Book Reviews

Wonderful New Beginnings Don’t Only Happen to Young Folks

Note: I just came home from my first trip to Georgia! It was a wonderful vacation seeing family, friends, and new sights. I also was able to place my two books, True Mercy and The Book of Revelations, into the Tall Tales Bookshop on 2105 Lavista Road in the Toco Hills Shopping Center. I will be working on putting my books into other bookstores as well.

Title: The Lost Manuscript

Author: Cathy Bonidan

ISBN: 978-1250256300

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 299

Published on January 12, 2021

When I first began reading Cathy Bonidan’s The Lost Manuscript, I dismissed it as the author trying to ride on the coattails of the feel good bestseller The Authenticity Project. But I continued reading and I am glad I did.

Long ago a young man tried his hand at writing. He finished half the manuscript and while trying to send it off to his friend to review, it got lost. He never wrote again, but thirty years later, when a woman checks into the Beau Rivage Hotel on the Brittany coast, she finds his manuscript in a drawer. She reads it and becomes intrigued: Who wrote it? Why is the second half written differently than the first? Who wrote lines of poetry at the end?

Anne-Lise, does not only wonder. She becomes determined to find out the origins of what she deems an amazing, life-changing story. And Anne-Lise is no ordinary reader: she works at her family’s publishing house. Putting on her detective hat, she finds an address in the middle of the manuscript and mails it, inquiring about its origins. The author, a man now in his fifties, responds that he is amazed she has discovered his long-lost work that he had given up ever retrieving years ago. He does not know who wrote the second half or the poetry, so Anne-Lise investigates further by writing to the hotel owner and others to finally get to the bottom of this mystery. She enlists the help of her friend Maggy, a woman who has closed herself off to life and love, as well as a host of strangers who had a role, either directly or indirectly, in the making of the novel. Through her search, Anne-Lise not only solves the mystery but also ends up aiding those involved find love, happiness, and resolutions to their personal difficulties.

I know—it is a little far-fetched. But what I appreciated the most is reading a story where miraculous, life-changing events and happiness are still possible for those over fifty. Getting older does not mean it is too late for new beginnings.

And let’s face it—with all the stress of everyday living and the troubling news in the media, couldn’t we all use a feel good story?

And now I am on a mission: French author Cathy Bonidan’s debut novel, The Perfume of the Hellebore Rose, won eleven awards in France. I am now anxiously searching for an English translation.

Idelle Kursman is a writer, proofreader, and copy editor. She is available for writing projects. Contact her on this website today.

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Interview with Blogger Ashley Hasty

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Hasty, a fashion history and marketing professor who also happens to be a booklover. She is the author of the Hasty Book List, a popular book review blog. What makes Ashley unique is she not only has a passion for books, but she also cares about authors and appreciates the hard work they put into writing their books. As you will read from the interview, Ashley is a book cheerleader, never employing wit or sarcasm to demean authors’ efforts.

1.) Q. Tell me about your background.

A. I studied fashion marketing in undergrad and went on to get my Ph.D. in fashion history. For seven years I taught fashion courses at Indiana University, two years at Indiana State, and now I teach marketing and retail courses at Loyola University in Chicago. 

2.) Q. How did you begin the Hasty Book List?

A. Hasty Book List started out as a hashtag on Instagram as a way for me to keep track of the books I read. It was an easy, visual list for me to reference when my friends asked for book recommendations. For years my friends suggested that I start a blog so that I could expand my reviews beyond a short IG caption. I resisted because I thought the time I spent writing about books would take away from the time I could spend reading books. Eventually, my husband set up a website for me and said, “If you want to start a blog, the site is waiting for you.” He (correctly) thought I needed a creative outlet to distract me from my day job at the time, which was growing increasingly stressful. 

3.) Q. What genres do you enjoy reading the most?

