Get set for another emotional roller-coaster with A Charm of Finches by Suanne Laqueur

Suanne Laqueur’s upcoming novel : A Charm of Finches will be out later this year. I was provided with an ARC and as usual I was swept away! I do not know what it is about her books and writing, but it completely sucks me in and then I move only after finishing the book! Suanne deals with many pertinent issues in her books and handles the topics, the emotions and her characters very well.

About the Book:

A Charm of Finches (Venery, #2)

“I swear. Give me one more chance and I will make the most of it.”

From the author of The Fish Tales comes the long-awaited second book in the Venery series. In An Exaltation of Larks, Laqueur captured readers with a tale of life, friendship and the bonds of love that both create and destroy. A Charm of Finches follows Javier Landes as he retires from escorting, reinvents his writing career and invites love to be his friend. Both love and friendship arrive in the form of Steffen Finch, an art therapist from Manhattan, and what starts as casual deepens into a passionate relationship—everything Jav has ever wanted, and everything he fears losing.

Stef’s business card reads Curator & Sailor. His creative and insightful nature have made him into a talented therapist, the one to call for delicate, complex cases. While his career is full of excellence, in matters of the heart he’s barely mediocre. Openly bisexual, his committed relationships have always been with women, but at the age of forty, a failed marriage and a handful of forgotten lovers are all he can call his own. His professional success can’t conceal a deep need to connect with someone who inspires him to be the best he can be. Someone like Javier Landes.

Geno Caan, one of Stef’s patients, is likewise struggling to find the best of himself after a sexual predator destroyed his family. Unsure of who he is or where he belongs, Geno allows an alter-ego called Mos to make decisions on who gets to come near him and for what purpose. Living a double life within a web of protective lies takes its toll and after a suicide attempt, Geno enters a private rehab facility and starts to work with Steffen Finch. Under Stef’s patient and compassionate navigation, Geno uses art to express what Mos forbids to be spoken aloud—the crucial first step in taking back his life. But when Geno’s attachment to Stef gradually spills onto Jav, the boundaries between professional and personal begin to blur.

Over the course of a year, three overlapping lives form an unexpected and unconventional triangle, revealing how men make love in times of war, and how love is a great wisdom made up of small understandings. A Charm of Finches is an epic tale of survival and secrets guaranteed to make you think and feel and remember.

My Thoughts:

This new story by Suanne brings together three very different people in this story, highlighting their backgrounds and characters. She takes her time to focus on each one of them, including Jav, even though we have already met him and know his story (if you have already read An Exaltation of Larks).

Geno, a rape victim, is also forced to deal with the death of his twin brother and his father one after the other in a very short span of time. The trauma is not easy to deal with and his journey to healing forms the crux of this story. At the same time, Stef and Jav form an expected bond and take an instant liking to each other. The story of their growth as individuals and together forms the other part of this story.

Suanne deals with topics of trauma, self-discovery, healing as well as acceptance all rolled into one neat story. The emotions are deep and tug at your soul. They will force you to go through the issues of the characters with them and accompany them on their journey. A story filled with hope, love and everything good, Suanne doesn’t hesitate to highlight all the bad things that can happen in life and how they can be dealt with, without sounding preachy in any way.

The teaching techniques used and the concept of art for therapy is wonderful and frankly interesting to read about. The book on the whole is wonderful and as usual written in Suanne’s unique style of being to the point, and being an emotional roller-coaster. You will love them, hate them, cry with them, but you will not be able to put down the book until you know what happens in the end!

I will stop my review here, without talking a lot about the story for fear of divulging it all! Read it and enjoy!

Discover the goodness of humanity and the thoughtfulness of people in ‘Allie and Bea’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I was provided with an advance reading copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Little Bird Publicity for this wonderful opportunity.

About the Book:

Bea has barely been scraping by since her husband died. After falling for a telephone scam, she loses everything and is forced to abandon her trailer. With only two-thirds of a tank in her old van, she heads toward the Pacific Ocean with her cat—on a mission to reclaim what’s rightfully hers, even if it means making others pay for what she lost.

When fifteen-year-old Allie’s parents are jailed for tax fraud, she’s sent to a group home. But when her life is threatened by another resident, she knows she has to get out. She escapes only to find she has nowhere to go—until fate throws Allie in Bea’s path.

Reluctant to trust each other, much less become friends, the two warily make their way up the Pacific Coast. Yet as their hearts open to friendship and love from the strangers they meet on their journey, they find the courage to forge their own unique family—and begin to see an imperfect world with new eyes.

My Thoughts

Discover the goodness of humanity and the thoughtfulness of people in this journey of self-discovery and understanding. That’s the easiest way I could find to sum up, in entirety, the plot and story.

