A Rift That Lies Between Us is a coming of age story about love, tradition, race, and the impact of unlikely friendships. Farisa is an art-major, who escaped the pressures of her highly traditional Muslim family, by going to college out of state. This is where Farisa meets Caiden, a charming, but sometimes overly dramatic classmate who Farisa forms an unexpected friendship with. Despite their drastically different backgrounds often getting in the way, Farisa’s relationship with Caiden shifts something inside her that proves to be the exact push she needs to start living her life, for her and not just everyone else.
Following a coming of age story that starts in college and goes through early adulthood was refreshing in and of itself, but the fact that this novel also tackled the difficulties of first-generation kids growing up with the conflict of traditional family pressures, and more modern beliefs face was a delightful departure from the norm. Muna was able to bring us into the conflict and pressures of Farisa’s Muslim Bangladeshi-American family in a way that is accessible and eye-opening.
While Muna was able to give us a well-rounded view of Farisa’s family life and what that demanded of her, some of the attempts at representation seemed a bit forced. I’m all for more representation for minorities in books and media, but some of the lesser storylines about LGBTQ+ issues and mental health didn’t get the focus and the detail that it deserved and as a result didn’t feel as meaningful as it should have.
I was invested in Farisa’s life and her relationship with Caiden but the book could have used a bit more time to develop some of the other storylines that were brought in to have the impact they deserved to have on Farisa’s life, self-discovery, and beliefs.
Farisa and Caiden’s relationship and all the forms it took over the 8 years this novel covered provided a refreshing look at the evolution of how cultural differences can inform relationships, for better or worse, and the importance of finding your own voice before it’s too late.
I haven’t read a book in a long time that I couldn’t put down in the way that I couldn’t put A Rift That Lies Between Us down, I found myself giddy with excitement, devastatingly sad and completely engrossed in Farisa and Caiden’s story.
Pages: 278 | ASIN: B07T324W4L
As the Daisies Bloom follows the life of August and shows how relationships and love have lasting effects. What was the inspiration for the setup to this emotional story?
The inspiration came to me quite unexpectedly. I woke up one morning with the opening chapter in my mind and the characters came to me as I began to write down the story. I have written free verse over the years and the reference to the “Stories for Tyler” which August describes as his tiny systematic theology are Bible characters stories I wrote a few years ago and decided to work in as a companion to this work. (That book is also on Amazon under the title “August Kibler’s Stories for Tyler.”)
August is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind his character development?
I think the review addressed this perfectly. I wanted to convey the complexity of racism, sexism, militarism, patriotism and the judgement the gay community faces from religion in particular in as compelling and compassionate a voice as I could muster.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have written a sequel which is also set up in the memoir style where Tyler (as executor) finds a file on August’s computer which delves into more of August’s ancestry, life as a child, college days and finally in Boone bringing everything back to the present with the Marvel-Jemisons. I plan to release this in January assuming my friends reviewing it now find it compelling enough to proceed.
T. P Graf’s As The Daisies Bloom is as enchanting as it is charming. The story is intimately and poetically told. Like a well-written symphony, it has a rhythm and magnetism that is undeniable. It is especially hard not to fall in love with the main character, August.
While it is a work of fiction, this novel gives a heartfelt account of August’s life that is so touching, so authentic, and for lack of a better word so human. It is clear that this character was so thoroughly thought out, his experiences so beautifully brought to life.
Although the book starts with a chance encounter between August and a young family just freshly arrived in town, it ends in an interweaving of lives that we never see coming. The author also does well explaining the details of August’s life before this chance meeting and how the past has spilled into the present in interesting ways.
The fact that this book is written in August’s own voice, even with the accent and all, gives it an authenticity reminiscent of a memoir. What is more captivating though is that the author has managed to use this man’s seemingly simple life to draw attention to serious societal issues.
By easing us into topics like racism, sexism, faith, patriotism, and homophobia, he has personalized them, given them faces, invoking empathy and deep introspection. With neither insults nor judgment, he has made me think deeply about what it means to be human, to love, and to be loved.