A. Given my Ph.D. in fashion history, it will come as no surprise that my go-to genre is historical fiction. I wrote my dissertation on WWII War Brides, so I tend to gravitate toward WWII novels. However, I find when I read too many WWII novels, I get weighted down by the heaviness and sadness of war so I have to mix in other genres as palette cleansers. I also enjoy reading literary fiction, contemporary romance, mystery/thrillers, women’s fiction, and biographies.

4.) Q. What is your format for reviewing books?

A. I have a three-paragraph format for reviewing books: how I found out about the book, what it is about, and what I thought of it. It is important to note that I am not a book critic – I am a book cheerleader. I see the value in all books, I’m keenly aware of how difficult it is to write a book, and I have no interest in cutting down authors who poured their heart and soul into the book. 

5.) Q. What factors influence your decision on whether you are willing to review a book?

A. Time is the number one factor influencing my decision on whether I am willing to review a book. I wish I could sit around and read all day. As with most book lovers, my “to-read” list is already longer than I’ll ever be able to finish in this lifetime (and it continues to grow!) It breaks my heart every time I have to tell an author I can’t read their book. 

6.) Q. What trends in publishing have you noticed in the last few years?

A. One trend I’m dying to talk to someone about is how so many historical novels show the back of women on the cover. I have theories about why – perhaps so we can project any face onto the woman? But sometimes this trend extends to books about real women – why not show us her face? You know what she looks like. Why make me Google her for a picture? This could be because they couldn’t pay for an actual photo of the woman so they used a stock photo of a woman from the period. Or it could be that they are trying to stick with the trend of showing women from behind on historical fiction. I’m not really sure – I would love to discuss this with a book jacket designer sometime!

Any book jacket designers out there who are willing to answer this for me, please contact me! 

7.) Q. During COVID, have you received more book review requests or less? Has the pandemic affected your ability to work on your website on a regular basis?

A. So. many. more. requests. I went from receiving (on average) 5 books a week to receiving 10-20 books a week. It is really overwhelming at times. When the pandemic first hit, the publishing industry was in chaos. No one had prepared for this kind of scenario – publication dates were pushed back, shipments were cancelled, everyone was scrambling. My email was blowing up with requests from authors and publicists to either promote books now and push them hard or to reschedule for a later date. Eventually, around the middle of summer things started to settle down and we all got into a groove. But I think I’m just now finding solutions to the new challenges of promoting books during a pandemic.

Interestingly, the pandemic has given me more time to work on HastyBookList.com. My classes at Loyola moved to fully online in March of 2020, so I had extra time that used to be spent commuting. I had quite a bit of experience teaching classes online so I didn’t struggle with that learning curve like so many of my peers who had only taught in-person. 

8.) Q. I saw on your website that you have a Literary Travel Guide? Please explain what that is.

A. Back when we could travel I would put together a list of places that had literary-themed destinations of the cities I visited, including famous authors’ homes, libraries, bookstores, literary-themed restaurants and hotels, etc. I haven’t written one in awhile, due to the pandemic, but I’d love to start that back up again someday. I’ve completed nine literary travel guides for the cities of Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, Kauai, Palm Springs, St. Louis, Bloomington, IN, Cabo, and Sedona. You can check them out here

9.) Q. You also have a link “5 Books to Get You Out of a Reading Rut” on your website. Please explain what that is and how that began?

A. This is a post I put together of 5 books, each from different genres, that I couldn’t put down. If you ever find yourself in a reading rut (not loving what you’re reading, feeling like you’re reading the same book over and over again, starting books but not finishing them, etc.) then you might want to give one of these books a go. I was trying to think of a post that readers could keep in their back pocket for whenever they needed a little inspiration. I hope you’ve found it helpful!

10.) Q. What are your future plans for your website?

