Book Spotlight: The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith on Mandy Boles Life Between BooksI’m currently reading The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith. It’s a collection of short stories based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales. At three stories into the book I can already tell this collection is special. The stories I’ve read so far are at once beautiful and chilling. Kupersmith has created a world where ghosts exist and the people who come into contact with them are left forever changed. I’m taking my time reading it, because I want to savor the stories. It’s that good. The book is a slim volume at 256 pages, and I can normally read a book of that length in one sitting. However, when I picked it up yesterday to read it I knew I needed to ponder each story a bit after finishing each of them. In a day or two I’m going to post a review of The Frangipani Hotel, but I want you to read about the book and the heaps of praise it’s received before I put up my review.

About The Frangipani Hotel:

An extraordinarily compelling debut—ghost stories that grapple with the legacy of the Vietnam War
A beautiful young woman appears fully dressed in an overflowing bathtub at the Frangipani Hotel in Hanoi. A jaded teenage girl in Houston befriends an older Vietnamese gentleman she discovers naked behind a dumpster. A trucker in Saigon is asked to drive a dying young man home to his village. A plump Vietnamese-American teenager is sent to her elderly grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City to lose weight, only to be lured out of the house by the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In these evocative and always surprising stories, the supernatural coexists with the mundane lives of characters who struggle against the burdens of the past.

Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales told to Kupersmith by her grandmother, these fantastical, chilling, and thoroughly contemporary stories are a boldly original exploration of Vietnamese culture, addressing both the immigrant experience and the lives of those who remained behind. Lurking in the background of them all is a larger ghost—that of the Vietnam War, whose legacy continues to haunt us.

Violet Kupersmith’s voice is an exciting addition to the landscape of American fiction. With tremendous depth and range, her stories transcend their genre to make a wholly original statement about the postwar experience. (Summary provided by Spiegel & Grau.)

Praise for The Frangipani Hotel
“In this auspicious volume, Kupersmith has reshaped and womanhandled traditional Vietnamese folktales that her grandmother told her into a wildly energetic, present-tense fusillade of short stories. . . . In perhaps the most pungent story here, a young woman who works the graveyard shift stocking shelves at Kwon’s World Grocery in suburban Houston befriends an old man she finds standing naked beside a Dumpster. His problem: He occasionally turns into a fourteen-foot python. ‘I am just a very old man who is sometimes a python,’ the man tells the woman. ‘But you, my child, are a creature far more complex.’ One might suspect that Kupersmith, who is working on her first novel, is that creature.”—Ben Dickinson, Elle

“Violet Kupersmith has woven together culture, tradition, family, and ghosts to create a series of short stories that are as fresh as they are mesmerizing. These stories will haunt you long after the last words have drifted off the page.”—Lisa See
“Surgically precise and feverishly imaginative.”—Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife

“This first collection introduces a writer to watch and belongs in any library serving a short story readership.”Booklist

“What is most haunting in Kupersmith’s nine multilayered pieces are not the specters, whose tales are revealed as stories within stories, but the lingering loss and disconnect endured by the still living. . . . [A] mature-beyond-her-years debut.”Library Journal (starred review)

“These polished stories mark Kupersmith, who is in her early twenties, as one to watch.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this impressive debut, Violet Kupersmith displays a remarkable gift for voice and setting. Using history and horror, mystery and imagination, she has created this vivid collection of haunted and haunting stories.”—Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and The Jane Austen Book Club

About The Author:

Violet Kupersmith graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2011 and then spent a year in Vietnam on a Fulbright teaching fellowship. She is currently at work on a novel.

For more reviews and news regarding The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith check out these stops on her TLC Book Tour:

Monday, March 3rd:  Bibliophiliac

Tuesday, March 4th:  The Things You Can Read

Wednesday, March 5th:  Savvy Verse and Wit

Tuesday, March 11th:  The Written World

Tuesday, March 11th:  Books a la Mode – author guest post

Wednesday, March 12th:  River City Reading

Thursday, March 13th:  Under My Apple Tree

Monday, March 17th:  1330 V

Wednesday, March 19th:  Melody & Words

Monday, March 24th:  A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, March 25th:  Suko’s Notebook

Wednesday, March 26th:  Lit and Life

Thursday, March 27th:  Too Fond 

Monday, March 31st:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Tuesday, April 1st:  Mandy Boles: Life Between Books

Wednesday, April 2nd:  Guiltless Reading

Thursday, April 3rd:  Books and Movies

Friday, April 4th:  The Relentless Reader

Monday, April 7th:  The Lost Entwife

Tuesday, April 8th:  Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, April 9th:  girlichef


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FTC Disclosure: I receive a commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon and ShopSense links on this site. I received a review copy of The Frangipani Hotel from Spiegel & Grau as part of a TLC Book Tour.

