There’s sex, and there’s intimacy Silent Bird  by Reina Lisa Menasche  © 2014, ISBN978-14944-08831, 251 pages. By Donald H. Harrison Donald H. Harrison SAN DIEGO—Back when I was an undergraduate at UCLA—has it already been more than 50 years?—college men talked hopefully about the mythic “Yale date,” which supposedly had been agreed upon by male and female students at that august institution across the country. By common consent, Yale students supposedly had sex on their first date, so as to get that out of the way, to eliminate the sexual tension that otherwise might come between them. Then, having had sex, the Yale students would go on, unfettered, to learn about each other completely, without ulterior motives.  Their interest in each other would be real and not feigned. As you might imagine, the whole idea was a con hatched in the otherwise unoccupied brains of some horny undergraduate men.  As far as I know, no UCLA undergraduate woman ever thought the idea had any merit at all.  I doubt any Yale co-ed did either. Now, in Silent Bird, a novel by San Diego author Reina Lisa Menasche, we get an idea of what the aftermath of a “Yale date” might have been like, although the novel’s setting is not in New Haven or Los Angeles, but rather in the south of France. Pilar Russell, daughter of a divorced British Christian father and a Sephardic Jewish American mother, comes to France, knowing very little French, but believing she can start her life and her art career anew.  A beautiful young woman, she attracts the interest of Jeannot Courbois, a handsome, and in many ways innocent, waiter who hopes to become a serious musician.  Although they can barely communicate verbally, these two creative souls have sex almost immediately, and within a short time span move in together. Neither is aware of the other’s baggage. While Pilar welcomes Jeannot’s tenderness and comfort, and accommodates him sexually, she nevertheless feels like she is suffocating almost every time they make love.  This is not because of Jeannot.  It is because of the family secret with which she has been struggling her entire life.  You will guess it long before Pilar is ready to tell Jeannot about it. But meanwhile, Pilar, has night terrors.  She gets sick to her stomach, and Jeannot fears it is because of him. Jeannot comes from a provincial family, “provincial” in every sense of the word.  They have lived in the south of France, where they make a table wine, for many generations.  His family expects Jeannot to go into the family business, and to stop dreaming about a career in music.  In the view of Jeannot’s father and uncle, everything in France would be fine, were it not for the “foreigners.” Currently, the “foreigners” are the Arabs, but previously they were the nazi Germans, and before that the Jews. Perhaps Pilar could abide their xenophobia, but she is shaken by a succession of incidents in Jeannot’s home village. An Arab school girl is bullied by French playmates, who steal and stomp on her head scarf.   Later the same girl is kidnaped and, after days of searching, she is found half-clothed in a cemetery.  No one seems to have any sympathy for the girl—not the French, as typified by Jeannot’s family, who consider her an unwelcome foreigner, and not her own family, who send her away because she has “shamed” them. Pilar, on the other hand, identifies with the girl completely, which provokes a crisis between her and Jeannot’s family. Readers will find it fascinating how this plot turns out.  And they, like Pilar and Jeannot, will come to understand that even “good sex” is not intimacy. Harrison is the editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via   ” - Donald H. Harrison

