Saturday, June 30, 2012

So Far Away

"Natalie had no answer to this question.  It was all too much to bear; the fainting, the laughing, her inadvertent insulting of Taylor. This too she would have to pay for--she would have to pay for all of it, and the price would be high."
~So Far Away, Meg Mitchell Moore
I suppose you'd call So Far Away "chick lit" (which is not my favorite term), because it's a story about girls and women, and relationships, some broken, and some just beginning.  But it's chick lit with a serious focus.  Published in 2012 by Reagan Arthur Books, this new novel by Meg Mitchell Moore centers around two main characters, Kathleen Lynch, an archivist at a library in Massachusetts, and Natalie Gallagher, a thirteen-year-old who's intrigued by the discovery of a diary of a domestic servant, Bridget O'Connell Callaghan, from County Kerry, Ireland.  When Natalie visits the library to research the life of this Irish immigrant, Kathleen and Natalie begin a friendship, slowly and tentatively.  Kathleen, a widow, is estranged from her only child, Susannah, and sees bits of her daughter in Natalie.  Natalie is the target of cyber bullying in the form of nasty, threatening text messages sent to her phone by her former best friend, Hannah, and a "popular" girl, Taylor. 

So Far Away held my attention firmly, although the cyberbullying provoked my anger and frustration. The  behavior of Hannah and Taylor disgusted me; I wondered why some girls become "mean girls" at the age of thirteen or fourteen.  (I guess it's hormonal, but why does it become intense and dangerous, in some cases?) This aspect of the story is a main focus, which upset me and made me want to hug my own teenage daughters. 

Overall, I found the book quite compelling and plausible.  Bridget's diary, read to Natalie by Kathleen's friend and co-worker, Neil, is fascinating, and was a welcome relief from the relentless cyberbullying.  I enjoyed reading about the gradually developing friendship between Kathleen and Natalie (I sensed that they would have a special connection early in my reading), and I hoped that they'd be able to help each other.  Meg Mitchell Moore is a terrifically skilled writer, and I read the novel eagerly, hoping (of course) that things would work out well for both Kathleen and Natalie. The ending of this story is excellent; matters are not tied up too neatly, but are instead resolved in a more realistic manner (this book could even have a sequel).  I'd definitely read more books by this author, such as The Arrivals (which came out in paperback in May), or future works.  

This is the second book I've read for The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge, a reading challenge I've revisited after a hiatus, hosted by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog and Julie from Booking Mama.  Special thanks to Lisa for sending me an advanced copy of this book.  I took a small liberty and quoted from this novel; the final version of the book may be different from the one I read.  Your comments are welcomed, as always.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Really Random Tuesday #50: A Book Winner and a New Giveaway

Please join me in congratulating the randomly selected winner of I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, GW.  Many congrats to you, GW!  I hope you will find this book as arresting and haunting as I did. (GW, please email me your mailing address; I don't have your email address to request it.  If I don't hear from you soon, I'll need to draw a new winner.)

To celebrate my  50th(!) Really Random Tuesday post,  I'm hosting a giveaway for a $25 gift card for, my favorite online book store. A small token of my appreciation, this giveaway is open to all parts of the world that Amazon reaches.  It's my way of thanking my fantastic followers and refined readers for visiting this blog. There are several ways to earn chances at winning.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.  
  • To earn another chance at winning, publish a Really Random Tuesday post within the time frame of this giveaway, and be sure to let me know about it.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, July 30.  One lucky winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, July 31.  Best of luck to all who participate!


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and  book-related things you can think of.  If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to use the button on your own blog.  Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post (and give you an extra chance at winning the gift card).  As always, thanks for reading!  

Monday, June 11, 2012

River in the Sea: Review and Giveaway

There are many compelling books about World War II, and I began this story with the hope that I might add to my list of noteworthy novels.   Written by Tina Boscha, a new indie author, River in the Sea is a literary novel about a young girl, Leentje De Graff, growing up during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.  Set in the province Friesland of the Netherlands in 1944, this book was published in 2012, and although it's fictional, the story was inspired by events from the past of the author's mother and her family. 

"It was then that the real fear began, the simultaneous heat and cold of it, the absolute rush of thought and adrenaline that flowed from the recognition that what was happening was true and severe and horrific. What would they do to her?  Leen began to shake."
~River in the Sea, Tina Boscha

As the story begins, Leentje, Leen for short, is the fifteen-year-old protagonist in River in the Sea.  Instead of attending school, Leen works in Dokkum (a town near her home in Wierum) as a maid for Baker Deinum and his wife, six days a week, and also helps out at home, because her mother is still grieving over the loss of a child. While driving her father's truck home from her job one Saturday,  Leen feels guilty and is distracted because she's just stolen a packet of salt (a precious commodity during wartime) from her employers, and when a German soldier's dog runs out in front of the truck, she panics and loses control.  To Leen, this event is terrifying, and seems to lead to more trauma for her and the De Graff family during this unsettling time of war.

