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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Guest Post: Genevieve Graham, Author of "Come From Away"

I am thrilled to welcome Genevieve Graham, author of "Come From Away."

Historical Fiction Bored Me to Death. Now It’s My Passion.

When I tell people that I used to despise history, they can’t understand why I write what I do. To me, it makes perfect sense.

Growing up, I fell asleep quite frequently during history class. In my mind it was nothing more than names, dates, and places I needed to memorize for exams. Only once was I fully intrigued by history during school. That was in grade ten, and the subject was the Holocaust. My teacher was passionate about the subject – in fact, he has gone on to be a university professor specializing in the Holocaust. Even more importantly, he was passionate about engaging us, in helping us see the true experience of humanity’s past. After that class ended, I read more about the subject ... but over time my fascination faded and I forgot the relevance and importance of history in our present day.

Around fifteen years ago, I was given a copy of “Outlander”, and everything changed. Here was adventure and romance like I craved, but it was combined with incredible facts both immense and trivial. The stories were about “real” people … which is ironic, because in a lot of historical fiction (including mine), characters are often the only things that aren't real in the story. I was completely swallowed up by the genre and spent a great deal of my time thinking, “I had no idea.” After reading the series seven times (as well as books of other historical fiction authors like Wilbur Smith, Sara Donati, Penelope Williamson, Susanna Kearsley, and more) I decided to try a little writing of my own. I started with 18th century Scotland, since that was where Ms Gabaldon’s stories put me, but the more I read, the more I became intrigued by the history of other places. I now am focused entirely on the history of my own great country, Canada.

My family and I moved from Calgary to Nova Scotia in 2008, and everything about this place was new to us. We'd never lived by the ocean, never known any lobstermen, didn't understand about the tides, the red clay, the fog that came in so thick you could cut it. And the people? Well, they were friendly and welcoming, but they were different from people we'd known before, too. Many of the folks along our Eastern Shore tell stories of their grandparents fishing the Atlantic, of their great grandparents building the original homestead out here. I started to wonder who else might have lived here … in a fictional sense.

One hundred years ago last December, 1900 people were killed in a blast that levelled the city. Hundreds were blinded by flying glass, and over twenty-six thousand were left homeless. The Halifax Explosion was the largest manmade explosion before Hiroshima, and it happened right here! How is it that no one in my family had ever heard of it? Not even my kids, who were attending school right here in Nova Scotia? What stories there must be! Everyone I asked had one about a great aunt who remembered the windows shaking miles away from the blast, or a grandfather who was supposed to be in Halifax that morning for work but who had stayed home for whatever reason. The busy port had been hopping that day, crowded with sailors and soldiers headed in and out of the war … and that grabbed my interest as well. Imagine surviving that war then having your home blown out from beneath you. What physical, mental, and emotional scars took over their lives? And what of the people they loved? Without all the technology and know-how of the 21st century, how did they live? From those questions was born “Tides of Honour”. One of that book’s greatest accomplishments (in my opinion) was being included in the Halifax Regional School Board’s “Teacher Recommended Reading List” for high schools. I hope teachers will choose to pick it up and share the story with our next generation.

A few summers ago, my husband and I took a two-hour drive to Grand Pré, Nova Scotia and went to the historic site to learn about the Acadian Expulsion. Once again, I knew absolutely nothing about this incredible event in our history, and it was not being taught to our children—or if it was, the lesson made no impact on them. They were sleeping through history just as I had. I walked through the Grand Pré museum and tour in a trance then returned home to dig deeper. Who were the Acadians? Why do so many people still celebrate them up here more than two hundred years later? Who were the British soldiers who ripped over 10,000 people from their homes and families? What happened after the bewildered and terrified Acadian people were dumped in the bowels of so many rotting, rented ships and sent adrift? From this came “Promises to Keep”, which was just published this April by Simon & Schuster Canada.

Canadian history is rich with little known or untold stories. America and Europe are the most prolific storytellers, and we have all read about their past, I am sure. But what about up here, in Canada? “Come From Away” returns to the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, to the same family from “Tides of Honour” but twenty-five years later, during WWII. Our little corner of the earth was teeming with German U-Boats, spies, and secrets. As the busiest Canadian port, the Halifax harbour bustled with thousands of sailors, soldiers, the Merchant Navy, the WRENs (Womens Royal Navy Service), and more. So many stories! After that I will get back to work on three more books which are already partially written – the first features the beginnings of the Mounties and includes the Klondike Gold Rush. The next revolves around more than 100,000 children who were scooped off the streets of London and sent to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and given the promise of a better life—but most ended up living difficult, sometimes horrible lives as indentured servants. Do we know a lot about them? Unless you’re a historian, I imagine not. I promise that if you read my books, that will change.

