The House We Grew Up In – a review

The House We Grew Up In

Lisa Jewell’s latest offering, The House We Grew Up In explores the psychological roots of a woman’s slide into hoarding, and the devastating and long-term effects on her family.

Lorelei and Colin Bird live a magical life with their four children: Easter egg hunts, wading pools in the garden in summer. Their life centers around the family home, located outside a Cotswolds village in England. Lorelei, a bit of a ‘hippy’ mom, loves her children so much she insists on saving something to remind her of every special moment. The family home brims with mementoes, childhood art, and popped rubber wading pools that will never be patched. Colin would love to travel, possibly take the family to Greece, but Lorelei fears leaving the family home vacant after a break-in.

One Easter disaster strikes, and changes the tone of everything. Lorelei’s grasping loses its charm, and becomes something forlorn and desperate.

“According to the social worker, she went into the village a couple of times a week, had something to eat, chatted to the neighbors, went to the charity shop, bought a paper or two. Sometimes she went for a swim at the pool in town, mainly so she could get a shower, I suppose. And every weekend she’d get in the car and go to the cash-and-carry to pick up some bits.” She groaned under her breath. Pick up some bits. Infuriating, ridiculous woman. “And then she’d get home, push her way through meters of pitch-black corridors and emerge up here, like a rat out of a drain cover.”

Megan, eldest daughter and outspoken, is not the only one who notices the change, or is made uncomfortable by it, but she is the only one who can see that her mother’s clinging has slipped over into the realm of mental illness, and tries to do something about it. When she is grown she becomes the exact opposite of her mother, with a house that is drill sergeant tidy and spare. The hoarding takes its toll on each of the remaining three children and their father Colin. Jewell skillfully dips into each family member’s life, moving fluidly back and forth in time, to take readers deep into the resulting dysfunction that threatens each character’s happiness.

The characters were vivid and well done, and their lives went in some unexpected directions which kept this novel from simply devolving into a book sensationalizing hoarding. The hoarding did become almost a character itself, as one would expect, but was handled via suggestion throughout most of the story – until we come to Lorelei’s lowest point, and then the towering mess is described in the way it creates extraordinary problems: lost birth certificates, claustrophobia for those left to deal with it, blocking out light and space, and presenting a real-feeling hazard to health and happiness.

An engaging, disturbing page-turner.

Read and reviewed for She Reads.

Indie Spotlight

Blackwell's Paradise

Publication Date: January 8, 2014 Old Salt Press LLC Formats: Ebook, Paperback

Series: Blackwell’s Adventures, Volume II Genre: Historical Adventure/Naval HF

Relive the pleasure of falling into the past with the author of Captain Blackwell’s Prize, in Volume II of Blackwell’s Adventures.

The repercussions of a court-martial and the ill-will of powerful men at the Admiralty pursue Royal Navy captain James Blackwell into the Pacific, where danger lurks around every coral reef. Even if Captain Blackwell and Mercedes survive the venture into the world of early nineteenth century exploration, can they emerge unchanged with their love intact. The mission to the Great South Sea will test their loyalties and strength, and define the characters of Captain Blackwell and his lady in Blackwell’s Paradise.

A pirate adventure filled with likable characters, that spans from the stuffy courtrooms of 19th century Georgian London to the tropical islands of the Great South Sea, where bigger than life Captain James Blackwell, and his wife Mercedes, their little son Edward, and the captain’s island by-blow Aloka struggle for survival, and navigate the turns of this twisty plot. A fun, erotic, ofttimes humorous read. Recommended for readers who like seafaring adventures, light erotica/romance, English Naval history.

 

the stories we don't tellBooktrope 2014

Literary Fiction

A life worth living is a life worth sharing. Growing up in a small town in Montana not worth a name, that kind of life is not one Nick can manage. Let alone comprehend. When fate gives him an existence he can barely recognize, he searches for meaning in the future he wishes existed, and attempts to escape a past that cannot be told, save for in the pages of a faded memory.

