Posted in Reviews, Traveling Sisters Reads

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox @HesterBFox @HarlequinBooks @HarperCollinsCa

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox is now available and it’s a great one to curl up with your favorite beverage this Halloween

Last year around this time I read The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox with a few of my Traveling Sisters and it was a hit for us and we thought it was a great one for this time of year. I read The Widow of Pale Harbor with a couple of my TS and it was also a hit for us. I did enjoy The Widow of Pale Harbor a bit more. I highly recommend both.

Brenda’s reivew

Things did start off a little rocky for me here with the strange unsettling things going on in this town and I was reading with one eye closed hiding behind my pillow. Soon things started to come together and I start to see how that is cleverly weaved into the story.

The Widow of Pale Harbor has all the elements to make this a creepy good Gothic atmospheric read. It has an entertaining and engaging mystery that had us all following the clues with a little help from Debra who set us on the right track with there. The romance in this one was perfectly done and I was enjoying the dynamics with that. I was swept away to this historic Maine 1846 setting and the castle and town came alive for me with that creepy, foreboding feeling.

Near the end, the drama and action pick up and I was a little worried my drama patience was going to go over the edge, however, the story kept me on the edge of the cliff and brought me safely to a satisfying ending.

Traveling sister friend read. You can find our discussion here. Spoilers are used. Did you love this one too or? Join us and let us know your thoughts.

Thank you to Eden at HarperCollins for my copy!

Posted in Reviews

Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Brenda’s review

These are the books I love to read and I feel like I learned a little bit more about myself and the world we live in. It’s the reason I read books like this. Elizabeth Strout knows how to get me thinking and I couldn’t help myself to look deep into Olive’s character and exam the layers to her well-developed character. I loved every word and was really glad I got to read both books together and really see Olive grow as a person. I loved how real Olive is and the more I got to know the more I loved her. I highly recommend!

Olive Kitteridge (Olive Kitteridge, #1)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I was an emotional wreck in the best of way reading this one. I cried all the way through this one as themes of loneliness, acceptance, wounded with flawed souls, quilt and hope are explored.

Elizabeth Strout has written a beautiful remarkable gut-wrenching story with real substance layered in the depth of each page and word. There is so much wisdom beyond the words in this story. Everything Olive does and says is so complexed. Her character and how she interacts with other characters can be examined, and you will find understanding and insight into the depth of people’s actions. Reading this one is like learning something about what makes us human and the compassion needed in this world we live in.

I loved Olive and how complex she is. She is not kind but compassionate. I cried for her moodiness and her misunderstood meanest, combined with her honest empathy and compassion that came from her heart. I cried over the judgement shown to her by others and Olive’s acceptance of her truth and how she recognized the truth in herself. I cried for her hope to do better. I cried for the kindness shown to Olive by the people who accepted Olive for who she is and it broke my heart the ones who didn’t.

Then I watched the mini-series and cried some more.

Olive, Again (Olive Kitteridge, #2)

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Olive again is who she is and still not afraid to say it like it is, however she mellower, a little less difficult and ornery here in this story. I cried less in this one and loved her even more as we can see her grow and come to terms with ageing and her truths.

Elizabeth Strout doesn’t miss a beat here and picks up after Olive Kitteridge and she explores loneliness through ageing and regrets. She takes that hope of doing better from Olive I felt in the first book and we see Olive reflecting on her life and coming to terms with her relationships.

Elizabeth Strout explores ageing with compassion and humor. I loved seeing Olive’s frustration and insecurities about ageing yet not taking it so seriously but gracefully. I hope to do the same.

Olive in both books represents our worst fears for ourselves and gave me hope we can come to terms with our vulnerability as we age and grow as a person. Even though Olive can be infuriating in both books, her acceptance, reflections of her truth, along with her willingness to see them and do better is admirable. It’s refreshing to see in a world where we put our truths on others instead of accepting them as our own.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Posted in Reviews, Traveling Sisters Reads

Secrets of the Chocolate House by Paula Brackston @StMartinsPress

Secrets of the Chocolate House (Found Things #2) by Paula Brackston is now available

Brenda’s review

I enjoyed The Little Shop of Found Things and loved the dynamics between Xanthe and Flora and the time-travelling element to the story. Well those elements are even better here in Secrets of the Chocolate House and I highly recommend reading both together if you can.

