Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

I was so excited to get a chance to preview the new Jodi Picoult book, LEAVING TIME, that will be hitting store shelves on October 14th! Through a partnership with Walmart Moms, I was given the chance to take a peek and share my honest opinions of this new book with you.

Over the years I have been a huge Picoult fan and I have read almost every book she has written. My love affair with her began with MY SISTER’S KEEPER and I was thrilled when she came to visit our town and our book club got a chance to meet her in person. She was as charming and genuine as I could have hoped so I continued to read her books despite the similar themes with courtroom battles and a surprising twist. Even though I wasn’t as enraptured as I once was, I decided to pick up THE STORYTELLER last year which ended up making my top ten list for one of the best books she has ever written. If I was going to make any recommendation at all, I would pick that one up and devour it immediately. It is, in my opinion, Picoult’s finest work. It is because of this book that I was so excited to see what she would tackle next.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

In LEAVING TIME Picoult embraces a mystery theme that brings an unlikely cast of characters together to piece together the disappearance of Alice Metcalf. Jenna Metcalf’s mother’s death is now a cold case and one that consumes Jenna’s every thought. Alice Metcalf mysteriously disappeared during a tragic accident at the elephant conservatory where she works as a scientist studying the grief among elephants, working alongside her husband. Jenna believes that there is a bigger story to her disappearance and hires Serenity Jones, a disgraced psychic, and Virgil Stanhope, an alcoholic private detective, to help her find out once and for all if Alice is alive or dead. The true question though, is what if Alice has been alive all along and never wanted a relationship with Jenna?

In predictable Picoult fashion, this story alternates between the different characters, and it also weaves in the scientific journals and observations of elephant behavior by Alice. As the story builds, more and more layers are added and we are given a host of possible suspects for Alice’s disappearance. As more of puzzle pieces are added, Jenna begins remembering more and more about what happened when she was a child as it all comes together in a shocking twist that readers will never see coming.

One element I thought worked really well was the storyline of Serenity and her rise and fall in psychic stardom and her struggle with no longer having the gifts she had before. I also loved the private detective and the demons that he was battling since this case was one he never thought he performed well. Most of all, I really appreciated the ending to this one that makes you want to reread the book again to find all of those hidden clues that Picoult placed in there for you that you might not have noticed before.

You can tell that Picoult has thoroughly researched this one, but at points the researched portions dragged on and on for me. Alice’s scientific journals add predictable parallels to her own mothering. At times though, the research was so long that it felt as though you were reading a nonfiction story.  If you are a fan of elephants or the struggles of elephant conservation, you will be swimming in all of the facts and have plenty to read. For me, I felt that this created a bit of lag in my reading and I found myself skimming through those portions to get back to the meat of the story.

Truth be told, the ending is really what makes this Picoult book shine and worthy of a read- I would recommend this book simply for that reason alone! The final forty pages have a way of tying this story together that will have you begging your friends to read it so that you can discuss the plot twist you never saw coming.

Walmart will be offering LEAVING TIME at a deep rollback discount! You can preorder your copy today at the price of, $20.52.

 

What is your favorite Jodi Picoult book? I’d LOVE to hear!

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Sundays With Writers: Lifelines by Caroline Leavitt

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I have a very special treat for you today and am so honored to be interviewing bestselling author Caroline Leavitt for our Sundays With Writers series. I have been a longtime fan of her work and recently requested a copy of her book LIFELINES on NetGalley to read. It was so interesting to see several all available for one author (a rarity for a reviewer)  and was so excited to read that Caroline’s backlist of novels are now being published into ebook format for her devoted readers.  I was not as familiar with how all of that works in the publishing world so I was so excited to interview her and let her tell us about this unique opportunity.

Lifelines by Caroline Leavitt

Let me begin with her book LIFELINES that I read last week. Honestly, you would have never known that the book was originally published in the ’80′s because the story is timeless as is the beautiful and rich relationship between the mother and daughter in this story.  This story is about a woman named Duse, a strong-willed psychic and Isadora, her daughter, who struggles to find her own identity. It begins with Duse’s supernatural gifts which lead her to palm reading and how these lifelines in her own hands help guide her in her decision to find love and begin her family. As Duse is open to her gift her husband and daughter do not believe in it and live their lives differently, often conflicting with Duse’s world and their own self-discovery. What happens though when these three worlds collide and what if there truly are things in the world that cannot be explained.

  I found this book to be a deeply moving story that illustrates the bonds and difficulties that often arise in mother and daughter relationships.  I would recommend this beautiful book for people who enjoy stories with lots of character development, descriptive prose, and a slower build in their books. As with everything I have read by Caroline, I find her storytelling superb and this book was such a treat to read. I had happened to read IS THIS TOMORROW recently too and I can say that from her earlier work to her more recent work, it is solid through and through.

Now grab your coffee and let’s chat with the wildly talented Caroline Leavitt today!

Caroline Leavitt

For those of us that aren’t in the publishing world, explain what it means to have your backlist published?  How did this opportunity arise and what is the gain for you, as an author, to see your backlist published?

Before there were-e-books, everything was just in paper, which meant that, for most books, after a while, the book goes out of print. If people want to read it, they hit the library (which is great, I love libraries), or used bookstores or private sellers, which often charge ridiculous prices like $2,000 for my novel Meeting Rozzy Halfway! That  price tag means I can’t afford to buy up extra copies of my own novel! My agent and I were approached by Dzanc Books who had a new series called REprints (that’s the right spelling, by the way!), where they were bringing back literary novels in e-book form and would I like to have my book list out? I was so completely thrilled! In fact, Dzanc is now going to publish another one of my backlist, Living Other Lives. That means all my books, except for my third novel, Jealousies, which everyone hated, (I was pushed into writing a “more commercial novel” by my then publisher), will be available!

I would be most grateful if everyone would take a look and/or order them all here:

I read your book LIFELINES, one of several titles that are making their way out into the world again and would love to hear what makes this book special to you? Do you feel your writing style has evolved since this was published originally in the ‘80’s?

What an interesting question! The book was special to me because it was my second novel. My first, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, had created a sensation and made me a kind of star, and everyone had huge expectations for Lifelines, which got rave reviews—and then the publisher went out of business and the book lost promotion and steam, and well, there you go. The book died. It has particular meaning for me because parts of it were first published in the Michigan Quarterly Review, which was actually my very first publication. They paid me $50! I was so thrilled! I was deeply interested in identity back then, who we are compared to others—(hey, I was really young and insecure). I wrote my first two books in first person, and then I began to branch out!

LIFELINES really, at its roots, deals with the bonds between mothers and daughters.  In one line you say, “Through it all, Isadora began to think that if you had to be mother and daughter, it was easier at a distance.” The complexities of these relationships are so rich and deep just as they often are in real life. What made you want to explore this relationship and do you think there is any truth to Isadora’s thoughts?

Another great question. Well, at the time, I had a tangled relationship with my mother. I loved her (and still love her) very deeply, but she was insistent that I live my life the way she thought I should, and it caused a lot of friction. At the time, I just wasn’t strong enough to say to her, “I love you, but it’s my life and I know what it is going to make me happy.” Isadora wasn’t strong enough to do that—plus, there were parts of her that wondered if she WAS living her life the right way because everything was going badly for her! It became a really useful way for me to explore my own feelings about who I was, who my mother was, and who we could be together.

