Independent book review: Still Life with Memories series



By Uvi Poznansky

I have recently discovered the books of Uvi Poznansky, and she has written a remarkable series of books. Together, they tell one unified story, but from multiple points of view. The author does a remarkable job of capturing each individual voice

Still Life with Memories is about Lenny and Natasha Kaminsky, and about the way Natasha’s illness affects the whole family over a long time.

Natasha is a concert pianist and composer, hailed as a genius, and Lenny a soldier and intelligence operative.

They meet and fall in love, and Lenny says he cannot believe his luck when Natasha accepts his proposal of marriage. After the war, they return to the States and settle in Santa Monica, California. Natasha tries to re-start her music career, but shelves it when she becomes pregnant.

She becomes a piano teacher while Lenny pursues his own career, and Natasha’s enormous white piano fills up most of the living room in their small apartment.

But before many years pass, Lenny starts to notice something is wrong with Natasha. She has increasing memory lapses, which also affect her playing. Gradually, she loses the ability to play the piano. Lenny becomes despondent over the gaps Natasha’s memory and the damage it inflicts on their relationship. Lenny begins recording interviews with Natasha, then transcribing them in an effort to write a book about their life together.

Then he meets Anita, a teenaged girl who looks astonishingly like a young Natasha. Anita sets her sights on him as her best chance for a better life than her mother could give, and Lenny falls for her. Natasha, as fragile as she is, leaves Lenny, but seems to come back more than once.

 

But when Lenny makes Anita pregnant, the marriage is over. Not only does Natasha leave Lenny for good, so does their son, Ben, who is one year older than Anita.

The most remarkable thing about Poznansky’s series is that she tells it from different points of view.

Anita, who first appears in Lenny’s life as a teacher, is the narrator of book 1, My Own Voice. In Book 2, The White Piano, Ben, Lenny’s son is the PoV character. Lenny then takes over the narrating for the rest of the series, and we get to put the pieces together of Natasha’s real story.

Natasha is the most interesting character in the series. She’s a highly talented artist and, it turns out, was resourceful and effective during the war. The way that the author slowly reveals her story is sometimes anguishing, sometimes teasing, but always fascinating.

And the author perfectly captures each PoV character’s voice as she does this: the calculating other woman, the angry son, the guilt-ridden husband.

Still Life with Memories also reveals the ephemera quality of memory, through the differences in details that each character remembers about their interactions.

Battered by fate

Poznansky shows how each of us tries to be master of our own fate, but we are at the same time victims of an often cruel universe, dealing with things that we could never have seen coming. In book 4, Marriage Before Death, Lenny wonders how it is that some of the soldiers on the battlefield die, while other survive, and whether his time is up. And in other volumes, he tries to make a new life for himself and his family, but suffers setback after setback. When Anita finds him, he seems powerless to turn  her away, even though he tries.

Anita is more skilled or talented at surfing the maelstrom of life. She rises from an impoverished single-parent household, without much education, and catches a successful man—one who can give her things she could only dream of as a girl.

Ben recoils when he learns of his father’s affair with a girl younger than himself, drops out of school and leaves for Rome. When he returns, he also finds attracted drawn against his will to Anita, the woman who replaced his mother in many ways.

A couple of flaws

I find myself equally unable to resist Poznansky’s storytelling style. While she perfectly captures each character’s individuality, at the same time she writes in a style that seems at once fresh and old-fashioned. She has, I think, also captured a prewar literary voice that is refreshingly distinct from the mass-produced style you can find in today’s commercial bestsellers.

But the books are not quite perfect. There are a couple of flaws.

First, Lenny seems to be an incompetent intelligence operative. In Marriage Before Death, he wanders behind enemy lines with ease with little purpose or mission, and gets caught almost immediately.

Also, the timing seems a little off. If Lenny is in his 20s during the war—and it seems he is—then I’m having trouble working out the timing for when he meets Anita in Santa Monica. She describes Lenny as being in his 40s, so that would take us to the mid-sixties or at best early 70s. However, Anita plays a song from “the sixties” as if it were really old. Somehow, the timing just seems a little off there.

Overall

This is a wonderful series, a richly colourful portrait of the intersecting, overlapping and mutually supportive and destructive lives. It portrays the intricate relationships of family, of the ways we intentionally and unintentionally hurt the people we love, and how what we do to each other ultimately creates the people they, and we are. It’s not quite perfect, but then neither are we.