Apart from the use of descriptive and almost poetic language, I also love that the author took his time to fully develop the characters in this book. Even though they are described as seen through August’s eyes, I could clearly picture each character. And not just physically, but who they are as a person.
It was clear what each one stood for and what was most important to them; something difficult to fit into 184 pages. Unexpectedly I found myself laughing with the characters and mourning with them, their struggles seeming so real to me somehow.
Pages: 193 | ASIN: B08CMPHL28
In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow was a unique historical fiction novel colored with themes of guilt, sorrow and suffering over all that had been lost. Although this was a very emotional novel, it wasn’t all negative emotions, it also had happiness, romance, and a (possible) love like no other, mixed in with some supernatural elements and fantastical hints of history. The story caught my attention in the first couple of pages, remaining consistently entertaining throughout with only rare moments that seemed to slow a bit due to necessary exposition. The detail throughout the book is absorbing and really pulls you into 1940’s Japan. When it came time for the atomic bomb to drop I could see the horror surrounding Micha as he searched for Kyomi, the burning bodies that he came across and the fear that he would never find her or Ai. I could visualize most every scene, which is something I truly appreciated in a novel that covered such a cataclysmic event that reshaped human history.
While Kyomi’s character was interesting I wanted to see more of her personality. Her character seemed monotone at first, but after awhile her character began to grow on me just as she developed in the novel. I liked Micah from the first page, I’m not sure if that’s because he was the first character introduced to me or because I could empathize with him, perhaps it’s because I felt bad for him after the plane crashed. I liked Ai’s character from the beginning as well, children are always fun characters and Ai was no exception. The three of them together made for a great read with interesting interactions and I liked some of the other spirits that they came across along their travels.
Something that made me enjoy the book even more was how the author used the actual terms used by the Japanese such as calling the military Kempeitai instead of using one of our military terms like Army, Navy, Coast Guard, etc. This happens frequently throughout the book which showed me that the author did thorough research for this book and it also helped me learn a few terms. This is an example of the authors dedication to historical detail in this book. Something that I praise the author for is the way that this novel helps you see different points of view from the American and Japanese sides in World War 2. It is also an exploration of Japanese culture at an interesting time in their history. It covers how the Japanese lived, their culture, their work, routines, the hardships they face and much more. I really loved having bits of history weaved into the pages and the way it gave me a new insight. History and fiction meld seamlessly in this novel to deliver a captivating story.
Pages: 344 | ASIN: B083Q4WRPD
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Italians of Lackawanna County uses photography to show readers how the region’s Italian community seeks to preserve its heritage. Why was this an important book for you to write?
This book was extremely important to me to write, especially in a time when so many stereotypes against the Italian-American community as a whole exist. My goal was not just to seek to preserve and promote the Italian culture and heritage of Lackawanna County, it was also to show a positive image of Italian Americans working hard to celebrate their origins and how they are working to make the region a better place to live and work. Pictures tell the story in a way that words cannot—thanks to the wonderful photographers and community members who submitted photos, this book comes alive and readers hopefully get a true sense of what it means to be an Italian American living in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania.
In this book you not only cover modern day traditions but you also trace the history of Italian immigration. What kind of research did you undertake for this book?
I have worked as a historian focusing on Italian American studies for the past 15 or so years, always placing an emphasis on local Italian history because my region is so heavily populated with people of Italian origin, like myself. Most of the research for this book is through interviews with the citizens, as well as through archives, such as the Lackawanna Historical Society and the Dunmore Historical Society. I also consulted scholars and archivists in Italy as they also have a wonderful catalog of history surrounding the various town festivals—this helped provide a background for the festivals that were brought here and I was able to truly tie them in to their towns of origin. This kind of work is more of a historic reconstruction, because a lot of the background information has either been lost or is unavailable—because of this, I rely heavily on people in the community who are willing to share their stories.
This book showcases Italian-Americans’ pride in their heritage and place in America. What were some themes you wanted to focus on throughout this book?
