Sunday, October 22, 2017

#BookReview: A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus by David Blixt, Amalia Carosella, Libbie Hawker, Scott Oden, Vicky Alvear Shecter & Russell Whitfield

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Odysseus, infamous trickster of Troy, vaunted hero of the Greeks, left behind a wake of chaos and despair during his decade long journey home to Ithaca. Lovers and enemies, witches and monsters—no one who tangled with Odysseus emerged unscathed. Some prayed for his return, others, for his destruction. These are their stories…

A beleaguered queen’s gambit for maintaining power unravels as a son plots vengeance.

A tormented siren battles a goddess’s curse and the forces of nature to survive.

An exiled sorceress defies a lustful captain and his greedy crew.

A blinded shepherd swears revenge on the pirate-king who mutilated him.

A beautiful empress binds a shipwrecked sailor to servitude, only to wonder who is serving whom.

A young suitor dreams of love while a returned king conceives a savage retribution.

Six authors bring to life the epic tale of The Odyssey seen through the eyes of its shattered victims—the monsters, witches, lovers, and warriors whose lives were upended by the antics of the “man of many faces.” You may never look upon this timeless epic—and its iconic ancient hero—in quite the same way again.
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆   |   Obtained from: Author   |   Read: October 15, 2017
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Homer claimed it tedious to tell again tales already plainly told, but I’d argue his perspective shortsighted as there is nothing tedious about A Sea of Sorrow. Though essentially a retelling of The Odyssey, the collaborative brings fresh perspective to Odysseus’ journey and presents thought-provoking ideas about the ancient world.

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Song of Survival and Epilogue by Vicky Alvear Shecter
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I grinned when I realized Vicky Alvear Shecter wrote the first story in A Sea of Sorrow. Her interpretation of Odysseus in A Song of War blew me away and I was immediately comforted by the knowledge that I was in the hands of an author I trusted with the material.

Having said that, I want to note that neither “Song of Survival” nor the “Epilogue” are relayed from Odysseus’s point of view. Shecter’s stories center on the family he left behind and the impact of his extended absence. Telemachus, as a boy in a matriarchal home, is at great disadvantage and I liked how Shecter’s narrative captured the social and developmental repercussion of his circumstances. I was equally impressed with the substance she gifted Penelope. Odysseus’ queen is often portrayed as a woman with her eyes fixed longingly on the horizon and I appreciated how dynamic and capable she came to be in Shecter’s hands.

* Best Moment in A Sea of Sorrow – Fell out of my chair laughing over the whore on Whore island. *

What great tale will you tell me, husband, when I see you again in lightless Hades? Will you blame a god for what was surely your decision—and probably on a whim—to pursue more glory? Will you spin fantastical accounts that absolve you of the consequences from the choices you made? Of goddesses who seduced? Monsters who attacked? Beasts who betrayed?
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Xenia in the Court of the Winds by Scott Oden
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Scott Oden was a new author for me and I’d honestly no idea what to expect going into “Xenia in the Court of the Winds.” Looking back, however, I want to caution readers from taking this piece for granted. The story is exceptional in both tone and composition and proves one of most thought-provoking submissions in all of The H Team collaborations.

Homer’s Polyphemus is a monster, but the depth Oden gifted his Kyklops turns the original source material on its head while exploring the cultural diversity that characterized ancient Greece. The idea sent chills of excitement down my spine and I thrilled at how Oden used history to authenticate his fiction and challenge his audience with the grim realities of culture clash and intolerance.

* Best Character in A Sea of Sorrow – Writing a hero is easy, reinventing a villain is an art. *

The world upended, dear Eirene. That is the best way to describe it – as though a giant caught up our city and shook it like a jar of oil and vinegar. Odysseus did not try and bluster his way to peace, where he might betray us later. No, his fair-seeming face sloughed away to reveal the bones of hatred and ambition.
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Hekate’s Daughter by Libbie Hawker
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I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Libbie Hawker in person, but I’m familiar with her through social media and I love how “Hekate’s Daughter” illustrates both her personality and artistic strengths. 

The story fearlessly dives into feminist ideology, but Hawker is careful to keep the content appropriate to the historic lens of her narrative. It’s a balance few are able to effectively pull off, but the end result is a story that invites the reader to interact with the narrative and take something very relevant from their experience of the material.

* Best Individual Theme in a Sea of Sorrow – Great ideas make thought-provoking fiction. *

How I longed then for Hekate’s power. I would have called down all manner of curses upon that man, and every fool who followed him. I would have struck him blind, taken his tongue, stolen away his virility. I would have plagued every Ithacan with painful boils and water of the bowels. I would have called up a pack of wolf-shaped shadows, fire-eyed and hungry, to drive them from my shore.
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The Siren’s Song by Amalia Carosella
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According to Greek mythology, a siren is a creature that is half bird and half woman. They’re known for luring sailors to their doom through the seductive tone of their song and though their appearance in The Odyssey is brief, it is without doubt my favorite scene of the epic poem. Needless to say the pressure was on as I began reading Amalia Carosella’s “The Siren’s Song.”

