Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Sundays With Writers: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There are some authors that I have waited for months to feature here and Jennifer Niven is one of those poor hounded authors that I worked so hard to get here for you today.  A girlfriend recommended that I read her book All the Bright Places and as soon as I finished it (you can read our review here), I emailed Jennifer to see if I could secure her for an interview. She happened to just be leaving on book tour though and said she would answer my questions when she returned. This one was worth the wait.

I am so glad she followed through on this interview with me especially amid her enormous undertaking of adapting this movie into a film starring Elle Fanning!! Yup, Jennifer is writing the script and I have been waiting to share that with you today. I’m so proud of this writer and this book she has created.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in to learn more about Jennifer’s incredible book and the real-life Finch that inspired this beautiful story!

Jennifer Niven

 

In All the Bright Places, you send your two characters (Finch & Violet) on an epic road trip to discover Indiana. I actually live in Indiana so I really loved how you created this for them. Were these destinations real and, if so, did you visit them?

All of the destinations Finch and Violet wander are real except one—the bookmobile park. (But oh, how I wish it existed!) I grew up in Indiana, but I hadn’t visited all of the places until after I wrote the book. In April, I traveled from California (where I live now) to the sites with the producers and director of the upcoming All the Bright Places We saw the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, the Blue Hole, Gravity Hill, the Ultraviolet Apocalypse, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, Hoosier Hill, the Purina Tower in my hometown (Richmond), and we even went up into the bell tower of my high school, which was where I envisioned Finch and Violet meeting.

Blue Flash Roller Coaster

But my favorite place of all was John and Sharon Ivers’ backyard roller coasters.We rode the Blue Flash and the Blue Too over and over again. And it was AMAZING.

You tackle the issue of mental illness in this book, specifically bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally known someone with this illness, you truly capture the manic highs and lows of Finch in a very real way. What inspired you to share about this mental illness and what has been your response from kids who have read this book?

Years ago, I loved a real-life Finch and he was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I also saw how funny he could be and how vibrantly alive. In knowing him, I experienced firsthand the stigma associated with mental disorders—both from the perspective of this boy I loved and from mine—and I realized that we need to make people feel safe enough to come forward and say, “I have a problem.  I need help.”  If we don’t talk about suicide or depression or mental illness, how can we expect anyone to reach out for help when they need it most?

The response to All the Bright Places has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. But they’ve also written to tell me they see themselves in Violet and/or Finch and reading about these characters who they identify with so closely has helped them realize that the world really can be a bright place, no matter how dark it may seem. I’m hearing daily from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone. (Here are some helpful links to organizations that get it, that care: check here and here for a resource list to assist.

All the Bright Places is going to be hitting theaters starring Elle Fanning as Violet. How involved are you in the adaptation of your book into film and what scene are you most excited to see come to life on the big screen?

I’m so excited! I’ve been asked to write the script, which I’m working on now, and I’m thrilled and honored to have that opportunity. The scene I’m most excited to see on the big screen is when Finch leaves his car by the side of the road because it won’t go fast enough, and as he’s running he passes a nursery where he collects flowers for Violet.

I don’t want to give away the ending of this book for those that have not read it, but I would love to know if you feel that ending the book the way you did ended with the right message about the topic of mental illness and if you entertained another way of ending this story?

I never questioned how All the Bright Places would end. I knew in my bones that the only ending could be the one I wrote, not just because too many stories about teen mental health are tied up in neat little packages with bows on top, but because it’s the ending I lived with the real-life Finch. It was the ending I knew to tell. In terms of the message it sends, from what I can tell via readers, especially readers who see themselves in Finch, they are walking away from the book with the right message: they are not alone. It is important to speak up, to ask for help. And even in the darkest times, it’s possible to find bright places.

I have read that it took you a mere six weeks to crank out All the Bright Places. This is such an incredible feat! Why do you think this story came together so quickly this time?

Because it was a story I had carried with me for a long time, and because it came from the heart.

You have tackled so many different genres as a writer, but this is your first young adult book. Is there a particular genre that you love the most and what did you love the most about writing a YA fiction versus the other genres you have tackled?

I love YA the most. As one reader put it, “Jennifer Niven thinks 18,” which I take as a huge compliment. I feel at home in the voice, and I absolutely love what’s being done in the genre—some of the bravest, boldest topics are being explored, and I think that’s fantastic. YA is fearless, and YA readers are the most passionate and voracious of all.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Wonder by RJ Pallacio.

 

You can connect with Jennifer Niven on GoodReads,on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye (GIVEAWAY)

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

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Debut novelists hold a special place in my heart. I love the thrill of discovering new talent and also have experienced the struggles of writing your first book. The process of idea to publishing was so much harder than I had anticipated and I love bringing these new talents in front of you for those very reasons.  I received a copy of Under a Dark Summer Sky from NetGalley and it was one of my favorite reads this summer (you can read my review here). I just know that this will be a favorite for you too especially if you love historical fiction.

Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye

If you have been waiting for the next The Help, friends, this is it. I really want to get this book on your radar because the story is so beautifully told and it is about something that happened in history that I was never aware of. Under a Dark Summer Sky is a perfect balance of fact and fiction.  I have no doubt, you will get swept away in the storm that hits Heron Key in 1935.

It is hard to believe that this was a debut novel- it was so perfectly executed. I love when I am transported into time in a historical fiction novel and learn something I have never known before and that was the case in this one. This well-researched book perfectly combines fact and fiction into an incredible story about a hurricane that ripped through the Florida Keys. The racial tensions of the people combined with a camp of misplaced disturbed war veterans creates an incredible conflict within the town when all of their safety is at risk as a hurricane approaches. I just know you will fall in love with this perfectly woven story (and learn a lot about the 1930’s in the process!

Grab your cup of coffee and let’s learn more about the real-life hurricane that inspired this incredible book today!

Vanessa Lafaye

I would consider your book to be the next The Help, tackling a time of racial tension and segregation between blacks and whites, but creating this perfect storm of emotion and disaster within the pages to play on these issues. It feels like you can cut the tension with a knife from the first chapter until you close the last page. What was it about this era that appealed to you and why did you decide to set the book up in Florida around a natural disaster?

I’m delighted with comparisons to The Help, as it’s one of my favorites.  I didn’t choose the era or the setting, the story chose me! I often say that this is the book that almost wasn’t.   I stumbled on it at a low point in my life, after I had cancer the first time and had failed to get 2 novels of women’s fiction published. By pure accident, I discovered the story of the veterans and the hurricane, and it captured my imagination.  I felt compelled to dramatize it although I had not written historical fiction before.  I was appalled that the events have been forgotten, even by people living in Florida.  The veterans changed the course of US history, and I was consumed by the challenge of bringing that story to life. I never expected to write a book set in Florida.  It turned into a big nostalgia trip, almost like a love letter to my home state.

As a reader, you really capture the hurricane so well that I felt like I was there witnessing it all. What type of research did you do to set up this pivotal moment in this community? Have you experienced any major hurricanes yourself?

Growing up in FL, hurricanes were a regular summer feature, but I never experienced a bad one.  When I discovered the story, I read some excellent factual accounts, which are referenced in the book.  I watched videos of survivor stories, also referenced in the book.  But when it came to write the storm scenes, I set myself the task of making the reader feel like they had been through a washing machine.  It was a huge challenge, using only words on a page, and harrowing to write those scenes, sometimes overwhelming.  So it’s good hear that you think it comes across.

bonus-marchers

(Source: Wikipedia)

The most surprising thing for me, as a reader, were how these World War I veterans were placed into these communities on projects after the war, and the havoc that it creates in these towns (both for the soldiers themselves and for the community members). Misplaced, homeless, and without work, these men were thrown into these racially divided communities nursing a lot of issues from being in the war. How did you learn about this occurring and why do you think it makes your story more compelling?

The story of the veterans in the hurricane led me to explore their experiences during and after the war, which is where I learned about the Bonus Marchers and their treatment by the government.  I found it incredible that these dispossessed, desperate men helped to bring down one President and damage his successor, yet they have disappeared from history.  Writing about a southern state in 1935, I could not ignore the issue of segregation at that time, which led me to study the treatment of African-American soldiers in particular.  Most of the veterans in the camps in the Keys were white.  I chose to focus on a black minority because of the links to the other characters that I wanted to portray.

I always have a favorite character in each story I read and there was just something about Henry that had me rooting for him from the beginning until the end. I loved how you developed him, particularly his experience from serving as a black soldier to his struggles to fit into a segregated community of unacceptance. Was there one character in particular that you had a fondness for and were there any in the story that you related to the most personally?