Church and dike in Wierum
Why did it take me so long to read and review this book?  My excuse is that I have monstrous TBR piles (a natural consequence after you've been blogging about books for a few years), and so I postponed reading this one.  When I finally did settle down with River in the Sea, I was richly rewarded, cast into a different place and time by this imaginative, lyrical novel.  Many of the names of the characters were unfamiliar to me--Leen, Tine, Wopke, and Renske, to name a few--which contributed to the sense that I was truly in a foreign place.  The De Graff family seemed very real and was held together by both grief and love.  Leen, the main character, is a well-drawn, believable character with spunk.  She learned to drive by the time she was twelve, and although Leen's not perfect (she's stubborn, like her father, "Pater", and quite sensitive, like her mother, "Mem"), she tries to be a good person and she loves her family, which make her a likeable main character.  She's part of a fairly large family, and is struggling to have a degree of independence,  but the war makes this especially difficult, because danger lurks outside and there's a true lack of security.  Worry about the war permeates daily life, and girls in particular are advised to be extra careful when they go out, and to avoid the German soldiers at the camp and around town (Leen prefers driving by the camp to bicycling past).  At times life seemed too bleak for Leen (and for me, as a reader), but then she'd be lifted up by her friendship with Minnie, or a shared cigarette break, or by her burgeoning romance, and I'd be relieved and renewed as well.  As Leen breaks away from her family, she enjoys smoking cigarettes (as many did in those times), and is becoming a more independent young woman.  River in the Sea is very well written and I found myself 100% immersed in this coming-of-age story.  Descriptions of underdoek, leaving home to hide from soldiers at night, and the sores caused by a lack of nutrition (and the pungent remedy for them), affected me and will remain long in my memory.  The book is unexpectedly tender and touching, with the war as a backdrop, when German soldiers were an omnipresent, menacing presence.  River in the Sea would be an excellent choice for those interested in World War II fiction.  To enhance my review, the author kindly provided the photo above of a church in Wierum, a small village in Dongeradeel in the province Friesland of the Netherlands, from her mother's collection.

Wonderful news! Tina Boscha is generously offering a copy of River in the Sea as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only) to a lucky reader.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. 
  • For one more chance, name a book (fiction or non-fiction) set in or about World War II that you found notable.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, July 2.  One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, July 3.  Good luck!

Special thanks to Tina Boscha for sending me a copy of her novel.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Really Random Tuesday #49: Armchair BEA and a Book Winner

Armchair BEA is an online networking event for bloggers who will not be attending Book Expo America (BEA) at the Javits Center in New York this week (June 4 - 8, 2012).  This virtual convention is hosted by a terrific team of book bloggers.


The Armchair BEA Blog Team

Be sure to stop by Armchair BEA to register and to participate in the various activities, including interviews, discussions, giveaways, and more.  The goal of this event is to help promote a sense of community between book bloggers.  Please allow me to introduce myself: I hope I'm not too late to post this Armchair BEA interview.  I've chosen five questions, and have tried to keep my answers brief.

1) Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

My name's Susan, but I go by "Suko", which is my user name (a combo of my first and last names).  I started this site four years ago because I was intrigued by the idea of having a blog, even though I knew next to nothing about blogging.  I chose books as a focus because I was excited about the books I was reading, and I thought that such a focus would be neither too narrow nor too wide.

2) What are you currently reading? 

I've just started a new book, River in the Sea by Tina Boscha.  I've had this book for a while and feel bad that I am just getting to it now.  The author has been very understanding, but I feel guilty about taking so long to begin reading her work.  I hope to review the book soon.

3) What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?  

I really enjoy conducting and posting my exclusive author interviews.  In this way, I've become acquainted with many authors, and have learned more about their work and the writing process.  Each author has been friendly, gracious, and professional.  I felt very fortunate the first time an author--best-selling author Kate Jacobs--agreed to do an interview with me, in November of 2008. That launched my collection of interviews, which I've organized as an Author Interviews page.

4) Where do you see your blog in five years?  

Hmm. . . let me consult my crystal ball.  Seriously, though, I'm not sure what the future holds for this site.  That's a great question!  Of course, I wouldn't mind if this blog became much more popular.   I don't know where the future of book blogging (or any type of blogging) is headed, but I'll hopefully be a part of it.

