Book Review: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Love and Ruin
Paula McLain

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

You may know that I’m a big Ernest Hemingway fan. I’ve read all his books except To Have and Have Not and many of his short stories. I’m also a little obsessed with the person behind his books, how he started out and his relationships, especially with his four wives. I’d read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain years ago and liked it very much. That’s about Hemingway’s early career and his first marriage to Hadley Richardson. During those years, he wrote The Sun Also Rises, his first novel. Love and Ruin is the story of Hemingway’s marriage to Martha Gellhorn, his third wife. I didn’t know about her, but she was a novelist, travel writer, and a famous and fearless war correspondent, the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day and report on the invasion first-hand. For sixty years, she covered every world conflict that was out there.

Hemingway wrote what may be considered his best book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, while he was married to Gellhorn. Before they were married, they had spent time in Spain reporting on the Spanish Civil War, while Hemingway was married to Pauline Pfeiffer. That’s when their affair began.

Love and Ruin is the story of two very strong egos. It’s about Hemingway’s overwhelming and selfish personality and Gellhorn’s insistence on having her own career, which meant being away from home for long periods of time. Hemingway hated that, felt abandoned and behaved poorly. In this account, Gellhorn was just as stubborn as he was and there was a competitive vibe between them, especially when his books did better than hers. I got the feeling that they both acted selfishly in part to one-up the other. It was obvious to me that Gellhorn was a formidable opponent, not the kind of domestic wife Hemingway really wanted. She was also a trailblazer for women and careers.

I liked Love and Ruin, but I didn’t think it was as good as The Paris Wife. The first half reads more like a history book and I had a harder time getting to know Gellhorn, even though it’s written from her point of view. I liked the parts that helped me see the early seeds of For Whom the Bell Tolls and I learned a lot about Gellhorn’s impressive career. I also learned some new things about Hemingway and his sad decline. McLain did a tremendous amount of research to write Love and Ruin and it shows. Gellhorn burned all her personal papers before she died, so McLain had to piece together what she could about their marriage. I enjoyed the second half of the book, which really dug into the meat of their marital conflicts.

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Check out my review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

Like Hemingway? Me too! Check out my reviews:

The Sun Also Rises

A Farewell to Arms

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Old Man and the Sea

A Moveable Feast

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

“Hills Like White Elephants”

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

Who’s That Indie Author? Bjørn Larssen

Author Name: Bjørn Larssen

Genre: historical fiction, fantasy

Books: Storytellers (historical fiction set in Iceland), Children (a dark Norse myth retelling), Why Odin Drinks (humorous Norse myth retelling)

Bio: Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. He has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). Winner of Queer Indie Lit award, Stabby nominee, Eric Hoffer Grand Prize Award finalist.

What got you started as a writer? In 2015 I tried to lift a massive Ikea kitchen unit and ended in a special profiled chair, only left to eat, sleep, and see doctors. I’ve always told people I’d totally write a book if I had time. Well, now I had all the time, a life I needed to escape, and a story demanding to be told…

What is your writing routine? I don’t really have one. There are days when I write for hours, followed by days when I just keep existing until I can go to bed and hope for a better tomorrow.

What route did you take to get your books published? During work on Storytellers, my debut, I was researching various forms of publishing. It turned out that traditional publishing had nothing to offer me except validation—after years of rejections from agents and editors, of course. I never received a single rejection, because I never sent a single query. I chose self-publishing and I have no regrets.

What things do you do to promote your books? I post silly stuff on Twitter and Facebook, I have a mailing list, a ko-fi page, a website in dire need of updating. I write guest posts or do interviews like this one 🙂 I’ve been just about to join TikTok for at least a year. Not that I’m afraid or anything…

What is your favorite genre to read and why? In 2019-2020 I went through lots of grimdark, then suddenly reality started doing whatever it is that it’s doing. I switched to romcoms and humour, and stayed there.

Do you prefer to write dialogue or description? Dialogue—once I find the character’s voice. Readers tell me my descriptions are great—the word “cinematic” gets used a lot. They have no idea what I see, hear, taste, smell, and fail to describe well enough.

Have any of your characters ever surprised you? Did this change the plot of your book? When I try to force a character to do something for the sake of the plot, they often cross their arms on their chest and announce “Nope, I wouldn’t do that.” Unfortunately they don’t tell me what they would do instead. It’s up to me to tweak the plot and hope they like the new one.

What is the most difficult thing you have accomplished in your life? Moving from Poland to the Netherlands. It was the best, the scariest, and the BIGGEST decision I have ever made. The only thing I ever regretted was not doing it earlier.

