Thursday, 23 February 2017

Pam Jenoff's The Orphan’s Tale – Q&A and Giveaway


The day is finally here and I am delighted to announce that I am taking part in The Orphan’s Tale blog tour for the release of the latest novel by Pam Jenoff. I am featuring an exclusive Q&A with Pam and I also have a copy of this poignant and moving novel to give away below.

The Orphan’s Tale follows the story of seventeen-year-old Noa who was cast out by her family in Nazi-occupied Holland when she fell pregnant. Forced to give her baby up at birth, Noa discovers a train carriage full of babies destined for a concentration camp. She saves one of the babies and is soon on the run, eventually landing up at a German circus. There they take her in on the condition that she perform for them as part of the trapeze act. Can she and the star trapeze artist Astrid learn to trust each other before their first performance? Whatever the outcome, it soon becomes clear that those in the circus cannot hide from the war forever.

The Nightingale meets Water For Elephants. The Orphan’s Tale is a powerful story of friendship, love and sacrifice loosely based on several true stories from World War II, uncovered by Jenoff in her research.

Q&A With Pam Jenoff, Author of The Kommandant’s Girl and The Orphan’s Tale

I asked Pam six questions and was thrilled with her fascinating and detailed answers. Thank you for taking part Pam!

The Orphan's Tale is a complex story about trust and loyalty set against the backdrop of a travelling circus during the Second World War. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got the idea for the book and how the story evolved?

The novel, though fictitious, was inspired by two real events: first, the little-known account of the rescuer’s circus, an actual German circus that hid Jews, including rival performers from another circus. Second, the train of unknown infants was drawn from an actual, horrific event during the war. There are also elements of the book that were drawn from real life. For example, the instance of a German military officer being ordered to divorce his Jewish wife was true. Also, a real-life romance between a Jewish woman in hiding and a circus clown provided the idea for Astrid and Peter’s relationship in the book. Finally, while researching I was amazed to find a rich history of Jewish circus dynasties in Europe, which also helped me develop the story.

I found these remarkable stories in the Yad Vashem virtual archives which document the Righteous – people, often not Jewish, who saved Jews during the war.

The detail in the book is often quite startling. How long did it take you to research the book and can you tell us a bit more about that process?

Pam JenoffSome of my research is done before I write the book, other bits contemporaneously with the writing. In any event, armed with the stories from Yad Vashem, I began to dig deeper. I found a book on Jews in popular German entertainment and that book provided more detail about the rescuer’s circus and introduced me to Jewish circus dynasties in Europe. From there, I needed all kinds of research, about Jewish life and life in general during the war, in both Germany and France, where the circus travels. I needed to understand how they were able (and permitted) to keep performing, if at all during such grim times. I used a variety of sources: books, internet, periodical and photos from the time period, correspondence and other first-hand accounts.

Then there was the research about the circus in general. European and American circuses are different and I tried hard to get the details right. Interestingly, there are many websites devoted to historic circus arts. Finally, I had to learn about aerialist arts, such as trapeze. I began with books and videos and then consulted an aerialist, who taught me what was and was not possible. But first I had to understand enough to even know the right questions to ask.

Which character did you identify with the most in The Orphan's Tale and why? Was there a character you didn't like or who didn't turn out as you had intended?

This was one of the first books I’ve written with two narrators, Noa and Astrid. I would not say I identified with one more than the other. I like to write about the gray areas in people: no one is all good or bad, but rather we are a spectrum of our choices in particular circumstances. That for me is a key message in all of my books.

What was your hardest scene in The Orphan's Tale to write?

Hands down, the scene with the infants on the train. It is the opening scene and I knew that from the start, but I waited the longest time to write it. I knew that I had to put my own children on the train in order to do it justice. It is the reason I call this the book that it broke me to write.

As a prolific author, much of your body of work is set during the Holocaust. Would you say that now is more important than ever a time to write about the dangers of fascism and identity politics?

