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Review: The General’s Women is a View into Eisenhower’s Relationships and WWII

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The General’s Women by Susan Wittig Albert –

Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Persevero Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, & Audio

Genre: Fiction/Historical/Biographical

A compelling story of love, betrayal, and ambition by New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert, The General’s Women tells the story of two women–Kay Summersby and Mamie Eisenhower—in love with the same man: General Dwight Eisenhower.

Set during the chaotic years of World War II, The General’s Women tells the story of the conflicted relationship between General Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby, his Irish driver/aide, and the impact of that relationship on Mamie Eisenhower and her life in Washington during the war. Told from three alternating points of view (Kay’s, Ike’s, and Mamie’s), the novel charts the deepening of the relationship as Ike and Kay move from England (1942) to North Africa (1942-43) to England, France, and Germany before and after the Normandy landing (1944-45). At the end of the war, Ike is faced with the heart-wrenching choice between marrying Kay and a political future.

The story continues into the post-war years, as Ike (returning to Mamie) becomes Army Chief of Staff, president of Columbia University, Supreme Commander of NATO, and president of the United States. Kay, meanwhile, struggles to create a life and work of her own, writing two memoirs: the first (Eisenhower Was My Boss, 1948) about her war work with Ike; the second (Past Forgetting, 1976) about their love affair. An author’s note deals with the complicated question of the truth of Kay’s story, as it finally appears in the posthumously-published Past Forgetting.

The General’s Women, Review

Susan Wittig Albert’s books are always a pleasure to read and I had really enjoyed A Wilder Rose a few years back, which was about the writing of the Little House books. The General’s Women sounded interesting to me, since it featured the two loves of General Eisenhower and I love war time stories, which is the setting, so I dove in once I received my complimentary review copy in the mail.

Susan, of course, conducts such an enormous amount of research for her books and with this one it was obvious she endeavored no less utilizing real letters, diaries, news clippings from the characters. As readers, we learn a lot about Eisenhower, his part in World War II, and even some of the jobs of women in WWII, such as that of his love interest, fashion model Kay Summersby. She was assigned to drive General Eisenhower, but as even most scholars in the nation know, became one of his dearest confidantes about the war and not only his mistress. His wife, Maime, is back on the home front dealing with her own issues as well as his own, not to mention the gossip of Kay.

Susan pieces together the story, starting with when Kay was assigned to drive Eisenhower, and shows us the dynamic of these three. It’s not a tawdy love triangle she writes, however, but one fraught with dignity, respect for each character from history, and compassion. Sympathy for each of them grace the pages of her well-told story while giving Kay also her due from an historical perspective for all she helped Ike accomplish during the war.

Each other sub-character in this dramatic novel is intricately created and woven in as well as description and detail of time and place that immerses us as readers so we can have a full experience. Susan is known for memoirs and non-fiction as well, which lends itself to this book as the main characters are real people, but she also writes in a way that leads us through the pages enthralled in the story, far from something we might read only for information. It’s pleasurable to turn the pages, but yet we gain knowledge as we do not only about his relationship with the women in his life, but about his pursuits in WWII.

Historical fiction lovers, especially those interested in tales from WWII, should pick up this book for its dramatic intensity and realness. You’ll feel like you stepped off a plane into the time period and have a bird’s eye view. Thanks to Susan for giving us another gripping read. Highly recommended!

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Chapters IndieBound | iTunes | Kobo

Praise for The General’s Women

“The General’s Women is an engrossing and humanizing account of a love that blossomed during wartime and scandalized a nation… A historical novel that is sympathetic, satisfying, and heartbreaking.” —Foreword Reviews

“A mature, gripping emotional drama… The arc of this multifaceted novel follows the three main characters [Ike, Kay, and Mamie] and a host of secondary ones through the war and back into civilian life. At every point Albert smoothly incorporates an obviously vast amount of research into a tale of raw emotional conflict that can make for some wonderfully uncomfortable reading.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A brilliant work of biographical fiction that will fascinate WW2 history fans. It tells the remarkable true story of General Dwight D Eisenhower and his relationship with his Irish-born driver and secretary, Kay Summersby, and with his longtime wife Mamie. It faithfully shines a light on the hidden relationship of the man behind the D-Day landings and what he got up to while 3,000 miles from his wife. A must read!” —Kieron Wood, author of Ike’s Irish Lover: The Echo of A Sigh

Susan Wittig Albert, Biography

03_Susan Wittig Albert.jpgA NYT bestselling author, Susan’s books include biographical fiction (A Wilder Rose 2013, currently under film option; Loving Eleanor 2016; and The General’s Women 2017). Her mystery fiction includes the bestselling China Bayles mysteries; The Darling Dahlias; the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter; and the Robin Paige Victorian/Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert. Working together, the Alberts have also written over 60 young adult novels.

