Friday, 8 April 2016

When I'm Gone - Book Review

Dear Luke,
First let me say - I love you. I love you and our children more than I could ever write in words... I didn't want to leave you.

And so begins Emily Bleeker's newest book, When I'm Gone. This heartbreaking novel opens with Luke returning home from his wife's funeral. He is then faced with the daunting task of raising their three children alone. That same afternoon, he notices a blue envelope with the words To Luke written in his wife's handwriting across the front. Inside is the first of a series of letters from Natalie to Luke that keep arriving to their home in the mail. All of the letters were written before Natalie passed away. As more and more letters arrive, Luke's obsession with them grows.

Who is sending the letters? How many are there? When will they stop? What is the big secret Natalie keeps mentioning?

This book hit home for me for a few reasons. To begin with, the whole premise of a widower with young children reminded me so much of my friend Jaclyn who passed away last fall from breast cancer and left behind her husband and two young children.

Secondly, Luke and Natalie's youngest son, Clayton, is 3 years old and turning 4 - the exact same age as my own son. When Clayton clings to Natalie's old phone to hear her voice on some recordings, it broke my heart that he now saw his mother as simply a phone. I can't even begin to imagine what it would feel like to know that you will not watch your children grow up. What would I leave behind to help them move forward?

I found the novel very well-written. I was hooked from the beginning and always curious about what Natalie's next letter would say. The author captured their love story clearly, and it was very sad to know they had been separated too soon. Other than when Natalie uses one of her letters to encourage Luke to go on a few dates, which I found to be a bit strange, I really connected with Luke easily as a character. He was such a loving dad and tried so hard to hold himself together while caring for his kids. When I'm Gone was not a predicable read and there were a few serious twists in the story that kept it interesting. Even the dating part that threw me for a bit in the middle of the book resolved in a way that I was happy with in the end.

For any reader who loves women's fiction, you will enjoy When I'm Gone.

To find out more about the author, Emily Bleeker, visit her on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.



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Disclaimer - I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author and TLC Book Tours. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. If you'd like to see what some other bloggers thought about this book, you can check out the full tour here

Friday, 1 April 2016

In the Context of Love - Book Review + Author Interview

Stories of women who have suffered sexual abuse have been at the forefront of media recently. How do we empower these women to find strength within darkness? How do we ensure that they are heard? Those are questions that Linda Sienkiewicz has us think about in her debut novel, In the Context of Love.

In the Context of Love tells us the story of Angelica. Actually, it's Angelica, many years later, telling her story to the boy she fell in love with in high school. We're not sure until the end if Angelica is actually talking to her boyfriend, or if she's just talking to his memory. This itself makes the book a bit of a page-turner.

Angelica's family is not perfect. It has secrets. Secrets that would destroy a teenage girl who is already trying to figure life out. Angelica learns these deep family secrets, and it changes her. At the same time, the one person to whom she feels connected, her high school boyfriend, suddenly vanishes from her life, leaving her entirely alone.

When I started reading this novel, the writing style hooked me immediately. I love the way that Angelica narrated her own story, and as I continued reading the story, and then the author interview below, I realized just how important it was that Angelica tells this story. That's it's her voice we hear. It is part of how the author handles the sensitive topic of sexual abuse so well.

The story moves along at a good pace and kept me wondering how the author was going to bring Angelica back from her path of self-distruction, or even if redemption was possible at all. I was not disappointed. Love doesn't always look "perfect" and sometimes love feels absent, but even on the darkest of journeys, we can still find love. And maybe it can save us.

Check out the trailer for the book below. Following that is an interview with Linda Sienkiewicz and a giveaway to win a $10 Amazon giftcard. Enjoy!


In the Context of Love | Book Trailer from Linda Sienkiewicz on Vimeo.

Interview with Linda K. Sienkiewicz

1. How long have you been writing?

I wrote stories when I was a girl, but I got serious about writing poetry and getting published in the early nineties. Then I began writing short stories around 2000 and worked on getting those published, and then gravitated toward novels.

2. What made you want to write a novel?

I shared a short story that was published in a journal with my poetry editor, the late Rob Bixby. He liked it and told me I should write a novel based on the characters. I told him I had no idea how to write a novel! He said, “Sure you do. Fourteen chapters, introduce a new character in each chapter, and then you have a novel.” He was teasing, but I was intrigued. I had to at least try.

3. In writing In the Context of Love, did your characters surprise you at any times?

Yes, they took some unexpected turns. I worried about Angelica’s behavior, especially at her ten year class reunion. She was falling into a deep hole and I had to be sure I could get her back out. Her husband, Gavin, was shady and unpredictable, and I found it interesting to follow him over to the dark side. Angelica's father, too, surprised me. I didn't think he'd end up being such a pivotal character.

4. In the heart of this book is a family secret, a dark secret, that keeps us turning pages. Did you construct the novel around it, or, did you discover it along with Angelica?

The secret was the inspiration for the novel. In the nineties, I'd read a Glamour magazine article about several women who learned they were conceived in rape. Their stories, their strength, and their capacity to forgive so impressed me that I decided to write a fictional story about such a woman. I didn't know how Angelica would learn this devastating secret, or what she would do when she did, but that was the challenge and joy of writing this book.

5. Why did you choose the time setting of the mid-seventies for when Angelica comes of age?

I wanted her to be born in the mid-to-late-fifties because of the social constraints of that era. An unmarried mother was a big scandal then. Girls were sent away to have their babies at Homes for Unwed Mothers, and they were often coerced into giving their babies up for adoption. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been banished from your family?

6. What do you want readers to take away from your book?

The empowering message of In the Context of Love is that by telling our stories, we are able to embrace and accept who we are. We do not have to be defined by our mistakes. Martha Beck says, "The heart is imprisoned not by being broken, but by being silenced.” Angelica’s story and her mother’s story are universal, and they need to be shared.