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Archive for September, 2009

the-climbing-boyThe Climbing Boy

By Mark Lichterman

Metropolis Ink (c) 2003

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Climbing-Boy-Mark-Lichterman/dp/0958054363

 

After reading the synopsis for Mark Lichterman’s THE CLIMBING BOY, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I felt pretty certain the story would educate me on the dreadful working conditions of young orphan children sold into apprenticeship in the 1800s, but what I didn’t know was the depth of feelings this enchanting little story would evoke in me. At just 180 pages, THE CLIMBING BOY is a short novel that is anything but short on plot.

Orphaned at the age of four, Zachariah is sold into apprenticeship to a chimney sweep for the cost of back rent owed on his late mother’s flat: a sum of one pound. Thus begins his life as a climbing boy. The life of a climbing boy is grueling and perilous, not only in the immediate dangers of being suspended by a rope harness and lifted down into zigzagging, sometimes stories-high chimneys, but also in the long term ill effects of breathing in soot and chimney dust on a daily basis. Add to that Zachariah’s master’s cruelty and you will find a boy’s life that is much more an existence than a childhood. Even so, eight-going-on-nine-year-old Zachariah maintains a positive outlook on life and a sweet disposition that makes him a favorite with many of his customers.

Set in London, England in 1843, the bulk of the story takes place in the span of just one day — December 24, the day before Christmas. The tale begins with Zachariah awakening from a beautiful dream of his deceased mother’s love to enter into the reality of his now bleak and loveless existence. Throughout the day, the reader follows Zachariah and his master, Johnson, as they go about their work. Turning the pages, the reader feels a full spectrum of emotions (the terror of being suspended in a chimney that sways precariously in the wind, the heartbreak of a child being denied a gift he really wanted, and the joy of a stranger’s kindness to name but a few) as the story builds to a delightful, fairy tale ending.

I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the life and heart of this wonderful character until he truly felt like someone I knew and loved. The cruel Johnson is equally well drawn, and though I hated him at times, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him in the end. That’s how talented a storyteller Mark Lichterman is. His poignant fictional details blend with the hard truths of what, sadly, was reality for many children of that era, to create a beautiful story that, while being educational, is also sweeping and unforgettable. I highly recommend this heartwarming tale to anyone who enjoys seeing the good guy win. I know I certainly did.

–Honeybee

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wendy walkerI’m feeling very guilty these days. Yes, I know. This is hardly uncommon among mothers, especially working mothers. Still, when I sat down to write this blog for Working Girl Reviews, it was guilt that was on my mind.

Here is the source of this mind-consuming guilt. I love my work. I love writing, editing, thinking about what to write. I love working in pajamas from my bed or out on my little patio. I love the progression of a novel, from the little aha! moments that come while I’m carting the kids around or taking a long run in the woods, to seeing my book in a store. I love meeting people, writers, readers, bloggers and reviewers. I love talking to book groups about the issues my characters face, and even the author events that give me massive anxiety but always seem to go just fine.

I love my work. This should be a good thing. A gift, really. And what’s even better is that my work gives me a great deal of flexibility to be with my kids when they’re out of school. But another summer has come and gone, and I realize that I am the only mother among my peers who is jumping up and down with glee. Indeed, the other moms are lamenting the loss of carefree, unstructured days with their children, lounging at the pool or beach while their kids play with their friends, and sleeping in.

When I think about summer, I think about checking my BlackBerry while standing in line for a ride at Playland, sneaking interviews and twitter updates, and scrounging like a scavenger for time to meet revision deadlines. This job that is very manageable during the school year, is suddenly at odds with my other job as a mother. From May until September, I do a kind of mental gymnastics to give my three very energetic boys enough fun and exercise and mental stimulation, while still keeping my career afloat. Wherever I am, there is a part of my brain pulling me toward my desk.