As I said before, I truly wanted this book to be a positive representation of Italian Americans and show how they contribute to the good of our society. I really wanted to focus on the fact that we are three or four generations away from the original immigrant generation here in Lackawanna County, but people are still passionate and proud to preserve the traditions their ancestors brought over so long ago. I also wanted to highlight the fact that our area truly embraces everyone of all ethnicities—while I focus on Italians, I do make mention that our Italian festivals have become more inclusive and you don’t have to be Italian to participate. I think that welcoming spirit is one of Lackawanna County’s greatest attributes and I wanted to showcase it as best as I could.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have two projects that I am working on right now. The first is a passion project about the Guardiese community in the United States. My grandfather came to the United States from Guardia dei Lombardi (AV), Italy, and he was extremely proud of where he came from. These Guardiese traditions were passed down to me by my mother and inspired me to research our local as well as our national Guardiese community. My research locally is complete and now I am working on the national research.
I am also researching Sylvester Poli, a theater magnate from Italy who really revolutionized vaudeville. I was part of the Leadership Lackawanna Core Program this past year and our team project was to create a historic display in downtown Scranton’s Ritz Theater, which Poli founded in 1907. The research we did for the project took on a life of its own and I want to continue to pursue it and possibly publish a book.
Both projects do not have a set time commitment due to research, but I would like at least one to be complete within the next 2-3 years.
Boasting one of the nation’s largest and most diverse Italian American populations, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, joins old and new with events such as La Corsa dei Ceri or St. Ubaldo Day in Jessup and La Festa Italiana on Scranton’s Courthouse Square. Every town in the county with an Italian population has its own story. Whether the people can trace their origins to Guardia or Gubbio, Felitto or Perugia, the Italians of Lackawanna County all share one thing in common: a strong sense of pride in their ethnic origins. In Images of Modern America: Italians of Lackawanna County, readers will find familiar images of summertime traditions, as well as new representations of how the region’s Italian community seeks to preserve its heritage.
Posted in Interviews
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Going through this book is akin to being virtually in touch with the Italian culture and customs. The author compiled text and images which show how beautiful the Italian community in America is and how wonderful the people are as they co-exist with others. Stephanie Longo tells the story of Italians of Lackawanna in a distinct and brilliant way that can’t help but admire the way of life of the Italians. The author starts by narrating the history of Italian immigrants who first moved to the county. The immigrants had to do menial jobs like farming, mining and other works that required hard labor. The first wave of Italian immigrants knew that only hard work would help them fend for their families. This notion was passed through different generations of Italian Americans as everyone had to work to survive.
The author shows the deep connection between Lackawanna county authorities and the Italians who live in the county. With pictures, the author talks about Italian-American themed events that happen throughout the county, the close ties between Pennsylvania administration and Italian officials in Sicily, the Lackawanna County Library System which promotes Italian American events throughout all nine of its branches, and the heritage and Italian pride witnessed in the county among other things. The author also highlights the monuments and buildings which were made in honor of Italian heroes and legends. They include the Gino J. Merli Veteran’s Center, The Christopher Columbus statue on Scranton’s Courthouse Square and the statue of Dante among others.
I absolutely loved the images Stephanie Longo shared of the La Cosra dei Ceri festival. The pictures were colorful and everything seemed perfect. La Cosra dei Ceri is a festival I would want to be part of if I ever get to be in Lackawanna County around May. I appreciate the author’s effort to explain in detail what the festival is about, and what each family does in honor of their patron saints. Religion and by extents Catholicism is a huge part of Italian living. It is beautiful how religion brings the masses together as they worship and celebrate life as one people.
Italians of Lackawanna County is about 70% images and 30% text. This is one of the things that made me enjoy reading this book. Pictures tell a lot and one can easily and quickly understand the content without having to read a bunch of words in a paragraph. I loved reading this book because the author shared a little history of the Italians in the county and how Italy is. Italians of Lackawanna County is a great educational read that I would recommend to everyone who wants to learn more about Italian-American culture.
