Resurrection Lily is a memoir by Amy Byer Shainman that revolves around her having a BRCA gene mutation that greatly increases her risks of developing certain kinds of cancer. In this book, she shares the remarkable story of her life spent fighting it. She describes her inner struggle making the decisions to undergo preventative surgeries that will reduce her enhanced risks and paints a vivid portrait of her experience as a high-risk patient.
Shainman tells not just her own story, but weaves together an expansive history of cancer in her family and friends. It seems everywhere she turns she is confronted by the disease, and instead of standing by passively, she attacks first, both protecting herself and becoming a patient advocate for others facing similar situations. She frames her experiences with cancer like a battle, explaining, “My competitive nature and drive that had begun on the soccer field was lending itself to this medical situation. I wanted to be in control of things. I didn’t want any surprises.” (Shainman 53)
Resurrection Lily dives deep into the medical world, tackling complicated topics like genetics with straight-forward and easy to understand explanations. At the same time, she is also very blunt and doesn’t sugar-coat any of the ugliness that comes with fighting cancer. Shainman details the importance of both genetic testing and genetic counseling in families with medical histories of cancer, while simultaneously describing her own worries and concerns.
Even with the focus on medical explanations, Shainman’s memoir is still raw and emotional. As she is preparing for her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction, she is hit with the news that her friend Kristin, a woman in a strikingly similar situation as herself, is dying. “Her impending death hits me in a deep place. It makes me want to go cut my tits off right now.” (78) This hurts Shainman and it hurts the reader. Throughout her story, Kristin is presented as one of the strongest people Shainman has ever met. If someone like her can succumb to cancer, then anyone can. Shainman is admirably open about her experiences, sharing everything from intimate family medical history to moments like Kristin’s death.
Shainman also makes a point to discuss the media reaction to the BRCA gene mutation. It moves into the public light after Angelina Jolie opens up about her own diagnosis through two different op-eds. Shainman is especially vocal about the different news outlets consulted while covering the story. “...most of the interviews I read or saw on the news were with a physician who did not specialize in genetics. Since Jolie’s initial op-ed article was such a huge story, a global story, it seemed to me that many news outlets, television shows, and radio stations were just scrambling to get any medical expert on the air (no matter the person’s qualifications) as fast as they could.” (187) She goes on to explain the missed opportunity to spread awareness about the risks male carriers of the BRCA gene mutation face. Shainman is concise in her explanations of why both the media reaction and Jolie’s articles left some things to be desired.
Resurrection Lily is a powerful and intelligent memoir from a woman forced to make difficult personal health decisions. Amy Byer Shainman takes her readers through every step of the process. She goes out of her way to teach patients how to advocate for themselves and seek proper medical treatment, a sometimes daunting task. Readers will close her book with a sense of empowerment, thinking about their own family medical history and genetics in a way they might never have done before.
Quill says: Resurrection Lily is an applause worthy memoir that will affect its audience in deep and unexpected ways.
For more information on Resurrection Lily, please visit the website: brcaresponder.com
By: Michelle Muriel Publisher: Little Cabin Books, LLC Publication Date: August 2019 ISBN: 978-0990938347 Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko Review Date: August 19, 2019
Author Michelle Muriel delights readers once again with her sophomore novel, Water Lily Dance. This historical fiction drama guides readers through the lives of two resilient women living in two separate eras, one, 19th century Paris, and the second, modern-day Missouri. Intertwining their lives in the backdrop is the artist Claude Monet and his famous paintings of waterlilies.
In the 1800s, Camille Doncieux is a young lady living in Paris with a close relationship with her father and younger sister. She faithfully works in her father’s shop, but longs to break free of the rigid French traditions and make her own decisions, especially regarding whom she is to marry. Despite her father’s wishes, Camille befriends several local artists, who themselves are bucking the strict rules of traditional art forms in Paris, and agrees to pose for a few of their paintings. Camille is drawn toward one particular artist, Claude Monet, and together they fall in love, but she is torn between her expected life in Paris with her family, and the often times rocky, and not-as-respected life among artists with Claude.
