Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage
by
Tayari Jones

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Can a young marriage survive a long separation due to a prison sentence? How will they cope and what could it look like at the end? Roy and Celestial, a young black couple, must face these questions and additional challenges as they begin what they hope is a temporary, though daunting situation.

Roy and Celestial have just celebrated their first anniversary at the Piney Hotel in Louisiana when Roy is arrested for assaulting a woman at the hotel. Although falsely charged during a time of racial profiling, he’s convicted of rape and sentenced to twelve years at a prison in Jamison, Louisiana. Time can only tell if their marriage is strong enough.

Despite their love, Roy has a weakness for women, Celestial has a fiery temper and there are a few additional conflicts in the making. But before his arrest, they were managing and were on the road to success. Roy’s career was taking off and Celestial, an artist, was building a promising doll-making business. They were both proud of their achievements, especially Roy who grew up in Eloe, Louisiana, the son of hardworking parents. Celestial, from Atlanta, also came from humble beginnings, but her father, a high school teacher had recently hit pay dirt with a scientific invention. Both have strong ties to their families, but different ideas about parenthood, tied to their own experiences.

In the first year of Roy’s sentence, they exchange heartfelt letters and Celestial visits regularly, but over time, Celestial becomes more distant as she builds a life of her own and turns to her childhood friend, Andre. In prison, Roy can only count the months and years as he thinks about family, fatherhood and winning his appeal.

When Roy’s conviction is overturned after five years, Roy, Celestial and Andre must decide what their new lives will look like and what a marriage commitment means. Andre tells Celestial, “My parents’ divorce made it clear what kinds of raw deals are brokered at the altar. But right now, in America, marriage is the closest thing to what I want.” Celestial thinks of marriage differently, “like grafting a limb onto a tree trunk.” Roy wants to return to what he had.

I enjoyed the central conflict in this story, a reminder of the unfair suppositions and treatment of blacks in America, making it an important read. But I found the main characters unlikable, especially Roy for his transgressions and Celestial for her selfishness. Minor characters were more likable, but no one seemed to have good judgement. In my opinion, the story could have been more powerful if there had been at least one character readers could feel good about.

In addition, readers must accept Roy’s wrongful arrest and conviction, with no discussion of evidence, the investigation or trial. How could he have been convicted during an age of detailed crime scene investigations? I also had trouble believing the highly unlikely coincidence involving his cellmate.

Despite these comments, I enjoyed reading about Roy and Celestial’s college experiences at Morehouse and Spellman, how their relationship developed and the overwhelming problems they faced. I recommend An American Marriage to readers looking for a light story about real problems.

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Who’s That Indie Author? K. Blanton Brenner

Author Name: K. Blanton Brenner

Genre: Family Saga

Books: Appaloosa Sky published December 2019. Trinity Rivers Trilogy will be published by the end of September 2021.

Bio: I grew up in North Texas in a large, extended family that raised horses and holy hell. Living in Chicago, I co-founded a Montessori School for children who are deaf. My husband, Tom (a gerontologist) and I created the Montessori Method for positive dementia care for people living with dementia and we’ve co-written and published two books on our work.

What got you started as a writer? When I was in second grade a substitute teacher asked the class to write a story about Christmas. I wrote about an angel who came down to earth to help children create a Christmas play. The teacher called me up to her desk and said, “You are a wonderful writer!” And the seed was planted.

What difficult experience has helped you as a writer? When I was 13 years old, my parents (stalwarts of our small town) split up. My entire world was turned upside down and inside out. I learned from that experience that we humans are resilient and can survive heartbreak and loss. My books are stories of families who are seeking resolution and grace.

Have you ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, how many times and what was your experience? No

What advice would you give a new indie author hoping to publish a book? Tight rope walkers learn to walk the rope by practicing this skill over and over and taking more and more risks. It’s the same for writers: we have to keep writing and writing and learning to take the risks necessary to create our stories.

What has been the biggest challenge for you during Covid? As with almost everyone, I missed being with our children and grandchildren. It has been heartbreaking to learn about so many people becoming desperately ill and so many dying. How will we honor them? How will we remember them?

What are you reading right now? Let the People Pick the President by Jesse Wegman and re-reading Barbara Pym’s books in chronological order.

Would you rather laugh or cry over a book? I love that rare book that makes me both laugh and cry. P.G. Wodehouse is my go-to guy when I’m feeling discouraged or down. My husband was reading one of his books aloud to me as we were waiting for me to go into surgery for uterine cancer. The medical staff was a bit shocked to hear me laughing while hooked up to IV’s lying on a gurney.