Edgard Cayce

I have read that you always add a spiritual element into each of your books. LIFELINES deals a lot with the things that we can’t always explain like palm reading, the feeling of spirits moving through one’s body, and the power of hypnosis. Do you believe in the power of these things yourself? What type of research did you do to prepare for Duse’s gifts?

I am LOVING your questions. I have always been interested in magic, the unknown, etc. I blame my father, who used to give me books about Edgar Cayce, the minister who would go into a trance and be able to tell peoples’ futures and cure their ailments, and no one—including him—knew why. I loved reading about that! I saw possibilities everywhere!  My father also gave me these old magazines called Weird Tales, and one of them talked about there being hidden holes in the world and if you stepped in one, you would vanish and go into another world. I looked for those holes everywhere!  But I also started reading a lot of quantum physics for the layperson and the thing that struck me is the pieces always talked about how the universe is really more strange and weird than anything we can imagine. There can be parallel universes where you might be living out another live. Maybe we are part of a giant computer (they’ve recently found pixels in space!).

So I do believe that anything and everything is possible—and that anything and everything has a scientific explanation we just don’t know yet. Many physicists say that there is no time, really, that is all a loop with everything happening at the same time. Wouldn’t that explain how a psychic might know your future?

I didn’t really do research back then. (I know, crazy, right?) Instead, I used what I knew and the experiences I had had with psychics I had gone to.

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

As an author of nine bestselling novels, I am sure it might be difficult to answer this, but what is one novel of yours that you wish everyone would read? What makes that book particularly endearing to you?

Yikes, this is like asking a mom who her favorite child is. Each novel was extremely important to me at the time. I guess I would urge people to read Is This Tomorrow because that is my most recent and the most me.

You are not only an author, but also a critic of books for People, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle. I wrote my first book and had such a hard time reading the feedback from it and have found that I prefer doing interviews with authors rather than reviews of books because I am now aware as an author of what it feels like to be on the other side of criticism. Since you receive criticism for your own work, do you find it difficult to critique others especially when so many authors are colleagues or personal friends? Do you publish feedback if you find you really hate a book?

What a great question. Before I became a critic, my reviews used to decimate me. If they were bad, I would hole up and cry for weeks. If they were good, I was skeptical and wondered if the reviewer was just being kind to me because he or she felt sorry for me.  My husband Jeff is a music critic and he used to talk to me for hours about how this is just one person’s opinion, and you have to weight the criticism, maybe learn from it and in any case, let it go. Becoming a critic was the best thing I ever did for myself because it made me realize how true that is. There have been books championed by every other critic on the planet that I just hated. And there have been many, many books I have loved that no one else even bothered to review, or if they did review, they tore the book to pieces.  It made me review and consider books more carefully. No one sets out to write a bad book, yet many reviews read as if that is truly the case. I think there is a right way to critique, to gently point out things that may not be working and to explore why in the context of what you believe the author was intending to do.

It’s considered deeply unethical to review a book by someone you know, even casually.  You are not supposed to review a book if you share the same publisher or editor or agent. Many papers I have worked for, including the NYT, make you sign a contract stipulating that you do not know the author. I’m very careful with that. Part of why I started my blog was so I could be above board about interviewing writers I knew and giving them some press for their books!

I also work privately with writers on their manuscripts because I love looking at books and figuring out what works and why, and what doesn’t work and how a writer could think about fixing that issue. It’s an intensive process—but it’s always done with great care and concern for the artist, because I know how hard a process writing anything is. And that process deserves the utmost respect. The difference between this and reviewing is that here, I can point out ways for the book to succeed on a higher level. A review is just a review.

That said, I don’t review books I hate. I don’t want to tear apart another writer. There’s so little review space available now, that I want to promote the books I love, instead.

I also read your book IS THIS TOMORROW and absolutely loved it. I’m a big fan of period pieces especially the 1950’s era and you weave a beautiful story about what it would be like as a single mother in this era and the scrutiny of those around her and the heartache of what it would be like for your child to suddenly be missing. I just felt like this one must be made into film.  Are there any plans to see this one being made into a screenplay? Please say yes.

Oh, thank you!  Thank you!  I have had my heart broken and smashed by the movie biz many times. My first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, was supposed to be a film with Paramount and then there was a writers/directors strike. My novel Into Thin Air was considered as Madonna’s directorial debut for three days before she went on tour. It was later picked up by another producer, but nothing ever happened. Pictures of You was optioned and nothing ever happened. Living Other Lives was optioned by the guy who made some Stephen King films and it had a script written by an Obie winning writer. It was about to go into principal photography and then everything stopped. I never heard back from anyone, until months later, when the producer resurfaced in Nashville, but the project was inexplicably dead. Is This Tomorrow actually has a script! I submitted the first scene  (I wrote it) to Sundance Screenwriting Lab, and was a finalist! They take only 6 people, but I didn’t make the cut. There’s a producer interested who is looking at financing, and he’s told me to be patient—so I’m used to all of this. Having a movie made of your book is the brass ring, but the chances of it actually happening are so slim. Still, a girl can hope, right?

What do you have in store for us with your next book?

I’m just about to turn in Cruel Beautiful World, which was sold on the basis of a first chapter and a thirty page synopsis, and of course I’m terrified. It’s set in the 60s and early 70s, the time when all the free love movement was starting to turn ugly, with the Manson murders and Altamont. It’s about a 16 –year-old girl who runs off with her 30 year-old hippy teacher to join the “back to the land” movement that began in the 70s, a so-called-paradise that turns into a nightmare for her.

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

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.

Thank you for these magnificent questions!

You can connect with Caroline Leavitt on GoodReads or on 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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It’s the 3 Little Things: Tween Happiness, Red Lips, & Facebook Management

Friday, September 19th, 2014

It's the 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends! The week passes by oh-so-quickly and I can’t believe it is already time for another happiness list. Let’s not delay the happy one more minute.

What If by Randall Munroe

What If by Randall Munroe

Tween Belly Laughs

When your kid falls in love with a book, especially when that kid is a tween boy, it is pure magic. I heard an interview with Randall Munroe on NPR one morning about his book, WHAT IF?, and told my husband that I wanted to get this book for him. He had read about the same book that morning on a tech blog and asked if I would pick it up for him at the library.

Jinx.

Padlock jinx.

When I got it, I handed it to my son, and my husband hasn’t really read the book on his own since my son got his hands on it. Munroe explores the absolute craziest, “what if” scenarios and comes up with a truly scientific explanation of the outcome for each of them. It is accompanied by hilarious drawings of what might occur in these scenarios, making it a perfect book for boys who loved the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

What this kid doesn’t know is that his mama ordered a copy for him for keeps since he has been working hard on school and cross country this fall.  Hearing him belly laughing until he couldn’t breathe is such a rare and delightful thing for a mom of a tween boy. I can’t wait to give him his copy.