San Diego Jewish World

Novelist Menasche (photo, above) gives us an authentic treatment of the cycle of running from bad memories and then running right into them in another geographical location and time. Here and there, we struggle with Pilar through the emergence of her fears with French lover, Jeannot. At times it overtakes her, despite her pluck. Silent Bird by novelist Reina Lisa Menasche Book review by Ariele Johannson Silent Bird, a novel by Reina Lisa Menasche, could be remembered for its exotic French landscape and romance, or for its treatment of difficult subjects. Maybe it will be reread for its charming humor, an inner view of two young lovers moving too fast, or Pilar, the protagonist learning to adjust to a new culture with its linguistic challenges. There are great descriptions of the meeting of two divergent cultures through the budding and then continually strengthening relationship of Pilar and her lover. It could also be remembered for its irresistible combination of all of these, but it will be remembered. Pilar Russell, a young American painter, goes to France against the will of the matriarchs of her Jewish family from Long Island, New York. Pilar lovingly and unabashedly pokes fun at her mother and grandmother in the telling of her story of life in Montpellier, a French town that causes her to flash back to her childhood. As likeable as she is, Pilar is not lucky in love; relationships of real intimacy elude her. She has recurring nightmares. One of these nightmares is finding herself on a boat with her father, afraid that a giant is coming with the rain. “'It's alright, love. Everything will be just grand, I promise.' Daddy held out his pinky, and I held out mine. the footsteps of the giant shook the boat, and I woke up in a narrow bed next to a man I barely knew, in a country not all that far from the place I'd gone in the boat. I hated that dream. But not as much as I'd hated experiencing it as a little girl. Pilar’s apparent lack of relationship intimacy is caused by her past brought to the fore by triggering events in the present. Pilar's engagement to Jeannot and her struggle to accept his family become the current trigger in this novel. Another event is the disappearance of a seven-year-old Arab girl from her fiancé’s village. "I would never forget her face: the black hair, sweet dark eyes, wide forehead and bowtie mouth. And that same white handkerchief that had been so rudely yanked off her head and dropped into the dirt by the obnoxious teenager and his pre-teen minions.... Notably in contrast to her waking dreams of a future with Jeannot are nightmares that make her want to lose him. Jeannot is a dreamboat with strength, sensitivity, vigor, patience, and lots of amor! “And those legs—oh, Jeannot’s legs spelled a lifestyle. He walked a lot and waited tables, and jiggled his legs to music.” But even he begins to have difficulty understanding her when she disappears into fear and her control slips away. So this novel goes, engaging from its first provocative sentence to its racing finish when Pilar tries to solve the crime in Jeannot’s village and meets with obstructions at every turn. Menasche’s protagonist does not remain a silent bird, however, but one bursting with her own expressed will. Pilar does speak her mind, and she does act. Finally, with the help of her new friend, Monique, she works out a solution with which she can really live, rather than just hope. Reina Menasche is the host of East County Magazine’s “Bookshelf” program on KNSJ 891 FM Radio.  Her first novel, Twice Begun, was honored in the 2013 San Diego Book Awards and her other fiction works have been recognized in contests including San Diego Writers and Editors Guild and Southern California Writers Conference. For more information on the author and her book, Silent Bird, visit: rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Asilent%20bird” - Ariele Johannson

East County Magazine

Twice Begun, by Reina Lisa Menasche Book review by Miriam Raftery March 17, 2013 (San Diego)--Paris Jablonski has a seemingly idyllic life in San Diego with her charming French husband and young daughter.  But that illusion is shattered on her seventh anniversary, when she finds love letters in her husband’s closet from a woman in France.   Twice Begun, a novel by San Diego author Reina Menasche, opens  with this line: “Before I stepped into the closet, my life felt like an Impressionist masterpiece—filled with elusive light yet made of simple dabs of color that even a child could paint.” But  Paris is given no opportunity to absorb the shock, caught in the moment not by her philandering husband, Serge, but by the family dog tailed closely by Paris' 7-year-old daughter, who asks innocently,  “Mommy, why are you in the closet?” Paris, a social worker, somehow manages to maintain a veneer of calm as she drifts through an anniversary party in an emotional  fog. Before she can confront Serge, however,  she receives a call that her aged aunt has fallen and rushes off to offer aid. Menasche  has a knack for creating memorable characters, capturing their essence in prose etched with wry humor. Take her description of her strong but aggravating great-aunt, Tanta.  Meinasche introduces her as follows:   “A World War II refugee who was smuggled out of a small Polish town in the back of hay wagon, my great-aunt survived only because the soldier who was checking the wagon stabbed his pitchfork into the wrong patch of hay. He missed her by inches, and she managed not to scream, gasp or whimper—though she has been making up for it ever since.” Paris returns home to find a note from Serge, her husband, informing her that he has left her and gone to France to be with his childhood sweetheart, Madeline.  Stooping to a new low in caddish behavior, however, Serge also absconds with the family dog, Pumpernickel.  So Paris dries her tears and packs her bags, taking a plane to France to confront Serge, face the in-laws she’s never seen--and most importantly, snatch back the purloined pooch. She arrives in a village that “looks like a medieval  jigsaw puzzle with a few too many pieces missing.” Little did she suspect that her father-in-law is the town’s mayor—or that the entire family along with Serge’s mistress would be onstage at a festival in the town square.  All heads turn “like dominoes tipping” as Paris leaps onto the stage, spotting Pumpernickel  in”full rhapsodic wiggle of recognition…struggling to get the hell away from  Madeline, who looks like she wants to disinfect her hands.” Suffice to say the end result is satisfying, as Paris attains some measure of triumph, albeit tinged with humiliation. Arriving back home, Paris find her life becomes even more chaotic as San Diego is gripped by a raging wildfire and evacuations.  Amid the crisis she starts a new job helping recovering addicts and breaks the cardinal rule for a social worker—falling in love with a client, Dean.  After doing everything right in life, she resolves, why not try something wrong? The chemistry is irresistible as Paris starts life anew. An aspiring author, Paris also signs up for a writers' critique group.  This is a scene I could strongly relate to, having once been in a writing critique group with Reina.  I always found her work  original and spiced with humor, so I was delighted but not surprised to learn that she is now a published author whose fiction has been recognized by the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild, the San Diego Book and Writing Awards, and the Southern California Writers Conference.  I chuckled as I read the diverse comments offered up by fictional critique group members in her novel, which ranged from the offbeat (“Why don’t you make your heroine a black belt?”) to a cringe-worthy remark. (“I liked the ex-husband personally…Why don’t you write the book about him, make him the protagonist, and his love affair the main plot of the book? Then it could take place in France instead of boring old San Diego.”) There are autobiographical elements to Reina's work. Menasche is a masters-level social worker who teaches university classes in counseling and human services.  She has provided services to clients struggling with addiction and  life transitions, specializing in helping young children adjust to life after divorce. Currently she lives with her family in San Diego. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that strikes a strong emotional chord, I highly recommend Twice Begun. For more information, visit the author’s website:   To buy the book, visit .” - Miriam Raftery, Editor