Pages: 98 | ISBN: 1540228266
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Based on her own life, Michelle Peach has crafted an intriguing story in Gazelle in the Shadows. Some parts of the story are fictionalized according to the author. The novel opens with Elizabeth Booth who has been kidnapped. She’s battered and bruised and not sure who is responsible. Her British diplomatic immunity does not seem to be of any use to her at the beginning of the story.
We then cut to an earlier time on a cold, rainy April day in the north of England. She is in Professor Mansfield’s office, attending school at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in Durham University. Not sure where she will succeed, she decides to enter the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a Diplomatic Service and she loves it.
Most of her life seems to have been about finding out who she is in her family. She grows up wanting to leave home and go on adventures. The point of meeting with her professor on that April day is to convince him to allow her to do her study in Damascus. She is the only student from her class going there. On the flight to Damascus, she is told by the flight attendant that there are no hotel rooms and arranges a place for her to stay.
Starting with the people on the flight, I did have to suspend disbelief somewhat to make myself believe that she could be as naïve as she was behaving. It seemed odd to me that anyone would trust a man on a flight and follow him afterward, even if he did work for the airline. It does seem to me that it would raise red flags.
She is literally a stranger in this new land and finds herself offending without meaning to. For example, when she drops bread on to the ground, she does not realize that bread is a sacred food and should never be wasted. She finds that navigating this new, strange land is not as easy as she had expected. I did love her descriptions of the exotic locale. She really brings the countryside to life with her writing.
This story is filled with mystery and suspense. This story was interesting to be because, unlike most books I’ve read, it’s about a place I knew little about when I started reading. The cultural issues that arise throughout the story are every bit as interesting as what is happening in the story. The only negative about the book is that I felt I knew what might be happening early on in the story even though I was not entirely correct. Despite that, the author has crafted a story that kept me turning pages way past my bedtime.
Pages: 327 | ASIN: B07CPX2WH5
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Plum Rains on Happy House follows an American who is trying to turn an Inn into a school but is thwarted by the house’s strange creatures. What was the inspiration behind this unique story?
I live in Japan, and it’s a place I know well. The book’s dedication probably says it all:
This book is for Japan. It’s the place I call home—though it may not want me to. For over 25 years I have grappled with the dos and don’t’s of my host country, destroying the language in conversation, giving up, resuming more study, eventually resigning myself to the boundless plateaus of almost-speech.
And Japan abides. Like a patient steward, it absorbs the frolics and the ribbing, while providing a solacing habitat in which to write and teach and parent and grow.
I came over to Japan in the 80’s and I’ve lived in some pretty seedy guesthouses—what we call gaijin houses. In creating the residents of Happy House, I just mingled the characteristics of a few of the unique people I’ve met over the decades in Tokyo and in Los Angeles. In some cases, I didn’t need to exaggerate at all.
On one level Plum Rains on Happy House is a detective story. A fellow named Harry Ballse invites the protagonist, nicknamed the Ichiban, to Japan. But the residents of Happy House all deny any knowledge of this mysterious Harry Ballse.
Some readers may pick up on the references to the 1973 film The Wicker Man, about a policeman who is lured to a Scottish island to investigate the report of a missing child. It’s a game of deception. The islanders are playing with him. The paganism and the sexual activity the sanctimonious policeman finds so objectionable are simply part of the selection process—to see if he possesses the characteristics to burn in their wicker effigy so that the village will have subsequent successful harvests.
In Plum Rains on Happy House, the Ichiban must undergo his own horrific sacrifice to appease the house. My novel is in many ways a tribute to that remarkable film, and it has the same foundational plot lines, but I’ve laid down a hearty layer of satire and lots of cross-cultural lunacy.
There are some weird and fascinating things happening in this story. Was this an easy outlet for your creativity or was there some effort put into creating these things?
Nothing is easy. If women will forgive me the metaphor, creating Plum Rains on Happy House was like giving birth—it hurt a lot. There were points when I considered giving up because it was just too hard. I’m not a funny person, but I have little trouble dreaming up wacky stories and characters. The residents of Happy House had to be distinctively quirky. I didn’t know how bawdy things were going to become, or how much depravity would creep its way into the story. But once I had the characters they took charge, and I relegated myself to being, more or less, their stenographer.
