Monthly Archives: August 2014

  • Slip and bawl Slip and bawl

    Slip and bawl

Slip and bawl

From Erika Raskin’s Blog

Yesterday started off as a seriously crap day. I’d just made my favorite bowl of instant oatmeal (slash sugary soup) and was walking over to the kitchen table (which I also use as my desk ) when I tripped on something (invisible) and dumped two cups of hot runny cinnamon spice mixture INTO my keyboard (slash computer). I tried to tell myself that with patience and denial I’d be able to deal. I got paper towels and Q-tips.

Then the caps locked. And the space bar didn’t.

And I called the Apple store and explained, in roughly the same tone of voice I might use for a bone protruding from my ankle, what had happened. They basically told me to call an ambulance.

I flew across town.

reduced to one blinking question mark. hm.

The techies were able to save the hard drive (whatever that means) and the three novels housed inside. But the rest of the machine was toast.

Suffice it to say that I may have won the prize for spending the most money ever on a packet of instant cereal. My new computer is beautiful (with letters still on the keys) and no old meals between them. But I definitely learned my lesson.

I am so over oatmeal.


Erika Raskin is the author of CLOSE


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Midwest Book Review, LIVING TREASURES

Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review

Living Treasures was a Bellwether Prize finalist and is a powerful novel set in China and centered on a young law student who finds her life changed by the violence in Tiananmen Square, which kills one of her friends. Her reaction (since she eschews violence) is to fall in love with a charismatic young soldier: the only problem is, she becomes pregnant.

Her parents arrange for her abortion and she flees school and home in disgrace, ending up at her grandparents’ house in China’s remote Sichuan mountains.

For all intents and purposes this story could have ended here; but Bao’s saga continues in an unexpected direction when she helps a panda and a pregnant young mother (who is hiding from China’s one-child policy enforcer).

Here Bao’s own background comes into play as she sides with family and survival and finds herself simultaneously immersed in a dual struggle to save a young woman and a panda cub.

Living Treasures is nothing short of spectacular; especially for readers who want a story steeped in Chinese culture, tradition, and politics but cemented by a powerful young woman who emerges as a savior to others. Equally notable are passages filled with a sense of rural place, which engage all one’s senses in the sounds, smells, and feel of Sichuan province:

“She hiked up the mountain. Wild azalea leaves glistened, their buds swollen and pink, ready to burst into flower. The red bark of birch trees caught the sun’s slanting rays, and lichens drooped in luminous strands from their boughs…Never in her life had she imagined fawning over a peasant who tried to circumvent the one-child policy. Bao was a university student, the elite of Chinese youth, and a law student at that!”

Any who want a slowly-building sense of place and purpose and who want to better understand Chinese culture, history, and heritage will find Living Treasures is all about the nation’s changes, reflected in the life of young Bao as she learns how and when to take stands for her changing beliefs.

Literary and lyrical, Living Treasures is a lovely, absorbing story steeped in Chinese tradition.

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San Francisco Book Review of LIVING TREASURES

San Francisco Book Review

The year is 1989. Eighteen-year-old Bao, a first-year law student, finds herself smitten with Tong, the commanding officer she met during her required college military training camp. Bao knows better than to date (let alone engage in sexual relations) because that would mean expulsion from school. Nonetheless, Bao’s covert meetings with Tong eventually lead to intimacy followed by an unexpected pregnancy. Dutifully submitting to her parents, Bao goes to live with her grandparents after her abortion. Her one-month stay turns out to be more eye opening than her own personal trauma when she learns of a pregnant woman who is hiding from China’s One-child policy workers.

Bellwether Prize Finalist Yang Huang has penned a poignant love story whose roots run deeper than the bond between two lovers. Centering much of her attention on Bao, who is fearful to spread her wings, Huang attentively interweaves various themes throughout the plot. Using historical situations from the time period as well as one of China’s national treasures – the Giant Panda – Huang contrasts between those who are willing to defy authority and Bao’s timidity. Such examples include the bold student activists at Tiananmen Square against Bao’s lack of involvement, and the audacious pregnant “guerrilla women” against Bao’s complaisant attitude toward her parents’ wishes for her to get an abortion. Obviously, there is another theme that contrasts life and death, which is not only prevalent with the guerrilla women, but also the brazen starving female pandas desperately searching for food so they can nurse their cubs.

Amid these themes, Huang’s third-person narrative is replete with incredibly powerful metaphorical imagery of life, in particular, the yellow-rafter tree and the lotus flower. Scenes also include detailed descriptions of the delicately captured, incredible sights and sounds Pingwu County countryside and the bustling city of Nanjing. Her depictions are tightly interlaced throughout the riveting modulated dialogue (back-and-forth conversation) Huang has so deftly incorporated, allowing readers to experience the tension associated with those who live in a non-democratic society.

