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Friday, June 24, 2016

Review and Author Interview: You May See a Stranger by Paula Whyman

Title: You May See a Stranger
Author: Paula Whyman
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Triquarterly Press
Publish Date: May 15, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Miranda Weber is a hot mess. In Paula Whyman’s debut collection of stories, we find her hoarding duct tape to ward off terrorists, stumbling into a drug run with a crackhead, and—frequently—enduring the bad behavior of men. A drivers’ education class pulsing with racial tension is the unexpected context of her sexual awakening. As she comes of age, and in the three decades that follow, the potential for violence always hovers nearby. She’s haunted by the fate of her disabled sister and—thanks to the crack cocaine epidemic of the ’80s, the wars in the Middle East, and sniper attacks—the threat of crime and terror in her hometown of Washington, D.C. Miranda can be lascivious, sardonic, and maddeningly self-destructive, but, no matter what befalls her, she never loses her sharp wit or powers of observation, which illuminate both her own life and her strange, unsettling times."

My Two Cents:

 "You May See a Stranger" is a set of linked stories that follow Miranda, a complicated woman who seems to have a penchant for getting lost in her thoughts and letting them take a hold. The stories follow her from the time that she was 15 years old until she is middle aged. Each story captures a glimpse of her at different stages of her life and we see how she has and has not changed in each one. While feeling at arm's length from the main character, the writing thoroughly drew me in!

This is a really unique story collection. I have found that in many of the other short story collections I've read, they mostly are completely different stories. There are some collections that I have read that have a group of characters that they followed but having each story follow the same character in this book was a really unique experience for me! I loved seeing Miranda change at every age. It was such a great perspective! Obviously she grows up but I love how the author was able to build on her experiences throughout the book and show how some of the things she faced continued to almost haunt her as she got older. It made Miranda feel more real to me. Although the stories followed the same character, I was still especially drawn to one story in particular about Miranda at dinner having lobster. The way that the author plays with words and ideas in that story is especially striking.

The writing of this book was good. It is up to the reader to fill in some of the spaces between the various stories. I found that I wanted to get to know Miranda a little more between the stories but the writing really kept me engaged in reading about her life. The author has skill with creating realistic dialogue that drew me in. I am looking forward to reading more by Ms. Whyman!

Author Interview:

I am thrilled to have Paula Whyman here on A Bookish Affair today (Sorry, Paula, I don't think Mr. Roth would agree to talk me either! Hah!)

  1. What inspired you to write "You May See a Stranger?"

When The Hudson Review published an earlier version of the story “Driver’s Education,” I visited a school in Harlem to talk with students who had read the story. They wanted to know if I’d be writing more about that girl. (In that story the character now known as Miranda is 15 years old; she ages during the course of the book, which takes her to middle age.) Back then, I had no plans to write more stories about her. But the students’ enthusiasm and curiosity stayed with me. Years later, I found that I was writing stories that could be about the same person at different times in her life. That’s when I began exploring the character intentionally and planning a linked collection.

  1. So many books about Washington, D.C. are about politics or spies. What drew you to showing a different side of the Nation's Capital?

I wanted to write a book about regular people living in the D.C. area. Not everyone here is tied to the government. We’re all operated on by it and interact with it, of course, but the general perspective on D.C. by people who are from elsewhere is that everyone here is ambitious and interested in power. People come here from all over to have that experience, to fulfill that dream. But the rest of us –most of us--are just living our lives, and we have little contact with that world other than getting stuck in traffic when the President makes a “movement.” We hardly ever see that “real” side of DC in books and movies. There are notable, wonderful, exceptions—books by Edward P. Jones and Dinaw Mengestu, for instance.

  1. What's your favorite scene in "You May See a Stranger?"

That’s a tough question. I don’t have a favorite, but I can tell you a few scenes that I’m proud of—the lobster scene in the title story is one; the scene where Miranda discusses the change of life with Dr. Nina is another; and the scene where Miranda is imagining what’s happening with the couple who live in the apartment above her sister’s.

  1. This is your first book! Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

I think there’s no better preparation for writing than reading. Read the classics, read contemporary literary fiction, and read some trashy novels. I learned something different and useful from all of them. People can disagree about one classic versus another, but many of them have lasted for a reason. I found it helpful to examine what it is that makes them work. As a teenager, I alternated among books like The Brothers Karamazov, Light in August…and The Americans series by John Jakes. The Americans is historical fiction in that the characters take their clothes off at important moments in U.S. history. I read those books in the back of algebra class. I don’t remember much algebra.