Written in the author’s unique style, we are once again treated to a story completely different from the others by the author. It’s amazing, as Ive mentioned countless times before, how the author can adapt her writing to suit the plot line, thus making every book of hers different. The differences in themes, in character creation, their personalities and even her form of expression changes, making her books pleasing and wonderful.

This story will make you cry, it will make you laugh and the author brings out the wonders of the world and life in general. She also emphasizes on  companionship and how everyone, no matter their age, seek out the same. Allie and Bea are two completely different people, both in age as well as personality. For Bea, having lived her life wholly until now with her husband by her side, her choice to go on a road trip and live in her van come out of necessity. For Allie, watching her parents get arrested and then being placed into the foster system force her to seek out life on her own, to run away. A chance encounter of these two ultimately sets them on a path of healing, self-discovery and a weird kinship develops. The lives they have lived so far are so far apart, that it takes time for them to understand each other. All of this is explained in chapters separated into their respective points of view. The journey they take not only opens up their eyes to a newer world, but to an alternate way of thinking. The same is true about the effects of the story on the readers.

Beautifully written and crafted, there is a lot for the readers to learn out of this book and is something that will stay with you long after reading it. The book is gripping and though slow at times, the pace is understandable. A refreshing new novel from Catherine Ryan Hyde, this will only seek to inspire the readers to pick up more of her books!

Dark and sad, Paige Dearth brings out a part of life that many don’t see, in her book When Smiles Fade!

About the Book:

When Smiles Fade

Emma’s father’s coldblooded beatings and the ultimate abuse to which he subjects her, lays the foundation of the person she becomes. As she matures into a resourceful teenager, she is unwilling and unable to stifle her desire for revenge. Reaching her breaking point she can no longer control the impulse to fight back and finally takes matters into her own hands.

Having learned the art of hatred from her father and the mastery of manipulation from her mother, young Emma now sets out to make a better life for herself, leaving the memory of the abused child she had once been behind her. Hardened by the heartless brutality she encounters and the dangerous situations she must overcome in the course of her journey, she faces every challenge that comes her way in her quest for a normal life for herself and for those she loves.

Finally a person emerges from within that guides her toward a better life until she learns of a secret that sets her on the path of ultimate redemption.

 My Thoughts:

What would you do if your only option to survive is to do anything? Would you resort to killing the people who hurt you to protect the ones you love? What does it mean to be hated and hurt? How do you live in a family devoid of the basic emotion that connects them, love and trust? How does your upbringing shape who you ultimately become?

These are the kind of questions that this book raises and answers in some ways. There cannot be a right answer, it’s more of a perspective which the author brings out in a gentle manner. This is required when dealing with topics of abuse and hurt. Paige Dearth introduces us to Emma and her younger sister, who are subject to severe abuse from their father, with a mother who turns the other way through all this. To be frank, it is expected that the children will be traumatized, and that is putting it mildly. These experiences can change a person and the author portrays the same through the protagonist, Emma. She is strong-willed and resourceful while at the same time has a pleasing personality. It becomes difficult to dislike her or condemn her actions when she is after all doing her best to survive.

The people the sisters encounter along the way leave profound impacts on their lives. Some help them and end up becoming life long friends while the others end up somewhere in a ditch, and that’s putting it mildly. Everyone craves normalcy and a mundane life at times and the sisters are no different. However, tragedy seems to strike  so many times, it’s a wonder that they still find reasons to smile. In the end, Emma has the last laugh, but it was worth it all.

The author’s writing is bold and to the point and she doesn’t hold back on her descriptions. There is no stone left unturned in the journey of the sisters and Emma finally learns that you move on – “When smiles fade”! The title is apt and the reader understands this eventually. The story has a lot of smaller plot lines, with each encounter giving us a different glimpse into the characters who support this story and take it forward. The characters are well developed and clearly defined, giving the reader a clear idea of their personalities and at the same time helping us understand how they fit in.

The final question of “Will she find redemption and be happy?” is answered and I really enjoyed the way the story ended. It proved that Emma is a survivor and this is an inspiring thought. There is a lot to learn and understand in this book and I strongly recommend the same to all.

Review: An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur

About the Book:

An Exaltation of Larks

September 11, 1973: Eleven-year-old Alejandro Penda watches from his apartment window as Santiago, Chile falls to a military coup, destroying his family and his childhood. Arriving alone in America, he’s taken in by the Larks: a prominent family in the town of Guelisten. Though burdened by unresolved grief for his disappeared parents, he becomes fiercely loyal to the Larks, eventually marrying one of their daughters, Valerie.

September 11, 2001: Javier Landes watches from his apartment window as New York City falls to terrorism. As one of Manhattan’s top-paid male escorts, this professional lover has never lacked for company and is loyal only to himself. But in the wake of 9/11, Jav is named guardian for an orphaned nephew in Guelisten and must open his carefully-guarded heart to pain he’s long suppressed.