Bao definitely fits the description of a dynamic character. Huang gracefully handles Bao’s development from chapter to chapter as she gradually breaks out of her protective emotional shell. Indeed, there is a sense of anticipation that Bao will be able to face her fears at some point. Yet Huang carefully balances her storyline with a host of supportive characters intermixed with antagonists that provide enough unforeseen situations to leave readers to wonder what will be the next phase in Bao’s journey. High on the chart of antagonists is the notorious Childless Du, whose involvement with the One-child policy is disturbingly chilling.

Huang’s winning novel is more than another work of historical fiction. Living Treasures is endearing, extraordinarily moving, and its timely message about life makes it a must read for young and old readers alike.

Reviewed by Anita Lock

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Library Journal review of Yang Huang’s LIVING TREASURES

Library Journal

In this debut novel, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2008, 18-year-old Gu Bao is a first-year law student facing some difficult life decisions during the tumultuous period of the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. When she loses her virginity to her boyfriend, an officer and graduate of the Army Commander College who reassures her that she can’t get pregnant the first time she has sex . . . (more)

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Kirkus Reviews Yang Huang’s LIVING TREASURES

Kirkus Reviews

A college student faces personal and political challenges in Tiananmen-era China.

In Huang’s debut novel, college student Gu Bao makes her way through an evolving China that is moving toward modernity but cannot escape the memory of the Cultural Revolution. The political and the personal are irrevocably intertwined in Bao’s world. She loves Tong but knows she will lose her place at the university if she is seen with him because students are expected to put their duty to the state ahead of romantic relationships; an off-campus dinner party revolves as much around preparing the perfect entree as it does around news and images from the ongoing protests. The protests at Tiananmen Square and elsewhere have tragic consequences, both on a national scale and close to home, as one of Bao’s friends is killed shortly before he was scheduled to leave the country. The conflict at the center of Bao’s story is a deeply personal one—she becomes pregnant and knows that having a baby will bring an end to her education and condemn her to a bleak future—but it’s also set against the backdrop of China’s authoritarian family-planning policies. When Bao travels to her grandparents’ rural home, she befriends a peasant woman who is concealing an illegal pregnancy. When the authorities discover the woman’s condition and order her sterilization, Bao sees firsthand that personal vindictiveness is as strong a force as party loyalty when it comes to enforcing the law. She acts to protect her friend but finds herself in unexpected personal danger. Huang does an admirable job balancing Bao’s individual story against the canvas of China’s evolution using crisply drawn characters who reveal their layers as the story progresses. Some readers may find the book’s opening scene, in which a young Bao encounters a renegade panda, overly fablelike, but Huang avoids the trap of overusing the panda as a metaphor in the book.

A knotty, engaging novel of China’s recent history.

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  • 5-Star Foreword Review of Diane Haithman’s DARK LADY OF HOLLYWOOD 5-Star Foreword Review of Diane Haithman’s DARK LADY OF HOLLYWOOD

    5-Star Foreword Review of Diane Haithman’s DARK LADY OF HOLLYWOOD

5-Star Foreword Review of Diane Haithman’s DARK LADY OF HOLLYWOOD

Detroit native Diane Haithman reads from her novel “Dark Lady of Hollywood” at Barnes & Noble, 3 p.m. Sun. 6800 Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield Township, Michigan. (248) 626-6804. From The Detroit News

Reviewed by Jill Allen, Foreword Reviews

All the world’s a stage when an actress and a terminally ill TV executive meet in this biting comedy.

It takes a special kind of talent to simultaneously skewer Hollywood and Shakespeare while writing a thought-provoking novel, and Dark Lady of Hollywood proves Diane Haithman has this genius. As a former arts and entertainment writer for the Los Angeles Times, Haithman’s book explores themes of the ephemeral nature of show business, a human desire to connect, and what really matters in life, while causing chuckles at the same time.

As the story opens, TV executive Ken Harrison’s life and career slide downhill fast. Demoted from his job due to the fickle whims of television ratings, he struggles to find meaning in his life while trying not to think about the aggressive form of cancer that he has which other people seem to think has taken over his life. Fate brings him together with Ophelia Lomond, a biracial thirty-two-year-old wannabe actress who finds herself in a rut. Shakespeare aficionado Ken quickly determines that Ophelia will be to him what the Dark Lady of the Sonnets was to the Bard: his inspiration. However, Ken and Ophelia have decidedly different ideas of what being a muse involves.

