What’s That Book? A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Welcome to What’s That Book, sharing book recommendations from readers and bloggers. Today’s guest reviewer is Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Title: A Gentleman in Moscow        

Author: Amor Towles

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What’s it about?  This book tells the story of the journey of the Bolsheviks and the Russian people from the Russian Revolution in 1917 to 1954 through the eyes of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who becomes an ex-person, namely, a person who was previously a member of the Russian aristocracy.

Alexander was raised on an estate in Nizhny Novgorod province. His parents died when he was ten years old and he and his sister, Helena, were raised by his grandmother, the Countess. After the revolution in 1917 and the assassination of the Tsar, Alexander, who has been in exile in France due to rash and hot-headed behavior in his early 20s, returns to Russian to help his grandmother leave and go into exile in France. Alexander decides to remain in Russia and takes up permanent residence in the hotel Metropol in Moscow, across the road from the Kremlin.

Four years later, in 1922, Alexander is called before a tribunal of the Bolsheviks and sentenced to house arrest for life in the hotel because he had written a poem with a revolutionary subtext. Alexander believes the writing of this poem saved his life, although the Bolsheviks who questioned him are disappointed that he seems to have subsequently lost his purpose and ambition.

Alexander is forced to move out of his palatial suite of rooms and into rooms in the attic which were originally built to accommodate the servants of the gentry who were staying at the hotel.

Alexander’s journey of adjustment to his new circumstances as an ex-person begins and he finds the lack of freedom and the changes in the hotel under the new Bolshevik administration hard to bear. Alexander’s circumstances take a turn for the better when he meets Nina, the nine-year-old daughter of a Bolshevik leader and learns how to make the most of his life and situation.

Through his relationships with Nina, a movie star called, Anna Urbanova, who becomes his love interest, and interactions with his University friend, Mishka, Alexander stays abreast of life outside of the Metropol Hotel and the changes that are being implemented in Russian society under the new regime. Ultimately, his friendship with Nina has a far greater impact on his life than he could have ever imagined.

How did you hear about it?  I had not heard of this book which was recommended to me by a blogging friend who had recently read it. I must be honest, I am wondering how I have gone through such a large portion of my life without reading this amazing book, or even hearing about it.

Closing comments:  There are some powerful themes in A Gentleman in Moscow. I have identified them below with an appropriate quote to demonstrate how the them asserts itself in the book:

Change and adaptation: “For the times do, in fact, change. They change relentlessly. Inevitably. Inventively. And as they change, they set into bright relief not only outmoded honorifics and hunting horns, but silver summoners and mother-of-pearl opera glasses and all manner of carefully crafted things that have outlived their usefulness.”

Friendship, Family and Love: “This is where we part. Remember: down another flight and out the black metal door. Naturally, it would be best if you never mentioned to anyone that either of us were here.”

“Osip, I don’t know how to repay you.”

“Alexander,” he said with a smile, “you have been at my service for over fifteen years. It is a pleasure for once to be at yours.” Then he was gone.

Chance, Luck and Fate: “Suffice it to say that once the Count’s clothes had been gathered, the curtains were dutifully drawn. What’s more, before he had tiptoed to the door half dressed, he took a moment to ensure that the actress’s ivory blouse had been picked off the floor and hung on its hanger. After all, as the Count himself had observed just hours before: the best-bred dogs belong in the surest hands.”

Bolshevism and Class Struggle: “For pomp is a tenacious force. And a wily one too.

How humbly it bows its head as the emperor is dragged down the steps and tossed in the street. But then, having quietly bided its time, while helping the newly appointed leader on with his jacket, it compliments his appearance and suggests the wearing of a medal or two.”

Contributor:  Roberta Eaton Cheadle is an author of children’s books, historical fiction, horror and short fiction. She’s also an active WordPress blogger. You can find her at the following sites:

Website: https://www.robbiecheadle.co.za/
Blogs: Robbie’s Inspiration and Roberta Writes
Twitter:  @RobertaEaton17
Facebook: @robertawrites

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it? Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

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

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On YouTube today – Fiction set in Pennsylvania

Hi Everyone,

I’m over on YouTube today talking about fiction set in Pennsylvania. I read six books set in PA and I’m sharing lists of many, many others! Come see what I found!