The Orphan’s Tale is particularly important in these tumultuous political times, when people in the United States and across the globe are wrestling questions of moral responsibility for refugees and victims of genocide and other human rights violations in Syria, Africa and elsewhere.   By taking readers into the unprecedented setting of a circus-as-sanctuary and examining choices of individuals and the collective to act for the greater good at their own peril, I’m attempting to use fiction to shine a light on these questions through the lens and lessons of history.

Your readers are always very keen to know when your next book is coming out. What would you most like to write about next?

My next book, still untitled, is about twelve young British women who went missing in Europe during World War II while working as spies, and the woman who goes searching for them – and who might or might not have betrayed them.


The Orphans Tale

Enter using the Gleam widget below to win a copy of Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale.

Pam Jenoff's The Orphan's Tale Giveaway

Where Next? The Orphan’s Tale Blog Tour

Wondering where to go next? Follow Pam Jenoff and HQ Stories and check out the blogs below for more exclusive content and giveaways.

Pam Jenoff The Orphan's Tale blog tour

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Jason Rekulak's Superb Debut 'The Impossible Fortress' ★★★★★

The Impossible Fortress - Jason Rekulak

Oh, the heady spring of 1987, when Bon Jovi was in the charts, the Commodore 64 was at the height of its popularity and Vanna White was on the cover of Playboy magazine. That moment in time when suddenly fourteen-year-old boys around the globe would stop at nothing to get their hands on a copy of that magazine. 

The Impossible Fortress is set in that spring and tells the story of three such friends, Billy, Alf and Clark who are growing up in what they call the armpit of New Jersey. When news of Vanna White's Playboy cover breaks, the friends plan a daring heist to steal a copy of the magazine. 

There is only one thing missing and Billy is going to have to befriend Mary Zelinsky, daughter of the owner of Zelinsky's convenience store, in order to get it. And that is where it all goes wrong. 

Billy's first love is computers and in Mary he discovers someone who is not only far more intelligent than he is but who is better at computers than he can ever hope to become. And Mary has a plan to win a local schools programming contest but she needs Billy to do it. 

Published by Simon & Schuster, The Impossible Fortress is the stunning debut novel by Jason Rekulak. It is one of those rare books that made me want to stop the clock as I approached the final chapters; I wasn't quite sure I wanted it to end and so I dragged my heals, procrastinating, before finally settling down to finish it. And when I did, my heart soared and then sank and then soared again, filled to bursting at this wonderful coming-of-age story. It has been a long time since I've loved a book this much and I was tempted to start it all over again once I'd finished. 

Which is interesting, because The Impossible Fortress was a snapshot of teenage 1987 in all of its nerdy, politically-incorrect glory and Jason Rekulak pulls absolutely no punches in his Polaroid-like rendition of life at that time and the horrible consequences of truly dreadful adolescent decisions. 

I've written before about the reasons that adults read young adult fiction but for me, The Impossible Fortress was something else entirely. The protagonist Billy is just one week older than me, turning 14 in April 1987 and so for me, this book was an absolute walk down memory lane. There were one or two Billys in my life and more than enough morally corrupt and hormonally motivated Alfs and Clarks. The result was an immersive experience unlike any I’ve encountered in recent years and an insight into the characters of my distant past.

It will be no surprise that I give The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak a superb five out of five stars and recommend to absolutely everything including lovers of the 80s, those who grew up then and fans of young adult fiction.



Friday, 17 February 2017

Reviewed: Love of My Life (2017) ★★★☆☆

John Hannah, Katie Boland, Anna Chancellor, James Fleet, Hermione Norris, and Hannah Emily Anderson in Love of My Life (2017)There is no convenient time for your cheating ex-husband to waltz into your life and profess his undying love for you but if you could choose a time, I bet it wouldn’t be the same day you find out you have a brain tumour.

Grace (Anna Chancellor, Four Weddings and a Funeral) is a successful architect with a lovely husband and two perfectly successful daughters. Yet on the worst day of her life, she awakens to find her ex-husband Richard (John Hannah) perched on the edge of her bed, telling her she is the love of his life.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Richard’s wife Tamara (played by the wonderful Hermione Norris) is not far behind him, the very woman that Richard left Grace for in the first place!