In a brilliant coup, the author allows Ken and Ophelia to narrate alternating chapters from the first-person point of view so that the reader gets to know each intimately. In this way, Ken becomes more than a one-dimensional cancer survivor, and Ophelia becomes more than just a biracial beauty.

Both Ophelia and Ken have wry, wise viewpoints on the entertainment industry, which will keep readers laughing along. Additionally, the pair is shrewd and intelligent. They play off each other well, making it easy to root for them and their budding relationship. One can empathize with why Ophelia would change her name and pretend she is from an imaginary island, because the author astutely shows the hoops anyone has to go through in hopes of landing the role of their dreams. It is refreshing to see someone like Ken, who, in the face of terminal illness, goes about stubbornly living his life, even when everyone around him says he’s going to die.

Furthermore, the author gently satirizes Los Angeles and the industry while making the Bard of Avon drolly relevant. She begins every chapter with an apt quote from a Shakespeare play. Anyone who appreciates comedy and either loves or disdains Tinseltown will adore this breezy, biting book.

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  • Foreword Review of Erika Raskin’s CLOSE Foreword Review of Erika Raskin’s CLOSE

    Foreword Review of Erika Raskin’s CLOSE

Foreword Review of Erika Raskin’s CLOSE

Reviewed by Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews
July 30, 2014

Raskin easily balances humor and drama in this novel about parenting, reality TV, and family.

Erika Raskin’s Close is a welcoming and nuanced novel that offers a window into the life of the Marcheson family—with ultimately much of America peering through that window as well.

The Marchesons’ story unfolds in Charlottesville, Virginia, where mom Kik (an acronym for maiden name Klara Isabella Kauffman) tries to manage the daily juggling of a single parent’s extended schedule. Kik has three daughters and a professorial ex-husband, she teaches writing yet longs to be a novelist, wouldn’t mind a second chance at love, and in general experiences the ups and downs of an intelligent, charmingly quirky forty-something female:

The past was crammed with haphazard snapshots that Kik was sure could be separated into two albums. When My Husband Loved Me. And After He Stopped.

Through an unusual crimp of fate, Kik, her daughters, and their father, Owen, end up as the public project of one Dr. Price, famed television therapist and advice guru. Eldest teen daughter Doone lashes out through rebellion and substance abuse, middle teen Casey suffers from the stressful need to be perfect, and the baby of the family, Tess, is an unusually imaginative and challenging five-year-old. Kik’s parenting methods are loving yet sometimes overwhelmed, but Dr. Price feels he can quick-fix this family on his show.

Raskin’s narrative skillfully develops characters and uses shifting perspectives between Kik and her two older daughters. Young Tess is especially vivid, and even less-than-sympathetic Owen seems genuine enough to elicit sympathy during a time of intense crisis.

The author also excels with details of how a reality TV crew can invade private lives, and how the surreality of the viewing audience can continue to invade emotionally and physically. The hypercritical Internet postings of Dr. Price’s many fans are finely satirized, making one think of the “peanut-crunching crowd” of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus, full of voyeuristic zeal and swarming to comment on the latest spectacle.

Close easily balances humor and drama, and despite the academic setting, the tone is accessible and unaffected. And while the last one hundred pages of plot seem to hasten a bit toward anxious climax and multiple resolutions, Kik and her daughters have become appealing and indeed close enough to make us want to wish them all the very best.

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  • Interview: Erika Raskin, CLOSE Interview: Erika Raskin, CLOSE

    Interview: Erika Raskin, CLOSE

Interview: Erika Raskin, CLOSE

From Kathyerskine’s Blog

Close.  What a great book title!  Fellow local author Erika Raskin’s novel (for adults) comes out in a couple of months and here’s the very engaging opening to pique your interest:

Sometime the dread was just a light tapping on the edge of awareness. Other times it was a howl in that dark space between anxiety and terror.

I love it! Here’s Here’s the synopsis:

Single-mom Kik Marcheson is doing the best she can. But effort doesn’t seem to count for much in the parenting department.

Her oldest daughter, Doone, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence. Casey, the middle-child slash good-girl is fraying along the edges and Tess, a quirky kindergartner, has installed an imaginary playmate in the family abode.

When Doone falls in with the wrong crowd, a TV therapist offers to help. And things do start to look up. But only for a while.

Erika obviously has a way with words and has earned quite a few accolades since she followed in the family business, as she puts it (love that, too), and became a writer.  To get to know Erika a little better (and she is a very fun person) I hope you’ll enjoy this light interview:

Tea or coffee?  Coffee.

Flavor?  Instant.

Milk or sugar?  Definitely doctored.