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Joan Walsh Anglund, artist, poet and children’s book creator

Last week, I read that Joan Walsh Anglund passed away on March 9 at age 95. One of my favorite books as a young girl was A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You. When I was in Kindergarten, I bragged that I could read it, and soon found myself at the front of the class at story time. I didn’t really know how to read it or anything else, but I knew most of the book by heart. I stumbled through a few pages, but the pictures carried us through and no one seemed to care. I like to think it was because the story and pictures are so nice.

A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You was published in 1958 and was selected as one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books that year.

You can read my review here and Anglund’s obituary in Publishers Weekly here.

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100 Word Flash Fiction: “Chat”

Hi Everyone – just a little flash fiction over at Books To Pen. Take a look if you like!

Books to Pen

The mixed egg sizzled then turned fluffy in the small cast-iron pan. Don’t add milk,” she’d instructed earlier, asserting as much control she could in her diminishing domain. Across the room, she waited in her chair. “And don’t overcook them,” she added. “They dry out too much if you do.”

Eggs done and on a tray, the daughter added a peeled clementine. The sections were tiny in the plain white bowl. Bothered by the smallness, she added a mini-muffin. “Want more coffee, Mom?” she asked. “Just a half-cup, and come sit with me so we can have a nice chat.”

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Book Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
Kim Edwards

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve been working my way through fiction set in Pennsylvania and just finished The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. First published in 2005, the story begins in 1964 in Lexington, Kentucky. Norah and David Henry, newly married are expecting their first child. On a snowy night, Norah goes into labor and David, who is a doctor, takes them to his clinic where the obstetrician will meet them. Because of the weather, the obstetrician doesn’t make it and David delivers a son they name Paul. To their shock, Norah gives birth to a second baby, a girl. As soon as she’s born, David recognizes that the baby has Down Syndrome and believes she will not survive long. While Norah is unconscious from the last dose of ether, he quickly hands the baby to his nurse, Caroline, and instructs her to take the baby to a home for the disabled. When Norah wakes, David tells her she had twins but that their daughter died. They name their lost baby Phoebe and move on with their lives. The title refers to a camera Norah gives David on an early anniversary, called the “Memory Keeper.” David becomes obsessed with taking pictures, perhaps to escape the real world.

Instead of giving her away, however, Caroline takes Phoebe to Pittsburgh and decides to raise the baby as her own. While Norah mourns their daughter and Paul grows up without his sister, David resolves never to tell. Readers learn David’s backstory and his reason for giving Phoebe away, an explanation of sorts. Meanwhile, Caroline keeps in secret touch with David, sending him updates and pictures, but mailing them from random locations so he can’t trace her. And David sends her money, to Post Office boxes her truck driver boyfriend has set up across the country.

Because of what hangs over the Henry family, David, Norah and Paul suffer in unforeseen ways, and they grow distant from one another. The story concentrates on the Henrys, but follows both families for twenty-five years.

The author also shows the difficulties of raising a child with Down Syndrome during the 1960s and 70s. Caroline becomes an advocate for children with learning challenges and fights for Phoebe’s right to a public education. As Phoebe grows to adulthood, Caroline must make important decisions about Phoebe’s future. The author does a good job showing Phoebe as a strong-minded young woman who falls in love and wants a life of her own. Caroline worries about Phoebe but knows she must plan for a time when Phoebe moves out.

That’s the premise of a story that starts out great, but loses steam as the characters settle into their lives. I became frustrated by several unrealistic plot lines and connections that no actual person would accept or make. So just an okay book, with a fair amount of repetition and a lot of minute description that makes the book overly long.

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What’s That Book? Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Welcome to What’s That Book, sharing book recommendations from readers and bloggers. Today’s guest reviewer is Nancy Blodgett Klein

Title: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, published in August 2020

Author: Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Genre: Non-Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What’s It About: This brilliant book is about the caste system in the U.S., and how the treatment of Blacks in America is similar to the way Jews were treated in Nazi Germany and Dalits are still treated in India. Wilkerson defines caste as “the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.” A caste system, she writes, is “an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning.” The way the author describes the caste system in the U.S. with Whites on top and Blacks on the bottom made me shake my head in wonder at the arbitrariness of racism. Why does skin color matter so much in America? Apparently, many White people want someone below them that they can look down on. They want to feel superior even if they are decidedly not.

In fact, early in the book, the author helped me understand the popularity of Donald Trump and explained much of his support among Whites as actually support of White superiority over Black, Latinos and other groups. White supremacists were threatened by the election of Barack Obama, an educated and articulate Black man, and felt Trump would support their values and understand their grievances.

