Friday, August 26, 2016

Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 10, 2016

In late summer 1947, thirty-one-year-old Yitzhak Goldah, a camp survivor, arrives in Savannah to live with his only remaining relatives. They are Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. There, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world, where Reform and Conservative Jews live separate lives--distinctions, to him, that are meaningless given what he has been through. He further complicates things when, much to the Jeslers' dismay, he falls in love with Eva, a young widow within the Reform community. When a woman from Yitzhak's past suddenly appears--one who is even more shattered than he is--Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life. Set amid the backdrop of America's postwar south, Among the Living grapples with questions of identity and belonging, and steps beyond the Jewish experience as it situates Yitzhak's story during the last gasp of the Jim Crow era. Yitzhak begins to find echoes of his own experience in the lives of the black family who work for the Jeslers--an affinity he does not share with the Jeslers themselves. This realization both surprises and convinces Yitzhak that his choices are not as clear-cut as he might have thought.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Jonathan Rabb’s Among the Living is a difficult book to review. The material is poignant, but it is also deeply sobering and I find the combination difficult to describe. I appreciate the perspective the novel affords, but it should be understood that the narrative is a bittersweet and introspective tale that challenges the perceptions of both the characters of the novel and those who read it.

I’d love to say I fell in love with Rabb’s characters, but his themes took center stage as I made my way through Yitzhak’s story. Holocaust lit tends to treat Jews as a single entity and I was captivated by the contrast Rabb created between these pages. His approach felt more authentic and I think he delved into some really interesting concepts in portraying Yitzhak’s post war experiences and emotional recovery.

The book is slow paced and isn’t an easy read. I don’t think it has enough action and movement to appeal to mainstream readers, but I found it quite satisfying and would definitely recommend it to those looking for something a little different.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
He was drifting — he knew it — lungs burning, desperation and hope draining from him with every stroke. He had never called out to God in the past, never once, not even at the edge of his own death — not to beg, not to thank — but now he thought: You must answer. Who are You if this is the moment You choose to remain silent?
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cover Crush: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Rosamund Hodge's Crimson Bound falls outside my usual genres, but the cover stopped me dead in my tracks. The juxtaposition of the trees, the stone and the tile is striking as is the geometry of the staircase. I like how the shock of red in the figure's cape plays against the varied greens of the trees and I think the final design both interesting and unique. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Holly at 2 Kids are Tired
Stephanie at Layered Pages

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Girl and the Sunbird: A Beautiful, Epic Story of Love, Loss and Hope by Rebecca Stonehill

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 11, 2016

A haunting, heartbreaking and unforgettable novel of a woman married to a man she can never love, and drawn to another who will capture her heart forever... East Africa 1903:When eighteen year old Iris Johnson is forced to choose between marrying the frightful Lord Sidcup or a faceless stranger, Jeremy Lawrence, in a far-off land, she bravely decides on the latter. Accompanied by her chaperone, Miss Logan, Iris soon discovers a kindred spirit who shares her thirst for knowledge. As they journey from Cambridgeshire to East Africa, Iris’s eyes are opened to a world she never knew existed beyond the comforts of her family home. But when Iris meets Jeremy, she realizes in a heartbeat that they will never be compatible. He is cold and cruel, spending long periods of time on hunting expeditions and leaving Iris alone. Determined to make the best of her new life, Iris begins to adjust to her surroundings; the windswept plains of Nairobi, and the delightful sunbirds that visit her window every day. And when she meets Kamau, a school teacher, Iris finds her calling, assisting him to teach the local children English. Kamau is everything Jeremy is not. He is passionate, kind and he occupies Iris’s every thought. She must make a choice, but if she follows her heart, the price she must pay will be devastating. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

I should have listened when a good friend of mine warned me off Rebecca Stonehill’s The Girl and the Sunbird: A Beautiful, Epic Story of Love, Loss and Hope, but I’m a stubborn mule and forged ahead anyway. Unfortunately for me, my friend was entirely correct in her assessment. The book didn’t suit my tastes and proved rather disappointing in my eyes.