This time around a copper chocolate pot sings to Xanthe and she is swept away to another dangerous adventure. The time-traveling element is explored more here and along with Xanthe, we discover her true destiny and her role as a spinner. I can get lost in storylines like this but with this one, I found it intriguing and simple.

Paula Brackson does a great job here with both settings and I enjoyed the charm and magic both brought to the story. She adds some lurking danger to both settings through conflicts with the characters. The threat in the past adds tension to the story and is brilliantly weaved with the present.

I enjoyed my escape in time with these characters and I look forward to more with Xanthe.

Lindsay’s review

A spellbinding journey back into my favourite time-travel story!

I will start by saying, generally, I am not one to enjoy time-travel stories as I have a hard time accepting storylines that aren’t realistic. This book is a huge exception for me – I LOVE the time-travel aspect. It is presented in a delicate, subtle manner that was easy for me to embrace. I enjoyed this book even more than Book #1!

I fell in love with the main character, Xanthe, in the first book in this series. She is a young woman who owns an antique shop with her aging mother. She finds herself drawn to certain antique items that “sing” to her, connecting her with their past. As soon as I started this book, I was immediately drawn deep into Xanthe’s newest adventure.

The writing is eloquent and engrossing. The atmosphere is thick and palpable. The storyline is intriguing, warm and suspenseful. The characters are unique and endearing – I was fully invested in their lives.

If you enjoy time-travel stories or feel like trying a beautifully written step outside your usual genre, I highly recommend this series!

Thank you to Jordan from St Martins Press for our copies

Posted in Reviews, The Sisters Recommend, Traveling Sisters Reads

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris @StMartinsPress

Love a strong character, this one is for you and one not to be missed!!!

“She was the bravest person I ever met.” —Lale Sokolov on Cilka Klein, The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Brenda’s review

Cilka’s Journey is a fictionalized story that is inspired by what Heather Morris discovered about real-life Cilka who is a character in The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Cilka survived Auschwitz and then was sent to a labour camp for collaborating and sleeping with the enemy. Heather Morris captures what it could have been like for Cilka and the other prisoners in the camp.

Cilka’s bravery and strength shine through here as we see her care for prisoners and her friends. It is an inspiring, hopeful story of an ordinary young woman who becomes an extraordinary woman under unimaginable circumstances. Cilka’s actions throughout the story show us the goodness in people at times of horror and the strength needed to survive. I highly recommend it.

I received a copy from the publisher on NetGalley

Lindsay’s review

An engrossing, shocking and unsettling extension of this series. I read and loved The Tattooist of Auschwitz last year and was eagerly anticipating getting my hands on a copy of Cilka’s Journey. Although a very difficult novel to read due to the atrocities detailed within these pages, I found this book to be even more intriguing and informative than the first one. The writing is honest, brutal at times, but so important to read so we can honour those that lived through these devastating wartimes. Their voices cannot be forgotten.

Cilka is only sixteen-years-old when she is sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1942. She is singled out by the commandant to be given separate living arrangements where she will be available for his pleasure. After living this way for three years, the camp is liberated, although Cilka is not freed. She is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy. She is sentenced to fifteen years at a Siberian prison camp where living conditions are not much different than they were at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I had not known about these Siberian prison camps prior to reading this novel. I was devastated to learn that these dreadful prison camps continued existing after the liberation of Auschwitz. The charges that Cilka faced were so extremely unjust. Had Cilka denied the commandant what he requested, she would have been killed. What other option did she have? My mind was spinning with this situation throughout the entire novel. What options did these prisoners have other than to accept what was demanded of them?

I loved Cilka’s character. She was extremely strong and inspiring in the face of so much pain. She gave strength and hope to many.

