Book Review: The Barrowfields

THE BARROWFIELDS: A NOVEL, BY PHILLIP LEWIS

PUBLICATION: HOGARTH; MARCH 7, 2017

barrowfieldsAbout the book:

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

My Review:

Let me begin by saying that when I received the hardcover copy of The Barrowfields in the mail, I was immediately in love with the sturdy paper of the book jacket and the gorgeous colors. Little did I know that I was holding one of the most incredibly moving and eloquent novels I have ever read. 

The Barrowfields is written from the point of view of Henry Aster, Jr. and his upbringing, feeling from, and return to the small town in North Carolina where his family was from. Henry’s Dad was the last to be born of several children, and was always different, known as the boy that always had a book in his hands. Henry grew up and left the small town to go away to college and become a lawyer, but his true passion was reading and writing. Once Henry Sr. and his wife had to return home due to his mother being ill, Henry Jr. and Threnody were born, both of whom inherited their father’s love of literature and missed out on much with their father as he spent endless hours in his office drinking and writing. And then when Henry Jr. was a teenager, his Dad was gone. He then carries on taking care of his mother and sister but soon leaves for college himself, including law school. But like his father, he is eventually pulled back home to revisit the haunted house in which he grew up.

I’m not sure what to say about this incredible novel, but I will do my best without spoiling it for others. First of all, for any lovers of classic literature and the romance of famous writers such as Faulkner, Poe or Hemingway – this is the book for you. Henry Sr. is born in a town, family and lifestyle with which he struggles to identify and although he goes away to college and meets his wife, it’s as if he fought his entire life to write something that he felt worthy to read. He drank a lot of booze and spent most of his time reading and writing, but there was still that old-world, literary romanticism about his character. The unfortunate part, however, was that he had amazing children that longed to spend time with him, love him and feel loved, but he preferred his drinking and writing or playing the piano into all hours of the night.  Henry Jr. seemed as intelligent but different from his Dad while he was growing up, but started to mirror his father more and more after going away to college. An expression comes to mind about each of them, “they’re just too smart for their own good.” Their brilliance and dreamy minds were more of a curse than a blessing. 

After Henry Jr. goes away to college he pulls away from his mother and sister although he promised otherwise. He does well at school, falls in love with a girl named Story and adopts a dog named Buller. As the novel continues, however, Henry Jr. seems to just be making his way through life rather than finding and embracing something that he loves. I found his relationship with his dog extremely symbolic of what he would have loved to share with his father. But even more compelling was his similarities to his father, both positive and negative. Drinking, the tendency to withdraw, working in the same law office, and so on – suggested that he was absolutely his father’s son. But I finished the novel with the hope that he would be different, in that he wouldn’t have to disappear into words and writing but instead, enjoy the moments available to him. There is a recurring theme of the time we have on this earth and I am optimistic that Henry Jr. chose to embrace that, rather than sink into a depression like his father. 

Phillip Lewis has created one of the most outstanding pieces of literature I’ve read (as stated before), and even more amazing is that this is his debut novel. I have no idea if this is all the product of his creativity and imagination or if there is some of him in this novel – but I struggle with the idea of writing a novel such as this without at least some of it being autobiographic. Regardless, his writing is beautiful, heartbreaking, honest, intellectual, and completely consuming. This is the type of author that I would love to sit around with a bottle of wine and pick his brain, and try to gain at least an ounce of wisdom regarding his command of the written word. I recommend plenty of books but this is one that I insist you all must read. I recommend the hardcover rather than the Kindle version, it just seems right. 

P.S. Seeing that I was born in Asheville and there are references about Blowing Rock, I did feel a little at home 🙂

*Many, many thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Purchase The Barrowfields on Amazon!

Learn more about Phillip Lewis by visiting his web page!

 

Book Review: Wait for the Rain

Wait for the Rain, by Maria Murnane

Lake Union Publishing; February 24, 2015

wait for the rain

About the book: 

Daphne White is staring down the barrel of forty—and is distraught at what she sees. Her ex-husband is getting remarried, her teenage daughter hardly needs her anymore, and the career she once dreamed about has somehow slipped from her grasp. She’s almost lost sight of the spirited and optimistic young woman she used to be.

As she heads off to a Caribbean island to mark the new decade with her best friends from college, Daphne’s in anything but the mood to celebrate. But when she meets Clay Hanson, a much younger man, she ignores her inner voice warning her that she’s too old for a fling. In fact, this tropical getaway might be the perfect opportunity to picture her future in a new sun-drenched light.

With the help of her friends, Daphne rediscovers her enthusiasm for life, as well as her love for herself—and realizes that her best years are still ahead.

My Review:

Loved this book! This was my first time reading Maria Murnane and I am now a huge fan. This novel tells the story of three college friends stealing away to the Caribbean to celebrate turning 40. Daphne is divorced and lives with her 15-year-old daughter in Columbus. Skylar is single and busy executive living in New York. KC is happily married and an exercise freak living in California. Daphne tries to hide how much she is still hurting over her divorce, but not long into their vacation, she opens up about how she’s been feeling and that she has not started dating yet – after two years. Daphne starts to lighten up as she enjoys time with her best friends, tries to let go of the past, and allows herself to cut loose and enjoy her time in the islands. 

I struggled with Daphne in the beginning of the novel because of her pity-party about her husband getting remarried and her daughter being on vacation with the two of them. I felt that after two years and getting ready to board a plane for a vacation that she could have been a little more chipper. But as the novel continued on I understood more that her sadness had more to do with the loss of who she wanted to be and could have been prior to getting married. I loved the character of Skylar although she had to focus on work a great deal during the vacation, and also loved KC who was hilarious but also could get too energetic at times! Most importantly, I loved watching Daphne come to life over the course of the novel.

