Spring Ahead…

If I had known this was a sequel/continuation to her book My Name is Mary Sutter, I would have had it on amazon pre-order. As it was I found it as a display, noting a lovely cover and title: Winter Sisters.

Title: Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

Publisher: Viking February 2018, 415pp

Genre: literature, historical, mystery, suspense

5 stars highly recommended

Author:

Robin Oliveira (BA Russian Literature (1976), registered nurse, former literary agent (MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts 2006)), was awarded the James Jones First Novel Fellowship for a work-in-progress. My Name is Mary Sutter won the 2011 Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction. Originally from Albany NY, she now lives in Seattle, Washington.

Story:

Mary Sutter was an unforgettable character, fiercely passionate as a doctor, intensely loyal to her family and friends, and driven by an independent spirit. Fourteen years have passed and she is still challenging social norms, prejudices and conventions. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Mary is again a central figure, few would have her perseverance and defiance but she shares the story with her niece Elizabeth and mother Amelia. All are needed not just to save the girls physically, but emotionally. They provide a multifaceted, deeply layered view of the era, women’s roles, love and family bonds. They are lucky to have the strong unwavering support of men who understand their sacrifice.

This is a very dark, difficult tale of kidnapping, rape and court proceedings against a 10year old child, which was considered consensual by law at that time (1879). It portrays a society laced with greed, police corruption, social class, bribery and betrayal. It is also a rewarding tale of hope and perseverance. Oliveira knows Albany well and and her detailed research provides rich descriptions of Victorian architecture, commerce, historical detail, even the weather create a powerful backdrop to this complex mystery. The writing is evocative, sensitive and filled with vivid characters. The story is timeless and riveting. I savored the historical detail, was haunted by the conditions of the street women, restricted social climate and horrific rape, found comfort in William and Mary’s relationship and ended determined to continue the fight over 100years later.

This novel can be read as a stand-alone, but don’t miss her other books.

Read on:

Nicola Upson Josephine Tey series, Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series

Quotes:

One joy in this somber story is Mary and William’s marriage. “Neither of them could think of a time together when either of them let each other down.” “Theirs was a tenacious love, as solid and true as granite.”

“I will gladly hear what you have to say, Dr. Stipp, but only after I speak to Emma. I do not want to contaminate my impressions with yours.”

“They are not impressions. They are facts.”

“There are facts and then there are alternate facts.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard anyone say.”

One day, I’m going to write a violin concerto and call it Number One Hundred Thirteen, and Elizabeth will play it” One hundred twelve days since they were taken, that day (113) marked the first day she wasn’t scared when she awoke.

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What fools….

Title: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Publisher: Harper January 2018, 385 pp

Genre: literature, literary fiction, fiction, historical fiction, English mystery

5 stars. Highly recommended

Author: Bernard Cornwell is a prolific writer of over 50 novels, including the Sharpe Series (21 episodes with Sean Bean), The Last Kingdom (10 books, Netflix). There is always a skillful blend of history, intrigue and witty dialogue. His writing is superb, well researched and richly detailed. He is an enthusiastic amateur dramatist, which shows in the accurate portrayal of actors’ rivalries, theatre competition, and fierce ambition. This telling brought Shakespeare, his troupe and Elizabethan London to light. I would love a sequel, although this is a stand alone novel.The telling is a credit to the Bard.

Story: Richard Shakespeare, younger brother, is a penniless actor, of pretty face and female roles, who wants to establish himself as a serious professional (e.g. male actor). Playing females doesn’t pay as well (even then, even as a man), but rival egos, a glut of actors and vying theatres prevent upward mobility. Opportunities arise with a new production, a chance romance, and the need to clear his name with stolen manuscripts (midsummer’s night dream and Romeo and Juliet). Sibling rivalry, cutthroat theatre rivalry (pre Globe, 1500 seats, 30plays a year), Puritan hostilities, are intricately woven into a tight fascinating character driven story. Thankfully Queen Elizabeth liked plays, especially Shakespeare’s.