Sophie Noel is a strong woman, who has had more than her fair share of loss in recent years. She had just started to cope with the death of her father, whom she has had a complicated past with, when her husband died tragically in an accident. This sends her into a major tailspin that she cannot seem to positively get through, despite the encouragement of her mother and close friends. One thing that she clings to besides her mother is art, particularly that of the painter Claude Monet, who whispers wisdom to her in her mind. Unfortunately, Sophie is left completely alone, swallowed up in her grief after her mother dies, and not knowing how to progress past the sadness. Together with a cast of dynamic and likable family and friends, Sophie is taken on a journey of her past and present that includes a few twists and surprises (including meeting a handsome Parisian!) that will hopefully allow her to work positively through her grief and move on to a happier, fulfilled life.
Water Lily Dance is more than a mere novel that happens to revolve around an Impressionist artist. It is a wonderfully written, sometimes a bit wordy, but nevertheless, moving portrayal of the strength and resilience of women, centuries apart. This reviewer was delighted that, shortly after reading this novel, I was able to visit an exhibit entitled, The Impressionist’s Eye, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Author Michelle Muriel’s writing is so vividly descriptive throughout the entire story, that I too felt as if I could hear Claude Monet and his contemporaries whispering in my ear. This novel is also a great reminder, specifically for women readers, that we can move through and overcome grief and other obstacles, if we just give it, and life, a chance.
Quill says: Water Lily Dance is a beautifully moving story about women, love, grief and overcoming adversity; a story that should not be missed.
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Helena P. Schrader, the author of The Emperor Strikes Back
FQ: As I get even further into these novels, I have to know: When you began, did you have the series (as such) outlined on paper, or at least in your mind of how far you would go with it?
SCHRADER: Not at all! Things always start small. A spark, an idea that grows into a book concept, then lots of research. Then when I start writing I either have a little novel or I discover I can't possibly do the characters justice in a novel that is affordable. I used to write 1,000-page novels, but big books just frighten readers away and require big price tags. So although it may be one idea and one story to me, it gets broken down into pieces to keep the paperback price around $20 and the ebook price close to $5.
This series is unusual, however, in that I was attracted to the civil war in Outremer -- the focus of the current series -- a quarter century ago, wrote a trilogy called The Lion of Karpas, and then shelved it as completely unmarketable. I then wrote about WWII (3 books), Ancient Sparta (6 books) and then got interested in Balian d'Ibelin the elder after seeing The Kingdom of Heaven. It was only after I was deep into the research for the Jerusalem trilogy that I discovered that the Balian who defended Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187 was the father of the "Old" Lord of Beirut -- the hero of the baronial revolt against Frederick II. So, all my interest in the civil war in Outremer was re-ignited and it made sense to build on the success of the Jerusalem trilogy by writing about the next generation of Ibelins.
The Last Crusader Kindom was a "bridge" book between the two series -- and a self-indulgence as I wanted to write that book to close out the story of Balian (the elder) and Maria Comnena, even though the story did not belong in the Jerusalem trilogy.
FQ: How, when and where did this particular piece of history grab you like it has and cause you to have your own crusade in the publishing world?
SCHRADER: A trip to Cyprus by accident. My husband and I had planned to go to Egypt, but political violence/terrorism there made us change our travel plans at short notice. We chose someplace that was still comparatively warm (we were coming from Northern Germany), and we found a package deal to Cyprus. I knew nothing about Cypriot history. We arrived and suddenly I discover that the Richard the Lionheart had been there, or rather, not just been there, he had conquered the island and established a kingdom that lasted three hundred years. Then I saw the castles and I was hopelessly lost in the history.
FQ: Is there one character in these books who has became “larger” than what you assumed they would at the onset; if so, who would that be and why do you believe the focus on them increased?