What three events or people have most influenced how you live your life? Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson and Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh are two books that literally saved my life. And… my therapist. After two years of c-PTSD therapy I’m such a different person that I need to get re-acquainted with myself. So far I seem quite nice.

What would you tell your younger self? Just because you are forced to do adult things, that doesn’t mean you’re an adult. Don’t be so hard on yourself. (Then I’d give him a long, warm hug.) And don’t lift kitchen units.

Have you ever met up with a bear on a hike? If so, what did you do? If not, are you looking up what to do right now? In the gay community, a “bear” is a big, hairy beast of a man. I have met up with a bear or two on hikes. 😉

You’re locked in your local library for the night with no dinner. Thank goodness you have water, but you only have enough change to buy one item from the vending machine. Choices are limited to: Fudge Pop Tarts, Snickers or Doritos. Which would you choose and why? Snickers. I don’t like Doritos (pauses for gasps to subside), I don’t know Fudge Pop Tarts, and I don’t like taking risks when I can only pick one.

What’s the largest number of people you’ve had in your kitchen at one time? Oh, ten or so? In a kitchen made for two if they really like each other? Every good party ends up moving to the kitchen, it’s a law.

Closing thoughts: I always blank at open questions… um… Sam Ryder is a human golden retriever. It’s a thought, right?

Thank you so much for having me!

Website and social media links:
Twitter: @bjornlarssen
Instagram: bjorn_larssen

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 for a bio template and other details.

Book Club Mom’s Indie Authors of 2021- here they are!

This year I highlighted twenty-two hard working indie authors, writers of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry and children’s books. They have great stories to tell about their writing careers, so if you missed any, I hope you’ll visit them now.

Gail Aldwin – Contemporary Fiction

Bruce W. Bishop – Historical Fiction, Family Saga

Susan Blackmon – Historical Fiction

K. Blanton Brenner – Family Saga

Lorelei Brush – Upmarket Women’s Fiction and Historical Fiction

Sheila M. Cronin – Fiction

Jill Culiner – Nonfiction, Mystery, Romance and Romantic Suspense.

Kim Fairley – Nonfiction, Memoir

Tabitha Forney – Upmarket Fiction

Jacqueline Friedland – Women’s Fiction

Allan Hudson – Action/Adventure, Historical

Jane Elizabeth Hughes – Women’s Fiction

Miriam Hurdle – Poetry and Children’s Books

Kaitlyn Jain – Nonfiction, Travel, Memoir

Laurie James – Memoir

Leora Krygier – Memoir, Fiction

Tammy Pasterick – Historical Fiction

Angela Paolantonio – Memoir, Place-Based Travel Memoir, Women’s Studies

Margaret Rodenberg – Historical Fiction

Lauren Scott – Poetry, Memoir

Joe Wells – Murder Mystery

Faith Wilcox – Memoir

In January, I’ll be putting together a new set of interview questions and making a few other format changes. If you’d like to be highlighted, email and I’ll send you the new questions as soon as they’re ready.

Happy holidays!

Who’s That Indie Author? Allan Hudson

Author Name: Allan Hudson 

Genre: Fiction – Action/Adventure, Historical

Books: Drake Alexander Adventure series – Dark Side of a Promise, Wall of War & Vigilantes. Jo Naylor adventure series – Shattered Figurine & Shattered Lives. A collection of short stories – A Box of Memories and historical fiction- The Alexanders 1911 – 1920.

Brief bio: I live on the east coast of Canada in the province of NB with my wife Gloria. Retired from a mixed career of woodworking and jewellery sales. I have a loving family and consider myself a very lucky man.

What got you started as a writer? Being an avid reader, I always wanted to write my own stories. When I discovered Bryce Courtenay’s wonderful books and the fact he only started writing in his mid -fifties, it was all the encouragement I needed. I haven’t looked back since.

What difficult experience has helped you as a writer? Once my first manuscript was finished, I didn’t know where to turn and the amount of information available was overwhelming. Not sure of where to go next, I discovered self-publishing and I couldn’t be happier with the path I’ve taken, but it was a difficult decision to make in the beginning.

Have you ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, how many times and what was your experience? No I have not.

What advice would you give a new indie author hoping to publish a book? I would advise them to tread carefully on what so many companies promise in publishing your book and the high prices they charge. Best to join a writer’s group or befriend other authors for their help. They’ve been through what new authors are experiencing and can offer valuable advice.