This story, more than any of the others, pays tribute to Greek mythology and its influence on ancient society. The collection intentionally avoids the supernatural, but that doesn’t mean its characters don’t believe in the Gods and I loved how Carosella used that to her advantage in "The Siren's Song." There is a tragic symmetry to the piece, but it plays out beautifully and provides some of the most poignant moments in A Sea of Sorrow.

* Best Ironic Moment in A Sea of Sorrow – True to the source material, yet wholly original *

For Thelxiope’s murder, Aglaope wanted revenge. And it did not matter that Odysseus-Akheloios slept in her bed, ate at her side, smiled and laughed in her hall. She was certain once he knew what she had done to his bride, his daughter, he would not laugh and smile for long.
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Calypso’s Vow by David Blixt
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David Blixt’s “Calypso’s Vow” caught me off guard. Homer paints Calypso as an unconscionable temptress and the idea of jumping into her shoes didn’t strike me as an appealing means of passing the time. I was both hesitant and skeptical which is amusing to admit as it took all of a few paragraphs for the story to knock me clean off my feet.

“Calypso’s Vow” marks a turning point for Odysseus as he comes to acknowledge the wreckage he’s wrought on the world. It’s a story redemption, but it was his lover’s grace and emotional sacrifice that captured my imagination. Blixt effectively redefined Calypso and in so doing, crafted a story that cuts straight to the heart.

* Best Submission in A Sea of Sorrow – Absolute perfection. *

It was a balm to my heart, listening to his devotion to his men. That mention of a wife had murdered me where I sat. Penelope. Had I been a substitute for her, I do not think I could have bourne it. But no. I was a substitute for those he had failed. Those he had broken with. Those he had deserted, or abandoned, or simply been helpless to save. I was his redemption. But not his love.
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The King in Waiting by Russell Whitfield
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Until now, The H Team collaboratives have featured a cast that wander in and out of multiple stories, but the nature of The Odyssey isolated most of the narrators and placed unusual pressure on the author tasked with anchoring the collection. Shecter penned the "Epilogue," but it is Russell Whitfield who gave voice to the phantom who casts his shadow over each of these stories and ultimately brings Odysseus home.

“The King in Waiting” sees Odysseus facing the realities of his legacy, accepting his role in Ithaca’s misfortune, and setting his kingdom to rights. It is an interesting emotional journey and I quite liked how it played out, but I was surprised at how Whitfield used Amphinomus to temper Odysseus’ triumph. Whitfield’s fleshing out of the younger man creates a bittersweet note in the fabric of the narrative, but I couldn’t help appreciating how he used Amph’s fate to bring Odysseus the direction he so desperately lacked.

* Best Surprise in A Sea of Sorrow – It ain’t over till it’s over. *

Now the men of Ithaca were all dead, lost piecemeal these long years. How many other Ithacan sons were growing up without the benefit of an older man? How many wives and mothers grieved because he – Wily Odysseus – hadn’t had the sense to take his fair share and sail back to them?

Friday, October 20, 2017

#WishList: October 2017 - High Contrast Cover Art

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

Last month, one of my blog friends created a Wish List based on Ladies in Red. The song was stuck in my head for two days, which I'm sure amuses Magdalena to no end, but the post got me thinking about cover art and I decided I'd follow suit. I looked through my TBR and before long was bookmarking high contrast designs. Five titles later, a Wish List was born!

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A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right--with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.

A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all--though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.

Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.

Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe.

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the mostfascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

A dazzling novel that captures all of the romance, glamour, and tragedy of the first flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald.

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame.

Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

A girl and the wolves who love her embark on a rescue mission through Russian wilderness in this lyrical tale from the author of the acclaimed Rooftoppers and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms.

Feo’s life is extraordinary. Her mother trains domesticated wolves to be able to fend for themselves in the snowy wilderness of Russia, and Feo is following in her footsteps to become a wolf wilder. She loves taking care of the wolves, especially the three who stay at the house because they refuse to leave Feo, even though they’ve already been wilded. But not everyone is enamored with the wolves, or with the fact that Feo and her mother are turning them wild. And when her mother is taken captive, Feo must travel through the cold, harsh woods to save her—and learn from her wolves how to survive.

From the author of Rooftoppers, which Booklist called “a glorious adventure,” and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, which VOYA called “a treasure of a book,” comes an enchanting novel about love and resilience. 

In the summer of 1966, Christina Hardcastle—“Tiny” to her illustrious family—stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Of the three Schuyler sisters, she’s the one raised to marry a man destined for leadership, and with her elegance and impeccable style, she presents a perfect camera-ready image in the dawning age of television politics. Together she and her husband, Frank, make the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and impossibly attractive. It seems nothing can stop Frank from rising to national office, and he’s got his sights set on a senate seat in November.