Well done, Ms. Poznansky

4*

Find Uvi Poznansky’s work on

Visit her website.

Win signed books from BestSelling authors




BestSelling Reads authors are doing it again — giving away a virtual boxed set of five  signed paperbacks in the BSR October giveaway. 

How does it work? From BSR’s own blog: 

The grand prize winner gets to choose a total of five titles, choosing from all the books available by BSR member authors. Five titles from one author, or mix and match with one title each from five different authors. Plus a $50 Amazon gift card to add even more titles to your shelf!
Second prize is a virtual boxed set of three signed paperbacks plus a $20 Amazon gift card. Eight runner-up winners will receive one signed paperback of their choice by any BSR member author plus a $10 Amazon gift card. 

To enter, visit BestSelling Reads’ blog at BestSellingReads.com and enter the Rafflecopter.

Good luck!

Thrillers for geeks: Helen Hanson on writing style




She should have dialyzed last night, but she’d fallen asleep too soon, cocooned in fading dreams, down, and enchantment.

The next round of belly noises came with spikes.

“That shit was good. You ever think of going into politics?”
“Only with a bulldozer.”


Helen Hanson is an Amazon bestselling thriller author of 3 Lies and Dark Pool, novels that mix action, intrigue, humour and tenderness, and a strong writing style comprising dialogue, description — and as you can see from the examples above, she likes a good metaphor.

Helen is also one of the driving forces behind the BestSelling Reads authors cooperative. She took time from her incredibly busy schedule to tell Written Words just how she writes the way she does.

How would you describe your own writing style?

This question makes me want to tip my Fedora and dangle a cigarette holder from my lips, dahling.

Thrillers tend to be dour works, so I weave a thread of humor throughout because that’s how I live my life. I’m the kind of person who finds something to giggle about at a funeral.

The Avengers aside, I don’t believe in superheroes. I prefer to watch the everyman rise to an occasion. See what he’s capable of when pushed to an extreme. Count his beads of sweat as he faces danger.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

John le Carré, Len Deighton, even the put-upon John Grisham. All of these authors inspired my work in some way, but I write nothing like they do.

My first completed novel will never see daylight. It’s like that scene in Apocalypse Now where Captain Willard loses it and trashes his hotel room. That’s what a first effort should be: messy, destructive, and ultimately defining. When you come out, you know there’s some stuff you don’t want to do again.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

Yes, but it’s not my place to call them out. I just don’t read them. Some are commercial giants. I often disagree with millions of people over matters of taste. In the end, I have to acknowledge that the author did the job—emotionally connecting the reader to the story world.

You seem to like metaphors. How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

I enjoy juxtaposing ideas and creating metaphors that ring true. Technology imbues my story lines, so I hide the occasional Easter eggs for liked-minded geeks. I really do write to please myself. I figure if I’m having a good time others will too.

Mechanically, I tend toward short, choppy thoughts in my first draft, and when I edit, I restring the pearls.

What are the important elements of your style? What are you trying to achieve?

I don’t see life in particularly black-and-white terms. I may have decided how I plan to live, but it doesn’t mean I don’t see the other facets of a thing. When I write, I try to turn the gem over a bit and give the other sides a chance to glint.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

Thrillers for Geeks. That’s what I call my novels. My protagonists all understand and use technology for their work and survival. Hackers, spammers, robotics engineers, satellite tech executives. None of this capability was around fifty years ago.

But people haven’t changed. They still want hot dates for Saturday night and wonder if they appear too needy.

I try to write smart, deadly, witty and to end every chapter with something hanging.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

No. The thriller genre isn’t a monolithic entity. It runs the gamut from the literary lyricism of John le Carré to the raspy rhythm of Dashiell Hammett.

To quote from the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella: In my own little corner, in my own little chair, I can be whatever I want to be.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

I hope both. I absolutely expect them to laugh out loud on particular lines because I did when I wrote them. I plan for them to wonder if the guy is going to make it out alive. But I trust the finer points to return for a reader’s consideration when he least expects it.

How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success?

It’s everything. Or nothing. I’m not sure how one measures the effect of style. One can fail miserably in grand style.

Eye of the beholder, baby. Eye of the beholder.