I learned many shocking things about my country while listening to this book on Audible. For example, I discovered Nazis got some of their ideas about how to treat the Jews from researching the many race-related laws that existed in Southern States to oppress Black people. I learned that when Whites were forced by the federal government to integrate public swimming pools, many pools were closed and some even covered with concrete rather than integrated to allow Black swimmers. Wilkerson also talked about her own experience in this book, sharing how she tried to interview a store manager on Michigan Avenue in Chicago for a story she was doing for her employer, The New York Times. But the male store manager wouldn’t talk to her because he didn’t believe this Black woman worked for the NY Times.

Closing Comments:  This eye-opening book changed my impression of how bad racism has been in the U.S.  Being a member of what Wilkerson calls the dominant class, I now see racism is a much bigger problem than I ever realized. In the book’s epilogue, Wilkerson said “caste is a disease and none of us are immune.” She concluded that, “A world without caste would set everyone free.” I totally agree.

How did you hear about it? One of the people I follow in Goodreads reviewed the book and highly recommended it.

Contributor:  Nancy Blodgett Klein

Nancy Blodgett Klein is the author of the novel Torn Between Worlds: An illegal immigrant’s journey to find herself. A former journalist, magazine editor and public school teacher from the Chicago area, Klein retired to Spain in 2016 with her husband and now writes a blog called www.spainwriter.home.blog. She is a member of three book groups and one writers group. She enjoys traveling, singing in a choir and practicing yoga.

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it? Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

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

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Who’s That Indie Author? Lorelei Brush

Lorelei Brush

Author Name: Lorelei Brush

Genre: I write both Upmarket Women’s Fiction and Historical Fiction.

Books: Uncovering is my debut novel. Its story: When the head of her Pakistani family slips from fundamentalism to terrorism, young nurse Shahnaz struggles between her religion, which prizes obedience, and her passion to help pregnant women deliver healthy babies. Her saga uncovers the power of women in a society ordered by men.

My second novel, Chasing the American Dream, is set in 1955 Cleveland. David’s gaze catches the martial stride of a brutal ex-S.S. Major he’d sent to Nuremberg. David reverts to habits he mastered in the Office of Strategic Services in a quest for justice yet finds himself in a fight with the U.S. government which threatens his own American dream.

Are you a full-time author? If not, what’s your side gig? I’m retired from international development work and embrace the pleasures of writing fiction.

Favorite author/books: I love Kristin Hannah, Susan Meissner, and Kate Quinn and inhale their novels as they are released. I regularly return to Georgette Heyer and Dick Francis.

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? My professional editor Holly and a diverse writers’ group.

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? I write down ideas, critiques from my writers group meetings, and research findings.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, describe your experience: I started with 8 others who had taken a year-long course to draft a novel. We pushed each another to decide if the book was worth finishing or not. Three of us are now published. Currently, I work with one other writer to perfect new work and create publicity for the published novels.

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? Up with the sun!

How do you get over a writing slump? I take myself to task: What’s stopping me? Often, it’s an issue I can’t resolve but research can.

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? Dialogue. I can see the scene in my head, shift from the persona on one character into another, and play out the action.

What are you working on now? Dancing in the Moonlight, a story of a young family struggling with their child’s disabilities.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? (1) Spend time on learning your craft. Writing fiction is different from your day job. (2) Find a writers’ group.

Do you listen to podcasts? Only rarely.

Favorite escape: Hiking in Colorado!

Have you ever tried Kombucha tea? No.

Do you prefer a couch with pillows or no pillows? None.

Would you rather rake leaves, shovel snow or weed?  Shovel snow. Love the cold.

Favorite mask? Paper. It’s OK if I lose it.

Biggest writing challenge since Covid-19: Being stuck at home!

Website and social media links:
Website: www.LoreleiBrush.com
Facebook: Author – Lorelei Brush

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.

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Book Review: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Rabbit, Run
John Updike

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rabbit, Run is the first of John Updike’s novels about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a 26-year-old former high school basketball star who leaves his pregnant wife and young son and spends three aimless months trying to either get away from his life or find a way back to it. Set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Mt. Judge during the late 1950s, Harry and the people around him face individual disappointments and struggle to understand their purpose in life.

The thing that set Harry off was coming home from work and finding his wife, Janice, drinking, again. That and their dreary apartment, his job selling a fancy vegetable peeler and a greater wondering of how he went from being a celebrated high school athlete to a trapped man.

