AUTHOR’S BIO

Rebecca Kuang immigrated to the US from Guangzhou, China in 2000. She is currently studing Chinese history at Georgetown, where her research focuses on Chinese military strategy, collective trauma, and war memorials. She is a 2018 Marshall Scholar, and will be heading to the University of Cambridge next fall to do her graduate studies.

Fiction-wise, She graduated from Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016 and attended the CSSF Novel Writing Workshop in 2017. Her debut novel, The Poppy War, is the first installment in a trilogy that grapples with drugs, shamanism, and China’s bloody twentieth century.

BOOKPAGE REVIEW

In Nikan, opium opens the gateway to the gods. Confined to their Pantheon in the spirit realm, they can only hope to influence the choices of those on earth with whispered promises through the haze of pipe smoke. For Rin, an undersized orphan, the thought of communing with the gods is terrifying. But as the drums of war begin to beat in R.F. Kuang’s extraordinary debut novel The Poppy War, Rin discovers that a day might come when she has no choice.

After testing into Sinegard, the most elite military academy in Nikan, Rin Fang discovers she is special. Through training with a seemingly insane professor, her shamanistic ability to conjure fire starts to blossom. When Mugen, a militaristic empire who defeated Nikan in previous Poppy Wars, invades their homeland, the students find themselves dispersed into the middle of a horrific ground war. Rin, conscripted into a misfit band of shaman outcasts, must fight both the ever-advancing Mugen army and her increasing sense that something inside her desperately wants to escape. Her sanity might be the price of finding the answers.

R.F. Kuang must first be congratulated on seamlessly drawing on and then reshaping Chinese history as influence for the world Rin inhabits. Martial arts sparring sessions and colorful street parades instantly conjure images of western Asian culture, but at no point does this world ever feel like a simple reflection of our own. Nikan’s richly detailed culture and history feel substantial and authentic, supporting the characters’ actions as the war unfolds.

And when that war begins, it’s almost shocking in its realness. It is not a conflict fought far away as Rin sits idly in a classroom. The violence is immediate, visceral and wrenching, pulling on the reader’s sense of disgust and anger. The “war is hell” trope plays out solemnly and intimately here, leaving no character untouched. By the climax of the narrative, everyone the reader meets is scarred.

Thank goodness we have Rin to lead us through it. Her tenacity, stubbornness and insecurity are instantly sympathetic and Kuang’s attention to Rin’s feelings opens up oceans of emotional depth. There’s a definite weight to Rin’s conflicting choices that only builds as the suspenseful final act plays out. It would be a thrill to see Rin, fresh from the crucible of The Poppy War, on the pages of a sequel novel. With such a brilliant start, one can’t help but think how certain hers and Kuang’s futures surely are.

THE AUDIOBOOK

The audio book is narrated by Emily Woo Zeller and is 18 hrs and 57 mins.

Watch Rebecca Kuang’s interview on her novel The Poppy War YouTube.







AUTHOR’S BIO

A writer turned lawyer turned writer.
Robert Dugani was born on February 17, 1961 in Pocatello, Idaho, United States. He was raised in Northern California the middle child of a family of ten siblings. Dugoni jokes that he didn’t get much of a chance to talk, so he wrote. By the seventh grade he knew he wanted to be a writer.

Dugoni wrote his way to Stanford University, receiving writing awards along the way, and majored in communications/journalism and creative writing while working as a reporter for the Stanford Daily. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and worked briefly as a reporter in the Metro Office and the San Gabriel Valley Office of the Los Angeles Times.

Dugoni attended the UCLA law school and practiced law for 13 years in San Francisco. His longing to return to writing never wavered, however, and in 1999 he awoke one morning and made the decision to quit law and write novels. On the 4-year anniversary of his wedding day, keeping a promise to his wife, he drove a u-haul trailer across the Oregon-Washington border and settled in Seattle to pursue his dreams.

NOVELS

A Steep Price, July 2018
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, May 2018
Close to Home, September 2017
The Trapped Girl, February 2017
The 7th Canon, October 2016
In The Clearing, May 2016
Her Final Breath, September 2015
My Sister’s Grave, November 2014
The Conviction, June 2012
Murder One, May 2012
Bodily Harm, June 2010
Wrongful Death, February 2010
Damage Control, February 2007
The Jury Master, March 2006

KIRKUS REVIEW

Quite a departure from Dugoni’s dark novels about Detective Tracy Crosswhite (The Trapped Girl, 2017, etc.): the frankly inspirational tale of a boy who overcomes the tremendous obstacles occasioned by the color of his eyes.

