Fabulous Fiction Firsts #620

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #620

"There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” -Jean-Paul Sartre

In the tradition of great novels set in a single day, The Heart of Henry Quantum * follows an unhappily married 40-something SF advertising executive on December 23rd, as he wanders the city in search of a last-minute Christmas gift for his wife, Margaret.

Actually, it is not his heart (not immediately anyway) that the readers have to contend with, it is his mind - one that wanders. During a constant monologue, we learn about his youthful ambition (PhD, Philosophy), his marriage to Margaret, things he sees during the day, ideas that had come to him by chance. But much like Henry’s ever-wandering mind, his quest takes him in different and unexpected directions, including running into Daisy, his former lover, who made it clear during their impromptu lunch that she has never gotten over Henry.

Lest we feel sorry for Margaret, a high-power real estate broker... while Henry is wondering if Daisy might be the one who got away, she is heading out of the city on her own errand of the heart. Then we hear from Daisy, and finally Henry again as night falls. It will be a day of reflection, new choices, and change for all involved.

"With quick, witty dialogue and an expertly crafted stream-of-consciousness style, The Heart of Henry Quantum is a highly entertaining read that will remind readers of the power of one day to change a life." -Booklist

Writing for the first time as Pepper Harding, it is the pen name of a San Francisco writer currently living in Sonoma County. Highly recommended for book groups. Independent readers too, might find the thoughtful questions in the Reading Group Guide illuminating.

* = starred review


Review: Colm Tóibín at UMMA's Helmut Stern Auditorium

Colm Tóibín

Keep Colm and read on.

I’m tempted to say that it was standing room only at bestselling Irish author Colm Tóibín’s Thursday night reading – part of U-M’s Zell Visiting Writers Series – at UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium.

But that seems not quite accurate, since many attendees who didn’t arrive in time to grab one of the venue’s 185 seats instead settled themselves on the floor of both side aisles, as well as the back wall.

Yes, the place was packed, but those who carved out a space for themselves got to hear Tóibín read from his novels Brooklyn and Nora Webster while also offering additional commentary and information.

While reading sections from Brooklyn – the basis for a film that earned three major Oscar nominations (including best picture) in 2016 – Tóibín noted, “One of the interesting things is that, the earliest recordings we have of Irish traditional music mainly come from America. The best players, best fiddlers, best singers, best accordion players all came from the West of Ireland, which of course is the poorest part of the country. There were no recording studios, so they went to New York or Chicago, and people rented them recording studios by the hour.”

Many of these Irish musicians would work as manual laborers, too, so they often had a foot in two different worlds. Tóibín cited Joe Heaney specifically, calling him the greatest singer of his generation in Ireland.

“There’s a photo of him in a pub in Dublin, where tradition music is played,” said Tóibín. “There were these Americans from New York who were visiting Dublin and saw the photograph on the wall of this pub, and they said, ‘That’s our doorman, Joe!’ Yeah, that’s our singer, Joe.”

Regarding Nora Webster, Tóibín talked about how he’d abandoned it to work on Brooklyn, and why he struggled with it so.

“Part of the problem was, so much of the book Nora Webster comes from memory, and that memory … has no shape until you shape it,” said Tóibín. “And therefore, [I was always] trying to think, ‘What’s this thing or that thing that happened? Would it be interesting in a book, or just interesting to me, for reasons of my own? What should I leave out? What should I put in? What scene will work dramatically, and what won’t? It took much longer than writing a novel … where you imagine somebody else, some other life, some set of rules and specific experiences that I hadn’t witnessed.”

One other problem was that the atmosphere of the novel felt more like the 50s than the 60s, so he finally stumbled upon a subtle but time-specific way to root Nora Webster in its appropriate era.

“Some year around this time, I think ’67 or ’68 or ’69, hair dye arrived in town,” said Tóibín. “And you’d call to a friend’s house, and his mother would come to the door, and it was like autumn had come to the door. Her hair would have gone copper color. … And every woman in the town, to a one, fell to this. it was an amazing episode, really.”

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #619: Spotlight on UK Mystery Debuts

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #619

Referencing the New Testament parable, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep * by Joanna Cannon is set during the scorching summer of 1976 when 10 year-olds Grace and Tilly take it upon themselves to look for their neighbor, friendly Mrs. Creasy who disappears without a trace.