Book Review: Tempting Fate by Jane Green

Tempting Fate by Jane Green on Mandy Boles Life Between Books MandyBoles.comTempting Fate by Jane Green (St. Martin’s Press, 352 pages, $25.99) tells the story of forty-three year old Gabby, a wife and mom who’s started feeling invisible since she hit middle age. Gabby desperately wants another child (even though her husband had a vasectomy against her wishes), and as she watches her daughters grow into teens, she begins to feel restless. When Gabby goes along for a rare girl’s night out, she is secretly pleased when a handsome, young entrepreneur shows interest in her. Gabby begins emailing back and forth with him all the while convincing herself it’s a harmless flirtation and nothing could possibly happen. Soon the emailing and texting turns into an emotional affair, and Gabby contemplates the unthinkable.

Jane Green takes readers on a roller coaster ride of emotions throughout Tempting Fate.  I felt for Gabby, but also found myself wanting to jump into the pages of the book at certain points and say, “Stop it. You don’t want to do this”! This is the kind of book that gets me a little anxious. I could not put it down because I had to know what Gabby would do next and how her actions would effect her family.

Gabby is a complex character sure to invoke many emotions and reactions from readers of all ages . I didn’t agree with many of the decisions she made throughout the book. I went through emotions ranging from disgust to pity toward her as I read. Green takes readers through every angle of Gabby’s situation without missing a beat.

Tempting Fate is a novel that explores what goes on after a woman decides to “blow up” her life as she knows it, and I found it fascinating. This book will make you step back, take a deep breath, and thank your lucky stars you’re not Gabby. It’s also an excellent look at communication in the modern age: Is it okay for a married person to email or text with someone when it crosses the line into flirtation? Is that the same thing as cheating? Is an emotional affair worse than a one night stand? Tempting Fate calls the reader to examine his or her own morals as well as the protagonist’s in addition to exploring themes such as betrayal, infidelity, family, friendship in middle age, and how one’s childhood can affect a person’s adult life.

I enjoyed Tempting Fate and its gentle reminder that I should be forever grateful for the beautiful family I have. I highly recommend this book for women of all ages, but beware! You won’t be able to put it down!

You can find Jane Green online at, Twitter, and Facebook.

Buy Tempting Fate by Jane Green here.

Related Reviews:

See my review for Another Piece of My Heart by Jane Green here, and my review for Family Pictures by Jane Green here.


Don’t miss a thing! Keep up with Mandy Boles: Life Between Books by subscribing to my rss feed, following me on Twitter, Bloglovin’, and Instagram, and by liking my Facebook page.

FTC Disclosure: I receive a commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon and ShopSense links on this site. I received a review copy of Tempting Fate from St. Martin’s Press.

Book Review: Love Like The Movies by Victoria Van Tiem

Love Like The Movies by Victoria Van Tiem on Mandy Boles: Life Between BooksTitle: Love Like The Movies
Author: Victoria Van Tiem
384 pages, Published by Pocket Star
Author Info: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Buy The Book: Amazon

In this irresistible romantic romp, movie fanatic Kensington Shaw is thrown into love—Hollywood-style—when her gorgeous ex presents a series of big screen challenges to win back her heart.

What girl wouldn’t want to experience the Pretty Woman shopping scene? It’s number two on the list. Or, try the lift from Dirty Dancing? It’s number five. One list, ten romantic movie moments, and a handful of shenanigans later, Kenzi has to wonder…should she marry the man her family loves, or risk everything for a love like the movies? (Summary provided by Pocket Star/Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc.)

My Thoughts:

I’ve never been a fan of watching romantic comedies, but I love chick lit. So, I was a little undecided about whether or not to read Love Like The Movies by Victoria Van Tiem. I ended up reading it, and I’m so glad I did!