A good friend of mine called the other day to catch up. She’s a partner at a very big law firm and has an awesome career. Lately, she said, she’s been swamped at work. When Friday night comes around, she feels like a new person. Her weekends are spent with her kids, hiking and exploring. We talked about how cute they are at these ages, and how precious this time is because they are growing up so fast. And while I agreed with all of that, I felt this pit in my stomach that for too much of the time I spend with my kids there is a part of me longing to work.

There it is. I’ve admitted it. I love my kids more than anything. And there are moments with them that are so spectacularly wondrous they eclipse any and all satisfaction that comes from work. Still, on a day to day basis, I am bitterly torn between them and my desire to pursue my career.

How is this to be reconciled? I ask myself this every day. For most of the year, I have it figured out. I belong to my job from 9-2, and I belong to them from 2-9. Given the morning hours to work in a steady and concentrated way, I can be totally present for my kids all afternoon and evening. I drive, cook, clean, supervise homework, get them to bed. We play outside and have bon fires and soak in the hot tub. And work is neatly tucked away. The year flows by and soon it’s winter, then spring. May eventually comes again, and the chaos is upon me.

I wonder many things about this. I wonder if it would be different if I worked in an office year round, if I had no choice to make between work and kids. I wonder if I’m going to wake up in 20 years and kick myself for pulling out that BlackBerry at Playland and not being fully present every chance I got. I know plenty about the dilemmas women have balancing work and family from editing a book (Power Moms) for Chicken Soup for the Soul. There is no perfect solution, and guilt abounds.

I have been a stay-home mom for eleven years. My career as an author used to be nothing more than a pipe dream that gave way to every demand the family had. I wrote whenever and wherever I could, but never when anyone or anything needed me. When that dream became more of a reality with my first book deal, I let it come in a little more, carving out time with babysitters so I could finish a chapter. Now, ten years later, it has become a career that I could easily work at day and night. My second novel, Social Lives, was just released and there is a movie deal in the works with the producers who made the Twilight series. Running through my mind are all the ways I could be promoting the novel, spreading the good news.

School started last week. As my kids dragged themselves out of bed early, I tried hard to mask my excitement. It wasn’t that I wanted to be without them. Yet I can’t deny that I was looking forward to the glorious treat that was coming my way. Time. Now that it’s here, I will make good use of it. And when it’s gone, I will savor my children who will soon be gone as well. Round and round it will go. I’m not sure I will ever figure any of this out. Maybe it’s enough that I can write about it.

Wendy Walker

http://wendywalkerbooks.com

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Working Girl Reviews is excited to have Four Wives author, Wendy Walker, guestblogging on Monday (Sept. 14) and thought we’d give you some info on her newly released novel Social Lives. Don’t forget to check back for Wendy’s blog post on Monday.

Social Lives ushers in “recession lit”
In Wendy Walker novel, struggling wives take stock of economy, husbands
 
NEW YORK – Blame it on the collapse of AIG, the Bernie Madoff scandal, or a combination of nasty recession realities.  Suddenly, the women’s fiction heroine of old no longer seems to hold her heralded spot at the local bookstore.  The celebutantes and shopaholics are no longer confessing – and in fact, the darker realities that plague the wealthy class are gaining more literary attention than their escapist predecessors.  With dwindling finances, smaller credit card limits, and consequential marital problems, contemporary readers are more likely to identify with Revolutionary Road than Madison Avenue.  Enter recession lit.
 
“I wanted to look at what happens when everything is lost, but from a woman’s perspective,” says Wendy Walker, author of Social Lives (St. Martin’s Press, September 2009, 978-0-312-36772-5, $24.99).  “In many ways, these wealthy social structures are built like a house of cards, particularly for the women who don’t have another deck to play with.”
 
But as Ruth La Ferla wrote in her August New York Times article, “misfortune can be a fine muse…Once unabashedly focused on the perks of wealth and fame, this spate of new fiction is tackling the recession and its attendant woes,” writes La Ferla, who pointed to Walker’s Social Lives as a prime example.
 
