Book Recommendation: THE OTHER ALCOTT

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“All these years, her family had humored her artistic aspirations: Father built her a tiny art studio off his office; Marmee let her draw on the walls of her bedroom; Louisa permitted her to illustrate Little Women. But May always suspected, deep down, they didn’t believe she was an artist, not in the same way that Louisa had always been considered one. Was it because Louisa suffered for her writing? Must one suffer for art? May certainly hoped not.” Elise Hooper, The Other Alcott

Publisher Synopsis:

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”

My Recommendation: 

This is the second novel of May Alcott I have read, and I enjoyed this every bit as much as the other. Both stories focus on different aspects of May, highlighting times and places in unique ways, with THE OTHER ALCOTT giving special attention to the relationship between the sisters: May and Louisa.

Hooper has done a marvelous job showing a flawed character who is a delight, even when she stumbles. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, May is charming and her struggles are relatable. Her need to carve an identity of her own is palpable and drives her brilliant arc as an artist and a woman.

Lovers of history will be intrigued by the sketches of figures both well known and unknown, and Hooper gives just enough detail to enhance the story without overburdening it. I spent hours online looking up the supporting and leading characters of the novel, and was fascinated by the talented men and women in the Alcotts’ lives.

If you enjoy biographical historical fiction about women that spans the globe, you will enjoy THE OTHER ALCOTT. This is Hooper’s debut, and I am eager to hear what she’s working on next.

For more on the book or the author, visit: http://www.elisehooper.com/

 

 

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Book Cover Contest

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News!

  • I have a new book releasing in the fall called #HOCKEYSTRONG. It’s a satire about sports parents insanity. (We all know those parents–never ourselves, of course.) 😉
  • #HOCKEYSTRONG will NOT appeal to my historical fiction fans.
  • It will appeal to people who enjoyed THE NANNY DIARIES, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, and WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE, or TV and film like BEST IN SHOW, DADDY’S HOME, BAD MOMS, and THE OFFICE.
  • I’m writing satire as “E. Robuck” instead of “Erika Robuck”–a subtle distinction.
  • I’m still actively writing historical fiction.

Contest:

  • Designer extraordinaire, Eric Wilder, came up with three cover concepts, and I want my readers to choose their favorite. (Synopsis below.)
  • Voting will automatically enter you to win a copy of the book.
  • Feel free to share on social media.
  • Voting closes at noon on Friday, August 11th.

Synopsis:

If you fail at Pee-Wee Hockey, you fail at life. Right?

Charlie and Kate Miller are involved, supportive parents who have always loved to watch their little athlete play. Until now.

When their son Brett makes a competitive U12 ice hockey team, they have no idea how fully it will engulf their lives. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that to the dad-coach and parents around them youth hockey isn’t just for fun—it’s a way of life.

While the Millers attempt to keep perspective, they slowly find themselves spending endless hours of idle time at the rink, jockeying for the affections of a sadistic coach, keeping up on social media, and interacting with parents—including Real Housewives-like Justin and Piper and super-spirited team parents Bill and Tina—whose shared life goal seems to be Pee Wee Hockey immortality.

Irreverent and acerbic, #Hockeystrong explores the culture of youth sports, suburban politics, and parents behaving very, very badly.

So, which cover is your favorite? A, B, or C? 

Book Recommendation: THE ADDRESS

 

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“Around her was treeless farmland and cattle grazing in muddy fields. It was as if the landscape had been flattened by an enormous gust of wind and only now was coming back to life…This was New York?” Fiona Davis, THE ADDRESS

Publisher Synopsis:

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else…and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in…and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives—and lies—of the beating hearts within.

My Recommendation:

The construct of novels set in multiple time periods lends a natural suspense, but it is rare that each time holds the same level of intrigue for the reader. THE ADDRESS, by Fiona Davis, however, succeeds where many other dual period novels fail; both story lines are fully developed and equally compelling.

Lovers of New York City will thrill over period details–delighting in imagining the beginnings of the Dakota and the city at large–and will enjoy learning about the famous men and women who lived within the great halls of one of its most famous landmarks.

Through dialogue and description, Davis moves with ease between the centuries, clearly showing the challenges of each time while illustrating the connections between the past and the present. Her characters make bad decisions, but they remain sympathetic, earnest, and endearingly human, and some of their struggles are particularly moving and relatable.

Davis is an assured and gifted storyteller, and I look forward to reading more of her work. Those who enjoy dual period novels and stories from the Gilded Age will devour THE ADDRESS.