Wait for the Rain is a mix of regret, nostalgia, and looking forward. These three ladies had known each other a long time so there was a ton of reminiscing, but they also shared things they wish they had done or would like to do in the future. If you’ve ever had anyone look at you and say that they miss who you used to be, then this is a novel you will identify with. Daphne had spent so many years as a housewife in a bland and unhappy marriage that she had lost the sparkle she had when she was younger. However, the light returns as Daphne goes through the days on vacation full with drinking, dancing, a fling with a younger guy, and conquering a fear of heights. The Daphne that left Columbus at the beginning of the vacation is definitely not the same one that returns. 

I quickly devoured this novel in a few hours and must admit that I’ve already started the next story with these three women called Bridges. I love the characters and their honesty, and especially loved the differences between them which had no impact on how well they clicked with one another. Maria Murnane’s writing style is fantastic, particularly her wonderful way of including romantic and intimate scenes without going into great detail – leaving much to the reader’s imagination. There were times here and there when their conversations started to feel a little repetitive but overall I absolutely adored this novel. Any ladies out there stressing about turning 40? If so, if so this is a must-read to remind you of how fabulous you are at any age! Grab this one today if you haven’t yet read it and stay tuned for my review of the next novel, Bridges. 

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

Purchase Wait for the Rain on Amazon!

Learn more about Maria Murnane by visiting her web page. 

 

 

Book Review: Lover

LOVER: A NOVEL, BY ANNA RAVERAT

PUBLICATION: SARAH CRICHTON BOOKS; REPRINT EDITION (MARCH 7, 2017)

loverAbout the book:

You can learn a lot about a husband by reading his e-mail—sometimes, too much

Kate, a senior executive at a multinational hotel company, has devoted her life to her job and her family. Catering to the needs of others comes easily to her, but now, after ten years of marriage and two children, Kate discovers e-mails from her husband to another woman. Forced to take a long look at her marriage, she finds that there are all kinds of things she’s been doing her best not to see. At the same time, the political machinations in her office begin to take on an increasingly Shakespearean level of drama and ferocity. With both her work and home lives crumbling around her, Kate has to keep up appearances for her daughters as she tries to figure out who her husband really is and what he means to her now.

Lover, the British writer Anna Raverat’s U.S. debut, is a detailed observation of love, work, and life told through a woman’s crumbling marriage. In a first-person voice so compelling that the novel reads like a thriller, Raverat paints an acute portrait of the female psyche, exploring intimacy and the politics of work. Lover is both an intellectually rich and an emotionally gripping read about a woman finding her place in the world.

My Review:

Wow – this was such an honest and emotional story about a wife’s worst nightmare. Kate and Adam have been married for years and have two young daughters. He hated his job so she encouraged him to leave, resulting in him starting his own, quite unsuccessful business. So Kate returns to work for PHC, a huge hotel corporation, in order to help make ends meet. Their lives are fine but obviously, things aren’t as fine as she thought. One night she decides to jump on Adam’s laptop to look up the holiday schedule for the gym and instead, she discovers tons of e-mails between Adam and another woman. As Adam tries to reassure Kate that it wasn’t an affair, just a drink, and a quick peck on the lips, Kate questions Adam endlessly as he begs for forgiveness. Curiosity getting the better of her, she continues to snoop and dig into Adam’s life, until she finds herself face to face with a husband she no longer knows or trusts. 

I loved the character of Kate and loved her young daughters, although they had some very real-life bratty moments at times. Kate was very relatable regarding both her personal life and professional life with both of their ups and downs. I started out wanting to give Adam the benefit of the doubt, however, that ship quickly sailed. Still, the author’s character development regarding Adam and the effect the guilt and regret had on him was amazing. I liked some issues that Lover brings up. First, it’s surprising how little we know about our significant others and is it possible that they could do such horrible things right under our noses. Second, affairs don’t always mean that the relationship is over, there are people that manage to get through these circumstances.  Third, and most important, the spouse who is cheated on has every right to take their time to figure out if they want to and are able to work at rebuilding the relationship. 

Kate had great friends and the support of her parents throughout this novel, but the fact still remained that she discovered secrets about her husband that had a huge impact on her. Parenting is difficult enough but to suddenly be a single parent and working a very demanding job is incredibly challenging – and I think Kate rolled with the punches quite well. Anna Raverat did a beautiful job of demonstrating the ever-changing emotions and feelings of a woman recently separated from her husband and especially a woman that feels so betrayed. Kate had good days and bad days, and often there were just maybe a few good moments in any given day, but she carried on trying to determine what was best for her and her daughters. The writing style was amazing and flowed flawlessly, grabbing my attention but also prompting me to truly think and consider that events and emotions of the novel. 

Although not the most original or unique storyline out there, this was an excellent read that I highly recommend to fans of Women’s fiction. Especially for those that may have been betrayed by someone in the past. 

*Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Purchase Lover on Amazon!

Book Review: A Change for the Better

A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER,

BY PAMELA FUDGE

PUBLICATION: ENDEAVOR PRESS; MARCH 3, 2017

changeAbout the book: 

It’s time for a fresh start…

Jo Farrell has spent her entire life putting other first.

Home alone one Friday night with an empty weekend stretching before her, a chance encounter with her downstairs neighbor Greg, sparks an unlikely friendship.

With the help of her new friend, Jo creates a list of ten things she wants to do to turn her life around.

Learn to drive, finally stick to that diet, go on holiday somewhere exotic, visit a clairvoyant… All the things that Jo wanted to do, but life always got in the way of.

