Monthly Archives: November 2013

Too Clean for Comfort

CBR_Logo2Recalled to Life
by Dan Burns

Love is a messy thing. It flares, it aches and whines, and then embraces and laughs. None of that, however, comes through in Recalled to Life.

Peter O’Hara is an ambitious architect in Chicago. He wears wool suits and perfectly cut hair. He listens to classical music on his morning drive from the suburbs. Peter’s wife, Madeline, is a former journalist realigning her life as a novelist. And their eight-year old son is a good kid, keen on baseball, and desires the love of his father and grandfather alike, with a childlike intuition that is only heartening.

recalled-600John Cheever would have put a cocktail in the kid’s hand, and Updike would have had the wife languidly doing laps next door at odd hours to see a pool boy or two. But author Dan Burns’s O’Hara family sits beyond such vividness and piquancy, which is fine: This is the Midwest, not some crazy east coast derision. Yet, where is the source of conflict? Enter Peter’s father, Jack.

Jack has been out of the picture for a while. And when he comes back to his son’s family, turmoil emerges. Even with that, however, the issues that swirl around Peter go unexplored. There is some potential for Jack to reveal a longstanding point of contention between him and his son. There is flirtation at the work place, there is a missing child, and there is an unusually placed word of comfort from Victor, the company’s big client—yet all are left undeveloped. Burns also misses a chance to develop characters like Madeline into three-dimensional figures. There are big themes at stake in Recalled to Life, yet the reader never gets to feel any of them through the characters.


Author Dan Burns

This should have been a perfect Midwestern novel. The settings are recognizable locales, both suburb and city alike. There is baseball. There is a son and a father, a son and a grandfather, a husband. Hard workers. There is business and a desire to do the right thing.

However, it is clean. This novel is too clean. And while the conflicts offer insight, examine values, and attempt to dig at the root of familial roles, rarely does Burns, a teacher from LaGrange, seem to go outside of himself to take up the unexpected or delve more fully into the heartbreak and risk for which family life is so well known.

Some of the writing works, especially the dialogue pieces between Pop and his grandson at the dinner table, or when Jack sees an old cigar-smoking friend:

“Hey Jack—welcome back,” he shouted, smoke billowing from his mouth yellow-corn teeth clenched on a cigar that seemed to be a foot long. That particular saying was Howard’s own creation, and he used it every time he saw Jack, going on twenty years now. He was proud of it, and saying it made him smile like a kid.

Jack pulled his head back into the car as they passed. He said, “He must have said that to me a thousand times. ‘Hey, Jack—welcome back. Every time I walked into the shop. I like that things don’t change.’ He realized what he said and thought it ironic.

All in all, the book is too lean throughout, too clunky and slow moving. The work is heavy on description and overly detailed on unremarkable exposition. The slow pace negates some of the really good tension and ultimately under powers the story.

This is a first novel, and it reads like one. However, in spite of the flaws, contained in the book is the promise of a better writer. Cut the long sentences in half, change the wool suits to chinos, maybe add some booze, sex, or violence, or even just unfettered emotion, and Burns’s next novel should give the reader a lot more.

One-Star Review

June 2013, Eckhartz Press
$15.95, paperback, 254 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9894029-0-3

Learn more about author Dan Burns.

—Reviewed by Mark Eleveld

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Election Day: Yay or Nay?

CBR_Logo2Every Day Is Election Day:
A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House

by Rebecca Sive

According to the WCF Foundation, women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress, 22 percent of all statewide elected executive office positions, and only 24 percent of the seats in state legislatures. In addition, the organization notes that 50 percent fewer women than men even consider running for office. Of those, only a third actually run, with a mere fraction seeking higher office.

EDIED_coverThese figures are unconscionable to the likes of Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day Is Election Guide: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House. Sive, former commissioner of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, is president of the Sive Group, a public affairs strategy company. Cofounder of the Midwest Women’s Center, Sive has assisted in various capacities the political careers of Geraldine Ferraro, Barbara Mikulski, Mary Landrieu, Debbie Stabenow, and Amy Kobuchar.

In Every Day Is Election Day, Sive strives to provide insight and inspiration to women who aspire to elected office, whether on the local, state, or national level. Featuring a foreword from Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (FDR’s granddaughter), the manageable paperback serves as a primer for women considering running for office. Packed with anecdotes and real-world examples, this accessible guide draws on scores of interviews to provide frank advice and forthright insight into what it takes to run a campaign and win an election.

With examples from women across the country, from various offices, and from both sides of the political aisle, Every Day Is Election Day uses the success stories of real women to prove the author’s various points. Readers will find examples from local politicians such as Jan Schakowsky and Lisa Madigan (although here Sive makes an obvious blunder, erroneously stating that Madigan is in her fourth term as Illinois Attorney General when, in fact, she is in her third term) as well as national office-holders such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Sive offers advice from the mundane (e.g., wear high heels and suits in powerful colors like purple or black) to the timeless (e.g., learn how to negotiate, harness the power of sisterhood). Much of the book is focused on the machinations of running for office, including what to some readers might seem like the dark underbelly of political campaigns: the conniving gamesmanship that makes many ordinary citizens cringe with frustration about the state of politics. Indeed, there is little in the book about what it takes to be a good public servant (in fact, one of the earliest mentions of the public service aspect of government appears on page 116, nearly half way into the book).


