Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence: A Novel

By David Samuel Levinson
Algonquin Books
320 pages
Hardcover $14.16; Kindle $11.99

David Samuel Levinson’s debut novel, Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, serves as a warning to aspiring novelists that will force them to question if the literary life is for them—especially after they meet Antonia Lively and Henry Swallow.

The story opens with Catherine Strayed, widow of the late, novelist Wyatt Strayed. Catherine spends her days wondering whether Wyatt’s death was accidental, suicide, or even foul play. Prior to Wyatt’s passing, Catherine’s world was turned upside down when her former mentor and lover Henry Swallow—a powerful literary critic who destroyed Wyatt’s writing career—turns up at Winslow, the small town in upstate New York, to teach at the university.  One night, Henry shows up at Catherine’s house wanting to speak with Wyatt, leaving Catherine to fret over the long conversation between the two men. Soon after their discussion, Wyatt begins to work on another novel.

Now more than a year later after Wyatt’s death, Catherine meets Antonia Lively, Henry’s protégé and the publishing world’s new literary “It Girl.” Antonia is looking for a summer rental and tells Catherine that Henry informed her that her house is available for the season. Upset by Henry’s assumption, Catherine confronts him at the university, and soon she is cajoled to rent him Wyatt’s writing cottage.

With Henry renting the cottage and Antonia visiting, Catherine finds herself at odds about their relationship—she becomes fond of the young novelist, but distrusts Henry’s motives. The summer turns murkier and dangerous when a number of malevolent incidents occur involving Antonia, her father, and mentally deranged uncle.

For readers who follow literary scandals, Levinson inserts one à la James Frey, but in this case it deals with Henry’s purist definition of fiction versus Antonia’s perception of truth, using the novel as a vehicle to expose it. With those two opposing views, the story enters into dangerous territory where reputations can be forever damaged and destroyed.

Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence is spellbinding with an important takeaway: beware of friendly, young novelists.

 

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Anne Frank and Me
By Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld
Penguin Publishing
316 pages
Paperback/Kindle $6.99

Nicole Burns is a self-centered teen in love with a boy from school; nasty to her little sister at home; and disinterested in her studies, especially when it’s the Holocaust—a topic she considers ancient history.

During a field trip with her school to visit a traveling Anne Frank exhibit, gun shots are fired and Nicole’s life takes a sudden turn to the past. She is now Nicole Bernhardt, a Jewish teenager, living in Paris  after the Nazis have occupied the city.

At first, Nicole is discombobulated by the travel back in time. She has no internet or any of the electronic perks of 21st Century America. Everything in 1942 Paris is topsy-turvy when it comes to logic: her French parents resemble Nicole’s English teacher and the school principal, but her little sister and friends remain the same in this time warp.

As the Nazis settle in France and start to pass their racial laws, Nicole is no longer admitted into cafes, she has to wear the yellow star and has to be in her house by curfew. When non-French Jews are rounded up and are  taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver to be transported to Drancy, France’s infamous internment camp, Nicole is taken by mistake and she witnesses the deplorable conditions and the indignities of those who have been arrested by the French police who are cooperating with the Nazis.

She is soon saved by her father who is still allowed to practice medicine and works at one of the local hospitals. However, soon after, the situation for native French Jews escalates, and Nicole and her family go into hiding just as Anne Frank. Like the Franks, the Bernhardts are betrayed by someone they know, arrested, and taken to Auschwitz. It’s during that train journey to Poland when Nicole has the chance meeting with Anne Frank and memories of Nicole’s future self overlap with the 1942 Nicole.

Written for a young adult audience, Anne Frank and Me attempts to present the plight of French and non-French Jews in a truthful manner, but the narrative falters with just a bird’s eye view of what occurred during that period. Using Nicole’s diaries to make the tie-in with Anne Frank falls flat. Nicole’s trite observations about the predicament of Paris’ Jews reflects the one-dimensional nature of the character.

Yet for its thin characterization and contrived plot, Me and Anne Frank’s saving grace is towards the end when Nicole—back in the present—has learned an important historical lesson that honors the truth about the past and could help protect the future. In spite of its flaws, Anne Frank and Me hopefully will inspire young readers to learn more about the events that led to the persecution of Europe’s Jews.

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The Double Game, by Dan Fesperman

by Rebeca on March 8, 2013

The Double Game
By Dan Fesperman
Alfred A. Knopf
357 pages
$14.64 Hardback; $12.99 Kindle

If you like the intrigue and thrills of spy novels, you won’t be disappointed with Dan Fesperman’s The Double Game— a clever salute to the genre and its literary spymasters.

