Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Biking Uphill by Arleen Williams (Author Guest Post / Book Review)

In association with Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for Biking Uphill by Author Arleen Williams!

Author Guest Post

My Dad's Pennies

I heard a whisper of Dad's laughter over my right shoulder, saw the twinkle in his bright blue eyes, as I stood at the Coinstar machine pushing pennies through the tray and cringing at the racket I was causing.

I don't know how many year my dad collected pennies, but I do know that from the time I returned home after a dozen years of wandering a large, heavy glass water bottle stood in the corner of the kitchen collecting pennies. A few years later, when my daughter stood as tall as the jar, he'd put a penny in her tiny hand and guide it into the jar, listening for the plink, always making certain it never reached her mouth instead. Now my daughter is a lovely young woman of twenty-five and her Boppa has been gone since 2002.

For seven more years after my father's death while my mother continued to live in the same house, the penny jar held its spot in the corner of the kitchen though few if any pennies were added to Dad's collection. After all, he had alternately referred to those pennies as his retirement fund or his vacation fund. Now he had no use for either.

During my mother's final years in dementia care, the penny jar went into a storage unit along with her other possessions. When she passed in 2013 and my siblings and I disposed of her small estate, the penny jar landed in the corner of my small writing room and there it stood forlorn and unwanted for another year and a half.

As summer comes to another close and I sort and organize in preparation for family visits and the start of a new academic year, my hours of silent writing and long bike rides coming to an end, I decide it's time to say good-bye to the penny jar.

In a task that my back muscles whine about the following day, I heft the penny jar to a sofa and tip it empty to the floor. The pennies fill two gallon-sized freezer bags. I settle them into a fabric grocery bag, but the weight is more than I can carry out to my car. I hear Dad reminding me of the dangers of "a lazy man's load" and make two trips to the car. In the supermarket parking lot I load the pennies into a shopping cart and head to the green Coinstar machine at the front of the store. "Out of Order." I push the cart back out to my car, cursing under my breath. At supermarket number two, I'm smarter. I walk in without Dad's pennies to check that the machine is in working order. Then back out to the car with a shopping cart to haul in my load. And there the racket begins.

As I sift through the pennies, pushing them into the machine, Dad is with me, his hand guiding my own, his calloused, arthritic fingers the last to have touched most of these coins. Tears of memory and mortality fill my eyes. I pull out three super shiny pennies for my daughter, my husband and myself, the kind Dad used to save for my daughter when she was a toddler. I reach the bottom of the second bag and push through the last of the rejected pennies my finger tips now coated in years black filth.

The machine makes its final calculation, and I laugh at the total. The monetary value, the gift my father left in the glass penny jar I empty on the eve of my sixtieth birthday comes to $60.60. I can still hear his laughter.

About The Author

Arleen Williams is the author of two books: Running Secrets, the first novel in The Alki Trilogy, and The Thirty-Ninth Victim, a memoir of her family’s journey before and after her sister’s murder. She teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for close to three decades. Arleen lives and writes in West Seattle. To learn more, please visit


Book Review

Biking Uphill by Arleen Williams
Book 2: The Alki Trilogy
Publisher: Booktrope
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Format: Paperback - 274 pages
             Kindle - 743 KB
             Nook - 511 KB
ISBN: 978-1620153499
BNID: 2940149235957
Genre: Women's Fiction

BUY THE BOOK: Biking Uphill

BUY THE TRILOGY: The Alki Trilogy
Book 1: Running Secrets
Book 2: Biking Uphill

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours.

Book Description:

Biking home from the Los Arboles Sunday Market, a sun flower yellow teapot snug in her backpack, lonely college student Carolyn Bauer sees a young teenager huddling under a eucalyptus tree. Carolyn shares her food and water with Antonia as they struggle to communicate in a mix of languages. Realizing Antonia lives on the streets, Carolyn invites her home. They share a summer of friendship until the day the yellow teapot shatters and Antonia mysteriously disappears.

Fifteen years later, only Antonia recognizes her old friend when she and Carolyn meet again in an ESL classroom, but she conceals her secret. Carolyn arranges a class project for Antonia-to job-shadow her friend and housemate, Gemi Kemmal. Gemi learns Antonia's dangerous circumstances when Antonia arrives for work with bruises barely concealed by thick makeup and offers her sanctuary just as Carolyn had years earlier. Together the three women confront Antonia's abuser and build a family of enduring friendship.

Biking Uphill, the second book in the Alki Trilogy, invites the reader into a world of undocumented immigration, where parents are deported, and a young girl is abandoned to face life on her own.

Book Excerpt:

She was only a child when it had begun. She hadn’t understood the violence in the streets of her barrio. From one day to the next it seemed as though the city was on fire. Her parents no longer allowed her to play after school with her friends. Then, she could not even go to school. She argued and cried and begged, but her parents were firm. Stay out of sight. Speak to no one. Trust no one.

She remembered her father and mother coming and going from the house late at night when they thought she was asleep. She remembered other men and women sneaking silently in and out of the house. Then it was her own turn to depart under the cloak of darkness. Her family walked for days and days and days. Sometimes it seemed like they would never stop walking.

She remembered hiding silently amongst the cattle in a packed train car, fearing their huge hard feet. Fearing more the men with rifles who stood along the sides of the tracks at each stop.