Susan’s most recent nonfiction work includes two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her earlier nonfiction work includes Work of Her Own, a study of women who left their careers, and Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story, a guidebook for women memoirists. That book led to the founding of the Story Circle Network in 1997. She has edited two anthologies for the Story Circle Network: With Courage and Common Sense (2004) and What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest (2007). She currently serves as editor of StoryCircleBookReviews and co-coordinator of SCN’s Sarton Women’s Book Awards.

She and Bill live in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, gardens, and tends a varying assortment of barnyard creatures.

For more information, please visit Susan Wittig Albert’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterestGoogle+GoodreadsAmazon, and BookBub.

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Review: Lilli de Jong is Story of a Courageous Mother

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Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Nan A. Talese
Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages

Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

READ AN EXCERPT.

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

Review

I’ll just tell you upfront to please read this book if you love historical fiction books that make you feel as if you are living yourself in that time and place. It’s so wonderfully well-written and drew me in page by page in a very insistent manner. I could almost feel as if I were living with and among the characters. I was shocked, horrified, tear-stricken, yet I felt proud of the protagonist as well and became full of admiration by the time I reached the end.

Lilli de Jong, is the story of a fictional woman, though it could be the story of so many women. The limits put on women during this time period by society, and men, was so tragic. This book not only brings it to light, but it reminds us it was actually worse than any of us could have ever thought. It also is petrifying as we watch the state of society inching along today and the growth of some of the feelings that men (and women) have towards women, especially in accordance with their reproductive or motherhood rights and the amount of shaming that still occurs of those who get pregnant out of wedlock. Lilli de Jong is almost like a more modern telling of the Scarlet Letter, as the character of Lilli certainly was scorned  with a similar, though intangible, mark for no other reason than having a baby when not married to the father.

What I loved about this book was obviously Janet’s character development, first and foremost. For a debut novel, this was a tremendous feat. Her pacing and dialogue was spot on and moved the story along quickly. Yet, the research hours poured into this book was also clear, and as a reader, I learned so very much of the time period, the societal and government rules, as well as through her descriptions, learned of the surroundings, which allowed me to be immersed further into the story.

The story of Lilli is such an important one. Janet truly has set the bar high for herself should she endeavor to write further novels, but I also hope she does, as I can’t wait to read more of her writing. She tells a story in a very meaningful way, creating even sad subjects into delightful reading. I shed a tear to two reading this, as well as balled my fists in anger a time or two, and feel compelled to hope that this book could also be used a learning tool for many who wish to change culture and continue to go forward with progress for women’s rights, but also of course, it’s important for others to read as well so that they can understand through the emotion and trials of Lilli just how important forgiveness can be as well as helping hands. Further, I suppose, redemption as well, and that things such as this are not only the fault of the woman, but the men too. I was so tired of judgement, even more than I already am, after reading this book.

This is the story of a woman’s courage, strength, and fortitude. It’s the story of a mother, all mothers, and their undying and unwavering love for their children. Love knows know boundaries between mother and a child and a true mother will go lengths to defend and support her children. I will carry this story around inside myself for a long while, just as all women carry the stories of those who came before us. This book should go on required reading lists.

I must applaud the author for her willingness to write this book and show the errors of our ways during this time period. Her observations from research, her ability to put herself in the shoes of another (her character – but more so, any real people who dealt with this), not having experienced this herself, are absolutely commendable. I can tell she is a very empathetic, in-tune, connective type of person. Those people make the best writers and preserve for prosperity the stories of others unlike most writers can do.

I should note after reading that I felt a kinship to the character of Lilli as well, due to her heritage and Quaker origin. Though my ancestors weren’t Quaker as far as I know, great-grandparents of mine (maybe 8 or 9 x) on my mother’s side did hail from the same area the character lived in at the start of the book, Germantown, which was a quarter in Pennsylvania. Having done my own cultural and historical research on the family for personal knowledge and my own historical writing, I could feel a sense of place when reading about her. It was very interesting and I loved this added personal touch for me.

Lilli de Jong is an outstanding debut flush with detail and movement that I would highly recommend to all readers of historical fiction or those interested in women’s rights. It’s an enjoyable read with a courageous character that I hope, for humanity’s sake, all of us can see some tiny part of ourselves in.