“We’re hearing a lot about the wives of men like Bernie Madoff. Should they be punished for the crimes of their husbands?” said Walker in a recent interview with British news daily The Independent.  “You get a division of labor when a husband is banking so much money on Wall Street: Wives give up their jobs and become professional homemakers and mothers, but these skills have no market value unless they’re attached to a man.”
 
One such homemaker is Jacqueline Halstead, a character in Social Lives whose husband is being investigated for a Madoff-like scandal.  Set in a gilded enclave of Manhattan’s prosperous elite, Social Lives follows Jacqueline and three other women:  A billionaire’s wife struggling with her husband’s increasing distance, her teenage daughter wrapped up in sexual scandal, and a wary newcomer afraid of the neighborhood’s suffocating social mandates.  
 
The second novel from Walker, Social Lives is – like her previous work Four Wives (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) – also set in a wealthy Connecticut neighborhood.  Only now, the fragilities of her characters echo loudly in today’s headlines and news reports.
 
“Now, we have this new twist where the husband loses everything and the wife is looking at all she’s done and achieved over decades and realizing that she is still helpless – not only to provide for herself, but for her children as well,” Walker told MediaBistro’s “Galley Cat” blog in an August interview.  “It is thus an economic issue, a social issue, and a feminist issue all in one. What could be more interesting for women’s fiction?”
 
WENDY WALKER is a former commercial litigator and investment banker who now works at home in Connecticut writing and raising her children.  She is the author of Four Wives (St. Martin’s Press, 2008), the editor of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms (Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, March 2009), and the editor of the forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad, both releasing Spring 2010.  For more information, please visit www.wendywalkerbooks.com.

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Accordin- to-JaneAccording to Jane

By Marilyn Brant

Kensington, September 29, 2009

Genre: Light Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Author Website: http://www.marilynbrant.com

Pre-order buy link: http://www.amazon.com/According-Jane-Marilyn-Brant/dp/0758234619/

Bookworm Ellie Barnett is sitting in Sophomore English class with her newly assigned copy of Pride and Prejudice when sexy Sam Blain makes his move. Sam had been tormenting Ellie since kindergarten, but this was the first time he’d actually touched her skin and spouted blatant sexual innuendo. Although Ellie feels a strong physical attraction for Sam, he can annoy her more than anyone she knows. She feels she’s much too smart to allow a little thing like lust to override her good sense, especially with a boy as dangerous as Sam.

Ellie isn’t the only one who thinks Sam is the kind to stay far away from. Somewhere inside her mind Ellie hears another voice declaring Sam to be Ellie’s Mr. Wickham. Hearing the ghost of Jane Austen inside her head, Ellie decides she’s either crazy or suffering some terrible head injury. Jane convinces her she’s neither and that her ghost is there to guide her in the ways of life and romance, and that they both have lessons to learn from each other. Over the next twenty years Jane advises Ellie on all aspects of life, love, and romance, supporting her through many disastrous relationships. Ellie ignores most of Jane’s sage wisdom, preferring to tread her own path while searching for her Mr. Darcy.

When I first got this book for review, I knew it would be great fun and I was right.  According to Jane is an intriguing, appealing story full of warmth and wit. Although I consider myself more of a Bronte’ girl than Austen, I adore both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. So the plot for Ms. Brant’s novel greatly peaked my interest.

The author’s inspiration of having Jane Austen’s ghost living inside the heroine’s head was almost too delightful for words. But our heroine didn’t always find it so very delightful. Although she credits Jane with helping her get through high school and felt she was her best friend—the one person who was always there for her, she learned early on to block Jane’s presence when she needed to. And she especially needed to during the more intimately, sensual moments of her life.

Ms. Brant cleverly entangles the two women’s emotions and opinions, as Ellie seeks true love and Jane offers her, sometimes not appreciated, judgment of the men Ellie chooses to date. According to Jane is a fast read, perfect for the busy woman and the author has a definite gift for keeping you turning those pages. This is a book you don’t want to miss if you’re a fan of Austen, romance, coming of age, women’s fiction, or if you’re just looking for a highly entertaining story from an author with superb style and fresh voice.

–Willow

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