Henry is also my favorite. I admire him so much.  His experiences should have made him bad or crazy, but basic his goodness has survived.  I have a fondness for people who refuse to let life beat them down.  Henry is certainly damaged, but he’s not beaten, despite everything.  I relate most personally to Hilda – although I hasten to add that I was never a beauty queen!  I wrote her first scene when I had gained a lot of weight after cancer treatment and felt very bad about myself.  I couldn’t fit into my clothes. I poured all of that into Hilda’s character, which was quite therapeutic.

This book was published in the UK first under the title of Summertime. I am always curious about title switches when books come to the US. Why did you change the title?

Debut authors don’t have much say in these decisions!  The publishers know what will work in their market.  We get consulted, but ultimately it’s a decision for the professionals.  The book has a different title in each country where it is being published:  Norway, France, Italy, Germany, and Holland.  Norway is ‘Sommerstorm’, France is ‘In the Heat of Summer’, Italy is the equivalent of ‘Summertime’, and I’m looking forward to seeing the others soon!

I have a special fondness for debut novelist and this book does not read like a debut novel to me, but a seasoned veteran in the field of writing. How long did it take you to research and write this story? What has been the most surprising thing to you about the process from story to publishing?

It’s great to hear that you’re fond of us debutantes, because it’s a big old hill to climb, for sure. It took me 2 years to research and write – but I was working 2 jobs at the time as well!  I don’t have kids, which is what made it possible, I guess.  And I was very highly motivated to get the story out.  I really wanted it to be published during the centenary of WWI (2014-18)! The most surprising thing about the process has been working with bloggers like you.  Before I had this experience, I had no knowledge of book bloggers, or their importance to the whole publishing industry.  I worked for 30 years in academic publishing, which is very different, and has nothing to compare.  So I was astounded to learn of how many bloggers are out there, how much time and energy they devote, and just how much influence they have over readers.  It’s been a revelation.  You guys have transformed fiction publishing.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

It’s actually 3 books: The Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker.  Is that allowed?  These books were among the first, along with Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which opened my eyes to the history of WWI.  Before that, like most Americans, I was ignorant of this period, but it’s a huge deal here in England.  I finally understood what the veterans had sacrificed in that awful, stupid war.

Vanessa has graciously shared 3 signed copies of her book to give away on the site this morning (all the way from England)! Enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can connect with Vanessa Lafaye on GoodReadson Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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July 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, July 31st, 2015

July 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

I can’t believe that summer is already coming to a close in just a few short weeks for our family. Summer reading is my favorite kind of reading… you know, the kind done poolside? I have snuck in quite a few books this month and I’m excited to share a fresh stack with you. We have everything from teen angst to historical fiction to developing good habits in business to family dramas to comedy to a little smut. What are you in the mood for? I am pretty sure I have a great pick for you this month!

Let’s dig into my July pile, shall we?

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

I renewed my Scribd membership this month so I have been digging into some of the books that I have had in my library for awhile. One of those books was, My Notorious Life.  If you are a fan of Dickens or have enjoyed Fingersmith, I think you will really love this incredible story.

Inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City, Manning weaves a rags to riches story of Axie Muldoon. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

Axie goes from orphan to midwife to lady to prisoner,  and Manning creates a compelling story of what it would be to be like to work as a midwife under scrutiny of the law for your services in the mid to late 19th century. Controversial in her services and notorious in her community for offering birth control to those who needed it, it’s an incredible journey to follow and keeps you on the edge of your seat. A beautifully woven love story between two orphans (one being the infamous midwife, Axie) who met on the orphan train and find each other later in life adds to the beauty of this story as they create a business together as adults.

A couple of things to note with this one. It’s  a long one (464 pages), but was a really incredible read that was worth diving into! Secondly, if you have strong opinions on women’s reproductive rights this one will give you a lot of food for thought and would lend itself really well to a book club discussion. I had many opinions of my own about reproductive rights and this one really illustrates the necessity of birth control options during such an impoverished time in history. It was an eye-opening read and I highly recommend it!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I listened to the audiobook of this throughout the week through my Scribd membership and found it it to be absolutely fascinating, as did my husband.

The Power of Habit  was one of the most interesting books I have ever read on habits and routines. What could have been a very dry topic on our scientific responses and why we implement good/bad habits in our life, ended up being an absolutely fascinating piece. The book tackles everything from how DJ’s get us to listen to certain music, to how businesses use surveys to control our habits (again, both good and bad), and even how brands target consumers to make their products a part of our routines when they had never existed before.

The end of the book offers valuable advice on how to break bad habits by identifying your habit loop and how to get the good stuff back in your life. I wouldn’t say that this was a book of solutions (unless you count the last part), but more a share of research and science behind why we do the things we do and why so many of us can’t break our bad habits.

I really recommend this book for both professional and personal development and the audiobook version of it was fantastic!

5 Out of 5 Stars

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  (currently available for pre-order, hits stores on August 18th!)

I received an advanced reader of this one from Netgalley.

In this story we learn that for fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

It would be hard to follow up such an incredible book like The Language of Flowers and I think this was a valiant effort, although it might be missing some of that charm of the author’s first book. This book is beautiful in its own way though and it reminded me a lot of, The Same Sky as it tackles the issue of illegal immigration and two sweet kids neglected by their alcoholic mother, struggling with poverty and placement in society. I would recommend this one for fans of The Book of Unknown Americans.

I have asked Vanessa to join us in a future Sundays With Writers and I look forward to sharing more about her own very compelling story that shaped this incredible book next month!

4 Out of 5 Stars

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes

I received an advanced reader of this from Netgalley.

Hey, remember the smutty book I was talking about in the opening paragraph? Yup, this is it. Avert your eyes if you can’t handle it! This book is dark, disturbing, twisted, erotic, psychotic…just try to put it down. Fans of Chelsea Cain & Gillian Flynn will love this book.

This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark. This is an author to watch!

If you love it, you will be happy to know that it looks like the next book is in the works. This is one that would be fine as a stand-alone though, if you aren’t feeling committed to another series! Add this to your must-read steamy book pile!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

This is another book that I enjoyed through my Scribd membership this month and am SO happy that I finally read. It’s got the sweetness of Eleanor & Park going for it and made for an incredible slow build love story. Those are the BEST kind, in my opinion!

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

When two broken people find each other it is often a rocky road. This beautiful book takes you on an incredible journey as two sweet kids, bearing unfathomable burdens, find each other and discover that being broken doesn’t mean you can no longer experience joy or be loved. This book is perfect from start to finish and gets bonus points for the perfect last words spoken in a book!

Keep in mind, this is another long one (I can’t believe I tackled two big books in one month),coming in at 426 pages, but the pacing was just perfection!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This is another one I tackled on Scribd (that poor company is losing money on me this month- geesh!) and, yes, I know I am the last person in the world to read this one. I decided to go for it once I heard it was going to be made into a film and one of the casting decisions that was announced (yay!)

If I’m not the last person on earth to read this, I can’t recommend this one enough! This was the cutest quirkiest love story ever. Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

I fell in love with Don and found myself laughing out loud often at so many of the scenes in this one. I wish the ending had not felt so rushed and I did have a hard time figuring out The Father Project results (told from Don’s perspective), but I adored this book anyway! This was a great summer read!

Did you read the sequel to this one? I’m not seeing great reviews on it so I’m on the fence if I want to read it or not! Let me know!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Amy’s 2015 Bookshelf (join me on GoodReads):

2015 Best Books to Read List

Read With Me This Year:

July 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

June 2015 Must-Reads

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

 

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Sundays With Writers: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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My husband laughs about how much research I do to prepare for these Sundays With Writers interviews, but I love researching about the people behind the books just as much as I love the books themselves. Today’s guest, Erika Swyler, is an author that I have found completely fascinating as I have read more about her.  She wrote a beautiful book called The Book of Speculation and instead of going about the whole writing process the traditional way at a computer, she did it longhand. Instead of sending files to land an editor, she decided to try binding books herself to catch an editor’s eye.

It’s because of her unique methods that I wanted to feature her today in our interview series. I can’t wait for you to read this book and this interview with Erika!

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

I knew I was going to love The Book of Speculation because it had so many ingredients in it for success with me- librarians, old books, a bit of magic, and a glimpse at the old carnival life. The book has been compared to Water For Elephants and Night Circus, but definitely stands on its own and is an ambitious debut novel from this first-time author.