Read on:

If you like Hilary Mantel Wolffe Hall, Robert Nye Mrs Shakespeare

Don’t miss Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare histories.

Rochester Public Library has ebook, audiobook and hardcover.

Quotes:

I went out into the yard where rain seethed on the cobbles, and I stood under the shelter of a wooden arcade that ran like a cheap cloister about the courtyards edge. I shivered. Winter was coming.

I was good. I knew I was good. And I wanted to be good because to perform well was one way to avoid Sir Godfrey’s savage beatings, or the whippings administered by his two ushers.

….audiences clamored to hear the play. And across the wintry river men were planning to steal it from us.

We were the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. And no one pissed on our stage.

Aye, but we would be nothing without the words.

One of the best books of 2017, and all time

I read it like it was a library book due yesterday.

A year ago.

It has taken me that long to assimilate and absorb the impact of all the glorious stories. I had greatly anticipated this novel, from my discovery 7 years ago of this 20 year series. A chance view of a cover lured me to Fool’s Assassin, the first of this trilogy. Then I read ALL of her previous novels. I still shudder when I think about what I might have missed. At the end of this novel, I completely reread the entire series, 16 books. For the third time? If there was ever a time to immerse yourself in fantasy this is it and these are tremendous. I have only read Tolkien more. Patrick Rothfuss is perhaps the only other author/series I will continue to reread (and also can’t wait for the next installment). I have to say that slower reading revealed many hidden gems, within the writing and the story.

And wait for it. I was in a library bookstore and NINE (9) of her books came in as paperbacks, in pristine condition. I purchased them all, for copies to share. The Friends of the Rochester Public Library is one of the best bookstores around, I urge you to peruse the shop today! (And every week as the stock is always changing!)

Title: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Publisher: Del Ray May 2017 962 pp

Genre: fantasy, science fiction, coming of age, action and adventure, literature and fiction

5+ stars highly recommended

Author:

Robin Hobbs is the second pen name of American author Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogdon (b 1952). She also writes under Megan Lindholm. Her books number over 25 with numerous short stories. If you are still waiting for the next installment of Game ofThrones, pick up Hobbs.

This is another wonderful book in the Realm of the Elderlings, begun in 1995 with the first of the Farseer Trilogy Assassin’s Apprentice, which led directly into the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. This book in particular combines many of her other series; there are something of the order of 15 books that are referenced here. Don’t miss any of them (Farseer chronicles, Tawny man, Rain wild chronicles, Liveship traders). I’ve told you to start reading this author! I love books that build on previous stories, develop in different directions, shed new light on previous events and reverse roles. These are brilliant, clever, utterly absorbing stories.

Her writing is absolutely brilliant, extraordinary in her detailed storytelling. World building is taken to new heights. Every story is “unputdownable” you cant wait to finish the book, and life is out on hold while you are mesmerized in another magical realm. Her characters resonate in real life. Be warned, while it’s been an amazing journey, the beautiful ending is bittersweet.

Story:

To fully appreciate this book you MUST read the previous 8 featuring Fitz and the Fool in the Farseer world. But really there are 16 in the Realm of the Elderlings that altogether complete the intricate, complex story. That includes the Liveship Traders and the Rainwild Chronicles. Why not read them in order?!

Assassin’s Fate seamlessly picks up right after Fools Quest (yes, my last review complained of the abrupt ending). Fitz and the Fool are on their way to Clerres to rescue their daughter Bee, although they believe they are avenging her death. Her struggle is exceedingly painful ala graphic GRRMartin. Narration is shared between Fitz and Bee, with all my favourite characters present including nighteyes, the Fool, Paragon, Icefyre. Fitz is again introspective, but there is such depth to his struggle. It makes the ending even harder. Bee, like the Fool, is very much of the future, and both are game changers. Yes, there are endings, sorrow we neither expect nor want. But they always provide hope on a narrow horizon or in a darkened world. Changes are opportunities, not necessarily easily obtained but always worth striving for. There are many life lessons. I’m hopeful the story/world continues with Bee.

