BOOK REVIEW FRIDAY – WHEN THE SUN WAS MINE

sun_eBOOK_NEW (1)Flo and Brittany. Brittany and Flo–a relationship born in shock and fascination, breaking down age barriers immediately. No spoilers in here, but the opening of When the Sun was Mine is filled with mystery and love stories, which leads the young Brittany into an exploration of herself and her views on the elderly. Flo guides her through both.

I enjoyed When the Sun was Mine because of the growth and development of the relationship between the young Brittany and the much older Flo.

Set mostly in the nursing home, Happy Hearts–the greatest misnomer of all–this novel addresses something rarely touched in writing. The author takes us inside the mind of Flo, suffering from the early stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s–or is she? Because of the mystery slowly unraveling at the center of the plot, the reader is never sure if Flo is faking the symptoms to aid her investigation, or if she really doesn’t remember some things. It’s a brilliant literary touch because it creates a confusion in the reader that provides a brief glimpse into how it must be for Flo, who moves back and forth between and through the shadows of her memories and her present existence.

Those beginning stages of this disease can be the most challenging for loved ones and the most terrifying for the patient.

I know from experience with an aunt and a brother. When both of my relatives knew they were declining and knew they were defenseless against what was happening, they broke my hearts in their helpless knowledge. My brother, a respected and innovative mathematician, felt frustrated in those early days.

“There’s plenty of material out there for the caretakers of the Alzheimer’s patient,” he told me. “But I can’t find a thing about how it is for me, the patient.”

He still had those moments of lucidity, and in those moments, he was anxious to find out all he could before he had a setback where he wouldn’t even be able to remember the word for what he had.

Ms. Jones takes the reader on that journey into the mind of the Alzheimer’s victim in her characterization of Flo. Yet she manages to prevent the novel from devolving into a dark abyss by using humor through Flo’s own antics and the inexperienced fumblings of her young accomplices, Brittany and two of her friends.

Mystery mixed with contemporary realities provide for an enjoyable read because once the reader sees Flo in all her naked honesty in that first chapter, the ride surprises us with its twists and turns.

It takes a talented author to bring us contemporary issues that not only entertain but cause us to pause and wonder at the possibilities for our dreams, no matter our age or condition. And Darlene Jones has achieved that in her latest novel, When the Sun was Mine.

Links to find out more about Darlene Jones:

Author Wednesday posts:

January 13, 2016

April 3, 2013

Book Review Friday – Embattled

Purchase Links for When the Sun was Mine – $0.99 for a limited time

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AUTHOR WEDNESDAY – DARLENE JONES

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It’s time for Author Wednesday and to bring back another of my favorite authors to celebrate the release of her new book. Darlene Jones recently published When the Sun Was Mine, which is a departure from her Em and Yves Series. The new book is contemporary fiction and explores generational friendships, Alzheimer’s, and family in a mystery format. Look for my review on Book Review Friday this week. Today, she’s going to tell us how she created this novel. Welcome, Darlene!sun_eBOOK_NEW (1)

The Seeds of a Novel

By Darlene Jones

In her feature on Author Wednesday in October, author Christina Carson wrote, “Somewhere in the back of our minds saturated with intellectual and emotional experiences, a seed exists around which a story begins to form.”

I agree with Christina (although I could never express it quite so elegantly), for When the Sun was Mine sprouted from one of those seeds. If you were to ask me the moment the idea came to me, or how the idea came to me, I wouldn’t be able to answer. I have no conscious recollection of the beginnings of the story as they formed and grew in my mind.

I had published the Em and Yves series—the “seed” for those books stemmed from my experiences living in Mali—and I’d completed the compilation and publishing of the Mali to Mexico and Points In Between stories. I was floundering with nothing to write but had no “brainwaves” for the next novel. In fact, I feared there wouldn’t be a next novel. I needn’t have worried for suddenly I was writing. The story of Flo and Brit, the main characters of When the Sun was Mine, seemed to grow naturally, with little effort. Once I had the bare bones on paper, I reworked it, building on Flo and her background for she was the essence of what I wished to convey.