On a side note, I believe a large part of what made me truly connect to and love this book so much was that I had been advised by Brenda (who read this novel before I did) that not everything that happens to Cilka is based on fact. As with any historical fiction book, fact and fiction are weaved together to paint a broad picture of the time period/situation being examined. Although Cilka was a real person who could of endured much of what happens in this novel, not every circumstance is her personal story. I think knowing that ahead of time really enhanced my connection to the story as it stopped me from looking too deep into the reality of each scenario. As the Heather Morris mentions in the Note at the end of the novel, “There is a mix of characters inspired by real-life figures, in some instances representing more than one individual, and characters completely imagined.” I urge you to keep this in mind when reading this harrowing and unforgettable book. Heather Morris does a phenomenal job incorporating much detail into this gripping and emotional storyline.

I will leave you with one of the most powerful quotes from this book. “Everyone affected by war, captivity, or oppression reacts differently — and away from it, people might try to guess how they would act, or react, in the circumstances. But they do not really know.”

Thank you to my lovely local library for the loan of this exceptional novel!

Posted in Behind the Pages

Behind the Pages Q & A with Eileen O’Finlan author of Kelegeen #behindthepagesgroup @EileenOFinlan

We had the absolute pleasure of having Eileen O’Finlan join us for an insightful hour answering our questions in our the Behind the Pages Goodreads group. I’m excited to share some of that discussion here with you today. Hope you enjoy the interview just as much as we did.

Hi Eileen, Can you please share with us how it feels knowing that the Pope has a copy of Kelegeen? Do you know if he has read it? Did you receive any feedback from him? Can you give us a little bit of insight into how it all came about?

Thanks so much for having me. I’m very excited to be interviewed by Behind the Pages. I greatly enjoy being part of the Traveling Friends so when you came up with this new group I knew it would be awesome!

Hi Norma, I work for the Diocese of Worcester, so I have a bit of an inside advantage. I asked the bishop (who’s office is across the hall from me) if he could get a copy to the pope. The bishop had already read Kelegeen and loved it, so I thought he’d be okay with that. He was happy to do it and a month or two after I asked him, a priest friend of his who works at the Vatican came to visit brought a copy back with him. I signed it and included a short note. The bishop assured me that his friend had brought it directly to the Pope’s residence.

I did receive a thank you letter from the pope – well actually from his secretary, but on his behalf.

I have no idea if the pope has read it or not. I sent it to him because one of the main characters, Father O’Malley, is a priest. His work among his people embodies what Pope Francis has been calling for more of in regards to pastoral care so I thought he might enjoy it. Also, there has, understandably, been a lot of negativity around priests and the Catholic Church in recent years, but I work day in and day out with many priests and I know that the majority are devout, dedicated, people striving to live out their calling. They’re not perfect, no one is, but they do their best to live a holy life and to live it for the people they serve. I hoped the pope would find it uplifting to see that acknowledged.

If you were to describe Kelegeen in three words which words would you choose?

That’s a difficult question! I’ve thought about it for a while. I think the best three words would be “evocative”, “tragic”, and “hopeful.”

This was an extremely hard book for me to read….it really got under my skin. Did you find while writing it that it deeply affected you as well?

Norma, I take the fact that this book got under your skin as a huge compliment, so thank you for that! It means, as a writer, I did my job. To write about something like the Great Hunger and not have it elicit a visceral response in the reader would be a failure. Not that I was trying to bring my readers down, but I did want to convey the reality of what happened, the massive tragedy of it, as well as the resilience of the people who endured it. I also wanted to show the undaunted spirit of a people immersed in faith and hope in the face of such an event.

It certainly did have an impact on me. Some of my own ancestors came to America to escape the Great Hunger. After researching the history and writing Kelegeen, I have developed a profound respect for them. I’m proud to have come from their stock.

What was the inspiration behind Kelegeen?

I majored in history as an undergraduate. When I was taking a course in Irish history and studying the Great Hunger (aka the Irish Potato Famine) my professor suggested that as a creative exercise I keep a diary as if I were a parish priest in Ireland at the time of the Hunger. After completing that project, I realized I had the basis for a novel and it grew from there.