L'Oreal True Red Lipstick

The Perfect Red Lipstick

I shared with you the fun red lipstick guide I found on Oh Happy Day this week in our notebook and couldn’t wait to hit my drugstore for the perfect red lipstick. Although the color that was highlighted in their guide was called, “British Red by L’Oreal” next door to it in the display I found, L’Oreal Colour Rich Lip Color in True Red (#315) and fell in love.  A tube of this lipstick is just $5.99 and your lips stay pretty and hydrated. I ate lunch and it still hung on (perhaps not as bright), but it didn’t have that dried out effect that some of the other lipsticks I have tried before.

I happened to be picking up my last item from alterations and the sweet lady that altered my dress said, “Oh my! Don’t you look so pretty! You look just like Marilyn Monroe with that lipstick.”

Which I don’t.

But I giggled like a schoolgirl and skipped out to my car…where a sick daughter awaited in the back seat.

But we will pretend I threw on my sunglasses and drove away in my convertible singing about diamonds. Because you know…MARILYN.

No Facebook

Goodbye, Mobile Facebook

I have been complaining a lot about people tapping me out all the time which annoys myself, frankly. What I am coming to realize is that I can only be tapped out if I allow people to tap into me. Which I do. Constantly.  I removed Facebook from my phone this week and I am so much happier. I pop on my computer when I need to check it and I stay off of it when I don’t. I no longer see the number of notifications pending and I am no longer worrying about what that could mean. I can’t do away with Facebook because of my business and the connections that I make with other bloggers, but I don’t need to carry that around with me all day.  It’s amazing how much more productive I can be now!

Three Things I Wore From My Fashion Capsule (the I like my belt & cardigan edition).  Grab more inspiration on my Fashion Capsule Pin Board.

green cardiagn + lace shirt + leopard print belt + rolled skinny jeans + oxfords

 Forest Fairy Cardigan (owned- Flourish Boutique)/a’reve lace shirt (owned- Flourish Boutique)/Belt (Owned-Target)/ Pearl Necklace (owned- Flourish Boutique)/Seven Skinny Jeans (owned- Flourish Boutique)/Oxford Shoes (Owned-Naturalizer)

burgundy tank + green cardigan + leggings + statement necklace + two toned boots

Seamless Tank in Burgundy (owned- Flourish Boutique)/ Pearl Necklace (owned- Flourish Boutique)/Belt (Owned-Target)/Forest Fairy Cardigan (owned- Flourish Boutique)/The Essential Leggings in Black (owned- Flourish Boutique)/ Two-Toned Boots (owned- Flourish Boutique)

striped shirt + leopard belt + skinny jeans + boots

White House Black Market Blue Striped Collared Top (purchased second hand on Twice)/Old Navy Rock Star Skinny Jeans (owned- Old Navy)/Belt (Owned-Target)/ Boots (owned-see details here!)

3 Things YOU Loved This Week (you, lover of MomAdvice things, you!)

Here are our top 3 posts this week!

1. 5 Ways to Date Your Husband This Fall

2. How to Spray Paint Furniture

3. Goodbye, Old Friend: Asking Jealousy to Leave

And here is your bonus happy today! ADORABLE!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

Sundays With Writers: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Sundays_With_Writers-1_Final

Happy Sunday, friends! I hope your day is filled with great books and good coffee today. This week I have the pleasure of interviewing debut novelist Rebecca Rotert about her first novel Last Night at the Blue Angel. I will say that this one is racier than some of the books I have featured here in the past so if that isn’t your cup of coffee, so-to-speak, I understand.  The storytelling was so good in this one though and I had so many questions for the author after I finished that I wanted to share it with you in our Sundays With Writers series. I am not shying away from this book- I think it a beautifully told coming-of-age story and the characters are rich and vivid even if I didn’t always like their choices.

last-night-at-the-blue-angel

Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s Chicago jazz scene, a highly ambitious and stylish literary debut that combines the atmosphere and period detail of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility with the emotional depth and drama of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, about a talented but troubled singer, her precocious ten-year-old daughter, and their heartbreaking relationship.

It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is a city of uneasy tensions—segregation, sexual experimentation, free love, the Cold War—but it is also home to one of the country’s most vibrant jazz scenes. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. Finally, her big break arrives—the cover of Look magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive woman whose charms are irresistible and dangerous for those around her. No one knows this better than Sophia, her clever ten-year-old daughter.

For Sophia, Naomi is the center of her universe. As the only child of a single, unconventional mother, growing up in an adult world, Sophia has seen things beyond her years and her understanding. Unsettled by her uncertain home life, she harbors the terrible fear that the world could end at any moment, and compulsively keeps a running list of practical objects she will need to reinvent once nuclear catastrophe strikes. Her one constant is Jim, the photographer who is her best friend, surrogate father, and protector. But Jim is deeply in love with Naomi—a situation that adds to Sophia’s anxiety.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, their powerful and wrenching story unfolds in layers, revealing Sophia’s struggle for her mother’s love with Naomi’s desperate journey to stardom and the colorful cadre of close friends who shaped her along the way.

I loved this book so much more than I had expected. This is a coming-of-age story placed in the sixties focused on the story of a daughter who constantly lives in the shadow of her mother’s stardom and her need to be the center of attention. We are able, as readers, to read how she evolved into this self-absorbed woman, while witnessing the heartache of her daughter lurking in the shadows of her life. There are beautiful plot twists in this one and I never saw the ending coming.

After writing the author and reading her answers, my only regret is that this coffee with her is done virtually and not in person. I hope you will enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed reading and sharing it with you today!

Rebecca-Rotert-headshot

You chose the turbulent sixties era and the city of Chicago for the setting of your debut novel. What was it about this time period and city that captured your attention for the setting of your book?

I seem to be thinking about race, class, sexuality and gender all of the time.  ALL of the time.  Whatever problem or issue I’m trying to sort out in my head…I go back in time to examine turning points or cultural shifts in an attempt to identify what was at play, what happened, what changed.  In this vein, I find myself in the 50’s and 60’s a lot.  In some ways it’s very personal. I’m often asking myself, What did the territory look like before I landed on it (I was born in ’71)? I want to understand the culture that created my parents and their generation, and the boom generation, and us. What wounds did we inherit? What unfinished business? So many questions…

Richard-Nickel

Richard Nickel (Source: Out of Chicago where you can see his amazing architectural photography)

Jim, a struggling photographer, was one of my favorite characters in the book. You based him upon a photographer named Richard Nickel who captured architectural photos. How did you happen upon his story and photography?  Was he the first character you really started fleshing out or did you develop him later as you wrote it?

Jim was there from the very beginning but he was, like, Jim 2.0.  I did a lot of research in Chicago, kept running into these very interesting photographs, discovered the photographer was Nickel, researched him, fell in love with him, then came back to the drawing board and grafted him into Jim 2.0.

As a mom, I could not relate to Naomi’s choices and putting her own needs and desires before her child. Was it difficult to write some of these scenes particularly adult moments that Sophia witnesses when she is so small? How did you feel about Naomi?

