30 Jan 2014

John Paul Godges: Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century

Comments Off on John Paul Godges: Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century Book Reviews



“Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century” by John Paul Godges was recommended to me by a friend and I am so glad she did. 
The book has a lot to give but for me one of the main attractions is the huge arsenal of historical detail. Godges describes the roots of his family in Italy and Poland, the reasons why members of the respective families decided to try their fortune in the US, how they and their kins lived and how they got the money for the journey. Godges’ ancestors arrive in the US as immigrants, try to establish themselves in the cross fire of hopes, expectations and often harsh reality. With minute detail and precision he gives accounts of their experiences from the Great War up to modern times, focusing on individual family members. These characters are a great cross section of Americans and humans and serve brilliantly to reflect on the historic and personal events and issues that hit his family, be that strong religious affiliation and convictions, attitude to Vietnam or to homosexuality, which affects more than one person in the family.
This variety of people from his family – who go their own way and reunite at a family gathering – enables us to see a huge chunk of American history and socio-cultural aspects of modern times through a patchwork of real lives.
Well written and with wonderful reflections this is a very enjoyable and rewarding read

Interview with John:

Tell us a little about yourself as a writer and a person.
What made you become a writer? Have you always written?

I wanted to be a journalist since childhood, because being a journalist seemed like the practical way to be a writer back then. How things change! Seriously, whenever I’ve faced a vocational crossroads in life, I’ve remembered this insight from my college days: The things that have always given me the greatest sense of accomplishment in life are things I’ve written and edited, either as a journalist or otherwise. So being a writer is, for me, a matter of being true to myself.

When did you decide to write this book? 4180918

At my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. They are opposites in some respects, and they produced six extremely different children. The more I reflected on my parents’ lives, on their parents’ lives, and on our lives as the children and grandchildren, the more it dawned on me that our family story of immigration and assimilation, of going our separate ways and yet somehow coming back together, reflected the national story and the continuous American experience of struggling to juggle our individualism with our communitarianism. The more I saw the parallels between the familial and the national, the more I wanted to tell this story.

How difficult was it to write about real characters?

That was easy. It was journalism. It would be difficult for me to write about unreal characters.

Tell us a little about the history of the book. How long did it take you to write and publish?

It took me ten years to write and publish Oh, Beautiful. Because I work full time, that’s ten years of weekends, nights, and vacations. Writing the book required a lot more research, interviewing, travel, and investment than I had anticipated, but it always felt like progress was being made, because the outline at the beginning served as a good guide and pretty much survived intact as the outline at the end.

What was the easiest about writing the book and what was the hardest?

The easiest thing was that my family was all on board, and they all agreed to undergo the lengthy interviews as our schedules permitted. The hardest thing was that the interviews and other shared stories brought back a lot of painful memories for everyone. Working together on this book became a grand exercise in group therapy, which can be very painful. One thing the book itself underscores is that the greatest wisdom comes from the greatest pain.

Would you say there is a message in the book beyond the story? Do you find it is well received and picked up by the reviewers?

Absolutely. The core message is this: To be an American in the fullest sense of the word means to discover oneself as an individual within a community—and to sustain that tension, to the detriment of neither the individual nor the community. How that plays out in our individual lives as Americans is a source of endless fascination, conflict, resolution, and amusement. It’s a great big tug-of-war. It’s messy. But it’s who we are. I was really glad that the Kirkus reviewer completely picked up on this abstract concept and saw how the characters embodied it.

What do you like most about your characters? Which one is your favourite?

Forgiveness is the characteristic I like most. Without the ability to forgive one another and to look beyond our personal agendas, there can be no family, and there can be no society. The characters stick to their guns, but they learn to respect each other’s competing guns and to forgive one another for the wounds they inevitably inflict. My favorite character of all is my mentally ill sister. She is the heart and soul of the family, because she taught us how to love one another.

Who would play the characters in a film?

Valerie Harper would play my mom, the emotionally effusive Italian. Christopher Plummer would play my dad, the morally rigorous Marine. These two characters display numerous irreconcilable differences, yet they stay together regardless. Sally Field would play my mentally ill sister, whose character is a cross between “The Flying Nun” and “Sybil.”

Who did your cover work? Were you involved in the process?

A longtime friend and colleague helped me. We worked side-by-side.

What are your next projects? Tell us about your other books.

They haven’t taken from yet. I tell people I’m “between passions.”

What is your life like? What do you do for pleasure and work when you are not writing?

I write and edit for a living. I’m editor-in-chief of RAND Review, the flagship magazine of the RAND Corporation. For fun, I play beach volleyball and go on long hikes with friends.

Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite books/ films/ albums?

Steinbeck is my role model. In just about everything he wrote, he revealed his love for people, animals, and the land. My favorite books of his are Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. I genuinely miss his characters: the Joads, the Hamiltons, and the Trasks. They had their faults, but Steinbeck showed us how to love them through his words. I cannot imagine a nobler task for a writer.

What are your views on independent publishing?

I am indebted to independent publishing for having made it possible for me to become an independent publisher, but I do hold some darkly humorous views. When I attended a self-publishing conference in New York City about five years ago, I grew skeptical of the conventional wisdom of finding your niche, your tribe, your target audience, and sticking with it. “The way things are going,” I quipped during one seminar, “we’ll all end up writing for audiences of five!” I’m afraid my snarky prediction might be coming true. I wonder if Steinbeck could’ve succeeded today, because he wrote for a mass audience. Here’s another dark view of mine: The best way to succeed in publishing today, independent or not, is to write a three-way romance between a dragon, a vampire, and a zombie! Don’t get me wrong. There are wonderful people in the world of independent publishing, and they have helped me tremendously. But I don’t think independent or traditional publishing today does a great job of helping readers find really good writing. 
I wonder if Steinbeck could’ve succeeded today, because he wrote for a mass audience, and the only “platform” he had was a second-story bedroom in his father’s house.

Can you recomm end any indie books/ authors?

The one indie book and author I have often recommended is The Indie Author Guide by April L. Hamilton. April’s seminar was the best one at the conference I attended in New York, and her book was particularly helpful to me.


Connect with John here:




Barnes & Noble:

15 Nov 2013

Lori Crane “Elly Hays”

2 Comments Book Reviews

elly cover_small_web w-1-9

Today I welcome Lori Crane on my blog. I understand I am ending her blog tour to celebrate “Elly Hays”, her fantastic new novel. Here is my review and some further information about Lori and her tour. Enjoy!

“Elly Hays” by Lori Crane is an excellent novel giving great insight in to an apparently rather complex political situation. As European I know little of American history and particularly about the Indian Nations.
Crane describes the discussions amongst the Creek Indian Nation, some of whom have intermarried with whites and some of whom foresee the futility of war. However, the British offer weapons against the Americans and some are tempted.
Into this volatile situation comes the Rodgers family, moving into the Eastern Mississippi Territory hoping for economical gain and spurned on by an earthquake.
The time: 1812.
Indians decide to use the Rodgers family and scare them off, as a deterrent to others, without having to enter proper fighting. But when in this encounter between James Rodgers and the Indians the son of a big wig Indian dies, the conflict becomes personal.
The book is based on real people from the author’s ancestry, which makes reading the story very real and personal. Crane writes with great attention to detail and an authentic historical feel. Her interpretation of the events and the dramatisations seem very believable and are great fiction at the same time. She neither glorifies her ancestors nor does she resort to drama for the sake of it. As great as the suspense in this novel is, it aids the story rather than being in there for effect.
It is a great tribute to courage and shows how it had become impossible to stop the progress and the pushing back of the Indians from those territories. It shows a realistic and balanced image of the Indians in the story and history, making the events personal rather than political.
In all conflict there are good and bad people, people that have torn loyalties and have realistic ideas despite their ideals. It is a great account of events and an insightful snapshot of a moment in history.
Very rewarding.



As the War of 1812 approached, the Creek Indian Nation was in the middle of a civil war. They fought brutally between themselves, as well as with the white settlers who were encroaching upon tribal land.

It was during this time Elly’s family moved to the eastern Mississippi Territory for the promise of low-cost land and fertile soil. She had no idea they were moving into Creek territory – into the middle of a hornet’s nest. Tafv’s band of warriors taunted them, stealing their property, killing their animals, and destroying their livelihood. Just when the family thought things couldn’t get any worse, during one of the Indian raids as Elly’s husband chased the Indians away from the farm, Tafv’s young son was killed in the pursuit. Tafv vowed revenge against Elly’s family, and a final showdown was imminent.

Elly Hays is based on the real-life story of Elizabeth Hays Rodgers and is the epic clash between a fearless warrior with nothing to lose and a young mother on the verge of losing everything.


Lori is a native Mississippi belle currently living in the Yankee territory of western Michigan. She’s a professional musician by night and an indie author by day. She is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Daughters of the American Revolution, United States Daughters of 1812, Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Historical Novel Society.


Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Lori-Crane/e/B00ATIQW8M

blog http://loricrane.wordpress.com/

website http://loricraneauthor.com/

Twitter @LoriCraneHess

email LoriCraneAuthor@gmail.com



1. EBOOK!  Every comment on this post during the book tour (Nov 4-16) will be entered to win an ebook of the 1st or 2nd book in the Okatibbee Creek series, OKATIBBEE CREEK or AN ORPHAN’S HEART. Your choice of Kindle or Nook. One winner will be chosen. Prize will be delivered by email. Winner will be posted here in the comments on November 17, 2013. Visit each stop of the tour to increase your chances. An ebook will be given away at each stop. Tour schedule is posted atwww.LoriCraneAuthor.com.

2. $25 AMAZON GIFT CARD! If you sign up for Lori’s newsletter by November 16th, you will be entered into the drawing for a $25.00 Amazon Gift Card. One winner will be chosen. Prize will be delivered by email. Winner will be announced in the newsletter on November 18, 2013. Sign up at www.LoriCraneAuthor.com.


01 Nov 2013

S.R. Mallery : “Unexpected Gifts”

3 Comments Book Reviews

UG Smallery 6 19 12 jpg

“Unexpected Gifts” by S.R. Mallery is a great novel, comprising of an excellent dive into American history of the 20th century, with a hint of a very palatable family saga, a kind of personal memoir and a psychological journey into self-discovery by the main character Sonia. 
Coming with her own set of problems Sonia is confronted with the ageing of her parents and when she finds diaries of family members in the attic she digs into her family’s colourful and intriguing past. Mallery takes us back to various eras of recent American history, as experienced by Sonia’s family members. With great attention to detail and intensive research the author transports us to the 1960ies, the draft lottery, draft dodgers and the actual fighting in Vietnam while in the US the hippies protest and the Beatles are all the rage. Bringing the personal into the political and showing how our characters are caught up in the spirit of the times this book does an excellent job at portraying the spirit of the times, to the author much more so than many other novels with similar subjects. 
Another great sequence in the book takes us back to Ellis Island in 1913 as the first members of the family are immigrants from Eastern Europe and then settle in Detroit before the Great War.
Told out of chronological sequence and with much reflection by Sonia as she is rooted in the present the book serves as a history lessons for us non-Americans as well as a psychological exploration of a woman who tries to find answers about her family but more so about her own problems, her character and her identity.
Warm, thoughtful and with great insight this is a wonderful book that has a lot to offer. Well written and cleverly structured it shows great literary talent and comes highly recommended.



Tell us a little about yourself.  Have you always written?

Actually, no.  Oh, of course in school for papers, but I really am a late bloomer when it comes that. Wish I had started it years and years ago, but so be it…. spilled milk and all that.

How did you have the inspiration for this story?  What was more important for you – the OCD issue, the personal development, the history, or the family aspect of your book.

I have always been interested in seeing my family albums––their modern–60’s–50’s–40’s–30’–20’s–1910 outfits and their faces; were they sad, happy, bored?  In addition, having always loved history, particularly about the U.S., I remember wondering how I could present different American time periods in a single book and have it work out logically.  The more I percolated, the more I speculated about the idea of one person reading the scribbling of her relatives and gaining insight from them. That way, I could integrate a modern character with different eras.  In addition, I wanted to have the main character somewhat flawed.  Hence, the OCD.  I really enjoyed researching the OCD part because I have some of that myself; the kind where the mind never shuts off!  So, to answer your question, it all was important to me.

Did you do a lot of research for it?

A ton!! I studied books/articles/documentaries about each time frame, looked at many photos, read about the language from not only those different places, but also separate periods.  For example, I looked up how people in Ireland talked during the early 1900’s, how African Americans talked up in Harlem during the 20’s; how in Bulgaria, they would shake their heads when they meant yes, and visa versa when they meant no; what the foods were like for each period and country, the clothes, the politics, you name it.  It took quite a while—the downside of being an historical fiction writer, I suppose.  On the other hand, the journey is wonderful and you sure do learn a lot!!

 How much of the story was fixed before you started writing and how much changed during the process?

The story was pretty much fixed, but in a very general way.  The first draft I sent my publisher was 650 pages in paperback format.  Yikes!  We both agreed that cutting out every single extraneous historical tidbit wasn’t going to hurt the characters or the plot, so half a book later, I realized it had become much more flowing.

Tell us a little about your writing and editing process.