SCHRADER: This question can be answered in two ways. I really struggled with both my leading characters because there is less material about them. For Balian, I also had the problem that he was -- and had to be seen to be -- very different from his grandfather (the hero of the Jerusalem trilogy) and STILL be an attractive character. As I worked on developing him, I discovered things consistent with the historical record that I genuinely came to understand and admire. Eschiva, on the other hand, gets about three sentences in history and she was a complete invention. So simply because the starting baseline was so low, she grew even more in the course of both novels, but particularly in the second (The Emperor Strikes Back). Of course, as the hero and heroine, the amount of space devoted to them did not increase particularly
If the question is about a character who effectively butted in and took more space than planned, that would be Bella. Bella is literally just a name on a genealogy table, so her character is my invention as is her role in the siege of Beirut, but once I'd put her there, I couldn't abandon her.
FQ: Along those same lines, can you share with readers who is your favorite character and least favorite, and why?
SCHRADER: As characters or human beings? For favorite: if I wasn't a little in love with my hero I wouldn't be able to write about him, and the same goes for the heroine. But Bella and Hugh are close rivals.
For least favorite: Historically, I detest Frederick II -- particularly because I feel the usual adulation of him is so overblown and largely based on ignorance of the Holy Land, i.e. is based on false premises or a narrow focus on the West and his conflict with a series of even more bigoted and selfish popes. As a character in the book, obviously the most disgusting person in Sanuto -- the representative/incarnation of arrogant male privilege and the callous abuse of women.
FQ: What happens when this comes to an end? Have you thought about how extremely difficult it will be to say goodbye, so to speak? Or do you have another series already percolating that you’re researching now?
SCHRADER: I don't even want to think about the end. I have three more books set in the crusader states, two novels (the rest of the series) and one non-fiction, which will be the greater challenge. The point of the later book, tentatively titled Beyond the Seas: The Story of the Crusader States, is to create for non-academic readers a comprehensive picture of these unique political entities at the crossroads of East and West, on the interface between Christianity and Islam. There has been a great deal of academic research and many scholarly works have been published demonstrating how tolerant and innovative these states were, yet most people still equate everything having to do with the crusades with "genocide," bigotry and violence. I'm quite passionate about correcting that image, as you can tell, and know that doing a non-fiction book will take a huge investment in time. In short, I expect I'll remain in this era for at least another three years. I can't think beyond that.
FQ: Literary awards, graduating with honors, unending accolades – what is the most amazing thing that has occurred during your career? A moment in time, perhaps, that you were not expecting that literally had you stunned?
SCHRADER: Interaction with real heroes. I had the amazing opportunity to personally get to know some of the survivors of the German Resistance to Hitler -- Axel von dem Bussche, Ludwig von Hammerstein, Philipp von Boeselager, Marion Graefin Yorck, Nina Graefin Stauffenberg, Claritta von Trott zu Solz, Friedrich Georgi and, of course, General Friederich Olbricht's widow Eva. As a writer, however, the greatest "accolade" was when I received a hand-written letter from Wing Commander Bob Doe, who had flown fighters for the RAF in the Battle of Britain, in which he told me my novel Chasing the Wind was "the best book" he had ever read about the Battle of Brittain an that I'd gotten it "smack on the way it was for us pilots."
FQ: Do you ever get tired or exhausted by the research you have to do? (As a person who loves libraries, I can understand if the answer is “no.”)
SCHRADER: On the contrary, the research is energizing and always sparks new ideas -- sub-plots or minor characters.
FQ: Is there one thing in the literary world you wish would change? Whether that be a genre you feel needs more books or authors in it? Social media and the way it helps or hurts an author? Things like that.
SCHRADER: I wish filters would start to kick in to reduce the amount of trash being dumped on the market on a daily basis. I'm grateful for print-on-demand and self-publishing enabling greater diversity of titles and opening up publishing to more authors than fit the straight-jacket of the established commercial publishers, yet at the moment things have gone too far in the other direction. With 4,000 new titles every single day, far too many good books are being lost in the flood of sewage.
FQ: Of all the journeys you’ve had, is there a location you can say is a favorite of yours? Is there one that inspires you to write or investigate the past when you go and/or visited there?
SCHRADER: There are so many! Cyprus itself, Sparta, the castles of the Languedoc, the bastides of Southern France. Places have always played a large role in setting me on one track or another.
