Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Against My Will by Benjamin Berkley

Against My Will
by Benjamin Berkley
Release Date: September 1st, 2012
2012 Frederick Fell
Softcover Edition; 247 Pages
ISBN: 978-0883912799
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from Premier Virtual Author Book Tours

3.5 / 5 Stars

Rose is a young girl and has just been liberated from a Nazi death camp. As she is convalescing in the hospital, a nurse hands her a journal and suggests that she records her experience before she forgets. Rose says that she will "never forget." 70 years later, her grand -daughter Danielle discovers the journal entries. Danielle is struggling in an abusive relationship. And the two lives intersect. This is the story of survival, self- discovery, justice, and ultimately about love.

My Thoughts
Against my Will is one of those novels where I was really unsure what to expect from the story.  First of all, you have a male writer writing from a woman's point of view on a subject that can be quite touchy and controversial.  I do have to give Mr. Berkley kudos for bringing up a subject that is not talked about very much, with as much understanding and compassion as he does, as it could have so easily gone the other way, into the preaching route that some of these novels tend to go and which are so off-putting.

Danielle was an interesting character and certainly had the most depth depth of any of them, although I do have to admit that most of the characters were somewhat one dimensional and showed very little growth or development.  She did drive me somewhat crazy at the beginning of the novel as her naivety kind of went a bit far; there is nothing wrong with being sheltered and being naive, but to go through law school and really have no experience with the world?  It just seemed a bit too much for a modern woman and for her to backtrack so easily and to give in to both Jacob and her father's whims without a murmur just didn't seem in character.  It just felt like the author couldn't decide on her personality and character traits and changed them as the story went along which made it somewhat disconcerting.  As for Jacob and her father, I really felt those characters could have been fleshed out a bit more in order to help explain Danielle's acquiescence and behaviour.  I didn't really care for either of those characters though, as they were both somewhat selfish in their different ways.

I did enjoy Rose's diary entries but I like anything to do with the Holocaust and that time period.  I can only think that they were included to help show the difficulty that one must face in life and how one can overcome it if they wished to; it's the only parallel I could really see between Rose and Danielle's life as really, Danielle made the choices in her life while Rose's captivity in a concentration camp was not of her doing.  I do feel the book covers an important theme, one that is not often discussed, and I thought that was done rather well.  I just wished the rest of the story was fleshed out a bit more as I did find the beginning to be a bit weak, and I did grow frustrated with Danielle as well as Jacob and his treatment of women.  The "one big scene" did send shivers up my spine and I definitely rooted for Danielle as thoughts of a 'knife' went through her mind and I was glad she was able to flee.  It's never easy reading a scene like that and the author handled it with sensitivity. 

Against My Will is one of those books over which I have conflicting emotions.  One the one hand, I think the themes of the novel are important and needs to be put out there, yet at the same time, I thought the writing was sometimes weak, and the characters were not very well fleshed out or developed, except for Danielle.   I liked the grandmother's story and wished there was more of it to be had, woven a bit more expertly throughout the story, showing a greater link between the two women. Again, the novel does send a powerful message, and for that reason, I do recommend it to anyone who is interested in a character who can rise above adversity and find the strength and courage to live life fully.    

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls
by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Release Date: January 10th, 2013
2013 Riverhead Books (Imprint of Penguin)
Hardcover Edition; 357 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-59448-624-1
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her
image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends
lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.

My Thoughts 
The Painted Girls was a fascinating novel about the lives of two young girls, Antoinette and Marie van Goethem, during nineteenth century Paris.  The girls live with their absinthe-addicted widowed mother and struggle to make ends meet as their mother flits through their lives at whim and as a result, both become involved in some way with the Opera de Paris as it pays them a stipend each month.  While Antoinette attemped to get walk-on roles to the various plays that are mounted all of the time, Marie and her younger sister, Charlotte, are accepted to the ballet school and begin training to enter the famous ballet house.  You know, it wasn't until I was halfway through the novel that I learned the events are based on true events and it piqued my interest even more; after that, I had a hard time putting it down and became invested in these women's lives.

