My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard – Book 5

My StruggleIn which our author, never at a loss for words, spends his 20s figuring out how to use the right ones. In the previous installment of Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical epic, the narrator was a teenager hoping to start a novel and put an end to his virginity. Now, just turned 20 and starting college at the national university in Norway, he’s adjusted his ambitions only slightly: can he get serious about writing and romance? In this book’s first section, both goals take a beating. He’s been accepted into the school’s prestigious writing workshop under the tutelage of national luminaries like Jon Fosse, but his output is desperately subpar. (“Apart from the stupid names and all the clichés, and the lack of psychological insight, I quite liked what you wrote,” one classmate tells him.) As for settling down, his brother, Yngve, winds up stealing away the woman he had his heart set upon. So in the 14 years that follow, Karl Ove becomes aimless and reckless, drinking heavily, playing in bands and hanging out with musicians (in one memorable scene he drunkenly vomits in Bjork’s apartment), taking menial jobs (including a stint helping the mentally handicapped) while launching a sideline as a book critic, and cheating on his girlfriend. All of this, of course, becomes grist for the mill, and the novel becomes a bildungsroman about literary victory snatched from drunken self-loathing. That makes it the most conventional book in the series, but its form echoes the urge for conventionality he’s seeking. And in the context of the entire series, it’s a self-deprecating study of how stories are made and found and how the best ones get ignored. His father’s death was a heartbreaking event in Volume 1, told from a decade’s distance. He elides it here, suggesting he lacked the literary and emotional tools to process it at the time. An admirably seriocomic look at a headlong leap into maturity. –Kirkus

The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux

Girl from Summer HillFollowing a bad breakup with a boyfriend jealous of her career success and a falling out with her too-demanding-to-be-borne-a-moment-longer boss, chef Casey Reddick has decided against getting involved in relationships for the foreseeable future. Her attention turns to other things. She is charmed by the town of Summer Hill, Virginia, and by the little guest house on the Tattwell plantation that the owner’s cousin is letting her stay in. All Casey needs is peace and quiet and a great kitchen in which she can cook to her heart’s content, and she’s good to go. Then one morning, she discovers a strange naked man showering on her front porch. He is unaware she is living there.

Tate Landers is a megastar in Hollywood and the owner of Tattwell, and he is back in Spring Hill for the first time in a long while. His cousin Kit is putting on a production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at the local theater, and in a moment of weakness and familial love, Tate promised he would play Mr. Darcy. The last thing he needs is a woman he thinks is a reporter spying on him from the guest house, especially when he’s showering. However, it just so happens that woman turns out to be his new leading lady. At times, quaint and charming, and at others romantic – this book manages to have some fun without taking itself too seriously.  –Beth Frasider

3 Stars

The American Girl by Kate Horsley

American GirlFrom a bright new talent comes a riveting psychological thriller about an American exchange student in France involved in a suspicious accident, and the journalist determined to break the story and uncover the dark secrets a small town is hiding.

On a quiet summer morning, seventeen-year-old American exchange student Quinn Perkins stumbles out of the woods near the small French town of St. Roch. Barefoot, bloodied, and unable to say what has happened to her, Quinn’s appearance creates quite a stir, especially since the Blavettes—the French family with whom she’s been staying—have mysteriously disappeared. Now the media, and everyone in the idyllic village, are wondering if the American girl had anything to do with her host family’s disappearance.

Though she is cynical about the media circus that suddenly forms around the girl, Boston journalist Molly Swift cannot deny she is also drawn to the mystery and travels to St. Roch. She is prepared to do anything to learn the truth, including lying so she can get close to Quinn. But when a shocking discovery turns the town against Quinn and she is arrested for the murders of the Blavette family, she finds an unlikely ally in Molly.

As a trial by media ensues, Molly must unravel the disturbing secrets of the town’s past in an effort to clear Quinn’s name, but even she is forced to admit that the American Girl makes a very compelling murder suspect. Is Quinn truly innocent and as much a victim as the Blavettes—or is she a cunning, diabolical killer intent on getting away with murder…?

Told from the alternating perspectives of Molly, as she’s drawn inexorably closer to the truth, and Quinn’s blog entries tracing the events that led to her accident, The American Girl is a deliciously creepy, contemporary, twisting mystery leading to a shocking conclusion.