*I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest critique.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound | Kobo | Powell’s

Praise for Lilli de Jong

“Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father’s selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father’s apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli’s story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother’s love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks.” – Library Journal, Starred Review

“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era—and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read.” —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

“A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.” —Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker’s Children

“Janet Benton’s remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold—though reader, be warned: Lilli’s story may break your heart.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

“[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli’s fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society.” —Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it’s a testament to Benton’s skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist’s struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.” —Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.” —Booklist

“I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It’s not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it’s also important . . . Lilli’s life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

“Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!” —Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant’s Girl

“A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.” —The Millions

03_Janet Benton.jpgAuthor Janet Benton, Biography

Janet Benton’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton’s website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away TWO Notebooks featuring quotes from Lilli de Jong! Notebooks are spiral-bound (4×6 inches) with 50 blank pages. To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Direct Link: https://gleam.io/REPTM/lilli-de-jong

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on July 28th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Addie Guest Reviews: Lemons, Bigfoot, and Kid Lit

My newly 10 year old Addie is back on the site again today as a guest reviewer with a middle reader called Lemons! This book has two children chasing bigfoot, and yet, it’s so much more. Addie was sent this book for review from Crown Books/Random House in exchange for an honest review. I’ll start off with a synopsis, Addie’s review, and my own thoughts after discussion with Addie and reading the book myself. I know you’re going to love this one!!! Cutest cover award, right??

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Lemons, Synopsis –

  • Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers (May 2, 2017)
  • Publication Date: May 2, 2017
  • Sold by: Random House LLC

The search for Bigfoot gets juicy in this funny and touching story that’s perfect for fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw!
 
Lemonade Liberty Witt’s mama always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But Lem can’t possibly make lemonade out of her new life in Willow Creek, California—the Bigfoot Capital of the World—where she’s forced to live with a grandfather she’s never met after her mother passes away.

Then she meets eleven-year-old Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., who is the sole Bigfoot investigator for their small town. After he invites Lem to be his assistant for the summer, they set out on an epic adventure to capture a shot of the elusive beast on film. But along the way, Lem and Tobin end up discovering more than they ever could have imagined. And Lem realizes that maybe she can make lemonade out of her new life after all.

“I love books about feisty girls and nerdy boys. Melissa Savage’s astoundingly good debut novel is packed with humor, mystery, friendship, family secrets, and even Bigfoot! I think you’ll love it, too.” —Karen Cushman, Newbery Medalist for The Midwife’s Apprentice

Lemons

 

Addie’s Review –

Lemons was an emotional, yet funny book. Even thought there were sad parts, it kept me laughing almost the whole time. There were some very touching parts of the book, which I don’t want to spoil for other kid’s reading here, but it made it a memorable book for me. I was glad that there were some happy endings and Lem loved her grandpa. Lemonade is my favorite character, because she is a fierce and funny girl, like me.

My favorite part was about how Lemonade was in love with twinkies! I just got to try my first twinkie this year as I was reading this book. I liked the bigfoot searches that Lemonade and Tobin had. It was funny when Lemonade held out a twinkie for bigfoot and he ate it. I think it would be fun to search for a real bigfoot.

Overall, I loved reading Lemons. I recommend it to ages 9 to 12, because I just turned 10, but read in my last few days of being 9. I am a good reader so I think boys and girls a few years older than me would enjoy it too.

Mom’s Notes –

Addie was super excited to receive Lemons from Crown Books in the mail. It was definitely a review highlight for her. Why? She knows all about bigfoot and we can thank my own publicity client and friend, Hunter Shea, for that! Though he writes adult books featuring cryptids, she has always been interested in the work of authors I work with and took to learning about them. She prefers her “scary” creatures to also be cute or friendly in nature, of course, or people unmasked by those “meddling kids.” That’s where her lifelong love of Scooby-Doo also registered to her that a story with Bigfoot might either be a fun adventure or a mystery, both things she likes in the books she reads. So bigfoot intrigued her and the cover caught her eye as well as the synopsis, so she dove right in. Not only did she not want to stop reading, she wandered around reading the book inside the house, out to the car, inside the car….

I would have to say that Lemons is one of the middle readers I most wanted to read as well. I loved that the two main characters, a boy and a girl, were Bigfoot detectives. That made the book adventurous enough for a 9-11 year old. I am always happy when books feature girls and boys as friends as well and articulate that they can do things together too. The bigfoot excursion also brought humor to the book that I know Addie loved.

However, it also dove into deep themes, deep enough that some adults might not think children that age would be ready for, but I disagree. I think they are dealing with more than what we give them credit for these days. Having themes to connect to in books is a positive things for young readers. Life is no longer sugar coated. I asked Addie about the themes in the book even before I read it myself. She didn’t want to give spoilers in her review, but we discussed what some of them were and how they made her feel. Though the death of a parent or grandparent hasn’t happened to her, she could understand it enough and I believe reading these things are what helps her have empathy for others. It’s a great book to discuss with your kids for this reason.

Once I read it myself, I talked to her again. I asked her if she understood the time period of the book or if it impacted her reading, to which she told me she just felt like it was modern day. For readers of this review who don’t know, it was set in the early 70s during the Bigfoot craze and when soldiers were coming home from the Vietnam war. The book dealt with a parent not only being missing from war but also probably PTSD issues. However, for Addie, she knows what PTSD is like as she has seen someone struggle with it. She understands in our society today about people coming home, and sometimes not coming home, from war. She also knows that the Bigfoot hunting craze is back. This means that to her, she still connected so it didn’t hinder her reading being set in another time period. Maybe she didn’t get every reference to type of car or music or other tidbits to create setting, but Addie, and probably every other 10 year old, isn’t going to be bothered by that either. It was the emotion of the story, the characters, and the plot that propelled her reading. And I don’t think it was supposed to be a history lesson. Once we talked about it and I told her about the 70s, she was intrigued as well to learn more. This is a time period not often written about in literature, historical fiction, and for sure not in children’s historical fiction, so I thought it was a great setting myself.