Alex, Valerie and Jav meet first in their twenties, with a sudden attraction each finds strange and compelling. When they meet again in their forties, they discover not only is their bond still strong, but their life experiences are strangely similar. All have been shaped by separate 9/11’s, and their unfinished business from the past will change everything they know about love, loyalty and friendship.

“Life has rules. You cannot come in the middle of the night and take what we agreed isn’t yours.”

Across three decades and two continents, Suanne Laqueur’s fifth novel explores the unpredictability of sexual attraction, how family ties are forged, torn and mended, and how love’s downfall can turn to exaltation.

My Thoughts:

Wow! This is one intense read! Keeping in sync with her style of writing, Suanne has given us yet another wonderful book. After the emotional roller coaster that The Fish Tales was, this book only adds to her brilliant collection. This story is both different and in some small ways, same as that of the Fish Tales.

The author’s style of writing will ensure that the reader is drawn into the story. We have no choice but to become a part of it, another character added into the mix. We go through all the emotions and situations that the characters in the story do. The story deals with love, relationships, friendships and the trials people face when all this collide. The emotions will consume you as a reader and once you start, there is no stopping.

The love, tragedy and death that surrounds two of our principal characters is over whelming and heart wrenching. We follow the characters as they grow up, starting from their childhood right into adulthood, the story spans more than thirty years in their lives. The story also focuses on how these characters help each other deal with their lives and heal. They’re on the path to healing and self-discovery filled with compassion and love.

Suanne is back with characters who are bold, sensual, confident and deeply emotional, in touch with their inner feelings. They are strong enough to deal with their inner demons head on and to fight for the ones they love. They fight for what is theirs and it is always a collective “us” and not an “I” with any of the characters. All this makes it easy for us to fall in love with them and their journey in life becomes ours. The supporting characters (and I must say that there are many) are brilliant and make the story all the more enchanting. They add the right amount of spice that is required making it a great mix.

Love is the biggest motivator and driving factor behind this story. It is ultimately the cause of and reason for all the events that take place. As we watch Alex, Val and Javier grow in parallel but different story arcs, the reader will have no choice but to fall in love with them even as they fall in love with each other and turn their lives up side down.

Upon reading the summary/synopsis of the story, one can figure out much about the plot and thus I will refrain from explaining more about it for fear of revealing everything. This book is not just a simple story, it is a journey that the reader must prepare themselves to embark on with no chance of return. The story will touch the reader in ways that they would not expect and there will be no chance of putting the book down. Even after finishing it, for a time, the reader will feel as though there is a void inside them and they need time to fill it up again and feel whole. These are the kind of emotions that Suanne inspires in the reader through her writing.

Life is an unpredicatable roller-coaster ride and all we can do is choose the paths we want to take at each cross-road and then live with our decisions.

In conversation with Neil Hanson

I have had the pleasure of talking to Neil Hanson, whose new travel memoir, Pilgrim Wheels: Reflections of a Cyclist Crossing America was released in March. Here he talks about how he started writing and what inspires him as well as some information about his book.

Neil Hanson - Author Photo

What/who inspired you to start writing?

I don’t know that it was any single person or any single event. I will say that as a teenager, I fell in love with the stories of Mark Twain and Alexander Dumas, and probably from those early years always wanted to write. I was lucky in that writing came easily to me, so I was able to hone and improve my skills as the years went by.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’d call myself a pretty average middle-aged guy. I’m very active (cycling, hiking, fishing, etc), and like everybody else, have to work for a living and to support the fun things I like to do in life. One thing that is a bit unique is the level of eclecticism in my life, the things I’ve done, the interests I have. I’ve made my living in many different ways, and am always eager to explore the next adventure life drops in front of me. I was married for 30 years, and we raised 3 great children together. All three of those children live close to me still, and I have two grandchildren. My wife and I divorced a few years back, and am engaged to a wonderful and beautiful woman who also has 3 grown children and two grandchildren, so my family is about to double.

Who is your favourite author?

I still love Mark Twain. I also love the historical fiction that Ken Follett has been publishing. There are a few new fantasy writers I love, including Patrick Rothfuss and Anthony Ryan. Craig Johnson is an author of westerns that I really like. As for classics, John Steinbeck is hard to beat. Oh, and Neil Gaiman of course.

Which is the best part of writing a story?

Learning what the characters and the story have to teach me. Watching and listening to the story emerge.

How much inspiration do you draw on from real life experiences, with respect to plot, characters etc?

Close to 100% of what I write is a reflection of real life in one way or another.

What kind of impact do your stories have on you?