At the beginning I didn't really care for Antoinette and thought her to be quite selfish and motivated solely by the desire to be loved by someone else; I also thought her foolish and insensitive.  It's amazing how your perceptions about someone can change quite drastically, and as the story evolved, it was Antoinette to whom I really hoped would turn her life around as I saw the more sensitive side to her nature.  Here was a sister who would give up food for herself because her sisters were starving, who would stay up late to darn her sisters' skirts and stockings, who would take the time to brush their hair and pick flowers to make sure they looked decent at the ballet school, and would do anything to ensure their success, giving up a lot of herself in the process.  And it was only as the novel progressed that you saw this in her nature.  Yes, Antoinette did many impulsive things for the sake of this man she fell in love with, a man who definitely was no good for her or her family, but her basic nature was a caring one, and she could not believe that someone would use someone else so badly, until she had no choice but to open her eyes and see it for herself.  And it was a pain I felt right deep down to my core for her.  

And I find it interesting how I loved Marie's character at the beginning, but as I grew to like Antoinette more and more, I began to like Marie less and less, almost as if the author felt that a reader couldn't like both the sisters at the same time.  And it's not that I didn't want either of them to succeed, as I did, and I remember holding my breath as I was reading, hoping they would both come out of their situations with their heads held high.

Paris is such an interesting, fascinating, and remarkable city, and I really enjoy any historical novel set here.  I love ballet and enjoyed the historical lesson of the ballet girls, and the painter Degas and how he created some of his masterpieces.  I also really enjoyed the discourses between Emile Zola and Degas about the physiognomy of man and how one can detect whether one will grow up to be a criminal.  The author did a great job bringing in the murder trials and tying them to Antoinette and Marie in such a smooth and interesting way.  The little newspaper tidbits fed into parts of the novel also added a nice touch to the story and I thought they were quite interesting; it made me want to do some research of my own, but I held back until I finished reading as I didn't want to spoil anything. There was also an interesting theme running through the novel about one's appearance and how that plays an important role in one's future endeavours and success; it certainly is thought-provoking and would be a good discussion for any book club. The whole controversy surrounding Degas' sculpture and what was written about it and how that must have affected the real Marie during that time period is definitely something upon which to reflect and whether it had anything to do with the choices she made for her future.  Definitely interesting stuff.

The Painted Girls was a very detailed, well-researched novel of three sisters struggling to live in 1880s Paris.  I enjoyed the various descriptions of Paris life during this time period as enjoyed learning more about the lives of the ballet girls and the difficulties they must have had just to survive day to day.  Even the ending was quite satisfying as I didn't know what to expect.  I am looking forward to reading more novels by this author in the future and highly recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in ballet, sister relationships, and historical Paris.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guest Post: Rena Fruchter

I am pleased to welcome Rena Fruchter, author of The Orchestra Murders: A Cynthia Masters Mystery, who is here today to discuss several ways to make your characters believable.  The Orchestra Murders, released on October 11th, 2012, tells the tale of a superstar conductor who was murdered and the murder pinned on his son.  Take a look:

Superstar conductor Sir Gregory Langhorne and his globe-trotting, violin-soloist son Jonathan Langhorne are the best of friends—until a brutal murder shatters their lives and Jonathan becomes the prime suspect.  
Six years later, Sir Gregory is now the music director of the world famous Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and has finally reconciled with his son Jonathan, just as members of the orchestra are being killed off one by one. 

The challenge for brilliant young hotshot Philadelphia Detective Cynthia Masters is to solve not only the orchestra murders, but the question of why murder seems to follow the Langhornes. Has Masters finally met her match—a case that cannot be solved? Set in London and Philadelphia, this dramatic story of murder, infidelity, and the abuse of money and power establishes Cynthia Masters as a world-class detective in this thrilling and unusual mystery.