The trouble started early when I noted the author’s tendency to tell more than she showed. It grated my nerves and I was frustrated that Stonehill seemed to expect me to simply accept Iris as she was described by her fellows. To be perfectly blunt, I found little to no evidence to substantiate the claims on Iris’ character. She didn’t seem real and I found it impossible to generate genuine empathy or interest in her or her experiences as the story moved on.

The same concept applies to the romantic and marital relationships Iris engages in. Emotions and feelings she was meant to harbor are firmly stated, but poorly illustrated and I think that went a long way in undermining the authenticity of each affair. I wanted to believe her sentiments sincere, but here again I felt force fed material that was largely unsupported.

I liked the general themes of the story, but the duration of the narrative and large gaps in the timeline made the underlying messages difficult to appreciate. Key plot points were wholly predictable and I couldn’t understand the multitude of narrators. Iris was the central figure of the story and I felt the rotating voices distracting and often irrelevant.

I can’t say The Girl and the Sunbird was a complete wash, there were moments I liked and East Africa proved an interesting setting, but the story wasn’t my cup of tea and I’m not sure I’ll be reading this author again.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
Is this your way of apologising, for trying to make up for the neglect, the rage and the pain you have inflicted upon me? And as the tears silently stream down my face, I think, It is too late for this. It is far, far too late.
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cover Cliché: Diamonds and Rouge

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

 ═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King's opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

British Occupied Manhattan, 1777. American actress Jennifer Leighton has been packing the John Street Theater with her witty comedies, but she longs to escape the provincial circuit for the glamour of the London stage. When the playwright General John Burgoyne visits the city, fresh from a recent success in the capitol, she seizes the opportunity to court his patronage. But her plan is foiled by British intelligence officer Severin Devere.

Severin’s mission is to keep the pleasure-loving general focused on the war effort…and away from pretty young actresses. But the tables are turned when Severin himself can’t resist Jennifer Leighton…

Months later, Jenny has abandoned her dreams of stage glory and begun writing seditious plays for the Rebels under the pen name “Cornelia,” ridiculing “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne and his army—and undermining the crown’s campaign to take Albany. By the time Severin meets up with Jenny once again, she is on a British hanging list, and Severin is ordered to find her—and deliver her to certain death. Soon, the two are launched on a desperate journey through the wilderness, toward a future shaped by the revolution—and their passion for each other…

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Nursing Fox by Jim Ditchfield

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 4, 2016

At the outbreak of World War I, Lucy Paignton-Fox enlists in the Australian Army Nursing Service and leaves her family's cattle station in the Northern Territory to join the war effort. During the Gallipoli campaign she serves in hospitals in Egypt, but when the Anzacs are posted to France she moves with them. A talented and spirited nurse, with dreams of one day becoming a doctor, Lucy finds more opportunities than she ever imagined: working alongside doctors and surgeons, sharing the soldiers' dangers, helping them through their pain, and making lifelong friends. But with war comes suffering. Lucy sees it all around: sorrow, disease and death. How long can she stay separated from it all? Adam Hayward joins the British Army after a devastating attack on his family. Accepted into the air force, Adam tests his luck in the cockpit fighting for those he loves. But with aircraft technology booming, can Adam continue to stay ahead of the game? John Mitchell's determination leads him slowly up the ranks. With more responsibility than ever, he becomes disillusioned with the horrors of war, but he can't help admiring the brave nurses who do so much to help the wounded men. Nursing Fox details the experiences of Australian nurses during the Great War. It honours their journeys and shows the impact that the nurses had on the soldiers with whom they crossed paths.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

I enjoyed the time I spent with Jim Ditchfield’s Nursing Fox, but I will not deny that I have mixed feelings about the book. To be perfectly honest, I think the narrative suffers an excess of plot and despite my appreciation for the material, I could help feeling frustrated at being pulled so many directions at once.

Don’t misunderstand, Nursing Fox has a lot going for it and reading the novel affords a great deal of insight to the World World I experiences of Australian forces both on and behind the lines. I was fascinated by the wealth of detail Ditchfield managed to weave into the fabric of the narrative and felt the material was exceedingly well-adapted.