Samuel James Hill is born with ocular albinism, a rare condition that makes his eyes red. Dubbed “the devil boy” by his classmates at Our Lady of Mercy, the Catholic school his mother, Madeline, fights to get him into, he faces loneliness, alienation, and daily ridicule, especially from David Freemon, a merciless bully who keeps finding new ways to torment him, and Sister Beatrice, the school’s principal and Freemon’s enabler, who in her own subtler ways is every bit as vindictive as he is. Only the friendship of two other outsiders, African-American athlete Ernie Cantwell and free-spirited nonconformist Michaela Kennedy, allows him to survive his trying years at OLM. In high school, Sam finds that nearly every routine milestone—the tryouts for the basketball team, the senior prom, the naming of the class valedictorian—represents new challenges. Even Sam’s graduation is blasted by a new crisis, though this one isn’t rooted in his red eyes. Determined to escape from the Bay Area suburb of Burlingame, he finds himself meeting the same problems, often embodied in the very same people, over and over. Yet although he rejects his mother’s unwavering faith in divine providence, he triumphs in the end by recognizing himself in other people and assuming the roles of the friends and mentors who helped bring him to adulthood. Dugoni throws in everything but a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and then adds that trip as well.

Although the author acknowledges in a postscript that his story is perhaps “too episodic,” his life of Sam Hell is inspiring and aglow with the promise of redemption.

THE AUDIOBOOK

The audio book is narrated by the author and is 11 hrs and 41 mins.

Watch Robert Dugani’s interview on his novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell YouTube.







AUTHOR’S BIO

• Birth—N/A
• Where—Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
• Education—B.A., George Washington University; M.A., Cambridge University;
J.D., University of Pennsylvania
• Currently—lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England.

Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant’s Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat’s Wife, The Ambassador’s Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished.

She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

NOVELS

The Kommandant’s Girl (2007)
The Diplomat’s Wife (2008)
Almost Home aka The Officer’s Lover (2009)
A Hidden Affair (2010)
The Things We Cherished (2011)
The Ambassador’s Daughter (2012)
The Winter Guest (2014)
The Last Embrace (2015)
The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach (2015)
The Orphan’s Tale (2017)

KIRKUS REVIEW

An absorbing saga of 20th-century Korean experience, seen through the fate of four generations.

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE AUDIOBOOK

The audio book is narrated by Jennifer Wydra, Kyla Garcia and is 12 hrs and 57 mins.

View Pam Jenoff on her novel The Orphan’s Tale YouTube.







AUTHOR’S BIO

Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea. Her family came to the United States in 1976, when she was seven years old, and she grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, New York.[1] Her parents owned a wholesale jewelry store there. She attended the Bronx High School of Science, and later studied history at Yale College and law at Georgetown University Law Center. She also worked as a corporate lawyer in New York for several years before becoming a writer. She lived in Japan for four years from 2007 to 2011. Lee lives in New York with her son, Sam, and her husband, Christopher Duffy, who is half-Japanese.

Lee also served three consecutive seasons as a “Morning Forum” English-language columnist of South Korea’s newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

She has also lectured about writing, literature, and politics at Columbia, Tufts, Loyola Marymount University, Stanford, Johns Hopkins (SAIS), University of Connecticut, Boston College, Hamilton College, Harvard Law School, Yale University, Ewha University, Waseda University, the American School in Japan, World Women’s Forum, the Tokyo American Center of the U.S. Embassy and the Asia Society in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong.

NOVELS
Pachinko, 02-07-17
Free Food for Millionaires, 06-06-07

KIRKUS REVIEW

An absorbing saga of 20th-century Korean experience, seen through the fate of four generations.