The friendship between Flo and Brit is, perhaps, an unusual one, but I had a similar experience (although not as a teen) when I shared a hospital room for many weeks with a much older lady who became very dear to me. We remained close friends until her death at age eighty-nine. Perhaps that friendship was one of the seeds Christina refers to.

Looking back on my writing I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that teens play a significant role in each of my novels, and I suspect they will in anything I write in the future. I was an educator for many years. More seeds? A natural development in my work? I believe so.

Last night I had a dream that I had found the perfect seed for my next book. Of course, when I woke, the details evaporated. Frustrating? Yes, but a clear sign that now it’s time to relax for a bit and wait for another seed to germinate in my mind and another novel to be written. I know that, whatever the new story is, it will be a pleasure to write, for I can’t imagine a life without writing—and reading.

P.C., I hope that you and your followers enjoy When the Sun was Mine. Thank you for featuring me and my work.

You are very welcome, Darlene. I love to hear how others find those seeds that turn into novels. I’ve had the first line of books pop into my dreams, diverting me to writing a novel I never knew I could write. We never know when the ‘muse’ will come to us, but being open and receptive to those seeds flung to us on the wind is the first step. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

100-0059_IMGAbout Darlene Jones:  Many years ago a young girl left the safety of Canada for adventure in Africa. This was in a generation when young girls didn’t go anywhere on their own and certainly not to the “the dark continent.”

I had to adapt to the climate, the culture, the language, and above all time travel, for most Malians lived the way they always had. Modern conveniences consisted of basic items such as kerosene lanterns and little else.

It was the plight of Malians that inspired me to begin writing my novel series. Since I couldn’t wave a magic wand to make life better in Mali, I chose to do it fictitiously.

Now that the Em and Yves series is complete, I’ve found that I’m hooked on writing and have moved on to other genres. I’m excited to see what the future holds.

Author Wednesday 2013  – Darlene Jones

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Darlene Jones Website

Purchase When the Sun was Mine by clicking below:

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Book Review Friday – Apart from Love by Uvi Poznansky

ApartfromLoveLitFicI’m behind on writing reviews, but I hope the lapse will be forgiven with my review of an astounding book from Uvi Poznansky and her work of literary fiction, Apart from Love. Ms. Poznansky is a multi-talented author and artist, and with this novel, she creates a multi-faceted and multi-layered work of art.

The story is told through the first person narrations of Anita, the new wife of Lenny and step-mother to the other narrator, Ben. The point of view is unique because the story is more about the love between Ben’s parents, Lenny and Natasha, than the other two, who form another sort of love story. Ben’s separation from his home for ten years only shows the level of dysfunction in this family. I use the word “dysfunction” with disdain sometimes because it is overused to the point where it sometimes means very little. But if any family is dysfunctional, it is this one.

During Ben’s absence, the lack of communication with his mother and father is evident when he comes home. For a decade, he assumed his talented pianist mother is out on tour, when in fact, his father is hiding something quite important from his son about Natasha.

In the meantime, Lenny has remarried Anita who is one year younger than Ben. She’s a beauty–a younger version of Natasha. It’s complicated and completely dysfunctional in the true meaning of that word.

Literary techniques abound in Apart from Love. The author skillfully creates symbols and metaphors with the white piano in the living room, the antique mirror in the bedroom, and the tape recorder on the balcony. The point of view represents the author’s skill in writing dialogue that characterizes both Ben and Anita. It’s obvious when switching between chapters who is the narrator, even though Ms. Poznansky tells the reader if it’s Ben or Anita in each chapter title. That’s helpful, but with her paintbrush, she paints prose that is distinct for each one.

Alzheimers rears its horrifying head in parts of the story, as does the family’s inability to know how to deal with it. Insanity hovers at the edges of all the characters as well, presenting the reader with that fine line between genius and the alternative.

If that’s not enough, Lenny is a writer who uses the words of others to create his stories. The blurred lines between reality and fiction are explored in this intimate look at how authors sometimes steal identities from others to draw portraits of real life. It’s haunting in its honesty of how an author works. The “record, rewind, record” element of the story reminds me that all reality is really the fiction of our imaginations.

Uvi Poznansky is a talented author who says in her bio, “I paint with my pen, and write with my paintbrush.” The cover of Apart from Love and the content in between are assurances that this is true.