What does your writing process or day look like?

I can’t describe a typical writing day because at this point, I don’t have one. I still work a full-time job so I fit writing in when I can. I do facilitate a writing workshop on Wednesday nights so I know that from 7-9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays I’ll be writing. I’ve recently started to take my laptop to the town library on weekends or days off. I like to write in long stretches of time so a five hour writing stint is about normal for me.

So of course I have to ask you this question because I am totally a “cover girl”….LOL Did you have a hand in the cover design or a vision of what you wanted it to look like? I think the cover is hauntingly beautiful.

Thank you. I love the cover, too. My publisher, BWL Publishing, Inc. has a great cover artist named Michelle Lee. Michelle sends a link to a stock photo site to BWL’s authors. She lets us chose up to 3 pictures to send to her from the site. Then she does her magic with them. When I saw the picture of the young woman, I just couldn’t stop looking at her. I thought, “That’s Meg. She has to be on the cover.”

Can you share with us how the title came about and what the name means to you? I am not familiar with the name Kelegeen is that an Irish name? I really do like it though!

Kelegeen is the name of the town where the story is set. It’s fictional – there is no real town in Ireland with that name. My original title was The Hungerdance, but that was back when I wrote the first draft over 20 years ago. In the meantime, The Hunger Games became a phenomenal hit and because I didn’t want to cause any confusion I decided I should change the title. I settled on Kelegeen because though the story focuses on specific main characters, the story of the people of Kelegeen is certainly on display in the novel. Father O’Malley is that pastor of all the Catholics in Kelegeen so his concern is for all of them. They interact and depend upon one another. Kelegeen is a very interdependent community and that was a huge key to survival.

How did you come up with the character names? Is there a connection of any kind of why you choose the ones that you did.

The names just sort of came to me. Of course the Irish characters, for the most part, have typically Irish names. Here’s a secret, though – many of the characters’ names got changed in the final draft. My amazing editor and fellow BWL author, Eileen Charbonneau, picked up on the fact that I had a plethora of characters whose names all began with the letter M. She suggested I change some of them. I hadn’t even realized I done that! So, Dr. Martin Parker was originally Dr. Martin Matthews, Brendan was Michael, and Meg’s mother, Deirdre was Maeve. That last was the hardest one for me to change. I still think of Deirdre as Maeve.

I know that you are a reader as well as a writer. Please share with us your favourite genre.

Historical ficition is my favorite genre, but I also like paranormal, some horror (I love Stephen King and Anne Rice). Mostly, I love a well-written story. Great characters and plot are more important to me than genre when it comes to reading.

I’d love to know if you are working on something else and if there is going to be a follow-up book to Kelegeen.

Oh yes!!! I am working on the sequel to Kelegeen. I was planning to write a sequel anyway, but I expected to write another historical fiction book first. However, so many readers have asked for the sequel that I decided I’d better write that one next. Once it’s finished, I’ll dive right into that other book I was going to write next. Right now the characters of both books are competing for space in my head. It’s getting a bit crowded in there! LOL!

How much research went into writing Kelegeen?

A lot! That’s true for any book, but I think for historical fiction it’s especially true. As I mentioned earlier, this book came about from an assignment in an Irish history course. But the research was no where near over when the course finished. I was researching right up to the final draft.

We touched based a little bit above about how this novel affected me deeply and sometimes when I close a book the whole novel is lost to me. But I can say that wasn’t the case with this one, it will always stay with me. It was an extremely memorable and profound read. You definitely portrayed the historical aspect to this novel extremely well!

Hmmm, now I can’t remember where I was going with this to ask a question but I’m leaving this comment in and if it comes back to me — I will edit with my question. LOL

Thank you so much, Norma. That is truly the greatest complement you could have given me.

How long did it take you to write Kelegeen?