As their friendship blossoms, Greg is a great support in helping Jo achieve her goals, a source of great entertainment and gossip for her nosy neighbor Miss Gutheridge.

Recognizing the impact their friendship has had on their lives, Greg seeks Jo’s help with a list of his own, aware that he has put his life on hold since losing his beloved wife Monica.

It’s not long before people other than Greg start to notice Jo’s new image and her new found confidence, and she soon finds herself being wined and dined by a new admirer.

But an unwanted visitor to the flat stirs up old memories and threatens to undo all the progress Jo has made.

Will completing her list bring her the life she always longed for? Or is there a surprise in store…?

My Review:

A Change for the Better is a light-hearted and entertaining read about a woman named Jo Farrell and her sudden realization that she wants to change her life. After a miserable marriage and suffering through plenty of drama with her adult son, Jo decides that she wants to change herself inside and out. When her “scruffy looking” neighbor Greg knocks on her door one night, she finds herself engaged in long conversation as Greg helps Jo create her list. Soon Greg starts his own list and they become very close friends as they change their looks, their clothes, and try out new things that they have always wanted to do. Jo finds herself with a new friend, a new romance and also a visitor from the past that is unwanted. Although faced with personal and family challenges, Jo’s new confidence helps her through trying times as she learns how special some relationships really are. 

Not judging a character by appearance, but Jo seemed quite unkempt and almost homely looking in the beginning of the novel. Based on the author’s physical description of Jo it was apparent that she had neglected her appearance for quite some time – as had Greg. But soon these two friends start taking the time for different clothes, new haircuts and new experiences bringing them both out of their shells and developing their confidence. Jo is a very devoted mother and a caring person from the beginning, just as Greg is incredibly selfless and generous. Then there is Max, whom Jo’s friend Denise had tried to set her up with. Before Jo’s transformation/makeover, Max wanted nothing to do with her. But when he accidentally meets her a second time he doesn’t recognize her but definitely wants to get to know her better. He does have some charming moments, but I couldn’t get over their first meeting when he ignored her like some wounded animal. 

I loved watching Jo blossom throughout this novel, especially emotionally. She finally put herself first and decided to look at the world differently. The compliments and sudden looks from men didn’t go to her head, but slowly this happy confidence emerged as she checked things off of her list. Although this journey was not about finding a man to complete her, there were times found myself frustrated because she couldn’t imagine Greg as more than a friend. Several times I wanted to yell at her to snatch him up before another woman got him first, but then calmly reminded myself that this was her own journey to self-discovery and to remain patient and hopeful! I also found the ending rather rushed with everything coming to a resolution on one page and the story suddenly being over, but I still loved the novel. 

Pamela Fudge has a very no-nonsense easy to read writing style that I enjoyed. Her characters were very relatable in various situations that anyone could identify with regardless of age or experience. I highly recommend A Change for the Better to lovers of women’s fiction and contemporary romance looking for a quick and fun read. Even better – this is a great novel to curl up with to escape for a few hours when you’re experiencing any dark or heavy circumstances of your own. There’s no way you could still feel down after reading Jo’s story!

*Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

Purchase A Change for the Better on Amazon!

Learn more about Pamela Fudge by visiting her web page!

 

Book Review: Can’t Buy Forever

CAN’T BUY FOREVER, BY SUSAN LAFFOON

PUBLICATION: PAGE PUBLISHING; MAY 17, 2015

cant buy

About the book: 

In the early 1950s, Odessa Drake (Dessa) is rescued from a bleak existence with a single mother. She takes a chance on the unknown to work in a boarding house owned by a widowed great aunt in Mineville, New York. Dessa is devoted to Aunt Flo and especially a young man, Nicholas, who appears and takes shelter in the attic, the only available space. Four years pass. She looks forward to each day because of his presence, in spite of the tedious work. Dessa is now eighteen and knows little more of Nicholas than the day he arrived to work the mines. She knows only he is a remarkable man who has a limp and she trusts Nicholas explicitly. There is a familiarity both recognize and an unshakeable bond develops. Nicholas has reasons to keep his past buried. Dangers loom and become evident when Nicholas gets too close and exposes their bond. What is the mystery behind this threat? To discover the answer, they escape by railway heading West, colliding with treachery and uncovering secrets, mile by mile. Their journey is impossible, but, they are supported by friends who risk their lives to make sure a great love and lineage is preserved. Or is it? None will forget their odyssey as they proceed to their destiny farther than they imagined.

My Review:

Can’t Buy Forever is a story set in the 1950’s about a girl named Odessa and a young man she meets in her Aunt’s boarding house, Nicholas. The two have a quickly developed bond between them and obviously love one another, although at first it is just implied, rather than said. It starts out appearing as if it is a coming of age/historical romance with ice fishing dates and planning for prom, but the story quickly shifts when a multi-generational feud is brought to light. Odessa faces many, many challenges – both emotionally and physically – in order to be with Nicholas. Nicholas is mysterious and it takes some time before his past is revealed. The two share an emotional and sentimental love but breaking the curse that Nicholas has been under for so long changes everything. 

Odessa was a somewhat complex character in that in some ways, she seemed wise beyond her years, but then other times seemed very immature. However, I do know for sure that she was very accident and illness-prone! The poor thing was sick or injured for 90% of the novel, yet she pressed on. Nicholas seemed very charming and romantic but was a bit too mysterious at times, leaving both Odessa and the reader dying for some details about his life and history. Their friends Elise, Scout and Gregg were all likable and engaging characters that could remind you of their young age and impress you with your wisdom all within the same page. I think my favorite character was Mick, who unfortunately doesn’t appear until the end of the novel, but I loved his charm and compassion. Roark – who is quite a prominent character, started as a nasty villain but went through a wonderful transformation over the course of the novel. 