 

Told in a spare, at times staccato prose, this slim debut novel (119 pages) tells the tortured story of Emma and Nick, two kids growing up in a small town. Nick longs to escape, especially after accidentally burning down the family home. Emma simply wants Nick, but fate keeps them apart. In chapters that almost read as stand-alone stories, Thayer leads us through their early years and into adulthood. The Stories We Don’t Tell: A fast pleasurable read recommended for readers who enjoy terse literary prose, character development that engages, and coming of age stories that linger.

 

 

perf6.000x9.000.inddFireship Press 2014

Historical Fiction

A Novel of Briseis and the Trojan War


The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god; will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

Simple, unadorned prose makes the topic tackled in Hand of Fire accessible to readers who might otherwise be intimidated by the Greek myths its plot draws upon. With its young protagonist, magic spells and potions, we are drawn in to the belief systems and cultural times of ancient Troy and her enemies. Recommended for readers interested in YA, historical romance, or Greek history.

The Real (Secret) Meaning of “Write What You Know”

As a young writer I never fully understood the advice write what you know. Like a lot of others, I assumed it meant that I should write about only those activities I’d personally taken part in, and not about those I hadn’t. Not surprisingly, my early stories were filled with characters who had crappy jobs and went to a lot of parties, backpacked, fished and rode horses. (They still do have characters who ride horses.)

But what, I wondered, about the writer who wanted to write about characters having sword fights, dying of plague, or being sold into slavery? Or hey, how about walking on the moon?

Happily, ‘write what you know’ doesn’t really mean that we should only write about being an astronaut if we’ve actually been one. All these can be written about by doing research, and then using that most magical of human abilities: imagination. The admonishment to write about what you know means something much deeper—and much more profound and beautiful.

I’ve read that there are actually a limited number of human emotions.

  • Love
  • Hate
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Contentment
  • Surprise
  • Disgust
  • Sadness
  • Curiosity
  • Amusement
  • Excitement
  • Guilt/Shame/Embarrassment
  • Pride
  • Relief
  • Contempt
  • Jealousy
  • Envy

(Probably some others I haven’t thought of here.)

Emotions can be felt in combination, which colors them and makes them feel exponentially better, or worse, or simply different slightly in nature. For instance: writers probably all experience moments when we read something really wonderful that we wish we’d written (joy at the beauty/ love for the writer or words or both/ coupled with wistful envy), or we see another writer we like achieve some recognition we long for (excitement for them/love/joy/envy).

For certain envy can become so intense it can be toxic—and then it turns to something darker, doesn’t it? Something more akin to jealousy?

The flip side (or perhaps the other end of the spectrum) of that would be pride, which can be obnoxious, when it becomes the bloated, preening sort. We’ve all seen it in its worst manifestations, and felt it too, if we are honest. That kind of pride is noticeably different in flavor than, say, the pride of a loving parent watching a child achieve a worked for goal, or the happy sigh of accomplishment when we sit back and admire a job well done.

Emotions run along a spectrum, and can be colored, or nuanced, by the proximity of other emotions, making them very complex. Yet, we all feel them, and experience the same ones. Barring disability, there are no emotions another can feel that you cannot.

As children we begin to experience the range of human emotion. First in our family, and then in the larger world as we venture forth. We gradually experience all the emotions and their many permutations. At some point, we examine them. We question what might be the cause of them, and maybe even learn some level of mastery.

This sort of self-examination and honesty is crucial to writers because, if we understand human feelings and emotions, and the many motivations that are at the root of them, then we can imbue our characters with all these, and they become real people, recognizable in all their failings, faults and foibles. And in their moments of nobility and glory.

At the root of good characterization is this perception and understanding of the inner workings of the human heart.One true sentence

Translating emotion onto the page is our job as a writer, whether it be through the character’s actions and choices, dialogue, or through believable internalizations.

If we haven’t felt an emotion and honestly examined it, no amount of research will help us write about it in a recognizable way. Likewise, if we are afraid of being seen, if we prefer to keep our selves locked away and not let others truly know us, then we won’t like the exposure of writing.

Writing honestly is a bit like taking your clothes off in a room full of strangers.