Click to preorder - $.99

Click cover to preorder – only $.99

After reading this novel, I’m even more honored that Ms. Poznansky asked me to be a part of her latest endeavor, the box set At Odds with Destiny, a collection of ten novels by ten unique authors. The full-length novels are brimming with myth, fantasy, mystery, history, romance, drama, originality, heroism, and suspense. Finding themselves at odds with destiny, the characters in these stories fight to shape their future and define who they are. My offering Native Lands examines how cultural boundaries established centuries ago are erased as love and nature seek the balance lost in the battle for power and control of the last of the Florida frontier.

Author Wednesday – Christoph Fischer

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgI welcome back Christoph Fischer, who is one of my favorite Indie Authors. What I love most about Christoph is his fearlessness in tackling difficult subjects in his novels. From the Holocaust to Alzheimers and now to mental illness, Christoph provides us with fiction to make us think and talk about those things we’d rather ignore, much to the detriment of the individual and society. His new release Conditions gives voice to the shame and secretiveness surrounding mental illness. The reality of ignoring diseases of the mind ends up making victims of more than just the person suffering from it. Book_marketing2-lrg

Synopsis of Conditions

When Charles’ and Tony’s mother dies, the estranged brothers must struggle to pick up the pieces, particularly because one of them is mentally challenged and the other bitter about his place within the family.

The conflict is drawn out over materialistic issues, but there are other underlying problems which go to the heart of what it means to be part of a family which, in one way or another, has cast one aside.
Prejudice, misconceptions, and the human condition in all forms feature in this contemporary drama revolving around a group of people who attend the subsequent funeral on the British South Coast.

Meet flamboyant gardener Charles, loner Simon, selfless psychic Elaine, narcissistic body-builder Edgar, Martha and her version of unconditional love, and many others as they try to deal with the event and its aftermath.

Christoph, thank you so much for stopping by today. Let’s talk about your new book. What messages or themes did you try to convey in Conditions?

My messages are common place:

You can choose your friends but not your family.
You’re not alone with your problems.
It’s OK to be different.

These are very important. What led you to chose them?

I grew up feeling different and consequently always associated with other ‘misfits’ and have – amongst others – befriended people with mental health issues. Conditions was my first novel, but fifth published, and therefore, a selection of oddball characters was a given. The funeral, the focal point for the story, is based on a situation I encountered personally, and which stayed with me for years after. It seemed the perfect scenario on which to center the story.

I didn’t realize this was your first novel. That’s interesting. I’m glad you finally came back to it. You mention an “oddball” assortment of characters in this book, so do you have a favorite one?

It has to be Elaine. A selfless psychic hairdresser with a Mother Earth caring nature and a relentless amount of time and energy for others. I know several people just like her, and I’m always amazed at how much these people get out of their lives by giving. These people inspire me greatly, and I feel Elaine has come together very well in this book. I have plans for a sequel in which she will feature even more.

She sounds like someone I’d love to meet. I know you also write historical fiction, but are you going to continue with contemporary works?

Although I love writing historical novels and my next book will be another one of those, it’s liberating to write contemporary fiction without restraints of historic facts and peculiarities of the times. My last book, Time To Let Go, was my first contemporary novel and was a bit of a surprise hit, so I’m definitely going to continue with both genres.

How did you choose the title? Has it been the title from the very beginning?

It came to me intuitively quite early. I’d been searching for a title once I was past the forty-page mark and realized it would be a complete novel. When the word Conditions came to my mind it felt right, and I saw how well it fit.

What is the best thing someone could say about this book?

That it has interesting and relatable characters and a positive message despite some moments of sadness and thoughtfulness.

Who is the antagonist in your book? Did you enjoy creating this character?

There are a few antagonists in the book, a money grabbing sister-in-law for one. I hate arguments and disliked writing those scenes. I was asked by my beta readers and editors to tone them down since I painted the “baddies” too harshly. I prefer to write balanced characters but that does not always work.

Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in this book.

There is a party scene after the funeral. I went to my fair share of funerals in my youth and found them often oddly comforting and cheerful. Once the hard part is over people console each other and you are left with hope and acceptance. That often leads to laughter and in my book there is some of that.

If you could invite two other authors over to your house for dinner, who would you choose and why.