My agent once told me the secret to successful publishing is to “write a really great book.” Well, I want more than that. I want to write a good book and I want to bring history back to life … so no one sleeps through class anymore.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Swimming Between Worlds by Elaine Neil Orr

Title: Swimming Between Worlds
Author: Elaine Neil Orr 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: April 3, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Kate, a recent college graduate, is still reeling from the deaths of her beloved parents when the discovery of hidden letters forces her to re-examine everything she knew about her family. Tacker, a young engineering student and all-around boy-hero, has returned from a West African odyssey where he fell in love with the local culture but was sent home in shame. Kate's and Tacker's stories come together when, on the same day and in different moments, they encounter a young African-American man named Gaines. The relationship that develops between the three is complicated, as each one searches for love, freedom, and new beginnings."

My Two Cents:

"Swimming Between Worlds" is the story of Tacker, Kate, and Gaines. Tacker left the United States for Nigeria to build schools but was sent home in shame. Kate is a hometown girl trying to find her place in the world. Gaines is an African-American man confronting the difficulties of racism in their small town. These three characters will be thrown together with surprising results.

This book started quickly for me before it started to drag a little towards the middle and picked back by the end of the book. The book takes place in the late 1950s where American towns are still grappling with segregation and racism in a big way. Some of the most interesting parts of the book to me were where Tacker was realizing the juxtaposition between how different Nigeria and the United States were in this matter. His time in Nigeria really opened his eyes and made him realize that the things that he was taught at home don't necessarily mesh up with everything outside of the small town that he grew up in.

Overall, this was a good rumination on where the United States was in comparison to places far away during a hard time in our collective history.


Monday, April 23, 2018

TLC Book Tours: The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America by Mohammed Al Samawi

Title: The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America
Author: Mohammed Al Samawi
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: April 10, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "Born in the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors, Mohammed Al Samawi was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy. But when Mohammed was twenty-three, he secretly received a copy of the Bible, and what he read cast doubt on everything he’d previously believed. After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and cooperation in Yemen.

Then came the death threats: first on Facebook, then through terrifying anonymous phone calls. To protect himself and his family, Mohammed fled to the southern port city of Aden. He had no way of knowing that Aden was about to become the heart of a north-south civil war, and the battleground for a well-funded proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As gunfire and grenades exploded throughout the city, Mohammed hid in the bathroom of his apartment and desperately appealed to his contacts on Facebook.

Miraculously, a handful of people he barely knew responded. Over thirteen days, four ordinary young people with zero experience in diplomacy or military exfiltration worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save this innocent young man trapped between deadly forces— rebel fighters from the north and Al Qaeda operatives from the south."

My Two Cents:

"The Fox Hunt" is the story of Mohammed who dreams of making his home country of Yemen a better place where more young people can succeed and be safe. Yemen is embroiled in a brutal civil war where the lines between the various sides and outside influence from brutal terrorist groups are blurred. Mohammed finds himself in a situation where he needs to desperately get out of the country where there seems to be no clear exit. He will largely have to rely on fate and the kindness of almost strangers to help him get out alive.

This is a truly amazing story that often reads more like a thriller than a true story. Al Samawi spins a great yarn about what his country is facing and what he is facing as an individual. He is one of the lucky ones. There are so many others in his country that have been felled by the violence and never had the chance to even begin to think about escaping the violence. One thing that I kept thinking about throughout the book is how many other Mohammeds are there out there? Individuals with immense promise to make an impact that because of their circumstances are never given the chance to succeed. It's staggering to think about that!

Even for an avid newshound like me, there is still so much that I don't know and am not tracking. The Yemen civil war is one of those subjects that I don't fully understand. This book dives into a little of the history to show how the country got to where it is and made it a lot clearer for me. It's a very sad situation that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of airtime in light of other things going on in other countries in the region.

This is the perfect book to give you more background on the situation on Yemen as well as a harrowing escape story that ends with a lot of promise!


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

TLC Book Tours Review: How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind by Leah Weiss

Title: How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind 
Author: Leah Weiss 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper Wave
Publish Date: May 13, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From "A practical guide to bringing our whole selves to our professional work, based on the author’s overwhelmingly popular course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business."

My Two Cents:

"How We Work" is a how to manual on taking big topics like mindfulness and compassion and to utilize them in the workplace. If you're into these things already (I try very hard to use mindfulness and related tools and to expand my practice every day). Work doesn't need to be a pain when you make a point to try and expand all of these really good things that this book is filled with.

Much of this book was not rocket science. These are tools that you might be familiar with but applied in a new way. I think it's always good to practice things like mindfulness and compassion but they are known areas for me already. This book is about using those tools in a real life situation that causes stress for so many people: work.