That said, the novel alternates between three distinct points of views and while I found Lucy Paignton-Fox, Adam Hayward and John Mitchell quite interesting, I felt the rotation between them distracting and wished Ditchfield had limited himself to Lucy’s point of view. Lucy’s story arc was the most prominent of the three and I think the novel would have read more cleanly and felt more cohesive if the author had limited himself to a single protagonist.

When all is said and done, I can see recommending Nursing Fox to fellow readers, but I think it could have been stronger narrative if there hadn’t been so much going on.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
Lucy sat on an empty bed, her face buried in her hands as tears of relief streamed down her face. She thought back to the CCS. After all these years, all the bombs and all the shells. The fighting might be finished, but the war would never be over for her. She’d never be able to forget the hundreds of operations and the rows of graves that emphasised the failures.
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cover Crush: Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

The blood splatter on the cover of Imogen Robertson's Circle of Shadows is a bit much, but I love the symmetry of this design! The geometric shapes catch my eye every time I see this image and I like how it sucks in my attention by extending past the figure at the center. The arches, pillars, and ceilings provide a nice frame and add distinctive and appealing quality to the jacket. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Holly at 2 Kids are Tired
Colleen at IndieBrag

Interview with M.K. Tod, author of Time and Regret

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author M.K. Tod to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Time and Regret.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Time and Regret.
Many thanks for having me on your blog, Erin. It’s a pleasure to be here again chatting with you. The tag line for Time and Regret is: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers. And I’ve been promoting it as mystery + war + romance – hopefully an intriguing premise that will capture readers’ interest. When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battles sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her …

Where did the idea for this story come from? 
I love telling this story. A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to France. We spent an evening at a café in the small town of Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine river. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a small notebook.
“What are you writing?” Ian said.
“An idea for a story,” I replied.
Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, Ian persisted. “What’s the idea?”
“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”
Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.
Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favorite genre. Indeed, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along.
“What kind of mystery?” And that was the beginning of Time and Regret.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about Grace Hansen? What kind of woman is she? 
Grace is a recently divorced mother of two in her early forties. She’s had a successful career but has found it easiest to allow her ex-husband to dominate their marriage. Grace was raised by her grandparents – a loving grandfather and a strict grandmother who favored criticism over praise. I picture her as good looking but not glamorous with a slim build and dark brown hair (but readers are free to create their own impression!). Divorce has been difficult. When Grace discovers her grandfather’s diaries and the puzzling note he left for her, she’s captivated by the challenge of solving the puzzle and sees the trip to France as a chance to get away from all the stress. I think of her as stronger than she’s given herself credit for, someone who is awakening to new possibilities, a woman who is willing to fight for her family and ultimately to stand up for herself.

Grace shares a special bond with her grandfather. What can you tell us about Martin? 
We first meet Martin as a young soldier heading off to war in 1915. He’s tall and angular and has readily acquired the skills required to lead men into battle. With him as he heads overseas are three close friends: Bill, Pete and Michel. Initially optimistic and ‘gung ho’, the horrible conditions of war and the casualties involved gradually bring on profound anger and despair. We also meet Martin through the eyes of his granddaughter Grace and see an understanding, caring man who has successfully built an art gallery in New York. And through the eyes of his wife, Cynthia, we appreciate Martin’s loyalty and love.

Cynthia was a difficult character for me to appreciate, but she grew on me and ended up being one of my favorite members of the cast. What inspired her and her arc?
Cynthia is totally fabricated, not based on anyone I know although I might have been subliminally affected by Maggie Smith’s character on Downton Abbey! Cynthia is British born, raised in a family that always struggled to make ends meet despite the fact that her mother had been born into a wealthy family. Childhood poverty has left Cynthia striving for riches; family tragedies have caused her to be caustic and difficult. I think I will leave her character arc for readers to discover.

As a novelist, what drew you to this particular period?
I’ve been obsessed with World War I since researching my own grandfather’s participation in that dreadful conflict. I found it very difficult to imagine the man I knew as being capable of killing people and of enduring what soldiers had to endure. This is my third novel that concerns WWI – I like to think of them as my tribute to the sacrifices made by men and women of those times.