That’s a hard question to answer. I began it over 20 years ago. I think I worked off and on for about 4-5 years before I had a completed first draft. Then I took another year or so to edit and write more drafts. When I thought it was ready, I tried to get it published, but it just didn’t happen so I set it aside for a long time (as in several years). But then I connected with the author I mentioned in an earlier post, Eileen Charbonneau, and sent it to her for editing. She did an incredible job. She is so thorough and gives enormously helpful feedback. With her suggestions, I rewrote the entire novel which took about a year. So, all told, it was probably about 7-8 years, though not consecutive years and with a huge break in the between drafts.

Were there any publishing struggles that you might of come across or have any insight into that process to share with us?

As mentioned earlier, when I first tried selling it, I had no luck. Now I realize that’s because it wasn’t ready. It didn’t deserve to be published at that time so I’m actually glad that it wasn’t. It’s a much better book now after Eileen’s editing and my rewriting.

As for finding a publisher, I was extremely fortunate – again thanks to Eileen Charbonneau. She thought it would be a good fit for the company that publishes her novels so she contacted the publisher and asked if they would consider it. The publisher agreed, I sent the manuscript, and before I knew it I had an offer. This is not a route to publishing that happens often. I sometimes still can’t believe it all worked out the way it did.

Is there anything significant that you would like to share with us about Kelegeen? I’m open to anything that comes to mind!

One thing that comes to mind is the amount of comments I’ve recieved from readers who’ve told me that they’d heard of the Potato Famine, but never really knew any details about it. They had no idea how devestating it was for the people who endured it. Several readers have said they were overwhelemed by it and just couldn’t understand why it had been presented as a mere footnote in history classes. So, I hope readers learn a bit of Irish history with which they may not have been very familiar.

Another thing I love is when readers tell me that it reminds them of their parents or grandparents who came over from Ireland and the stories they told. It lets me know I got the “feel” right.

What would you ultimately like to see &/or hear from a reader after reading your book? What is the ultimate compliment to you as a writer?

Norma, you gave me the ultimate complement when you wrote that the story stayed with you after you finished it. We voracious readers gobble up books so fast sometimes it’s difficult to remember them even if we really enjoyed them. So when someone tells me that the story and/or the characters stayed with them long afterwards, that’s huge. It means a lot!

Eileen (Eileen’s Editor) I loved Kelegeen! You inspire me as a writer and reader. What draws you to the historical fiction genre? Do you research before and during your writing?

Hi Eileen! Hey everybody – this is the awesome editor & writer I’ve been lauding in my previous posts!

I’ve always loved history. It seems to be in my DNA. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – we’re all in love with history. Family gatherings could as easily inspire talk of historical events as they could anything else.

It’s difficult to express exactly, but there’s something about history that profoundly touches me. I love learning about how people lived at various times, how ideals, mores, attitudes, etc. changed over time, how people coped with all sorts of events. Life was very different in the past, but at the same time, there is still so much in the human spirit that resonates today. You can write about characters in any time period, keep them very much people of their own time (which I believe is very important to do), and still connect with them on an emotional level.

And, yes, I research before and during the writing period. A lot!

Cindy As Norma said, “Kelegeen” can be a difficult book to read as it really tugs on the heartstrings. As the reader, I felt like I was going though the Great Hunger along with your characters. There was always a glimmer of hope – mostly through the characters’ deep faith. Will the sequel continue on with the strong faith and hope for the future?

Hi Cindy! The Irish were very committed to their Catholic faith. In fact, though some charitable organizations offered the starving Irish food and assistance, a great number of them refused it because it was offered ONLY on the condition that they become Protestant. They weren’t willing to give up their faith even if it meant starving to death. Their faith really did get them through even if “getting through” meant dying with the strong belief of eternal life with Christ – an existence infinitely better than what they had on earth.

Yes, the sequel will have the faith element in it. It has to because when the Irish came to America they encountered a land populated by Protestant Yankees who did not like or truts them. Remember the “No Irish Need Apply” signs in the “Help Wanted” ads? They also faced the political No Knothing party that gained power at that time. The No Knothings were very anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant to the point of wanting to send them all back. So the Irish had their hands full once again with the folks who held the power. And again they relied on a steadfast grip on their faith.