A. Well that is the million dollar question. For the past couple of years and a half I’ve had a lot going on personally – buying a house, moving to a new city, rebuilding after a fire, the pandemic. My plan was just to hang in there. Ha! Now that we are back into the house we bought, almost done rebuilding, and there is an end to the pandemic in sight, I find myself looking more toward the future. I would love to focus more on book jacket designers and audiobook narrators – these are two series that I started that I haven’t seen many other book bloggers focus on. They are a bit more involved to put together, so I haven’t done as many of them lately, but I’d like to put more time and effort toward those in the future.

I am also hoping to do more in-person events once we are on the other side of the pandemic. But I think that is a bit further into the future.

11.) Q. What advice would you give authors based on your experience reviewing books?

A. Not being published myself, I hesitate to give any “advice.” I haven’t been through what authors have been through. Advice I’ve heard:

  1. Be patient. Be persistent. The difference between a published author and an unpublished one is often perseverance.
  2. Write the book you want to read.
  3. Hire a professional editor/book doctor, if at all financially feasible.

12.) Q. Promoting a book is very challenging for authors. If an author asked you for advice on promoting their book, what would you tell them?

A. Now this is something I’m more qualified to speak about. Haha! Being an author is so tough, you’re asked to be so many things, including an author, an editor, a social media expert, a salesperson. Likely, you won’t be confident at all of these things. If you feel your weakness is promotion/social media, here are a few tips:

  • Start your social media presence early. As in now. If all of the social media platforms are overwhelming, choose one: Facebook or Instagram are the two biggest. Invite all of your friends to follow you. Don’t be shy about this. Then start following authors and engaging with them. Comment on their posts, celebrate their book launches, etc. Do the same for book bloggers/bookstagrammers. If this is not something you enjoy, do it for 30 minutes a day and then go back to something you love. Share your successes, no matter how small on this social media platform. Readers will want to find you somewhere, so having some sort of social media presence is key.
  • Reach out to book bloggers/bookstagrammers as soon as you know a publication date. The earlier the better – their schedules will fill quickly. Make their posts as easy as possible – by giving them as much information as you can. Or even offer to write a guest post if they say their schedule is full. Guest posts tend to take less time for them to put together. Like, comment, and share any posts bloggers write about you – they’ll remember your support next time.

13.) Q, Do you have anything else you would like to add?

A. Idelle, thank you so much for asking these questions! I’ve so enjoyed working with you on my blog and I loved having the opportunity to turn the tables and be the one answering questions for a change. Wishing you and all authors the best of luck promoting their books. I know it isn’t easy, but you really did the hard part by writing and publishing a book! We already know you can do hard things. 🙂 

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. She is also a copyeditor and proofreader. Both books are available on Amazon. True Mercy is also available on Smashwords and The Book of Revelations on Draft2Digital. Please contact Idelle through this website for your editing and/or proofreading projects.

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Man's Search for Meaning

Book Review for Man’s Search for Meaning: Advice Desperately Needed Today

Dr. Viktor Frankl’s classic is as relevant today in helping with bereavement and grief as it was when he wrote it in 1946

Title: Man’s Search for Meaning

Author: Viktor Frankel

Publisher:  Beacon Press

Genre: Popular Psychology Psychotherapy                           

ISBN: 978-0807014271

Release Date of this Edition: June 1, 2006

We should not ask ourselves what we want from life. We should ask ourselves, what does life want from us?” –Viktor Frankl

Many of us lost loved ones last year. Some through the natural aging process but a significant number due to COVID-19. Pandemic rules dictated that funerals be limited in size so only a tiny number of relatives and friends could attend and support the bereaved. Added to that, traditional mourning customs often had to be modified or abandoned due to virus concerns. Following the funeral, people had to face the business of going on living, and with so many job losses and furloughs, together with travel restrictions and limit on family gatherings, they were deprived of the usual coping mechanisms.

Dr. Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian-Jewish neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, and author. He was also a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. He is the author of the classic Man’s Search for Meaning. I first read it in college and reread it recently for help with my own bereavement and grief.