I think the themes this book featured were phenomenal in terms of berevement and hope and gave just enough that a kid could connect and absorb, but also race through pages for the sheer fun. I think this is a book to remain on the shelf and will be a definite re-read. Lemons is book I feel will stay with her as she grows older. I was born in 1974 myself, so showing my age, but I remember how Robert Cormier’s I am the Cheese stuck with me all these years due to its deep psychological themes. I recently gifted this book to my 13 year old. Lemons is a tale for a new generation written to touch children of today who are growing up so different from us, and yet, so many themes remains the same. When I saw the below paragraph on Melissa’s biography page on her website, it made me smile and I really love the heart she has put into her work

“Melissa is a writer and a child and family therapist. She has worked with families struggling with issues of abuse, trauma and loss/bereavement. She believes that expressing oneself through writing can be a very healing process when struggling with difficulties in life.  In addition it can be a vehicle in which to honor, celebrate and continue to share the spirits of the special people who have left us too soon.”

I am REALLY looking forward to seeing more books from Melissa Savage! HIGHLY RECOMMEND for summer reading and for the classroom as well.

Lemons

Purchase Lemons

Amazon

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Praise for Lemons

“An enjoyable and welcome exploration of sorrow, healing, and friendship.” —School Library Journal

“An enjoyable and comforting middle-grade handbook on navigating new experiences and the heartache of losing loved ones early in life.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Savage injects enough humor, mystery, and lively interaction among the characters to give this two-hanky debut a buoyant tone.” —Booklist

Melissa Savage“[A]pt and accessible for young readers.” —The Bulletin   

Melissa Savage, Biography –

Melissa D. Savage is a writer and a child and family therapist.

Her desire to write purposeful, issue-driven books for young people, coupled with her interest in cryptozoology and the mystery of Bigfoot, inspired her to write Lemons.

Melissa lives in Minneapolis. You can follow her on Twitter at @melissadsavage, and visit her at melissadsavage.com.

Addie, Guest Reviewer –

addieAddie is newly 10 years old and enjoys reading, writing, singing, dancing, art, baking, laughing, sports, gardening, animals, mysteries, and just about anything else – yep she has a lot of interests, especially when they’re fun.

However, she does take her school work seriously, and also strives for great grades. She really into reading stories of all kinds and interviewing authors for a behind-the-scenes look. She’s very happy to review books and wants to start her own blog soon.

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Interview: A Talk with Author Teresa Neumann About Her 70s Hippie Fiction!

best-oregon-pinot-noir-v2.pngToday, I’m hosting the lovely Teresa Neumann straight from Oregon for an interview! A conossieur of wine (check out the beautiful Oregon wine country above), her heart is also much with the Italian culture and lifestyle. When I think of her, I think of this – fun times with friends and family enjoying food and wine. She’s a great person and talented writer. She’s also not new to this blog, as I’d reviewed her Italian historical fiction books year ago, but it’s been a little while and she has since written a new book, A Year in the Company of Freaks. This novel was a bit of a departure from her other books, which we discuss in the interview below so you’ll want to keep reading.

“Freaks” is a novel that showcases life of those growing up in the 60s and 70s in California. I can’t say I’ve ever read a book like this, and it certainly was an eye-opening adventure for me as I don’t delve into this time period too much. What drew me in so much when I started reading the book early last year was the way their dialogue made me laugh. Her easy writing style will have you turning pages when you don’t even mean to keep reading and the characters will become so real that you swear they exist. I would never have thought I’d connect to the characters, but I did and found myself pulling for them and wishing they weren’t so misunderstood.

A Year Freaks

Though I don’t have experience coming-of-age in the way they did, the themes and struggles they had in all getting along together, and needing to learn and grow with and from each other, certainly fits within the framework of what needs to happen more in today’s society. It was fun contemporary fiction, but with strong messages, all wrapped up with descriptive and emotional prose. Though learning to live with others is a theme prevalent in the book, and judgment between hippies and rednecks, there is also love, frienship, redemption, and self-reflection. I’m really glad I stepped out of my box in reading this one!

Now, let’s talk about the book more with Teresa….and it’s her birthday, so please help me to wish her a very happy one!! : -)

Teresa

Welcome Teresa! I’m so glad you’re stopping by Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It was my pleasure to read A Year In the Company of Freaks, your new book out last year – and an entertaining one at that! I’m glad we finally caught up to talk about it and what else is new in your life.