Author Rebecca Sive (John Reilly Photography)

As such, this is no guide for starry-eyed idealists who hope to single-handedly change the world for the better. Nor is it a book for men. This is a book for women, and, in fact, Sive at times evidences herself as something of a misandrist, viewing men merely as tools who can help women attain their political ambitions. Rather, Every Day Is Election Day may be better suited for those women who enjoy competition, who revel in the glad-handing, baby-kissing world of competitive politics. But where some readers may find her approach cynical and harsh, others might find real inspiration in Sive’s no-nonsense advice to what it takes to win office.

There is no doubt that women can change the world. Indeed, studies have shown that when women in politics work together, positive change can be effected in real, concrete ways. Every Day Is Election Day seeks to provide readers with practical, real-world advice to what it takes to actually win office. What women should do once they hold office—that is, what kind of public servants they should strive to be—is beyond the scope of this book.

Some readers may be turned off by Sive’s hard-hitting approach. But that doesn’t mean her advice isn’t useful or that it isn’t necessary. Indeed, those women who aspire to elected office but aren’t willing to play the game the way it really is will likely find themselves sitting on the sidelines wondering what happened to their political dreams. Every Day Is Election Day is practical and illuminating, even if what it illuminates isn’t all that pretty to look at.

Two-Star Review

August 2013, Chicago Review Press
Political Science/Women’s Studies
$17.95, paperback, 240 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61374-662-2

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

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Local Author Spotlight: Karen Doornebos Is Living in Austen

CBR_Logo2Author Karen Doornebos is gearing up for what promises to be a busy few months.

With the impending publication of her second novel, Undressing Mr. Darcy, fast approaching, the Riverside-based author is finding her time consumed with the marketing and publicity aspects of publishing. Undressing Mr. Darcy is set to publish December 3, a little more than two years since she hit publishing gold with her first novel, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy.

9780425261392_UndressingMr_CV.inddNot that Doornebos is unfamiliar with marketing or publicity. Formerly an award-winning copywriter for the likes of Diet Coke and Johnnie Walker, Doornebos had at least an inkling of what it would take to promote her first novel—and, now, her second.

“It’s an overwhelming task that needs to be broken down into smaller pieces in order to make it manageable,” she says.

Not that she minds. Promoting her novels and connecting with authors has proven unexpectedly fulfilling, especially when she reads the many adoring notes coming in from her fans. “I’m not making a killing at this,” Doornebos says. “What’s so great is that it’s rewarding. I’m reaching out to readers; they’re reaching out to me.”

Indeed, in the midst of working on social media blitzes, author readings, book signings, and networking, Doornebos takes comfort in knowing that she’s connecting with her audience. “One of the greatest things about [publishing] is some of the fan mail I get,” she says.

In fact, after the publication of her first novel, Doornebos received a letter from a woman in California who wrote to tell her that the book helped her and her mother get through the elder’s cancer treatments. “Something like that is worth everything to me,” Doornebos says. “A book can really help a person through a tough time. Books can really make a difference. And that’s better than any review I could get.”

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy high res frontConnecting with fans is certainly rewarding, but Doornebos also has been blessed with fabulous reviews. Definitely Not Mr. Darcy has been praised as “charming,” “hilarious,” and “delightful.”

For a book that was sixteen years in the making, the reviews affirmed Doornebos’s decade and a half of work on the manuscript—perhaps one of the longest in the making. “It wasn’t on the front burner for me,” she says with a laugh. “It was in the drawer for a number of years.”

Work and life and children made writing the first novel a bit of a challenge. But it also allowed Doornebos time to research and dig deep into the world that would become Definitely Not Mr. Darcy and also would lend color to Undressing Mr. Darcy.

Both novels are richly colored in the tones of Regency England, Jane Austen, and the modern-day world. Doornebos, a life member of The Jane Austen Society of North America, wrote about what she loves. “I’ve had a lot of fun with both books,” she says.


Author Karen Doornebos in Bath, England

And, although promoting her books and getting ready for publication may bite into nights and weekends, it’s all worth it. It’s still fun. In fact, the entire process has been one that Doornebos has enjoyed—from connecting with her agent (the sixteenth she contacted) to rewriting, editing, and revising the manuscript to selling the project to Berkley. Her second book was on a relatively whirlwind schedule (no sixteen years in the making for this one!) as she was under contract and on deadline and had to work quickly to produce a manuscript for a publisher who was waiting for it—a process she calls “inspiring, encouraging, and exhilarating. I just ran with it.”

As it happens, Doornebos is still running—at least in some ways as she juggles publication with marketing and publicity. Indeed, she’s planning a few events to coincide with the book launch, including one with the local chapter of The Jane Austen Society of North America on December 7 and one at the Riverside Public Library on December 8.

Local events will continue into January and beyond, and Doornebos is thankful for such a supportive literary community in Chicago and the suburbs. “Chicago and Chicago authors and publishing professionals are a very welcoming, nurturing group,” she notes.

For someone who seems to nourish her fans through her books, Doornebos appears to know of what she speaks when it comes to nurturing—and fans are certain to welcome her new book with open arms.

—Kelli Christiansen

Learn more about Karen Doornebos
Connect with Karen Doornebos

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