Former journalist and now PR man Bill Cage has been an aficionado of spy thrillers since he was an embassy brat when his diplomat father— an avid reader and collector of the genre—introduced him to the classics.

Earlier in his career as a journalist, Bill interviews former spook, but now bestselling novelist Edwin Lemaster about his days as a spy. The interview is plodding along until the conversation takes a sudden turn when the author alludes he flirted with the idea of working for the KGB. When the article is published, it causes a sensation within the intelligence community and Cage’s career as a journalist begins to unravel.

Flash forward 20 years later, Cage is now a PR professional at a DC firm. His clients have ties to the government and he has become adept in the hand-holding and the doublespeak of the profession. One evening when he returns from work, he finds a mysterious note that prods him to further investigate the Lemaster pronouncement.

Peppered with references from Cage’s favorite spy novels, the PR man decides to take a stab and see where it all leads. Soon Cage follows the clues in Central Europe—from Vienna, where his father has retired, to Prague, and Budapest. Along the way, he meets up with Litzi, a former girlfriend from his teenage days in Vienna, a mysterious book scout— who easily could have been a spook himself, an assorted group of antique book sellers and, of course, spies from the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. For each note that Cage receives questions crop up that involve both Litzi and his father, which has him questioning their pasts in what has become a game of wits and deception.

The Double Game is, as author Olen Steinhauer writes in his blurb for the book, “Brilliantly executed and a joy from start to finish.” Indeed, and it will keep readers guessing who is Cage’s handler and what the next secret he will unearth via the literary citations and the visits to the antique bookstores of Vienna, Prague, and Budapest.

With his numerous mentions of spy classics penned by Ambler, Le Carré, and Greene, as well as a bibliography of the books that helped inspire The Double Game, Fesperman has written the consummate tale for spy aficionados who love getting lost in a maze of intrigue and suspense. But it’s more—The Double Game is a terrific primer for readers new to the genre.

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The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult

March 4, 2013

The Storyteller By Jodi Picoult Atria/Emily Bestler Books 480 pages $15.97 Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller tackles the heavy subject of the Holocaust and poses equally heavy questions concerning punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy. The story opens with the reclusive Sage Singer a 25 year-old baker. Sage hides from the world due to a nasty [...]

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Dogs and Love – Stories of Fidelity, by Ferris Robinson

February 24, 2013

Dogs and Love – Stories of Fidelity By Ferris Robinson Digital/Kindle Price: $2.99 Ferris Robinson is a good woman. She loves dogs, and her affection to those of the Canis genus is lovingly told in the recently published collection of essays: Dogs and Love – Stories of Fidelity.  Many people—like Ms. Ferris’ sister—may think she’s crazy [...]

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Redesign and Relaunch of Alvah’s Books

February 23, 2013

It’s been nearly two years since I stopped writing for Alvah’s Books. As much as I love to read and recommend books, working at the magazine and other writing projects took me away from reading and reviewing. My time is still tight. I’m still writing and editing for the magazine; I’m still working on my [...]

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A Trace of Smoke, by Rebecca Cantrell

March 27, 2011

A Trace of Smoke (Hannah Vogel Novels) by Rebecca Cantrell Forge Books, 2009 304 pages List price:$24.95; Amazon price: $9.98; Kindle price: $9.99 Rebecca Cantrell’s debut novel, A Trace of Smoke, introduces journalist Hannah Vogel, who writes under the pen of Peter Weill for the Berliner Tageblatt right at the end of the Weimar period. Readers first [...]

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The Second Son, by Jonathan Rabb

March 20, 2011

The Second Son: A Novel By Jonathan Rabb Farrar, Straus and Giroux 304 pages List price:  $26.00; Amazon price: $15.50; Kindle price: $12.99 The Second Son is the final installment to Rabb’s Berlin noir trilogy. Set in 1936, during the Olympics held in Berlin, Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner has just been ousted from his position [...]

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A Very Simple Crime, by Grant Jerkins

December 20, 2010

A Very Simple Crime By Grant Jerkins Berkley Prime Crime Paperback Original 264 pages List Price $14.00; Amazon Price: $11.20 Kick off your holiday reading with Grant Jerkins’ hypnotic debut novel A Very Simple Crime–a whodunit worthy of Hitchcock–that will give you chills, and keep you guessing until the very last page. Narrated by Adam [...]

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Hush, by Eishes Chayil

November 19, 2010

Hush By Eishes Chayil Walker Books for Young Readers 368 pages List Price: $16.99; Amazon Price $11.55 Rape and sexual abuse is everywhere. We read about it every day and it happens in the most surprising and even sacrosanct communities. The Hasidic community is no exception and thanks to the bravery of one author, Eishes [...]

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