As the girls go door to door in search of clues (and God), the neighborhood starts to give up its secrets. "In a masterfully constructed plot, Grace—who sniffs out the lies told by her adult neighbors—learns a lesson about loyalty and true friendship, as secrets born of shame are gradually revealed. This understated, somewhat quirky debut novel is remarkable for its structure, characterizations, pitch-perfect prose, touches of humor, and humanity. Cannon, a psychiatrist, is an author to watch." -Booklist

Will appeal to fans of the Flavia de Luce series by Alan C. Bradley.

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine, is an atmospheric psychological mystery set on Muirlan Island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, where Londoner Hetty Deveraux hopes to turn Muirlan House, inherited from a distant relative, into a luxury inn. The shocking discovery of the century-old remains of a murder victim plunges her into an investigation of Theo Blake, the acclaimed painter and his troubled marriage to Beatrice who vanished from the island in 1910.

"Maine skillfully balances a Daphne du Maurier atmosphere with a Barbara Vine–like psychological mystery as she guides the reader back and forth on these storylines... The setting emerges as the strongest personality in this compelling story, evoking passion in the characters as fierce as the storms which always lurk on the horizon." -Kirkus Reviews

I Let You Go * * by Clare Mackintosh, "a twisty, psychological thriller with an astonishing intensity” ~ (U.K) Daily Mail opens with the hit-and-run death of 5 year-old Jacob on a rainy afternoon in Bristol. Shortly afterward, Jacob's mother disappears.

Wrecked with guilt, sculptor Jenna Gray relocates to the isolated Welsh village of Penfach. Back in Bristol, Det. Insp. Ray Stevens and detective constable, Kate Evans are frustrated with the lack of results in their investigations but push on despite official orders. Their persistent efforts eventually pay off.

"Mackintosh, a former police detective and journalist, weaves a complex tale out of seemingly straightforward circumstances." -Publishers Weekly.

"But her real skill is in the way she incorporates jaw-dropping, yet plausible, plot twists into the already complex story-line." -Kirkus Reviews.

A new author to watch for fans of Tana French, Paula Hawkins, S.J. Watson and A.S.A. Harrison. I particularly enjoyed the audio format, beautifully read by Nicola Barber and Steven Crossley.

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #618

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #618

“All Americans have something lonely about them. I don't know what the reason might be, except maybe that they're all descended from immigrants.” -Ryū Murakami

Two of the most anticipated debuts this fall take readers deep into the lives of immigrant families.

The Wangs vs. the World * by Jade Chang follows an Chinese-American family as it tumbles from riches to rags. Charles Wang landed in LA as a young man penniless but managed to make a fortune in cosmetics. Now in his fifties, a series of rash business choices and the 2008 financial crisis bankrupted him. Homeless (his Bel-Air mansion foreclosed) and unable to pay tuition for his younger kids, he packs up what he could in the 1950 baby-blue Mercedes that used to belong to his dead first wife, rounds up the kids and a disgruntled second wife Barbra and heads for upstate New York - to daughter Saina's renovated farmhouse.

Unbeknownst to his family, Charles has no intention of settling in the middle of nowhere. His plans is to deposit his family on Saina, and heads to China to reclaim his ancestral lands (and his dignity), lost in the communist takeover. "It turns out that the Wangs can’t function without the trappings of their now-lost lavish lifestyle, a situation that gives the road trip a decidedly wacky bent and infuses the novel with humor. " -Booklist

With each bump on the road, the Wangs might eventually come to see what matters when you think you've lost it all; and what it means to be a family.

Ann Arbor author and a O. Henry Prize winner Derek Palacio's debut The Mortifications * is praised by Peter Ho Davies as "(a) revelatory tale of Cuba and America, of faith and family, of the spirit and the flesh,... a debut remarkable for its wise and scrupulous insight into the human heart. Palacio feelingly reminds us that all immigrants are also exiles, wounded with loss, striving to make a home even as they yearn for the one they’ve left behind.”

During the 1980 traumatic Mariel Boatlift, Soledad Encarnación took twins Isabel and Ulises and fled to the US, leaving behind husband/father Uxbal, a committed revolutionary, for the promise of a better life. Settling in Hartford, Connecticut, far from the Miami Cuban immigrant community, they began a process of growth and transformation.