Christos Tsiolkas and Henning Mankell. They both are involved in a lot of projects and seem to have a perpetual drive of creativity and community.

What are you working on these days?

My next book is a historical novel about Finland, starting with its Civil War in 1918 and ending post World War II in 1950. It is about two Danish friends whose relationship is tested by war, politics, and love interests.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Christoph. It’s always a pleasure when you visit.

922159_10151345337037132_1303709604_oAbout Christoph Fischer: Christoph was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers, he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years, he moved on to the UK where he now lives in a small hamlet, not far from Bath. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their family.

Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. The Luck of The Weissensteiners was published in November 2012; Sebastian in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. In May 2014, he published his first contemporary novel Time To Let Go. Conditions was released in September 2014.

Website: http://www.christophfischerbooks.com/

Blog: http://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6590171.Christoph_Fischer

Amazon: http://ow.ly/BtveY

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CFFBooks

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/christophffisch/

Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/106213860775307052243

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=241333846

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WriterChristophFischer?ref=hl

All Facebook links:

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#Book Review Friday – Time to Let Go by Christoph Fischer

Click on cover

Click on cover

I’m used to being transported to another era when I read a novel by Christoph Fischer. Set in England, his latest offering, Time to Let Go, transports the reader, not through the years, but into the lives of one family dealing with the splintered effects of Alzheimers.

I’ve lost several relatives and friends to this devastating disease. I’m familiar with the stages for the patient and the ramifications on the care givers. And so is Christoph Fischer in his portrayal of Biddy Korhonen and her family members dealing with her descent into Alzheimers.

Mr. Fischer shows the various ways individuals deal with the illness. There’s the husband Walter who depends upon the routine and regimen of a scheduled life to keep his wife from falling into a deeper stage. He can keep control of the situation to a certain extent, only as far as Biddy’s mind will allow it. Nothing can bring her back to the loving wife she’d always been. When he can’t control his wife’s failings, he absorbs himself in creating a book of family memories. He can control what is remembered and how much is revealed about the individuals who make up the Finnish branch of the Korhonen family.

Daughter Hanna uses the mother’s illness as a chance to come home and hide out from the realities of her life as an airline stewardess when things go horribly wrong on her last flight. Her casual attitude toward schedules and regimens clashes with her father’s grip on his life with Biddy. Hanna runs into problems with this casualness, yet there are times when Biddy seems so happy with the change.

It’s all here in this novel, and it’s done in such a way that the reader is caught up in the lives of the Krohonen’s and rooting for the family to finally communicate with one another before it’s too late. I found myself agreeing with both sides in the debate on how to handle Biddy’s situation. Since I’ve seen the terrific toll Alzhemiers takes, I understand the complicated feelings and situations that arise. Mr. Fischer handles it deftly and with sympathy for both Hanna and Walter and Biddy. No one is right, and no one is wrong.

As he does with his historical novels set in the first half of the twentieth century in eastern Europe, Mr. Fischer manages to bring in the prejudices of a generation raised with biases toward people of different religions, races, and ideologies. It’s not an indictment of older generations, but it is a reality best met with honesty and acceptance.

Thank you, Christoph Fischer, for once again bringing us a work of fiction that asks us to examine our beliefs and open our minds to honest communication with those we love the most.

To purchase Time to Let Go, click on the cover below.

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Disclosure: I was given an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Author Wednesday – Christoph Fischer

???????????????????????????????Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome back Christoph Fischer for a guest post about his latest release A Time to Let Go. Christoph’s three other novels are set in Eastern Europe during the years of the Great Wars, and offer glimpses into what it was like for people of all gender, religion (or lack thereof), cultural heritage, and sexual preferences. The Three Nations Trilogy (The Luck of the Weissensteiners, Sebastian, and Black Eagle Inn) provide an excellent overview of life before, during, and after war.

However, his latest book A Time to Let Go takes a different path. Set in contemporary times in England, the book explores the life of one family as they deal with the onset of Alzheimers of Biddy, the mother and wife of the Korhonen family. In this guest post, Christoph writes about how and why this story was written. Please watch for my review of Time to Let Go on Book Review Friday.