Haper Collins – 3 Stars

The Edge of Forever by Melissa E. Hurst

Synopsis: In 2013: Sixteen-year-old Alora is having blackouts. Each time she wakes up in a different place with no idea of how she got there. The one thing she is certain of? Someone is following her.

In 2146: Seventeen-year-old Bridger is one of a small number of people born with the ability to travel to the past. While on a routine school time trip, he sees the last person he expected—his dead father. The strangest part is that, according to the Department of Temporal Affairs, his father was never assigned to be in that time. Bridger’s even more stunned when he learns that his by-the-book father was there to break the most important rule of time travel—to prevent someone’s murder.

And that someone is named Alora.

Determined to discover why his father wanted to help a “ghost,” Bridger illegally shifts to 2013 and, along with Alora, races to solve the mystery surrounding her past and her connection to his father before the DTA finds him. If he can stop Alora’s death without altering the timeline, maybe he can save his father too.

Opinion: This is a wonderful slice of escapism through a rabbit-hole or in this case, a worm hole, by someone with the innate ability to self-project or time travel. The book is a delightful read that doesn’t take itself quite so seriously and that’s part of it free-spirited charm. The book plays heavily on the candy-coated theme of “what ifs” of altering aspects of the past to change the future. This was a good read that I plowed through quite quickly and was somewhat surprised by a twist or two hanging inconspicuously like a coat hanger over the exit door. –Elise Grey

3 Stars

NY First Look interview with Alvin Conway

First Look: Mr. Conway, thank you for stopping by today to discuss your new book, All Our Days of Splendor and welcome to New York.

Alvin Conway: Thank you. It’s my pleasure, Jeanie.

First Look: I have to admit I was quite stunned after reading your book. It’s an amazing read. It’s one of those intellectual gems of the rarest varieties…and the poetic aspects of the book are eloquent and simply delightful.

Alvin Conway: Thank you

 First Look: As I understand it, this is your first fiction novel?

Alvin Conway: That’s correct – this is my first fiction novel, but my 12th book. It’s a pleasant diversion from some of the non-fiction subjects of my other books – physics, geology, and ecological science. However, it will be familiar terrain for anyone who has read any of the books of poetry I’ve written: Ariel, Sinfonia 9, Esprit, The Amethyst, and Callidora.

First Look: The 1920s was such a colorful time in the history of the world – the art, the fashion, the music, the beginning of the modern communication age, air flights, and transoceanic travel. A lot of books were written during this time period, but not necessarily about this time. What inspired you to settle on this particular time-period as a setting for this wonderful romance that unfolds between these two fascinating characters?

Alvin Conway: As you mentioned, 1920s was the beginning of the Modern Age – but it was also the beginning of international cosmopolitan culture – and that’s always a fascinating backdrop for an intriguing story of love, mystery, and wonder to unfold. The influence of Romanticism was still strong and being widely felt in Europe at the time, cubism and surrealism (as artistic movements) where prevalent in France, and there was this wonderful burgeoning of diverse ideas that flowed back and forth across the Atlantic after World War I through various mediums like art, fashion, music, literature. The 1920s was also a decade of unbridled excesses and the birth of the new aristocratic class in society that would reshape the world right before the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression changed everything. So you have this gold vein of affluence from corporate capitalism nestled over these two historical sticks of dynamite that people were dancing over, but were basically oblivious too. In my opinion, there couldn’t be a more dynamic time in history for two electric personalities to grace each other’s presence.

First Look: F. Scott Fitzgerald garnered our attention so vividly with his story of aristocratic society in Long Island, New York during the Jazz Age in The Great Gatsby. However, your story unfolds half a world away in Paris, France in the year 1926 in a completely different context. You captured the decadence of the times so magnificently through the eyes of the French and some will even compare your ornate sense of visual writing style to that of Fitzgerald’s. Have you read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby?

Alvin Conway: No, I haven’t read the book nor seen the film adaptations of the book but I’ve read This Side of Paradise and I think Fitzgerald was a great writer.

First Look: I have many favorite passages in the book. One of them being: “Time passed. She read passionately. Words knit distance, and stitched together ponderous pauses between episodic exchanges of dialogue. And as she spoke, we were ferried across the distance subtlety, imperceptibly, by the nuances of and charm of literary enchantments until we arrived at Le Chateau Charbonneau outside Paris.”

What would be one thing that would surprise people about All Our Days of Splendor?