Les Edgerton, in his book Hooked, wrote:

“The best writers are those who are courageous enough to go deep inside themselves to face and expose the warts and hidden desires and forbidden feelings most of us want to hide from or deny, at least to others. Not everyone is able to face his demons and bring them out into the light of day, but if you have a fear, a forbidden thought or yearning, or an experience that has scarred or deeply affected you, then you have the material of great literature”…

He also said:

“Emotion is the chief coin in the trade of writers.”

I think this kind of honesty is what drew me to reading as a child; the feeling that I could know so many more and varied people than those of my small acquaintance—even those long dead! It was that sense that, reading Dickens, for instance, showed me not only the characters he chose to write about, but that beneath them I could see something of him: What he thought about people, and life, and what he thought of me, the reader; his expectations and assumptions of me revealed so much about himself.

Some argue that, like Hemingway, we should attempt to strip away any of our selves that might glimmer through in our writing. That is both impossible (even Hemingway couldn’t do it), and entirely unnecessary. Even with a stripped down story such as Hills Like White Elephants, the author is there beneath the writing, his thoughts about folks shimmering and flashing beneath the surface like koi in a pond. It’s inescapable for a brilliant writer to write and not show his/her self. Only the rankest, unskilled amateur can do that, because their writing is devoid of human experience. When we don’t know what we are doing we don’t bleed onto the page. (Early drafts are often like this too, I’ve discovered, when we are trying to figure out the story, and what is at stake. We may know perfectly well what our character is feeling, but not be getting it onto the page, and that’s okay; that’s what rewrites are for!)

The way I see it our personal understanding of self and others then, is really what is meant by “write what you know”. Because no matter whether our characters are astronauts, nurses, politicians or warlocks, if their feelings, motivations, and the actions that follow are genuine and recognizable, we’ve succeeded in our endeavor to portray real character.

And it’s all achieved by being brave and honest, and writing what we know, which is: what it’s like to be human.

The Paying Guests – a review

The Paying Guests

Publication date: September 16th 2014

Riverhead Books

Pressed for money, Frances Wray and her mother rent out a room in their crumbling old, London suburb home. The war has taken all their men, first Frances’ two brothers, then her father to a heart attack—though not before the latter could impoverish them with a series of bad investments. It’s still early enough in the last century, 1922, for it to be difficult for a woman to earn the means to live comfortably. The servants are gone. Mother and daughter bathe only once a week, with shared water in the pantry bathtub, the water heated in a gas ‘geyser’ that has to be hand lit—just one of the many period and regional details in this fat historical.

Frances finds she is uncomfortable with the young newlywed tenants, Lillian and Leonard, who are not quite who they seemed at the interview. She’s especially tense around the husband, with his jaunty whistling and yodeling yawns, and with his invasion into her space; he stops to chat on his way to and from the backyard WC, leaning against the door jam in her kitchen and watching her, his conversation laced with innuendo. To Francis he seems ‘pleased with himself, a cock among hens’. The wife turns out to be a bit of an imposter, but what a fascinating one, with her cultivated accents so different from her huge and rambunctious family when they visit, and her ‘bohemian’ ways; Frances finds herself drawn to waif-like Lillian.

Tension builds through the careful compilation of detail. Frances spares her mother the harsh reality of their true financial situation, by doing ‘the worst’ of the chores while Mrs. Wray is away at her charity meetings, or playing cards with the wealthy and outspoken Mrs. Playfair. When Mrs. Wray is home, mother and daughter are often together in the parlor, quietly reading or playing cards, while every sound from the tenants above their heads jolts them from their somnambulant ‘good class’ routine, and reminds Francis, a ‘spinster’ in her mid-twenties, of what she is missing in the wider world of her life prior to the death of her father, and the choices his demise thrust upon her.

Worse even than the thought of it, however, worse than the laughter and the dancing-halls, worse than anything, were the routine casual intimacies of married life: Leonard waiting for Lilian at the bottom of the stairs, calling, ‘Come on, woman!’; Lilian straightening his waistcoat—little husband-and-wifely moments which Frances might glimpse or overhear as she made her way through the house, and which, if she came upon them unreadied, could strike at her like blows to the heart.