The Emperor Strikes Back: Frederick II’s War against his Vassals
By: Helena P. Schrader Publisher: Wheatmark Publication Date: July 19, 2019 ISBN: 978-1-62787-699-5 Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
For those readers out there who love history, I will assume you have already thrown yourself into this series of fantastic books. However, for those who love suspense, romance, family drama, and more, it should also be stated that these books not only cover a myriad of knights, eras, and crusades, but also genres. Even people who like that “soap opera” effect of families at war, members of those families sleeping in the “wrong” beds, etc., will fall head-over-heels for Helena Schrader’s books
As one who was lucky enough to get in on this from the beginning, this book picks up where Rebels Against Tyranny left off. The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, has set himself back where he feels he belongs: in the royal seat of power. He has also established, once again, Christian control of Jerusalem. You see, Frederick and Pope Gregory signed an agreement which lifted Frederick’s excommunication. But even with the love supposedly flowing between them and their grand display of friendship before the citizens, the battle between them still wages.
Now, it’s important to note that, in 1231, Frederick sent a huge military force to the Holy Land in order to battle. But not against the Saracens; Frederick was waging war against his own people. His target at this time was John Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut, whom the Emperor had a beef with (to put it mildly). He wanted John to surrender Beirut, but John wanted the Emperor to bring him into the High Courts so his supposed malfeasance could be judged by his peers. The Emperor wanted no due process, just the full surrender. Thus…wars began, crusades were taken on, and history became even more colorful.
It takes not a page before we enter (my personal favorite place) the library at the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino. It is there that the Master of the Teutonic Knights, Herman von Salza, waits for Frederick to show. Herman is a man who wants nothing more than to live out the rest of his days in this grand library and be left alone. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Herman is told by the Emperor of a secret plan. Herman could tell everyone and foil this plan, but Frederick also tells him that with this idea comes the promise that Pope Gregory is going to transfer the assets of the allegedly corrupt Sword Brothers to the Teutonic Knights - which makes Herman quite happy.
The Ibelins have their own surprise when a young child shows up in front of John, and is told that his eldest son, Balian, is the child’s father. This is news that could literally destroy the family. And as everyone watches the ten-year truce with Frederick run out—which carries with it the claim that the Holy City will be purified and the Christians will be driven out for good—the Ibelins have to worry about gaining allies in order to stop Frederick.
The vast egos at work in this book (and the preceding ones) are glorious to see played out on paper, and in your own mind. You can almost see the hatred in the eyes of both the common people and the barons, as they pelt the Emperor and hold him in contempt for his malicious ways. And although you may think the plot is confusing, or the cast of characters is too big to remember, don’t think that way. The author is brilliant in her writing and never lets you get confused. She is also gracious enough to not only offer up cast menus, but also maps of the towns, buildings, battles and everything you need to know from the 13th century. This allows you to sit back and simply enjoy the incredible journey that Helena Schrader brings to life in full-color.
Quill says: The author continues to offer the most exciting historical series that mesmerizes the reader.
Flirtation on the Hudson (Journey of Cornelia Rose)
By: JF Collen Publisher: Evolved Publishing Publication Date: September 2019 ISBN: 978-1-62253-635-1 Reviewed by Diane Lunsford Review Date: August 13, 2019
In this first installment of the Journey of Cornelia Rose series, J.F. Collen treats her audience to an engaging adventure by way of the antics of precocious main character, Cornelia (Nellie) Rose Entwhistle.
The story opens in Manhattan, October 1842. Nellie is a child of privilege and her curiosity is boundless. She is quite proud of her father’s accomplishments. He is the esteemed inventor of the new water system for the entire city of New York. The Entwhistle family will attend the grand celebration soon in honor of her father’s achievements. If only she could fashion her behavior more suitable and akin to her demure sister Anastasia. Or perhaps she could demonstrate a bolder side like that of her sister Agnes, but not nearly as abrasive. Nellie couldn’t quite understand why Agnes seemed to be the one always in mother’s favor. Unable to sleep with the anticipation of the grand celebration the next day, Nellie tiptoes out of her bedroom and toward the voices. When she overhears the heated discussion between her mother and Grandmama Pffernuss, she is dismayed to learn her Grandmama’s true feelings toward her beloved father.