Click on cover

Click on cover

How Time to Let Go Came to Be

by Christoph Fischer

The Real Biddy Korhonen

I grew up with only a few friends and with two older siblings who were miles ahead of me in their lives. My mother was a busy woman, and so I spent a lot of time at my aunt’s house. She had always wanted to raise four children but lost one child at birth. Her other three children were much older and didn’t need her much anymore, so my visits to her house filled a gap for her, in the same way, her attention to me filled a need in me. A match made in heaven.

Philomena, or Minna, as we called her, remained a source of happiness and encouragement throughout my life. I was always welcomed and treated like a precious gift. She smoked, but she outlived both of her sisters who were taken in their forties by cancer.

In her late seventies, Minna was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease. At least she was alive, I thought, belittling her misfortune without much awareness.

The next time I saw her, her trademark happiness seemed far away. She was crying bitterly because she had lost her hearing aid, a very expensive one, too. Suddenly her life seemed to revolve around retrieving things. She was spared the physical pain of her sisters, but she suffered severe mental torture.

She fortunately reached a happier stage as medication and care helped reduce the misery in her life, but the attention she needed was a huge toll to the family. Despite her memory loss, she seemed to vaguely recognize me; me, the “child” who lived abroad and who rarely came to visit. She had not lost her warmth and happiness, or maybe she had just regained it after the bad patch in the early stages.

Very recently, I saw her again, almost unrecognizable: withdrawn, very unresponsive, and almost reduced to basic functioning. Surprisingly, she could still read, and when I came to see her for a second time her eyes shone as if she did recognize me. I made an emotional goodbye to her, and her hand was shaking as she listened to my speech. She even responded by talking, using words that didn’t fit exactly, but which expressed an emotion similar to what one would expect from a loving aunt in such a situation.

With her loving kindness in mind, I created Biddy, the mother in Time to Let Go, a selfless, giving woman, who even in her illness manages to show her innate kindness. I know it would be wrong to praise her for a gift that many other patients do not have, through no fault of their own. Losing one’s memory and control of one’s life is a terrible thing that you can only understand when it happens to you.

Time to Let Go is a tribute to my brave aunt and to the wonderful people who help make her life dignified and as happy as is possible.

Alzheimers

My book is inspired by personal experiences with sufferers from the disease. Nowadays, almost everyone knows someone who has relatives with Alzheimers and gradually stories and anecdotes about these patients have entered the social dinner party circuit and become common knowledge.

Alzheimers is a dreadful disease that cannot be easily understood in its gravity and the complex, frustrating, and far-reaching consequences for the victims and their families. There are different stages of the disease as it progresses and patients can move through them at different paces and in varying intensity. My book does not attempt to be a complete representation or a manual of how to deal with the disease. The illness affects every patient differently, and there are many stories to tell and many aspects to cover. I hope that I can bring some of those issues to the surface and help make the gravity of the disease more prominent. However, I decided to stay firmly in fiction and family drama territory, and not to write a dramatized documentary on the subject.

I have witnessed several different approaches to handling the disease by both individuals and entire families, and I have learned that the people involved in every case need to work out what is best for them. In my book, a family works out their particular approach, which is right for them. They have different ideas about it and need to battle it out. These clashes fascinated me, and I felt they were worth exploring.

Issues of caring at home, mobile-care assistance, or institutionalizing patients are personal and, depending on where in the world you are, every family has very different options or limitations. The ending in my book must be seen in that context: as an individual “best” solution that uniquely fits the Korhonen family.

As point of first reference and for a more comprehensive and scientific overview of information and help available, I recommend: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/ in the UK, and http://www.alz.org/ in the United States.

There are support groups, help lines, and many other sources available in most countries, which will be able to advise specifically for each individual situation.

I can also recommend Because We Care by Fran Lewis. This fantastic book has a comprehensive appendix with more or less everything you need to know about the disease: Its stages, personal advice on caring, information, tools and help available in the United States.

For consistency, I exclusively used material relating to a medium-advanced stage of the disease. To protect the privacy and dignity of the patients that inspired the story, I have altered all of the events and used both first- and second-hand experiences and anecdotes. Nothing in this book has actually happened in that way. Apart from some outer parallels between my characters and patients I witnessed, any similarities with real people, alive or dead, are coincidental and unintended.