When Simon, a young librarian, receives the gift of a book that is a travel log for a carnival in the 1700’s, he discovers a drowning death of a circus mermaid that is coincidental to his own mother’s drowning death (a former circus mermaid herself) that happened even on the same day. If their family is cursed, his sister could be the next victim and he will do anything to save her. The chapters alternate between the travel log (complete with unique sketch drawings) and present day as Simon tries to stop the curse on his family. The author manages to bring these stories together in a beautiful way with a satisfying conclusion to these mysterious drownings.

You can read my full review of this book here as well as a few other great must-reads for the month of April!

Grab your cup of coffee and let’s settle in with Erika Swyler today and learn more about her debut novel! 

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I can admit, I am a bit of a nut about books and movies that have to do with the circus. I understand that you lived at the library for months researching the history of circuses in America to write The Book of Speculation. What is it about the circus life that fascinates you and what is the most surprising discovery you made while doing your research?

Circus life fascinates me because it’s so much about people finding and building family. Shows are living, breathing things with all these fascinating interpersonal dynamics. The life seems so rootless, yet these intense bonds form between people in shows. When you look at circuses and carnivals closely they make you question your ideas about what a home and family are.

the-wallendas

It was surprising to discover how far back some families can trace their history with the circus. The Wallendas were already established and touring in the 1780s. That’s insane. They’ve been practicing circus arts for essentially half of circus’s history. That’s a bigger footprint than P.T. Barnum.

Your book has a lot of unique elements in it, but one of them that really stood out to me was the use of illustration in your story. Did this add more pressure to you to create these and how do you think it makes your book more interactive for your reader?

Illustrating added pressure, but it also offered me far more control than most novelists have their first time out, and it kept me mercifully busy. When most people are sweating and waiting for edits, I was up to my ears in charcoal and graphite. That was a very good thing. I had total freedom as to what the illustrations were, and that let me build on aspect of a characters I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. My circus master, Peabody, sketches in his journal. Actually showing the reader the illustrations says so much about him, his journal, and the plot. Illustration lets readers look at the exact images the characters in the book are seeing. That’s smashing a wall. You’re looking at the drawings, you’re in the book.

erika-swyler-2

I think the most surprising thing I discovered about you while researching for this interview is that I read that when you prepared your manuscripts of this book to send out to various publishers that you hand bound and tea-stained each of the copies to give them the feel of an old book, similar to the one that Simon receives in the beginning of this novel. Do you think that the work you did to create a unique reader experience for them ultimately helped you land your book deal?

Binding the manuscript put the story on the outside. It’s rare to see a book look exactly like what’s in it. I had an inkling that whoever connected with the manuscript as art would connect with the story, because it is about old books, bibliophiles, and beautiful objects. I also suspected that I was selling myself based on my ability to work hard. Making books like that is a huge time investment. I wanted people to know that I was willing to break my back to make this book happen. Ultimately, that came across. Once the manuscripts were out, things moved quickly. And I found my dream editor.

I understand you are now an expert in Japanese Stab Binding. For those of us reading our pathetic e-books, what is this binding process and why did you chose it for your manuscripts?

I’m more a jack-of-all-trades than an expert, but I’ve gotten pretty good with this type of binding. Japanese Stab Binding is a method where you sew through an entire block of paper rather than stitching together folded signatures. Each stitch goes through both covers and the pages. The stitches are visible, and the thread can be used to make decorative patterns. It’s used a lot in photo albums, for binding loose pages, and for quick and dirty paperback repair.

Stab binding made sense for the manuscripts because it’s relatively cheap, fast when compared to other techniques, and it’s visually striking. Being able to sew loose pages meant I was able to work with standard copy paper and splurge on covers rather than losing money on typesetting and printing. It’s also a very human stitch. When you see a book with a stab binding, you get a sense of how it’s done and that you understand it. It’s a binding that feels like history.

I often feel like I was born in the wrong era and it seems that might be something you and I have in common! I read you do your first drafts in longhand and on your collection of vintage typewriters. Do you have a favorite typewriter in your collection and why do you love these retro methods of book writing so much?

I write a lot longhand and on typewriters because it keeps me from editing. Computers have given us this terrible habit of writing a word then deleting it over and over again. You don’t do that longhand. I also find that characters and scenes demand different voices. Writing by hand feels very different than using a typewriter, which is a universe away from writing a laptop. Some characters want the typewriter. Sometimes if I’m really flying I switch around between hand, typewriter, and computer.

I do hoard typewriters. The oldest I have is an Underwood Champion from the late ’30s, but my favorite is a 1958 Hermes 3000. It’s mint green and fabulous. The keys feel right, it has great control over margins and spacing, and I can really move on it. It’s a beautiful machine. My husband got it for me. He supports what I do in a very deep way. He can’t write the words, but he makes sure I have the tools to write them.

There have been comparisons to The Night Circus and Water for Elephants with this book. In what ways do you think your book is different from these and why do you think there is such a fascination with the circus life in literature?

So those comparisons are huge and humbling. But there are some major differences. First, the fantastic element. Water for Elephants has both feet in a lush reality. The Night Circus floats in the fantastic. The Book of Speculation dances in between. I love the idea of everyday lives being infused with elements of wonder. I’m essentially mythologizing the ordinary—that’s the oldest trick in storytelling, but one that’s often overlooked. Then there’s scope. The Night Circus and Water for Elephants both span a lifetime (albeit magically enhanced in some instances). I went big and set my scope as 250 years of a family’s history. It asks readers to look for overlaps and intertwining stories. Essentially, I got to write historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism, mystery, a family saga, and literary fiction all at once.

Circus demands that you gawk, while also maintaining an intense wall of privacy. It’s impossible to watch a circus performance without wondering about artists and what their lives are like. Acts are billed as “the best” or “the only.” It’s the nature of writers to need to know what “the best” is like without makeup and lights. Combine that with a secretive culture and you might as well just wave a red flag at us.

Circus (PBS series)

Do you have any books on the circus or documentaries that you could recommend for people who want to learn more about the circus life?

There’s a wealth of information out there. The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top by Janet M. Davis is pretty fantastic. For that specific carnival cadence, Howard Bone’s Side Show: My Life with Geeks, Freaks and Vagabonds in the Carny Trade is about as atmospheric as it gets while revealing surprisingly little. That perfectly captures the “insiders only” feel of carnivals and circus. PBS also made a six-episode series, Circus, which is incredible. As far as access to modern circus life, it’s unbeatable.

 If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we will add it to our list of recommended reads for our readers!)?

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I suggest people read it because it may freak them out. It’s also what fearless narration looks like. It’s bold and bizarre in all the right ways and full of incredible visual writing. It’s a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished. It’s the book I dream about writing.

 You can connect with Erika Swyler on GoodReads or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

Sundays With Writers: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this interview today! It’s not every day that a girl gets to feature the author of the #1 book on Amazon of 2014 so today is incredibly special. I have a feeling that many of you have read Everything I Never Told You and will enjoy hearing the story behind the story on this book.

We read this book in my local book club and I thought a lot about it after I closed it. It dealt with racial tensions that I had not been aware of and also spoke to me because so many of us have things we never tell the people we love and it makes you think about your own family and words that are unspoken.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is a beautiful debut novel and Ng’s descriptive language is such a treat to read. When a family’s daughter goes missing the lives of her family members begin unraveling through Ng’s beautiful storytelling. The reader is taken on a journey from the very beginning of the relationship of the parents and moving through each family member, including Lydia, their missing daughter. Everything I Never Told You is every character’s story that was never told- from the disappointment felt by parents to not fitting in due to their race to what roles they were expected to fill in the family (whether wanted or not).

This is a book that would lend itself well to a book club discussion since it tackles the big issues of parental roles/expectations as well as the heartache of youth and the challenges with fitting in. I think it is important to set expectations though with genres and I did not find this to read like a mystery or thriller, but more of a character-driven piece. This is a beautifully written family drama and for fans of this genre, you will really fall in love with Ng’s storytelling.

This book was featured in our Must-Read List for March!

It is such an honor to have Celeste Ng join me today. If you don’t know how to pronounce her name- check out her Twitter handle (AWESOME!). Now that you know the important stuff, let’s settle in with a cup of coffee and hear more from Celeste about her debut novel.

Celeste Ng

You open with the death of Lydia in the very opening sentences of the book and then build the story from there. Why did you decide to start with her tragic death and then work your way out in the story?

In earlier drafts, the book began quite differently: “At first, they don’t know where Lydia has gone.” And neither did the reader, until about thirty or forty pages in. What I realized, eventually, was that this pointed the reader in the wrong direction. It prompted the reader to focus on whether Lydia was alive or dead, rather than on what happened within the family to lead to her death.

So in the last draft of the novel, I changed the opening and put Lydia’s fate right up front. Once you know that Lydia is dead, that information colors everything you read afterwards.

Race plays a big part in this novel and, to be honest, I was embarrassingly unaware of racial discrimination among Asians in the 70’s, particularly in the disapproval of the relationship between the white mother (Marilyn) & the Asian father (James) in the Lee family. Was this something that you had heard about, researched, or have you experienced this discrimination firsthand?

Unfortunately, discrimination among Asians isn’t just limited to the 1970s. It still happens today, both overtly and in what we might now call microaggressions: small actions, often not intended as malicious, that remind people of their otherness. With one exception, every moment of racism or racial tension in the novel is something that I or someone I know personally has experiences firsthand. And these moments aren’t rare: every person of color I’ve spoken with has experienced something similar, no matter where they live.

Your book was selected as the #1 book of the ENTIRE YEAR on Amazon in 2014. First, what was it like to find out that your debut novel was selected as this and, secondly, do you feel added pressure to deliver something just as epic in your next book?

Here’s how I found out about the Amazon pick: I was sitting in my living room drinking tea and playing with my son when someone tweeted “Congratulations!” at me. I actually had to tweet back, “On what?!” So the whole experience has been surreal, and I’m very grateful to Amazon’s editorial team for championing the book.

I do feel some pressure to deliver another book that will live up to the response for this first one—how could I not? But honestly, the expectations have an upside as well. Writing is such an uncertain job; you work for years on a single project and hope that when it’s done, someone will read it. Having so many people read and respond to the book makes me more optimistic that people will want to read the next one, too.

The title of your book, Everything I Never Told You, is the anthem of every character in this book as they all have their own secrets and struggles that they can’t seem to share with others. Was there anything you have never shared with someone that you wished you would have and what message do you hope your readers will walk away with from reading this book?

My father passed away unexpectedly over a decade ago, and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye properly. (None of us did.) I think about that a lot, about what I’d have said if we’d have another chance to talk. And even now, I often think of things that I’d like to share with him—not important things necessarily, just jokes he’d have enjoyed or observations he’d have gotten a kick out of.  More than the Big Important Topics, those kind of small things are the glue that holds a relationship together. I guess I hope that readers will close the book thinking about how life is short—and precious—and will make a conscious choice to never take the time they have with loved ones for granted.

As a mom, I really struggled with Marilyn leaving her family behind in this book because she felt she did not get to pursue her own dreams. I will admit, I was actually pretty angry with her as this family hobbled along in her absence. I think being a mom does mean sometimes we have to put our dreams on hold in order to make our family lives work. Did you sympathize with Marilyn? Have you ever had to put anything on hold in your own life because of your family?

It’s totally okay to be angry with Marilyn! (She makes some questionable choices, as do all the other characters.) But you’re right, being a mom, you’re in a constant juggling act trying to balance the needs of your family and your own needs. This is true for any parent, of course, but in today’s world, it’s especially true for mothers.

As a working mom myself, I end up putting my family before my own wants a lot of the time—as do most parents, I think. Sometimes these are small things: maybe I’d rather have chicken one night but I cook spaghetti because that is what my kid will eat. Sometimes they’re larger: for example, I’d love to go on a writing retreat, like the ones at McDowell (where someone brings you your lunch every day while you work!) But that would be a huge strain on my family, so it’s off the table, at least for a while.

And in fact, I’d miss them too much if I were away for so long.  That’s the thing that makes it hardest: you’re not just choosing between something you want and something they want, you’re choosing between something you want and something they want that you want too. Your desires get all mixed up with your family’s and it becomes hard to even tell what you yourself want.  So yes, I have a lot of sympathy for Marilyn.

What can we expect from you in your next book?

The next book is still very much in draft form, so I won’t say too much about it yet—I’m still working out the details! But it takes place in my hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and focuses on a family living there and a mother-daughter pair (with some secrets in their past) who move in from out of town, and the ways those two families get entangled and stir up trouble for one another.

If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be? (read all the recommendations from authors HERE)

Just one? That’s a very hard choice to make. I’d go with The Bluest Eye, because Toni Morrison is one of my all-time favorite authors and that book says so much about race and culture and identity and love, and it’s beautifully written to boot.

You can connect with Celeste Ng on GoodReads, on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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June 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

June 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

 

June flew by, didn’t it? I had hoped to tackle a ton of books this month, but we have had so many fun projects going on for the site that I found myself barely able to stay awake for my evening reading routines.  These kids are just wearing me out this summer, I tell you! I have a huge list of books that I would like to work through this summer and I am also trying to read some advanced readers so I can get great new books on your radar before they come out!

Did you see this list I have been working on just for you? After each of our Sundays With Writers interviews, I finish the interview by asking our featured author to share one book that they think everyone should read (other than their own). After a year of responses, I thought it was time to start sharing those answers in one post with you. This list will be updated WEEKLY as we have new writers on for our interview series so be sure to bookmark it for your library visits!

This month I tackled two historical fiction, one incredible YA book, a thriller, and a romance! All of these books are beach bag worthy so let’s dig into my picks for June!

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

What a fantastic read this was! Macallister writes a beautiful story of a female illusionist, something that was rare and provocative during the turn of the century, in this historical fiction debut. The story shows the reader things are not always as they seem even when it comes to the illusions we create in our own lives.

When a man is killed during her jaw-dropping act of sawing a man in half, The Amazing Arden is arrested and accused of the murder. The thing is, Arden has a story to tell about who that man really is and this murder just might be an illusion too. The story unfolds as she makes her confession to the officer who has arrested her as she confesses to the real crimes that have been committed in her life. There are some great plot twists in this one that kept me flipping the pages until the end and I really enjoyed it- I can’t wait to read more from this author!

If I had one critique on this one, I felt that the ending was a bit rushed and the book could have really benefited from an epilogue. With that tiny tweak, it would have been a really perfect read for me. I am still giving it a high rating for most perfectly written evil character and for tackling the topic of a female illusionist!

I have invited Greer Macallister to join us in our Sundays With Writers series and I look forward to sharing more behind this fantastic story!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Weightless by Sarah Bannan

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley to preview this month and I have to say, I have been thinking a lot about this book since I finished it. This is an incredible YA book on bullying today and the ramifications of what can happen when a child is pushed too far.

When Carolyn Lessing moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the juniors at Adams High. Gorgeous, stylish, a great student and gifted athlete without a mean girl bone in her body Carolyn is gobbled up right away by the school’s cliques. She even begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn’s bitter romantic rival. When a make-out video of Carolyn and Shane makes the rounds, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut in an instant, with Brooke and her best friend responsible for the campaign.
Carolyn is hounded and focused on, and becomes more and more private. Questions about her family and her habits torture her. But a violent confrontation with Shane and Brooke in the student parking lot is the last attack Carolyn can take.

Bannan sheds light on how bullying happens now that kids have access to social media and creatively utilizes an undisclosed narrator who acts as an observer and participant in the bullying of a new girl at their school. Well-written and unflinching, it would be a great read for your older teen or for parents who want to see how bullying occurs today. I highly recommend this one!

I have invited Sarah Bannan to join us in our Sundays With Writers series to discuss cyberbullying and her inspiration for this incredible book.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

I have never read Barbara Delinsky before, but got the opportunity to assist with promotion for this book and so I toted this one back and forth in my beach bag. I didn’t realize how many of my readers do read her books though so I apologize that I haven’t read these books before to share them with you here!

On Caroline MacAfee’s 56th birthday, she is told that she is too old to continue hosting the home improvement show, “Gut It!” that she has been a part of for years. Her replacement doesn’t want to tell her about the switch. I mean, how do you break it to your own mother that her replacement is…well, her very own daughter? There is, of course, conflict knowing that the job that Caroline loves and knows so well is being taken from her and there is sadness as Jamie finds the relationship she has with her mom is slipping away from her in this new role. When a traumatic death happens in their family, not only do these two realize that they will have to work together to pick up the pieces of their loss, but their entire life has went into a different direction than either of them expect.

Since this book tells the story of Caroline, at the age of 56, and Jamie, in her thirties, it is a book that you could share with your own mother and will appeal to women of all ages. The story of friendship between this mother & daughter duo made for a beautiful read and would be a great beach read escape this summer. The story particularly shines as Jamie learns to find herself and finds love for the unexpected family she has been shouldered with. Caroline’s blossoming relationship between her and her longtime pal also builds into a beautiful love story in the golden years of life.

At the heart of it all, this story is all about how the blueprints of our life change over time. We all have plans, but let’s face it… they rarely work out the way we expect them to.