Lee (Free Food for Millionaires, 2007) built her debut novel around families of Korean-Americans living in New York. In her second novel, she traces the Korean diaspora back to the time of Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910. “History has failed us,” she writes in the opening line of the current epic, “but no matter.” She begins her tale in a village in Busan with an aging fisherman and his wife whose son is born with a cleft palate and a twisted foot. Nonetheless, he is matched with a fine wife, and the two of them run the boardinghouse he inherits from his parents. After many losses, the couple cherishes their smart, hardworking daughter, Sunja. When Sunja gets pregnant after a dalliance with a persistent, wealthy married man, one of their boarders—a sickly but handsome and deeply kind pastor—offers to marry her and take her away with him to Japan. There, she meets his brother and sister-in-law, a woman lovely in face and spirit, full of entrepreneurial ambition that she and Sunja will realize together as they support the family with kimchi and candy operations through war and hard times. Sunja’s first son becomes a brilliant scholar; her second ends up making a fortune running parlors for pachinko, a pinball-like game played for money. Meanwhile, her first son’s real father, the married rich guy, is never far from the scene, a source of both invaluable help and heartbreaking woe. As the destinies of Sunja’s children and grandchildren unfold, love, luck, and talent combine with cruelty and random misfortune in a deeply compelling story, with the troubles of ethnic Koreans living in Japan never far from view.

An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth.

THE AUDIOBOOK

The audio book is narrated by Allison Hiroto and is 18 hrs and 16 mins long.

View Min Jin Lee on her novel Pachinko YouTube.







AUTHOR’S BIO

S. (Shannon) A. Chakraborty is an American writer of speculative fiction, whose debut novel, The City of Brass, was published in 2017. Chakraborty was born in New Jersey and now makes her home with her husband and daughter in Queens, New York City, New York.

The City of Brass, the first book in the planned “The Daevabad Trilogy,” takes place in the 18th-century Middle East. The manuscript made news when it was purchased for somewhere in the “high six-figures” by HarperCollins. The publisher admitted to haven been taken by Chakraborty’s ability to create “this wonderfully rich world” of the “Mughal Empire, the Sunni-Shia conflict, and Persian and Indian folklore.” While “relevant to current events … it’s action-packed, delicious escapist storytelling at its best.”

When she’s not pouring over books on Mughal portraiture or Omani history, Chakraborty is active in the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group as one of its organizers. Hiking, knitting, and cooking “unnecessarily complicated medieval meals” at home, occupy whatever spare time is left.

KIRKUS REVIEW

A rich Middle Eastern fantasy, the first of a trilogy: Chakraborty’s intriguing debut.

On the streets of 18th-century Cairo, young Nahri—she has a real talent for medicine but lacks the wherewithal to acquire proper training—makes a living swindling Ottoman nobles by pretending to wield supernatural powers she doesn’t believe in. Then, during a supposed exorcism, she somehow summons a mysterious djinn warrior named Dara, whose magic is both real and incomprehensibly powerful. Dara insists that Nahri is no longer safe—evil djinn threaten her life, so he must convey her to Daevabad, a legendary eastern city protected by impervious magical brass walls. During the hair-raising journey by flying carpet, Nahri meets spirits and monsters and develops feelings for Dara, a deeply conflicted being with a long, tangled past. At Daevabad she’s astonished to learn that she’s the daughter of a legendary healer of the Nahid family. All the more surprising, then, that King Ghassan, whose ancestor overthrew the ruling Nahid Council and stole Suleiman’s seal, which nullifies magic, welcomes her. With Ghassan’s younger son, Prince Ali, Nahri becomes immersed in the city’s deeply divisive (and not infrequently confusing) religious, political, and racial tensions. Meanwhile, Dara’s emerging history and personality grow more and more bewildering and ambiguous. Against this syncretic yet nonderivative and totally credible backdrop, Chakraborty has constructed a compelling yarn of personal ambition, power politics, racial and religious tensions, strange magics, and terrifying creatures, culminating in a cataclysmic showdown that few readers will anticipate. The expected first-novel flaws—a few character inconsistencies, plot swirls that peter out, the odd patch where the author assumes facts not in evidence—matter little. Best of all, the narrative feels rounded and complete yet poised to deliver still more.

Highly impressive and exceptionally promising.

THE AUDIOBOOK

The audio book is narrated by Soneela Nankani. It is 19 hrs and 35 mins long.

View S. A. Chakraborty on her novel THE CITY OF BRASS YouTube.



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