Can’t Buy Forever was both entertaining and at times, suspenseful, but I’m not sure that I loved it. The premise behind Nicholas, his family and their history was definitely unique and original, but I also found myself confused at various points about who was who and what they were doing. Without giving spoilers, I was even more hesitant about the part right after the funeral and the pseudo-reincarnation. Even when I made peace with that, deciding it was not so silly after all, then there were more challenges and obstacles making me think, “o.k., this is just a bit much.” Regardless, I did enjoy this creative story, which is unlike anything that I’ve read. I found it to be heartbreaking at times but there were also joyous moments that made me smile. 

 I enjoyed Susan Laffoon’s writing style although I did have to occasionally stop and remind myself that the narrator was an 18-year-old girl in the 1950’s. Some of the wording seemed almost too simple and/or innocent, but I admire the author’s ability to realistically tell a story from that point of view. I saw in other reviews on a retailer site several complaints about needing editing and grammatical errors, however, either I read I different edition or have serious grammatical weaknesses of my own because nothing significant stands out in my mind. Even with moments that were too far-fetched for me, this was an enjoyable read with a surprisingly perfect blend of historical romance, coming of age, and paranormal/mythological. The love being Nicholas and Odessa was beautifully portrayed without anything sexual or inappropriate, and showed a riveting depth of emotion. I’m not sure if I consider the ending happy, sad or just bitter-sweet – but it was well worth reading. I believe there may be a sequel coming next year, which I will most definitely want to read and learn more about what happens with Odessa!

*Thanks to the author for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. I received the paperback copy of Can’t Buy Forever from the author, thus the 2015 publishing date, however, the Kindle version was released February 2017.

Purchase Can’t Buy Forever on Amazon.

Learn more about Susan Laffoon by visiting her web page. 

 

Review& Author Interview: Shepherd & the Professor, by Dan Klefstad

SHEPHERD & THE PROFESSOR,

BY DAN KLEFSTAD

PUBLICATION: BLACK ROSE WRITING; 1 EDITION

(APRIL 22, 2016)

shepherd

Synopsis: Most people take comfort knowing their family and friends will remember them after they die. For Susan Shepherd, “remembering” is bullshit. She wants an eternal shrine to her sacrifice: a book that never goes out of print.

Shepherd served her country in the Gulf War, got shot while serving her community as a cop, raised an ungrateful daughter by herself — and for what? A diagnosis of terminal cancer and she isn’t even fifty. If you were in her shoes, you might agree that nothing short of national perpetual acknowledgment will do.

She’s glad you feel that way; she just wrote a memoir and sent a flurry of query letters, hoping a publisher will memorialize her with a best-seller. After hitting Send, she waits not-at-all patiently for an editor to decide if her story will sell enough copies — that is if her life really mattered.

My Review:

Let me begin by saying that this novel was fantastic! However, it has a TON of things going on so if you need your stories a little more simple and relaxed, this may not be the read for you. I absolutely loved this debut novel from Dan Klefstad and found myself thoroughly engrossed in this roller-coaster ride of a novel.

It begins with a query letter written by Susan Shepherd to a publisher, trying to get her memoir published. Susan has cancer and wants to be remembered for the things she has done and endured in her life. So the “audience” or “listener” of this crazy tale is implied to be a publisher or an intern in charge of sorting through queries and manuscripts. 

Anyway, this novel is set in Charters, Illinois and the fictional campus of OKU. Susan is a Gulf War Veteran turned police officer and meets a new OKU professor, Daniel (later Akram) as he arrives in Charters. Daniel also quickly meets Guy who is Susan’s friend and DJ at the campus radio station. Other main players are Emma (Daniel and Susan’s daughter), her drug dealer boyfriend Jesus, Judy Peterson (arrives to interview for the open position of University President),  Chief Washington (campus security and also wants the University President position), and a student named Chris who is obviously troubled and quite frustrating. The overall plot centers around the search for an appointment of the new OKU President, but along with this, Susan tells her life stories and shares her experiences in a hilarious, sometimes offensive, but very interesting way. Each character’s individual stories are intertwined in surprising ways, reminding me of the movie, Pulp Fiction. The plot isn’t like Pulp Fiction, but the way things keep coming full circle and how everyone is associated with everyone in some way. 

I cannot imagine how I could discuss much more about the plot and the characters without ruining the excitement of you reading this yourself. There is non-stop action from page 1 and I do not want to include any spoilers in this review. However, Dan Klefstad’s character and plot development are amazing. He shares his characters with us more through actions and experiences, rather than description, and every character has multiple strengths and flaws. As I said before, there is a lot going on throughout this novel, but every sub-plot, side story, and so on perfectly fit and complete this novel. Susan is just constant trouble, always getting into something, Judy is the most masterful manipulator I’ve read about in my life and all of the other characters all have some personal, professional, or political agenda going on driving them to the things that they do. 

Dan Klefstad’s style of writing results in a brilliant read, but one that you get wrapped up in and follow along with easily. The complex characters and genius plot made this an incredible read for me and I loved it from the beginning to end. I must say, however, although the premise of the novel is Susan writing and seeking publication of her memoirs, I’m not sure that part was even necessary regarding the overall novel. But I do see how it allows the frequent shifts between POV and time periods. 

I know I haven’t alluded much to the summary of the plot, but again I don’t want to spoil anything for future readers. Just get your hands on this novel and get ready for a wonderful, crazy read!

*Thanks to Dan Klefstad for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

Purchase Shepherd & the Professor on Amazon!