NB there have been some exceptional interviews with Hobbs this last year, which shed light on her writing and these books. Look for them. I’m ever hopeful that movies could be made, now that we have Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

Read on : this is perfect for summer reads, for any tween, teenager interested in fantasy. Adults will truly enjoy this magic. Typical read time is 19hours!

For fans of Patrick Rothfuss, GRR Martin, Terry Goodkind, Sarah Maas, Robert Jordan

Quotes

So I fled, knowing I could not escape but too frightened to let them reclaim me.

Death is better than the sort of captivity they plan for you.

It’s only a dream scarcely applies to what a dragon can do to one’s sleeping mind.

Sixty was not thirty, regardless of how I might appear.

Received as an ARC from Netgalley. Purchased my own copy to complete my set.

Book Group in a Bag

Our book group met today, using Zoom, as we couldn’t get out of our icy driveways. We all wanted to discuss this month’s amazing selection Homegoing and didn’t want to delay meeting. A friend has been to the slave castle (Cape Coast) in Ghana recently and provided a few photographs (thanks to Joe Lobl for including them). This book is available as a book group In a bag from RPL, but there is a reserve line. Ditto hardcopy and ebook. Sign up now!

Title: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Publisher: Knopf 2016 vintage reprint May 2017 320 pp

Highly recommended, rounded up to five stars

Author:

Gyasi is 26 year old and was born in Ghana. Her family moved to the USA when she was two when her father was completing his PhD at Ohio State. As an immigrant child “books were her closest friends”. She studied English literature, BA Stanford, MFA University Of Iowa. Homecoming was inspired by her first (2009) trip to Ghana and is her debut novel. The title is from an African belief that death allowed an enslaved persons spirit to travel back home to Africa.

National Book Critic Circle award for best first book

Winner of the PEN/ Hemingway Award

Winner of the NBCC’s John Leonard Award

A New York Times Notable Book

A Washington Post Notable Book

2017 Granta Best Of Young American Novelists

One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, Time, Oprah.com, Harper’s Bazaar, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Esquire, Elle, Paste, Entertainment Weekly, the Skimm, PopSugar, Minneapolis Star Tribune, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, Financial Times

Story:

(Excerpt from book plate) “Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.”

Bookgroup comments:

1)The genealogy page is very important to keep the characters straight, but it was also noted that these stories were interchangeable with many African American families.

2)This is not the usual book you read from the Iowa Writing School. Loved the originality of it.

3)It was a dark book, not necessarily one I would have chosen to read. But we learned so many different things from it. Importantly the author wanted you to understand racial tension in America by the time you got to the end.

4)I became invested in the characters and wished to know so much more about them, instead of the short chapters they were restricted to.

5)Surprise at some of the literary criticism (our balanced book reporting), as we thought the writing was exceptional. She is working on her next book too.

Book Review – “Oh My Stars”

9780345468369_p0_v1_s260x420Oh My Stars
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I almost never re-read a book.  I’m such an avid reader that my friends find it surprising that I tend to read a book and then pass it along to someone else with no intention of ever having it returned.  The thing is, the world is too full of really great books waiting to be read that I hate to re-read a book when I could be discovering something new.

There is at least one exception to my “rule”:  To Kill a Mockingbird.  From my first memory of reading it in about 8th grade until now – some 30 years later – I’ve probably read Harper Lee’s masterpiece no fewer than about twelve times.  Unlike other books that I read and immediately pass along to other friends or donate to a worthy bookshelf, I can’t seem to part with my copies of To Kill a Mockingbird.  At last count, I had four copies; and I love the story so much that I can’t bring myself to part with any of them.

