story and much to discuss.

Duncan Wheeler is a talented architect and owner of his own firm in New Haven, CT.      He was visiting his Thimble Islands site and while driving home on I95 with his assistant, was in a car accident.  His assistant was killed and he survived but suffered injury that resulted in becoming a quadriplegic.  His wife Laura, is an art conservator at the Yale Art Gallery, fixing broken things for a living.  She sees Duncan fall into depression, and while she struggles with her own thoughts of letting go her dream to become a mother, she reduces her hours at work so she can take care of her husband.  Every day had become “a broken series of unsuccessful gestures”, his will to live is wavering, and so to add to the already growing number of hired aides to help take care of Duncan, and to lift his spirits, she requests a capuchin monkey to become a part of their in home support.  Ottoline was feisty, charming and lovable – a welcoming character who gave Duncan some pleasure as he thought about how he might live and how he might exit this life. Will sitting around in a wheelchair all day be Duncan’s life?  Is being alive the same as living?

Not only are we forced to ponder what a life worth living may be, but Katharine Weber teaches us about architecture and art conservation, about care for a paraplegic and about helper monkeys.  In CT, helper monkeys are not legal, but in MA there is a legitimate program that has been around for close to 40 years called Helping Hands.  Katherine had the opportunity to meet a married couple and their helper monkey, Farah on numerous occasions, and witnessed the benefits the monkey provides like buttoning and unbuttoning, page turning, social interaction, bonding and emotional connection.  Farah is 7 lbs and 36 years old and is living with her 2nd and last family, as 40 years old is life expectancy for a monkey living in captivity.  Weber’s human characters are not based on real people, but Ottoline the capuchin was based on the charming and lovable Farah.

The character of Ottoline adds texture to an already rich story that highlights ideas about twins, children and secrets.  Duncan is a twin and had been considered the original, and his brother Gordon, the copy.  Duncan had a big life, was highly educated, married with a big job, and in contrast, Gordon had a speech impediment and rode his bike to work at a bookstore.  Interesting to examine their relationship and Gordon’s relationship with Laura, Duncan’s wife.  Also, worth looking at is the impact the neighborhood children have on Duncan’s mental health, and the effect secrets may have on relationships and self worth.

Still Life With Monkey is a story about life and relationships.  It is not a tearjerker yet it is filled with compassion and humor.  I highly recommend it for book clubs and discussion.

IMG_4508 2.PNG

 

Goodreads Summary

53353.jpg

About the Author:

Katharine Weber is the author of six novels and a memoir, all book group favorites. She is the Richard L. Thomas Professof of Cretaive Writing at Kenyon College.

Katharine’s fiction debut in print, the short story “Friend of the Family,” appeared in The New Yorker in January, 1993.

Her first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (of which that story was a chapter), was published by Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1995 and was published in paperback by Picador in 1996. She was named by Granta to the controversial list of 50 Best Young American Novelists in 1996.

Her second novel, The Music Lesson, was published by Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1999, and was published in paperback by Picador in 2000. The Music Lesson has been published in fourteen foreign editions.

The Little Women was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2003 and by Picador in 2004. All three novels weren named Notable Books by The New York Times Book Review. Writing in The New York Times, Richard Eder said, “Katharine Weber’s novel, which stops being droll only to be funny and almost never stops being exceedingly smart, is a hermit crab. Creeping into the whelk shell of Louisa May Alcott’s celebrated novel, it avails itself of the spirals to do double and triple twists inside them.”

Katharine’s fourth novel, Triangle, which takes up the notorious Triangle Waist company factory fire of 1911, was published in 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in 2007 by Picador. It was longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, was a Finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award and the Paterson Fiction Prize, and was the winner of the Connecticut Book Award for Fiction.

True Confections, Katharine’s fifth novel, was published in January 2010 by Shaye Areheart Books, and was published in paperback by Broadway Books in December, 2010. In January Broadway also brought out a new edition of The Music Lesson. Triangle and The Music Lesson are now available as ebooks, too.

Her sixth book, a memoir, The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family’s Legacy of Infidelities, was published by Crown in July 2011, and by Broadway in 2012.

Her new novel, Still Life With Monkey, from Paul Dry Book is available now.

Katharine’s maternal grandmother was the songwriter Kay Swift. Since Swift’s death in 1993, Katharine has been a Trustee and the Administrator of the Kay Swift Memorial Trust, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the music of Kay Swift. This work includes the first Broadway musical with a score by a woman, “Fine and Dandy,” and several popular show tunes of the era, among them “Fine and Dandy” and “Can’t We Be Friends?”