Favorite season?  I love the colors and sweater weather of autumn (before the leaves drop) — as well as all the impending celebrations. I also love spring when the gardens put on their party ensembles.

Can you deal better with wind or rain?  Wind. Unless I’m wearing a skirt. Then I get a little frantic.

Deciduous or evergreen?  Evergreen. Barren trees bum me out.

What’s always in your fridge?  Carrots.

Favorite comfort food?  Watermelon.

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?  In a perfect world I’d eat a watermelon and Dorito diet.

Food you’d rather starve than eat.  I’m a vegetarian…

Cat or dog?  Dog.

Flats or heels?  Heels.  I plan on retiring them, though, as soon as I get just a little taller.

Natural fibers or synthetics?  I like cotton – but seem to have a lot of the other stuff.

Jeans or fancier?  Jeans. And make-up.

Short hair or long?  In between.

Ideal evening.  Hanging out with my husband after a productive workday, bingewatching TV.

Ideal vacation.  Big beach house with everyone I love inside.

Favorite board, card, or computer game?  Scrabble.

Favorite sport or form of exercise?  Ballet barre.

Language in which you’d most like to be fluent.  Spanish. Still.

Country you’d most like to visit.  Ireland.

Skill you’d most like to acquire.  Being able to sing without scaring small children.

Favorite musical instrument.  Guitar.

You’re going on a book tour: Plane, train or automobile?  Depends on the distance. (Are we there yet?)

Topic you’d most like to write about.  I love writing and exploring different families.

Topic you think most needs writing about.  Social justice issues.

Author you’d like to meet.  Anne Lamott.

Question you’d ask that author.  How did she get so fearless.

What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?  Different writings, different authors. Sometimes no more than a line can change my path.

What most surprises you about our current culture?  The general acceptance of a loss of privacy. Totally creeps me out.

Some favorite books?  To Kill A Mockingbird, Mockingbird, Angela’s Ashes, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Traveling Mercies

Some favorite movies?  To Kill A Mockingbird, Terms of Endearment, Good Will Hunting, Little Women.

To learn more about Erika and her writing, please visit her website or her author page on Facebook.  Happy reading!



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San Francisco Book Review: GROWING UP WHITE

San Francisco Book Review, Reviewed by Hubert O’Hearn

Evan Nash of Choctaw County, Arkansas played Santa Claus at the end of the annual Christmas Parade in the Delta Country, and every Sunday, he taught those same children who had cheered him as he waved his red and white-sleeved arms; he taught them their Bible study at Sunday School.

“Would you trust God if you were thrown into a fiery furnace?” Uncle Evan asked.

“Yes! With all my heart!” I replied.”

Evan Nash taught those children to love the nigras (sic) too, just as Jesus loved them. Until, one day, a young black man named Bo Taylor accidentally bumped Evan’s old Aunt Tilley Nash into a stand of grape jelly and, wouldn’t you just know, poor old Tilley went and fell and broke her hip. There wasn’t much left to see of Bo Taylor, and what there was, you wouldn’t want to see—not after Evan Nash and the rest of the Klan had tied Bo to a tree and skinned him alive. Welcome to Arkansas’ Bayou country in the mid-1960s.

Jake Evans, who was ten when those events occurred, just turned fifty-nine and is not really handling the number of that birthday particularly well. So, as many of us do when the present is grey and the future an evening leading to a dark and endless light, Jake looks back to the sunshine of his youth. Well, sunshine laced with the clouds of tragic killings. Jake is a Presbyterian lay preacher using all he has learnt of, and because of his chosen life with God, he tries to make some sense of it all.

Author James T. Stobaugh is quite an elegant writer, verging on the poetic. Growing Up White is very much a novel of mood and meaning and, yes, quite explicit in religious intent. Clearly, Stobaugh knows his material, as in his day-to-day life, he is a pastor as well as quite a gifted writer. One cannot help but admire writers who have a clear love of language, and Stobaugh clearly has that. His words, images, and just general flow of his Bayou-like pacing are common enough in excellent poetry; a rarity in prose. Rather fittingly, the first song referred to in Growing Up White is ‘Moon River,’ for Henry Mancini would be the perfect musical accompaniment for the reader to have playing in the background.

Jake, in reminiscing about childhood hunting trips with his father, says of him “He was enjoying, no doubt, the enormity of being in Devil’s Den Swamp before the dawn erased its clandestineness. When he was in the woods, in a slough, walking in a field—no matter where he was, as long as he was hunting, it was sacramental. He was communicating with his God.”

As later in life, so does Jake. Throughout this book, so does Stobaugh. This is a graceful, elegant novel about – yes – evil, yet also the redemption from evil that is around us if we choose to seek it.


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