James Fleet and Hermione Norris in Love of My Life (2017)

And so the whole family puts aside their selfish needs and pulls together to support Grace in her time of need, ensuring that the days before her surgery are stress-free and restful.

Do they heck.

I wanted to like Love of My Life, I really did but I’m not sure it is the kind of film you can like. Anna Chancellor has some fantastic lines and I am thrilled to see that she is blessed with a good script after the horrible way she was treated in Four Weddings and a Funeral. The problem is that with the sole exception of her boss Ben (played by the dreamy Greg Wise), every single character in the film is absolutely despicable.

Anna Chancellor and Greg Wise in Love of My Life (2017)

Which is fine. Families, especially complex and broken ones, are full of nasty, self-serving characters at the best of times but it makes it a little difficult to place Love of My Life in a category. Is it a romantic comedy? I’m not sure that I want it to be but that is down to the entirely ambiguous ending. Why couldn’t they just be clear about what happened? Why did it have to be so dreamy and vague?

I’m all for choose-your-own-adventure film endings but in this case it really matters. Knowing the outcome actually means a whole lot about what the message of the film was and whether it is a story about taking life by the reins and standing up against those that aren’t acting in our best interests or slipping back into what is comfortable and familiar.

Do I recommend Love of My Life? I genuinely would like to. The script is very well-written and there are many laugh-out-loud moments in the film. I’m just not entirely sure the film dealt with how problematic and manipulative Richard’s behaviour really is.

I give Love of My Life an okay three out of five stars and would recommend it to very loyal fans of UK romantic comedy.


Love of My Life will be released in cinemas on 17th February 2017 and will be available to watch on digital download from February 20, 2017.

LOVE OF MY LIFE trailer from Paragraph Pictures on Vimeo.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Trailers Lie: Manchester by the Sea (2016) ★★★☆☆

The minute I saw the trailer for Manchester by the Sea, I knew I had to see the film. There I was, preparing to watch the incredibly fun and uplifting La La Land and this trailer had me in bits, crying in the cinema and feeling overwrought.

And so begins a cautionary tale about how sometimes trailers can be misleading and sometimes they actually tell most of the story. Because the trailer for Manchester by the Sea is pretty much the entire story, as it happens in the present time, and the only surprises really are how we got here in the first place.

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

So for some people, it is the kind of film that has no point and is a waste of 2 hours. As Le Husband put it, he was invested in the film, he gave it his all, and the film simply didn't deliver in the end. For me, ridiculous as it sounds, it wasn't emotional enough. I was expecting 2 hours of ruin but as I say, except for the great reveal (which I guessed in every aspect) the trailer was really all there is to it.

Which is why my next u-turn is going to make no sense at all. Manchester by the Sea is actually a good film with some incredible acting, especially from Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in their respective roles as Lee Chandler and his nephew Patrick. It just isn't all it was made out to be in the trailer.

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea

With respect to nominations, I don't think it is best film nor best screenplay material. That is, of course, a very personal choice. It seems that realism has seeped into the awards contenders this year and not a single one of them is going to have a happy or satisfying ending. We're looking to the film industry for a little escapism and we're not getting it and that makes me sad.

I'm also a little bewildered at Michelle Williams getting so many best supporting actress nods. Don't get me wrong, I adore Michelle Williams, but she was on screen for so little of the film (another thing the trailer promised and didn't deliver) that I can't say that she deserves an award.

Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea

I imagine that if I'm going to complain so much about what I didn't like, I should say something constructive. I would have liked to have seen more growth from Lee and Patrick. Death changes you, it takes what you were, chews it up and spits out someone your former self would not recognise. If you've survived, you're stronger, more resilient and more determined than ever. Or you're ruined. Either one. Just don’t give me nothing.

Ultimately, the plot in Manchester by the Sea felt lacking to me, it felt like a little bit of the story was missing and the film suffered for it. This is a film that will no doubt leave me conflicted for some time to come; it's not an average film, it doesn't deserve a three-star review but it is not an excellent four-stars either. It is the first film to truly disappoint this awards season.

I give Manchester by the Sea an okay three out of five stars and can't imagine I'll be recommending it to anyone.


© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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