Oof.  It was tough.  I swear there were scenes that were just…viscerally painful to write.  I sometimes asked myself, What would I do here? And then had Naomi do the opposite.  My feelings about her are complicated.  My reasoning behind allowing you to see some of her backstory was in order to cultivate some compassion for her. I don’t think Naomi has any idea what she’s doing.  She never learned. She sort of operates on desire and compulsion without taking into account consequences.  She doesn’t feel comfortable being a mother but she tries.  In the end, she chooses her art and her artist’s life over motherhood because she knows what she’s doing there. We all have Naomis in our lives…women we judge because WE would do it so much better.  They bring out our self-righteousness, which is of course a bar to all connection.  I wanted her to be galvanizing in this way and she is.

I understand that you are also a singer and songwriter, illustrating that you are a woman of many talents. How much of that background were you able to draw from to create Naomi? Have you also felt that hunger and struggle being a singer? Did this make Naomi more relatable to you?

In part, it was sheer laziness.  I know the vocabulary of performing well so I chose that as her art. And certainly I understand the hunger to make art; I’ve always had that in me. And I share with Naomi the feeling that art is often one of the few things that makes sense to me and that I’m good at. But in terms of fame, I just have no ambition whatsoever.  I know Box Turtles more ambitious than I.

My husband & I are obsessed with the jazz music from the ‘60’s and have quite the record collection going. What is your favorite song or artist from that era? Any in particular that you have Naomi sing that we should be hunting down for our record collection?

I love Mingus and Coltrane and Miles Davis. In terms of vocalists I’m crazy about Nina Simone and Jeanne Lee. In fact, Laura is named after the song/lyrics “Laura” from Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s album The Newest Sound Around.

A group I discovered during research, though not jazz, is The Boswell Sisters.  You’ve really got to listen to them if you’re not familiar.  Three harmonizing sisters in the 1930’s.   Go ahead and YouTube “Crazy People” to be delighted (see above!!).  Especially if you have, I don’t know, crazy people in your life.

Naomi’s love affair with Laura was brief, but ultimately shaped Naomi’s life journey. Is there any reason you didn’t have Naomi fall in love again with Laura later in the book and bring these two back together?

Ah, you are a savvy/intuitive reader, Amy. I DID bring them back together at the end but the more I worked on the end of the book, the more convinced I became that Naomi had to be alone at the end.  That she would get what she wanted but the price would be loneliness.  And Laura is strong. Naomi needs to…deserve her I feel.  And she doesn’t. Not yet.

Naomi has quite the parade of lovers and also learns her skills of being a lady from a very unlikely source. You did not seem to shy away from any topic- would you say that this book is provocative?

Um, I’ve been told it is.  It doesn’t feel at all provocative to me.  The next book, however…

You make a choice to do all dialogue in italics- why did you make this choice as a writer?

I’ve not yet described this well but today might be my lucky day….You know, when you put quotes around a line of text, you tell the reader, This is EXACTLY what was said….but so much of this book is about impression/memory/tone/perception/performance…I wanted there to be: Here’s what was said, yes, but also, Here’s what I heard/what I remember/what I tried to say…all those grey areas that color our sad efforts at human communication.  And everyone is performing in this book so a line of dialogue may represent an actual authentic feeling or thought but it may also be someone’s performance of a feeling/thought that may or may not be true.  So you see, all these sticky layers.  I guess I said to myself, Let’s put it in italics.

I will not say anything about the ending because I don’t want to spoil the book for our readers. Would you say you were pleased though with how this story wrapped up? Did you always envision this to be the ending for your book?

The exact ending, ie: last lines, came late in the process but the general ending I knew.  I would also say I could handle the end of this book because although the book ends, the story is to be continued.

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

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.

 You can connect with Rebecca Rotert on GoodReads or on 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: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Do you ever pick up a book completely outside of your normal genre and find yourself completely swept away in a world you never dreamed you would escape to? It happened a couple of times for me with The Hunger Games series and Twilight series, just to name two types of books that I never thought I would love.  Last week if you would have asked me if I would have fallen head over heels in love with a book with a plotline firmly planted in science fiction with a zombie apocalypse theme or even just another dystopian thriller ( a genre I had grown very tired of), I would have probably laughed at you.

No, this is not your typical recommendation on here and that is exactly why I had to feature it today. It is different and it is awesome.

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I fell head-over-heels in love for The Girl With All the Gifts. I can tell you now that this will be on my top ten reads of 2014 because I can’t stop thinking about it and have the urge to reread it all over again. It is a true adventure of a read that grabbed me and did not let me go until the final pages.

My husband is not a big reader like me, but when I finished the book and described it to him, he picked it up one evening after my encouragement. I did not see or speak to him for two whole days. He was just as swept away in this book as I was. For this reason, I would definitely recommend this one as a great couple’s book selection and definitely not limited to our female audience.

After I finished it, I emailed Mike Carey (who is using the pen name M.R. Carey for this book) and never in a million years expected a response. You see, Mike is quite a big deal. He is an established British writer of prose fiction and comic books. He has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. He also has several previous novels and one Hollywood movie screenplay to his credit.

And he answered my message and said he would love to share his book with you all.

I have taken my fangirl status to another level entirely after this interview and can’t wait to see this book adapted into a screenplay.

All the descriptions of this book state that Melanie is simply a special girl. You don’t know what makes her special until you dive in and discover the girl and all her gifts.

This book is wildly imaginative, suspenseful, and leaves you wondering who you should be rooting for as the story develops. I really, really loved this book.  Unfortunately, it is just the kind of book that you shouldn’t talk about so that each reader can go on the journey with this child and find out just what makes her so unique. It’s a book that you will want to finish and share with friends. It reads like a movie and is just the type of literary adventure I would recommend if you have been in a reading slump this summer.

Grab your coffee and let’s have a chat with the amazing Mike Carey about his book…

mike-carey

I loved this book so very much and it is unlike anything that I have ever read before or will ever read again. Thank you for such a fantastic escape this summer. I discovered that it was based upon the Edgar-nominated short story, Iphigenia in Aulis that you had written.  Why did you decide to take this short story and expand it into The Girl With All the Gifts?

Thanks!  I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

The story had an unusual genesis – or unusual for me, at least.  I’d been invited to contribute to a themed anthology edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner.  They do these books every year, and the theme is always something deceptively innocent and everyday – home improvements, family holidays or whatever.  This particular year the  theme was schooldays.

And I said I’d do it, but then I had no ideas whatsoever.  Inspiration didn’t strike.

Until about three weeks before the deadline, when suddenly I woke up with this image in my mind of a little zombie girl writing an essay in an abandoned classroom. “What I want to Do When I Grow Up”.  The whole story grew from that – from Melanie, and her situation.  I wrote it in four straight days and sent it in, and Charlaine and Toni said it fitted the bill perfectly.

But I had the sense as soon as I hit SEND that Melanie’s story wasn’t finished yet.  It felt as though the ending, in which she and Sergeant Parks fight back-to-back against an army of Junkers in order to cover the evacuation of the base, wasn’t really earned.  And it felt like there needed to be much more a pay-off for Melanie’s relationship with Miss Justineau (who in the short is called Miss Mailer).

So I pitched it to Orbit as a novel, and they commissioned it – even though that meant amending my contract in some complicated ways.  And at the same time I pitched it as a movie concept to a producer I was already working with.  The two version of the story grew up side by side.

You make a very conscious decision to never use the word, “zombie.” Why did you not want to use this word in your book? Was this meant to lead the reader into their own conclusions when they begin the story?