 

 

Book Recommendation: THE UNDERGROUND RIVER

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“A strange feeling came over me then, as though we’d entered a dark, secret world. We crept along the north side of the river and the banks seemed to squeeze in on us while the river itself churned up mud. We passed a stand of bleached white oak trees, dead but still standing guard…the mist floated upward into a dirty strip of gauze across the sky.” Martha Conway, THE UNDERGROUND RIVER

Publisher Synopsis:

Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress…

My Recommendation:

I find I am in the bizarre position of having to cut off the publisher synopsis. It reveals far too much about the book and steals some of the surprises, of which there are many.

The heart of THE UNDERGROUND RIVER is May Bedloe, an honest-to-a-fault, practical, and endearing young woman. This story is about her coming of age, overcoming loneliness, and the development of her courage. We learn about her world as she does, and author Martha Conway does a brilliant job embodying May, firmly placing the reader in her shoes and rooting for her success.

The book is less about abolitionists and more about the heroine’s journey. Adventures and challenges are numerous and riveting, and each obstacle faced and overcome adds to May’s development, and the growth (or regression) of those around her.

It was hard to put down THE UNDERGROUND RIVER. The story is moving, and as it ends–in some ways–it feels as if it’s just beginning. I hope Conway considers writing a sequel because I want more of these characters.

Fans of historical fiction, pre-Civil War era literature, and suspense will enjoy THE UNDERGROUND RIVER. For more on the book and the author, visit http://marthaconway.com/.

 

 

Giveaway: Where the Light Falls

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“He hears them before he sees them, a swell of thousands, young and old, male and female, clamoring from the other side of the prison walls. They sound impatient, shrill with the heady prospect of fresh blood to wet the newly sharpened guillotine blade.” Allison and Owen Pataki, Where the Light Falls

Publisher Synopsis: 

A rich and sweeping novel of courage, duty, sacrifice, and love set during the French Revolution from New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki and her brother Owen Pataki

Three years after the storming of the Bastille, the streets of Paris are roiling with revolution. The citizens of France are enlivened by the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The monarchy of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette has been dismantled—with the help of the guillotine—and a new nation is rising in its place. Jean-Luc, an idealistic young lawyer, moves his wife and their infant son from a comfortable life in Marseille to Paris, in the hopes of joining the cause. André, the son of a denounced nobleman, has evaded execution by joining the new French army. Sophie, a youngaristocratic widow, embarks on her own fight for independence against her powerful, vindictive uncle.

As chaos threatens to undo the progress of the Revolution and the demand for justice breeds instability and paranoia, the lives of these compatriots become inextricably linked. Jean-Luc, André, and Sophie find themselves in a world where survival seems increasingly less likely—for themselves and, indeed, for the nation.

Featuring cameos from legendary figures such as Robespierre, Louis XVI, and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, Where the Light Falls is an epic and engrossing novel, moving from the streets and courtrooms of Paris to Napoleon’s epic march across the burning sands of Egypt. With vivid detail and imagery, the Patakis capture the hearts and minds of the citizens of France fighting for truth above all, and for their belief in a cause greater than themselves.

My Recommendation:

From its opening scene at the guillotine to the battlefield at Bois de Valmy, WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS immerses the reader in the violent and chaotic world of the French Revolution. While there is plenty of bloodshed and villainous plotting, the noble men and women at the heart of the novel demonstrate that integrity and honor are essential to righting the course of history.

While readers new to the subject will learn much, cameos by famous Parisians will thrill the Francophile. Of particular fascination is Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, whose own history sounds worthy of a novel.

The publisher was kind enough to offer a copy of WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS for a giveaway. To enter, simply comment below and share this post on social media by Friday, July 14th (Bastille Day.) Bonne chance!

 

Book Recommendation: The Baker’s Secret

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“In a time of humiliation, the only dignified answer is cunning.” Stephen P. Kiernan, THE BAKER’S SECRET

From the critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small village in Normandy on the eve of D-Day.

 

My Recommendation:

Emmanuelle is bitter. The traumas she suffers and witnesses age her beyond her twenty-two years. The war is consuming everything and everyone she loves, and she has lost all hope that the Allies will help. And yet…

Her youth and her intelligence call her to action. One small act of defiance (adding a bit of ground straw to her flour rations as town baker) allows her to increase her yield from twelve to fourteen loaves–enough bread to satisfy the demands of the Nazi occupiers, with two left over to secretly distribute to the townspeople.

Yet it is not enough.

Each deception exposes a new desire. Each desire inspires a new idea on how to undermine the Nazis to obtain it. Each little triumph keeps the spark of hope glowing in the people of the town. Even for those Emma dislikes or who dislike her, they are bound together in their shared wish to see the destruction of the oppressors.

THE BAKER’S SECRET beautifully demonstrates the power of small acts done with great care, and the ripples that expand outward from those acts. In spite of how hardened Emma has become, she is a protagonist with whom the reader forges a strong alliance. Her sorrows are ours. Her pain is ours. Her joy, ours.

Kiernan is a writer of enormous talent, and this novel is a triumph. The reader knows D-Day is coming, and can hardly wait for Emma to find out. In spite of knowing the catalyst for the climax, there are still many surprises; so much is revealed when June 6th, 1944 finally arrives.

I read the novel in a weekend, and I already know THE BAKER’S SECRET will my make my “Best of” list of 2017. I give it my highest recommendation.

 

 

 

 

I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald

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“She wore a silver belt with stars cut out of it, so that the stars were there and not quite there–and watching them Sam knew that he had not quite found her yet. He wished for a moment that he were not so entirely successful nor Mary so desirable–wished that they were both a little broken and would want to cling together. All the evening he felt a little sad watching the intangible stars as they moved here and there about the big rooms.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Day Off from Love”

Publisher Synopsis:

A collection including the last complete unpublished short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the iconic American writer of The Great Gatsby who is more widely read today than ever.

I’d Die For You is a collection of the last remaining unpublished and uncollected short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Anne Margaret Daniel. Fitzgerald did not design the stories in I’d Die For You as a collection. Most were submitted individually to major magazines during the 1930s and accepted for publication during Fitzgerald’s lifetime, but were never printed. Some were written as movie scenarios and sent to studios or producers, but not filmed. Others are stories that could not be sold because their subject matter or style departed from what editors expected of Fitzgerald. They date from the earliest days of Fitzgerald’s career to the last. They come from various sources, from libraries to private collections, including those of Fitzgerald’s family.

Written in his characteristically beautiful, sharp, and surprising language, exploring themes both familiar and fresh, these stories provide new insight into the bold and uncompromising arc of Fitzgerald’s career. I’d Die For You is a revealing, intimate look at Fitzgerald’s creative process that shows him to be a writer working at the fore of modern literature—in all its developing complexities.

My Recommendation:

For many reasons, it borders on the absurd that I am reviewing a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories. I offer this recommendation with the full disclosure that not only am I an enormous Fitzgerald aficionado, but I am completely biased and sympathetic toward anything ‘Fitzgerald.’ Bearing this in mind…

From the editorial introductions, to a delightful collection of never before published photographs, to the rich and varied stories themselves,  I’D DIE FOR YOU AND OTHER LOST STORIES is a rare treat, and one that should be savored. Editor Anne Margaret Daniel’s arrangement and contextual description of each of Fitzgerald’s writings not only provide fresh insights into one of America’s finest writers, but also demonstrate deep understanding of and empathy for her subject.

Lovers of Fitzgerald’s work will find echoes of Gatsby in stories like “Thumbs Up:”

“The two younger men started back toward shore in the dinghy and the hands that waved to them from the yacht as they gradually lost sight of it in the growing dark were like a symbol that the cruelty of a distant time was receding with every stroke of the oars into a dimmer and dimmer past.” (p. 186)

Flashes of his genius in describing the nature of his characters in “Nightmare:”

“[H]e felt dissatisfied with the physical attitude she had assumed–somehow standing in the doorway like that betrayed the fact that her mood was centrifugal rather than centripetal–she was drawn toward the June afternoon, the down-rolling, out-rolling land, adventurous as an ocean without horizons. Something stabbed at his heart for his own mood was opposite–for him she made this place the stable center of the world.” (p. 20)

And Zelda. Zelda everywhere:

“The girl hung around under the pink sky waiting for something to happen. She was not a particularly vague person but she was vague tonight: the special dusk was new, practically new, after years under far skies; it had strange little lines in the trees, strange little insects, unfamiliar night cries of strange small beasts beginning.” (p. 41, “What to Do About It”)

I confess that–like everything Fitzgerald–on these pages hangs a looming sadness. Even in the slivers of hope, knowing the whole Fitzgerald story casts a shadow. One will marvel, however, that even as Fitzgerald faced the darkness of professional rejection, personal crisis, and familial devastation, he was able to produce such an abundance and variety of material, and often infused with such hope.

I’D DIE FOR YOU AND OTHER LOST STORIES is one of the most genuine books I’ve read all year. Unfiltered Fitzgerald is a treat, and Daniel’s expertise and admiration warm the pages of the stories. The way Daniel chooses to end the collection leaves last notes of satisfaction, contentment, and yearning. Fans of short fiction and those interested in delving more deeply into Fitzgerald’s body of work will be smitten with this collection.