Have you ever climbed a tree to read a book? No, but I did read books while lying on the back of my horse as she wandered around the pasture. When Star got tired of me, she’d shake herself and off I’d come.

Have you ever dropped a book in the tub, in a pool or in the ocean? OMG! I was in the bathtub reading How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill and somehow the book slipped out of my hands into the water. I was stupid enough to tell him this story at a book signing. Mr. Cahill looked up at me and said, “I don’t approve of people reading my books in the bathtub.” YIKES!  

Could you live in a tiny house? I do live in a small house, the ground level apartment of a two flat in Chicago. It’s about 850 sq. ft. We raised our children here and have had some great parties and gave lodging and meals to rock and roll bands overnight in this little place. (We have a lot of musicians in our family.)

What are the small things that make you happy? I grew up with the enormous Texas sky. Clouds chasing the sun kind of days make me very happy as do the flowers in our garden, listening to a child who is deaf read for the first time, my husband reaching out to me in the night.

Website and social media links: Working on a website. I have an author’s page on Facebook and an author’s page on Amazon.


Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

On YouTube – sharing some fun books for readers and writers!

Hi Everyone,

I’m over on YouTube today, sharing something fun. I hope you’ll stop over!

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Book Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

The Lying Room
by
Nicci French

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When Neve Connolly’s phone pings during a family breakfast, she drops everything and goes to Saul Stevenson’s pied-à-terre. At forty-five, she’s deeply embedded in what’s become a drudgery of marriage and children. Her affair with Saul makes her feel young again.

When Neve arrives, she finds Saul dead on the living room floor, brutally murdered. Terrified their affair will be found out, she scours the apartment and removes all evidence that she had ever been there. After hours of careful cleaning, Neve returns home, anxious to resume a normal life. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s forgotten something and it begins to torment her.

Saul was her boss. His company, Redfern Publishing, has just taken over Sans Serif, a small printing company that Neve and her friends started after college. Now all of Redfern is shocked at Saul’s death. His assistant seems to know all and Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching is on the scene, asking questions and taking DNA samples.

As the story develops, readers learn that Neve and her husband, Fletcher have been struggling. Neve is the main breadwinner and Fletcher, an illustrator, can’t find work and battles depression. Their two young boys need attention and their moody daughter, Mabel may or may not go off to college.

Neve and her Sans Serif friends move in a unit and know each other’s business. Tamsin’s marriage is over. Renata drinks too much and Gary’s bitterness over the merger has changed him. At the center is Neve, the friend everyone thinks has it all together. During the investigation, she continues to play this role, but she’s cracking underneath. Hitching’s relentless questions and shocking revelations at home force Neve into a manic overdrive. A days-long party at their house with awkward overnight guests provides a look at how the characters interact with each other and the secrets they keep.

I enjoyed reading The Lying Room, a standalone book set in London. It’s much different from the other book I read by Nicci French (Blue Monday, the first in the Freida Klein series.). At first, I thought I was reading a thriller but the more I got into it I felt like it was more of a classic mystery. Scenes at the Connolly house remind me of other mysteries in which clues and motives emerge. And while the story begins with the tension of a thriller, it becomes much lighter as we learn about the characters and their lives. In addition, many references to cooking up sophisticated meals during the chaos of Neve’s nightmare give it a cozy feel. Although I enjoyed getting to know all the characters, I didn’t like all of them, but that’s okay.

Themes of marriage, friendship and motherhood play strongly in the story. The authors (yes that’s plural – it’s a husband-wife team) finish up with an exciting confrontation and a satisfying tie-up. I recommend The Lying Room to readers who enjoy lighter suspenseful mysteries.

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Book Club Mom’s Author Update: News from Bruce W. Bishop

Author name: Bruce W. Bishop

Book to feature: Uncommon Sons

News to share: Bruce has released the interlinked novel to his successful debut late in 2020 with Unconventional Daughters. The new book, Uncommon Sons, re-introduces the characters of Marc and Eva in 1935-36 as they are confronted with two mysterious deaths at the hotel where Marc works as a manager. Uncommon Sons is a page-turning tale of sexual identity, systemic racism, familial obligations, workplace pressures, and the bonds of love and friendship prior to World War II. It’s the perfect late summer ‘beach read’ that further explores what happens when adults are not what and who they are expected to be.

