Yes, this post is for people who don’t read books.

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I might have tried to persuade you to start reading. But I don’t need to, because someone has done it for me. Thank you, Al Kennedy! Have a listen; it lasts for just ten minutes.

And when you’ve heard it and your mind has been changed, hop over to Amazon, where all Crooked Cat books are free or on sale (99p/99c) until tomorrow night, including:

The Women Friends: Selina, the first of a series of novellas based on Gustav Klimt’s famous masterpiece: The Women Friends.

Neither Here Nor There, a romance with a difference, set in Jerusalem.

I won’t mention this sale again on this blog – I promise!

A big THANK YOU to everyone who has bought Neither Here Nor There during this weekend’s Crooked Cat sale.

A reminder that The Women Friends: Selina is also on sale (99p/99c) until Monday.

In other news, I wish could write the other posts I planned about Ethiopia, but I’m busy editing two books and writing another. And I have a short trip planned. More about that on my return.

Happy holidays to all!

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Originally posted on Facebook by Gedaliah Gurfein

Last Thursday, my friend and fabulous author, Sue Barnard, launched her new book, Never on Saturday, published by Crooked Cat. She held a launch party and I was delighted to be given a slot in it.

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During the slot, I announced a competition to win a signed copy of Neither Here Nor There. Contestants had to write a short piece that had some connection with Jerusalem.

Now I can announce the winner, who is…

Ailsa Abraham

Here is her entry:

JERUSALEM

Oh please don’t sing Jerusalem
While puffing out your chest
You don’t care about that place
Cos England is the best.

You make me sick when singing of
Our “green and pleasant land”
Not caring for a second
Of a city in the sand.

While you are belting out the song
The folks out there are dying
But if you shed a little tear,
It’s for patriotism you’re crying

No it was not “builded” here
Your grammar causes guilt
It was in the Middle East
Jerusalem was built.

So think when singing, or abstain
Please, my friend, you choose
But think, if you are singing
Of Arabs and of Jews.

 Isn’t that lovely? Thank you, Ailsa!

I’ve chosen two reviews – one for each book – to highlight here. Both are detailed and well-thought-out. Sometimes their authors understand the characters in different ways from me. That’s fine. When interpretations differ, that’s a sign of a book that gives readers plenty to think about.

Neither Here Nor There

Neither Here Nor ThereThis book had such meaning for me- it was, in simple terms, about feeling confined in a lifestyle you no longer agree with: that is no longer right for you. That’s Esty’s story, she doesn’t belong, and feels like an alien- an imposter- so, she decides to leave the haredi lifestyle (the lifestyle of an Orthodox Jew) and moves on. Of course, as expected, there are a number of hurdles she has to first get over: her family doesn’t seem very accepting, her community disapproves and then there’s Mark.

She likes Mark and, believes he may be good for her. But, will she fit into his secular lifestyle? She can’t hold his hand without flinching, she finds it wrong whenever they sit too close. But, funnily enough, it can’t be more right. She’s moving on, independently. But will she be able to keep going?

I liked this story, mostly because I could relate: I don’t always feel as though I’m free to take up certain things- because of my religion, though I’d say it was more to do with culture. And I sometimes battle with my thoughts, when I’m rebelling against what my culture’s principles dictate. It is difficult to leave behind, or ignore, your upbringing- it’s your community. Not only do you face isolation, but confusion- you hardly know what goes on behind the other side of the fence. How the other half live, and the author of this book acknowledges that.

I just had a slight issue with the main character, she was making a big life choice and it seemed weird that she didn’t know what she was getting herself into- then again, she was a young nineteen year old. But I felt that seemed to imply she was too naive to know any better. Then there was how she automatically fell for Mark, describing him to have been handsome and the connection between them. It was too fast, and seemed improper, a stark contrast, from her actual attitude towards men- as is revealed later when she is hesitant towards Mark’s touch. Though, aside from this- the book was a delightful, engaging, read.

This book reminded me of a poem I once read titled, ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ by Moniza Alvi. Both this book, and this poem, represent the feelings of disillusionment, confusion of one’s identity and isolation, the idea of being an ‘in-betweener’, neither here nor there.

The Women Friends: Selina

CoverFrontThis book is perfect for fans of historical fiction, with LGBTQ characters as well as an honest depiction of the “just before” Hitler claimed Austria during WW2. It’s an important read for those reasons, as well. We can all too easily forget that it did seemingly happen “overnight” because these were emotions and opinions and feelings that had been brewing in the citizens minds well before Hitler came to power, before he stepped foot into Austria. He came to power because people were already agreeing with him about everything, including the final solution.

We start off with Selina Brunner who has decided to move from the countryside to Vienna in hopes of escaping the destitute conditions world war one left much of the European countryside suffering from. She has experienced sexual assault in her past, and this is immediately brought up as one of the reasons why she was so eager to move; she needed to put her past permanently behind her. She struggles with this at first and it is not until she meets Janika, a Jewish muse of Gustav Klimts, that she is able to put action to her feelings and she falls in love with Janika. Their love is not to be, and after Janika marries a man, Selina is forced to meet other people. We see Selina meet a national socialist woman, but while they live together for a time and she does introduce her to her parents, they do not fall in love nor do they stay together.