Dr. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy. Verywellmind.com describes it as “…a theory that … through a search for meaning and purpose in life that individuals can endure hardship and suffering.”

In the first section of Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Frankl describes the stages of shock an inmate of the concentration camps endured once they got off the cattle trains. Some people gave up while others found the strength to go on through  thoughts of reuniting with loved ones and/or going back to their professions. Survival in the camps depended quite a bit on luck: finding a sympathetic guard to offer assistance, having a skill the Nazis found useful, and/or finding a fellow inmate for support. But diseases like typhoid were rampant, the prisoners performed hard physical labor from early morning to night, and they were undernourished. Dr. Frankl was one of the lucky ones who survived. However, upon his liberation, he found out his pregnant wife, his parents and his brother had perished.

The second section of the book is about logotherapy. Here are only three takeaways from the book’s treasure trove of useful advice:

1.) Human beings need a certain degree of tension in order to maintain their mental health. By tension, he is referring to the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task” (p. 105). Being in a tensionless state with nothing to be preoccupied or involved in is actually unhealthy.

2.) The concept of meaning in life is different for every individual. In fact, it can differ from day to day, even at different times during a day. Frankl describes it best: “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. . . Everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it” (p. 109).

3.) Many of us need a change in attitude toward life. Instead of focusing on what we expect out of life and what is the meaning of life, we should be asking what life expects of us. This means taking responsibility and pursuing the right course of actions and behavior. 

I close by retelling a story from the book. It was the only thing I remembered from reading it in college. After the war, Dr. Frankl stayed in his native Austria to practice psychotherapy. One day an elderly doctor came to see him. He had lost his beloved wife and was so overcome with grief that he could not go on. Instead of counseling him, Dr. Frankl asked him what would have happened if he died before his wife. The man replied that his wife would have suffered terribly. Dr. Frankl then told him “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who now have to survive and mourn her” (p. 113). The doctor then shook his hand and left the office, needing no further treatment.

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

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Yes to Life

Books of Comfort and Consolation after Living Through 2020

The year 2020 needs no introduction. Many people will agree it was the year from hell. Job losses, schools going remote, and worst of all, losing loved ones. My father passed away in June (non-COVID related) and my mother passed in December (COVID-related). This has put me in a new cold stark reality along with the hassles of wearing a mask every time I go out, continually washing my hands, and coping with an extremely restricted social life. I know countless other people have their stories as well.

But there were a few bright spots: I wrote and published my second novel, I took online courses in copyediting, proofreading and SEO copywriting. I also took on a few projects in these areas. And I read some books that helped me stay sane and grateful. I would like to share my list of books that gave me comfort and consolation during 2020.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

An elderly artist who once enjoyed a prominent career now lives as a recluse. When he leaves his personal journal behind in a cafe, Monica, the café owner, finds it and adds her own innermost thoughts. Other characters find it and add their own entries. They meet the artist, who ends up teaching art lessons in the café where the characters bond as they learn how to draw.  

The Authenticity Project is the perfect book to read when you are forced to stay at home and need some cheering up. It can also restore your faith in the goodness of special people.

The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Two lifelong friends find they are in a rut and dare each other to try new things and actually learn to 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 back into the dating world. Her friend, Unity Leandre, also 34, married her husband at 18 and became a widow at 31. She is still keeping vigil for her late husband 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.

The Friendship List is about overcoming challenges and the highs and lows of taking chances in the quest to live a full, satisfying life. 

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas

Joseph, an English graduate student at Berkeley, receives the news that his father in Egypt has passed away. He lives with his mother and stepfather and has only visited his father a few times. Joseph has a Jewish mother and a Muslim father and has never felt particularly connected to either group, yet when he receives a mysterious package that his father directed to be sent to him, it propels Joseph to travel to Cairo, Egypt. There he learns about his father and his dedication to being the last in his family’s line to serve as watchman of the Ibn Ezra Synagogue, a job that has been in the family for over a thousand years. After his journey Joseph not only understand his father but also finds himself.