The book can be purchased through Amazon or Rakuten Kobo.

Website: brucebishopauthor.com
Facebook: @bbishop.writer
Twitter: @Bruce_W_Bishop
Instagram: bruceinhali
YouTube: Bruce Bishop_Canada
Goodreads: Bruce_W. Bishop


Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

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Book Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel
by
Emily St. John Mandel

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Someone has scrawled this disturbing message on the glass wall in the lobby of the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on Vancouver Island. Vincent, a bartender at the hotel, doesn’t understand the message, but she has an idea who wrote it.

The staff quickly covers the words before Jonathan Alkaitis, the hotel’s owner and a wealthy investor, arrives, and Jonathan never learns the message was intended for him. When Vincent serves him a drink and they strike up a flirtatious conversation, she sees an opportunity and takes it. She walks out on her job and into the “kingdom of money,” living with Jonathan as his trophy wife.

Jonathan’s wealth gives Vincent “the freedom to stop thinking about money,” but the source of his wealth is a Ponzi scheme that ultimately sends him and his asset managers to prison. That’s not a spoiler. It’s the premise of an excellent story about greed, naïve and vulnerable investors and ultimately, the downfall of a mastermind who knew what he was doing but couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Set in New York and Vancouver, the story follows Jonathan, Vincent, his team and an assortment of investors, both before and after the collapse. In prison, Jonathan contemplates a parallel life outside of prison. He’s plagued by ghostly visions that pick at his conscience. Vincent reinvents herself and goes under the radar, choosing a life that’s drastically different. And investors, many of whom have lost their life savings, enter the “country of the cheated.”

Through her characters, the author studies the idea of morality as the fund managers, who never actually invested their clients’ money, either face up to or rationalize their involvement in massive theft. She shows the incongruity of how some led their everyday lives with the idea of knowing they were stealing but trying to be a good people “around the margins of the bad.”

A separate point looks at the moment Oskar Novak, part of the investment team, consciously decides to continue with the fraud. He later backpedals in court, saying “It’s possible to both know and not know something.” Likewise for Vincent, who suspects something, but prefers to look away.

In addition, Mandel shows how each of her characters acts when they face opportunity, related to the fund and in their own relationships. Jonathan, his employees and some inside investors seize the chance to take advantage. On the other side are investors like shipping executive Leon Prevant who is about to be laid off and a once-promising artist. Both and many other vulnerable investors lose their life savings.

There are no real main characters in The Glass Hotel. It’s more a story of what happens to a group of people and how the collapse of the fund affects them. But Mandel looks at relationships, particularly between Vincent and her half-brother, Paul and their semi-connected lives. This relationship is also one of opportunity, tying it to the author’s theme.

I recommend The Glass Hotel to readers who like stories in which characters face a crumbling of life as they knew it. Throw in a lot of moral decisions and you come up with an engrossing read.

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Book Review: We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

We Must Be Brave
by
Frances Liardet

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This historical novel is set during World War II near Southampton, England and follows the story of Ellen Parr, a woman whose strong thoughts about motherhood are tested when she and her husband, Selwyn take in a young girl who has lost her mother.

The story begins in 1940 during the aftermath of a German bombing when Ellen discovers five-year-old Pamela asleep in the back of an evacuation bus. Ellen brings the girl back to their home in the fictional village of Upton where they have offered shelter to other evacuees.

Offering temporary shelter is one thing, but as time passes and no relatives come forward, Ellen becomes emotionally attached to Pamela. Married just one year, Ellen and Selwyn must confront conflicting feelings about family and parenthood. Selwyn, forty-one and a veteran of the Great War, believed they would not have a family, choosing instead to run the mill he inherited from his uncle. Ellen, still very young, was only eighteen when she first met Selwyn and had just landed on her feet. As a girl, she had endured tragedy, poverty and loss. Now at twenty-one, Ellen has agreed with Selwyn. No children. But Pamela pulls her heartstrings and Ellen sees endearing traits of fatherhood in her husband. So maybe things could be different…

Of course, the inevitable happens and Ellen must choose what’s best for Pamela over her own feelings. But these feelings haunt her and, over decades become a problem that seems impossible to fix.

Parenthood, especially motherhood and “what life is meant to be” are the central themes in this story that spans over eighty years. Told mostly through Ellen’s point of view, the author returns to 1932 and provides the reader with Ellen’s back story. Letters and jumps to the future fill the reader in on the full story, which comes to a neatly tied-up, though somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.