Now, get to know author Dan Klefstad a little better!

Many thanks to Dan Klefstad for allowing me to be a little nosy and provide my readers with more insight into the brilliant mind that created Shepherd and the Professor!

Dan5

Shepherd & the Professor has so many different characters and different stories all wrapped up in one novel. What inspired you to write about Susan and life in Charters?

 Yes, there are lots of characters and plotlines here. I imagine some readers will think they’re drinking from a firehose because of all the themes I include – university security, availability of guns, mental illness, single motherhood, ethnic and religious minorities, plus a big dose of economic dislocation. I wanted to show the range of issues facing people in so-called Rust Belt states, and the growing pressure Midwesterners face in an increasingly complex and (from their view) indifferent world. Susan Shepherd – survivor of war, sexual abuse, single motherhood and a police career – is the vessel into which I pour all this angst. Every moment of every day she’s trying not to lose her shit, but the next crisis could be the one that does it. To heighten the tension, I put her in a university town where the contrast between the highly-educated and everyone else is stark. At the heart of this “Town vs. Gown” tension is Professor Daniel Lazar (later Akram Khan) who gets Susan pregnant and abandons her for another woman.

I can honestly see this being made into a wild ride film such as Pulp Fiction. Who would play some of the main characters such as Judy, Susan, Daniel/Akram, Emma and Chris?

I’d love it if Amy Adams played Susan Shepherd and Rufus Sewell played Daniel/Akram. I imagine Elle Fanning as their daughter Emma, and Charlie Heaton as Chris Leifheit (remember Heaton as the older brother Jonathan Beyers in Stranger Things?).  For my antagonist, Judy Peterson, I initially wanted Angelina Jolie, but my wife considers this “too extreme.” She recommends Jessica Chastain based on her performance in A Most Violent Year. It’s a bold choice. I’d love to see Chastain and Adams in a screen test together.

There is a touch of cannibalism in the novel, but not much detail or back story attached. What was up with the flesh-eating moment, just mental illness, extreme hunger, or both?

During the time I was creating Judy Peterson, I read something about eating disorders and how they involve an obsession with having control. As Judy evolved as a con artist, it felt natural that she’d want to control everything around her – especially as she schemed to take the university president’s job. Soon I watched her establish command over a student hotel worker named Timothy who finds a room for her. As she waits longer and longer for her plan to reach its next stage – getting this high-paying job – she runs out of money. Worse, she begins losing control over Timothy. In response, she focuses on something she can control: food. Rather than retreat a single step, she sacrifices nutrition, strength and body weight – starving herself to save whatever pennies she has left. The irony is, after her plan succeeds she wants to celebrate with steak and champagne, but can’t; Timothy still has an ace to play that denies her this meal. So eating a leftover bit of Timothy is an act of revenge – as well as an effort to satisfy her growling stomach. Call it an episode of  “cannibulimia.”

I felt like the last paragraphs at the Kerner center between Judy and Jesus hinted at some sort of follow-up novel. Do you have any plans to create more wild tales about the people of Charters?

I do plan a sequel, but need my ideas to marinate for a while. Right now I’m working on another book that will be a series of linked stories about a man who works for a vampire. The working title is The Caretaker, which is also the title of a story I published in the journal Crack the Spine (Issue 209). The protagonist is about to retire, and his last duty is to hire and train his successor. The story got several good reviews recently, including one by Kerry Parsons: https://chataboutbooks.wordpress.com/?s=Dan+Klefstad+the+caretakerThis story will be the opening chapter of my next book. Chapter 2, a story called “The Interview,” is finished and awaiting judgment from a handful of journals. I hope to share good news about that in a few weeks.

Sometimes authors create playlists of songs that they either listened to while writing, mention in a novel, or both. What genre of music, songs, or musicians would you attach to this novel?

Susan Shepherd refers to a couple of country songs and artists she likes, and I think any movie or TV version would have to include modern country music. As for me, I always have jazz, classical and pop songs in my head. But I never listen to music when I write. The only thing I’ll allow near me is an air purifier; the “white noise” helps me focus.

Susan, Judy and Emma are all intelligent, strong female characters and actually quite fearless in their own ways. Yet I felt like several of the men were somewhat weak while trying to project the image of being strong and in control. Is this accidental or did you intend to build the women up more?

Yes, I did amplify the strengths of my female characters and make the men weaker. For this story I needed women to push hard against men who exert a careless influence over others. For example, Daniel Lazar (later Akram Khan) abandons Susan and their unborn daughter Emma and, 20 years later, feels little concern over how this continues to affect them. It’s not that he’s a sociopath – it’s just not expected of him to care. Judy, who cons her way into the university president’s job, must still cope with her male predecessor’s incompetence, plus a male rival’s intransigence. Her method is to fight dirty, but she has to fight twice as dirty as the men blocking her path. I guess all this reflects what I see around me every day – men who feel a certain entitlement, and women who struggle to rewrite the rules. I’ve been watching this dynamic my whole life. Not much has changed, which makes me wonder why. And when I wonder about things, I keep writing about them.

What are a few of your favorite novels you’ve read over the past year?  

This year I’ve been enjoying story collections like The Virginity of Famous Men by Christine Sneed, and The Andrew Jackson Stories by Aaron Sitze. Also poetry collections like Dirt, Root, Silk by Susan Porterfield, and On This Day in Poetry History by Amy Newman. I interviewed each of these authors for NPR/WNIJ’s “Read with Me” series which is archived here: http://northernpublicradio.org/topic/wnij-read-me

Thanks, Jen, for the opportunity to speak with you and your readers. Please keep your fingers crossed for my story “The Interview.” And I hope we stay in touch…

Dan K

 

 

What Am I Reading?