What sort of research went into Time and Regret? What sources did find most valuable? 
I could go on and on about sources! Writing Time and Regret was in some ways easier because I had already written two other novels set during this period. Nonetheless, I had to create believable scenes in the trenches and on the battlefield for Martin and for this I found the Canadian battalion diaries for WWI all carefully preserved on a government website. I read every entry for the 19th battalion of the 4th brigade, 2nd division of the Canadian army and knew exactly where Martin would be at any point in time.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing? 
Looking back, I think the scenes I really enjoyed writing are those involving Grace and her grandmother. Those episodes allow both characters to be difficult, cantankerous, argumentative and so on. Rather fun to imagine and then create.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it? 
You’re asking such great questions, Erin! It’s a truism that opening scenes are always difficult – I probably wrote five or six different ones for Time and Regret. However, the scenes where the mystery culminates were the most difficult for me. I wanted the tension to build and build but also wanted to avoid going ‘over the top’ or being too clichéd in those final scenes. The ending was also a challenge!

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
I would have enjoyed fleshing out Pierre’s character more. He’s not a simple man and deserves more attention – perhaps a future novel! Also I had originally written more of Cynthia’s story as a young woman but had to edit those bits out.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Time and Regret and if so, what did you alter? 
I don’t think I altered anything to do with Martin’s battalion except the name of the ship he travelled on to France and the fact that in reality the 19th battalion spent several months doing further training in between arriving in England and embarking for France.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why? 
I’d love to have dinner in a cozy French bistro with Grace and Pierre. Not only would the food and wine be excellent, I have a feeling the conversation would be very interesting.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Time and Regret, who would you hire? 
Judi Dench for Cynthia, the grandmother.  Ryan Gosling for the young Martin Devlin. Hugh Jackman for Pierre (as long as he can do a reasonable French accent). Anne Hathaway would be a wonderful Grace.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
Thank you for asking, Erin. And yes, I do have a new project in the works – based on two women who are nothing alike but develop a strong, enduring friendship. It’s set in 1870s Paris, a time of conflict and great turmoil for France and the two women are Mariele and Camille from Lies Told in Silence. In that novel which is set during WWI, Camille has already died and Mariele is a grandmother. My new novel – as yet untitled – has them as young women on the verge of marriage and, of course, many twists and turns will unfold.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════


"As I settled down to read this captivating novel, strains of “As Time Goes By” filled my mind. Throughout this sensitively written and heartrending book about love, loss and redemption, the author takes us on a journey between 1990’s New York and the French battle fields of the Great War. Traveling smoothly between time and place, the writing is evocative and compelling, and with two points of view between recently divorced Grace Hansen and her grandfather, who fought in the war, we are quickly enfolded in a tale of family intrigue and mystery." - Elizabeth St.John, Goodreads Review

"I loved the unraveling of the mystery in this book. It really kept me engaged and I loved seeing the trip that the author took us on. While I enjoyed the mystery, I enjoyed reading Martin's journal entries even more. The author packs a ton of historical detail in so you can feel all of the things that Martin is experiencing throughout the book. I love reading about WWI and you definitely get a good sense of just how much soldiers were expected to deal with during that time period." - Meg, A Bookish Review

"M. K. Tods Time and Regret captivated me right from the beginning. The twin viewpoints the story is told from moves the reader from what Grace reads in her Grandfathers journals, and experiences as she retraces his journey through World War I France; and tells the story as Martin, her Grandfather, experienced it. The writing was superb, flowing easily, keeping the plot interesting and intriguing, while building the ever changing French country side in a way that made it easy to imagine being there." - John, Goodreads Review

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Hi - I'm M.K. Tod, Mary actually, the author of TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED. I have enjoyed a passion for historical novels that began in my early teenage years immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer. After a 20+ year career in business, in 2004, I moved to Hong Kong with my husband and no job. To keep busy I decided to research my grandfather’s part in the Great War. What began as an effort to understand my grandparents’ lives blossomed into a fulltime occupation as a writer. I live in Toronto and I’m happily married with two adult children.

Website ❧  Goodreads ❧  Facebook ❧  Blog ❧  Twitter

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...