It’s partly that – although the reveal comes quite early, really.  It’s also a question of trying to make the reader keep an open mind.  I was conscious that zombies for a lot of people are an overworked trope and a fairly limited one.  I was coming at it from what I thought was a new angle, and I hoped that if I held off on the Z word readers would stay with it until they were emotionally invested.

It’s rebounded against me in some ways.  I’ve read a few reviews where the reviewer has said “you know, this is reasonably realistic in some ways, but if you’ve got a zombie apocalypse going on why wouldn’t you just call it one?  That doesn’t ring true at all…”

In one scene, Dr. Caldwell says to Mrs. Justineau, “You should ask yourself why you’re so keen on thinking of me as the enemy…Which weighs the most, Helen? Which will do the most good in the end? Your compassion or my commitment to my work?” Which of these characters do you think was doing the most good? Did you relate to Dr. Caldwell or Mrs. Justineau more when writing this?

Oh, I’m with Helen Justineau all the way!  But I wanted readers to understand where Caldwell was coming from.  Nobody sees themselves as evil.  They explain away the things they do as being forced on them by circumstances, or serving a greater good, or whatever it might be.  Caldwell is trying to save humanity.  She’s also trying to earn a sort of personal immortality through her work, and to prove that she’s better than the scientists who were promoted over her, but she genuinely believes she’s doing good – and that the ends absolutely justify the means.

There’s a beat near the end of the book that really only works if you can empathise with Caldwell at least a tiny bit.  It’s when she and Melanie have their conversation about the infection, and Caldwell realises that if anything of her work is going to survive it will be through her being able to explain it to Melanie now.  The child she was going to sacrifice is the last slender reed she can grab hold of.  If you don’t care about Caldwell at all that’s just ironic.  I wanted it to have a little touch of tragedy to it.

Where are you in development of the screenplay of The Girl With All The Gifts? Do you have anyone in mind for your dream cast?

The screenplay is written and we have a deal in place.  I’ve never been this far along with a film project before – well, once a long time ago when I wrote the screenplay for an animated version of Tristan and Isolde, but I generally avoid talking about that.

This time around it’s been an amazingly rewarding and enjoyable process.  The movie and the novel grew up together and kept swapping DNA.  We went a slightly different way in the movie, especially when it came to point of view.  Where the novel moves between the five main characters and lets us see what’s going on in all of their heads, the movie sticks with Melanie all the way.  And there are no Junkers in the movie.  The base falls to a hungry attack.  But it’s a case of two different paths through the same narrative space.  The ending is absolutely faithful to the book.

I’m going to duck the question about casting if you don’t mind.  That’s where we are at the moment, and I’m crossing every finger and toe I’ve got that we get the Justineau and Caldwell who are currently reading the screenplay.

 The science in this book is quite astounding.  Can I admit that my own brain may have exploded at times from all the scientific detail that you developed in it? Was there a lot of research on your end to develop these portions of the book, particularly developing the plotline with the infection that is based upon the ants?

A fair bit, yes.  In the short story I glibly described the hungry pathogen as a virus, probably with 28 Days Later at the back of my mind.  But when it came to writing the novel I had to put my money where my mouth was and I realised very quickly that a virus wouldn’t do.  They have very simple, linear life cycles.  I wanted something more baroque and multi-staged that would provide a plausible puzzle for Caldwell and would also allow for the events of the climax.

Enter Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  To be honest, I’d already seen the David Attenborough footage of the zombie ants, so I was rediscovering this weird parasite rather than reading about it for the first time.  But it was obviously perfect for my needs.  And once I’d made the decision that the infectious organism should be a fungus, it just kept on giving.  It made for some visuals that I’d never come across in the post-apocalyptic fiction I’d read and that had the potential to be very powerful.

There were also other things I had to look into, like how you take a brain out of a skull.  That was one of the hardest scenes to write.

Without giving it away, the ending that you create was just perfection. Is this where you always knew Melanie’s journey was heading or did it develop as you developed the story?

I always knew that Melanie was going to face that choice.  She’s Pandora, after all.  She has to find the box and make the decision whether or not to open it. And the box has to be full of monsters and terrible evils, but it also has to contain at least the promise of hope.

But the details were quite vague, and they firmed up as I wrote the story.  I’m not sure that Rosie was in the original pitch.   The feral children were, but they were just a placeholder.  I had no idea how Melanie’s fight with them would play out, beyond the vague feeling that she would have to use the environment in intelligent ways that they didn’t see.

It’s always a mixture of planning and serendipity.  You know where you’re going in the broadest sense.  But you don’t know what you’re going to gather along the way and so the ending, when you get there, is both familiar and surprising.

Did you ever have a teacher like Mrs. Justineau? What teacher inspired you the most in your own career?

This is going to make me blush.  When I was seven years old, my teacher was Miss Bimpson.  I had a huge crush on her.  She was clever and funny, her lessons were great, but she was also most extraordinarily kind.  One day when I was crying my eyes out about something – a totally mundane something that seemed like the end of the world to me – she sat me  on her lap and hugged me until I stopped sobbing.  That’s probably the origin of the scene in which Miss Justineau strokes Melanie’s hair.

But probably the most inspiring teacher I ever met was George Lucy, who taught English at the comprehensive school I attended from age eleven.  George was one of those teachers who thinks the curriculum is something that happens to other people.  Boring people.  He taught whatever he was most passionate about, and I learned from him to interrogate limits and push past them if they’re not real.

He also tutored me for my Oxford entrance exam.  I come from a solid working class background and there were a lot of holes in my academic knowledge.  George lent me books – dozens of them – from his own collection and generally gave me the tools I needed to sit those papers.  He changed my life in a lot of ways.

Since you are also a comic book writer, can you picture this book being developed into a comic book or even a comic book series? Who would be your dream illustrator for this?

I would love to write a Girl With All the Gifts comic book.  The only possible artists for a project like that would be Peter Gross or Mike Perkins.  And Mike has already covered the whole post-apocalyptic genre with his epic version of Stephen King’s The Stand, so he might well say no.

Will there be a sequel for Melanie?

I don’t think so.  There are other stories to be told around her story, and I could imagine going back to tell one of those.  Perhaps a story with an entirely different cast, taking place at the exact same time as GIRL.  Or perhaps a story from a generation later.  But I don’t think Melanie would be the protagonist in either of those.

You reach a point, with most characters, where you feel that their story has been told.  I’d love to revisit the world of Lucifer, but I wouldn’t dream of bringing Lucifer himself back into it.  It’s the same with Melanie.  I’d be wary of weakening her story by adding extra beats to it.

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

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.

You can connect with Mike Carey on GoodReads and on Facebook!  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: Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

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I have been a huge fan of Heather Gudenkauf since her first book,  The Weight of Silence and had been looking forward to her next book so very much.  When her publicist reached out to me about reviewing her new book, Little Mercies,  I jumped at the chance…and also begged for an interview with Heather for our Sundays With Writers feature. If you can believe it, Heather agreed and I quickly devoured her book on our family trip to Columbus.

I was expecting another suspense-filled thriller that would leave me guessing whodunit- a quick escape from my daily life. From the opening pages though, I began to realize that this book was a swift departure from that , although it was equally thrilling and gripping.