The years cascade forward and Nellie is beside herself knowing that sister Agnes will be a debutante at Mrs. Warden’s Harvest Ball. Much to Nellie’s dismay, she would remain a wallflower to such grandeur. Granted, she is only 12 years and 10 months. Can’t that be close enough to 13? Nellie is enraged that her mother was sticking so closely to silly Mrs. Warden’s rule that in order to attend the ball as a debutant, the young lady must be 13 years of age. Yet another lecture was bestowed upon Nellie from her mother who insistently highlighted the reality that many things in life were not fair and it would benefit Nellie if she learned this lesson sooner rather than later.
All wonderful things come to those who are patient and at long last, Nellie is permitted to attend Camplands with her dear friend Augusta Van Cortlandt alongside Augusta’s mother as chaperone. After all, it was unseemly for a young lady to go anywhere unattended without a proper escort. When Nellie and Augusta are separated after the evening festivities, Nellie has the good fortune to meet the dreamy and quite enchanting Obadiah Wright, a fine West Point Cadet. Little did Nellie know that this chance meeting was a life changing occurrence that would dictate Nellie’s eventual destiny.
I was immediately captivated with this story, particularly given the period it was set in and the area where it takes place. It is the late 1800s and the Hudson River Valley history was beautifully woven into the story line. J.F. Collen does a fantastic job of capturing the dialect of the time as much as the etiquette and conduct of what was required to be a lady of those times. She guides her audience on a delicious ride of whimsical flirtations and shenanigans through the coquettish antics of main character, Nellie. She artfully knows when to pull Nellie back with her forwardness just when the reader anticipates she is about to cross a line. Even in the 1800s there were scoundrels lurking in the shadows to take advantage of unsuspecting damsels and yet, Collen plays out tasteful scenes in confident artistry through superb word placement. Nellie Entwhistle is a richly developed character with personality personified and I look forward to the next book in this delightful series. Well done! I am a fan.
Quill says: Flirtation on the Hudson is a terrific tale centered around a coming-of-age story of a young lady who certainly evolves into quite the woman of substance.
For more information on Flirtation on the Hudson, please visit the author's website at: www.jfcollen.com
By: Edwin Hill Publisher: Kensington Publication Date: August 2019 ISBN: 978-1496719331 Reviewed by: Gina Montanha Review Date: August 9, 2019
An odd little touristy island, a group of unique characters and a turbulent plot make up this telling tale of disappearing children, drugs, murder and complicated relationships.
Finisterre Island, Maine, sets the backdrop for secret love affairs, infatuation and children who go missing in broad daylight. As the island’s busy season is winding down and a huge storm is gearing up, year-round residents Lydia and Trey Pelletier relive the terror of their son’s disappearance earlier in the season, as another small boy vanishes into thin air.
Local police officer Rory Dunbar is consumed by a not-so-secret crush on Lydia and an equally obvious distaste for her “off-islander” husband, who accuses him of kidnapping their son just so he can take the credit for eventually locating him. Rory is also dealing with his drug addict brother Pete, who gets himself into several compromising situations. Unfortunately, drugs are a problem in the otherwise idyllic vacation spot, concentrated mostly in a decaying Victorian home. Once majestic, the crumbling structure houses vagrants, addicts and those who can’t afford anything else.
When one of the occupants of the Victorian, Frankie, is the next victim whose son disappears, suspicions start to run hot around the unkempt woman, as well as other dwellers of the Victorian. One of them is Annie, who has been on the island all summer and has actually befriended Lydia, as well as Vaughn Roberts, local boat captain and lobsterman.
Meanwhile, in the town of Somerville, Massachusetts, Hester Thursby is desperately trying to lead a normal life with her boyfriend Morgan and Morgan’s niece Kate. Kate’s mom, Morgan’s sister, and Hester’s best friend Daphne, abandoned everyone including her own daughter, a year prior. Now, it appears that Hester is irrationally protective of the little girl. When Hester receives an elusive text message from who she believes is Daphne, summoning her to Finisterre Island, she rushes to Maine with Kate in tow, seeking answers to her friend’s reckless behavior.