Cindy Do you have a working title for the sequel?

Right the working title is Erin’s Children, but that could change.

Cindy There is so much historical reference that went into the book. How did you research? Online, library, specialists, etc? What is the ratio of time spent on research/writing?

All of the above! When I first started writing I didn’t have access to quick Internet searches or databases like we have today. Most of my early research came from books. I also spent a lot of time in the library and at home reading and taking notes. With the sequel I have more options. I’m still reading a lot of books, but I’m also using online sources. I’m setting the sequel in Worcester, Massachusetts. I work in Worcester and live in a suburb just outside of Worcester. I have access to great resources in the Worcester Historical Museum, the Worcester Public Library, Preservation Worcester, and the American Antiquarian Society to name a few. I’ve met with staff at the Worcester Historical Museum. One of the writers in my workshop is a docent for Preservation Worcester. She recently took me on a private walking tour of Worcester’s historic Crown Hill district which is where my main characters would have worked and lived. She even got me into one of the houses. The owner keeps it very much as it was when it was built in the 1850s. He took me on a private 2 hour tour of the house. By about the time we finished, I had it in my mind exactly where and how that house will fit into the story.

Ration of times spent on research vs writing is hard for me to figure (you just asked me a math question – I’m hopeless at math.) I’d have to guess that they’re pretty close when you figure writing includes first and consecutive drafts. That’s a lot of time and work, but the research that goes into it is pretty close to the same. It’s just a different discipline.

Cindy Since American English is your first language, how do you come up with the Irish brogue for your characters? Do you know someone from Ireland and copy his/her accent or does it just happen within your mind?

I’ve heard the Irish brogue often enough to replicate it in writing so long as I don’t overdo it. I didn’t want to write it in dialect as that’s far too distracting for the reader. I couldn’t have anyway, even if I’d wanted to since I don’t know it that well. I tried to put some of the Irish way of speaking into the novel to give it the right feel without being too heavy-handed and risking stereotyping or just plain sounding silly.

Thank you so much, Eileen for joining us this evening!! I absolutely loved this discussion and for being so candid with us!!!

What Eileen has to say about us 

Thanks so much to the Traveling Sisters for interviewing me in the Behind the Pages with the Traveling Sisters group. I had a blast responding to all the well thought out and insightfull questions.

For more Q & A , highlights to Kelegeen you can find the full Q & A here

Posted in Peek Into

Peek into: A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History by Seth Berkman @Hanover_Square @HarlequinBooks @ateamoftheirown @HarperCollins

I am currently reading something a little different here for me the non-fiction book, A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History by Seth Berkman

I have been thinking a lot lately about strong women and men and how they inspire authors with their characters.  I have also been thinking about what makes us strong and where that strength comes from. After receiving A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History by Seth Berkman from the publisher I decided to dive into this one and learn more about these real life strong women who become a strong team of their own. 

About the Book 

The inspiring, unlikely story of the South Korean, American, Canadian, and even North Korean women who joined together to form Korea’s first Olympic ice hockey team.

Two weeks before the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korea’s women’s hockey team was forced into a predicament that no president, ambassador, or general, had been able to resolve in the sixty-five years since the end of the Korean War. Against all odds, the group of young women were able to bring North and South Korea closer than ever before.

The team was built for this moment. They had been brought together from across the globe and from a wide variety of backgrounds – concert pianist, actress, high school student, convenience store worker – to make history. Now the special kinship they had developed would guide them through the biggest challenge of their careers. Suddenly thrust into an international spotlight, they showed the powerful meaning of what a unified Korea could resemble.

In this book, Seth Berkman goes behind the scenes to tell the story of these young women as they became a team amid immense political pressure and personal turmoil, and ultimately gained worldwide acceptance on a journey that encapsulates the truest meanings of sport and family.

#ateamoftheirown is now available! Thank you to Justine from HarperCollins for my finished copy!