I have read some great things over the past week! I’ve also gotten a little trigger happy while on the NetGalley website lately, so I’m going to try to include 2-3 NetGalley titles to read this week so my shelf doesn’t get out of control! Here is what I am planning to read and review!

Defining Her, by Samantha March

Publication: Marching Ink, LLC; March 15, 2017

definingAbout the book: 

Nellie Hawthorne is a woman who has it all. A devoted husband, her own business, a wealthy lifestyle. But the Nellie she is now is much different from her past. A past filled with abuse, addiction, and men. Nellie’s carefully constructed new life is suddenly in jeopardy when a blast from the past emerges in her small town and her overbearing mother-in-law starts pushing for grandchildren and questions start being asked. A budding new friendship presents itself at an opportune time, and a once friendless Nellie finds herself growing closer to Prue Doherty.

Prue Doherty is the quintessential good girl. Always making the right decisions, always playing it safe. Until she meets a man that could change all of that. Still reeling from a devastating breakup and betrayal that had her fleeing from Chicago and settling into suburb life with her mom close by, Prue finds herself in a damaging funk. But everything changes when she befriends Nellie Hawthorne.

Nellie is trying to escape her past. Prue wants that perfect future. While both women strive to change their lives, they continue to cling to the past. But what defines us? Who we were then . . . or who we are trying to be now? Lies, manipulation, and deceit are woven throughout the pages of this edgy women’s fiction novel, with an ending you won’t see coming.

Can’t Buy Forever, by Susan Laffoon

Publication: Page Publishing; May 17, 2015

cant buy

About the book: 

In the early 1950s, Odessa Drake (Dessa) is rescued from a bleak existence with a single mother. She takes a chance on the unknown to work in a boarding house owned by a widowed great aunt in Mineville, New York. Dessa is devoted to Aunt Flo and especially a young man, Nicholas, who appears and takes shelter in the attic, the only available space. Four years pass. She looks forward to each day because of his presence, in spite of the tedious work. Dessa is now eighteen and knows little more of Nicholas than the day he arrived to work the mines. She knows only he is a remarkable man who has a limp and she trusts Nicholas explicitly. There is a familiarity both recognize and an unshakeable bond develops. Nicholas has reasons to keep his past buried. Dangers loom and become evident when Nicholas gets too close and exposes their bond. What is the mystery behind this threat? To discover the answer, they escape by railway heading West, colliding with treachery and uncovering secrets, mile by mile. Their journey is impossible, but, they are supported by friends who risk their lives to make sure a great love and lineage is preserved. Or is it? None will forget their odyssey as they proceed to their destiny farther than they imagined.

A Change for the Better, by Pamela Fudge

Publication: Endeavor Press; March 3, 2017

changeAbout the book: 

It’s time for a fresh start…

Jo Farrell has spent her entire life putting other first.

Home alone one Friday night with an empty weekend stretching before her, a chance encounter with her downstairs neighbor Greg, sparks an unlikely friendship.

With the help of her new friend, Jo creates a list of ten things she wants to do to turn her life around.

Learn to drive, finally stick to that diet, go on holiday somewhere exotic, visit a clairvoyant… All the things that Jo wanted to do, but life always got in the way of.

As their friendship blossoms, Greg is a great support in helping Jo achieve her goals, a source of great entertainment and gossip for her nosy neighbor Miss Gutheridge.

Recognizing the impact their friendship has had on their lives, Greg seeks Jo’s help with a list of his own, aware that he has put his life on hold since losing his beloved wife Monica.

It’s not long before people other than Greg start to notice Jo’s new image and her new found confidence, and she soon finds herself being wined and dined by a new admirer.

But an unwanted visitor to the flat stirs up old memories and threatens to undo all the progress Jo has made.

Will completing her list bring her the life she always longed for? Or is there a surprise in store…?

Lover: A Novel, by Anna Raverat

Publication: Sarah Crichton Books; Reprint edition (March 7, 2017)

loverAbout the book:

You can learn a lot about a husband by reading his e-mail—sometimes, too much

Kate, a senior executive at a multinational hotel company, has devoted her life to her job and her family. Catering to the needs of others comes easily to her, but now, after ten years of marriage and two children, Kate discovers e-mails from her husband to another woman. Forced to take a long look at her marriage, she finds that there are all kinds of things she’s been doing her best not to see. At the same time, the political machinations in her office begin to take on an increasingly Shakespearean level of drama and ferocity. With both her work and home lives crumbling around her, Kate has to keep up appearances for her daughters as she tries to figure out who her husband really is and what he means to her now.

Lover, the British writer Anna Raverat’s U.S. debut, is a detailed observation of love, work, and life told through a woman’s crumbling marriage. In a first-person voice so compelling that the novel reads like a thriller, Raverat paints an acute portrait of the female psyche, exploring intimacy and the politics of work. Lover is both an intellectually rich and an emotionally gripping read about a woman finding her place in the world.

The Barrowfields: A Novel, by Phillip Lewis

Publication: Hogarth; March 7, 2017

barrowfieldsAbout the book: A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think? Happy reading!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: To Kill a Wife

TO KILL A WIFE (INSPECTOR PEACH SERIES BOOK 3),

BY J.M. GREGSON

PUBLICATION:  ENDEAVOUR PRESS (FEBRUARY 7, 2017)

to-killSynopsis: Maybe everyone would be better off without her…

Verna Hume isn’t an easy woman to be around. Her husband, Martin, knows that all too well.

Their marriage had long since died and out of spite, Verna refuses to give Martin the divorce he wants.