I think I may be adding another exception to that “read a book only once” rule:  Oh My Stars, by Lorna Landvik.

Wow!  What can I possibly say about a book that is dang-near poetic from its first sentence?  Landvik’s writing style is descriptive in a way that seems to come from a completely different era.  By descriptive, I don’t mean the gratuitous droning on for three pages about the landscape that eventually crosses over into the mundane and loses even the most tenacious of readers.  I mean descriptive in that her words are quite simply beautiful, yet concise.  Through the eyes of her main character, Violet Mathers,  I can actually see the colors, hear the sounds (most frequently the bees in Violet’s ears) and the smells of the universe surrounding Violet and her friends, Kjel and Austin.

Oh My Stars tells the story of Violet Mathers, a young woman who has grown up in the most unloving and emotionally deprived home imaginable.  While still a small child, her mother skips town and runs off with the local  pharmacist, leaving Violet with a father who can barely stand to look at her as her very presence reminds him of her lying and deceitful mother.

Violet’s life is simply a series of disappointments.  She’s unattractive, unloved, poor and has no friends; but she’s able to compensate for those deficiencies by throwing herself into her private world of designing and creating her own clothing.  She has dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer, but even those hopes are dashed when she loses part of her dominant arm in a freak accident involving a machine in a thread company where she finds summer employment.  Now, without even the talent that has allowed for her escape from the injustices of the world, Violet has nothing.  She decides to travel to California with plans to be the second person to take flight off of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But nothing in Violet’s life ever goes as planned, and this is no exception.  En route to California, the bus in which she’s traveling has an accident that throws her in the paths of Kjel Hedstrom and Austin Sykes, changing the course of her life – and her understanding of who she is – forever.

Oh My Stars was simply a beautiful read from beginning to end.  It’s a book that will not only find a permanent place on my bookshelf, but is one of the very few that I can see myself re-reading many times over the years.  It’s that good!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in a variety of formats including digital download e-book and audio, traditional format, audio CD and cassette, and even large print.

One Step Too Far – Free Kindle Download!

Readers:  It isn’t very often that we repost a blog that we’ve already run; however, today I felt compelled to do so.  Last week we Featured Tina Seskis as an Author  Spotlight and ran a review of her book, One Step Too Far.  Today only, this book is a FREE KINDLE DOWNLOAD.  To download this book to your Kindle or Kindle App, follow this link. In the meantime, I’m reposting our review of Tina Seskis’ debut novel, One Step Too Far.  Enjoy!  CHA

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17404760One Step Too Far
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Sometimes a person’s life falls so completely apart that the only solution, it seems, is to simply walk away and start over. Leaving behind her husband and family, that’s exactly what Emily Coleman does…walk away. As she leaves the home she’s shared with her husband for many years, Emily carries with her almost nothing with her, except for the painful memories that she can’t seem to escape.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis is a story of one woman’s attempt to heal from her past in the only way she knows how: by leaving behind everything that provokes daily memories of all that she’s lost.

As a reader, you’re not really sure what Emily has lost or what provokes her painful memories, but you know it’s huge. There are hints along the way, but the author does a wonderful job of keeping the reader guessing and clueless until she’s ready to let you in on the secret. And when she finally does, the reader should be prepared for a jaw-dropper.

Seskis’ book was a wonderful read that I fully expect to quickly rise on the list of bestsellers.

This book is currently on order at the Rochester Public Library and should be shelved soon.

In celebration of the release of this book, Tina Seskis will be our Author in Spotlight on tomorrow’s blog! Come back tomorrow to read our exclusive interview with Tina Seskis. Learn about the background of this book and you’ll be surprised at the evolution of this book!

Author Spotlight – Tina Seskis

by Catherine H. Armstrong

17404760Yesterday our blog featured a book review of the debut novel by Tina Seskis, One Step Too Far – a gripping story about one woman’s loss and her journey toward redemption.  As a reader (and maybe even more as a mother), I loved the story so much that I contacted the author and asked for a Q&A interview for this blog.  She graciously accepted and I’ve had more fun these last few days with the back and forth e-mails with this amazing author. 