While Soledad establishes herself as a court stenographer and finds romance with Henri Willems, a Dutch horticulturalist eager to cultivate Cuban tobacco; Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, becomes a nun and works with the dying; Ulises, bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, finds an aptitude working the soil. When Soladad is stricken with breast cancer, she asks Ulises to find Isabel who has disappeared, thus setting the stage of their homecoming where Uxbal awaits.

"Palacio’s writing is deceptively simple and startlingly original, and his characters, raw, almost mythic in scope, hang on long after the last page....Searching, heartbreaking, and achingly beautiful, the novel is as intimate as it is sweeping." -Kirkus Reviews

* = starred review


Review: Jonathan Safran Foer at Rackham Auditorium

Jonathan Safran Foer

Here he is.

One of the first things that bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Eating Animals) mentioned in his talk at Ann Arbor’s Rackham Auditorium on Friday night was that he’d always rather engage in conversation than do a straight-up reading.

The reasons why became evident soon after the evening’s host, author/U-M professor Doug Trevor, invited audience members – from the crowd of about 550 – to approach one of two microphones to ask Safran Foer a question. When the second fan at the mic said that his favorite author, Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), once claimed that the reader was his best friend, Safran Foer’s wit kicked into high gear.

“Now I’m jealous of Jonathan Franzen,” said Safran Foer. “Did you have to say that? … Couldn’t you just ask, ‘What’s your relationship with your reader?’ And his first name is Jonathan, too, which just made it that much worse.”

After Safran Foer asked for the fan’s first name (Justin), he said, “My favorite reader’s first name is also Justin.” When Justin responded by saying, “I greatly respect you, too, as a writer,” Safran Foer quipped, “Respect is for losers.”

Digressions weren’t likely to throw off Safran Foer’s readers, of course, who have come to appreciate the author’s sometimes funny, always insightful literary side-trips.

Though Safran Foer’s latest novel, Here I Am, focuses on a marriage in decay, a family in crisis, and an earthquake in the Middle East, it primarily draws its title from the biblical story of Abraham. For when Abraham called upon by God to make an unbearable sacrifice, he simply replies, “Here I am.”

Safran Foer - whose visit was sponsored by Literati Bookstore, and who was dressed casually in a gray plaid button down shirt and camel brown pants on Friday night - spoke at length about not feeling a need to focus on momentum and plot when writing novels. “Why is the plot so important?” said Safran Foer. “TV takes care of plot these days. Books don’t have a burden to entertain people. Books have a different burden, which is really hard to articulate, even though it’s so unmistakable when it happens. I think it has something to do with … the feeling of being known. If you really love a book, or really moved by a book, transported and changed by a book, the physicality of it disappears, and the characters and plot disappears, and language disappears, and you’re just left with this feeling of being known. … When I write, I want my books to be forceful expressions of my sensibility.”

Safran Foer’s work is often called “cerebral” and “ambitious,” but during Friday night’s talk, he insisted, “I don’t think unless I’m either writing or in conversation with somebody. I do not. I’m always curious, if other people are really different, or if they just haven’t thought of it that way before. I don’t have an active interior monologue. I don’t walk down the street by myself thinking things other than, ’It’s unseasonably cold,’ or, ‘I feel like Chinese food,’ or whatever. I do not have thoughts. They don’t self-generate. They’re always responsive. So that’s why I love conversations, and that’s why I love writing, because writing creates a context for thought.”

A father of two young boys, Safran Foer made non-literary headlines in recent years when he and author Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) separated and divorced; when an email correspondence between him and actress Natalie Portman – the only person who actually appeared in the story’s sexy accompanying photographs – was published in the New York Times’ T Magazine; and because he’s been dating actress Michelle Williams. But Friday evening’s talk focused solely on Safran Foer’s work and his newest book, which nonetheless deals with the challenge inherent in sustaining a marriage over time.

“People who are married and entertain the notion of divorce get divorced,” said Safran Foer. “Even if they don’t legally or technically get divorced, to entertain the notion is to break something, because marriage is the absence of divorce. That’s what it is. … Some people choose to do it, and that is what it means to get divorced. Some people will not allow that to be a choice. And that’s what makes it a marriage.”