In many ways, the stories define the adventure I had in a whole new way. I get to relive the adventure in slow motion, feeling all the different aspects, colors, smells, and feelings all over again.

What was the original inspiration for your bicycle trip across America?

 I wanted to take a bike ride. A long bike ride. Hundreds of miles, just me and my bike. Why? No particular reason, it just sounded like a neat thing to add to the checklist of “fun and exciting things I’ve tried.” The idea became an adventure. An adventure to plan for and to move toward. A box to check off. Eventually, I was clipping into my pedals in Monterey, California, pointing south along the coast on a beautiful summer day, discovering America and me.

The trip didn’t take shape to be a journey of discovery. I wasn’t trying to heal from a lost job, or a failed relationship, or trying to discover myself. I just wanted to ride my bike a long ways, with a really open mind, to see how I did riding 100 miles a day, day after day.

But then things evolved a bit, and I began to discover more about me, about my journey, about the people I met. About America. It didn’t start off as any sort of pilgrimage or deep journey, but rather as a bike ride. But it morphed into this journey that discovered me, and a pilgrimage I didn’t really expect.

How far did you travel on this journey and did you deviate at all from the route youd originally planned?

Total distance was just over 3300 miles, just under 125,000 vertical feet of climbing. My average rolling speed was 14.2 MPH, the lowest temperature I rode through was 35F, and the highest temperature I rode through was 119.

My route did evolve as I rode, sometimes due to road closure, and sometimes just because I felt like trying something different. This book takes me up to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, which is almost exactly halfway, though Kansas is probably where I deviated from my route more than anywhere else.

Are there any moments that stand out as being especially meaningful or emotionally transcendent as you travelled?

 Beginning in the lush forests of Big Sur, climbing over the coastal range, then spending a couple of days drawn further and further toward the Mojave, really set me up for the depth and meaning I found out on my own in the deserts. Standing on the side of a deserted highway in the Mojave, not long after sunrise, feeling the power and vastness of the desert around me, swallowed in the silence, was one of those moments I write about in the book. Another was the afternoon ride through the heart of the Sonoran, mesmerized by the sensual dance of distant dust devils in the wind, fascinated by the cars disappearing into the shimmering heat of the asphalt in front of me as oncoming cars would appear out of that amorphous mirage.

 If someone were to propose a trip like yours, what advice would you give him or her?

 First, take the time to decide what it is you’re looking for in a ride. I really like the general route I took, although in hindsight, I probably would make some small changes. What I love about my route is that I was able to find some really fine roads to ride on, I saw a wide variety of landscape, and I feel like I really experienced the heart of American culture.

Second, I can’t stress fitness enough. Be sure you’re fit to complete whatever distance you’re setting out to ride. I’ve read several accounts of cross-country trips where a good percentage of the joy was lost until the rider slowly became fit enough to do the ride.

Third, I’d recommend thinking hard about the “style” or riding you want to do. Do you want to be fully loaded and self-sufficient or minimalist? One of the things I noticed in the accounts I read of other cross country trips was that sometimes folks didn’t think this through a lot. It’s easy to overlook, and my “pack” dwindled considerably as I rode, learning more as I went about what minimalism really meant. Too often folks burden themselves with lots of gear, mostly because that’s their “vision” of touring on a bicycle. Many of them then end up spending a fair number of nights in motels anyway, and eating at diners.

 How has this journey changed your impression of our country? Do you feel the same about America as you did before you decided to bicycle across the mainland?

 I grew up in Kansas, a product of Midwestern kindness. So I pretty much expect most people to be kind and generous. Even with that as a starting point, I was continually humbled and heartened at the generosity, kindness, and true concern that I encountered from people across America. Sure there were some rude drivers, along with a few other exceptions, but generally I was overwhelmed by the goodness and camaraderie people shared with me. From the young woman I met at the airport in Monterey to the old rancher who pulled over and gave Dave and me ice cold water on a 100+ degree day in Kansas, the goodness in people warmed my heart.

 Are you working on a sequel to Pilgrim Wheels? If so, what can you tell us about it?

Pilgrim Wheels takes the reader up to Medicine Lodge in western Kansas, and the next book will take the reader from Medicine Lodge out to Annapolis on the east coast. From the time I left the Big Sur coastline in California, all the way across the western half of the country, I was nearly always riding in some form of “The West.” The landscape varied from semi-arid to deep desert, the air was always dry, the views and landscape big and sweeping.

 But Medicine Lodge is where that changed. I swept down into Medicine Lodge out of the big Medicine Hills, with vast views across landscape that is iconic American West, and emerged riding east into increasing humidity and rich farmland. From that point all the way to Annapolis, the journey took me through various forms of the “Old America,” one made up of lush farmland, deep woods, humid air, wide rivers, and more history.