And in the meantime, she has numerous affairs with other men – her latest man, one Hugh Pearson of Pearson’s Electronics.

It’s then that Martin thinks: I could just kill her.

As he toys with plans to kill her, he feels a new lease of life. Everything from his career to his social life is on the up.

He starts an affair of his own – with Verna’s sister, Sue; a single mother to a wonderful little boy.

Oblivious to everything but her future with Hugh, Verna completely ignores Martin going away for the weekend.

To his surprise, when Martin returns home, he finds Verna dead; to add to the irony, he’s arrested for her murder.

It seems an easy case to the police but DI Dennis Peach doesn’t think Martin did it. And his partner Lucy Blake is in agreement.

As the pair soon discover, Verna Hume had many enemies other than Martin and Sue.

There’s her long-time business partner and friend, Barbara Harris, who had a nasty disagreement with Verna the day before her death.

There’s Hugh Pearson, who while happy to sleep with Verna was not keen on Verna’s insistence that they get married and set up home together.

There are her own parents, her father and stepmother – Dean and Alice Osbourne – whom, Verna treated awfully.

And then there are all her ex-lover.

It’s clear that Martin is innocent, his alibi watertight, and so it’s up to Peach and Blake to uncover the real murderer.

My Review:

This was my first time reading J.M. Gregson and any of the Inspector Peach series, and this was truly a fun and entertaining “whodunnit” mystery! This is the story of a miserably unpleasant and vicious woman named Verna. Verna and Martin have been unhappily married for years and she has refused to give him a divorce. So what does Martin do? He decides that he is going to kill her. Martin is falling in love with Verna’s sister, Sue and is ready to get on with his life. Verna has multiple lovers on the side, Hugh and Robert, but also has several enemies including her business partner Barbara, her Dad and Step-Mom, her sister Sue, and of course her husband Martin. After deciding to kill Verna, Martin suddenly feels rejuvenated – working harder at his career as an accountant, spending more time with friends, spending more time with Sue and her young son, and also finding the strength to ignore and/or not react to Verna’s mean and hurtful comments and actions. Martin is sent over 200 miles away one weekend to Oxford for a business conference, and when he returns that Sunday evening – he finds Verna dead. So who killed her?

I loved this mystery because Verna had angered, hurt, alienated, or pressured everyone in her life – so everyone was a potential suspect. Martin was honest from the beginning with the detectives Peach and Blake, but everyone else lied at least once about their relationship with Verna, when they last saw her and where they were at her time of death. The detectives quickly learn how many people hated Verna but keep reminding themselves that she still did not deserve to be murdered. Slowly they interview the main players, discuss findings, interview them again, and so on until their lies begin to unravel. But even after discovering how many people have lied they still can’t prove who killed her. Eventually, however, the killer decides to face the music and confesses after realizing that their alibi fell through. 

To Kill a Wife was wonderfully fast-paced and kept me guessing the entire time. Frequently in murder mysteries, it’s difficult to figure out what someone would be murdered and what possible enemies they could have had. But in this case, everyone hated this evil woman, especially her own family members. The point of view alternates throughout the novel but seems to be mainly from the detectives or Martin, however, the reader does get a few chapters from Verna’s point of view prior to her death shedding a somewhat different light. Don’t get me wrong, she was horrible, yet there are a few moments here and there when her vulnerability is exposed related to her affair with Hugh. Poor Martin literally struggles controlling laughter at the irony of his being arrested for murdering his wife, considering that he had been planning her murder in his mind but never got the chance to do it. After his release for lack of evidence he honestly doesn’t give her murder much thought, except relief to live his life and that he didn’t have to resort to killing her himself. Yes, murder is wrong, but I was with Martin on this one! He deserved some peace. 

I loved everything about this novel except for two things. First, once the killer confessed and was in custody, there was a very abrupt ending. You’re reading along on this wild ride, find out who killed her and then that’s it, the end. Which honestly, the mystery was solved so no need to go on, but I’m used to more subtle transitions and conclusions. J.M. Gregson has written several books in this series though so I would be curious to know from anyone that has read him before if this is just his standard way of wrapping things up. Secondly, the grammatical errors were off the charts. But – this was an ARC that I received prior to the publication date, so I’m hoping that these were corrected before final publication?? 

Overall I found this novel to be gripping and suspenseful from the beginning and was absolutely not able to put it down. Actually, dinner was served about an hour later than planned because I refused to cook until I finished! I cannot recommend this novel enough for someone in the mood for a fantastically puzzling murder mystery. 

*Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Purchase To Kill a Wife on Amazon. 

 

Book Review: Rarity From the Hollow

RARITY FROM THE HOLLOW,

BY ROBERT EGGLETON

PUBLICATION: DOG HORN PUBLISHING (NOVEMBER 8, 2015)

rarity

Synopsis: Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in The Hollow isn’t great. But Lacy has one advantage — she’s been befriended by a semi-organic, semi-robot who works with her to cure her parents. He wants something in exchange, though. It’s up to her to save the Universe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Review:

Every so often I read something and then don’t have the slightest damned clue how to review it, and this is one of those instances. Sometimes people mention to me that I always write positive reviews, which isn’t true, however, I always try to highlight something positive despite my overall opinion of the book. Not to mention that I try to accept review requests when it sounds like something I will enjoy. I step out of my comfort zone frequently but still, I do not accept review requests if I truly do not think I will like the book. 