Airlines

The airline plot is not based on any real incident but is inspired by my own imagination. I used to work for an airline, and so naturally, much of Hanna’s life is based on my own experience of fifteen years flying. I lived with the awareness that every time a call bell goes off on a plane this could be a matter of life and death. What happens to Hanna in the book has never happened to me or anyone close to me. My flying life was not that extraordinary. Fortunately.

But every year airline crew are retrained in emergency procedures and aviation medicine, and at least during those intense yearly re-training sessions your mind cannot help considering the possibilities of such events.

The modern trend of the “suing- and compensation-culture” and the extent of it in some cases worries me a little, which is why some of that concern found its way into the book.

The lifestyle of cabin crew and pilots is often falsely glorified as a glamorous string of free holidays and leisure. A recent crew strike in the UK has brought the profession into disrepute in the media, representing them as fat cats and lazy bones. My book aims to shed a bit of light on the realities of flying. I enjoyed the life and would not want to miss the experience, but it is a tough life that demands huge personal sacrifices and flexibility, sleep deprivation on a massive scale, and exposure to aggressive and abusive behaviour by a consumerist clientele. In the global trend of cost cutting, salaries are going down and what used to be a career is at risk of becoming a minimum-wage job handed to people who have no experience and who have no incentive to give it their all.

My book is a tribute to my former colleagues in the airline industry personnel, who, in my opinion, are unsung heroes and a bunch of wonderful, hard-working and very caring people.

Memory

What makes Alzheimers’ so terrible? What is it that makes a memory so important to one’s life that people compare its horrors to pain-inflicting diseases such as cancer? You are alive and physically well, you eat and function as a human, but as an Alzheimer patient, you are bound to be suffering, frustrated, depressed and unhappy.

Of course, it is ridiculous to compare the two diseases, but while a cancer patient still has their awareness and choices, the Alzheimer sufferer is losing the core of their being, and everything they ever were.

How can you define yourself if you cannot remember? You have had children, but you won’t recognize them. You won awards, had a successful career, made people happy, but you don’t know any of it. Who are you and what are you doing on the planet? Who are the people around you? As the disease progresses, these things become more intense and you can live in a mental prison of fear and disorientation. Your brain won’t do as you want it to. The fear of losing it altogether, for some is impossible to bear. You are about to lose everything that was ever precious to you.

That thought is frightening to all of us. It can happen to all of us. The worst stage seems to be when patients still notice that something is wrong. We all know how annoying it is when we just put something down and don’t remember where. Imagine that happening to you all the time, every day, and you get an idea of how it might feel. The caretakers see their loved ones slowly drift away into a stranger.

Biddy’s husband Walter in my novel becomes obsessed with preserving memories—his own and others. He begins to write a family chronicle as a constructive outlet for his fears. He is an important character with his musings about preserving knowledge, memories, and facts, and he allowed me to bring in thoughts about the disease on a different and more reflective level.

I hope that I have managed to write about more than just the clinical side of the disease. I stuck to the early stages of Alzheimers in the story because it gave me the best opportunities to work these thoughts into the story. It allows me to look back at Biddy’s past but with still a lot of hope.

922159_10151345337037132_1303709604_oAbout Christoph: Christoph Fischer was born in Germany as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he is still resident today.

Links – United States (click on title for Amazon page):

Time to Let Go

The Luck of the Weissensteiners

Sebastian

The Black Eagle Inn

Links – UK (click on title for Amazon page):

Time to Let Go

The Luck of the Weissensteiners

Sebastian

The Black Eagle Inn

 

 

 

Book Review Friday – Yesterday Road

Small coverI once read that all memory is fiction. What remains rather than specific details is the perception and the ghost of emotions garnered from that memory.

Yesterday Road by Kevin Brennan shows the fiction of the memory is the most important.

Jack in Yesterday Road finds himself on the road a few hours from San Francisco one day with no memory of who he is or where he’s been. He hooks up with a Down syndrome young man named Joe, and the two travel in an innocent cocoon until adopted by Ida who doesn’t know that her waitress uniform conceals a big heart.