You’re not going to like Harry very much. He’s immature, rash and self-absorbed and he can’t see one minute into the future. And you might not like the people he moves around with, including Marty Tothero, his former coach and Jack Eccles, the Episcopal minister from Mt. Judge. He thinks he can fix Harry’s broken marriage, but Eccles is a complicated man, trapped in his own life in a job you’re not sure he likes. Maybe he thinks if he helps Harry and Janice, this success will justify his own confused faith.

Harry settles the first place he lands, with Ruth, a former prostitute from the neighboring city of Brewer. There’s something likable about Ruth. She’s both easy-going and confident and however things work out, you think she’ll be okay. Janice seems to be okay too. She’s stopped drinking and has moved back with her parents.

The story moves inevitably towards the birth of the Angstrom’s second child. The big question is whether Harry will return. Sometimes you think there’s hope because Harry steps up in small ways, especially with their son, Nelson. But while Harry is a work in progress, and their marriage might survive, it’s too early to know if any of it will stick.

Updike’s themes of marriage, responsibility, sexuality, and faith impact each character in different ways. Harry is on some kind of spiritual edge, believing in God, but not understanding how to apply his belief. He thinks (and so does Eccles) that he will find the answers in his friendship with the minister. But really, he wants to be told, instead of figuring it out himself. Irreversible events at the end of the story will test all faiths, however. Pain and loss cause each to say and do things they don’t understand and might not mean.

Rabbit, Run is a hard book to read. Updike’s writing style is dense and complex, but well worth the effort. I could not believe how I felt while reading the final pages. This is a book that makes you think, long after and I recommend it to readers who like this kind of reading challenge.

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Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mention The Catcher in the Rye and you’re likely to get one of two reactions: loved it or hated it. I’ve read this story three times now and each time, I’ve loved it. I know a lot of high school kids groan when you mention Holden Caulfield and I get that because, in some ways, I don’t think he’s relatable to modern teenagers. The boarding school and wealthy Manhattan experiences are not something typical high schoolers connect with. But I think his character’s troubled emotions and vulnerability evoke a sympathy that everyone can see.

The story takes place sometime after World War II at Pencey Prep, a boarding school in Pennsylvania. It is narrated by Holden Caufield, a troubled sixteen-year-old student who has flunked every class except English, and has just been kicked out of Pencey. The headmaster has mailed the letter, notifying his parents, but in the interim, Holden moves in a sort of limbo. Something has made him not care, on the surface, but as you get to know Holden, you realize the weight of his depression and how deeply he cares about people in his life, especially his siblings and a girl he knows from summers in Maine.

With a few days before his parents find out, Holden bounces between reckless impulses, and he’s on a dangerous spiral, all the while giving the reader glimpses of who he is and the relationships that are important to him. He’s a skilled liar, making things up, as a lark, or to avoid facing his reality.

Every time I read Holden’s story, I can see him unraveling, word by word, and I’m struck by how clearly he sees through the phoniness that surrounds him. He’s particularly bothered by his brother’s decision to become a Hollywood writer, something he sees as a sell-out. In addition, he seethes inwardly as his roommate, Stradlater, moves about their room in an air of conceit and privilege. When Stradlater talks about his date with a girl Holden knows, he can’t even bother to get her name right. “It’s Jane, not Jean,” Holden wants to tell Stradlater, but he knows his roommate won’t care.

Holden talks about his friendship with Jane, a girl he met in Maine and has comforted, held hands with and feels most himself around. “That doesn’t sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with.” Equally important is Holden’s relationship with his brother Allie, who died when they were kids, and his ten-year-old sister, Phoebe, who both needs Holden and props him up enough to give him hope.

It doesn’t seem as if anyone can see that Holden is headed for a crash, or it might be that they can do nothing to stop him. I don’t get mad at him for his reckless decisions. I only want someone to catch him.

If you’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye, I’d give it a try. And if you’ve already read it, leave a comment and tell me what you think!

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Who’s That Indie Author? Susan Blackmon

Susan Blackmon

Author Name: Susan Blackmon

Genre: Historical Fiction

Books: Love in Key West series are generational stories following the vibrant history of Key West, FL. Released books include: Salvaged Love, Love in Key West, Love Again, Enduring Love and Once Upon an Island Christmas.