In the end, Selina makes a choice between staying utterly true to herself and how she identifies, or marrying a Roma man to help him escape.

The entire book, while simple in some areas that begged for deeper character exploration, is one that I would say is important to read, especially right now with the way politics seem to be turning. It is a lie to say that things aren’t already bad; that’s how things like the Shoah happen. Things that were already bad, were purposely ignored until they had no choice but to come to a head in a way so horrible, there are no words to express. The author does a wonderful job of showing that it wasn’t just Hitler that caused the Shoah to happen, but the people as well. And it was also people like Selina Brunner who helped others during this dark time so that it wasn’t their last; while this story is fictitious, the heart of it rings true from page to page.

“So, Miriam Drori,” says Kirsty Young and I’m thinking: why isn’t Roy Plomley here? because his is the name I associate with this radio programme. “As a lover of music, you must have had a hard time choosing just eight pieces.”

“I certainly did,” I answer confidently, because of course this is all made up, so I might as well make myself and my communication abilities up, too.

“How did you narrow your choices down to just eight?”

“I chose pieces connected to my life,” I say, because it’s what they all say and it happens to be true. Turntable-floating-view

I continue to answer Kirsty’s questions with ease and to explain why I chose these particular pieces of music.

  • Ledavid mizmor… (the prayer): The synagogue played an important part in my childhood, and my father often led the services there. I particularly remember this tune, for a prayer that is said only on special occasions. Most of the members of the congregation didn’t know the tune and so my father’s beautiful tenor voice easily rose over the rest. (I listened to several Youtube videos but couldn’t find the tune I know.)
  • Ma Nishtana: The seder night – the first night of the festival of Passover – was a specially fun time in our family. I enjoyed my moment of fame with this song, traditionally sung by the youngest person present. I was always the youngest.

  • Beatles – Here Comes the Sun: I grew up with the Beatles. I had to include them in my list. So I chose one that’s lively and good to dance to. I expect I’ll do plenty of dancing on the desert island.
  • Bach’s Double Violin Concerto: This is one of the pieces I studied at school, and it’s one that I love.
  • Paul Simon – Something So Right: I’ve always felt this song is about me. “They got a wall in China. It’s a thousand miles long. To keep out the foreigners they made it strong. And I got a wall around me that you can’t even see. It took a little time to get next to me.”
  • Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar: At university, this was the song I loved dancing to the most. I had no idea what it was about; I just loved it.
  • Back Street Boys – I Want It That Way: My daughter was just six when this song was popular. But she heard it a lot because her big brother liked to play it. So she learned it – words and all. No wonder she became a singer!
  • Vatikach Miriam: I had to include a song from the many I’ve danced to at Israeli folk dancing sessions. And why not one that’s lively and includes my name!

“Thank you, Miriam Drori, for letting us hear your Desert Island Discs.”

“Thank you for inviting me,” I reply. “I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”

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Author of the Day

Stella Hervey Birrell knows about being concise and keeping to rules. All the posts on her blog are exactly 140 words long. She also draws simple pictures to accompany the posts. When I submitted a guest post for her blog, I managed the first but not the second, and was delighted with Stella’s rendering of Neither Here Nor There. Stella writes women’s fiction and is the author of How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? – a novel I enjoyed and recommend.

(This is where I get to reveal the gorgeous new book cover.)

What links my first book, Neither Here Nor There, with my second, The Women Friends: Selina, written together with Emma Rose Millar?

Not a lot. It would be easier to list the differences:

  • Contemporary – Historical
  • Romance – Story of love, but not romance
  • Light – Dark

One link is orthodox Judaism. Esty in Neither Here Nor There leaves the ultra-orthodox community in which she grew up. Janika, the second of the models in The Women Friends, does something similar, but that’s described in the second novella. In the novella to be published by Crooked Cat on December 1st, Janika takes a big part but is not the main character.

The other link is orange, which is what makes the two covers so distinctive.

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When my first book, Neither Here Nor There, was published, I didn’t know what to expect. Would anyone buy it? Would anyone read it? Would anyone like it?

Neither Here Nor There Cover

 

Two years on, I’m proud of what my little novel has achieved. It’s informed some readers about things of which they had no knowledge, it’s rung true with many of those in the know, and most of all, it’s brought joy to many readers.

One thing I did know in advance: not everyone would like it. I think that’s true of any book. If every review of a book has only praises for it, you begin to think something is rotten in the state of Goodreads.

I knew in advance that some readers would find the story not to their taste. Not everyone likes romance; not everyone likes sweet and gentle stories. That’s why I was particularly pleased with the words of the mentor of my writing group, D.r. Brauner, who is “not normally a fan of seesaw romances.” He wrote:

An extra-ordinary book that takes romance writing to a higher level.

I also knew that some readers would be against the very idea of anyone leaving orthodoxy for secularism.

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Some readers don’t like the plot

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Some readers don’t like the style

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Many readers love the novel

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Yes, I’m proud of all the reviews of my debut novel on Goodreads, Amazon UK and Amazon US, and I’m very grateful to everyone who has gone to the trouble of writing a review.

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Author of the Day

D.r.Brauner writes excellent fiction, which deserves to be better known. His novel, ANOTHER GOD: a novel of Independent Scotland, is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.