Elaine Russell is an award-winning novelist/short story writer of adult and children’s works. Her new historical novel, In the Company of Like-Minded Women, was released October 2018, and has been awarded two 2019 indie book awards from IBPA Benjamin Franklin Book Awards and IPPY Independent Publisher Book Awards. Russell's debut adult book, Across the Mekong River, was a finalist in the Carolina Wren Press 2010 Doris Bakwin Awards for adult novels and the Maui Writer’s Conference 2003 Rupert Hughes Prose Writing Competition. The novel won four 2013 independent publisher awards, including awards from Next Generation Indie Books, ForeWord Reviews, and Independent Publisher Books. The book became a Library Journal Self-e recommended book in 2015.
Russell’s three-book, Martin McMillan, middle grade mystery/adventure series and her young adult novel, Montana in A Minor, all won multiple indie awards as well, including awards from Indie Review, Independent Publisher Books, ForeWord Reviews, and Moonbeam Children’s Awards. She is also the author of All About Thailand, (Tuttle Publishing 2016) a middle grade picture book.
““The summer of 1901 in Denver sees the reunion of three sisters in this historical novel that hails the burgeoning independence of women...This is part love story (romantic and familial) and part examination of the early days of women entering the professional arena… passionate female characters deliver a valuable message.””
– Kirkus Reviews
Detailed cultural information about a country that most people in the U.S. may only know about through its food.
Thailand is a country rich in tradition, folklore, visual arts, music, and dance as well as culinary treats, and this volume provides access to a wealth of background material, stories, and hands-on projects and activities. One of a series of books on Asian cultures, this includes recipes for such dishes as sticky rice with mangoes and Thai chicken noodle soup (made with rice noodles), which follow a description of the importance of rice in the Thai diet. A description of Loi Krathong, the floating-lantern festival, is presented after a double-page spread on religion. Sheet music for a song and the instructions for making a special floating lantern are included, along with information on the flying-lantern festival, Yi-Peng, celebrated in northern Thailand at the same time, during the full moon of November. A spectacular photo displays the golden flying lanterns sent up to carry wishes to the Buddha. Other photos are used occasionally throughout the book, but most of the illustrations have an attractive, brightly colored, cartoonish look. Although other resources will be needed to give a picture of Thai history and the current social, political, and economic situations, this compendium will serve children, educators (formal and informal), librarians, and parents well.
Appreciation for Thailand’s heritage will quickly follow the reading of this book.
Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2016
Page count: 64pp
Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016
In this excellent YA novel, Russell’s (Across the Mekong River, 2012) teenage cellist heroine, Emily Lopez, uses music as her framework for dealing with the world.
Smarting from a recent breakup, Emily is excited to spend the summer after her junior year touring Europe with her orchestra-conductor father, who’s promised to help her learn Saint-Saen’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in preparation for her August audition for Juilliard’s pre-college program. It’s actually a re-audition, since her first tryout was “only marginally less disastrous than the sinking of the Titanic.” Emily has trouble with anxiety and OCD; her habits include tapping her music stand three times with her bow before she plays. She’s devastated when her father calls off the trip, citing a busy schedule—a recurring theme since her parents’ divorce. Instead, Emily is forced to spend her summer in Montana at a ranch owned by her stepfather Marty’s dad. But once she gets there—and meets a dreamy half-Crow ranch hand named Breck—she starts to realize that she can build a life around music without letting it take over. Russell does a fantastic job creating Emily’s world, and the young girl’s voice is charming and plausible right from the start, when she rattles off her to-do list: “4. Learn Saint-Saens concerto pronto. 5. Forget Jordon exists. Correction—forget ALL boys exist. 6. Buy DVD—Yoga for Stress Reduction.” The characters who surround her are fleshed out as well, all with their own problems and strengths: Her stepgrandfather, Jake, who hides his fears about getting older under a cantankerous facade, is a particular delight. The chapter titles are musical terms—subito forzando, capriccioso, dolce—that serve as descriptions of events and subtle ways to underscore Emily’s worldview, steeped in music. The ending comes too soon, though, and readers will wish they had more time to enjoy the characters.
Well-written and engaging YA.
Pub Date: April 27, 2014
Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014
Ravaged by the Vietnam War, a culturally ingrained family from Laos leaves everything behind to pursue a dangerous journey across the Mekong River leading them from Thailand to the United States in Russell’s novel.
Violence interrupts the lush Laotian landscape: Bullets spray from the rifles of Communist soldiers, while indifferent American helicopters unleash bombs from above. A family makes the harrowing, death-defying struggle to elude patrolling soldiers and cross the Mekong River into Thailand. Nou, who later goes by Laura, recalls that half her family, including her two older brothers, perished during the escape. She was a mere child at the time, but the devastating effects of the loss lingered in her mother Yer’s fluctuating states of depression. Interestingly, Russell changes perspective throughout the story, including but not limited to Nou, Yer and Pao, the father. As each character’s internal conflicts unfold, his or her unique voice sheds light on the different aspects of Hmong culture while Nou’s family survives in the hope that the war will soon be over. After three years, Pao takes the search for a better life to America: Minneapolis, Minn. Shifting from Hmong culture to American, the family finds a stark contrast in lifestyle. Here, other ethnic groups are quick to blame the Asians for the Vietnam War and the ensuing loss of American soldiers. In school, Nou becomes the perfect target for teasing, while her childhood is spent playing the “adult” as her mother drifts deeper into depression. The novel takes another twist (thankfully the plot’s expansiveness is seamless) when the family moves to Sacramento, where Russell aptly integrates the culture clash as Nou changes her name to Laura and begins to see a life outside of Hmong cultural traditions of early, arranged marriage and many children. While her father is immersed in his farming business and her mother is intent on marrying her off to Dang—a respectable Hmong man—Laura dares to tread the boundaries of the Hmong culture, hoping that she will be able to pursue a career rather than marrying at a young age. The family’s richly drawn tension culminates in a grueling court case that affects all involved. Laura must decide if she is willing to sacrifice Hmong traditions in order to live the life she desires.
A multifaceted tale of complex characters finding new lives in their new world.
Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2012
Page count: 278pp
Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2012
Russell (Across the Mekong River, 2012, etc.) returns with her second middle-grade adventure story about the teen hero of Martin McMillan and the Lost Inca City (2005), who this time finds himself tracking down criminals in Thailand.
Martin McMillan’s father works at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, where he is about to open the “Treasures of Thailand” exhibition, featuring an enigmatic statue known as Ruby Elephant, which is rumored to hold the key to a long-lost hoard of treasure belonging to a 16th-century Thai prince. Martin and his friends get caught up in the disappearance of the elephant, and the trail leads them to Thailand, where—despite the misgivings of their parents—they vow to unravel the clues and find the missing treasure. Their adventure includes details of dynastic battles between Thai rulers and descriptions of ancient temples that are at times intrusive, breaking up the narrative flow, but the action is fast-paced as Martin and his friends plunge deeper and deeper into danger. In attempting to provide excitement, the story sometimes goes too far, such as when Martin, who has just turned 13, and his friend Isabel find themselves taken hostage by a dangerous gang, gagged and bound, only to escape in an abandoned car, despite having next to no driving experience. The book also offers an inconsistent characterization of Junya, a Thai girl with a less than perfect command of English, who at one point relates the complicated history of King Naresuan’s nephew Prince Luang without stumbling and at other moments has difficulty finding simple words. The text has occasional typos, such as spelling a character’s name “Sofia” and “Sophia” on the same page, but the story is engaging and peppered with surprises, and the background of Thailand is well-drawn.
A middle-grade adventure story with plenty of action and an engaging plot, which may appeal to fans of the Indiana Jones movies.
Pub Date: July 3, 2012
Page count: 216pp
Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2014
Russell (Montana in A Manor, 2014, etc.) offers another YA mystery featuring skateboarding trouble-magnet Martin McMillan.
