Cover of book reviewed

The Paris Hours: Great Writing but Ending Disappoints

I found Alex George’s The Paris Hours a beautifully-written story. Here is just a sample: “Every morning the piano rescues Souren Balakian from his dreams. The same low notes gently tug him away from everything that he has left behind. The ghosts that haunt his sleep are chased away by the music floating up through the floor from the studio below. He opens his eyes” (p.13).

The Paris Hours was published this year and is the first book of this author that I have read. Two of George’s earlier books have received widespread attention: A Good American was the #1 Indie Next Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Setting Free The Kites was also an Indie Next Pick, A Library Reads Choice, and a Midwest Connection Pick. In addition, it won the Missouri Prize for Fiction in 2018. Wow!

While reading The Paris Hours, I appreciated the diligence and care George took in creating each of the four central characters, ordinary people who have suffered greatly during the First World War in France. He elicits readers’ empathy as he draws them into their lives: a refugee from the Armenian genocide who made his way into the country after losing his entire family, a French journalist who also lost his family during the war, a struggling painter desperately needing love and luck, and a former housekeeper of Marcel Proust desperately searching for a notebook belonging to the late artist because it could ruin her life. The author weaves in other famous artists besides Proust, the rest being American expatriates living in France: Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, and Gertrude Stein, among others. But the story concentrates mainly on the four central characters and their quest for redemption.

However, as much as I enjoyed reading The Paris Hours, I was disappointed by the ending, which critics promised would be spellbinding. The lives of these characters are individualized and intricate, but for the conclusion they all come together in one setting. I do not want to give too much away other than stating I found it unsatisfying. Nevertheless, for readers who enjoy an author who produces beautifully crafted writing and unforgettable characters, The Paris Hours delivers.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations

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Look Forward, Not Back!

From the Author:

Nearly all of us have made mistakes that we wish we could go back in time and correct, thinking our present lives would be so much happier and fulfilling if we were able to do just that. But instead of dwelling on our regrets and constantly thinking, “What if I chose a different path?” and “It is too late,” we can use these experiences for growth and new opportunities. We are all aware that each person’s journey through life has its share of challenges and disappointments, and it is easy to feel depressed and shattered because we think opportunities have passed us by. Instead of holding on to negative thoughts, consider this: We may be exactly where we are supposed to be right now and those “missed opportunities” may have been disastrous. What we can do now is make the most of everyday, for our purpose may lie in what is ahead for us. In The Book of Revelations, Christina at times feels she made a mess of her life because of one indiscretion when she was in college. But by the end of the book she realizes that her indiscretion led to many blessings in her life and her other plans and dreams were not as all-important as she once believed.

So for those who can relate to Christina’s regrets, I want to say, “Relax, stop being so hard on yourself! Life passes by so quickly that you have to make the most of every minute.” Maybe you did not achieve the dreams you set out to accomplish, but you can strive for new goals and dreams. Often, the older and more mature we get, the more practical and realistic we become. Try to enjoy the blessings you have in your life now. As my late uncle used to tell me, “The secret in life is to do the best you can.”

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Meet Amy Shannon—Writer, Blogger, Book Reviewer

I am pleased to interview writer, blogger and book reviewer Amy Shannon. She is a prolific author who is dedicated to providing book reviews for indie authors on her website, Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews. On her second website, Amy Shannon: The window to my soul, starts with a blank page, she promotes her own work as well as provides promotion services for other authors, When I sent her my new novel, The Book of Revelations https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088F1P1SY, Amy promptly read it and posted her review. She also included my book review among a group of her other reviews in a special section of the e-magazine, Uncaged Reviews (www.uncagedbooks.com). As you will read in this interview, Amy’s work in the writing world is extensive and has recently expanded to podcasts.

1.) Q. Amy, please tell me about yourself and your writing career.

     A. I have been writing since I was a young girl but telling stories long before that. My mother used to call me her little storyteller because I was always making up stories or giving my own version of stories I have read. For a long time (and still do sometimes) I wrote poetry and short stories. In 2004, I started writing what I thought was a short story but ended up being a full-length novel. I published my first book Unwritten Lifein 2005 (since then it’s had several printings and updates). After that, stories were so much easier to write and they came to me so easily, but I kept going back to the characters in my first book, Unwritten Life. To date there are 67 volumes plus nine bonus books (it’s called the MOD Life Epic Saga).

 2.) Q. Tell me about your blog.

      A. I have two blogs. The first one I call my author blog, which is where I promote my own work and I also offer services to promote other authors’ works, especially indie authors. My second blog is Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews and that was started in 2014. To date, I have served over 1200 authors (and read and reviewed over 1800 books since then).

 3.) Q. What made you decide to become a book reviewer as well?