She remembered a big station wagon with an American driver. Who was this man? She didn’t know. Later, after endless nights on the road, when they had abandoned the station wagon, she remembered the sound of his gentle voice and the strength of his arms when she could no longer walk and her own father had become too weak to carry her.

She lost track of the months as they passed. At times it was only her and her parents. At other times they were with a small group of strangers. Sometimes they slept in the wilderness. Other times they hid in churches. On and on they traveled until finally they reached a river. El Rio Grande. She’d heard her parents talk about it in whispered voices at night as though it were an insurmountable barrier. She had imagined it to be a wide, flowing river of fury. It was nothing more than a trickle.

She remembered the happiness as well as the fear in her mother’s eyes the day they planned to cross. They had received word of an offer of help. Members of an American church agreed to aid them across the trickle as well as to hide them, to help them on the other side. And so they crossed. At night and in silence. She felt the tightness of her father’s arms wrapped around her, the warning of silence in his solemn eyes.

Then they were safe in a house of God, with food on the table and mats on the floor. They were safe. Her parents laughed and cried and laughed some more. Other families in the church basement watched them with tired eyes. Their joy had run out; reality had hit them and the adrenaline had stopped coursing through their veins. Now it was time to build a new life. A life under the constant threat of deportation.

Even as a young child, Antonia knew her parents had broken American law by entering the country under the darkness of night, leaving one station wagon in Mexico, running through the desert to another car on the other side of the trickle. She knew they were fugitives, and as fugitives they began their new life in America – grateful for the temporary reprieve from the constant threat of death.

As a child, Antonia understood in fragments. She knew fear. She felt her parents’ fear. She could smell their fear, like a dog sensing danger. As she grew older, she understood more, slowly piecing together her history from her own memories and the stories she heard from others.

Their travel did not stop when they entered the United States, but their life changed again. They no longer moved in darkness and fear. Instead they followed the harvest from southern California to eastern Washington and back to California. A half dozen nomadic years slipped away. Here and there Antonia attended American schools, but she fell further and further behind with each passing year.


Her family worked the late autumn vegetable fields. It was miserable, back-breaking labor but good money. Soon winter would come and money would be harder to get. So they struggled together, the three of them.

That’s when she heard the call. It spread like wildfire in tall dry grass. La migra. They surrounded the field, maybe eight or ten of them, encircling the workers like cowboys at a round-up.

Her parents had warned her about this, about the possibility that one day la migra would arrive. They had made a plan. They would each look for the best possible escape route, and then they would run. They would head in different directions, running as fast as they could. They would stay low and hide, if possible.

Antonia had protested. She did not want to run without her parents.

“It’s best to run alone,” her father had told her.

“You are small and fast. You must run like the wind. Later we will find each other,” her mother had told her.

So that day in the field, she knew what she had to do when her mother whispered, “Run.” Still she hesitated.

“Run,” her father insisted.

“Te amamos, hijita,” they both said. “We love you. Now run and keep running and don’t look back. Stay low, out of sight. We all must run.”

So she had run. She ran and ran and ran. She carried nothing but a small bilingual dictionary her parents had given her just after they’d entered the United States, the dictionary that never left her pocket. No bigger than a deck of cards, she felt the comfort of its weight against her thigh as she ran. She stayed low and when she heard the voices of the big white men with guns, la migra, she flattened her small body to the ground and held her breath. They walked right past her without seeing her in the row beside them. After a while, when the flat irrigated rows became dry weeds and a low hill rose before her, Antonia knew she was outside of the circle, beyond the line of la migra. Staying low to the ground, she crawled up the hillside.

As the INS agents tightened their circle, she heard the cries of men and women below her who were caught, forced to the ground, and dragged to the parked vehicles. Panic pushing her forward when mere strength was insufficient, Antonia kept scrambling until she reached the top of a knoll far beyond the edge of the field. There she collapsed.

My Book Review:

Biking Uphill is the poignant and uplifting story of the power of a supportive friendship that helps one young woman overcome and survive racism and abuse.

Author Arleen Williams weaves a compelling and powerful second book in The Alki Trilogy, that thoughtfully deals with the sensitive social and political issues of illegal alien immigration and the treatment of migrant farmers, racism, and abusive relationships. The reader is easily drawn into the story as it follows the supportive friendship bonds that Antonia forms with Carolyn and Gemi, and her journey of self-discovery and empowerment to survive and become a strong young woman.

I loved the author's style of weaving an inspirational tale that interweaves the theme of friendships, community, and a sense of family through different generations, cultures, and languages into a thought provoking story that depicts the complexity of a variety of social issues that tugs at the heartstrings and stirs the soul.

Biking Uphill is a wonderful story that will take the reader on a journey of self-discovery, friendship, and redemption.


Virtual Book Tour

Tour Schedule:

September 8 – Reecapieces – Review & Excerpt
September 8 – Chick Lit Club Connect – Guest Post
September 9 – Book Reviews and More by Dee – Guest Post 
September 9 – Chick Lit Plus – Review
September 10 – Doorflower – Guest Post 
September 11 – Ski-Wee’s Book Corner – Guest Post
September 11 – Ski-Wee’s Book Corner – Excerpt
September 11 – Reading in Black and White – Guest Post 
September 12 – The Bookworm – Excerpt
September 15 – Jersey Girl Book Reviews – Review, Guest Post & Excerpt