Alvin Conway: That the book has this intriguing sense of mystery about time.

First Look: You explore themes from many Twentieth century French writers in your novel – notably authors like Marcel Proust, André Breton, and Paul Éluard. Is there a significance reason these writers were interwoven into the fabric of the story?

Alvin Conway: They all came out of the school of surrealism. Elements of French surrealism and German expressionism later found their way into cinematic film noir themes in the U.S. during the 1940s. I think surrealism in literature was a fascinating movement. It was a prominent force in Paris in the 1920s. I believe anything that alters our perception of reality or juxtaposes contrasting ideas as a subtext for deeper contemplation merits some degree of discussion. Surrealism has intriguing creative aspects, especially if you can incorporate the idealism or symbolism into the central tenets of a story. In that respect, All Our Days of Splendor is homage to the movement – as it is a nonlinear narrative that plays against convention by meandering in and out of time – sometimes while conjuring up intriguing revelations and surprises. Essentially, something is lost and something is gained in the process through a pathway of experiences involving the various people the central character comes in contact with. Proust’s book À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) touches on certain aspects of this odyssey process, as does Joyce’s Ulysses. And of course André Breton, and Paul Éluard were non-centrist founders of the surrealism movement.

First Look: The Roaring Twenties was a remarkable time period for women. You emphasize and highlight this a lot in your book.

Alvin Conway: Women in the 1920s were so intriguing because they had just broken out of the shackles of Victorianism with all its constraining idealism and they were establishing their own identity and independence during the birth of the Jazz Age. They were fighting for equality, while at the same time flaunting their own brand of sexuality and femininity. They were bold and brash, and all of this was colorfully wrapped in some of the most intriguing styles and designer ensembles of the entire fashion era.

First Look: I love the characters in this story. How much fun did you have creating them?

Alvin Conway: The characters unfold as the story unfolds. It was like a magical experience with all the right people and parts coming together in this wonderful synchrony, and with poetic virtuosity. The characters brought in just the right things to say at the appropriate time, when they just happen to be nestled in the appropriate place, and all those elements greatly enriched the narrative aspects of the story. You’ll feel that rhythm in the tapestry of characters when you read the story – and you’ll get lost in the charm, and in their colorful sense of style.

First Look: Mr. Conway, thanks for talking with us today.

Alvin Conway: Thank you for the invitation.

First Look: And there you have it: All Our Days of Splendor by poet, artist, and author, Alvin Conway – I personally think is the first must read book of the summer and I was glad I was able to get my hands on an advance copy. All the staff here wants one, by the way. I love this book, and thank you for writing it.

Rose Garden 2

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All Our Days of Splendor by Alvin Conway

 Splendor Book B

Summary: Paris 1926: Les Années folles as the French called it, “The Crazy Years.” It was the Roaring Twenties. It was the dawn of the Age of Modernism, feminism, the flappers, the birth of cinema; it was the decade of the automobile and radio. It was the reckless years of wealth and exuberance, where stock markets toyed with ideas of fanaticism, and where legends lived, loved, and died. Paris France was at the heart of a new cultural revolution that was reshaping and changing the world. Thomas E. McCann came to Paris to change his life. His life ended up changing everyone around him. There were parties, class privileges, there were flowing rivers of champagne, there was extravagant wealth, and everyone lived and loved like no one thought the wild celebrations of this Golden decade would ever come to an end.

Opinion Nothing could have prepared me for this book – not its sleek black cover, its unique literary style, its lofty poetic aspirations, it visceral moodiness and impressionist tone, its lucid foray into French aristocratic privileges during the Jazz Age, its endearing love story, or it rich dialogue. All Our Days of Splendor by newly-commissioned fiction author, Alvin Conway, is visually sumptuous – meaning words are pushed to new visual dimensions. The book is a variable literary feast for the eyes, ears, and mind. One could spend a lifetime and a half searching for a relatively new and undiscovered gem like this and never find it. The poetry is divine, the characters are quintessentially cool and likable, it’s laced with intelligent discourse and picturesque imagery, and it takes place in Paris, France of all things during the height of the Roaring Twenties. What’s not to like? I read it once, and then read passages of it aloud to friends – and it turned a dozen heads with everyone asking me, “What is that you’re reading?” I smiled delightfully. I think I have a new favorite book.  – Lisa Harding

5 Stars

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