I’ve never read any Sarah Waters previously, but with The Paying Guests she can count me among her fans. The interior life of the viewpoint character, Francis, is so well rendered; at times I liked her, and at others I grew frustrated with her choices and way of looking at things. But I was never bored by her. With the character of Leonard particularly, Waters achieves a sly feat: at times we see him through our own eyes, his actions those of a typical man of his era, and at others we see him as Francis sees him. Frances, we learn, is not an entirely unbiased observer—she has her secrets, and a past. She’s a woman trapped in a post Victorian society that makes neither room nor acceptance for women who don’t fit the mold.

My favorite line in the book: ‘A man’s not safe.’ Its perfect placement, its subtlety, its snort-worthy irony, its freight-load of foreshadowing; set beside the innocence with which the four words are spoken—all make it the fulcrum on which the novel turns.

If you like deeply interior novels full of suspense, crime novels, historicals, or love stories—this page-turner has it all.

Read and reviewed for Library Thing, and Putnam Books

Sarah’s website

Sarah’s FB page

Sarah on Goodreads

Close to the Sun

Please welcome my guest today, Donald Michael Platt, author of four novels, most recently the WWII fighter pilot adventure, Close to the Sun.

????????????????????

Publication Date: June 15, 2014
Fireship Press, 404p

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

 

 

 

I thank you, Cynthia, for this opportunity to guest post on your blog.

My WWII historical novel Close to the Sun follows the lives of two Americans and a German from childhood through the end of WWII. As boys, they idealize the exploits of WWI fighter aces known as chivalrous Knights of the Skies. Hank Milroy from Wyoming learns his first flying lessons from observing falcons. Karl, Fürst von Pfalz-Teuffelreich, aspires to surpass his father’s 49 Luftsiegen accumulated during WWI. Seth Braham falls in love with flying during an air show at San Francisco’s Chrissy Field. The young men meet exceptional women. Texas tomboy Catherine “Winty” McCabe believes she is as good a flyer as any man. Princess Maria-Xenia, a stateless White Russian, works for the Abwehr, German intelligence. Elfriede “Elfi” Wohlmann is a frontline nurse. Mimi Kay sings with a big band.

Flying fighters over Europe, Hank, Karl, and Seth experience the exhilaration of aerial combat victories and acedom during the unromantic reality of combat losses, tedious bomber escort, strafing runs, and firebombing of entire cities. Callous political decisions and military mistakes add to their disillusion, especially one horrific tragedy at the end of the war.

Yet, some may say all that is not Historical Fiction because they are rigidly dogmatic regarding their parameters of what qualifies as HF. I believe there is no consensus. And what do the readers of this blog think?

I have read and heard varying opinions: any novel set in the past dealing with historic events or against a background of those same events even if set as recently as twenty, thirty years ago and beyond are HF. Some limit it to fifty years, others to one hundred. For those who use the hundred year parameter, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind would not have qualified as Historical Fiction when it was first published. I have seen some postings on fb where the contributor labels contemporary novels written up to two hundred and fifty years ago, such as those by Jane Austen, as HF.

Some categorize the distance when a novel becomes Historical Fiction with a corollary: if the author was alive at the time he writes about, even if it was fifty or more years ago, it cannot be Historical Fiction.

I take exception to that because of my age and the specifics of Close to the Sun, which takes place mostly between 1938 to 1945 – sixty-nine to seventy six years ago.

To digress, I once taught a high school course in the late 1960s with the oxymoronic title Current History, which covered the post WWII, and another titled Modern European History, Europe from 1600 to the Present.

I can cite an oriental rug analogy based on my experience. I used to collect tribal rugs from the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Persia. One dealer categorized them in this way: new, used, fifty to one hundred years old as semi-antique, and one hundred-plus as antique.

I was seven when war broke out in Europe, nine and a half when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and thirteen when Japan surrendered. Close to the Sun is not a memoir from a boy who watched the war unfold from the Home Front as a current event.