How to Make Your Characters Believable

The secret to making your readers connect with your characters is to have them jump off the page and into the room of the reader.  There’s no formula for doing this.  There are a variety of important elements, however.  The reader must be able to identify with the characters—even if the characters are completely crazy.  Unless we are the most boring person on earth, we all have crazy, bizarre thoughts from time to time.  Sometimes these thoughts just make us chuckle; other times our thoughts can startle us.

Literary characters are interesting when they are extreme (in varying degrees).  Characters who are criminals can lead apparently normal lives and have an element to their personalities that is extreme.  Look at the real-life serial killers who lead outwardly normal lives.  Literary characters, like their living counterparts, often justify their extreme thoughts, normalizing them in their own minds.  In many cases, (and of course to a much lesser degree) the reader can identify with ‘extreme thinking.’

The more detail an author can supply for a character, the more ‘real’ the character becomes.  What can distinguish a literary character from a real person we might know in everyday life is that in literature we can read, hear, and understand the thoughts of a character-- assuming the author presents it well.  We can only read the thoughts of a real person if they tell us, or do something very obvious.  The magic of fictional characters is that we can see right into their minds.

Characters need to have depth.  We need to feel their struggles and experience their challenges with them. If people are glib and situations are shallow…well, who is going to care?  

Author Biography (from her website
Rena Fruchter is the author of three books—two critically acclaimed books in the biographical genre—Dudley Moore—An Intimate Portrait, and I’m Chevy Chase…and you’re not.  And now, her exciting new book: The Orchestra Murders—A Cynthia Masters Mystery. 

Ms. Fruchter is a renowned pianist, writer and educator, and director of an arts organization.  Her performances have taken her throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and the Far East in both solo and ensemble appearances.  She made her solo debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of six, performing the Haydn Piano Concerto in D Major.  Appearances with other orchestras and on radio and television followed.  At age eleven, she gave her first performance with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler at the Esplanade, later returning to perform the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Boston Pops in Symphony Hall.
A graduate of Brandeis University, Rena also holds degrees in both piano performance and pedagogy from the Royal College of Music in London, England, where she studied with Louis Kentner and Lamar Crowson.  She also studied with two distinguished Nadias--Nadia Boulanger in France and Nadia Reisenberg in New York. 

Rena is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Music For All Seasons, an organization that presents musical programs for people confined in institutions including hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and special facilities for children. 

Rena is married to Brian Dallow, and they are the parents of four adult children, including a set of triplets. They live in New Jersey.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Guest Post: W.J. May

I am pleased to welcome W.J. May, author of Rae of Hope and Dark Nebula, the first two books in The Chronicles of Kerrigan series.  She is here today to discuss how to write an accent onto a character and make it seem authentic and real.  To me, it sounds like a lot of fun to imagine how to take a Scottish Highlander and try to get his accent and his culture across on the page, but I imagine it would be rather difficult at the same time. But before we get to that, take a look at a brief synopsis of Rae of Hope and Dark Nebula.

Fifteen-year-old Rae Kerrigan has never questioned her family’s history. That is until she accepted a scholarship to Guilder Boarding School in England. Guilder is a very unique, gifted school.

Rae has no idea what she is getting herself into or that her family’s past is going to come back and taunt her. She learns she is part of an unparalleled group of individuals who become marked with a unique tattoo (tatù) on their sixteenth birthday. The tatù enables them to have supernatural powers particular to the shape of their marking.

Both her parents were marked though Rae never knew, as they passed away when she was young and never told her. Learning about her family’s past, her evil father and sacrificial mother, Rae needs to decide if there is a ray of hope for her own life.

Leery from the horrifying incident at the end of her first year at Guilder Boarding School, Rae Kerrigan is determined to learn more about her new tattoo. looks Her expectations are high, an easy senior year and a happy reunion with Devon— the boy she’s not supposed to date. All hopes of happiness fade into shattered dreams the moment she steps back on campus.