Finally, Safran Foer talked about how changes in his life and perspective feed into his sense of his work.

“I always feel like I hear a little voice saying, ‘This is the last thing you’re ever going to write,’” said Safran Foer. “Not in the sense that I’m going to die, and not in the sense that I won’t write another book, but in very straightforward sense that, the person writing this book will not write another book. And proof of that is when I look at my old books. I did not write those books. Obviously I have more in common with the person that did than anybody else, but they are not reflections of my sensibility. They’re reflections of the sensibility of the person I used to be.”

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.


Preview: Local Author Scott Savitt Discusses His New Book "Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China"

Scott Savitt

Crashing the Party with local author Scott Savitt.

Former foreign correspondent Scott Savitt, who’s called Ann Arbor home for a little over a year now, is celebrating the release of his new book Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China with local appearances on Tuesday, November 1 at 7 pm at Nicola’s Books, and on Tuesday, November 29 at 7 pm at Literati Bookstore.

The book starts with Savitt’s harrowing account of spending 30 days on a hunger strike in a Chinese prison; and it later explains how the tragic death of his high school girlfriend set him on the path to spending years of his life in China. But the last section he needed to write to complete the manuscript – about Tiananmen Square, where Chinese political protesters were confronted by tanks and military force in 1989 – may have demanded the most courage.

“I had never revisited that, even in all the years since it happened,” said Savitt. “You have to move on somehow. And speaking as a journalist, the story continued. People were arrested, people went into exile – you had to keep covering the story. … So I wrote that section last. My publisher got to a point where he said, ‘Maybe you just can’t do it,’ and I said, ‘No, I can.’ So I finally cranked it out one sleepless night, and then the next morning, I read it to [U-M faculty member Dr. Rebecca Liu], and I started sobbing uncontrollably. It just made me realize how repressed that emotion was. It was still there. I don’t like calling things ‘syndromes’ but post-trauma – that’s real, and I still have it for sure. … It was something people are not built to see.”

But Savitt’s unique journey began when he was a freshman at Duke University. One Sunday night, he spoke by phone with his girlfriend, a high school senior, and 12 hours later, after suddenly becoming ill, she lay comatose in Yale University Hospital. She died one week later.

Shortly thereafter, Savitt was back on campus, leading a wilderness survival training program (Outward Bound), when he heard about Duke’s new student exchange program with China. The requirements were rigorous and included taking an intensive Chinese language course five days a week for one school year.

“I feel pretty certain that, if not for that untimely death, I wouldn’t have done something like that,” said Savitt. “I could have shown you China on a map, but otherwise, I didn’t have that mindset at all. I just felt like, ‘I want to get out of here.’”

So Savitt left for China in 1983. First, he was a student, but he then began working as a journalist – first for Asiaweek Magazine, then The Los Angeles Times, and United Press International. At age 25, he become the youngest accredited foreign correspondent in China.

“I’d never really thought about being a journalist for my career,” said Savitt. “ … But at that time, in China, there were very few ways you could stay there when you weren’t a student. You had to get a job visa. You could teach English, and I did that, too. But getting a job in the foreign news bureau was the best job you could get, and it would utilize my Chinese language skills and my writing ability. … It was really easy to sell articles then.”

After witnessing, and reporting on, the events surrounding Tiananmen Square in 1989, Savitt founded his own independent, English language newspaper in China, called Beijing Scene – which eventually led to his 30 day imprisonment in a small dark cell, in solitary confinement, and then deportation.

“The compliment I usually get from all sides [about the book] is that I’ve really tried to be fair about China, because having those experiences – it would be easy to become embittered,” said Savitt. “But I’m not. By the time those events happened, I was ready to leave, anyway.”

But Savitt’s sustained residence in China, fulfilling a number of different roles, lends him a far more comprehensive view of this huge, complicated country than is normally available to journalists.

“We rely on (journalists) to tell us what’s happening in places, but in many cases, they don’t exactly know,” said Savitt. “It’s not that easy. If I’d never started a business, there would be stuff about China I just wouldn’t know. … There are very few Americans or journalists who’ve seen the inside of a prison cell, or seen how business gets done – which involves paying bribes for pretty much everything.”

Given Savitt’s deep knowledge of, and vast experience with, China, you might wonder what we, and our political leaders, get wrong about the country.