Tina’s book officially hit the bookshelves this past Monday and is currently on-order at the Rochester Public Library.  It is also available at amazon.com in traditional and e-book formats. While you wait for your opportunity to get your hands on a copy of this wonderful story, I hope you enjoy this Q&A with the author, Tina Seskis.

Tina close-up B copyTina Seskis – Author of One Step Too Far

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Q:  I read somewhere that you never intended to be a writer and have your work published. What changed for you and why did you take that first big leap?

A:  During one of my many career breaks(!) I decided to take a couple of months out and have a go at everything I ever wanted to do (my husband is very long-suffering), so for fun I joined a writing group, acting classes (my drama teacher said I had no potential by the way), took up yoga and tennis again, joined a choir, you get the picture.  But the two hours’ writing class was the absolute highlight of my week, although funnily enough I didn’t write at all outside of that.  And then 3 years ago we were on holiday in Venice and out of nowhere I got the idea for One Step Too Far’s big “twist” and I thought, that would make a great novel, so when I got home I started writing it down on my laptop, in between working and being a mother.

Q:  I understand that there is a backstory behind the writing of “One Step Too Far.” Can you tell us a little about it?

A:  Around the same time I’d been getting worried about my mum, who had started having pains in her legs and inexplicably losing mobility (the doctors thought she had Vitamin D deficiency), and she was getting a bit depressed about it, so to give her something else to think about I’d send her chapters to read.  So often I’d be writing in front of the telly and then propped up in bed at two in the morning so I’d have something to send her the next day.  Sadly my mum died a few days after I finished the first draft, just two months later, of cancer as it turned out.

Q:  How difficult was it for you to find someone willing to take a chance on you and see this book published? Did you find the process easy? Grueling? Exactly as you expected?

A:  I didn’t get someone to take a chance.  I sent the book out to agents in the days after my mum died (I had all this nervous energy before the funeral that I didn’t know what to do with) and the only response I got was a couple of standard rejection letters.  Then I forgot about the book for a year, until a friend of mine recommended me to The Literary Consultancy, and I paid them to read my manuscript to tell me whether it was any good or not – because if it was rubbish I didn’t want to waste time trying to get it published, it would just have remained something private that I’d written for my mum.  And TLC liked it so much they became the match-maker between myself and agents, and six or seven agents were personally offered it, one after the other, and in the meantime I wrote my second book – and then two and a half years later I still hadn’t got an agent for either book, let alone a publisher, and I looked at the publishing model and how much it had changed and decided I could do it myself.  So in January of this year I set up my own publishing company and had just two goals – make the book as good as it could be, and get it out to as many people as possible online to try to drive word of mouth.  And here it is now.

Q:  Are any of the characters in One Step Too Far based upon people in your real life? If so, can you talk about that a little bit? Maybe give examples?

A:  It sounds corny but Ben is based on my husband, he’s infuriatingly too good to be true too, and without giving too much away the very final ending is the one my mum wanted.  Many of the characters are mixes of people I’ve come across, especially the housemates, the people from advertising and the father, and some of the scenarios really happened to me (think the parachuting scene and I’m ashamed to say the lemon tart, but in my defense I was very young).  But no, no-one else is real.  I’ve always been fascinated by people, and I ALWAYS read the newspaper articles entitled things like “My husband left me for a man who used to be a woman,” so I tried to make all the characters believable because they were based on truth (and without doubt truth is stranger than fiction).

Q:  If you could go back and change any one thing about your novel, what would it be and why?