I was unprepared.

Unprepared for the waves of emotion I was to experience and unprepared to go on this journey with this mother in this book.  Yet, I had to see it through, and I felt like I could breathe again once I closed the pages. I also hugged my kids tightly that weekend and was reminded how easily these gifts can be taken from us.  It’s that kind of book.

It’s the perfect type of book for a robust book club discussion and you can print out this handy book club kit for your club that offers some great thought-starters for your group’s discussion. You can also sink your teeth into the prequel to this book, Little Liesalthough Little Mercies can be read on its own too.

Little Mercies

Little Mercies builds on a well-developed premise- what if you were suddenly put in the shoes of someone that you once judged? The difference in this plot is that it is a social worker, who once was the judge of other parents, who makes an honest and life-altering mistake, and is now the one who must be judged as a parent.

Told in alternating points of view from an abandoned child who is quite familiar with the social worker setting and the viewpoint of a mother who is about to lose it all in the system that she has worked so hard to uphold.

It is heart-wrenching and very real, illustrating some of my worst nightmares as a parent, weaving the two stories of these people together beautifully.

Heather Gudenkauf

Photo Credit: Morgan Hawthorne

Little Mercies seems to be a bit of a departure from your past books that I felt were more in the thriller genre of reading. That is not to say that I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the entire book, but just that this seemed like a situation that I could find myself in as a mother. How did you decide upon this idea of placing a social worker in a setting where she, herself, might be accused of child endangerment?

I got the idea for Little Mercies after hearing about a social worker who found herself on the other side of the legal system due to an overextended caseload. From there I began to ask what if? What if the social worker was a mother? What if the social worker mistakenly places her own child in harm’s way? I think the fact that anyone of us could find ourselves in Ellen’s shoes is one of the aspects of Little Mercies that makes it so compelling. As an author I am intrigued by exploring these difficult circumstances and the raw emotions that accompany them.

I also made sure to carefully research the novel by visiting with experts in their various fields. I spent quite a bit of time with a very dedicated social worker who shared the challenging task of separating home and work lives. I talked to doctors and EMTs regarding the medical complications that arose from the severe heat stroke that Avery endured. I met with an attorney who was able to describe the possible legal implications for Ellen and even took a tour of a local police station and learned about the booking process. This helped inform the novel.

When Ellen’s mother tries to comfort her by illustrating an example of something she did wrong as a mom, she says “I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have our moments. We all have those times when we turn our backs, close our eyes, become unguarded. I don’t know why (my situation) ended up being okay and other children don’t….”

As a mom it made me reflect on a time when my son was small, had just learned to roll, and managed to roll right down the basement steps. He was fine, but I was completely a wreck, and I worried what the doctor thought of me when I took him in. Did you have any moments when you let down your guard like this as a mom, that you were able to reflect on while writing and shaping this story?

Most definitely! When my oldest child was a year old I buckled him into his high chair and gave him a handful of Cheerios to munch on. I thought I’d just dash out to grab the newspaper and ended up locking myself out the house. I could see my son chomping away happily on his breakfast through the large kitchen window but had visions of him choking on a Cheerio or slipping from the safety strap and falling to the ground. I stood there helplessly for a few minutes and then broke a window so I could let myself into the house. I felt like a horrible mother. I think as parents we all have had those close calls that make us question our own parenting abilities and agonize over what others will think of us. Fortunately, most often, when these accidents occur, all ends well.

There were many times that I had to step away from the book because the situation with Avery being left in the hot car is one of my worst nightmares as a mom. Did you struggle writing these scenes? Is there a detachment process when you write or do you dive in and experience it all?

These scenes were incredibly difficult for me to write. I’m first and foremost a mother and there is nothing worse than seeing your child in pain and suffering. As I wrote, I experienced every single excruciating moment right along with Ellen. I think that in order to write such dramatic events in an authentic, genuine manner, it was important to become fully immersed in what Ellen was going through. I often had to take breaks while writing these scenes. I would step away from the computer, go check on my own three teenagers, count my blessings and then return to work.

 Little Mercies refers to the “small kindnesses and good that comes from terrible.” Have there been any “little mercies” in your own life that have been good in spite of the terrible that they came from?

More than I can count. Just over five years ago my son was diagnosed with bone cancer. So many emotions flood over you when the doctor utters that small six-letter word. We were shocked, terrified, devastated. Never have I felt so helpless. But something amazing began to emerge from all the heartbreak—our family, friends, community and complete strangers inundated us with simple, loving gestures that carried us through a very difficult, dark time.

It was the phone calls, the emails and the handwritten notes of support that let us know we weren’t alone during a very lonely time. It was the homemade meals delivered to our home when we didn’t have the energy to cook for ourselves. It was those individuals who took my daughters under their wings and paid extra attention to them when so much focus was on their brother. It was the group of seventh-grade boys and their teachers who shaved their heads in solidarity with one young boy facing an uncertain future. All of this allowed us to witness firsthand the selflessness of others.

So often we look for the big miracles, and we don’t always realize that the small ones are just as life changing. I’m thankful that my son is healthy, happy, doing great and looking forward to everything that life has to offer him. We carry all the kindnesses people have shown with us and try to do the same for others.

Can you describe your writing process? Where do you write and how do you begin shaping your books?

I don’t have a specific place in my home where I write. I tend to take my laptop and move to a room in the house where I can be alone. Not that I need complete silence to work; I actually like background noise. I’ll listen to music, a podcast, or even a TV show as I write.

I think through a writing idea for a very long time before putting pen to paper. I always begin my writing projects by buying a brand new journal or notebook and writing the first fifty pages or so in longhand. By beginning my novels this way I find that I’m able to find the unique voices of each of my characters. I will jot down my characters’ physical descriptions, histories, likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. I live with the characters for so long that sometimes my hands hover over the keyboard and I have to decide which direction to take them—and it’s not necessarily the journey I envisioned for them. Though I must say, it’s always an adventure!

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

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.

You can connect with Heather Gudenkauf  on Facebook or on her website or even on GoodReads!  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: A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I am always looking for a sweet escape in the summer and this month I read a beautiful book called,  “A Paris Apartment,” by Michelle Gable.  I call books that send me hours afterward looking up images and more information on the “true” stories,  my narnia-books.  This is one of those books because after I finished the last pages, I was dying to look up what was real and what had been fictionalized for this book.  I spent hours flipping through photos and reading the backstory on these characters which made my bookworm heart oh-so-happy.

When I finished it and shared the story with my husband, he remarked that we had heard this same story of this apartment in the car one day while listening to NPR.  Of course, I immediately ran to my computer to look up the images of the real Paris apartment and it brought even more depth and life to the story that I had read.
A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

A Paris Apartment is a  fun summer historical fiction escape to Paris alternating between present day and the past.  It centers around, April, a furniture specialist with Sothebys,  & diary entries from the late 1800′s & 1900′s of Marthe de Florian. It weaves a beautiful story around a Paris apartment that had been shuttered for 70 years and the what lies behind the treasures in her apartment, including the relationship between her & the famous painter Giovanni Boldini, told through these diary entries.