If you are new to these practices, this book would be a great start for honing all of the good things these practices can do for you. However, if you are not a beginner, this book makes for good practice but probably isn't going to be too shocking or new. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

TLC Book Tours Review: You All Grow Up and Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession by Piper Weiss

Title: You All Grow Up and Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession
Author: Piper Weiss
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: April 10, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "Piper Weiss was fourteen years old when her middle-aged tennis coach, Gary Wilensky, one of New York City’s most prestigious private instructors, killed himself after a failed attempt to kidnap one of his teenage students. In the aftermath, authorities discovered that this well-known figure among the Upper East Side tennis crowd was actually a frightening child predator who had built a secret torture chamber—a "Cabin of Horrors"—in his secluded rental in the Adirondacks.

Before the shocking scandal broke, Piper had been thrilled to be one of "Gary’s Girls." "Grandpa Gary," as he was known among his students, was different from other adults—he treated Piper like a grown-up, taking her to dinners, engaging in long intimate conversations with her, and sending her special valentines. As reporters swarmed her private community in the wake of Wilensky’s death, Piper learned that her mentor was a predator with a sordid history of child stalking and sexual fetish. But why did she still feel protective of Gary, and why was she disappointed that he hadn’t chosen her?

Now, twenty years later, Piper examines the event as both a teenage eyewitness and a dispassionate investigative reporter, hoping to understand and exorcise the childhood memories that haunt her to this day. Combining research, interviews, and personal records, You All Grow Up and Leave Me explores the psychological manipulation by child predators—their ability to charm their way into seemingly protected worlds—and the far-reaching effects their actions have on those who trust them most."

My Two Cents:

"You All Grow Up and Leave Me" is the true crime story of Gary, a seemingly harmless man that weasels his way into the lives of many of Manhattan's elite families through tennis. He teaches female students how to be successful tennis players and his services are in high demand. He is hiding a very dark side and abuses multiple young girls in a monstrously systematic way and the way it ends for seems like something out of a horror movie.

It took me a little bit to get in the book. At first it seems like the book is very much as simply a memoir of someone who was a teenager in the early 90s. We see Weiss with her friends and what she was doing inside and outside of school. We see the tumultuous relationship with her mother and the friction that permeates their home. Eventually once we get to Gary and into the things he did and the dissection of why he did what he did, the book really picked up for me.

Not only does Weiss explore who Gary was but she was a victim herself - one of Gary's girls. This makes for an especially haunting recounting of Gary's horrible crimes. Weiss seems to go back and forth between really wanting to understand what happened and pushing it away. While this was a little frustrating as a reader, I do think it captures the things that go through a victim's head, especially one so young. Understanding doesn't necessarily change things. I thought it was interesting to see what Weiss found in interviewing some of the other victims and made for a really unique read.

This book stars slowly but ends up with a wild ride. 


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Giveaway and Giveaway Winners!

Today, I am pleased to give away a copy of "I've Been Thinking" by Maria Shriver (U.S. only, please)! Want to win a copy, just fill out the form below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I am also pleased to announce the giveaway winner for "The Confessions of Young Nero" by Margaret George:

Danielle H.

Monday, April 9, 2018

TLC Book Tours: My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Title: My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
Authors: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: April 3, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?

From "A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A founding father’s wife...

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her…"

My Two Cents:

"My Dear Hamilton" is the story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, a woman who came from a storied family who goes on to marry one of America's founding fathers. It would be easy to define Eliza as simply Alexander's wife but she was so much more than that. I have been obsessed with the Hamilton musical for awhile now and Eliza has always struck me as a particularly interesting character. It was this that originally made me interested in reading this book but once I got into the book, I found that Eliza's voice that made this book worth reading!

I am always excited about new releases but there are some books where I feel like I have been waiting forever for. This is one of those books and I was definitely not disappointed! One of the reasons that I love historical fiction is that the books often tell the stories of people, places, and things that don't often make it into the history books. There are so many things that don't make it into our history books and while I wish it were different, at least there are authors out there that are willing (and capable, oh, so capable of telling) these stories.

I loved that this book was told from Eliza's first person point of view. I loved seeing how she thought about the different things that were going on throughout the book. We see how she felt about her father's disgraced legacy, how she felt being compared to her sisters, how she felt first meeting Alexander, and so many other things that she goes through in this book. I also loved reading about her opinions on some of the more well known names of the day. It's always interesting to me to read about other people's personal perspectives on all of the names that do get a chance to be seen in the history books. The authors really give Eliza such a true voice that this book feels as if you are talking to a friend who is letting you in on some of her innermost secrets and rich inner life. 

The pacing of this book was great! At over 600 pages, it would be easy for a book like this to lose steam but it never does. Eliza draws you to keep going and the action throughout the book keeps at a steady pace. Even after getting to the end, I was ready for more!

This is a great book for anyone that loves the hidden stories in history and is looking for a great character to fall for!

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