The premise of the novel is really fun. Kensington has never really felt like she fit in with her perfect family. She’s the artsy one in a family of perfectionists, and her entire family lives to criticize her. Now, Kensington has a corporate job at an ad agency and a boyfriend who works with her at the agency. Her family loves her boyfriend and is elated when they get engaged. Kensington is excited too, until a new client comes to the agency, her college boyfriend Shane. The agency is in trouble and her boss is depending on Kensington to seal the deal to save the firm. However, before she can get him to sign on the dotted line, Shane gives Kensington an “Indecent Proposal” (see what I did there?). He gives her a list of romantic comedies, and tells her she must agree to act out scenes from each of the movies with him in order to clearly understand the vision for the movie theater/restaurant he’s opening.

Kensington has mixed feelings about acting out the scenes with Shane, because their relationship ended on bad terms. She’s also worried her fiance will be angry if he finds out. What follows is a hilarious look at what happens when Kensington stops trying to please everyone and starts living for herself.

This book was such a great escape read. It’s like the book version of a romantic comedy. One could, of course, argue that all chick lit is like that to an extent, but trust me. It’s not. Chick lit is a varied genre ranging from light reading to heavy dramas. Love Like The Movies has all of the ingredients of a good romantic comedy. There are heart touching moments and slapstick comedy, along with a BFF and the requisite frenemy.

One of my worries before reading Love Like The Movies was that I wouldn’t get any of the romantic comedy references in the book. There was only one reference in the book I didn’t get, because I’ve haven’t watched 27 Dresses (which my SIL is pretty much determined to make me watch since I mentioned it to her before writing this review).

I think my favorite scene in the book was one that echoed the paintball scene in Failure to Launch. It was so cute and funny when Kensington acted out the “trigger move” sequence. The plot of this book is so quirky and unique that I can’t imagine it not getting made into a movie, and Love Like The Movies is a romantic comedy I would most definitely see in the theater. Victoria Van Tiem is a fresh, new voice in the romance world, and I can’t wait to read what she writes next!


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FTC Disclosure: I receive a commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon and ShopSense links on this site. I received a  review copy of Love Like The Movies from Pocket Star.

My First Favorite Book: Remembering The Giant Jam Sandwich by Bradley Spinelli

My First Favorite Book with Bradley Spinelli on Life Between Books on

Today I’m kicking off a new feature called My First Favorite Book. My First Favorite Book will spotlight writers discussing the first book that made them fall in love with reading or made them realize a career in writing was in their future. Many thanks to Bradley Spinelli, author of Killing Williamsburg, for being the first to share his first favorite book!

Remembering The Giant Jam Sandwich

By Bradley Spinelli

Memory is a sieve, memory is a sluice, memory is a sump. And if—in this exact moment—I could remember the exact shades of meaning between those closely-related words, I would just pick one. But memory is unreliable, disastrously subjective, and tainted with emotions. Early childhood memories are even worse, forever clouded by the recounting of other people—do I really remember that, or have I just been hearing the story my entire life?—and distorted by a mind not yet fully formed. I love stories about people who regain their sight after being blind since childhood and have to learn a “visual vocabulary.” (Like this story or the Pang Brothers’ film The Eye.)

Seeing is not just seeing, but understanding what it is you’re looking at.

So, out of the thousands of books I’ve read, plus magazines and periodicals and blogs reaching back four decades, what is the first book that ignited my love for reading? Cut to a montage of zooming planets, worlds of words, zipping backward in time from a profile of Theaster Gates (read last night) popping from a mile-high stack of New Yorkers, a whir of the hundreds of passing drafts of my own novels, now blushing through decades of adult fiction, the repeated reads prominent—Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, Don DeLillo, and Catch 22—now dipping through a cloudy nebula of plays and theatrical texts from the college years, zooming by high school’s yawning black hole of mandatory sentencing to 19th Century bores, plunging through the SciFi/Fantasy solar system of adolescence, and down into a dizzying whirlpool galaxy of shorter books, Lizard Music, Encyclopedia Brown, barely-remembered books with pictures, books made of thick cardboard, easy for little fingers. Whoops, too far. Pan out a bit. That one. The one with the wasps.

The Giant Jam Sandwich. Story and pictures by John Vernon Lord, verses by Janet Burroway.

The Giant Jam Sandwich Bradley Spinelli author of Killing Williamsburg's First Favorite Book on Life Between Books MandyBoles.comI remembered this book recently after the birth of my Godson, when I was asked to contribute something personal to his library. The book came out in 1972, so it was brand new when I got my dirty paws on it. I’m sure it was first read to me by my mother, but I clearly remember reading it on my own. It was one of my earliest experiences of reading and re-reading, experiencing a story over and over again to further delve the nuances, in the way that I continue to re-watch favorite films today.