But as the season gets underway at the family estate on Cape Cod, three unwelcome visitors appear in Tiny’s perfect life: her volatile sister Pepper, an envelope containing incriminating photograph, and the intimidating figure of Frank’s cousin Vietnam-war hero Caspian, who knows more about Tiny’s rich inner life than anyone else. As she struggles to maintain the glossy façade on which the Hardcastle family’s ambitions are built, Tiny begins to suspect that Frank is hiding a reckless entanglement of his own…one that may unravel both her own ordered life and her husband’s promising career.
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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Stephanie at Layered Pages

Thursday, October 19, 2017

#CoverCrush: The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a publishing professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing. This appreciation for cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those images that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The Wind Is Not a River is Brian Payton's gripping tale of survival and an epic love story in which a husband and wife—separated by the only battle of World War II to take place on American soil—fight to reunite in Alaska's starkly beautiful Aleutian Islands.

Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, he heads north to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government. 

While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as “the birthplace of winds.” There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese. 

Alone at home, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband's disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is—and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.
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This week's cover crush is illustrating once again what a sucker I am for vintage photos, but it also proves that an image doesn't have to be overly complicated to make an impressions. The color palette is to die for and I noticed all that before realizing the WWII subject matter is firmly in my wheelhouse.

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages

Thursday, October 12, 2017

#CoverCrush: Irons in the Fire by Antonio Urias

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a publishing professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing. This appreciation for cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those images that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The City of Talis is a fragile beacon of civilization on the edge of the Faerie Lands. Beyond lies a wilder world of dark enchantments and terrible wonders, but behind the city walls humans and faeries live together in uneasy peace-until an explosion rocks the city and long-smoldering tensions threaten to ignite. As the Commandant of Police, Baron Hessing has maintained stability for decades. But with a murderer on the loose, an anarchist bombing the city, and rumors of a faerie uprising, he is starting to lose control. Hessing finds himself caught in a web of interlocking conspiracies and he may need to choose between saving his city and saving his family. Into this maelstrom appears the Countess. Trained from birth for a single purpose-vengeance-suddenly she appears everywhere from secret catacombs to the halls of power. Beset by enemies on all sides, it will take all her training to succeed in a city on the brink of revolution. Plans are in motion, centuries in the making, that will change the fate of Talis forever. Irons in the Fire is the first novel in the Chronicles of Talis.
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It's been a minute since I enjoyed a good fantasy, but Irons in the Fire by Antonio Urias still turned my head. The layered elements give the image great depth, but I'm in love with the artists use of and manipulation of light.

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages

Thursday, October 5, 2017

#CoverCrush: Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a publishing professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing. This appreciation for cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those images that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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Norman Stokoe has just been appointed Children's Czar by the new government. He sells his flat and moves up north to take up the position. However before his first salary cheque has even hit his bank account, new priorities are set for the government department for which he works. The Children's Czar network is put on hold but it is too late to reverse the decision to employ Norman. So he is given a P.A. and a spacious office in a new business park on the banks of the Tyne.

He settles down in his new leather chair behind his new desk, to wait for the green light to begin his mission. The green light never comes. What does happen is that two children go missing. As Children's Czar, surely this case should fall within his remit, but Norman has built a career on doing nothing, on stamping pieces of paper with 'send to the relevant department'. Now, faced with a campaigning journalist and a distraught mother, he is forced to become involved. The search will take him to dark places and will make him ask questions about the system he is supposed to uphold.
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Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday falls outside my usual stomping grounds, but the cover still caught my eye. I love the contrast in the design and feel the dark tones at the center of the image play nicely with that of the story description. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

#CoverCliché: Barrymore

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting.

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Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen's decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II. At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died. A fiercely imaginative child, Helen is desperate to keep her house intact with all its ghosts and stories. Flora, her late mother's twenty-two-year old first cousin, who cries at the drop of a hat, is ardently determined to do her best for Helen. Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.

This darkly beautiful novel about a child and a caretaker in isolation evokes shades of The Turn of the Screw and also harks back to Godwin's memorable novel of growing up, The Finishing School. With its house on top of a mountain and a child who may be a bomb that will one day go off, Flora tells a story of love, regret, and the things we can't undo. It will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

Anne Frank has long been a symbol of bravery and hope, but there were two sisters hidden in the annex, two young Jewish girls, one a cultural icon made famous by her published diary and the other, nearly forgotten.

In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind.

Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history. 

Emily Emerson is used to being alone; her dad ran out on the family when she was a just a kid, her mom died when she was seventeen, and her beloved grandmother has just passed away as well. But when she’s laid off from her reporting job, she finds herself completely at sea…until the day she receives a beautiful, haunting painting of a young woman standing at the edge of a sugarcane field under a violet sky. That woman is recognizable as her grandmother—and the painting arrived with no identification other than a handwritten note saying, “He always loved her.”

Emily is hungry for roots and family, so she begins to dig. And as she does, she uncovers a fascinating era in American history. Her trail leads her to the POW internment camps of Florida, where German prisoners worked for American farmers...and sometimes fell in love with American women. But how does this all connect to the painting? The answer to that question will take Emily on a road that leads from the sweltering Everglades to Munich, Germany and back to the Atlanta art scene before she’s done.

Along the way, she finds herself tempted to tear down her carefully tended walls at last; she’s seeing another side of her father, and a new angle on her painful family history. But she still has secrets, ones she’s been keeping locked inside for years. Will this journey bring her the strength to confront them at last?

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know.