Thank you, Helen.


Visit Helen Hanson’s Amazon Author page.
Get 3 Lies on Amazon.
Get Dark Pool on Amazon.
And visit her website: Helen Hanson, Thriller Author.

Christine Nolfi: a professional writer confident about her style



In my pursuit of the meaning and importance of writing style, this week I am turning to veteran Christine Nolfi, best-selling author of Second-Chance Grill, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge and Treasure Me. Christine is also a founder of BestSelling Reads, a cooperative promotional group of writers of “new fiction.”Christine has definite views on the writer’s style.

How would you describe your own writing style?

A combination of short, staccato sentences blended with longer, closer-to-literary passages. The combination is wholly intentional, a surefire way to evoke emotion in the reader.Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?I’m particularly fond of Ann Patchett’s style, but I don’t emulate her or other authors. I’ve been writing for many years. My literary voice is well established.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

I dislike any prose that’s choppy, disjointed or poorly edited.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

After years of study, trial and error, critique groups, literary agents and much revision, I’m very happy with my writing style. Now when I sit down to begin a story, the entire process feels organic.

What are the important elements of your style? What are you trying to achieve?

An author receives the incalculable gift of the reader’s attention. Add in the modern world, with all the distractions and thrills of mass media, television, film — even the texting feature on your cell phone. Given all of that, I strive to create visual images on every page. Conflict rises, chapter by chapter. And I never forget to pack emotion into every sentence, and the novel’s essential structure.


SecondChanceGrill2-smaller
Your style uses a lot of dialogue. What do you do to ensure your writing is authentic and believable?

I rehearse each scene out loud, becoming the different characters at different turns. This used to frighten my children. They’d arrive home from school to find Mom staring at the Mac and babbling dialogue. Now they’re grown and take my eccentricities in stride.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favor? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

I suspect readers first recognize my characters as something arising from Nolfi novel. Then the dialogue, which can veer from comedic to poignant in the blink of an eye. Writing style? The combination of short sentences and long passages are a dead giveaway.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

Not at all. I write contemporary fiction, which covers the gamut of human experience. No, you’ll never find horror or erotica in my books. But you will find elements from many other genres — romance, mystery and suspense especially.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

If fan mail carries proof, I’m sure of it. No doubt the response is both conscious and subconscious.

Why did you add discussion questions to the end of Second Chance Grill? Is this something you do with other books? 

Nolfi-Tree2-smallerBook clubs welcome ready-made questions and I’ll probably supply them in each new release. The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge also has a discussion section. I’ll tell you, devising the right mix of questions for each book was arduous. I worried about missing important issues, or placing too much emphasis on others.


How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success?

I think readers in every genre have certain expectations. As an author, you must meet those expectations for any hope of success. In the case of contemporary fiction, readers demand a writing style rich in emotion, with striking visuals and deep symbolism. They don’t want a surface read. If they aren’t quickly immersed in the story and the conflict, they’ll move on to another novel.

Do you think your style will change in the future? Is there something different you would like to do in terms of style in a future book?

With each new book written, I sense my style veering closer to literary. Readers will decide if I’m making a wise decision. Someday I would like to try my hand at something different — a fantasy, perhaps, or science fiction. Or something gritty. Presently I’m editing my next two contemporary fiction releases, and will write the third installment of the Liberty Series over the summer. Perhaps I’ll find time in 2014 to try something new.

Nolfi-Treasure2-smallerChristine Nolfi owned a small public relations firm in Cleveland, Ohio. She closed the firm after traveling to the Philippines to adopt a sibling group of four children. She has been writing novels full-time since 2004. Her debut Treasure Me is a 2012 Next Generation Indie Awards finalist. Her most recent book, Second Chance Grill was released in October 2012. Her works continue to earn high marks on GoodReads and Amazon.

You can find out more about Christine, her books and her blog at www.christinenolfi.com.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christinenolfi

Check out her GoodReads Author Pageher FaceBook Author page, and her Amazon Author page.

And don’t forget to check out her books!

Second Chance Grill:
on Amazon.com 
on Amazon.ca
at Barnes & Noble
on
GoodReads.

Treasure Me — 2012 Next Generation Indie Awards Finalist
on Amazon 
at Barnes & Noble

The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge
on Amazon.com
on Amazon UK
on Barnes & Noble