Come in and sit down. I feel like we should take part in your “live life” motto and drink wine in the afternoon. You tell me what’s the best – your favorite – and I’ll snap my fingers to make it so! Let me know what’s good to go with it too. I really have to learn my wines better someday soon!

Teresa: Thanks for inviting me, Erin! Ah, wine. My favorite wines are reds – cabs and merlots, though I love a great Oregon pinot noir too. They not only taste great but they’re healthy as well. In fact, after my gastronomical sojourns in Italy with my husband’s families, it’s hard for me to eat meat without a little wine as it is so good for digestion 😉

Erin: I’m not much of a wine drinker, but always wanted to try more of it for the experience. Let me pour us some. Now, let’s settle in on the front porch and talk awhile.

As I noted, A Year in the Company of Freaks was out last year.  What were some of the successes and challenges in the last couple years of writing and publishing it? How do you feel about it all now?

Teresa: I actually wrote a condensed version of “Freaks” about 12 years ago after my children and their friends began needling my husband and I about what it was like to live during the 60’s and 70’s. It wasn’t until after Bianca’s Vineyard and Domenico’s Table were published that I chose to make it my next project and began the editing process. The title of the book always grabbed people’s attention, and since there were so few historical books out for the time period of the 60s and 70s, I just decided it was time to go with it. The successes and challenges of writing, for me, are one and the same: bringing a book to publication. I never realized what a truly mammoth effort goes into the process—writing, editing, re-writing, editing, decision-making on titles, front covers, back covers, synopses, etc. And that’s not even the marketing aspect of publishing a book, which is – true confession — my least favorite part of being an author. I just hate having to get the word out about my new books. That’s why you’re so incredibly appreciated, Erin! 

Erin: It is the hard part for many and so time consuming. Thank you! This book is a departure from your other novels that take place in history and overseas, Bianca’s Vineyard and Domenico’s Table respectfully, and takes us to Northern California to the 1970s and the dawn of the laid back lifestyle. However, one stream that runs through them all is the familial relationships you bring to life between family and friends. How do you create such vivid characters and connections?

Teresa: You’re correct that my third book is a departure from my first two books, which are mostly set in Italy, although my main character in “Freaks” is an Italian-American and wine – or, at least vineyards – play a small role at the end of the book: I’m still committed to a nod in my books to my beloved Italians.

Family is – and always has been – an absolute joy and priority in my life. I believe the older one gets, the clearer it becomes that all the other trappings of life fade in comparison. I also tend to be an apt people watcher and am fascinated by relationships – especially the interaction between age groups. My mother-in-law once told me that she and her husband decided against moving to a retirement community in Arizona because the absence of younger people and children made it feel “sterile” and unnatural. The truth of her observation has always resonated with me on a literary level. What would the Wizard of Oz be like without Auntie Em, the lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man? Perhaps it’s that philosophy that affects my writing style?

Erin: That’s an amazing observation and so true!

I think part of this book had an element of your own life decades ago? What spurred it and how much of your own experiences did you put into it?

Teresa: Very observant, Erin! In the early 70’s, before I was married, I moved to northern California with 5 other financially broke, free-spirited girlfriends from Iowa. I had never seen an ocean before; had never been to the west coast, or any coast for that matter. Marin County at the time was the “it” place to be, so we found a four-bedroom house to rent in Novato and lived there for nearly two years before going our own ways.

I got a job as a secretary in a mail-order “head shop” on a houseboat in Sausalito, adopting the name “Marsha Mellow” as a pseudonym to protect my identity from all the prisoners around the country who bought our drug paraphernalia. Only one or two of my roommates were smart enough to own cars, so the rest of us – myself included – hitchhiked everywhere we went, day or night: work, rock-concerts, parties, etc.

In hindsight, of course, it was insane, but the craziest part of it was that I had considered myself a full-fledged hippy before moving to California: I talked the talk, smoked the pot, dropped the acid, dated rock stars, loved the music, and everything else that went with the label in those days. And yet, hippies in California were so hard core and so far beyond anything I’d experienced in the Midwest that I began to feel somewhat like an alien on another planet.

My family and educational background (I was raised in a Catholic home and private Catholic schools) kicked into gear and, quite honestly, saved me from some pretty terrifying incidents. For example, several local guys tried pressuring us girls to attend a huge, “private” weekend party up in the redwood forests near Trinity County.  When I found out that hundreds of people would be there, that everyone was expected to drop acid, and it was not clothing optional (no clothing allowed) I got a “check” in my mind and declined. I was the only one of my friends who did. Peer pressure is always tough and I felt like an idiot at the time, but I couldn’t get past my own issues with personal safety and privacy. Although I don’t judge others, by nature I’m modest about public nudity, especially in a large group setting with strangers.

