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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Paula McLain's CIRCLING THE SUN is a worthy successor to her The Paris Wife.

Paula McLain's latest novel, Circling the Sun, published in July 2015, is a must read for readers who like a well-written novel with beautifully described scenery, clashes of cultures, desires and lifestyles, and a strong female protagonist. I was drawn into the novel by the expertly crafted writing and the beautifully effective use of descriptive language. I devoured the book because of the storyline, the lives turned upside down and sideways, the friendships, both strong and superficial, and yes, by the descriptions of what I visualized as an almost corrupt, indolent lifestyle.

Based upon the life of Beryl Clutterbuck Purves Markham, the first woman to fly solo East to West across the Atlantic ocean, the book is more about training and raising horses than it is about flying. It is more about the unfettered childhood and young adult years of this English girl raised in Kenya than it is about her adult adventures as a pilot. It is more about disappointment and disillusionment that it is about soaring happiness and successes. But, through it all it is most about a spirit that doesn't give up, that won't be beaten, and that forever dreams.

This is a historical novel, but not as one usually thinks of historical novels. The time period is not one from centuries past with ladies' maids ready to dress the heroine in London's finest. It is about a time period that some of us know from earlier pieces of literature, specifically Isak Dineesn's  Out of Africa. The people, the landscape, the problems, and the society of that epic are central to this work.  In fact, Beryl's and Karen Blixen's lives are tied together. They become wary friends as they both strive to hold the love of the same man.

Part I begins with Beryl and her father being abandoned by her mother and brother because her mother could not face life in Kenya. Beryl was four years old. She grew up on a plot of land that her father intended to turn into his dream. During her childhood, she was not schooled, wore no shoes, had no proper training, and in the eyes of society ran wild. Her friends were the nearby natives. She loved them and their ways. She spent as much time as possible with them and they welcomed her. As she matured, Father and daughter worked together to build a farm, a riding stable, and to establish her father as a well-respected member of the "horsey" set of English ex-pats living in Africa. Still, she was living her unfettered life.

All of that, of course, did change. Beryl had to grow up, to find her place in the world and to conform to the white, English society that she was rightfully a part of, even in far off Kenya. She tried, she really did, but the only things that made her happy were her days spent with the horses, with her native friends, and finally with her love.  The outside world brought confusion, confinement, and changes in her free spirited character.

Beryl's life and accomplishments are beautifully portrayed by Ms. McLain. Beryl was a beauty and a tomboy. She had a strong sense of self, but was lost in society. The trials and tribulations she endured
were often enlarged by Beryl's own desire to be none other than herself. This desire to be true to oneself is described by Beryl while talking with Karen. Beryl says "We're all of us afraid of many things, but if you make yourself smaller or let your fear confine you, then you really aren't your own person at all--are you? The real question is whether or not you will risk what it takes to be happy."

Beryl took those risks and tried at the same time to be true to herself. Was she ever truly happy? I don't know. I've tried to find out. I've since read more about Beryl through other works about her. I guess my next step is to read her memoir, West with the Night,  published in the 1942. But even that will not give me the full picture for she lived another 40+ years after it's publication.

I highly recommend this book. I can see many in-depth discussions by book clubs after reading it. I received this book as a pre-publication uncorrected proof. There was no readers' guide for book clubs. Perhaps the final copy had that added feature. By the way, her record setting flight is only part of the book as the prologue and the author's note.

Available wherever books are sold and online.

Monday, August 17, 2015


From the History Channel: "On August 14, 1945, it was announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, effectively ending World War II. Since then, both August 14 and August 15 have been known as 'Victory over Japan Day,' or simply 'V-J Day'. " August 15th is recognized as VJ day along with August 14 because most of the world did not hear of the surrender until the 15th. The formal surrender would not come until early September.

Officials in the United States heard of the surrender on the 14 and from Washington President Harry Truman went on the radio airwaves to announce the news and proclaim,  “This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would.”

Jubilant Americans declared August 14 “Victory over Japan Day,” or “V-J Day.” (May 8, 1945–when the Allies accepted Nazi Germany’s official surrender–had previously been dubbed “Victory in Europe Day,” or “V-E Day.”)"