Jack’s memory of his past comes to him at night in his dreams as some form of fiction. He remembers snatches of things and knows from the things he says that he was a good man with a strong family. Without the facility to name those things from his past, including his own name, he leads with his instinct and shows those he meets great kindness and offers them a way to live in the present.

The agony of Alzheimer’s is portrayed in Jack’s knowing he won’t remember things if he goes to sleep. One night he stays up purposefully so he won’t forget Joe. As he knew would happen, Joe is gone from his memory the next time he sleeps.

His memories of the past come fleetingly, and he remembers them enough to take him to the place he knows was once home. He hears the voices of his parent, such as the words of his mother:

“Everyone follows his own path, she said. Remember that. Once you start out, you’re the only one who knows the right way to go.”

Those words carry him forth to where he knows not, but he continues on his journey aided by the kindness and love of Ida who abandons her own life for a few days to help Jack find his way.

Yesterday Road takes the reader on a weeklong odyssey with Jack and a cast of characters. The relationship between Jack and Joe is one of the sweetest. Jack knows that Joe can’t take of himself; and Joe knows that Jack can’t remember anything. Between the two of them, they manage to pull off a few miraculous acts. Those of us with most of our faculties intact probably couldn’t pull off half of what these two men do.

Brennan’s novel creates a poignant tale of what it means to be a victim of Alzheimer’s. Two people close to me suffered through this disease, and the worst stage for both of them occurred in the shadow stage of the disease. They knew they had it; they knew they forgot things; they knew enough to cry for what they’d lost even though they couldn’t always remember what it was. Jack is in this stage, and at times, it’s painful to read, but it’s important to read.

I started this book on Monday night and finished it the next day. It’s not a long book, but it’s filled with well-drawn character sketches, particularly of Jack, Joe, and Ida. But Brennan also writes with vivid precision of the minor characters to help move along the plot without clogging its progression.

Brennan’s writing is concise and clear, and correct. These are what I call the three C’s of writing. His depiction of Alzheimer’s is correct. The heartbreak of the disease is clear through the dialogue and actions of Jack. And his language is concise as he moves the plot along without stopping to smell the flowers on the side of the road as these road warriors travel from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Omaha to Wisconsin.

I recommend giving this book a try if you want to immerse yourself in three very likable and charming characters who come to life in such a way that the fiction of our memory doesn’t matter so much as the effect it has on our living now.

Click here to read my interview with Kevin Brennan on Author Wednesday.

Author Wednesday – Kevin Brennan

typewriterWelcome to Author Wednesday! One year of posts introducing authors and their work to the followers of this blog has been a most pleasant journey. Today I welcome Keven Brennan, the author of several works of literary fiction. In his latest work, Yesterday Road, a “coming-of-old-age” tale, Jack Peckham finds himself on a journey into his distant past, helped along the way by Joe Easterday, a young man with Down syndrome, and Ida Pevely, a middle-aged waitress with her own mountain of regrets. According to Kevin, “We all tow our histories behind us as we make our way down Yesterday Road.”Small cover

Welcome to Author Wednesday, Kevin. I’m so glad you dropped by today to tell us a bit about Yesterday Road. What’s your pitch for this book book?
Jack Peckham is trying to find his way home. Home’s a tough nut to crack.

If Jack is the protagonist, who or what is the antagonist in your book?
The real antagonist in this book is memory. I have two characters struggling with it: one, Jack Peckham, who has a form of dementia that is preventing him from remembering anything about his past life, and the other, Ida Pevely, who wishes she could escape some of her more troubling memories.

So, though memory isn’t a character per se, I enjoyed playing with its possibilities, such as the way it isn’t always reliable or accurate and how it is always embedded in us even if we can’t call something up on demand. Jack has his entire history in his mind, but his mind has built a wall around certain painful things.

That’s so very true. We store away the emotion, if not the actual memory. I believe that all memory is fiction; just sit in on any family reunion of people raised in the same household. What type of research did you do in the writing of this book?
I did quite a bit of research about Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of memory loss, since that’s Jack’s main characteristic. I also have a character with Down syndrome, thirty-year-old Joe Easterday, so I did a lot of research on that, too. I wanted to make sure I was creating a realistic character, but one who could also carry some weight in scenes and dialogue.

Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in this book.
I have quite a few favorite scenes, actually. There are a lot of funny, poignant moments. But I think the first one a reader will come across is a scene where Jack and Joe get abducted by a hapless carjacker named Steve, who’s trying to get out of the reach of his bookie. That scene kind of sets the tone for the middle of the novel.

That sounds great. I just downloaded to my Kindle, so I look forward to that scene and others that I’m sure are equally enticing. What is the best thing someone could say about this book?
The best I’ve heard so far from a number of readers is that they didn’t want the book to end. That’s a fantastic feeling.

I agree that hearing those words from a reading keeps me going. It’s always interesting to hear when other authors find their voice. Do you know when  first discovered yours?

Though I was already writing fiction in high school, I don’t think I really landed on my own voice or approach until I dug in and began a novel in my late twenties. Until then, I was probably emulating my favorite writers too much, but attempting a novel showed me how I could use different techniques and tones to get the effects I wanted. I discovered the possibilities of multiple points of view, nonlinear narrative, and use of thematic motifs, and that’s when I understood I had to be a novelist.

That’s not unusual to emulate at first. But at some point, it’s time to put down what others have done and pick up our own voice. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring said she never chose a subject because as a writer, the subject chose her. Has this ever happened to you?
Quite a while ago now, I stumbled upon a small factoid in the newspaper that described something I would never have thought to write about (baseball in prisons). I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and over the years I’ve been working on a novel based on it.

That’s an interesting one. I think you’re supposed to write that book. Do you have similar messages or themes that you try to convey to your readers?
I keep gravitating to identity themes, for some reason, especially the idea that we are what other people see us as. I don’t happen to believe that as a philosophy of life, but it’s really ripe territory for fiction.

Does setting play a role in your books?
Sometimes it has a very large role, as in my first novel, Parts Unknown.partscover There the setting of Sonoma dairy country has had a major influence on the characters, between the stark beauty of the place and the harsh working conditions for dairy farmers back in the ‘40s. The main character, Bill Argus, has also banished himself to the California desert, which suits his assessment of himself.
Other times, the setting is more of a backdrop, as is San Francisco in my next book. It simply provides the right urban vibe for the action.

Both settings sound very powerful. All of your books are in the genre of literary fiction. Do you plan to continue writing in the same genre?
Well, I always write what I like to think of as literary fiction, but I also like to apply the techniques of literary fiction to other genres. My next book is essentially chick lit. I also have a dystopian novel, and I’m developing a thriller, a couple more comedic novels, and a historical novel. I don’t like to repeat myself!

Chick lit, huh? That’s quite a leap. Be sure to stop by when you’ve published that one. What’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?
People have said a lot of nice things about my latest book, Yesterday Road, but I always go back to a reviewer of Parts Unknown (from the Denver Post) who said I had proved that male authors can write female characters convincingly. It really bolstered my confidence and reassured me that it’s not a big risk to attempt that. Characters are people, after all. And they should also be unique, so that stereotypes and gender roles are often off the table.

That’s quite high praise. How about your preferences when writing? Do you listen to music while you write?
I do listen to music, and it can be anything from classical to jazz to indie to electronic. I tend to prefer instrumental music while I write though. Lyrics seem to distract.

I’m the same way. I love lyrics, and I tend to sing along and I can’t do that when I’m writing. What do you do during your down time?
I’m trying to get better at jazz guitar. I bought a very nice Gibson last year, and I feel I owe it some dedicated practicing.

Good luck with that. Thank you so much for stopping by Kevin. I look forward to reading Yesterday Road and your other books. 

Readers: From April 1 through April 7, Yesterday Road will cost $1.99 instead of the regular $3.99.

Brennan copyAbout Kevin Brennan:  Kevin, author of Parts Unknown (William Morrow) has rung in the new year in Red Square, performed as a busker in the London Underground, wandered the California desert, and auditioned unsuccessfully for a chance at stardom on reality television. He and his wife live in Northern California.

 

Links

Yesterday Road (October 2013, literary fiction/humor)
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Sony
Kobo
Smashwords

Children thumbnailOur Children Are Not Our Children (August 2013, flash fiction)
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo
Smashwords
Sony

Parts Unknown (January 2003, literary fiction, William Morrow/HarperCollins)
Direct from author (signed & inscribed)