Obviously I was not a WWII fighter pilot. Most readers will be under the age of sixty-nine and may well view the book as Historical Fiction.

WWII is taught as History. I still had to do historical research and interview fighter aces from the USA, UK, and the Luftwaffe for Close to the Sun. I will be writing the sequel and must do research again to cover peacetime, the Cold War, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam War, which ended forty years ago. I shall categorize that novel as HF.

04_Close to the Sun_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Close to the Sun follows the lives of fighter pilots during the Second World War. As a boy, Hank Milroy from Wyoming idealized the gallant exploits of WWI fighter aces. Karl, Fürst von Pfalz-Teuffelreich, aspires to surpass his father’s 49 Luftsiegen. Seth Braham falls in love with flying during an air show at San Francisco’s Chrissy Field.

The young men encounter friends, rivals, and exceptional women. Braxton Mobley, the hotshot, wants to outscore every man in the air force. Texas tomboy Catherine “Winty” McCabe is as good a flyer as any man. Princess Maria-Xenia, a stateless White Russian, works for the Abwehr, German Intelligence. Elfriede Wohlman is a frontline nurse with a dangerous secret. Miriam Keramopoulos is the girl from Brooklyn with a voice that will take her places.

Once the United States enter the war, Hank, Brax, and Seth experience the exhilaration of aerial combat and acedom during the unromantic reality of combat losses, tedious bomber escort, strafing runs, and the firebombing of entire cities. As one of the hated aristocrats, Karl is in as much danger from Nazis as he is from enemy fighter pilots, as he and his colleagues desperately try to stem the overwhelming tide as the war turns against Germany. Callous political decisions, disastrous mistakes, and horrific atrocities they witness at the end of WWII put a dark spin on all their dreams of glory.

Blogger Praise for Close to the Sun

“Donald Michael Platt’s Close to the Sun is an amazing story told from the perspective of average male fighter pilots in the onset and during WWII, juxtaposing between various men from many sides of the war. The details in this novel were spectacular, creating imagery and depth in the scenes and characters, as well as the dialogue being so nostalgic and well-written it felt right out of a 1950’s film. The romantic nuances of his storytelling felt incredibly authentic with the tug and pull of the men being called to serve and the women whom they loved who had their own high hopes, dreams, or work. I loved how he portrayed this women the most—strongly and fiercely independent. I’ve read several other books by Platt, and this is the best one I’ve read yet! I couldn’t stop reading. ” – Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Hook of a Book

“Donald Platt’s Close To The Sun, is nothing short of Historical Fiction gold. Platt’s flair for emotionally provocative storytelling makes this book attractive to both male and female readers. Seamlessly weaving the threads of action and feeling into a brilliant tableau of humanity. This is a masterfully penned tale of war, ambition, love, loss, and ACES!” – Frishawn Rasheed, WTF Are You Reading?

“Fast-paced and riveting I couldn’t get enough of Hank, Karl and Seth’s exploits! CLOSE TO THE SUN is a thrilling novel that leads readers through idyllic dreams of heroism and the grim reality of war. Platt provides readers with a unique coming-of-age story as three adventure-seeking boys discover far more than how to be an aerial combat pilot. CLOSE TO THE SUN is an amazing tale of adventure, heroism, war and the drive within us all that keeps us going when things look bleak.” – Ashley LaMar, Closed the Cover

“I found Close to the Sun to be an entertaining read, it was well written, with well developed characters, these characters had depth and emotion. A unique plot, told from the point of view of pilots prior to and during World War II. It was a well researched and interesting book” – Margaret Cook, Just One More Chapter

Buy the Book

Amazon
Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Author of four other novels, ROCAMORA, HOUSE OF ROCAMORA, A GATHERING OF VULTURES, and CLOSE TO THE SUN, Donald Michael Platt was born and raised in San Francisco. Donald graduated from Lowell High School and received his B.A. in History from the University of California at Berkeley. After two years in the Army, Donald attended graduate school at San Jose State where he won a batch of literary awards in the annual SENATOR PHELAN LITERARY CONTEST.