      A. At the beginning of the year 2014, I met an author online through LinkedIn. We were thinking about doing some book reviews together. At first, we were going to read each other’s work and write honest and unbiased reviews. Renee wrote children’s books that focused on children having cancer. I read all of hers but she was only able to read a few of mine. Her books were something very close to her heart. She herself had cancer and lost her battle that September. We were going to open our own blog together doing reviews but then she was gone, so I continued to do what we were going to do. The original blog was very raw and eventually, I found a new home with a better blog, which is what I have today. 

 4.) Q. Which writers are your role models and why?

      A. I am a big fan of classic work such as Walt Whitman’s poetry and stories, as well as William Shakespeare’s tragedies, but I really love his sonnets the best. I still read Edgar Allan Poe’s work, but I also read current authors such as James Patterson and Stephen King. I also think of all the authors that I read as role models and their writing as learning experiences because I can see a variety of writing styles. It’s not only shows me what I could challenge myself to write like but also a way that I would not want to write.

 5.) Q. What genres are your favorites? Do you turn down certain kinds of books?

     A. If I had to say I had a preference for specific genres, I would say crime genres and crime procedurals, as I like James Patterson’s Alex Cross series and his Women’s Murder Club series. I’ve also started reading Kathy Reich’s books and her Temperance Brennan series. I also like to read biographies about presidents and first ladies, interesting persons, whether it be someone famous or just an ordinary person’s memoir.

 The only books that I’ve ever turned away were books that were not in a published-ready state. Some authors in the past have sent me their rough drafts to read and I had to turn them away, but I’ve given them the option to resubmit for a review after the book has been edited thoroughly. I read genres of all kinds from any author. I’ve read everything from erotica to self-help to religion and politics, plus all types of fiction and all types of nonfiction. I’ve even reviewed books that I personally didn’t agree with the content, so I wrote the review based on the writer’s ability to write. I can pretty much deal with any subject matter, so it’s more about how it’s written than what is written.

 6.) Q. Being a writer, a blogger, and a book reviewer, have you noticed any latest trends in the publishing industry? 

     A. I know that trends come and go, but I think one of the biggest trends is being an indie author. In some cases, there is still a stigma to being an indie author. I hope with my reviews that I can show that most indie authors deserve to be read because their stories are great. Sometimes I find a gem that I wouldn’t have normally sought out.  I think the digital version of books is a trend that won’t go away and will get better with the different types of technology, but I think that paperback or print books will always have a place on someone’s shelf. I do see an increase in audiobooks and if I have read a paperback or a digital version and they want me to also review their audiobook, I will get the audiobook and listen to it, so I can also review on the narration and tone of the story. 

 7.) Q. You have accomplished quite a bit, including providing a valuable service for authors. What are your career goals for the next few years?

     A. I try to do what I can for any author. Sometimes I have to charge small fees for editing, proofreading, or other promotional services. I do take part in blog tours on my author blogs. Unfortunately, this past year I have been diagnosed with a tremor disorder which affects my ability to hand write and type. Actually, I’m filling out this interview using voice recognition and dictation. I hope in some way to be able to still tell my stories and I’m getting used to dictation software. Though I have thought about disbanding my book review blog, I don’t see it ending anytime soon. I would love to write again, even if it is short stories or poetry because writing is my passion and telling stories is in my soul.

I also co-host a podcast with author McKensie Stewart and it’s called The After Show. It runs on most Fridays except holidays and breaks between seasons. We are always looking for more guests and ways to increase our audience because it’s an outlet to help authors, especially indie authors, tell their story.

 8.) Q. How has the pandemic affected your business? I know the publishing industry has been hard hit. As someone who published a book this year, I am finding it difficult to promote. I must add that unlike you, many reviewers are not reviewing books now.

      A. I don’t think the pandemic has affected my business. However, I’m not getting as many requests for doing promotions, but I’m getting requests for reviews from authors who have written more than one book during the pandemic. 

 9.) Q. Before the pandemic, were you attending writing groups on a regular basis? Do you attend writer conventions? How do you network with other authors?

      A. Actually, I don’t really attend writing groups or conventions. I’ve network with other authors and make connections through email and social media. Usually we meet because I’ve read their books. I also connect with editors, publicists, publishing companies, and other author representatives. Usually once they send me one author, they send me more authors. 

 10.) Q. How many books have you written? Tell me about your books and what inspired your writing.

       A. In total and under three pen names I have written 114 books. Last year I retired two of the pen names and this year released as their final release a collection of all my books for one purchase. Under my name, Amy Shannon, I have written over 96 books and that is including poetry and my large epic saga. I have probably written my last full-length novel, but I have enough books written that I can continue to just publish those books until the year 2034 or more, depending on my releases. I have actually scheduled all my releases up to that year.

 As for inspiration, everything inspires me: my surroundings, other authors, and my observations of people. 

 11.) Q. Is there anything else you would like to share?

A. I am a big supporter of the indie author community. And basically, my goal for my life is to be an inspiration for someone else. I am a lifelong learner and I like to share what I’ve learned with others.