As April becomes more & more fascinated with this woman through her diary, she increasingly becomes unsure if she wants to return to her own life back in the states or to continue living her own life in Paris, caught in the beauty of Paris and the escape from her own difficult marriage.

I would say that it is just enough fluff to pack in your beach bag and enough meat to enjoy reading the backstory on Marthe after closing those final pages.  I believe it to be a solid debut novel and I could not wait to talk with Michelle about this book and share it with you all!

I sent off a message to Michelle to see if she might like to join me for Sundays With Writers. She sweetly said that she knew my website and been on it before. I messaged her back and told her that if she was trying to sweet talk me, she succeeded and I was now her number one fan. She honestly replied that she had read my interview with Maggie Shipstead and would be honored to be featured on MomAdvice too.

And then I died and and fainted from the happiness..

I knew though that I must come back to life to share this interview.

I mean, really?!

How can we not love Michelle and race out to get her book right now?

Let’s chat with Michelle about her exciting first novel!

Michelle Gable

Wow, after reading your book I truly felt like I got to visit Paris, which has been a dream of mine! Since this is the setting for your book, did you spend a lot of time there before or while you wrote this novel?

I’m so glad the book felt like an escape! That’s fantastic to hear…thank you!

I’ve been to Paris several times and am headed there this summer, but I did not go specifically to research this book. However, I was in Paris when my agent called to say my editor was interested in acquiring it!

The most impressive part of this book is, what I imagine, the extensive research that went into both April’s profession (as a furniture expert) as well as the intricately woven story of Marthe de Florian & Giovanni Boldini that you have created for your reader. How did you gather this information and how much time does this take as a writer working in the historical fiction genre?

I spent a good four to six months researching, almost as much time as the actual writing of the novel. The shuttered-for-seventy-years apartment in the book really existed, however not much is known about the home or its former residents. So researching the apartment itself was not very time-consuming but I spent months researching the time period, the people who might’ve known the courtesan who once lived there, and the events and issues they would’ve been concerned with.

As you point out, April’s profession also required a ton of research. “Sotheby’s Continental Furniture Expert” is just about as far away from my daily life as you can get! I spent a lot of time looking through Sotheby’s catalogues (an area I became totally lost in) and interviewing people who worked there. It was very gratifying to read a review from an industry insider who said the book “felt like a memoir.”

For the historical sections, I used pretty much everything! The internet, interviews, old newspaper articles, books, including several that were over fifty years out of print. I had great fun reading the gossip columns of the day—most of the performers and incidents in the historical parts of the book really existed. Yes, there was a famous farter!

I’ve always loved research and often have force myself to get started on the book already. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of information because you can always uncover one more fact, learn the history of one more person. Probably only about five percent of what I learn makes it into a book, but I have fun with one hundred percent of it. And often little tidbits I pick up are stored in my “future novel” file.

Marthe is a character that I think people would either love or hate, especially as you learn more and more about her through the book. Could you relate to Marthe in any way especially as she struggles to climb up the social ladder?

Funnily enough, people have responded well to Marthe. It’s Sotheby’s expert April who seems to draw the strongest love/hate reactions! She is a controversial character by design.
As for Marthe, she certainly makes questionable decisions and though I can’t relate to most of her struggles I did find her sections the easiest to write…by far! Her pages almost came out of me fully-formed so I joke that perhaps I was a courtesan in a past life.

I do think her feelings of wanting love and belonging are universal. And as someone approaching 40, I can understand her fear of getting older, even if I don’t need to trade on my looks for my job!

Preserved Paris Apartment

Preserved Paris Apartment

Preserved Paris Apartment

Source: Getty Images

When leafing through the actual photos of the apartment, was there anything that you wish that you could take home with you, like the fictional April (who was gifted the Mickey Mouse) did? I know for me, I would want that stuffed ostrich for a statement piece in our home!

I love this question and have to agree…the ostrich for sure! I adore the Mickey Mouse doll too because he makes for such an interesting juxtaposition against the rest of it. This was the home of someone with considerable wealth. It was filled with antiques that, although quite valuable, are not recognizable to most people. But the Mickey Mouse is identifiable to all, no matter your background.

One of my biggest struggles as a blogger is coming up with an idea before all my friends begin pinning it from someone else on Pinterest. I understand that you had actually come up with the concept of this book before the photos of the real Paris apartment went viral. Were you worried that this might affect sales (positively or negatively) since people were starting to discover the story on their own?

It was so crazy how that happened! My sister emailed me on New Year’s Day with a link to some of the photos. She said “this reminds me of the apartment from your book.” And of course it was the apartment from my book!

By then A Paris Apartment was mostly done, the cover finalized, and the Advanced Reader Copies had already gone to print. I have no idea why it suddenly went viral this year in a way it did not in 2010, which is when I first read about it. Maybe because social media is so much bigger now? Amy Poehler was tweeting about it!

It felt very fortuitous. The only thing that would’ve been better was if it happened closer to my publication date! The news definitely increased attention for my book. I went from getting ones of hits on my website per day to thousands. It also resulted in a flurry of blog posts and stories and self-published books, all a positive for A Paris Apartment. People seem fascinated by the topic, just as I was, and generally when you’re really into something you’re going to read more than one piece on the subject.

So, if anything, the widespread interest helps. In my opinion, a debut author’s biggest threat is obscurity, not other people writing about the same topic!

As a first time novelist, what has surprised you most about the process of publishing your first book? Any words of advice for someone who is on this path towards publishing?

The time requirement for the marketing has been the most unexpected. Blog tours, physical tours…it all chews up so much more time than I ever contemplated. The touring (online and physical) is my favorite because I love connecting real-time with readers, but—wow—I really underestimated that piece of it. It’s been two months since my book came out and I only recently started writing again.

In terms of advice, it’s all about persistence, patience, and faith. You have to be willing to finish this novel, then write the next one, and then the one after that. I swore to myself I’d keep writing and writing until one finally took. The waiting and rejection can be brutal, but it is worth it.

Since your first novel is a historical fiction novel, do you plan to stay within this genre for your next book?

The novel I’m working on is similar in that it has a modern storyline as well as several historical ones. The current book was actually inspired by research I did on the Boldini paintings while writing A Paris Apartment. I’m very excited about it.

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

I recommend Father of the Rain by Lily King to everyone. It is the perfect book. She has a historical novel that came out recently called Euophoria and I can’t wait to read it. That’s another thing that’s fallen to the wayside lately… I’ve gone from reading 2-3 books per week to reading one if I’m lucky!

You can connect with Michelle Gable  on Facebook or on 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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Sundays With Writers: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I am so excited to be featuring a new-to-me author that I discovered this month.  I read her beautiful book, Whistling Past the Graveyard,  in just a couple of short days and absolutely fell in love with it. It was the kind of book that I thought about for many days after.  I would say that if you are a fan of, “The Help,” or young narrator’s with lots of spunk, you will want to get this book right away for your summer reading. If you don’t fall in love with these characters, I fear for you. It’s that endearing. As soon as I closed the pages, I did what any smart blogger would do. I emailed Susan and begged her to join me for Sundays With Writers so I could share it with you.

 

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla’s destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will change her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.