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

36758503.jpg

My Review:

Twenty something Beck is living in DC, enjoying time with her boyfriend, working a part time teaching job and part time at Lululemon, trying to make ends meet, when she answers an ad for a job as a stenographer at a law firm on Craigslist.  They ask for her resume and cover letter and Beck, thinking nobody even reads her cover letters, omits it.   She hears back with a request for the cover letter and feeling discouraged from her ongoing job search she tells them in an email that her resumé speaks for itself.  But then she was invited to come in and take a test, which she does, and enjoys it – it is not a typing test as she expected, but a multiple choice and analogy test.  Beck, having done well on the test, is called back again for an interview. She agrees to go but misses it due to Lululemon training.  She has no interest in working as a stenographer but feels she needs interview practice so she makes a halfhearted effort. Feeling apathetic but with some vague sense of responsibility, she writes to apologize and gets this message back:

Hi Rebecca,

I understand you’re busy.  For transparency’s sake, I wanted to let you know this is a job at the White House, and you’d be traveling with the President on his domestic and international trips.  Let me know if this changes things.

Bernice”

And this very email changes Beck’s trajectory in life and in love as she embarks on a crazy journey with the White House staff and President Obama’s team.

I really enjoyed this memoir, From the Corner of the Oval;  Beck is not unlike any young adult fresh out of school and focused on herself, her friends and her love life.  Her boyfriend shenanigans and drinking escapades are typical and par for the course, fun to read and reminiscent of the good ol’ days in the big city for me, but her job was a once in a lifetime opportunity that gives this memoir an extended life, great interest and that un-put-downable quality!  Author Beck Dorey-Stein shares tidbits of insight and glimpses of President Obama and his staff through her eyes as she tells her personal story of struggles and growth, personal and professional, with this incredible, little known insider view as the colorful backdrop.

If you enjoy memoirs, if you have an interest in hearing about what is is like to travel the world with the President of the United States, or if you want to read about one young woman’s journey to find herself and happiness, Beck Dorey-Stein’s From the Corner of the Oval is for you!

 

Goodreads Summary

17762294.jpg

About the Author:

Beck Dorey-Stein is a native of Narberth, Pennsylvania and a graduate of Wesleyan University. Prior to her five years in the White House, she taught high school English in Hightstown, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; and Seoul, South Korea.

Girls’ Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

37759098.jpg

My Review:

In Girls’ Night Out, the thrilling summer read by authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, Ashley invited her old friends Natalie and Lauren to go on a girls’ vacation in Tulum, Mexico… but it is not the easygoing carefree celebratory trip they had wanted.  Ashley and Natalie are best friends that work together and they are in  disagreement about whether or not to sell the company they own.  For personal reasons they have not shared with each other, neither are willing to budge.  Lauren, typically the third wheel in this longtime friendship, had lost her husband the prior year and had a falling out with Ashley at his funeral.  Both were hoping to repair their fractured friendship, but bad feelings run deep.

The ladies plan to spend some quality time together hoping they can mend some fences, but their issues are not exactly fixable with a few cocktails far away from home…despite the beautiful setting and casual atmosphere, problems esclate when a charming local insinuates himself in the midst of their relationships and their planned girl time.  This fast paced thriller will keep your attention as everyone’s secrets are slowly revealed and at the same time physical danger ensues…your pulse will increase as you race to the finish…another fun page-turner by writing team Liz Kenton and Lisa Steinke!

Girls’ Night Out is a perfect summer thriller…a girlfriends trip to Mexico….secrets and tragedy….a fun escape!

Goodreads Summary

L&L+final+headshot.jpg

About Liz and Lisa:

Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke are the authors of  Girls’ Night Out and the Amazon Charts bestselling novel, The Good Widow.

Liz and Lisa have been best friends for 30 years.  They have also published three women’s fiction novels with Simon & Schuster/Atria Books. Your Perfect Life is a hilarious and heartwarming story of two childhood best friends who switch bodies at their twenty-year high school reunion. The Status of All Things, is a cautionary tale of a woman who realizes she can change the course of her entire life by what she writes in her Facebook status. And The Year We Turned Forty follows three women who get the chance to relive the year they turned forty, a year they each made decisions that altered the course of their lives.  But a lot happened before their first publishing deal…

Improvement by Joan Silber

34013952.jpg

My Review:

Connecting 1970s Turkey and New York today, 72 year old author Joan Silber, winner of the 2018 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction weaves a tapestry of interpersonal connections and shows how relationships bind us together and decisions have widespread impact across countries and over time in her latest novel, Improvement.