Anyway, one of my friends overdosed that weekend. She came back absolutely wrecked. Not only did she OD, I suspect she was raped, although none of my other friends would say that’s what happened. They all refused to talk about it. That friend, a shell of what she’d been just days before, immediately moved back to Iowa to live with her parents. Whenever that weekend was brought up thereafter, my roommates faces reflected a certain pain that I could only guess stemmed from their own negative personal experiences at that party. Dodging that bullet – and the price of staying home alone that weekend – taught me a lot about withstanding peer pressure when my gut says “no.”

All that to say, Erin: yes, I did live in northern California in the 70’s. But contrary to the one-dimensional view that too many authors of that era have portrayed (that it was the best of times; all peace, love, flowers, and fabulous free love, and oh, how we miss it) I wanted to balance it with another reality – the reality that I and so many others experienced during that time. A reality based not solely on nostalgia, but also crafted as a cautionary tale with all the regrets and warnings that come from living a real life. I mean, my friend who overdosed at that party wasn’t my only friend during that decade to be lost to drugs, or preventable diseases, or suicide, or …

Erin: Wow, that’s SO impactful Teresa! I’m so glad you tell that side of it. Besides all you’ve stated, as opposed to taking something of historical record as in your historical fiction books, what made you decide to try something new?

Teresa: Great question! I’ve always appreciated authors who’ve experimented with various genres in their writing: Ian Fleming, Stephen King, Anne Rice, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Elizabeth Grudge. As an author who isn’t getting any younger, I’m discovering the luxury of not caring so much about conventional wisdom in publishing. I suppose “Freaks” was my break-out-of-the-mold experiment; my transitional work into trying other genres. Why not?

Erin: Your heart shined through in the writing and it was emotional yet humorous, just like life. Did the plot come easy to you? Which character did enjoy writing about the most and why?

Teresa: Ketch – the albino biker from Texas — was my favorite, just because I used to know someone from Texas much like him and he was hoot. I also enjoyed fleshing out the sheriff and his wife; Otis and Pearlie Skinner. I do love precious old folks. I suppose, subliminally, writing about them makes me feel close to my own grandparents whom I adored 😉 Sid was harder for me, simply because as a woman it takes extra effort to get inside a man’s head and portray him fairly. Mika was probably the most difficult to write. There were elements in her character that many in society would, no doubt, be quick to judge and hate. But that’s the whole point. There would be no challenge to bias, no social dilemma, no need to soul-search if there weren’t opposites at play.

As for characters in general, I love breaking stereotypes both in writing and in real life. Here’s the thing about stereotypes: they exist for a reason. When enough people from any certain group begin to display common traits, stereotypes are born. In the 60’s there were two major social stereotypes: hippies and rednecks. Whether old or young, regardless of race, sex or religion, you were either one or the other. Hippies had long hair, wore bell-bottom jeans and sandals, experimented with drugs, promoted peace at any cost, listened to heavy, psychedelic rock and loathed the establishment. Those who didn’t fit into those categories were considered rednecks. When you really think about it, it was ridiculous.

Is it any different today in our polarized world with liberals and conservatives? In fact, it was today’s political and social climate that compelled me to publish “Freaks.” I think there’s an immensely valuable lesson to be learned from reading about strangers of different stripes living together under certain constraints for a year. It is one of the major underlying themes throughout the book. We CAN live together. We can even love each other despite our differences – and even because of our differences.

Oh, and you asked about plots. Plotting, for me, is always easy at first, until I actually start putting it on paper and then all the little details I missed during the first go around start rearing their ugly little heads. That’s when the real work begins.

Erin: You may have touched on this already, but in this book you dealt with some issues of prejudice, redemption, and such. How difficult were those to write about? Do you hope these themes help readers to identify within their own lives or were they just plot points to create drama and intrigue?

Teresa: I certainly hope readers will identify with the pitfalls and futility of prejudice in “Freaks.” Quite honestly, it’s so much a part of the human condition that I think prejudice is something everyone, including myself, has to work at their entire lives. As for redemption – YES! I’m an extremely positive person and all about gaining victory over every challenge. I can’t imagine life without redemption. It would be hell. Prejudice and redemption aren’t plot points; they’re the fabric of our lives, of history, of universal reality.

Erin: So true, Teresa. Well said. It’s mentioned about A Year in the Company of Freaks that it is a coming-of-age classic that “very much reflects the attitude and mood of the times.” To a slightly younger reader, what was that attitude and mood of the times? What was it like? Does this book display well life in the 70s in California?

Teresa: Having lived in northern California in the 70’s, I naturally feel that “Freaks’ accurately portrays life there during that time — through my perspective. I could have been more graphic. I could have delved into the darker aspects of things I saw and experienced while there, but that wasn’t the point of my story. As a writer, I have to constantly discipline myself to avoid rabbit trails that detract from the simple, core message of my story line. The core message of “Freaks” wasn’t to show just how crazy, or decadent, or dangerous, or fun, or wild life was during that time, although those elements definitely are addressed. It was to follow the character arc of a guy born in the 50’s who came of age during the 60’s and may, or may not, make it through the 70’s without going to prison, thus altering the entire course of his life. That arc includes the arcs of the other disparate characters he is forced to live with.