Losing my own father and mother, I was able to relate to Joseph’s sadness, introspection, and the realization of how special my parents were.

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything by Victor Frankl

The Austrian Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl was the author of the classic Man’s Search for Meaning. Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything is from the author’s series of lectures he gave almost a year after the holocaust. His message still resonates today: it is essential to find purpose even after experiencing setbacks and tragedies. Having a purpose in everyday living sustains a person and allows them to be productive and happy so as not to give in to despair. This is coming from a survivor of the holocaust who  lost his wife and unborn child in the death camps.

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything gives the reader a newfound appreciation of life and strength to carry on.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui

In the early years of Syria’s civil war, the Assad regime bombed the town of Daraya daily and cut off basic supplies in order to force out the inhabitants. A group of young Syrian men resisted and hid in a library. They read books such as Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, discuss their ideas and beliefs, and talk and communicate with a journalist via the computer about their plight. The journalist then wrote this book to capture their spirit and strength while their lives were at risk on a daily basis.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War was a reminder that although we are suffering from the COVID lockdown, there are people in the world who are enduring even worse trials.

The Book of Revelations by Idelle Kursman

This is my own women’s fiction book that I wrote and published this year. It is a story about self-acceptance. After going through much upheaval earlier in her life, Christine Goldberg is married and works as a representative for a modeling agency. Her husband adopted her twins, a boy and a girl who want to learn about their biological father, but Christine refuses to divulge his identity. But her past catches up with her and she is forced to not only deal with the challenges she has worked so hard to escape but also deal with new ones. Christine must face her old demons now, including her estrangement from her parents and her children’s questions about the mystery of their biological father.

For those who feel like they failed to live up to their life-long dreams and goals, this story is about being easier on yourself and looking at all you did accomplish.

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Book Review of Anxious People

Book Review: Anxious People is a Winner

This year has been heartbreaking. I lost both of my parents. Countless other people have lost loved ones. There were many job layoffs and jobs furloughed. Families and friends could not get together, even for Thanksgiving. Reading Anxious People is just what I needed. A bank robber on the verge of losing everything holds people hostage at an apartment viewing the day before the New Year. Readers learn the backstory of most of these characters, including the policemen who rescue them.

Swedish author Fredrik Backman combines insights about life, adding humor and some absurd conversations as he chronicles the hostage drama. The theme is life is a struggle and everyone carries their own pain and anxieties. We often cannot create the life we desire but should instead try to get through as best as we can while hopefully cherishing some good memories along the way. At the heart of the story is the despair we often experience when things do not go our way or we cannot save our loved ones from themselves.

We meet a father and son police officer team working on the case. The father is a widower who misses his wife, attempts to boost his son’s confidence in his police skills, and despairs that he cannot help his drug-addicted daughter. The bank robber recently experiences job loss, is in the process of getting divorced, and cannot pay the rent for an apartment. In addition, the robber’s spouse wants full custody of their children. The hostages have their stories as well.

Many of the keen observations about life come from the police officers reminiscing about their late wife and mother. She was a priest and this is just an example of what she used to tell them:

We can’t change the world, and a lot of the time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we do what we can to help whenever we get the chance…We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to convince ourselves that that will just have to…be enough. So we can live with our failures without drowning” (p. 203).

The witness interviews consist of absurd conversations between the various hostages and the police officers that I found too annoying to be funny, but the dialogue and background information gave the story depth and insights. Backman builds a fascinating character with Zara, one of the hostages, in detailing her meetings with her psychologist prior to the main action.

The writing is superb, the plot is brilliantly woven, and the story is peppered with sharp observations about life.

I must be frank. This has been an all-out crappy year. But reading Anxious People reminds me we must get through these times and try to be there for each other.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. They are for sale on Amazon and many other places.

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