Images from the Library of Congress.
As most of the world celebrated, the main characters in my historical fiction, TWILIGHT OF MEMORY, remembering what the war had cost them, reflected quietly. For Henry, the loss came just months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His Japanese-American fiancĂ©, along with her entire community disappeared from their western Colorado home. Even by the end of the war, a hard fought war which had almost cost Henry his life as a member of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division, Henry had no knowledge of her whereabouts.
With the help of an English Nurse, Daisy, Henry had eventually learned to move forward. Daisy in turn, allowed Henry to help her heal from the loss of  her entire family in the London Blitz. Healing together in Italy, they learned to look beyond war. 
Now, in August of 1945, as the war finally ends, they do not join the wild celebrations around them, but sit together and quietly look from the past to the future. After moments of shared silence and personal reflection they turn to each other. 
Almost in a whisper Henry said, "I'm glad it's finally over and laid to rest. Now, my darling, no more heartache. We can go home in peace."
"Home," Daisy repeated as she kissed Henry passionately.
 "Home," she repeated more softly as she allowed the lovely, peaceful images Henry had verbally painted of his valley in western Colorado to fill her with hope.
 But what waited for them at home?

Available as paperback and Kindle at

Thursday, August 6, 2015

PRISONER OF THE QUEEN: Tales from the Tudor Court, Book 2 didn't disappoint.

I must admit that I read almost anything that comes across my desk that is Tudor. Yes, I'm one of those Tudor freaks. I especially love the Grey sisters, Jane, Katherine, and Mary. It is fascinating how many different interpretations our present day historical novelists can weave among these three women. I relish them all, and usually agree with each one, no matter how contradictory it is to other views I have read and with which I have agreed. As I said, a Tudor freak!

In PRISONER OF THE QUEEN, Eliza Knight paints a captivating picture of the middle Grey sister, Katherine. Younger that Jane, the 9 Days Queen, and older than Mary, the most elusive of the three, she is bright, usually cheery, and knowledgeable. That's why I like her story. Was she really devious as many suggest? Was she a pawn, as others, including Ms. Knight suggest? I don't know, but I love learning more and more about her.

Lady Katherine Grey states, "I have served three queens in my life. One was my sister. One was my savior. And one my bitterest enemy." In this new release we see Katherine in each of these relationships.

We see her, also, in another relation, a most disastrous Her love for and marriage to the only man she claimed to have ever loved led to a predictable but unwanted outcome. While her life was always precarious due to her Royal Blood and direct line to the throne, it was the secret marriage and the children of that marriage, that was her final undoing at the hands of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.

This is an emotional story. All the major female characters are blood relatives of King Henry VIII. We should not expect any less of these characters with that bloodline in their recent heritage. This book fulfills that expectation.

The book was well researched, well-written, and easy to read. So often, the story of these three sisters, nieces to King Henry, is not clearly presented. I'm happy to say Ms. Knight kept the genealogical bumps to a minimum and gave us a main character easy to know and understand.

I highly recommend this book.
Published by Lake Union Publishing, the release date is August 11, 2015. It can be preordered at Amazon. Kindle price is $3.99.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

THE FAR END OF HAPPY by Kathryn Craft called me back for a re-read. I so happy it did!

 Below you will find my original review of this book. I read the book quickly, and now I see,  superficially. This past week I took my time and re-read the book, savoring every word. The raw emotion still grips the reader even when reading slowly and picturing the scenes in all their minute detail. The psychological insights, the slow but steady development of the characters as they interact with each other during the 12 hours of this plotline, and the suspense mounts with each passing hour.  The slow reading showed me depth of detail, beauty of words, and suspense that I had rushed through on the first read.

So...if you have not read this wonderfully crafted 12 hour story, I encourage you to do so. Not many authors could craft a story with so many interwoven plots into a 12 hour ordeal, but Kathryn Craft has done it. Based upon her first husband's suicide, this story draws the reader in to her real life tragedy.  For me, it did so even more the second time around.

Don't forget to read the author's notes for they add to the story.  I think this book could lend itself to great book club discussions. There is even a reader's guide included.


Original book review:
The Far End of Happy is a powerful new novel based on author Kathryn Craft’s personal experience with a stand-off involving her husband.  Here Craft delivers “real, raw emotion” (Library Journal) exploring a marriage unraveled by mental illness; and one man’s spiral towards a violent conclusion that tests the courage, love, and hope of the three women he leaves behind.
When the emotionally troubled Jeff engages police in a deadly stand-off, his wife, mother-in-law, and mother struggle to understand why the man they love has turned his back on the life they have given him, the one they all believe is still worth living.
“Framing the novel within a 12-hour period keeps the pages turning (Library Journal).” Narrating from the alternating perspectives of three women, whose lives will be forever altered by Jeff Farnham, gives an intimate look at the steps a woman will take to get the help her husband so urgently needs while desperately trying to keep her children safe.
A former dance critic who wrote for The Morning Call daily newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for nineteen years. Craft wrote exclusively nonfiction until she was plunged in the kind of real-life drama that demands attention. In 1997, after fifteen years of marriage, her husband committed suicide in a police standoff, leaving her and their two young sons.
The Far End of Happy was born from Craft’s need to make sense of what her husband had done. Kathryn has been a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene for more than a decade and is also the author of The Art of Falling. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Website: