Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The 1920's Clash and Roar in Songbird with the Sapphire Eyes

Today I am interviewing Anna Brentwood and reviewing her historical novel, The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes.


In 1918, Kansas City is Sin City.     

Forced to leave home at age fourteen, beautiful Hannah Glidden struggles to survive. With help from her childhood friend, Meg--mistress to a wealthy married man-- and her roommate, the irrepressible, flapper extraordinaire, Rosie, Hannah thrives as a cabaret singer.

The early 20’s roared. Fortunes were made or lost in a single night, and criminals mingled with kings. Neither the government nor Prohibition could stop the flow of alcohol or the lure of the “good life.” Handsome rum runner Johnny Gallo is part of New York's large, growing criminal empire where the sky is the limit. The ruthless Gallo has a knack for knowing the right people, and a single-minded devotion to getting what he wants. And, he wants Hannah.


This is a novel I would have never picked up on my own for three reasons: 1) It's a historical novel, and not necessarily a romance; 2) The cover, though lovely, didn't draw me in because of the cigar on the front. I hate cigars; and 3) It is the author's first novel and that is always a crapshoot of an investment.

However, I am soooooo glad I picked it up at a book signing.  Anna Brentwood has a true gift with dialog.  I could hear the accents, the slang, the differences between character's background from the first page. In addition, her ability to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of the city makes the story play like a movie in your head. To understand the clash of cultures, the disdain for tradition, and deep desire for freedom from the past, you need to see the 1920's from the perspective of the working woman (from farm women to entertainers, mistresses, and prostitutes). This book will provide that in heart-wrenching detail.

Haunting in the heroine's painful, tragic movement toward an inevitable end, The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes is a poignant tale of obsession set against the background of a changing world. This novel is both a gripping historical and a study of the juxtaposition of freedoms and constraints placed on women in the roaring 1920's as the country marched toward modernity while simultaneously holding tight to the past, and corruption warred with good intentions.

The reader experiences this turbulent time in American history through the eyes of Brentwood's main character, Hannah Glidden. From the age of 14, when she leaves home, to the young age of 24, Hannah navigates the changing culture and economics in a way that young women without means often did, sleeping her way to the top. We follow Hannah from the crushing indebtedness of a rural Missouri farm to the cities of newly minted millionaires who dance alongside gangsters and mob leaders in Kansas City, Chicago, and New York.

While Hannah's life represents all the excess and riches of the 1920's we read about and see in movies, it also represents the divisive contrast for the majority of Americans. The entire decade of the 1920s was a time of poverty and crushing indebtedness for most of rural America, leading to foreclosures of many family farms. More than 90% of American farms lacked electricity, and the proportion of farms with access to a telephone actually decreased over the course of the decade. This was Hannah's background--a harsh, unforgiving, upbringing that includes incest and thus a confused and jaded understanding of sex and love which puts her on her journey.

Running from her difficult childhood, Hannah embraces the modern urban culture of freedom—drinking illegally and in significant amounts, dancing provocatively, and singing to the sensuous rhythms of jazz, while searching for material things to show she has made it in the world. Like Daisy Buchannan for Gatsby, gangster Johnny Gallo invests Hannah with an idealistic perfection that she cannot possibly attain in reality. Despite major flaws in both of their characters, he pursues her with a passionate zeal that blinds both of them to their own limitations. Like Roxie Hart in Chicago, Hannah comes from nothing but wants everything. She barely thinks twice about hooking up with a known gangster and being in the presence of big mob bosses like Lucky Luciana, Al Capone, Bugs Moran, or Sam Maceo. She eschews love for sex, pursues material comforts in exchange for morality, and consistently chooses to put on blinders to what is happening around her in the name of freedom and independence.

This is the type of book you know cannot end well, but you can't put it down. It is so well written that I truly believe Hollywood would be remiss not to option it for a film.  Huge congratulations to Anna Brentwood's debut novel. She has penned an amazing and realistic story, where she did not once bow to sentiment, push for the happy ending, or try to make light of the choices some women made in that era.

Paperback Buy Links:  Jan's Paperbacks | Jacobsen's Books |Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Ebook Buy Links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble 


What are your roots?

On my mother’s side, I am third generation American w/Russian, Rumanian, English, German and Jewish ancestors. On my father’s, I am second generation Russian/Ukraine. I grew up on the East Coast in West Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs before moving to Southern California in 1978. I was there until I moved to Oregon in 1995.

Has your own family story impacted your writing at all?

 Growing up back East amongst a mix of ethnically diverse people: Jewish, Italian, Irish, African American, etc., in the early 60’s and 70’s, makes my life experience very rich and full of great material. It was almost by today’s standards an alternate Universe, but I was surrounded by close knit family, neighbors and friends, and that definitely adds to who I am. However, as far as influencing my writing, I would have to say it was my husband’s support early on when I decided I wanted to write professionally; and the fact that he made it possible for me to do so that made the most impact.  

How do you describe yourself as a writer?

Intense. I consider myself a method writer in that I immerse myself in my characters heads and world to the point in which it leaks over into my everyday life. Immersion plus research and historical detail is important to me both as a reader and a writer and I stick close to truth whenever possible. I spend an excessive amount of time on research, probably more than I need to but I love it. This passion allows me to totally understand my characters world. They become very real to me and, while I am writing fiction, the lines do blur but I always make an effort to stick as close to truth whenever possible. 

Though there was a romance of sorts in this book, from a genre perspective this would be considered a historical novel, similar to the types of novels Megan Chance writes.  Is this the genre you expect to write in moving forward?

Yes, for the present time, I am sticking with historical and I am already working on a sequel to The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes.  The sequel takes place in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
My goal as an author is to write bout interesting characters in real life situations where I, as well as readers, can always learn something new. I expect that to always remain the same. However, I probably will not lock myself into any one genre exclusively because part of the process and enjoyment of writing for me is the continual learning and the constant challenge to expand my own understanding.

Why was it important for you to write this particular novel?

Hannah's story was unique in that it came to me in a sequence of dreams that were so real they haunted me. Then, she did. Despite time and obstacles along the way, I remained compelled to explore and understand the dreams and experiences I was having and in doing so, finally after many years, wrote The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes. I think Hannah wanted her story told mostly because as human beings, though we all live unique lives, we all die and death troubles us. I learned a lot form her, but most importantly to believe in possibilities and to hope that death isn't necessarily an ending, but quite possibly a new beginning.


What was hard for you in writing this novel?
Everything! Taking this on and deciding I had to write it and get it published was probably the hardest thing I ever did. Also, one of the longest single projects I ever worked on. While writing and being creative always nurtures your soul, this particular book was my masters and doctorate all wrapped into one. The process of being a writer and then choosing to write a novel and have it published can only be likened to being kicked to the ground, getting up repeatedly and then hopping onto a roller coaster. The price of admission was vats of blood, sweat and tears, passion, heartache, desire, frustration and an ability to withstand high highs and low lows and still want to keep on going…otherwise called a masochist.
Are there themes that recur in your work?

Yes, the influence of society, family, friends and relationships and the importance of listening to your heart and having the courage to follow through with your ethics and your dreams no matter where they take you. 

What are you working on now?

The sequel to The Songbird With The Sapphire Eyes, which will take readers on a journey through the 1940’s with Johnny Gallo’s son; wartime hero, playboy and New York mobster, Anthony Gallo.

What would you like to write in the future?

I personally read a diverse amount of genres that predominantly include suspense, mystery, historical and paranormal and I always love a good romance so after I finish writing the sequel I am working on now, I am planning a book that will blend some modern history (70’s-80’s) with all or some of the different elements and genres listed above. So please stay tuned!  

If you had to give one piece of advice to women who are searching for something more in their relationships, what would it be?

Find someone who can be many things to you, for whom the good outweighs the bad, someone you can laugh with, cry with and curse with, Someone who can be kind but also a rock but mostly someone who will always be your friend no matter what. 

This is one heck of a book!  I truly recommend it to my readers and anyone who has a fascination with the roaring 20's and the complex, interwoven lives of the people who lived through it.

About Anna Brentwood

Anna (which is her real first name) was a bookworm almost since birth. She is inspired to write about interesting characters whose lives take them on journeys we can all enjoy and perhaps learn something meaningful from.  

Anna grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Philadelphia’s, University of the Arts where she majored in Illustration. She pursued a successful and versatile career in children’s book illustration, graphic arts, publications and public relations in Southern California before being lured to the Oregon wilderness by her desire to write and her former-Navy Seal husband. 

Moving to Oregon in 1995 with her spouse and two young children at that time, aged five and eight, she began pursuing her dreams to write  professionally while at the same time adjusting to "country" life. 

A wife, a mother, and doting grandmother of two,Anna lives in a log home on 45 wooded acres on Oregon’s coast range with her former Navy-Seal husband and a menagerie of animals that include one pug, one cat, one horse, two wolf-hybrids, a red-tailed hawk named Lucky and a feisty but lovable African grey parrot named Warlock.

Contact Anna:  website | facebook | twitter


Melia Alexander said...

Great review and great interview! Anna's book is on my TBR, and I'm so looking forward to it.

BTW -- I appreciate that you're so well-read across a variety of genres, Maggie. Very inspiring as I don't spend enough time reading, and when I do, it's contemporary category romances - the genre I write. Must. Change. That.

Anna Brentwood said...

Wow, Maggie love the interview and the photos and so value your support...

Maggie Jaimeson said...

Melia, definitely try reading outside your genre. I think you will find it informs your writing in a way you can't imagine. It will help you to bring aspects of character and description that you may not have considered.

Anna, it is a true pleasure to review your book. I was being completely honest when I said I normally would not have picked it up. It is a welcome gift to find an independently published debut novel that is so good. Congratulations for hitting it out of the park.

TeriBrownwrites said...

I love the twenties and have yet to read this one! My TBR pile is threatening to topple. In March. I can read in march. Great interview, Anna.

Anna Brentwood said...

Thanks, I think so too and enjoyed Maggie's questions.

Anonymous said...

This book is truly phenomenal...I couldn't put it down! Anna is a vivid and imaginative author who draws you in deeper to her characters with every sentence. You can feel the passion that she brings to her writing.