5) What is your favorite part about the book blogging community?

I appreciate the supportive community of book bloggers.  While our tastes in books vary widely, the book bloggers I've met online are courteous and caring, and they introduce me to a cornucopia of tempting books. They also host reading challenges that entice me to read genres I'd probably not choose otherwise.  I've expanded my reading due to Savvy Verse & Wit and Diary of an Eccentric's War Through the Generations challenge,  Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature challenge, and The Reading Life's Irish Quarter short story challenge.  I've opened up to more great reading as a result, and have learned about other times and cultures in the process. 


Often I announce my book winners in these Tuesday posts. Without further ado, the randomly selected winner of The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock is:

Faith Hope and Cherrytea!

Many congrats!  I hope you enjoy this book, which is about profound and prolific creativity at a later stage of life. The pictures of Mary Delany's exquisite work in this book may entice you to see the paper mosaicks in person.


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog.   Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.  Thanks for reading!

    Monday, June 4, 2012

    I Am Forbidden: Review and Giveaway

    Before reading this book, I associated Transylvania with Bram Stoker's horror novel and film, Dracula, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It's time I revised my associations.

    Published in 2012, I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is a novel about four generations of a Satmar family. Written in the present tense, the book depicts a world unknown to the majority of us, the world of Hasidic Jews. According to Wikipedia, Satmar Hasidism is a movement of mostly Hungarian and Romanian Hasidic Jewish Holocaust survivors and their descendants, founded and led by the late Hungarian-born Grand Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum (1887–1979).

    I Am Forbidden begins right before the onset of World War II, in 1939, in Transylvania, Romania.  The book also takes place in Paris, then in Manhattan, and finishes in present day Williamsburg, Brooklyn (which has a large Satmar community); chapters provide the various locations so the book is easy to follow. At the beginning of the story, two young, Jewish children from different families, Josef Lichenstein and Mila Heller, become orphans at the hands of the Romanian Iron Guard and the Nazis, respectively.  Josef (renamed Anghel by his new, Christian mother, Florina), is five years older than Mila, and he helps her get to the home of Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community; then Josef (or Anghel) and Mila separate (they'll reunite later, in a different manner).

    The Sterns send Josef to school to study the Torah, and take Mila in as their daughter when she arrives at their doorstep, exhausted.  They have another daughter, Atara, who is almost a year younger than Mila, as well as other children. Atara and Mila are expected to help care for the younger children in the family, which will train the girls for their future careers as mothers.  Zalman is protective and strict with the girls, and on one occasion uses his belt to punish them with severity when they break the Sabbath by taking an exhilarating bike ride on this holy day. This episode in the book is haunting.

    "Every morning, the girls' eyes shone when they opened their cahiers d'école, notebooks with pages white, smooth, ruled and cross-ruled by pale blue lines.  They dipped their new pens into the glass inkwell, how lovely it was to trace, meticulously, the new French words, the ascenders and descenders."
    ~Anouk Markovits, I Am Forbidden

    In Paris, Atara and Mila enjoy school, and are eager learners.  As the girls mature, they remain close, but their beliefs become quite divergent.  Mila lives her life with a strict adherence to Satmar beliefs, and her deepest desire is to marry a son of Torah and raise a "pure" Jewish family. Atara, Zalman and Hannah's biological daughter, is restive and rebellious, drawn to the world of books and learning.  She has aspirations which go beyond an arranged marriage and children, but this is not acceptable in a Satmar house; in fact, like much else, it is forbidden. 

    I Am Forbidden brought me to tears a few times (the first instance was due to little Pearela's fate).  It's a touching, inside look at an insular Hasidic sect, and its extreme effects on people.  On the one hand this religious sect provides a reassuring structure; on the other hand, it demolishes many important freedoms. With honesty and clarity, this book explores the possible dangers and consequences of leading a life with so many rigid restrictions.  Life in this sect is devoid of personal freedom and choice, particularly for women.  Author Anouk Markovits was raised in France in a Satmar home, but left when she was nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage, and to pursue more education. She relies on her background to bring to life the vivid and touching plights of various characters who struggle with their beliefs and because of their beliefs.  As I read this novel I became fully invested in the characters, especially Mila and Atara.  I look forward to reading more work by Anouk Markovits.

    Excellent news! Hogarth, a new imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, is offering a copy of I Am Forbidden as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only) to a lucky reader.

    • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
    • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
    • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. 

    Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, June 25.  One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, June 26.  Good luck!

    Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book.  For more reviews please visit the other stops on TLC's I Am Forbidden book blog tour.

    Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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