“What I get the most is, ‘Oh, I thought China was going to pass us like we’re standing still – that China is the future, and we’re the past,’” said Savitt. “I would disabuse people of that notion. China’s used to highlighting our own shortcomings, but it’s never going to pass us on per capita income. … The general consensus is that China will grow old before it grows rich. In many areas, it’s still a third world country. Yes, the cities people have visited are modern, because they leapfrogged other parts of the country. But many places never had landline phones to begin with, so they went from no phone to cell phones, which saves a lot on infrastructure. … But the main thing I always say to people is, if they’re the future, how come thousands of Chinese people line up every day to move here, and no one is lining up to move there? Nobody who’s not from China stays there permanently. And when people are making a decision about where to raise children, the vast majority of people would rather be here.”

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

Scott Savitt discusses his book at two local appearances: Tuesday, November 1 at 7 pm at Nicola’s Books, and on Tuesday, November 29 at 7 pm at Literati Bookstore.


Halloween Events Around Ann Arbor

Halloween Events This Weekend

It's the Great Pulpkin, Charlie Brown.

If you're looking for some fun events around town for the Halloween weekend, read on for creepy cemetery tours, devilish dance parties, shadow puppet theatre, and more Halloween arts & culture:

Book-Themed Halloween Costume Contest
Monday, October 31st - 10:00am-9:00pm
Literati Bookstore - Ann Arbor, MI

Halloween at the Market
Saturday, October 29th - 12:00pm-2:00pm
Ann Arbor Farmer's Market - Ann Arbor, MI

Highland Cemetery Lantern Tours
Sunday, October 30th - 7:00pm-9:00pm
Highland Cemetery - Ypsilanti, MI

Shadow Puppet Double Feature
Saturday, October 29th - 9:00pm-11:00pm
Triple Goddess Tasting Room - Ypsilanti, MI

Cultivate Masquerade & Costume Bash
Friday, October 28th - 8:00pm-12:00am
Cultivate Coffee & Taphouse - Ypsilanti, MI

Black Cat Cabaret - Neighborhood Theatre Group
Friday, October 28th and Saturday, October 29th - 8:30pm
Bona Sera - Ypsilanti, MI

Halloween Treat Parade
Monday, October 31st - 11:00am-5:00pm
Main Street Area - Ann Arbor, MI

A2DC Presents: Hullabaloo Halloween Spooktacular
Sunday, October 30th - 6:00pm-10:00pm
Ann Arbor Distilling Company - Ann Arbor, MI

The Bang! Halloween Dance Party
Saturday, October 29th - 9:30pm
The Blind Pig - Ann Arbor, MI

Nightlife Arcade Gaming Spooktacular
Friday, October 28th - 6:00pm-9:00pm
The Forge by Pillar - Ann Arbor, MI


Review: Bestselling author Margaret Atwood at Rackham Auditorium

Margaret Atwood

The Tempest retold as Hag-Seed / Margaret Atwood.

The full-capacity crowd at Rackham Auditorium on Friday night not only got to hear witty insights from one of our era’s greatest, most accomplished writers, Margaret Atwood (decked out in black and orange for Halloween); they also got to hear the septuagenarian Canadian novelist/poet rap.

Why? Because her newest novel, Hag-Seed, features prisoners putting on their own version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and one excerpt Atwood read included an inmate’s extended riff that ends with “Oh no! Oh no more Prospero,/Too bad, how sad, that’s what they said:/He must be dead./So now I’m the man, the man, the big man,/I’m the duke, I’m the duke, I’m the duke of Milan.”

Hag-Seed is one of a group of books that have been published as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, wherein Shakespeare plays are retold by acclaimed contemporary novelists. Literati Bookstore sponsored Atwood’s Ann Arbor appearance.

Atwood - seated alone on Rackham’s stage, beside a round, low table with a floral arrangement - earned several laughs from the crowd as she read portions of her new novel, holding the book with hands sheathed in glow-in-the-dark skeleton gloves. (She said she was wearing them in honor of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election.)

When she finished, she said, “Now, if you have questions, I will answer them. If I don’t like your question, I will reformulate it. We do learn things from watching TV, don’t we?”