I’m an ex-quilt designer, so I’m always thinking in little patch-worked pieces.  I start with a big expandable file and little scraps of paper—upon which I keep putting thoughts, ideas, motivations, descriptions, plots, book passages I’ve underlined, anything I can think of.  Then I make up envelopes marked with various characters’ names, ambiance/description, language, plot, etc.  From there comes a very generalized outline and as I start to look at all my paper snatches, I fill in the outline with more detail.

As for editing, I do a lot of my writing online, but sometimes I do write just on paper, type it, then edit it, and sometimes I do editing online.  I’m pretty flexible that way.

What is your writing environment like?  Can you tolerate music or noise or are you a reclusive writer?

I have been known to write entire scenes at a Carl’s Junior, but in general, I do write at home and do not want to have a lot of noise around me.  Music, however, is my great muse away from the writing.  It gives me all kinds of ideas about motivation, scenes, characters, plots, etc.  I listen while I drive or at home and it always works like a charm. For Unexpected Gifts I downloaded music from the various periods, and an Irish music CD for that chapter.

 Which of your characters was the most fun to write?

Daria.  I definitely don’t have a drop of Irish in me, but I do love Irish music and the sing-song rhythms of their language, so whenever I would reread what I had written about that Irish lass, no matter how small the passage, or simply a single sentence, I would use an Irish accent.  It really transported me.

Who would play her in a film?

Goodness, I don’t know….an unknown maybe?  Some lovely actress who could make her proud…

Are you like any of the characters?

Probably Sonia, because of some of her OCD tendencies and her growing love of finding out about her ancestors.

What is your life like?

At the moment, it’s fairly peaceful.  Of course these days that could change on a dime!  I live with my husband, daughter, and a couple of cats, in an unassuming, cottage-like house.  I teach part time to ESL adults whom I love and respect, and intermixed with that is writing, editing, research, promotional networking, family, friends, movies/series on DVD, light gardening, and laughter as much as I can muster. Good for the soul, what, what?

Who are your literary influences?  What are your favourite books/films/albums?

Authors: Harper Lee, O.Henry, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Dodie Smith, Victoria Holt, Mary Renault, and Betty Smith, William Styron and more.

Films: To Kill a Mockingbird, Friendly Persuasion, L. A. Confidential, Poltergeist, Love Actually, Bridge On the River Kwai, The Miracle Worker, Tootsie, etc., etc.     I guess I’m eclectic…..

Albums:  Stevie Wonder, Judy Collins, Mozart, Faure, Debussy, The Beatles, The Gaitlin Brothers, Irish music, movie themes, etc., etc….

What are your views on independent publishing?

At first I figured being published traditionally was really the only way to go. I’m changing my tune rapidly as the entire industry is changing and I see my friends getting more money and having more control.

However, I do admit that my publisher, Mockingbird Lane Press, has been very patient and kind to me and I have learned so much. Frankly, I really couldn’t have done it on my own as a new author.

Can you recommend any indie books/authors?

Lasher Lane’s Deadlight; Simon Okill’s  Nobody Loves a Bigfoot Like a Bigfoot Babe; Tony Riches’ The Shell;

and last, but certainly not least, YOUR book, Christoph, The Luck of the Weissensteiners!! (NO KISS UP HERE, simply the truth!)

Aw, thank you. What would your friends tell us if we asked for your best and your oddest qualities?

Interesting question….my oddest quality, which I totally attribute to my OCD, is I can’t let go of things easily.  For my kids, it has meant me reminding them over and over again to do something (they’ve learned to make a joke out of it), and if I get hurt by someone, it takes a while to clear my system.

My best quality, I have been told by family, friends, and students, is that I really care about them, and will always listen to them and help them if I can.

What are your favourite animal/color/outdoor activity?

Cat/periwinkle blue/used to be tennis (can’t because of knee issues), gardening

 What would you take to a remote island?

My husband (even though your question wasn’t with who).  He is so smart, he could figure out a way to provide me with food, shelter, and caring.

What are you writing at the moment and where would we find out about your next projects?

My website, www.srmallery.com, has synopses of both Unexpected Gifts and the upcoming Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads.  I am doing last minute edits on the latter. As for my next project, I am in the very beginning stages of it––research, formulating, etc, so I don’t really want to talk about it quite yet.  However, it will involve a missing persons case during the American Civil War. 

Here are some links:

Website:  www.srmallery.com

Facebook: S. R. Mallery (Sarah Mallery) http://on.fb.me/13fFI4T

Amazon page: http://amzn.to/13ar2pa

Book Trailer: http://bit.ly/18cSWUG

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/13NBxA2

Twitter: SarahMallery1


 SCBD SRMallery 6 16 12 jpg



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: