Thursday, April 27, 2017

#BookReview: A Whisper of Smoke by Angela Hoke

Title:  A Whisper of Smoke
Author:  Angela Hoke
Genre:  Womens Fiction, Coming of Age
Release Date:  January 24, 2014

About the Book:

At thirteen, Susanna doesn’t realize she has a dysfunctional family – they are just hers. But when family secrets emerge that threaten Susanna and her siblings, she begins to see that things are not as simple as she’s always believed. Time passes, and as Susanna grows older to the backdrop of the 1960s, her best friends Calvin and Shelly are right beside her -- until her feelings for Calvin grow beyond friendship, and suddenly the world has turned upside down. Not even Shelly’s brash humor can break through her heartbreak as Calvin deploys to Vietnam, in love with someone else and even more out of reach than ever.

But then Susanna realizes that Calvin needs her like never before, and she won't abandon him - even at the expense of her own heart. And as trouble at home reaches its pinnacle, Susanna's sense of honor, and fault, are challenged by Calvin’s experiences in war. Now, even as her love for Calvin threatens to destroy her, she finds herself at a crossroads - repeat the mistakes of the past or face the awful truth. And, with her dysfunctional family surrounding her, it all boils down to a choice between fear and hope.

A WHISPER OF SMOKE is a coming-of-age love story that is rich and deeply sensitive. Winner of the 2014 Maggie Award for Excellence and the 2014 Heart of Denver Aspen Gold Award, it “reminds us of how exciting, beautiful and painful growing up really is." -- Judge, Writers' Digest

Buy Links: Amazon 
My Review:

I can almost feel my review blog co-author rolling her eyes when she sees that I am reviewing a novel about a thirteen year old girl.  Normally, we NEVER read anything involving thirteen year old girls... or boys for that matter.  Generally speaking, we don't like them.  But this author graciously donated signed copies of this book for a literary function I was speaking at.  After first being attracted by this beautiful cover, I read just a few pages... and yes, I got sucked into 1965 Kentucky!  I am so glad I temporarily set aside my list of "things I generally don't read" because this book was worth reading every single page!  

A Whisper of Smoke is a beautifully written story about a girl and her family dealing with painful secrets, life, love and loss.  Angela Hoke developed these characters so fully that you could "feel" their presence and her storyline pulled me right back into the 1960's with so many little reminders of things I had long since forgotten.

The emotions I felt as I read this amazing novel ran the gambit from smiling and laughing out loud to tears streaming down my cheeks, choking back sobs.

I applaud Angela Hoke for having the ability to write about a subject so many people have difficulty acknowledging.  And she wrote about it with so much depth of emotion and with understanding that so many people cannot face.  Life is not black and white with rigid guidelines.  Life contains too many variables.  This author handled it all beautifully.

I won't give away spoilers, but I do want to comment on the letters written between Susanna and Calvin while he was in Vietnam.  Being married to a Vietnam veteran myself, the realism in those letters brought to life images long past.  The letters... and this book... are beautifully written.  If I could, I would give this review six or more stars (or wine glasses).

Well done, Angela Hoke!  

My Rating:

About the Author:

Angela Hoke has worked for many years in accounting, writing in her spare time. She began writing at the age of eight, when she produced a neighborhood newspaper, until an expose written based on sketchy facts shut her down for good. A Whisper of Smoke is her debut novel, and winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award, the 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal, the 2014 GRW Maggie Award for Excellence and the 2014 Heart of Denver Aspen Gold Award. It was also a finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards. Her short story, The Ceremony (inspired by a scene in this book), was a finalist in the New Millennium Writing Contest, and she studied craft at the Algonkian Writers’ Conference. Her second novel, A Painted Lily, is expected to be released in May 2017. She lives in Nashville, TN with her family, one tiny dog and a bob-tailed cat.

Interview with Angela Hoke, Author of A Whisper of Smoke, April 22, 2017:

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in Kentucky, but I’ve lived in Nashville for over twenty years.  I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. I started with a newspaper that I wrote, illustrated and distributed with the help of my mom’s work copy machine. I had a successful run of two editions before publishing an exposé based on sketchy facts in my third paper – that one shut me down for good! Since then, I’ve become an accountant that writes, sings, ballroom dances and paints in her spare time, a recently remarried wife and a mother, which is my favorite role of all.

What were you like at school?
I was a very good student – all A’s, or very nearly so. I had scholarships to college which was good, because I married young (at eighteen) and was living on my own with my new husband. We were broke and knew it (I always wonder how some people can say they were broke but didn’t know it – it was very apparent to us J). I guess you could say I was semi-popular in school – I was never excluded from anything and I had plenty of friends, but only a few really close ones.

Were you good at English?
Yes – I took college English in high school and made the only A in my class both semesters. That continued on through other English and Humanities courses in college, where my papers and essays were often read to the class.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To write books that inspire or entertain, that make readers think and feel. If that means I write a book a year, great! But if it means I only ever have one or two really great books to my name, I will feel honored and blessed to have been given such a gift.

Which writers inspire you?
I bow down to Barbara Kingsolver. Her use of the English language and imagery are incredible. J.K. Rowling has also been a huge inspiration to me. Even though we write different types of books, her ability to develop characters and create relationships is amazing to me. Finally, I love Diana Gabaldon – her gift of dialogue and her ability to convey everyday life in eighteenth century Scotland are awe-inspiring.