5. If you could bring any three people (alive, fictional or dead) to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?

I decided to restrict myself to living authors whom I have not met. I’m assuming there will be some writing studios on this island. I’m imagining it a lot like a small artist residency… I would bring Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, and Edward O. Wilson. I’m a big admirer of all three. Roth would probably not want to spend much time with us, but I hope he’d at least be willing to have dinner now and then. I have to think Lorrie Moore has a good sense of humor, and we could make snarky comments together when Roth refuses to join us for dinner. And Edward O. Wilson has a million great stories to tell that I would love to hear, plus he’d be able to identify all the ants on the island and would know everything there is to know about the island ecosystems. So, can you arrange this? I’ve already started packing.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

TLC Book Tours: The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper

Title: The Royal Nanny
Author: Karen Harper
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: June 21, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty. . . .

So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—LaLa, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. LaLa knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection.

But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love—the kind of love his parents won’t…or can’t…show him."

My Two Cents:

"The Royal Nanny" is the story of Charlotte "Lala" Bill who becomes nanny to the children of King George V and Mary of Teck. The royal couple are not particularly loving parents and Charlotte feels the need to fill the void in the children's life. The two eldest will eventually take the throne as King Edward VIII, who abdicates for his love, Wallis Simpson. An incredibly dedicated woman, Lala will give up love and sometimes her own feelings to give the children the life and love she feels they deserve. This is a great, intimate glimpse at a fascinating family and woman that will appeal to my fellow royal watchers.

So many royal children seem to lead such sullen lives. They may be surrounded by riches, but often seem poor in the amount of love that they are given. I loved how Lala recognizes that and instantly dedicates herself to the royal children in showing them love. She is such a great character and I love that the story is told from her perspective. It really got me involved in the things that she was doing and seeing.

With as much historical fiction as I read, I don't often visit the late 1800s or early 1900s nearly enough. I really enjoyed the time period and the settings! The children spend a lot of time being cloistered away in various palaces and castles and the descriptions of these places were really good. This book made me want to read more about this time period, especially if it were about the royals during this time period!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: By the Numbers by Jen Lancaster

Title: By the Numbers
Author: Jen Lancaster
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: June 21, 2016 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Actuary Penny Sinclair has a head for business, and she always makes rational decisions. Knowing that 60% of spouses cheat and 50% of marriages end in divorce, she wasn't too surprised when her husband had an affair. (That he did so with a woman their daughter's age? Well, that part did sting a bit.) She just made sure she got everything in the divorce, including their lovely old Victorian house. And as soon as her middle daughter has her hipster-fabulous wedding in the backyard, she's trading it in for a condo in downtown Chicago...

Well within the average market time in her area, Penny gets an offer on the house. But then life happens. Her children, her parents and her ex come flying back to the nest, all in need of Penny's emotional and financial support. Spread thin, Penny becomes the poster child for the sandwich generation, when all she really wanted to do was make managing director, buy a white couch, and maybe go on a date..."

My Two Cents:

In "By the Numbers," Penny feels like her life is falling apart. In trying to "have it all," she is failing miserably. Her marriage is kaput! Her parents might be moving in with her. Two out of three of her adult children are having major issues and may also be moving home. Penny has worked hard for a living but nothing seems to have stuck and now she feels stuck.

First off, Jen Lancaster is on my must-read list. I fell in love with her hilarious, witty, and wise memoirs and now I'm loving her fiction. In her fiction, she creates characters that you fall in love with even if it takes awhile to get there as it did for me with Penny. Lancaster is brilliant in how she woos you though. We first meet Penny through the eyes of her children. Her daughters are totally over her and think that she's a total drag. Her son is the only one that stands up for her. I was expecting the book to be mostly about the grown children's feelings about their mom but the book is really about Penny, a woman trying to pull it all together! Penny is incredibly endearing and I felt for her throughout the book as if she were a friend.

The writing is great. So much of what I have loved about Lancaster's previous books is present in this book. She has really smart dialogue. She also has a great sense of humor and knows how to make her audience laugh out loud. The other thing that I absolutely loved was the ending of the book. I can't give anything away but I loved, loved, loved it! This is a great story about trying to keep your head above water when everything is going wrong!


Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Title: Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: January 26, 2016
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

My Two Cents:

In "Anna and the Swallow Man," young Anna's father never comes home. It's the middle of World War II and it is not abnormal for people to simply disappear. The Swallow Man comes to take Anna under his proverbial wing. He is a mysterious man who will not tell Anna much if anything about himself. Although they seem to have no connection, the Swallow Man takes care of Anna and saves her from so many things throughout the book.

I'm a sucker for WWII fiction. I love it! I love being sucked into another time and place where the stakes are so high. For Anna and the Swallow Man, there is danger around every corner. I loved the way the author describes what they have to do to survive and to stay together. The Swallow Man also teaches Anna a lot of things throughout the book and there are some really beautiful passages and turns of phrase throughout the book.

The ending of the book certainly did not give me very much closure at all. The reader is free to imagine what happened to Anna after the last page, which will have me thinking about the book for a very long time. I did want there to be a little more hint of closure. Where do they go after the book ends? Are they traveling forever? I did want a little more detail towards the end but I'm torn because I think the option to imagine what happened to Anna is a great one for the reader. On the other hand, I would love another book to see where Anna's story goes.


Friday, June 17, 2016

TLC Book Tours Review: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan

Title: The Woman in the Photo 
Author: Mary Hogan 
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: June 14, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.

Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?"

My Two Cents:

"The Woman in the Photo" is set in two time periods. Elizabeth, living in the late 1800s, is lucky enough to be among the wealthy set of those who come to vacation in Johnstown, PA. She rubs elbows with the likes of the Carnegies and the Fricks among other titans of energy. When a tragic flood decimates the town, Elizabeth will have to find new courage. In the present day, Lee is a young woman who was adopted as a baby in a closed adoption. One small clue (the photo alluded to in the title) will lead her on a journey to understand where she came from.

I was definitely more drawn to the historic story as I often am in books told in two times. Families like the Carnegies and Fricks fascinate me. I ate up the History Channel series, The Men Who Built America, and would love to see more of them in historical fiction, my genre of choice. I loved the rich world that the author created around these people who could afford leisure. I also appreciated how the author was able to show their lifestyles in contrast with the people who actually lived in Johnstown. Elizabeth's story is so interesting and really kept me engaged!

Having the book told in two times worked but I really wanted to know more about Johnstown. While Lee's story is interesting, it was not nearly as interesting as Elizabeth's. I did like seeing how the author brought the two stories together.

The writing of the book was okay. I liked how much detail the author included in the historical part of the book to include the inclusion of historical photographs from the time period (a very nice touch indeed)! The narrative often veered into telling too much rather than showing. The book definitely could have been streamlined a bit!


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Giveaway: Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Today I have a giveaway in store for you all for Radio Girls (so hoping to get to this soon)!

What's the Story?:

From "London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.

Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living."


Want to win your own copy (U.S. only, please)? Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below!


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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Format: ARC
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: June 14, 2016 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong."

My Two Cents:

 As the decade of the 1960s closes, Evie Boyd is adrift. Her family life is a mess. Her only friend has moved away and she is drawn in to a brand new world by Suzanne, the girl with the long, dirty hair in the pass-me-down dress. This world is dangerous and exciting and Evie feels like she has found somewhere she belongs, another family. At first, this cult seems like the answer to Evie's thoughts but her obsession will soon lead her down a dangerous path. With shades of the story of Charles Manson and the Manson family cult, this book had me rapidly turning pages to answer the question of will she or won't she?

Evie is such a typical teenage girl. All she wants is to belong. She wants to feel like she's a part of something. She wants to feel good about herself. She is dealing with so many of the things that normal teenage girls deal with: first loves, fights with friends, thoughts of sex, etc. Teenaged girls are incredibly vulnerable without a good support system, which Evie definitely doesn't have in this book. Her parents' marriage is in shambles and she is basically left on her own. The author does a great job of showing why she is so driven to join this cult even if it means doing things in her heart of hearts that don't feel right. We also get a glimpse of what Evie sees looking back on her situation as an adult, which I really liked. In a way, she is still greatly affected by all that happened during her time chasing the cult.

Cults are so fascinating to me so I was interested to see this fictional take on Manson's cult. The time period is the same but the setting has been moved from the L.A. area to the Bay Area. Manson has been replaced by another charismatic leader. This leader is still surrounded by very young women, many of them teenagers. The book goes into a lot of detail about how this guy is able to prey upon very sad girls. He finds an angle and uses it to exploit them. It was fascinating and incredibly scary as well.

I think this book was definitely a gamble for the author; so many people still vividly recall the Manson family crimes and even now, many of the things that he does from jail still end up making the evening news. This gamble pays off in a page-turning account of a very naive girl.

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