I enjoyed this book, though at 452 pages, seemed overly long with repetitive descriptions of Ellen and Pamela’s connection. The author introduces many characters, who over the years become Ellen’s lifelong friends. I liked reading about her friendship with various villagers, including her friend and former classmate, Lucy Horne, Lady Brock, who lives in the grand Upton Hall and William Kennett, Lady Brock’s benevolent gardener. The World War II backdrop is always interesting to me, but does not play into the story much except to frame it. Fans of historical fiction may want to give it a try. I’d call this a light historical fiction, good for casual reading.

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Book Review: The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine

The Stranger in the Mirror
by
Liv Constantine

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Suspenseful psychological thriller about a woman with amnesia, who builds a new life for herself, only to be confronted by her past. Many twists, plus the absolutely required suspension of disbelief, take you on a wild ride of new developments, just when you’re getting comfortable with how things are.

The story begins when a strikingly beautiful and vulnerable young woman finds herself on a highway in New Jersey, injured and with no memory of how she got there. A trucker named Ed picks her up and fortunately, he’s the good kind. Wanting to do the right thing, Ed and his wife, Gigi take the young woman into their home in Philadelphia.

Ed and Gigi provide loving support while the young woman recovers and struggles with questions about her injuries and disturbing flashbacks. After the woman recovers from her physical injuries, the new “Addison Hope” begins a job at a photography store. While working, she meets Gabriel Oliver, a gallery owner from a wealthy family. It’s instant attraction. Gabriel and Addison fall in love and Gabriel proposes. Gabriel may be smitten, but his mother, Blythe is suspicious. She wants to love Addison, but Blythe’s protective instincts tell her that they must know more about this woman before she joins the family.

Meanwhile, Julian Hunter, a prominent doctor from Boston, has not given up hope that he will find his missing wife, Cassandra, mother to their seven-year-old daughter, Valentina. A chance discovery reveals, as the reader has already figured out, that Addison has another life in Boston. Readers see how the two families react to this news, especially Addison/Cassandra. The interesting part is how Gabriel, Blythe, Julian and Valentina adjust, as a lurking evil overshadows them all.

Constantine’s characters represent the good, the evil and the manipulated, and a few who do the right thing but for selfish reasons. And the story’s villain, while somewhat obvious, acts unpredictably with a twisted set of ideas. The author includes themes of marriage, family and parenthood, especially what it means to be a good mother. Problems of mental health and domestic violence show the repetitive nature of these family struggles.

The Stranger in the Mirror is a fast read, with an interesting premise. In the first half, the author lulls the reader into a false sense of security, only to pull out the rug and disrupt the characters’ lives. The second half of the book is filled with twists and reveals, many too outrageous to believe. But the story moves along to a satisfying conclusion.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. They are also the author of The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Last Time I Saw You, and The Wife Stalker.

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Seeking NaNoWriMo author interviews

Hi Everyone,

Summer is almost over, and at my library job we are getting ready for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Not sure what NaNoWriMo is?

National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world register to write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel. You can find out more about NaNoWriMo here.

Last year, our library published this interview with author Jill Weatherholt, whose Whispering Slopes series began as a NaNoWriMo challenge. This year, we are looking for more published authors whose novels began with NaNoWriMo. You can be indie, self-published or traditionally published – we want to hear from you!

If you fit into this group and want to share your story, email me a bvitelli2009@gmail.com.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

What’s That Book? In the Night of Time by Antonio Muňoz Molina

In memory of my brother Rick who passed away on August 9, I’d like to share this review he wrote for my blog, originally published in 2016.

Title: In the Night of Time

Author: Antonio Muňoz Molina

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s it about? The outset of the Spanish Civil War, as seen through the eyes and experiences of a married, middle-aged architect with 2 children, and his affair with a younger American woman. By the end of the story, Spain is mired in senseless violence and the main character has escaped to New York alone, with his estranged wife and children remaining somewhere in Spain, the affair ended and the future uncertain.

How did you hear about it? Several “best of” book lists. The book has received many favorable reviews.

Closing comments: Rich with detailed descriptions, the book is highly effective in conveying through small incidents, minor characters and specific observations a depressing impression of the Republic, the Nationalists, their respective supporters and an entire people and nation sinking into an abyss, while at the same time telling an ambiguous story of a man expanding his personal experience while betraying his wife and children. The book is beautifully translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman.

Contributor: Rick

Have you read something you’d like to share?  Consider being a contributor!  Contact bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

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