Dialog was also something I paid close attention to. Of course, sharp dialog is vital in any story, but for this kind of back-and-forth humor to succeed, I felt it really had to have zip. Just like a comedian practices his delivery line, the dialog exchanges had to have real punch. As with most writing, dialog should say a lot , with very little. The communication isn’t in the words being said but in the subtext. Good dialog says it without saying it. One quick example from Chapter One has the resident of Room 3 (nicknamed The Goat) explaining to the new resident about his missing foot:
“I saw you looking at the bottom of my leg.”
The Goat scowled. “Obviously, you can see that no longer exists.”
“It’s in Cambodia.”
The Goat went into a cross-eyed fluster. “What is?”
Sometimes readers need to work a bit to understand the exchange, and I think they appreciate that. Dialog is an organic process. It’s the way characters talk in my head, and I think I know how to write them because they are all a part of me. It all works toward satisfying the element of what a good scene often comes down to: one person trying to get something from another.
Mix that in with the baffling idiosyncrasies of Japan and its language, and the vexing stages of culture shock, which frame the Ichiban’s adventure in Happy House, and readers have a lot to juggle, especially those uninitiated to living in other countries. I’m hoping this confusion is a part of the magnetism of the story. On top of that, one should remember the old guesthouse is haunted:
“Happy House is an amoeba everlasting, a floating world—capturing and sealing the self-indulgence of the red-light districts, the bordellos and the fleeting, delightful vulgarity of ancient Japan, an eternal time capsule of the flamboyant and the boorish.”
What do you find is a surprising reaction people have when they read your book?
The book has received mixed reviews. Of the five books I have up on Amazon, Plum Rains on Happy House was the first to receive a customer review of one star—perhaps rightfully so: the reader was “disgusted” by some of the more explicit scenes, and I think that was my fault; the earlier cover gave no indication of the sexual content within, and this poor woman was clearly ambushed. With the one star, I know I’m finally an author, and wear it as a badge of honor.
There are, however, cultural elements in the story that some will not understand: the usage of the various slipper customs inside a house, the daily beating of the futon, the laundry poles, the shockingly steep stairwells, the neighborhood garbage trucks that play cute tunes to let you know they’re coming, the confusion between the colors of blue and green.
The dichotomy of substance versus form also plays an important part in underscoring the tension—in the way one swings a tennis racket, or walks in a swimming pool, or plays baseball, or eats particular dishes: What should predominate—what you are doing or how you are doing it?
On another level, the story examines language acquisition and the role of structure within the learning process. The residents all have their various opinions: As teachers, should English be taught through some kind of lock-step formula, or would one be better off approaching it in a more hands off manner, rather like painting? Everyone seems to have an opinion.
The idea of structure comes to the forefront again when discussing what one character, Sensei, calls the hidden structure of the house, which, like the neighborhood (or any cityscape in Japan) appears as an amorphous sprawl. But look underneath this sprawl and one sees the organism. Sensei says that the randomness, or chaos, embraces a flexible, orderly structure, and he likens the house to an amoeba that has the ability to alter its shape. Similarly, this amoeba can be seen as a microcosm of Japan as a whole.
What are you currently working on and when will it be available?
I’ve finished the first few drafts of a story about Special Needs teens who discover time travel. But the adult teachers at the school find out what’s going on and abuse this ability to travel back into time for their own selfish needs. It turns out the ones with the Special Needs are not the teenagers—who are all somewhere on the Autism spectrum—but the supposed grownups, and it’s up to the teens to save the day. It should be out in autumn.
Thanks for having me!
The American in Room 1, however, is dead-set on turning the derelict Happy House into a burgeoning English school.
The house has other plans, and Room 1’s attempts are thwarted by a freakish creature that lives under the floorboards called “the Crat”.
Posted in Interviews
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