What has been the biggest challenge for you during Covid?  No major challenges other than being safe and protecting myself and family. The best part of the isolation was the time to write.

What are you reading right now? I am reading Agent Zigzag by Ben MacIntyre. A true account of a British spy during World War 2.

Would you rather laugh or cry over a book? Both actually. I love that the written word can make me emotional, one way or another.

Have you ever climbed a tree to read a book? I have in fact. Being a reader since I could hold a book, I once built a platform in a tree near my house in the country and used to crawl up there with a bottle of Pepsi and crackers and a Hardy Boys detective book.

Have you ever dropped a book in the tub, in a pool or in the ocean?  Fortunately not.

Could you live in a tiny house? Sure. As long as there is room for my favorite books and a place to cuddle with my wife.

What are the small things that make you happy? Chocolate cake. Love notes from my wife. Puppies and kittens. Post-it-notes. Completed to-do lists. Pencils. And my favorite coffee mug.

Website and social media links:
Facebook: @southbranchscribbler

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 for a bio template and other details.

Book Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

The Address
Fiona Davis

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories set in New York and have been meaning to read The Address for a long time. In this 2017 novel by Fiona Davis, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden live in New York, one hundred years apart. They are connected in indeterminate ways to the 1885 murder of the fictional architect Theodore Camden. Set in 1884 and 1984, their narratives revolve around the famous Dakota, an apartment building in New York.

The Dakota is a real place. Located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, its tenants include famous musicians, artists and actors. It’s also where John Lennon was murdered in 1980. When it first opened in 1884, the Dakota was actually in a remote part of NYC, if you can believe it. Designed to attract the newly wealthy, the building opened its doors to a full staff and plenty of luxuries.

Sara’s story begins in 1884 when Theodore Camden recruits her from the London Langham Hotel to become the first managerette (how do you like that job title?) of the Dakota. Unmarried and in her thirties, Sara works as the head housekeeper. She’s ready for a change, however and drawn to Theodore’s charms, despite the fact that he’s married with three young children. In a bold decision, Sara quits her job and crosses the Atlantic to start a new life during New York’s gilded age. She lives at the Dakota and confidently manages a large staff of housekeepers, porters, maintenance crew and the tenants’ maids. Unable to resist their mutual attractions, Theo and Sara begin an affair that leads to Theo’s ultimate death and the end of Sara’s career.

Jumping to 1984, interior designer Bailey Camden must rebuild her life after a struggle with drugs and alcohol. Out of rehab and jobless, she visits her wealthy cousin Melinda Camden, who lives at the Dakota, in the same apartment where Theo was murdered. Bailey’s family connection to the wealthy Camdens began when her grandfather became Theodore Camden’s ward. Melinda will soon inherit trust money, but Bailey, whose family has learned to live without, will not. In a gesture of seemingly good will, Melinda hires Bailey to redesign her apartment and agrees to let her live there until she gets on her feet. When Bailey discovers personal items belonging to Sara and Theo’s family, she will soon learn more about the affair and just how she fits into the Camden lineage.

I enjoyed this novel which is part mystery and part historical fiction. Davis explores the messy themes of money, class, inheritance and family and entertains the reader with images of New York’s upper and working classes and the city’s development and its varied architecture. In addition, a special appearance by investigative journalist Nellie Bly provides an up-close look at the horrors of Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum. I recommend The Address to fans of New York stories as well as readers who like historical fiction, interesting characters and themes of money and class.

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Book Review: We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

We Must Be Brave
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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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

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Who’s That Indie Author? Tammy Pasterick

Author Name: Tammy Pasterick

Genre: Historical Fiction

Book: Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash

Brief bio: I began my career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board after graduating from Penn State and later studied German language and literature at the University of Delaware. When I decided to stay at home full-time with my children, I began writing fiction.

What got you started as a writer? I wrote constantly when I was on my high school’s yearbook staff and also while I was a student of German. When my youngest went to kindergarten, I started a genealogy project that took on a life of its own and became a novel.

What difficult experience has helped you as a writer? Parenting two very different children has helped me become a more empathetic person and has taught me many valuable lessons about human nature. Understanding people is the key to creating complex, believable characters. 

Have you ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, how many times and what was your experience? I haven’t yet. It’s on my bucket list.

What advice would you give a new indie author hoping to publish a book? Query agents for at least a year before you approach an indie press or self-publish. I received so much helpful feedback while querying and ended up making major revisions to my novel. All those rejections helped me grow as a writer.