One of the minor subplots in the book is the price one pays for conformity vs. the price one pays for rebellion. Whether fiction or non-fiction, any literature that doesn’t address the downside of the counter-culture movement in the 60’s isn’t being intellectually or historically honest. Today smoking, and growing, pot has become more main stream. But during the era of “A Year in the Company of Freaks” doing so was a serious criminal offense, punishable by stiff prison sentences. Without an advocate or a criminal justice system that turned a blind eye to it, drug dealers and marijuana growers faced enormous risks.  The film “Blow” starring Johnny Depp is a good case in point.

Erin: You have the SUMMER BOOKS theme at the top of your website: “Summer reading is a delicious pastime.” Do you like writing your books in the summer and reading over the winter or the other way around? Summer is reading for you too, or just your readers? What books do you like to read and where?

Teresa: The title Always Summer Books is borne out of my addiction to reading. As a young girl I spent my entire summers reading non-stop. My mother claims that before I could walk I would spend hours just looking at and leafing through telephone books. I hated it when September rolled around because – although I loved academics – it interfered with my personal reading. Thus, Always Summer Books–never stop reading, no matter the season of the year or season of your life. I suppose I am the ultimate literary nerd. I’d rather curl up with a good book than watch a mediocre movie any day.

Let me just say it’s tough writing in the summertime!! I do much better in the winter.

Erin: I TOTALLY agree! What are you writing next?

Teresa: I’m almost finished with a screenplay – an adaptation of a classic — that I’m very, very excited about. I’ve also started a children’s book, though it’s becoming far more of a challenge than I ever imagined it would be. Who would have ever thought that writing for children could be so complicated! Is it because they take everything at such face value that nothing, no little trick of the literary hand, gets past them?

Erin: I can agree with you there on the children’s books. I have a set of them I’ve been trying to write for years and they seem to be the hardest of all my work.

I know you love to travel at least once a year, if not more. What are some of the favorite places you’ve been to and things you like to do?

Teresa: Though my father was a farmer’s boy at his core, he was also an avid traveler and passed his passion on to all of his children. He would have loved to travel overseas, but was never able to in his lifetime. I’m so thankful and blessed to have been able to see a wee bit more of the world. My fascination with other lands and cultures sometimes even supersedes my love of books! Nearly all our trips are family vacations and with a growing family on a specific budget it is no small feat to accomplish, but so worth the effort. They’re unforgettable experiences that we all hang our memory hats on.

Italy holds a special place in my heart because of my husband’s family in Tuscany. It’s more than a beautiful country abounding in great food, gorgeous people, and incredible history. It’s a place that feels like home because the Bertozzi and Sigali family there embrace us in a way that is impossible not to love. As a mother, when I realized my children’s DNA was connected so strongly to a certain country, I think I instinctively wanted to nurture it in them. I’m half-Irish, so Ireland holds a similar attraction for me. We went there for the first time last year and I was constantly overcome with the giddy sensation of: “I feel so at home here! These are my people!” It’s just inexplicable. Again, the genetic link with a place and its people is stronger, I think, than most of us imagine and it’s hard to grasp until you go back to your roots and experience it.

We have dear friends in England, France and Germany as well. Currently, my daughter is an au pair in Paris, so we just recently returned from there. I love, love Paris. It is truly one of kind. London, too – England is simply amazing.

But it’s a big world out there. So much more to see and so little time (and money) to see it all in one life. Asia, Africa, and so many other places beckon.

Erin: I completely agree, Teresa! I have some Irish in me too and my dad really connects with that part of him. It’s why he named me Erin, since it means Ireland! As for me, I was born in England and though my parents are American, I totally feel that England is partially my home. I’d love to travel the world too. Thanks so much for stopping by Teresa! Please come back anytime. Now let’s sit and sip wine, talk travel some more, and enjoy the beautiful day – summer is here!

Teresa: Thank YOU, Erin — anytime! And if you’re ever in Oregon, give me a call. Summer, indeed, is almost here and a glass of cold Rosé is calling me!

Erin: Thanks so much, Teresa, I certainly will. One day I hope to see all of that side of the country!

A Year FreaksA Year In the Company of Freaks, Synopsis –
All’s Well House (December 11, 2015)

It’s 1972 and a seismic clash-of-cultures is rattling northern California. In the redneck town of Trinity Springs, rumors of hippies migrating up from San Francisco have residents bracing for an invasion.