I would recommend this book for fans of Kristen Hannah and Diane Chamberlain, two of my favorite authors for a fun escape from the heavier books.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens (available for pre-order, hits stores on July 7th)

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley to preview this month.

Chevy Stevens delivers another fast page-turner that will leave you on the edge of your seat. It’s the type of thriller you devour quickly, flipping pages until the wee hours of the morning, and perfect for your summer beach bag.

The story centers around three sisters growing up in an abusive home who must escape with no food or money to avoid the foster care system. When their car breaks down on the side of the road, two boys pull over and offer to help fix their car in exchange for work at the family ranch. Despite the bad feelings, the girls go along with these two….and their lives will never be the same again. Switching from all different perspectives, this dark thriller is a well-woven game of cat and mouse from start to finish!

I spent two glorious nights with this book and even woke up in the middle of the night to sneak a few more pages in. Now I will have to wait impatiently for Chevy Stevens next twisty thriller!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye

Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley to preview this month.

If you have been waiting for the next The Help, friends, this is it. I really want to get this book on your radar because the story is so beautifully told and it is about something that happened in history that I was never aware of. A perfect balance of fact and fiction, you will get swept away in the storm that hits Heron Key in 1935.

It is hard to believe that this was a debut novel- it was so perfectly executed. I love when I am transported into time in a historical fiction novel and learn something I have never known before and that was the case in this one. This well-researched book perfectly combines fact and fiction into an incredible story about a hurricane that ripped through the Florida Keys. The racial tensions of the people combined with a camp of misplaced disturbed war veterans creates an incredible conflict within the town when all of their safety is at risk as a hurricane approaches. I just know you will fall in love with this perfectly woven story (and learn a lot about the 1930’s in the process!

5 Out of 5 Star

 

Amy’s 2015 Bookshelf (join me on GoodReads):

Books I Have Read in 2015

 

June 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

Read With Me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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What The World’s Top Authors Say You Should Be Reading (Updated WEEKLY!)

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

What You Should be Reading According to Today's Top Writers (Updated Weekly)

When I started the Sundays With Writers series, I had no idea how beautifully it would blossom and how happy it would make me.  I decided to have one question that I would always end with when interviewing our authors. It was this…

If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be?

Since I started asking that, I have discovered and read books that would have never found their way into my book pile. Of course, browsing through the entire series to find their answers can be a bit tedious so I am putting all of these responses into one post that I encourage you to bookmark, pin, and share with others as this will be updated weekly as we feature the gifted writers in our Sundays With Writers interview series.

If you wanted to read more about each of the authors that have shared their recommendations, a link is provided to our interview about their incredible books. There is a reason they have been featured and you will discover why when you open their books. It has been my honor to interview each of these incredible voices.  

What I have discovered is, if I really like a book that they recommend…chances are, that author is going to be a GREAT one to read since there is usually a reason why they are in love with a writer’s words.

Without further adieu, here are the books that the world’s top authors say you should be reading!

Please note, this file will now be updated after each Sundays With Writers. The list will start moving down from now on so the latest book will now be at the top. Keep this bookmarked for your library list!

Please also note, these are affiliate links.  A small portion of your sales goes to support the work we do at MomAdvice.com. Please follow me on GoodReads for more great book recommendations!  xo

Trampoline by Robert Gipe

Phenomenal by Leigh Ann Henion

Render: An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell

 

 

Read It: Trampoline by Robert Gipe, Phenomenal by Leigh Ann Henion, & Render: An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell

Recommended by: David Joy

I’m going to stay true to my neck of the woods and give you three recommendations—a novel, a memoir, and a book of poetry—from Appalachia because I think a lot of what comes out of this region is tragically overlooked. As far as a novel, everyone needs to read Robert Gipe’s Trampoline. It’s bar none the best debut released this year and it’s arguably the best debut we’ve seen from this region in decades. With memoir, I was really impressed with Leigh Ann Henion’s book, Phenomenal. I think her storytelling is brave and her insight into our relationship with the natural world is matured and beautiful. Last but certainly not least, everyone needs to be reading Rebecca Gayle Howell, especially the poems in Render: An Apocalypse, which are just gritty and raw and lovely. She’s writing scripture. So there’re three for you to get your hands on!

 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Read It: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Recommended by: Vanessa Diffenbaugh

It is an incredibly intense book about racial inequality in our criminal justice system, but it is beautifully written and powerful, with just enough hopefulness to help you sit with the discomfort of the truth and think hard about how you can help contribute to a solution.  I recommend it to everyone I know.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Read It: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Recommended by: Jennifer Niven

The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

Read It: The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

Recommended by: Vanessa Lafaye

It’s actually 3 books: The Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker.  Is that allowed?  These books were among the first, along with Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which opened my eyes to the history of WWI.  Before that, like most Americans, I was ignorant of this period, but it’s a huge deal here in England. I finally understood what the veterans had sacrificed in that awful, stupid war.

Geek Love By Katherine Dunn

Read It: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Recommended By: Erika Swyler

I suggest people read it because it may freak them out. It’s also what fearless narration looks like. It’s bold and bizarre in all the right ways and full of incredible visual writing. It’s a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished. It’s the book I dream about writing.

The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett

Read It: The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett

Recommended By: Greer Macallister

My favorite book is almost always the book I’ve read most recently, since it’s fresh in my mind. In this case, that’s The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett. It’s about an Arctic expedition in the 1850s, during a time where men died regularly exploring that area. The story weaves together what happens on a particular ship with the lives of those waiting back at home for the ship to return. Barrett writes so beautifully and precisely about both the emotional and physical dimensions of her characters’ lives. It’s gorgeous and brutal. I loved it.

One by Sarah Crossan

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

Read It: One by Sarah Crossan, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, & Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Recommended by: Sarah Bannan

I think that’s almost impossible for me as I read constantly, and I am forever discovering my newest favorite novel…So, I’m going to choose my novel of the moment, which is Sarah Crossan’s ONE, which will be published by Bloomsbury in August. It’s a verse novel for young adults, and it’s a beautiful story about conjoined twins.It’s completely consuming and unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

(I should also say that I reread, every summer, Meg Wolitzer’s THE INTERESTINGS and Curtis Sittenfeld’s PREP. Two completely amazing feats of literary fiction and coming of age…I know this is cheating but it’s hard for me!)

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Read It: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Recommended By: Celeste Ng

I’d go with The Bluest Eye, because Toni Morrison is one of my all-time favorite authors and that book says so much about race and culture and identity and love, and it’s beautifully written to boot.

 

Room by Emma Donoghue

Read It: Room by Emma Donoghue

Recommended By: Chris Bohjalian

What makes this novel so remarkable is not merely how authentically Donoghue captures the voice of a five-year-old boy, but the deft way she slowly conveys the horrific reality of a mother and son’s captivity. If you want a poignant, powerful novel about a mother’s desperate love for her child, it doesn’t get better than this.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 

Read It: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Recommended by: Rene Denfeld & Kristin Harmel

Rene says- Oh, that is a tough one, because there are so many wonderful books. I just read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It was stunning.

Kristin says-  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I realize that’s sort of a lame response, because the book is so popular right now, but it’s truly one of the most beautifully crafted and beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I recommend it all the time!

americanah-book-cover

Read It: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended by: Maggie Shipstead

I just finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I loved. That’s the book I’m talking up to everyone right now.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Read It: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Recommended by: Suzanne Redfearn

black-and-blue

Read It: Black And Blue by Anna Quindlen

Recommended by: Jillian Cantor

That’s a tough question! I don’t know that I can pick just one book. But my favorite author is Anna Quindlen. I read Black and Blue years ago and it has always stayed with me. Every time she has a new book out, I buy it right away!

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Read It: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Recommended by: Torre DeRoche

I don’t think I can prescribe a cure-all because books are so personal to each individual, but I’ll share with you the most important book I ever read—a book that burst open my imagination and taught me that it’s possible to create an incredible alternate reality on the page.

When I was thirteen, my older sister told me I had to read this book, giving me only the title and a pinch of her fingers to demonstrate its approximate spine width. I went to my school library to look for the book and, having no idea where to start my search, I said to a friend, “I’m looking for a book that’s about this thick.” I extended my finger to poke the spine of a random book. It was Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel: the very book my sister told me I must read. It was a bizarre, serendipitous first encounter. That book rocked my world.

Long Man by Amy Greene

Read It: Long Man by Amy Greene

Recommended by Patry Francis

It’s hard to choose only one, but Amy Greene’s,  Long Man has everything I look for in a novel: a compelling protagonist named Annie Clyde who faces impossible odds with great courage and resilience, an engrossing plot, and a setting so vivid, you really feel as if you are there.