If you don’t know the story, it’s simple: the town of Itching Down is beset upon by four million wasps. The townspeople gather together and make a giant jam sandwich to trap the wasps—and splatter them all between two enormous pieces of bread, trapped in sticky strawberry jam. Told through rhyming verses and ridiculous drawings.

This is pure eyecandy for a kid. As Kirkus said, “Children should have fun spotting the cockeyed absurdities purveyed here in pictures and verse.” And I did. The verses themselves have silliness built in, with characters like Mayor Muddlenut and Bap the Baker. The town is called Itching Down. But the pictures are over the top—lurid, baroque illustrations bordering on the obscene. Every look seems to unearth new possibilities. The best parts are making the dough, baking the bread in a giant oven, slicing the bread, and spreading butter and jam, all of which build up to the inevitable splat. I must have looked at these pages a million times. When they’re making the dough, there’s a guy way in the back who can only be seen because of his hands, raised with a club to “thump it” as entreated by the baker. I always thought he was lost back there, caught in the dough, and could almost feel his doughy confines. Of course, looking at it now, I see he was just following directions.

A lot of things make more sense looking back, or seem to, because your adult mind has been trained to believe it makes sense. I know now that John Vernon Lord has taught illustration for over 40 years, and that even after Goodnight Moon and mommy knows what else, his work is still in print. I also know that Janet Burroway is primarily a novelist, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and runner up for the National Book Award. She’s probably more widely read because of her textbook, “Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft,” which is now in its 7th edition and is widely used in university writing programs. So these two are no slouches, even if they were slumming it in children’s books back in ‘72.

(Tangent: I’m also more widely read via textbook than fiction. I was quoted in Lawrence Stern’s Stage Management, beginning with the 7th edition, discussing my experience of stage managing a circus. Full disclosure: Stern’s was my stage management textbook in college, a class I almost failed.)

Looking back, this book is a spot-on example of how to tell a great story. First, the setup: a simple conflict. And notice they get right to it on the first page. No time for dilly-dallying! Like Syd Field said, you gotta grab ‘em in the first few minutes. It’s a quick story, so they use stock characters—the baker, the farmer, the mayor. You know who these people are. Suspense, wasps cause trouble; rising action, building and baiting the trap; and a climax you’ll never forget—splat! The second piece of bread, dropped from helicopters, traps all the wasps. Except for three, who run away, allowing for a sequel.

What got me as a child were the infinite possibilities of the story—spun not just by the verses but by the images as well. Early on, there’s an image of a guy bent over in his stocking feet, holding his shoes, beating a wasp with spatula. It’s fantastic and could be unwound into an entire story of its own. Why are his shoes off? Why a spatula?

I began to see how words can illustrate themselves, since the pictures were inseparable from the story. Even the added elements became a story in my mind—like the guy on the tractor. He’s there on the bread, riding his tractor, spreading butter, wearing his hat, and there he is again later, with helicopter blades rigged to his tractor along with helium balloons, helping the helicopters with the second slice. Who is this guy? He’s amazing. So much cooler than the guys flying the helicopters, who don’t even get hats.

I spent a lot of time staring at the cover, rolling hills and an arched stone bridge, lines curved like the mind itself. These paths could take you anywhere.

I loved the making of the bread but was troubled by it. Why did they have to bake such a giant loaf of bread when they only needed two slices? Even as I questioned it, I loved seeing the people on the scaffolding, slicing the bread with a lumberjack saw. And why did they butter the bread? Wouldn’t the jam be enough? And if you’re going to butter it, shouldn’t it be toasted first?

It would seem that even at a young age, I was already cursed with a mind that refuses to accept art—or the world—as given. First sign that you might have to create some stuff of your own.

I never got over the fantastic. I’ve written straight plays and naturalistic novels, and my reading and viewing habits lean towards the prosaic, but I loved the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books and don’t mind the magic in Gabriel García Márquez. And thirty years after The Giant Jam Sandwich came out, I wrote a book about a “bug” that comes into town and turns everything higgledy-piggledy.

But I‘m sure that’s just a fantastic coincidence.

Bradley Spinelli on Life Between Books on MandyBoles.comBradley Spinelli is the author of Killing Williamsburg,  about a suicide epidemic in New York City. Follow him @13_Spinelli.



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