When Italian-American hometown boy and Berkeley graduate Sid Jackson is busted for growing pot on his deceased parents’ farm, locals suspect the assault has begun. Will a crazy deferral program devised by the sheriff keep Sid out of prison? Or will a house full of eccentric strangers, a passionate love interest, and demons from his past be his undoing?

A “disarmingly appealing” tale of discrimination, transformation and restoration, Freaks is bursting with intrigue, drama, comic relief and romance. Reviewers agree this five-star, coming-of-age classic “very much reflects the attitude and mood of the times.”

Purchase on Amazon

Praise for A Year In the Company of Freaks –

“Sure to intrigue and entertain, Freaks will have its digs in you before you realize how involved you’ve become.” — The Manhattan Book Review

Teresa Neumann, Biography –

Teresa Neumann and her musician husband live in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley with their three children. As well as being an author, reporter, and journalist, Teresa loves to fiddle on her violin and live “la dolce vita” in  Italy whenever she can talk her family into it. Visit Teresa at her website or on Facebook Page called Always Summer Books.

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Addie’s Review: Middle Reader The Explorers is Action-Packed Hit!

Today, my nine-year-old Addie is on the site again with a review of The Explorers, which is a fun book written by Adrienne Kress from Delacorte Random House. Addie was super excited when they asked us to share our thoughts about the book and was drawn in by the cover as soon as it arrived in the mail. Addie loves take rides and walks places, with back pack, magnifying glass, compass, and binoculars, so she immediately thought this book was clever and began reading it that day! As a mom, I love watching when a book draws your child in. Keep scrolling to read Addie’s review below…

Stay tuned for more reviews from Addie in the future but first she has a super secret beta reading project she’s excited about too.

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Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside. 

Review by Addie –

I think The Explorers book was adventurous, exciting, and funny. My favorite part of the book was when Sebastian saw a pig in a teeny hat and followed it.  Sebastian is smart, curious, and adventurous like me, which let me connect to the book. I think that the treehouse-like thing was very cool. I’m excited for the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see how the story continues. The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is a very good book with a good ending. I recommend the book to 8-13 year olds.

My Notes –

I know that Addie will tell all her friends – male and female – about this book and treasure it. Addie loves to read so she breezed through it, but I can certainly see how the content, creative and action-packed, would be a good choice for reluctant readers as well. This is certainly a middle reader, so a 9 or 10 year old that is on a higher reading level will like this best, or general 11 or 12 year olds who will enjoy all the humor, but it would be an excellent challenging read for many. I enjoyed this author’s use of suspense in the book and the mystery component and think this would make a wonderful kids movie my whole family would enjoy watching! It certainly thrilled me that the female was the lead and a strong protagonist that certainly appealed to Addie and her own independence. Equally as important is her ability to offer diverse characters. I know that not only does Addie love exploring and mystery novels, but she’s a fan of Lemony Snicket and Alice in Wonderland so I know that those references are on point.

kres_9781101940051_jkt_all_r2.inddThe Explorers: The Door in the Alley, Synopsis –

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)

This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and also a girl on a rescue mission.

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

Pub Date – APRIL 25 2017 from Delacorte Random House.

Purchase: IndieboundAmazon USA, Amazon Canada, Barnes and Noble, Indigo

For a complete list of USA purchasing links visit here.

Audio book here: Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, Amazon USA

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Adrienne Kress, Biography –

AdrienneKressAdrienne Kress is a Toronto-born actor and author who loves to play make-believe. She also loves hot chocolate. And cheese. Not necessarily together.

She is the author of the award winning and internationally published children’s novels Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate (Scholastic). Published around the world, Alex won the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award in the UK and was shortlisted for the Red Cedar. The sequel, Timothy, was shortlisted for the Audie, Red Cedar and Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards, and was optioned for film.  She has also published two YA novels:  Outcast (Diversion Books), her quirky paranormal romance, and the Steampunk adventure The Friday Society (Penguin), released to a starred review from Quill and Quire and shortlisted for The Quill Awards.

2016 saw the release of Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X., an exciting collaboration with NY Times bestselling author Frank Beddor (set in the same world as his Looking Glass Wars YA books). And now she has released the first book in her new Middle Grade series: The Explorers: The Door In The Alley (Delacorte, Random House).

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ADRIENNE AROUND THE WEB:
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook Fan Page

Website

Toro Magazine Interview and Photoshoot
National Post interview
Toronto Star interview
City TV interview
Starred Alex review: Publishers Weekly

Thank you to Delacorte Random House for sending the book in exchange for our honest review, which we’ve offered.

 

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Addie, Guest Reviewer –

addieAddie is 9 years old and enjoys reading, writing, singing, dancing, art, baking, laughing, sports, gardening, animals, mysteries, and just about anything else – yep she has a lot of interests, especially when they’re fun.

However, she does take her school work seriously, and also strives for great grades. She really into reading stories of all kinds and interviewing authors for a behind-the-scenes look. She’s very happy to review books and wants to start her own blog soon.

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