The Stand by Stephen King

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Read It: The Stand by Stephen King, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, & Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Recommended by: Susan Crandall

When I’m asked this question, I always reach way back, looking for a book that has stuck with me so vividly that I can remember the details of the characters very clearly even after a long time. I try to pick something that isn’t a classic, those already stand out and find audiences. I’m a character writer. Suspenseful plots are enjoyable, but it’s the beauty of the character and his/her journey that touches me. So after all that rambling, I always come back to two books, very different genres: Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry and The Stand, by Stephen King. I’m also a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s, Outlander (the first book in the series is my favorite).

father-of-the-rain

Read It: Father of the Rain by Lily King

Recommended by: Michelle Gable

I recommend Father of the Rain by Lily King to everyone. It is the perfect book.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Read It: My Antonia

Recommended by: Heather Gudenkauf

My favorite book of all time is My Antonia by Willa Cather. My parents always had hundreds of books on shelves and in neat stacks around the house and for a long time I passed right over the thick novel with the illustration of a woman standing in a field of tall yellow grass and holding freshly picked wildflowers. I finally pulled it from the shelf when I was eighteen and immediately fell in love with Cather’s beautiful description of turn-of-the-century Nebraska and the lifelong friendship between a farm boy and a young Czech immigrant. I reread My Antonia every single year, each time with new eyes, always finding something new within the pages. Whenever I visit a bookstore I’m always on the search for a different edition of My Antonia to add to my collection.

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Read It: The Shadow of the Torturer

Recommended by: M.R. Carey

So many possible answers to that!  You could ask me a couple of dozen times and get a different answer each time.  Today I’m going to say The Shadow Of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe.  It’s the first volume in a tetralogy, so if you read it and liked it you’d have to read the other three.  But they’re so worth it. It’s a story of a far future Earth where the sun is dying.  Humanity has spread to the stars but that was long ago.  Now there are other galactic empires, other non-human civilisations that call the shots.  What’s left of humankind is back on an old, old planet that hasn’t got much time left to it.  But there’s a Messianic religion that preaches that the New Sun, sometimes known as the Conciliator, will be born on Earth as a man and rekindle all our hopes.  Reborn, rather, since he’s been here once before.  And Severian of the Torturers’ Guild believes this to be true since he’s found a holy relic, the Claw of the Conciliator, that heals all wounds.

It’s a very hard book to describe, and there’s no denying that it goes to some very dark places.  But Wolfe’s imagination is vast.  He creates a world and peoples it.  And he has a very serious purpose which takes in faith, physics and the importance of storytelling.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Read It: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien & Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Recommended by: Mary Kubica

My favorite book of all time is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This is one that I tell everyone to read. It’s a Vietnam War memoir, but is much more than that. You don’t need to be a history guru to fall in love with this book. When it comes to my own genre though, psychological suspense, Before I Go To Sleep is one I often recommend. I just loved this S.J. Watson novel.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

The Bees by Laline Paull

 

Read It: Room by Emma Donaghue, Every Last One by Anna Quindlen, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and The Bees by Laline Paull

Recommended by: Carla Buckley

Emma Donaghue’s Room, Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Just a few days ago, I finished Laline Paull’s fabulous debut, The Bees; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Awareness by Anthony DeMello

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Read It: Awareness by Anthony de Mello & The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Recommended by: Rebecca Rotert

IMPOSSIBLE. I NEED TWO AT LEAST, AMY! However, a book I have to read over and over is Anthony de Mello’s Awareness.  It’s not fiction.  It might even be called self-help (choke).  It reminds me of the troublesome human pitfalls that can really muck up our short  little jaunt on earth.  I also return to Duras’ The Lover over and over because it reminds me of longing and waking up to life. These are a few of my favorite things, as the song says.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Read It: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Recommended by: Caroline Leavitt

The Great Gatsby. I hated it in high school, but then years later, I had to teach it in a high school, and I began to realize what a perfectly structured novel it is, how moving, how sad, and how beautiful a book it really is.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Read It: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Recommended by: Anthony Doerr

Oh, gosh, my answer to this question changes all the time, but a novel I’m absolutely in love with right now is Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It’s about family, siblinghood, memory, storytelling, and particularly about our society’s treatment of animals. It’s also structured in this beautiful, organic, perfect way—I hope a few of your readers will give it a look!

I, Robot by Iasaac Asimov

Read It: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Recommended by: Andy Weir

I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest sci-fi books of all time.

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

Read It: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

Recommended by: Kathryn Craft

Ah, the dreaded one book question, asked of a multiple-book lover! Since I know nothing about the reader, including why he or she reads—and given my answers to the question about critical subjectivity—I’ll assume your real question is “What book could someone read that would reveal the most about you?” You said “book,” not “novel,” for which I am grateful, since novels are such delicious slices of life it would be like asking if you could only taste one food what would it be. So I am going to go the nonfiction route and say The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. A brilliant life guide that I’ve read many times, my sensibilities are all over its pages.

Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Read It: Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Recommended by: Karen Joy Fowler

I’m not sure I can answer this question.  It would depend on the anyone – I don’t think books are a one-size-fits-all sort of thing.   But a current enthusiasm is Kelly Link’s new short story collection, Get In Trouble.  I will be so happy if you all buy and read it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Read It: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Recommended by: William Kent Krueger

My all-time favorite novel is To Kill A Mockingbird. Anyone who hasn’t yet read this American classic absolutely must.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Read It: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Recommended by: Cristina Henríquez

That’s so hard. But this one has been very much on my mind lately so I’m going to say Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Read It: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, & The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Recommended by:  Frances Whiting

Oh My! What a hard question! I love books so much, choosing just one is almost impossible. But I’ll bite the bullet and say…no I just can’t do it! So instead I’ll say The Shadow of the Wind, The Great Gatsby, anything by P.J. Wodehouse, The Last Anniversary, anything by Mary Wesley, Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons and Clive James.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Read It: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Recommended by: M.O. Walsh

This answer would likely be different on any day you asked me. There are so many great books out there!  Right now, however, I will say Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I’ve found myself missing that book lately, sort of yearning to go back and re-read it for maybe the 12th time.  Who knows why?  This is the great mystery of beautiful fiction; it speaks to us in fundamental ways that we ourselves don’t always understand. It’s a glorious thing.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Read It: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Recommended by: Mary Louise Kelly

I would tell my brother to read Birdsong, the 1993 novel by Sebastian Faulks. It’s about a British soldier in France during World War I, and it is the most gorgeous epic of love and war and regrets. I’ve been telling my brother to read it for twenty years now, and he keeps refusing, at this point out of sheer orneriness. C.J., consider yourself publicly challenged.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Read It: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Recommended by Annabel Smith

My all-time favourite novel is Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, the incredible story of a prolonged embassy siege and the relationships which form between the hostages and their captors. Patchett has the most incredible insight into human behaviour and her prose is simply gorgeous. I have read this book at least half a dozen times and I get something new from it every time.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Read It: Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Recommended By: Amanda Eyre Ward

My favorite book last year was Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson. It’s dark, riveting, gorgeous, important.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Read It: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez & To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Recommended by: Jandy Nelson

Two books: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. My all time favorite novels.

Light Years by James Salter

 

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Read It: Light Years by James Salter & Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Recommended by: Molly Ringwald

Light Years by James Salter. It’s just one of those books that I keep picking up again and again. There is not a lot of fiction that I read while writing because I don’t want to be overly influenced. His writing is somebody, of course I write differently, but I just feel like he is a master. I also love, and we were recently talking about Desperate Characters by Paula Fox is a really wonderful book and Jonathan Franzen wrote the forward on it!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara Read It: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Recommended by: Jessica Knoll

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I’ve been tweeting about this book a ton, and I am probably starting to scare the author a little. But it’s a stunning book—gorgeous prose, and an epic and powerful tale about friendship.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Read It: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Recommended by Tamara Ireland Stone

That’s easy. Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You the Sun.”

If you like Every Last Word’s message about the healing power of writing, you’ll love the way this novel celebrates the healing power of art. It’s so brilliantly crafted, told in alternating viewpoints by brother and sister twins—his story tells the past while hers tells the present. I’m simply in awe of Nelson’s ability to weave together different timelines and points of view into a beautifully written, emotionally gripping story.

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Sundays With Writers: The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

A warm welcome to my new readers and fans of our Sundays With Writers feature! I was so honored to share on Hollywood Housewife this week my book recommendations for your summer beach bag. Laura’s blog is a personal favorite of mine and I love her book reviews so much that it was such a treat to be featured over there. She will be joining us this month sharing some easy summer beauty routines so stay tuned for that piece from her- it’s a good one!