Anyhow, as crazy as the description was I felt that I would really enjoy Rarity From the Hollow! I’m not a huge sci-fi fan but have read several sci-fi novels that I enjoyed. When I began reading I must have laughed out loud 5-6 times in the first few minutes, and some of this was simply because of the chapter names. I have an odd, somewhat inappropriate and often immature sense of humor so I was quickly entranced by this novel. I quickly adored the main character Lacy Dawn and was eager to dig into this story. However, it started losing me when I realized that the trees talked to her and frequently told her to “eat shit,” and that her deceased best friend now lived in a piece of firewood. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Robert Eggleton’s imagination and creativity, but I found myself struggling. Not my cup of tea, but still I carried on. 

Lacy Dawn’s parents start out basically horrible with her Dad screaming and yelling at them, beating her and her mom with switches, and just being a horrible people. Lacy Dawn’s robot teacher/boyfriend/mentor DotCom has not only been teaching her fabulous things about history and the universe but also helps her “cure” her parents of their mean and ugly ways. This part I enjoyed 🙂 However, things just went south from there. Dwayne (the Dad) is a gigantic pot head and primarily focuses on getting high and getting laid. Jenny (the mom) just wants to masturbate or get laid. Then there is the friend Tom, who only wants to get high and has inappropriate thoughts about Jenny. I thought DotCom was cool at first, but as he started to grow a penis, all he wanted to do was play with it. I pride myself on being almost impossible to offend, but all the pot-smoking, dirty thoughts, masturbation, dog poop, etc. just got tiresome. 

Now let me tell you things I loved about this novel. First, it is evident that Robert Eggleston has first-hand knowledge of this socioeconomic class and people like Lacy Dawn and her family, which I later confirmed when reading his bio. Although in a darkly humorous and sci-fi fantasy sort of way, he painted a realistic picture of Lacy Dawn’s life. Secondly, I was impressed by his writing style and the easy flow of dialogue. Even when I was aggravated or disturbed by a character’s thoughts or comments, they all played well off of one another and I never questioned who was speaking or when. The author’s writing was also full of fabulous and relevant imagery even though sometimes it was a bit much and almost disgusting. But still, hats off for creating such vivid images in my mind! 

I am torn on my overall feelings about this novel and I guess if I had to go on Amazon and give it a star rating it would probably be 3/5. My reasoning is this… I found the story wildly ridiculous even within the realm of sci-fi and honestly can’t imagine how someone thought this story up. But on the same token, I can’t imagine how someone thought this story up so I respect the author’s vision. I can’t really say that I enjoyed the novel but I also wasn’t able to put it down – sort of like our compulsion to look at car accidents on the road. I had to carry on to find out what happened. Big sci-fi fans/stoners/fantasy types may really enjoy this novel, but it wasn’t a good fit for me. 

*Thanks to the author for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

**Robert Eggleton is donating proceeds from this novel to child abuse prevention, which is really cool. You can purchase Rarity From the Hollow on Amazon. 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Dancing at Midnight: The Life of June Parker

DANCING AT MIDNIGHT: THE LIFE OF JUNE PARKER, BY REBECCA YELLAND

PUBLICATION:  CREATE SPACE PUBLISHING PLATFORM; 2 EDITION (OCTOBER 27, 2016)

dancingSynopsis: A woman finds her mother’s journal after her death and the secrets she has kept hidden for decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Review:

Dancing at Midnight: The Life of June Parker is the debut novel from author Rebecca Yelland. Carolyn Graves returns home for the first time in many years after her mother’s death. Growing up, Carolyn was close to her father, however, her relationship with her mother was always strained. Back home to settle her mother’s affairs, Carolyn finds a beautiful box in a cabinet containing a few small items and 3 journals. Confused by the name June Parker, rather than how she knew her mother as June Graves, Carolyn settles into a comfy chair and begins reading her mother’s journals.

I was easily pulled into the plot of this novel because I can ALWAYS relate to a character that has not had a happy relationship with their mother. Initially, it was Carolyn that I related to, but once she began reading the journals I felt an instant connection with June also. This is somewhat challenging to review because so many things happen in June’s life and I do not want to provide any spoilers. But I will say this, Carolyn learns that her mother went through absolute hell for most of her childhood and teen years. When things were stable or comfortable, something bad always happened and I mean always. June’s journals were heart-breaking and although June has already passed away at the beginning of the novel, the reader gets a glimpse of what a survivor she was, that she was forced to become.

As Carolyn reads June’s journals, she begins to see her mother in a different light and is able to develop some understanding as to why their relationship was so strained. While I completely got that, I still struggle with dismissing someone’s actions because of their own past. History does not have to repeat itself, in spite of how we are raised. Granted that June never treated Carolyn as she herself was treated, but Carolyn still grew up feeling detached from June and unable to please her.  Do not misunderstand – I was happy that Carolyn was able to gain a new perspective on her mother’s life and that it gave her closure – but I am of the school of thought, and hopefully evidence of the fact that we can be whatever type of mother we want to be regardless of how our own mother treated us. 

I love the plot and characters that Rebecca Yelland provides in this novel and have to wonder what inspired such an emotional debut novel. I quickly found myself invested in June’s story and was at times shocked to the point of tears and other times smiling. Some of the writing felt almost over-simplified at times, however, I tried to remember that the journal entries were being written from the point of view of a young girl starting in the 1940’s. I wish I would have gotten to know Carolyn more in the story but I also noticed that a sequel to this book is in the works, so perhaps that will be my chance. 

Fans of literary fiction and historical romance will love Dancing at Midnight: The Life of June Parker. Although overflowing with difficult and emotional moments, it is also a story of the beauty of true love and friendship. 

*Thanks to author Rebecca Yelland for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Purchase Dancing at Midnight: The Life of June Parker on Amazon. 

Learn more about Rebecca Yelland by visiting her web page.