So, what have you written?
I’ve written two previous novels and some poetry. A Whisper of Smoke is my first published novel. I recently finished and am about to release my second book, A Painted Lily. Here is the description:
Tony Ramirez is a high-end real estate agent living the fast life in Miami, while his best friend Becca, social worker extraordinaire, does her best to keep him grounded. Still, he’s never been very connected to his past as a Cuban immigrant whose family fled Cuba in 1961, soon after Castro’s regime took over – until a tragedy rocks his family and he discovers that he actually fled his birth country, not with his family as he originally thought, but in the care of his oldest brother Pedro. As events unfold, he learns that not only were he and Pedro initially left behind, they were evacuated as part of Operation Pedro Pan (in English, Peter Pan), a crusade by the Catholic Church to save Cuban children by helping them escape to the United States.
As Tony’s search for the truth takes them into the past and to beautiful, tortured Cuba, only Becca’s friendship can help him unlock the secrets that will change his world. But while Tony searches his soul, and his past, for answers, his relationship with Becca is stretched to its limits. And in the land of Tony’s past, a land suspended in time, Becca may have found a path to a new future – one that may or may not include Tony.
From the Amazon best-selling and multiple award-winning author of A Whisper of Smoke, A Painted Lily represents the "best of relationship fiction, exploring personal struggles and growth delicately woven through a story of friendship, love and a quest for answers that many readers will relate to."
How would you describe A Whisper of Smoke?
The genre is up-market women’s fiction – think book club (in fact, A Whisper of Smoke includes book club discussion questions at the back). But men, don’t let that turn you off – I’ve had lots of men read it and love it! It’s a story about uncovering family secrets, and how one teenage girl’s life experiences shape how she deals with them. At the same time, it is a profound love story between the teenage girl, Susanna, and her best friend, demonstrating how star-crossed love and a war can teach important life lessons. In the end, it is a coming of age love story, involving both romantic and familial love.

What inspired you to write it?
Most of us have our share of family secrets. I was intrigued by what might happen to cause a new generation to deal with them differently from the older generation, and how cycles might be repeated or broken, depending sometimes on the smallest of decisions.  I also was interested in the notions of redemption and condemnation, and how complicated both can be yet, at the same time, intrinsic to the human condition.

What makes the setting, 1960s Kentucky, important? And how does the Vietnam War play an important role in the story?
The story took place in Kentucky because, as my home state, it is familiar to me – this story could have taken place virtually anywhere across America. However, the 1960s setting was essential because it was a time when dysfunction was as common as it is today, but very often not discussed. It was also a time when a nation’s innocence was passing away in the shadow of civil rights unrest and a foreign war with ambiguous purpose. I liked the parallels between our nation’s loss of innocence and Susanna’s, and how both were underlined by the strong personal and cultural desire to develop new moral boundaries that were different from those of the previous generations. The Vietnam War was an important part of the book because it emphasized for my characters, as in real life, the idealization that’s inherent in innocence, and how, when that innocence is lost, you are faced with the realization that even the most honorable person can be changed by his or her experiences.

Where can we buy your book?
It’s available in trade paperback on-line at Amazon. It’s available electronically for Kindle on Amazon.

What are you working on at the minute?
I just finished A Painted Lily, described above. I have an idea for my next novel, but it’s much too early to articulate – I’m still fleshing out the idea.
Occasionally, I also work on my young adult book about a teenage girl who goes on vacation to Ireland with her family and gets kidnapped by Leprechauns. Enough said J.

Your YA book sounds so different from your first book. Tell me more!
Here is a brief description: Upon hearing about the legends of Ireland during a family vacation, including the legends of Leprechauns and the Faerie Pool, Briley Dunn sneaks out in search of Leprechauns and fairies under a full moon. Accompanied by her reluctant sister, Briley’s moonlight dip turns to apparent tragedy when she disappears in the depths of the still waters. What her family doesn’t know is she’s been taken (by a Leprechaun Taker) to Coffers Glen, a world reminiscent of ancient Ireland. There she finds the stuff of legends is rooted in a terrible reality, and her adventure becomes a struggle between life and death – for herself as well as for the other stolen children in her care.

What genre are your books?
As I said, my first book is up-market women’s fiction, which is where my heart is. A Painted Lily is in the same genre, I think, even though one of the main characters is a man, since it still focuses on relationships and personal growth. But I also love and often read young adult books, so the Leprechaun book is still firmly inside my sphere of influence and has been a lot of fun to write.  That said, since it is so different, I may use a pen name to publish it.

How much research did you do for A Whisper of Smoke?
Quite a bit. I didn’t grow up in the 1960s (I was born in the 1970s and was Susanna’s age in the 1980s), so I did quite a bit of research , supplemented by interviews, in order to get a sense for that time period in history and the generation that grew up then. The majority of my research, though, was around the Vietnam War. I wanted the letters to have a realistic feel and for the reader to get a clear sense of what it might have been like for two people who cared about each other to be separated by that conflict. My research included reading lots of resource texts, watching documentaries and several interviews with a Vietnam veteran. In the end, though, the sentiments that were expressed between Susanna and Calvin, the farmboy-turned-soldier who was her best friend and secret love, were from my heart.

How long did it take you to write your book?
It took me ten years from start to completion, with many, many drafts in between. This was because I was also working full-time at my career as an accountant.

Is A Whisper of Smoke part of a series?
No, but my Leprechaun book is. I plan to write three books about Briley Dunn and her adventures with the Leprechauns.

How can fans contact you/learn more about you?



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