One of the books I featured in this post was The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel. I reached out to Kristin to see if she would let me interview her for our Sundays With Writers and by the end of the exchange she was sending me recipes to replicate some of her favorite dishes she tried in Italy. She really is as warm and engaging as this beautiful book. This is my first book that I have read by her, but it won’t be the last.  In fact, The Sweetness of Forgetting is now on my summer reading list!

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

I am a big fan of books that explore the what-if’s in life and this one does it beautifully. When Kate loses her husband in a tragic accident she finally feels like she can move forward in a new relationship twelve years later. When her husband begins to visit her in her dreams though, she begins to fall into an alternate universe where the lines between reality and imagination are blurred.

One of my  favorite movies is Sliding Doors and this book reminded me so much of that movie. Harmel truly explores what does it take to move forward in life without forgetting your past.

In this story, Kate blames her lack of sleep on stress. But when she starts seeing Patrick, her late husband, in her dreams, she begins to wonder if she’s really ready to move on. Is Patrick trying to tell her something? Attempting to navigate between dreams and reality, Kate must uncover her husband’s hidden message. Her quest leads her to a sign language class and into the New York City foster system, where she finds rewards greater than she could have imagined.

This is the best piece of chick lit I have read this year and I would highly recommend for anyone who needs a little reading escape! I have been telling everyone to escape with this one and I keep hearing how much they loved it too. It’s one I would be packing in my beach bag this summer, for sure!

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars in our reviews for the month of April!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Kristin to talk about her beautiful book today! 

Kristin Harmel

I am such a fan of magic realism in stories and this beautiful book, with parallel worlds running, was amazing! How did you come up with this idea for a story?

Thanks so much for the kind words! And in answer to your question, would you believe I dreamed the whole story, almost completely intact? It sounds nutty, especially since dreams play a role in The Life Intended, but this has never happened to me before, and this is my ninth book! I was searching for a story idea around the time I was out promoting my previous novel, The Sweetness of Forgetting, and I woke up one morning with the idea for The Life Intended in my head. I jumped out of bed, grabbed a pen and a stack of paper, and began scribbling as quickly as I could before the story vanished. Of course I had to work out many of the intricacies later – research, character development, pacing, etc. – but the framework for the story was there from day one. I kind of think of this, therefore, as “the book intended!” Oh, it’s also important to note that I’m not usually a very vivid dreamer, so it was all the more unusual that I woke up with a whole book in my head!

Kate’s job is working as a musical therapist and she uses this to help kids in the foster care system to work through the emotional struggles they are dealing with. Did you know anything about musical therapy before working on this book?

No, I didn’t know much. I had to research music therapy from scratch, and I was also fortunate enough to receive the assistance of a lovely musical therapist in New York who helped answer many questions for me.  I put a ton of time into researching this book; I didn’t know much about sign language, hearing loss or the foster system in New York either, and those were all things that came into play, so I had to do a lot of work to get the details just right.

In the story Patrick and his family have a fun family tradition with silver dollars that they “pay forward” to others. Do you have any traditions like these in your own home?

Nope! But how crazy is this? It turns out that my father-in-law has a silver-dollar necklace, exactly like the one I describe Kate wearing, that his own father gave him. His family actually had a similar silver dollar tradition, and I never knew about it. What are the odds?

Kate ends up taking a sign language class to help her learn to communicate with her daughter, that helps her life take a much different path than she expected. What type of research did you do on the deaf and sign language to help you prepare for these scenes in your book?

I have a few friends with hard of hearing children, so I did a lot of talking with them – and a bit of talking with the kids. I also interviewed a few experts in hearing loss, did a ton of reading – especially on cochlear implants and how music therapy works for deaf or hard of hearing patients – and consulted a sign language interpreter to help me get the sign language scenes correct.

Did you learn anything that surprised you through your research on communicating with the deaf?

When I set out to write this book, I had no idea that music therapy was used with deaf kids. I was thrilled to discover this, actually. I love the idea that we’re capable of hearing music with more than just our ears. With kids who can’t hear at all, for example, vibrations play a role in music therapy. In general, I really like the idea of using unexpected techniques to create additional bridges between us, in every walk of life. Another thing I learned about deafness, which I hadn’t realized before, is that there’s a difference between “deaf” with a lowercase “d” and “Deaf” with an uppercase “D.” The former is simply the medical state of hearing loss; the second refers to the community of people who have a shared culture based on this hearing loss. I never understood that distinction before, nor did I understand that within the Deaf community, cochlear implantation is still a source of debate. That was fascinating to discover, and I include some of that in The Life Intended.

In one scene Kate says, “I’m a firm believer that music is a huge gift in life… it has the power to connect people to each other in a way that words just can’t.” What is one piece of music that you have felt really connected to?

Music has always meant a lot to me; not only can a piece of music touch you in the moment, but I also think that music can connect you to certain periods or memories in your life. For example, whenever I hear one of the New Kids on the Block songs I loved in the late ‘80s, I’m always ten years old again, and my long-dormant crush on Donnie Wahlberg reappears for an instant. (Don’t laugh at me! He turned out rather nicely, thank you!) Or when I hear Third-Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” I’m immediately transported back to my freshman year of college, because that was a song I really liked then. The theme music from the movie Superman always reminds me of my childhood and makes my heart swell, and the theme music from Somewhere in Time, another Christopher Reeve movie, makes me believe in true love all over again. I think it’s astonishing that music can evoke so many feelings, memories and emotions. It’s like a totally different language!

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I realize that’s sort of a lame response, because the book is so popular right now, but it’s truly one of the most beautifully crafted and beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I recommend it all the time! (Editor’s Note: Check out our Sundays With Writers with Anthony Doerr HERE!)

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Amy! It was lovely having a virtual coffee with you!

You can connect with Kristin Harmel on GoodReads, on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky (Plus GIVEAWAY!)

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

*This post is sponsored by St. Martin’s Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I am honored to get to share about Barbara Delinsky’s latest novel, Blueprints. With 21 books under her belt (published in 28 languages!), Barbara Delinsky is a household name in literature and today I have the opportunity to share and giveaway her beautiful new book that is on store shelves now.

Pinch me, please. How can this be my job?

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

If you haven’t heard of Blueprints, here is a little synopsis (without the spoilers!) to share a bit more about what you can expect from this book. On Caroline MacAfee’s 56th birthday, she is told that she is too old to continue hosting the home improvement show, “Gut It!” that she has been a part of for years. Her replacement doesn’t want to tell her about the switch. I mean, how do you break it to your own mother that her replacement is…well, her very own daughter?  There is, of course, conflict knowing that the job that Caroline loves and knows so well is being taken from her and there is sadness as Jamie finds the relationship she has with her mom is slipping away from her in this new role. When a traumatic death happens in their family, not only do these two realize that they will have to work together to pick up the pieces of their loss, but their entire life has went into a different direction than either of them expect.

Since this book tells the story of Caroline, at the age of 56, and Jamie, in her thirties, it is a book that you could share with your own mother and will appeal to women of all ages. The story of friendship between this mother & daughter duo made for a beautiful read and would be a great beach read escape this summer. The story particularly shines as Jamie learns to find herself and finds love for the unexpected family she has been shouldered with. Caroline’s blossoming relationship between her and her longtime pal also builds into a beautiful love story in the golden years of life.  I would recommend this book for fans of Kristen Hannah and Diane Chamberlain, two of my favorite authors for a fun escape from the heavier books.

At the heart of it all, this story is all about how the blueprints of our life change over time. We all have plans, but let’s face it… they rarely work out the way we expect them to.

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

I don’t know about you, but the blueprints for my own life are so very different than the ones that I started with.  To be honest, I didn’t start with very good blueprints from the beginning and, perhaps,  more comic book illustrations of a magical land for how life would work out.   I was one of those people that just figured things out as they came to me and lived in the clouds the earlier part of my years. I had no real goals or plans after college, I married quick, and I settled into life early in our marriage back in our hometown after an unexpected job loss.

We started with our “starter home,” a house that made me weep around every corner at all we would have to do to make it livable. This was not the dream home. We figured we would improve upon it and then get the heck out of here with a fat check for all of our hard work.

Unfortunately, in Indiana that’s a rarity.

Who knew?

As we started to put the elbow grease into our space though, we found that maybe JUST MAYBE, this home had some potential.

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

Once we got started on the updates, we found it hard to stop. We knocked down walls, we created a patio we could love, we spray painted, we stained, we renovated bathrooms, we added mantels, we made a bonus room out a shed…the list just goes on and on. Twelve years later, I have become so proud of our little home and we appreciate the size of it (less to maintain) and the beauty in adding our own signature touches everywhere we go. It’s in the big things like gutted spaces, but in the smaller things like knitted centerpieces.