Only a month after their adventure in Thailand in Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant (2012), 13-year-old Martin and his friend Isabel find themselves visiting Scotland. There, Isabel’s father, University of California, Berkeley, lecturer James Hoffman, and his girlfriend, Moira MacDonald, are researching her recently unearthed family documents. Moira writes historical novels, so getting these documents translated from Gaelic to English by professor Duncan of Edinburgh University would be a boon to her work. As the group discusses the work in a tea room, a pair of strangers sitting nearby rudely snaps a photo of the documents. Later, as Martin and Isabel tour Scotland’s castles and the infamous Loch Ness, they again see the same young man and woman. Martin, whose archaeologist parents back in Chicago want him to stay out of trouble, is happy just to skateboard and search for the Loch Ness monster, but Isabel is determined to follow a trail of clues that eventually points toward the secret knowledge of the ancient Druids. Author Russell’s latest is the most finely tuned entry in the Martin McMillan series yet. In it, she presents readers with historical facts that also provide dramatic context; for example, Moira learns that her ancestors were dispossessed by the English “clearances” of the 18th century, in which Scottish clans were evicted from their Highland properties. Throughout, Martin and Isabel’s banter is snarky and a joy to read; when she says, “We’ll be fine. Trust me,” he replies, “How many times have I heard you say that before?” Indeed, as fun as Martin’s adventures are, hints of Russell’s formula are sometimes evident; in this installment, for example, the Scottish terrier Macbeth follows a trail of cookies, and in the last book, a monkey followed a trail of bananas. The author nevertheless conjures Scotland’s mystique, which emboldens her narrative.
New fans and old will be glad that Martin can’t stay out of trouble.
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016
The summer of 1901 in Denver sees the reunion of three sisters in this historical novel that hails the burgeoning independence of women.
It has been 11 years since Dr. Elizabeth “Lida” Clayton has seen her sisters, Mildred and Evangeline. When Lida married William after her graduation from Smith College, her mother was furious. William was a Northerner and his family manufactured guns used by the Union Army. During childhood, Lida was close to Mildred, who is three years older. But Mildred sided with their mother, creating a family schism. An unfortunate visit to the clan in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1890 resulted in a final blowout. Still, Lida, now a widow, remains in contact with her kid sister, Eva, who, at 25, is 15 years younger. Unexpectedly, Mildred and Eva accept an invitation to visit Lida and her two children, 15-year-old Sara Jane and 5-year-old Cole, in Denver, a hotbed of liberal thinking. Lida hopes this will lead to a reconciliation. But Mildred agreed to the trip as a ploy to help break up the developing romance between Eva and the man she is determined to marry, Bertram Dearman. Russell’s (All About Thailand, 2016, etc.) gentle narrative plays out over two months and, in alternating chapters, is narrated by the individual voices of Lida, Sara Jane, and Mildred (whom readers hear through her letters home and her journal entries). The literary device works well, giving full dimension to all three characters. This is part love story (romantic and familial) and part examination of the early days of women entering the professional arena, with a hefty measure of political discourse thrown into the mix. But the most intriguing underlying plotline tracks Mildred’s halting transformation from grim, frumpy temperance advocate to a lively participant in Lida’s progressive circle of accomplished women. Sara Jane provides much of the humor; her enthusiasm, innocence, and teenage angst are rather charming. And the author’s descriptions of a booming Denver at the turn of the 20th century re-create the excitement of a city moving into the future.
A bit heavy on political rhetoric, but passionate female characters deliver a valuable message.
Page count: 366pp
Publisher: Belles Histoires
Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018
Across the Mekong River
Passion in life
Traveling and Writing
ACROSS THE MEKONG RIVER: Winner Next Generation Indie Book Award, 2013
ACROSS THE MEKONG RIVER: Silver ForeWard Reviews Book of the Year Award, 2013
Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant: Winner Indie Reader Discovery Awards, 2013
Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant: Silver Independent Book Publishers Awards, 2013
Martin McMillan and the Sacred Stones: Silver Moonbeam Children's Awards, 2016
IN THE COMPANY OF LIKE-MINDED WOMEN: Silver IBPA Benjamin Franklin Book Awards , 2019
IN THE COMPANY OF LIKE-MINDED WOMEN: Gold IPPY Independent Publisher Book Awards, 2019
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