Many of the crowd’s questions concerned one of Atwood’s most enduring, classroom-friendly novels, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) – a dystopian novel that imagines that, following a terrorist attack that leaves our democracy in ruins, a revolution with a theocratic bent suspends the U.S. Constitution, and as a complete societal re-organization happens, women are stripped of all rights.

Atwood said that when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, she’d been reading about America’s 17th century Puritan theocracy, as well as mid-century dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

“I’d always wanted to write one, but most of them are written from a male point of view, and I thought it would be interesting to turn that around and take a female point of view for the narrator,” said Atwood. “ … I made it a rule in writing the book that I would not make anything up. I would use only things that had really actually happened somewhere at some time, or for which we had the technology.”

Atwood noted that a TV series inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale is now filming in Toronto, and she made a cameo appearance in it.

Regarding writing genre fiction, Atwood said, “I don’t divide books up that way at all. I divide them into books I like and books I don’t like. Because it doesn’t matter what genre is on the shelf in the book store. … It’s like a filing convenience. … So I do those things because it never occurred to me not to do them.”

One audience member raised the question of why Atwood set her take on The Tempest inside a prison, when the environment plays such a key role in the play. “The last three words of the play are, ‘Set me free,’” Atwood said. “ … You don’t say ‘set me free’ unless you’re not free. … Once you’re into themes of revenge, you’re always into stories about liberation from something.”

Atwood read and spoke for a little over an hour, and one of the last questions came from two high school teachers who asked what she’d tell young people about why reading is important. “Language is the oldest fully human thing that we have, and stories are pre-built-in,” said Atwood. “ … It had to have been a survival trait over long numbers of years. So stories are how we understand our world. We understand them partly through graphs and charts, but only if somebody tells us the story behind the graphs and charts. … What does this mean that the blue line is going up, and the red line is going down?”

Before wrapping up the question-and-answer portion of the evening (and beginning the book signing part), Atwood made a joke regarding the upcoming U.S. Presidential election: “In The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada’s the place she escaped to, so you’re all welcome.”

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #617

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #617

Mischling * * * by Affinity Konar is at once horrific and brimming with life and hope, even with humor in the most unexpected of places.

Brown-eyed and fair-haired, 12 year-old twins Pearl and Stasha Zagorski were often mistaken for "mischling" (mixed-blood, persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry) according to the Nuremberg Laws.

Arriving at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather in the fall of 1944, they were immediately plucked for the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo. While Stasha was bold, impulsive, and given to storytelling; Pearl was more restrained and observant. Narrating in alternative chapters, the twins realized early on to survive, they would have to "divide the responsibilities of living between (them) - Stasha would take the funny, the future, the bad, (Pearl) would take the sad, the past, the good". Little did they know how that would become their destiny.

When Pearl disappeared during a winter concert orchestrated by Mengele, Stasha grieved for her twin, but remained hopeful that Pearl lived. As the camp was liberated by the Red Army, Stasha escaped the death march with Feliks, a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin. Together, they endured starvation and unspeakable war devastation, encountered hostile villagers, Jewish and resistance fighters, sustained only by the hope that Mengele might be captured and brought to justice.

Readalikes: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

* * * = 3 starred reviews


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #616

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #616

The buzz around Brit(tany) Bennett's debut The Mothers* * * is hard to ignore. Vogue and The Washington Post are not alone in their over-the-moon praises, so richly deserved.

A wise and sad coming-of-age story set largely in Oceanside, CA, it is about the tangled destinies of three teens growing up in a tight-knit African-American community. 17 year-old Nadia Turner, smart, pretty, and ambitious is getting out - with a full ride to Michigan, away from her silent father, and away from the grief of losing her mother to suicide; but not before she realizes she is pregnant by the pastor's son, Luke. Her decision to abort creates a web of secrets that will haunt them for decades to come.

Years later when Nadia, now a successful attorney returns home to care for her ailing father, her reunion with Luke threatens his marriage to Aubrey, Nadia's childhood friend as well as the peace of their church community.

Narrated by Nadia and a Greek chorus of gossipy 'Mothers' from the local Upper Room Chapel, who "(f)ar from reliably offering love, protection, and care,...cause all the trouble." -Kirkus Reviews

"There’s much blame to go around, and Bennett distributes it equally. But she also shows an extraordinary compassion for her flawed characters." -Publishers Weekly

* * * = 3 starred reviews