Who is responsible for the murders and mayhem that ensues at the height of the hurricane? Is it Rory or Trey, who constantly butt heads while vying for the affections of the same woman? Is it Annie, who calls Lydia her “best friend” and spends a lot of time with Lydia and Treys’s son Oliver? Or could it be one of the Victorian’s junkie residents seeking thrills, money or revenge?
A whirlwind of secrets, lies and mysteries culminate into an unexpected ending. There are so many twists and turns with these complex characters and relationships, that it’s a true challenge to guess the conclusion of this suspenseful summer read.
Quill says: The Missing Ones is enjoyable, well-written and hard to put down at times. If you’re looking for a good mystery, look no further, this one’s a worthwhile choice.
By: Wanda, Jean and Richelle Brunstetter Publisher: Shiloh Run Press Publication Date: June 2019 ISBN: 978-1-68322-866-8 Reviewed by Diane Lunsford Review Date: August 2, 2019
Wanda, Jean and Richelle Brunstetter deliver three inspirational stories set in Pennsylvania Amish Country in their latest release titled The Brides of the Big Valley.
Deanna Speicher has a wealth of responsibilities. Her son, Abner, was born with Downs Syndrome which didn’t mean she loved him any less. Rather, his sunny disposition inspired her to do anything to provide for her child. Deanna lost her husband, Simon, to a tragic accident when he fell from their roof while repairing shingles nearly a year ago. Her grief was compounded when shortly after his death, she lost her mother to a brain aneurism. Thankfully, with her faith and the support of the community, Deanna would get by; especially due to the kindness of Elmer Yoder. He had been a good friend even before Simon’s untimely death. They would meet at the local flea market each week where Deanna would sell her crafts. Elmer had a unique connection with Abner and it warmed Deanna’s heart to have this male influence in her son’s life. Maybe the future has more than friendship for Elmer and Deanna.
Rose Mary Renno loved working in her family’s furniture shop. Having just turned nineteen, she was excited to take older sister Linda’s lead and contribute more to the family business. While her tasks could seem mundane at times, Rose Mary enjoyed dusting the collections of decorative knick-knacks to make the showroom shine and welcoming. Over time, she would have the confidence Linda had with the customers. The area where Rose Mary could use more guidance was her current relationship. Best friend Marlene often put her two cents in when it came to Rose Mary’s affections for Tom. While he was raised the Amish way, Tom had bigger plans once he left for college. His hopes and dreams were to convince Rose Mary to try life beyond the Amish community. Bestie Marlene could see exactly what Tom was up to. Unfortunately, Tom’s hypnotic blue eyes and charismatic ways had Rose Mary smitten. When an ‘Englisher’ crash-lands his plane in the Renno fields, the signs begin to appear for Rose Mary. Maybe it isn’t she who should venture beyond her Amish life, but perhaps welcome an outsider into it.
Leila Fisher loved to sketch. It was her safe place. She used to enjoy school and socializing, but that changed when her friend Hannah decided she didn’t want to be friends anymore. To compound the difficulties she had with school, Leila was tasked with more responsibilities at the family store. Her mom, Darla, was pregnant with her fourth child and it was proving to be a difficult pregnancy. This situation forced Leila to take on more responsibilities beyond being a teenaged girl. After Hannah decided not to be friends, Leila much preferred to recede further into her sketching and card crafting. When Leila least expects it, Aden Troyer comes into her life. Maybe there is room for more than creating cards and sketching in her future.
Wanda, Jean and Richelle Brunstetter have penned three spiritually rewarding stories in The Brides of the Big Valley. I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of the Amish series by Wanda Brunstetter and hands down, these stories never disappoint. There is a perfect blend of faith and heartfelt lessons to be learned without the slightest notion of ad nauseum preaching. The pace holds a steady ebb and flow throughout the read and the ending to each story is never predictable. The Brunstetters have a signature style of planting subtle seeds throughout the story line that grow into a garden of ‘feel good’ at story’s end. I continue to be a fan of their work and always look forward to the next book in this series.
Quill says: The Brides of the Big Valley is chock full of inspiration and valuable lessons learned.