What has been the biggest challenge for you during Covid? The biggest challenge was having my husband and kids at home. I’m used to writing in a very quiet house with my dog at my feet, so I got very little accomplished during quarantine.

What are you reading right now? I’m reading The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff and listening to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.

Would you rather laugh or cry over a book?  I’m always up for a good cry.

Have you ever climbed a tree to read a book? Yes! When I was in elementary and middle school, I used to read in trees all the time, but only on the low branches. I have a fear of heights.

Have you ever dropped a book in the tub, in a pool or in the ocean? I have never dropped a book in the water, but the wind blew my favorite bookmark into the pool just a few weeks ago. It’s a drawing of Jabba the Hut and Salacious Crumb that my son made for me when he was ten and thoroughy obsessed with Star Wars. Luckily, I fished the bookmark out with a skimmer before it sustained any real damage.

Could you live in a tiny house? I could probably live in a tiny house if I only had to share it with my dog.

What are the small things that make you happy? Snow, cherry blossoms, pumpkins, and dogs always put a smile on my face, but nothing beats watching my kids play baseball and soccer.

Website and social media links:
Facebook: @authortammypasterick
Twitter: @TammyPasterick
Instagram: @authortammypasterick

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 for a bio template and other details.

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Book Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Florence Adler Swims Forever
Rachel Beanland

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I decided to read this right away after announcing it was on my radar. What I didn’t know then is that Beanland’s debut historical novel is based on a true family story about the author’s great-great-aunt, Florence Lowenthal.

Florence Lowenthal grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and dreamed of swimming the English Channel. Although a strong swimmer, she drowned in the summer of 1929 off the coast of Atlantic City. At the time, Florence’s sister was pregnant and in the hospital on bedrest, after losing a baby boy. Their mother insisted they keep Florence’s death a secret until after the baby was born. Beanland used these events to write her story. She created additional characters to add historical content.

In Beanland’s story, the Adlers are a Jewish family and Florence is the younger daughter. Her older sister, Fannie is in the hospital on bedrest. During this time, her daughter, seven-year-old Gussie Feldman, lives with the grandparents while Fannie’s husband, Isaac, who works for the Adler family business, stays at their apartment. A young woman named Anna Epstein also lives with the family. Joseph Adler has sponsored her to come to America from Germany, to escape Hitler’s alarming restrictions on Jews living in Germany. Anna’s parents hope to join their daughter, but they face a multitude of nonsensical requirements and time is running out.

Like the real Lowenthal mother, Esther Adler insists on keeping Florence’s death quiet so that Fannie will deliver a healthy baby. During these months, we learn about other family secrets, especially between Joseph and Esther, and the reason Anna has come to stay with them. Isaac Feldman also plays an important part of the story. Beanland throws in a nice romance as well as a few moral dilemmas.

One of the best parts of the book is its setting and the author’s description of Atlantic City’s sights and sounds. Although completely unrelated in plot and character, it reminded me of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire and I was easily able to picture Atlantic City during these times.

I enjoyed reading Florence Adler Swims Forever, although I thought the story was a little flat at times. The first half reads like a Young Adult novel, but transitions to more mature themes in the second half. I liked how several characters had to make important and bold decisions that affect the Adler family.

This is a fast read and great for fans of historical fiction. Although the end lacked a lot of details, it gave me space to imagine how the characters are doing. I look forward to seeing more books by this author.

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Book on my radar – Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

I have this book on my Kindle and I’ve been trying to get to it. My work friend recommended it and now I’m just going to have to make it happen! It’s the Winner of the 2020 National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“Over the course of one summer that begins with a shocking tragedy, three generations of the Adler family grapple with heartbreak, romance, and the weight of family secrets.

Every summer, Esther and Joseph Adler rent their house out to vacationers escaping to “America’s Playground” and move into the small apartment above their bakery. This is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence. Now Florence has returned from college, determined to spend the summer training to swim the English Channel, and Fannie, pregnant again after recently losing a baby, is on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. After Joseph insists they take in a mysterious young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany, the apartment is bursting at the seams.

When tragedy strikes, Esther makes the shocking decision to hide the truth—at least until Fannie’s baby is born—and pulls the family into an elaborate web of secret-keeping and lies, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface that reveal how quickly the act of protecting those we love can turn into betrayal after tragedy.”

In case you don’t know, “America’s Playground” refers to Atlantic City. (I wouldn’t have known that unless my work friend had told me.)

I like historical fiction and stories about secrets. It seems to have an original twist to it too. What do you think? Would you read it?

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