Donald moved to southern California to begin his professional writing career. He sold to the TV series, MR. NOVAK, ghosted for health food guru, Dan Dale Alexander, and wrote for and with diverse producers, among them as Harry Joe Brown, Sig Schlager, Albert J. Cohen, Al Ruddy plus Paul Stader Sr, Hollywood stuntman and stunt/2nd unit director. While in Hollywood, Donald taught Creative Writing and Advanced Placement European History at Fairfax High School where he was Social Studies Department Chairman.

After living in Florianópolis, Brazil, setting of his horror novel A GATHERING OF VULTURES, pub. 2007 & 2011, he moved to Florida where he wrote as a with: VITAMIN ENRICHED, pub.1999, for Carl DeSantis, founder of Rexall Sundown Vitamins; and THE COUPLE’S DISEASE, Finding a Cure for Your Lost “Love” Life, pub. 2002, for Lawrence S. Hakim, MD, FACS, Head of Sexual Dysfunction Unit at the Cleveland Clinic.

Currently, Donald resides in Winter Haven, Florida where he is polishing a dark novel and preparing to write a sequel to CLOSE TO THE SUN.

For more information please visit Donald Michael Platt’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Close to the Sun Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 18
Review at Forever Ashley & Closed the Cover

Wednesday, August 20
Spotlight at A Bookish Affair

Thursday, August 21
Review at Tribute Books Mama

Friday, August 22
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Saturday, August 23
Review at Beth’s Book Reviews

Monday, August 25
Review at Jorie Loves a Story

Tuesday, August 26
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Wednesday, August 27
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli

Thursday, August 28
Guest Post at The Writing Desk

Friday, August 29
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Monday, September 1
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, September 2
Review & Guest Post at My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 3
Review at Book Babe

Thursday, September 4
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Spotlight at Kinx’s Book Nook

Friday, September 5
Guest Post at Cynthia Robertson Blog

The Explanation for Everything – a review

Grodstein_Explanation_pbk_FINAL.indd

Andy is a widower trying to raise his two daughters on his own and hopefully get tenure at the crappy New Jersey collage where he teaches – not what he envisioned for himself when he was younger, but then life has thrown him several curve balls since his wife was killed by a teenaged drunk driver. He spends his time at work trying to pin down the elusive gene behind alcoholism, and his time at home writing letters (never sent) to the boy who, now a young man after six in prison, killed his wife.

Into this mix—in a scene rendered with deft timing and hilarious snarkiness—strolls his nemesis, skinny, nerdy, Christian student Lionel Shell, who is determined to stop Andy from teaching his biannual class There Is No God.

My review: The premise of this novel intrigued me before I read it. And while the debate between beliefs ended up being disappointingly reductive, the writing skill, main protagonist and story kept me reading. The two main Christian characters aptly represented some of the very young and naïve members of that belief system, spouting simplistic half understood platitudes. The two Atheists, much older, and both scientists, expressed equally didactic viewpoints. This is the only aspect where the story fell down, for me. Upon reflection, I think the premise, as advertised, worked against the novel, because if I hadn’t thought the book was meant to be a fascinating clash of paradigms, then I wouldn’t have been set up to be dissatisfied by this aspect of it, and would have just enjoyed the story for its ample merits, which are great writing and wonderful characterization, and an actual premise dealing with life, inevitable death, and the long, hard slog to forgiveness. Andy’s struggles to forgive the drunk driver who killed his wife were written with an emotional honesty that drew me deeply into the story. His stumbling vulnerability raising his two young daughters, and his faulty navigation as he attempts relationships and to carry on with life made his character both sympathetic, and believable. The characterization of Andy’s mentor, Rosenblum, a diehard Atheist, while it offered nothing new toward an argument for or against belief in a Creator, was still very engaging, and this character’s entrances and exits throughout the novel displayed a virtuosity of perfect pacing. The flitting appearances of Andy’s ghostly wife were the cherry on top of The Explanation for Everything.

Conclusion: If you want to read fiction debating the existence, or not, of God; don’t bother with this one. If you’re looking to read a wonderful literary/domestic drama novel, this one’s for you.

Read and reviewed for LibraryThing