— East County Magazine

Please click on the link below to see the Mission Trails Courier article on my FIRST library book talk / reading / signing on Friday, October 12, from 2:00-3:00 pm.  Hope to see you there!

— Mission Trails Courier

  5.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing read!, August 20, 2012 By  J. Jenkins "" (San Diego) - See all my reviews This review is from: Twice Begun (Paperback) When Paris Jablonski's safe, perfect world disintegrates and she can't find all the pieces, let alone glue them back together, she has to figure out how to save herself because she's the only one who can. Paris wears many hats--wife, mother, lover, caregiver, daughter, friend--which all come with different kinds of love and different degrees of expectation. It's how she works through these relationships, while not forgetting herself and her own needs, that is both endearing and unforgettable. Writer Reina Lisa Menasche draws on her background in psychology and social work to create well-rounded, demanding characters who collide in realistic settings with unpredictable results. If you have a mother, a sister, a female friend, you'll find similarities in Paris - and perhaps some unexpected answers to questions of the heart. This is a book to read and ponder because Paris raises questions and shapes answers for all women who have loved and been loved.     5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Put Down, August 29, 2012 By  Paul De Lancey - See all my reviews This review is from: Twice Begun (Paperback) Ms. Menasche's "Twice Begun" is an absorbing blend of marital betrayal, gigantic fires, unlikely romance, and personal growth. It's great reading for both sexes and fans of all genres. I look forward to her next novel.     RIVETING AND EXCITING!, July 30, 2012 By  Janet Ann Gallagher (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews This review is from: Twice Begun (Paperback) What a great book! Riveting! I was literally glued to the story line and finished it one day. I could feel all the emotions of the main character as she moved through a loving marriage, heartbreak, and a torrid love affair with a new love. I hope there will be a sequel to this book.”

— Amazon

  5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written page-turner, July 25, 2012 By  Richard Snow (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews(REAL NAME)    Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?) This review is from: Twice Begun (Kindle Edition) I could guess from the opening paragraph of this novel that the main character, Paris Jablonski, was about to suffer a major blow to her world. It only took a few pages to learn what the blow is.Going through some old boxes in the wardrobe, Paris discovers a sheaf of love letters between her French husband and a woman known only as Madeline. The letters are recent. It's their wedding anniversary. And all the family are in the house.Paris now has a problem she must now confront and resolve, however many painful new discoveries that leads to.Paris is a social worker in San Diego, the same field and city as the author, Reina Menasche. This gives the following chapters a stamp of authority, as Menasche shows Jablonski's world. Menasche describes the settings and people in this novel vividly and beautifully. I could visualise the locations, the characters, their clothing, and their facial expressions. I could feel with Paris, as she wondered who else knew. ("The wife is always the last to know.")And a midst the turmoil, there are razor-sharp stabs of humor.I downloaded this novel on a Saturday, read until midnight, and finished it the next day. And I'm a 50+ male who doesn't normally read Romance.This is a superbly crafted book.    ”

— Amazon

    5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!, July 17, 2012 By  LOVES TO READ (Oro Valley, AZ) - See all my reviews This review is from: Twice Begun (Kindle Edition) At last, a heroine women can believe in! Paris Jablonski feels like a sister, and we want to see her get through her marital crisis and find happiness. We watch as she encounters the painful truth about her marriage to her adored French husband, and decides whether to try to save it, or launch herself into a risky new relationship--just when she thought she'd never want one again! I loved the story and loved Paris. Now, I'd love to read the sequel to Twice Begun!     ”

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