I got to know Clarissa Goenawan in last year's Pitch Wars, and as we exchanged swoon messages about some shared submissions, I knew we had similar taste in literary fiction. Then when I saw what her debut novel was about, I was sold -- literally. I pre-ordered right away. I'm so excited to celebrate the publication of Rainbirds. Intertwining elements of suspense and magical realism, this award-winning literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight on life in fictional small-town Japan.


Rainbirds takes place in Japan, which makes the premise even more exciting, since it's the setting for a number of books beloved to me -- 1Q84The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetA Silence Once Begun, An Artist of the Floating WorldThe Master of Go, and others. This novel is a story of a young man who is trying to come to terms with his older sister’s death by finding out the truth behind her murder, but in doing so, he ends up confronting his own dark secret.

Let's let Rainbirds speak for itself:

When the car had stopped at the traffic junction, a soft light had fallen onto her pale skin, highlighting her delicate features. My hand was on hers, but she didn’t say a word, nor did she look at me. She didn’t even flinch. Her body was there, but her mind wasn’t.
That night, the two of us were lonely, isolated under Tokyo’s dazzling lights.

And here's another cool thing -- it is part of a series of interrelated novels. So keep an eye on the side characters, because they might be the main characters for the next book.

As for Rainbirds, Clarissa was kind enough to share some extra details on her novel.

What inspired Rainbirds?

CG: One afternoon, I was just wondering, “What if someone I cared about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized too late that I never actually got to know them?” At first, I wanted to write a short story about a young man who had just lost his older brother, which later on, morphed to an older sister. And then, I realized there were so many things I wanted to explore in their relationship, and that this story has to be a novel.

Who's your favorite character?

CG: Rio Nakajima, also known as ‘Seven Stars.’ She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who is bright and bold, unafraid to voice her opinion and relentlessly goes after what she wants. She doesn’t care about conforming to public’s expectation, and I really admire her for that.

Clarissa, you live in Singapore, but Rainbirds is set in Japan. What kind of research did you do?

CG: I grew up reading copious amounts of manga (Japanese comic books), and I learnt Japanese language since high school, so that gave me a good starting point. I also consulted a huge number of books, essays, and articles, and asked some friends who’re familiar with Japan to be my beta readers.

Brag a little. Tell us some of the best praise you've received for Rainbirds so far.

"Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it." 
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral 

"A beautiful mystery setup with a complex, magical love story." 
—Eka Kurniawan, award-winning author of Beauty Is a Wound and Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

So, if you're looking to check out Rainbirds more closely, here you go!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1616958553

Barnes & Nobles: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rainbirds-clarissa-goenawan/1126551443?ean=9781616958558

BookDepository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Rainbirds-Clariss-Goenawan/9781616958558

Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781616958558

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The Romanov Luxury

The children are beautiful, young, and royal. Their family was close and loving. They all died terrible, tragic deaths. It's hard not to fall in love with the Romanovs.

 Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov. From  here .

Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov. From here.

I'm writing a novel that takes place in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, so although the Romanovs do not figure in my story, their presence (and absence) overhangs society.

One of the magical things about writing is how the world seems to offer you connections and clues, even when you're not looking for them. Last spring, my husband and I traveled to Georgia (the country). We took a weekend trip to a spa town in southern Georgia, and there found a museum focusing on the local Romanov hunting retreat.

The museum had a floor filled with Romanov hunting trophies and furniture from their lodge (above), in addition to gorgeous displays of the fine china used in this "rustic" retreat (below).

It's so easy to imagine charming young women sitting on a sunny patio, drinking cold juice poured from that gorgeous pitcher and eating fruit from that fluted bowl.

Yet Borjomi is ... 2684 kilometers from St. Petersburg, or 1963 km from Moscow, according to Google maps. It's hard to imagine the Romanovs made it through the multiple mountain ranges of Russia and Georgia to retreat to this hunting lodge that often. (And if they did, who was running the country?)

Last month, I visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. They have an exhibit on Fabrege and the Russian Craft Tradition, which of course brought me back to the Romanovs.

The enamelware and metalwork on display was stunning. Like this presentation box with the monogram of Tsar Nicolas II. It's made of nephrite, diamonds, gold ...

Or this art nouveau-inspired kvosh, which Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Alexander III, gave as a gift to a Dutch doctor:

The exhibit included two eggs made in the workshop of the famous jeweler/crafter Fabrege. One egg contains inside a miniature rendition of one of the large Romanov palaces, all crafted in gold down to minute detail. Including streetlamps smaller than your pinky nail. The other egg has dozens of diamonds, and was given by one Romanov emperor to his wife on the occasion of the birth of their son.

The items are stunning in their beauty and their luxury.

But not everyone in Russia was living in opulence. The Russian economy was growing rapidly at the beginning of the 20th century, but land ownership was concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, and urban workers worked long hours for limited pay. According to one 1904 survey, an average of 16 people shared each apartment in Petrograd, with 6 people per room. Then World War I hit, and conditions deteriorated.

It gets a little easier to understand why the Marxist revolutionaries yearned for a better, more equitable life. They didn't end up delivering it, but the scheming students of the early 1900s didn't know yet that their dreams were hollow. They just knew that the rich could sashay through the glittering showroom of Fabrege, while the poor sometimes struggled to find enough to eat.

 The Flophouse, 1889. V. Makovskii. Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, ed. E. Grabar (Moscow, 1964), vol. 9. pt. 1, 341. Source  here .

The Flophouse, 1889. V. Makovskii. Istoriia russkogo
iskusstva, ed. E. Grabar (Moscow, 1964), vol. 9. pt. 1, 341. Source here.

That's the funny thing about history. We sympathize with the stories, with the humans whose names we know and whose narratives we can follow. We forget the lived passions and agonies of the nameless ones.

I'm not justifying the terrible way the Bolsheviks killed the Romanovs, nor the disaster that was the Soviet Union. But I think it's important for history lovers to try to take in the whole panorama of society, as much as possible. That's where the stories come in. We know the stories of the Romanovs. Now lets learn -- or imagine -- some stories from other people of that time. That's the magic of historical fiction.

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Next Year in Havana

I love historical fiction and I adore stories about Latin America, so it's my special pleasure to bring Chanel Cleeton to you today. 

Next Year in Havana.jpg

This is Chanel's first historical fiction project (she's previously published some delicious romance novels), and it's an intensely personal one. Chanel grew up in Florida, nourished by stories of her family's exodus from Cuba in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. This novel was inspired by her family's experiences.

Here's the book summary:

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth. 

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.


Intrigued? Check out more on Amazon or IndieBound or Goodreads. And Chanel is giving away a Kindle Fire -- the perfect way to read Next Year in Havana. Enter here:

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