Are you a full-time author? If not, what’s your side gig? I took a full time leap and it’s paying off. I got two books published last year. Hoping to release book 6 this year. It’s a blessing and a curse. Not as much pressure to write when you don’t feel like it but also no pressure to be as absolutely productive as possible at all times.

Favorite author/books: Oh, my gosh! I have so many favorite authors I can never choose. Names like Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, Georgette Heyer, and Jane Austin would start the list but my current favorites are Mimi Matthews, Amanda Cabot, and Fiona Valpy. As for books, I rarely read a book more than once. The exceptions would be the Little House and Anne of Green Gables series and of those Anne of Green Gables would be my favorite. I was amused and sympathetic to all of Anne Shirley’s escapades. I also wished I could be half as bold and daring as her.

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? I wouldn’t be writing novels if not for a cruise ship detour that got me hooked on the history of Key West. I’ve dabbled in writing my whole life. I always thought I could write a novel but was never inspired to do so until an unexpected visit to the island, a trolley tour run down of the island history, and a spark of inspiration from the Shipwreck Historium Museum. Salvaged Love started out as just a lark. It was the encouragement of friends and family that brought it to fruition. And now I can’t stop writing.

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? Not really. I’m not much of one for journaling in general. When it comes to the writing process, I use phone notes for the spur of the moment thoughts. I have sticky notes and lists for to do items (real and digital). The rest of it is kept in one tidy program called Liquid Story Binder. It gives me a place to not only write but create with outlines, builders, dossiers, pictures to inspire, and many more tools to craft your thoughts into that next great read.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, describe your experience: At my last job at a big company I had a wonderful group of coworkers interested in writing with two of us self-published and a third on the cusp of it. We started an amazing group that seemed to benefit us all even thought we were at different stages in the process and had a wide variety of interests as well. I miss them. Lately, my time has been jealously guarded for writing so joining another group has not crossed my mind… yet.

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? It used to be only after the sun went down, but now, I’m all over the place. I try to take advantage of any moment of inspiration and every moment of quiet which could be staying up until 3am or rising at 5. Once was both of those at once

How do you get over a writing slump? I used to try to fight my way to the other side but I soon learned the best thing to do was make something creative and especially reading. So often I’ll be reading one thing and get an idea that is so completely unrelated I’m often shaking my head wondering where it came from but thrilled to be inspired again.

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? Depends on which one is coming easily or giving me fits. I like descriptive because I don’t get bogged down by those quotation marks. I soon found out I can’t move forward if something I’ve just done has known errors. My brain doesn’t have an ignore option so I must fix before I can continue writing. On the other hand, dialogue is often more fun.

What are you working on now? The sixth book in the series, Divided Love. It is set during the Civil War. Several interesting events happened in Key West and the closest battles were on the water making for a different take on this epic conflict in our history.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? Don’t let fear stop you. If you’re inspired – write! If you’ve written something you or others believe is good – share it – just make sure you give it a proper polish first. The best part of independent publishing is you don’t have to fit the cookie cutter.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which podcasts do you find the most interesting? A very selective few. Mostly Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur. He gives great info for indies.

Favorite escape: THE BEACH – gotta have my salt & sand fix

Have you ever tried Kombucha tea? Yes, yes I have. Once. A family member was home brewing it. Most disgusting thing I ever saw. Taste? Ok. Not terrible. Not great.

Do you prefer a couch with pillows or no pillows? Love those pillows! But they’ve got to be the right size, supporting the right spot. Beauty and function or they’re history.

Would you rather rake leaves, shovel snow or weed? Of the three – rake leaves but the bagging lawnmower took that job so I’m left with just the weeds and there are plenty of them on my patch of land.

Favorite mask – disposable paper, plain fabric, colorful print or something else? I haven’t invested in anything other than disposable in the continual optimistic hope ‘this too shall pass’ and soon.

Biggest writing challenge since Covid-19: The actual disease has been minimal for my family, many of us have had relatively mild cases, but the lack of what used to be normal health care services has hit hard with my father becoming paralyzed from a compressed disk almost simultaneously with the initial lock down. The result has been I’ve spent a lot more time helping my parents cope with their new reality.

Website and social media links:
Website: susanblackmonauthor.com
Twitter: @SusanBlackmon17
Facebook: @SusanBlackmonAuthor  · Author
Pinterest: Susan Blackmon Author
Goodreads: Susan Blackmon

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.

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