Reyna is a single mother living in Harlem and standing by her not so perfect boyfriend, Boyd, as she visits him during his 3 month incarceration at Riker’s. Her Aunt Kiki lives in the Village after spending some time in Turkey and traveling the world in her younger days.  Kiki worries about Reyna and her young son Oliver and is unaware of the illegal activities Boyd, Reyna and their friends are involved with.  When Reyna is asked to drive the car in a cigarette smuggling heist, she makes a crucial decision to remover herself from the dangerous antics and that sets off a series of events with a ripple effect that pervades countries and time, affecting people they know and strangers alike.

The book was written in three parts; a novel but with a feel of linked stories; parts 1 and 3 told in first person, and the middle was narrative necessary to fill in all the holes with description and stories of the past, colorfully adding to the context and connecting further the characters and situations.  Joan Silber expertly intertwines the complexities of people’s lives as they each make decisions to try and improve their existence.

Very enjoyable read.

Goodreads Summary

93485.jpg

About the Author:

Joan Silber is the author of six previous works of fiction. Among many awards and honors, she has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

 

images.jpeg

My Review:

Tin Man, a tender and beautiful story, is heartbreaking and wonderfully moving.  At twelve years old, Ellis and Michael become friends.  They both have difficult family lives and less than stellar relationships with their fathers.  They spend lots of time together having fun and exploring their town outside of London, and then, their close friendship becomes something more.

Ten years later, Ellis is married to Annie and Michael is out of the picture.  Ellis is burdened with shame, stemming from his past, his insecurities about who he really is and fear of his father.  Author Sarah Winman writes about Ellis and Michael as young boys and as grown men, telling us all that happened in between.  It is a complex love story of sorts, really, a life story of two men, their choices and regrets, and also a story of strong women who allow these men to journey toward their own truths by providing love, support, friendship and family.  With memories of love and loneliness, these wonderful characters and powerful relationships are captivating, expressive and unforgettable.  For me, other compelling and interesting parts of the story include Van Gogh’s painting of The Sunflowers, France during the summer of 1969, and the late 1980’s AIDS epidemic.

Don’t be fooled by the small, diary-size of this novel – it packs a wonderful and powerful 5-star punch.

 

Tin Man Goodreads Summary

4197193.jpg

About the Author:

Sarah Winman (born 1964) is a British actress and author. In 2011 her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won Winman several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

36249638.jpg

My Review:

How to Walk Away is a fast paced linear story, with flawed characters facing the challenges of tragedy, secrets and ultimately growth.  It is easy to read and perfect to bring along for a summer weekend away!

Occasionally predictable, yet continuously engaging, heartbreaking and humorous, we meet Margaret, a business school graduate about to be offered her first big job.  Her longtime neighbor turned boyfriend has been studying for his pilot’s license and he coaxes her into taking a joyride on a small plane where he has momentous plans to surprise her.  Her dreams are shattered when a tragic accident occurs, and they now have to struggle to accept the new reality.

At the same time Margaret’s sister shows up after being out of touch for 3 years to check in on her and reveal a family secret about their family.  Margaret reconnects with her seemingly rebellious sister and has to deal with her parents and their troubles, while trying to come to terms with her relationship and achieve some personal goals as the clock runs out.  Mixed with the tragedy and the family mystery, there is one love story fizzling and one brewing as Margaret alternately feels despair, motivation and then friendship with a handsome, Scottish physical therapist.

Katherine Center writes in a way that stirs up lots of emotions as we take the journey with Margaret.  The almost unbelievably ridiculous turn of events in this story and the emotional roller coaster kept me hooked.  Sometimes you just need to laugh, cry and get caught up in someone else’s crazy life, and How to Walk Away is a great choice!

Goodreads Summary

409113.jpg

About the Author:

Katherine Center is the author of six novels about love and family, including The Bright Side of Disaster, The Lost Husband, Happiness for Beginners—and the upcoming How to Walk Away. Her work has appeared in Redbook, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, InStyle, and Real Simple. She is a graduate of Vassar College and the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Katherine lives in Houston with her husband and two sweet children.