I would like to thank Amy for participating in this interview. I must also add that she works quickly. How do I know this? I gave her my interview questions in the late afternoon one day, thinking I would hear back from her in at least a few days, but she sent me back all her answers early the next morning!

 To learn more about Amy, including her contact information, the following are her links:

Author Blog: http://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/amyshannonblog

Website: https://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/stories

Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews: http://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/bookshelfreviews

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amyshannonnovelist/ and https://www.facebook.com/bookshelfreviews/

Twitter: @amyshan_author

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. She is a freelance writer, copyeditor, and proofreader.

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Book Review: The Friendship List — The Power of Good Friends

During this highly unusual time of COVID-19, I believe it is beneficial to read books with a happy ending because all of us need to feel hopeful when we are under stress. The news is filled with people catching the virus, losing their jobs, and feeling depressed because they cannot socialize. We are all hoping for an end of this novel virus, but in the meantime, why not read an engaging novel with a happy ending?

Therefore, I wrote my book review about such a book. The Friendship List by Susan Mallery takes us back into the world before COVID-19. People can get together, go to other people’s houses without fear, eat in restaurants, etc. Two lifelong friends find they are in a rut and need to try new things and actually live. One of the women is 34-year-old Ellen Fox, who accidentally became pregnant at 17 and was abandoned by her boyfriend before the baby’s birth. She has been raising her son and supporting him while never venturing into the dating world. Her friend, Unity Leandre, also 34, married her husband at 18 and became a widow at 31. She keeps her late husband in her heart and has never dated since. These ladies make a pact: Each writes a list of things she wants to do and whoever actually accomplishes the most on her list will pay for the two of them to go to a luxury spa for a weekend. A few of their goals include having a serious relationship with a man, getting a tattoo, and skydiving.

Both women have issues that are holding them back, but I am not going to give the whole plot away. Although I winced when people hugged and kissed because I am now conditioned to not do those things during COVID-19, I eventually got into the rhythm of the story and forgot about our bizarre times. By the time I finished The Friendship List, I found the ending so heartening that I had to write a book review. We cannot hug and kiss our friends or have get-togethers now but it is still a joy to have them in our lives.

As for Ellen and Unity’s boyfriends, there was hugging and kissing in greater detail than I am normally comfortable with reading. Personally, when I write, I think these things are better kept to the reader’s imagination. Of course, for those who do not share my opinion, I shall say there is no lack of bed scenes in this story.

The Friendship List is about overcoming challenges and the highs and lows of taking chances in the quest to live a full, satisfying life. It is also about the power of a great friendship that gives us not only love and support but also many happy times. Susan Mallery is an extremely gifted writer, and reading her book was such a delight that I had to write a book review on my blog to recommend it to others battling the COVID-19 blues.

Idelle Kursman is the author of two novels, True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. Both can be found on Amazon.

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Back in Newport

Clear blue skies. Rippling ocean waves. Cool summer breezes. Relaxed people walking past small shops; others riding boats and taking tours.

I have been dreaming of Newport, Rhode Island for months. I find the summer heat oppressive and draining, so I yearn for cooler temperatures, which always brings my mind to Newport.

But a vacation in Newport was impossible for this year. My father passed away in June and I needed to visit my mother in Providence every chance I could get away. Besides, Newport is extremely expensive. In previous years my family and I took vacations to Newport, but we stayed in nearby Middletown because hotel rates were more reasonable. Of course, we were then forced to drive to Newport where parking on the narrow, congested streets proved difficult. Yet the ocean breezes and comfortable temperatures always beckoned us.

Fortunately, we were able to take the last Friday in July off and visit my mother for the weekend. We were planning to stay at the same Providence hotel but it was all booked. Not only that, but the only days we were able to visit my mother at the nursing home, which was on lockdown, were Friday and Sunday.  I began searching for an alternative hotel when my husband said, “Let’s spend a few nights in Newport.”

“No way!” I said. “Newport is too expensive.”

“Let’s look online to see if we can find a deal.”

The idea immediately took root in my mind and I logged onto the computer. We found a deal but it was still exorbitant compared to what we normally pay, so we continued looking for something better.

The other hotels charged even higher rates.

“Let’s stay in Providence,” I told him.

“No, this has been a tough year. We need to relax and enjoy ourselves.”

I shook my head. “It costs too much.”

“Let’s splurge for once. We need it,” my husband insisted.

I was unconvinced but went back to that original hotel deal by the water and booked it.

When we arrived in Newport, I looked at the water and the sights but could not appreciate them. My father loved Newport and now that he was gone, life seemed to lose all sweetness and excitement.

 But after the first night, we woke up to the shining sun, the people strolling, and the boats sailing. We walked outside and I realized we had made the right decision. Everyone around us was relaxed and in vacation mode.

As tough as this year has been, even though life will never be the same again without my father, the world still held promise and hope.

 Newport brought me back.

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