The first thing people say is, “This house is so YOU.”

And I grin like an idiot because I am so proud.

How’s that for a blueprints switch?

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

Instead of buying a bigger house, we decided to do something different with our money… we have decided to see the world instead! We are six years away from paying off our home and we can’t wait to say that this home is REALLY our home. With the money we save on our mortgage, we can show our kids the world.

To me, these blueprints are so much better than our original plans. To see the world with the people you love FAR outweighs the care & maintenance (not to mention that mortgage payment) for a big, shiny new home. 

That doesn’t mean we are done with the projects though. We continue to discover that there is potential around every turn.  I am so thankful that God granted us this blueprint for our life.

Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky

To learn more about Blueprints! 

Learn more at BarbaraDelinsky.com
Follow Barbara on Twitter and Facebook
Use the hashtag #Blueprints to share about this book.
Read an excerpt HERE!

Today I am giving away TWO COPIES of Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky. Follow the instructions below in our Rafflecopter widget to enter to win!  Please note that you must be a US Resident to win! Good luck, everyone! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*This post is sponsored by St. Martin’s Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Sundays With Writers: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

I love to interview writers about their books and I have found this year that many writers go above and beyond when it comes to being gracious and generous about their work. This is the case with today’s author, Tamara Ireland Stone. You will see the compassion that she has through this interview for her friends and family and her warmth and gratefulness that she has given me for sharing about her book is just as genuine. When you find authors like that, it makes you want to promote them even more so we not only included Every Last Word in our must-reads for the month, but we also want to share more about Tamara’s story here and the beautiful story of C. who inspired this book featured today.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Mental illness books in the YA category seem to be a growing trend and I think it is a good thing. All the Bright Places, read and shared with you last month,  tackled the issue of bipolar disorder and Every Last Word sheds light on the difficulties of being a teen with OCD. Stone illustrates our common misconceptions of OCD (the main character doesn’t even have a tidy room!) and tackles the harder stuff like what it would be like to be obsessive with something like the number 3 and not being able to drive your friends because your odometer must always have that number on it.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

The camaraderie of friendship and group therapy through writing reminded me of the beautiful friendships in The Fault In Our Stars

The story is well-written and age-appropriate for teens (there is one sex scene), but I think it would be a great one to read and then talk about with your teens about the struggles of fitting in, how everyone struggles with something, and how important it is to be your own person. Samantha is a character that really blossoms on the page. YA fans who are moms will enjoy this one too as the book brings a satisfying twist at the end.

Today I invite you to grab your cup of coffee and settle in with Tamara Ireland Stone as she shares her inspiration for this story and the parallels of her own life she has faced that helped her be empathetic to the struggles of the amazing character she has created in Sam! 

Tamara Ireland Stone

Sam, the main character in your story, is a teen secretly struggling with OCD. Why did you decide to talk about this illness and what do you hope your YA readers will gain from sharing this story?

I first became interested in telling a story about a teen with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) when a close family friend was diagnosed four years ago, at age twelve.

We’re keeping her identity under wraps, so I call her C.

It was heartbreaking to hear how the disorder affected her. She couldn’t sleep. She felt powerless to a stream of negative, often terrifying thoughts. And her group of friends unknowingly made things harder. I couldn’t imagine dealing with something so intense, especially at such a young age.

In the years that followed her initial diagnosis, I’ve been so inspired by the way C and her family tackled this disorder—together. They worked in lock step with her psychiatrist, who prescribed medication to help her sleep at night and quiet her mind during the day. They interviewed therapists until they landed on one their daughter felt she could trust and confide in. And they helped her channel her energy into activities that made her feel good about herself.

They’re the reason I wanted to write this story. They set such a positive example, and it was one I felt inspired to share.

When I asked if I could write Every Last Word and draw upon some of their experiences, they agreed wholeheartedly. C hoped this story would help teens who are struggling with mental illness know they’re not alone, and not “broken.” And she hoped that this story would help people who don’t have to deal with mental health conditions see those who do through a kinder, more sympathetic lens.

This story is for her, and for all the special, powerful, brilliant, not-at-all-broken minds like hers.

There seems to be a growing trend to talk about mental illness right now in YA fiction. Why do you think it has become an important theme in this genre of literature?

It’s interesting to me that all of these stories are coming out this year. As authors, we obviously didn’t intend to start or be part of a “trend.” We all just happened to start writing books we thought needed to be written.

Many people in my life are dealing with various mental health conditions, either personally or with their children. We talk about it. And as parents, we’ve opened the conversation with our kids in an effort to make it a safe, judgment-free topic. I think that’s an important real-life trend.

My son was having some anxiety issues when I first started writing Every Last Word. He was barely 11-years-old at the time. I bought an illustrated book about anxiety, and we sat down and read it together. When we got to the symptoms—racing heart, shortness of breath, stomachaches—he broke into tears. He finally said, “It’s anxiety? I thought I had cancer!”

The fear he’d built up in his mind was so much worse than the reality.

Anxiety. There. It had a name. Rather than feeling the emotion accelerate and letting fear turn it into something completely different, he had a word. He could say, “I’m feeling anxious,” and we’d know what to do.

Words have such power.

As parents, we actively talk with our kids about exercise and eating well. We take them in for checkups and closely monitor their physical health and development. Why do we tend to treat mental health so differently?

I’m thrilled to see so many novels tackling mental illness in teens. Together, I hope we’re helping to change to narrative, using fiction to spread the message that it’s okay to talk openly about what’s going on in your brain, it’s okay if your mind works differently, and it’s okay if you need help.

Teens are under more pressure to be “perfect” than ever before. Let’s tell them they’re perfect exactly the way they are.

Sam really struggles to fit in with her peers and particularly struggles with a group of fake friends that don’t honor the real rules of friendship. Did you relate to Sam’s struggle to fit in from when you were in high school?

I was lucky to have great friends in middle school and high school, but my family moved a lot, so I was constantly making new ones. I was the new kid. And I was awkward. My friends never made me feel like the odd girl out, but I always felt like I was.

And yes, I’ve had those “mean girl” friends at a few points in my life, too. I definitely channeled a lot of my own challenges with female friendships into this story.

I won’t give it away, but you decide to create a really great twist at the end of the book that I, honestly, did not see coming. Did you always know you were going to twist the plot this way or did it come to you as you were writing it?

I did. That was always a huge part of the story, from the original outline. It was the trickiest aspect of the novel to write, but without question, my favorite.

In one line you state, “Everyone’s got something. Some people are just better actors than others.”  What is one thing you have acted your way out of in your own life that people might be surprised to know?

In my mid-20s, I landed my dream job with a fast-growing public relations firm. I climbed the ladder quickly, and before long I was managing some of our largest accounts. I loved my job, even though it was often stressful and overwhelming.

But there was one job requirement I couldn’t stand: Presenting. I hated speaking in front of people, with all eyes on me, and I did everything I could to avoid it.

I finally confided in one of the partners.

He reminded me that I was the expert. That I knew the client and the material better than anyone else. And then he smiled and said, “You know what they say, ‘Fake it till you make it.’”

I needed that. I made that my mantra.

Over the years, I’ve had this conversation with many business professionals, and more recently, with my author friends. Some of the most polished presenters have admitted that they feel terrified before they step up on that stage. That it takes a big dose of courage and a lot of “faking it” to make it through.

The poem in Every Last Word called “As If” was inspired by this idea. Sometimes we need to act our way out of fear.

Oddly, now I’ve gone and put myself in a career where I present on bigger stages, to more people than I’ve ever addressed before, where the stakes are even higher. And yes, it’s still scary. I always feel like I’m faking confidence when I fist step on stage and begin talking. But at some point, I begin to relax. I connect with the crowd and start to have fun, and pretty soon, I’m no longer faking it.

I’m still wondering when I’ll actually feel like I’ve made it.

If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be?

That’s easy. Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You the Sun.” (EDITOR’S NOTE- We LOVE Jandy! Check out our interview with the author HERE and our review of her beautiful book!)

If you like Every Last Word’s message about the healing power of writing, you’ll love the way this novel celebrates the healing power of art. It’s so brilliantly crafted, told in alternating viewpoints by brother and sister twins—his story tells the past while hers tells the present. I’m simply in awe of Nelson’s ability to weave together different timelines and points of view into a beautifully written, emotionally gripping story.

Please check this book out if you haven’t already done so. It’s a truly wonderful read.

You can connect with Tamara Ireland Stone on GoodReads, on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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