Lies and secrets are everywhere, and a betrayal cuts Rae deeply. Among her conflicts and enemies, it appears as if her father is reaching out from beyond the grave to ruin her life. With no one to trust, Rae doesn’t know where or who to turn to for help.

Has her destiny been written? Or will she becomes the one thing she hates the most-- her father’s prodigy?


                    Writing an Accent

One of the best thing when watching a movie (for me) is listening to an actor or actress pick up an accent that you know is not their native tongue. Listening to an American pick up a Scottish accent and pull it off, or an Englishman speak with a North American accent without flipping back to their normal dialect is beyond me. 

Sure, I can fake the accent for a few words but then I switch back to what is easiest, that requires no thinking.  It’s hard. I’m Canadian and in grade school (and high school) French was a requirement.  Learning to speak French was not easy for me.  My accent stank and the goal was to learn how to think in French and parlez en francais.  I sucked.

Now as a writer, not all my characters speak “Canadian” or “American”.  The Chronicles of Kerrigan series is set in England with only one American (who’s born in the UK so she’s still got a bit of Brit in her).  So how do you show the accents without taking away from the story or messing with the reader’s head?

It’s harder than it looks. The key is to make is so smooth and simple that you don’t even notice it.  You can’t start and then switch back to what’s easy. You need to be consistent. I choose to focus on British wording instead of American – instead of Soccer, I used ‘football/footie’, for garbage I used bin, etc… My focus was not so much on showing the accent s in how the words were written, but more in how the characters spoke.

In another series I am currently writing, one of the main characters is Scottish and the rest are American. Here I chose to write the accent, cutting letters or enunciating certain syllables a Scottish accent would exemplify.  My husband is from England so I bugged (or was it begged) him to “fake” a Scottish accent. I watched movies/TV and the best – a documentary on the history of Scotland. I made a list of words that were consistently spoken which my ears picked up as different. I tried to write a sentence in “American” English and then “Scottish” English and compared.  Then I took ten keys words I felt would have the biggest impact and made sure they were shown.  For example, a Scotsman would say ‘yer’ instead of ‘you’.

It seems to be working. As I edit chapters and reread sections, I pick up on my wee Scotsman and like the way his voice seems to dance while he speaks. Now I hope the reader can pick up on it as well.

I’m curious to hear what other writers and readers would suggest on picking up an accent and using it effectively in a story.   What’s your secret?

About the Author:
Wanita May grew up in the fruit belt of Ontario - St.Catharines. Crazy-happy childhood, she always has had a vivid imagination and loads of energy.

The youngest of six -- four older brothers, and a sister -- taught her at a young age to be competitive in all aspects of life.

At sixteen, she began competing in athletics (track and field) and before she turned seventeen, she was representing Canada in high jump. She continued to compete, breaking Canada's JR High Jump record (1.92m - 6' 3 1/2" for those metric-ly challenged). She attented University of Toronto, and Kansas State University - winning CIAU's and becoming All-American 6x - NCAA Indoors Runner Up + more.

But you're not interested in her athletic career - unless of course you're curious to know she stands 1.70m (5'7") and has jumped 20cm over her head on more than one occasion. She's represented Canada at the World Championships, World Jrs., won Francophone Games, and loved every minute of every competition. From the grueling workouts, the crazy weights she lifted on her back, the days she thought her lungs were going to spit out of her mouth for lack of oxygen, the travelling around the world and the opportunity to read - her favourite past time.

Wanita and her husband now run an online business, dealing in antiques and collectables - particularly jewelry and porcelain.

After her father passed away in 2009, from a six-year battle with cancer (which she still believes he won the fight against), she began to write again. A passion she'd loved for years, but realized life was too short to keep putting it off.

She is currently represented by Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Wanita is a writer of Young Adult, Fantasy Fiction and where ever else her little muses take her.

Twitter: @wanitajump