A:  Well obviously my own personal circumstances, but regarding the novel I got so much brilliantly candid feedback over the years and I was still changing it right at final typesetting proof stage.  A friend’s husband told me about a month ago he didn’t like the way Angel’s story ended, and I realized I didn’t either – so I changed it!  A lot of reviewers online said one aspect of the ending was a bit callous and I agreed with them so I changed that a little too.  And then lots of people said the end was rushed but I didn’t agree so I ignored that comment!  I was also told that I HAD to have the novel copy-edited and I did try to get a couple of people to do it, but I didn’t like having my words messed with, so against all advice (and to save money!) I did all the copy-editing and proof-reading myself (I’d never thought of myself as a control freak before…).  The only thing I’d forgotten about until too late is that I wrote a couple of chapters from Emily’s perspective once the mystery was revealed that I took out and I can’t even remember why now, so if there’s the chance to do a reprint I might look at putting those back in.

Q:  As a reader, there were so many twists and turns to the book that literally made my jaw drop open while reading. I’m wondering whether – as the writer – did you “know” those twists and turns were going to happen (i.e. did you have an outline that you were following) or did they just sort of develop and take you, as the writer, by surprise as well?

A:  I knew the big twist, but how I was going to get there I didn’t really know, I just got the ideas as I wrote them, which made some of the chapter endings a bit of a surprise to me too.  And what with the pace I was writing at I didn’t have too much time for plot development.  A few months ago I read Stephen King’s quite brilliant book On Writing and it seems like that’s how he does it too, so that made me feel a bit better.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about “how” you write. That is to say, do you have specific habits that you follow when you’re writing?

A:  One Step Too Far I literally wrote anywhere and everywhere.  If I didn’t have my laptop with me and found myself waiting for a bus or in the hospital I’d just start writing long-hand to carry on the story.  If I was writing watching the telly I’d often find something someone said would go into the book.  I’d write whilst hanging out with my friends in the garden with our children.  I don’t have a desk – just a shelf with our Mac on where I do all my “work,” but I never use that to write.  These days I write on an ipad with a wireless keyboard, as it turns on instantly and the story is always where I just left it, and I can follow the sunshine (when we get it!) around the house and sit where I fancy, often with my dog curled up next to me.

Q:  Are there any books or authors in your own life who have influenced your writing? If so, in what way(s)?

A:  I was obsessed with Agatha Christie as a child and she’s probably my biggest influence in terms of how I write, as I love twists – I read that she never knew who the murderer was until the end and I thought no wonder I could never guess.  When I was younger I also devoured the likes of Jilly Cooper and Harold Robbins for the brilliance of their page-turning ability.  But throughout my life I have always loved books that are really well-written – Salman Rushdie is probably my favourite modern author for his genius with words.  And I’m embarrassed to say that lately I’ve hardly read at all.

Q:  Besides the love of a story well-told, is there anything you’d like your readers to take away from this book? Any deep message or theme that you hope will resonate with them?

A:  I think the novel is ultimately a story about love and redemption.  I’d just like people to be a bit kinder to each other, and understand that everyone has their problems and insecurities, and be more forgiving of them.  As I’m finding out, people can be very quick to judge!

Q:  Do you have any future projects in the works and, if so, can you tell us a little about them?

A:  I’ve already written my second novel, A Serpentine Affair, which I’m enormously fond of, and which I will be dedicating to my six best friends from University in the hope that they won’t hate me forever!!  I got stuck on my third novel (working title Collision, as it’s the coming together of the story of a character from each of the first two novels) in November, and after a bit of a miserable Christmas on 2nd January I decided to give writing a break and have a go at getting One Step Too Far out there, as otherwise our finances dictated I’d have had to go and get another job in marketing…

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with reader? Anything specific you’d like them to know about you, your writing, this book, etc?

A:  I can’t think of anything else for now!  Thank you for being the hosts of my first ever Q and A, and to Cathie for her feedback and support in the process.

From the Friends of the Rochester Public Library – and myself, personally – we send our deepest appreciation to Tina Seskis for her time. We wish her great success on this new novel and I am personally looking forward to reading much more from her in the future! ~  CHA