This book is so  beautiful your heart aches. A coming-of-age story about what it means to be family and how the most unlikely people can be a part of that despite all racial and societal barriers. Set in the ’60′s, the spitfire child narrator captured my heart. This story is a perfectly satisfying summer read that I highly recommend you add to your beach bag this summer.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Susan Crandall about this amazing tale of Starla Claudelle in her book, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Susan Crandall

Writing in the voice of a child is one of those elements of writing that I am always fascinated with. Two books that we have talked about before, Room & The Bear, both used a child narrator and people either loved it or they hated it.

I can’t say I have ever heard a child’s voice captured more perfectly than in this book though. One scene that made me laugh is when Starla has the sex talk with her Dad and she is absolutely traumatized by it.

Do you hang out with a lot of nine-year-old kids or were you thinking about your nine-year-old self when you wrote this?

Thank you for the lovely compliment. Youthful characters are always fun to write, but with Starla as a main narrator, it afforded me many, many hours of reminiscing and amusement. I can’t say I’ve been around more nine-year-olds than most people. I’m the mother of two grown kids. I tapped into many things to give Starla her voice, and one of them was definitely my nine-year-old-self. It was a great trip down memory lane (although let me be clear, I was a rule following child, rarely impulsive, never sassy; for that I tapped into my younger sister).

Also, I have to admit, this character had a very distinct voice from the instant she walked into my mind. Sometimes I felt like I was taking dictation.

In one scene, Starla explains what Whistling Past the Graveyard means. She says, “My daddy says that when you do somethin’ to distract you from your worstest fear, it’s like whistlin’ past the graveyard. You know, making a racket to keep the scaredness and the ghosts away. He says that’s how we get by sometimes. But it’s not weak like hidin’…it’s strong. It means you’re able to go on.”

Have you ever done any whistling past the graveyard in your life?

Who hasn’t? That’s what makes the saying so applicable to many of the characters in this book. As for my version of whistling, I tend to bury myself in projects of various natures, the more brainless and physical the better, yard work, closet cleaning, house painting and the like. (From the looks of my house, I’m going to say that it’s been a while since I’ve needed that kind of distraction.) I can’t say I’ve ever honed in on a singular thing like Eula’s baking.

Plus I think there’s a lot of “whistling” we do as a society as a whole, so we don’t have to face our collective shortcomings.

Reading the scenes of abuse and seeing how broken Eula was were both tough for me. Did you have difficulty writing these scenes, particularly the scenes when Stella is captured?

I definitely had trouble making myself write those parts. But they were necessary to tell the full story, for Starla’s journey of discovery to be complete. When I write a scene, I mentally go to that place and endure it second by second along with my characters. Of course, no scene is completely fleshed out in one pass, so I had to fortify myself to go back there day after day.

One of the most difficult for me to write was when Starla meets her momma. As a mother it went against every instinct I had…that’s how I knew it was right.

Racial tension abounds in this book and there were a few scenes where I had a lump in my throat or had to speed read through to be assured that Eula & Starla would be safe. Did you do a lot of research about the ’60′s and what was happening during this time? What type of preparation did you do to really help us understand how hard it would be for a woman like Eula in the ’60′s?

I did extensive research. I do remember the mid-sixties, but grew up in Indiana, so my experience was much different than if I’d grown up in the South. That’s not to say there weren’t incidences of racism in Indiana that helped me sharpen my view. Fortunately there are plenty of resources from old news footage, documentaries, and I read several first-hand accounts written by African-Americans who lived through segregation in the fifties and sixties.

I think the way to really connect with any era, situation, or setting is through the common thread of our humanity. What would I have felt like in those situations. Of course, Eula’s inner trials were often beyond my imagining. One of the reason’s the entire book is from Starla’s point of view is because I can only say what Eula’s life would have looked like from the outside. I can’t imagine the fear and hardship in enough depth to write it from her perspective.

What do you have in store for us with your next book?

I’m working on a story set in 1923. Three people from very different backgrounds–a teenage orphan of German immigrant farmers, a debutant whose family has lost its fortune and a WW1 veteran pilot–are displaced from their lives and join together to travel the county in a barnstorming act. For those of you unfamiliar, in the early days of aviation after the first world war, many of the pilots took advantage of war surplus trainer planes and made a scrappy living by flying from small town to small town selling rides. They used farm pastures for landing strips, thus the name barnstormer. Flying circuses were formed when several pilots banded together to do daredevil exhibitions. They were quite the rage throughout the early and mid-twenties.

All three of my characters are running from something, each carefully guarding their secrets. They’re bound together by mutual need and yet have conflicting goals. It’s a great ride as we travel throughout the country with them, crossing paths with bootleggers, tycoons, farmers and tent revivalists. But their secrets are always right behind them. When they catch up … well, things get dicey.
It’s tentatively scheduled for release in July 2015

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

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).

You can connect with Susan Crandall on Facebook or on 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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The Best in Summer Reading With Scribd (FREE 3 Month Membership!)

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

The Best in Summer Reading With Scribd

 

*This post is sponsored by Scribd

I feel so lucky to be partnering with Scribd again to share a few of my favorite summer reads and an incredible giveaway they are offering for our readers so you can start tackling your own summer reading with their fantastic service.

I have really been enjoying my own Scribd membership over this year and, in fact, loved it so much that I gave it to my Dad for a birthday gift this year. It’s one of those services that I genuinely enjoyed that I just had to share it with my fellow book lovers.

Have you heard of Scribd? If you missed my last post about Scribd, it is an eBook service that works a lot like Netflix, but for books. You pay a low membership fee of $8.99 per month and can read as many books as you want on all of your major ebook reading devices like iPhone, iPad, iOS, Android & the Kindle Fire tablet. It also offers page syncing so you can move from device to device and simply pick up where you left off.

With Scribd you have unlimited access to over 400,000 books (and counting!) from nearly 1,000 publishers including HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Kensington, Open Road Media, & New World Library. The catalog includes fiction books, nonfiction books (like cookbooks), young adult books, and children’s books. Basically, your entire family can benefit from this service, all with the cost of just one membership. I can think of no better gift to give yourself this summer!

For today’s post, I scoured the Scribd site to pull together for you a few of my favorite summer reads that I have enjoyed so much and I am also sharing what I would love to read this summer while I am sitting in my shady spot (I am awfully pale!) by the community pool!

Books I Recommend for Your Summer Reading List on Scribd:

Arranged

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

I have to say that this book is one of my favorite reads this summer, simply because it is deliciously fast-paced chick-lit at its finest.

Anne Blythe seems to have everything. She has sold her first book, has a fabulous life, and fabulous friends. When it comes to being lucky in love though, she can’t seem to ever find the right guy. novel. After her best friend announces her engagement and her latest relationship ends, she decides to take a risk and contact a dating service in hopes of finding the perfect match. Upon her first appointment with the dating service though, she realizes that it is not a dating service at all, but a matchmaking service for an arranged marriage.

Once she starts the process, there is no turning back and Anne finds herself traveling to a Mexican resort where she will meet and marry (all in the same weekend) her “perfect,” guy.

This book has great twists and turns that you will really enjoy and after devouring this book in a mere day, I can’t recommend it enough for a fun reading escape!

Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

If you are looking for a psychological thriller that will have you guessing until the very last page what is happening, then I have the book for you.  This is the best thriller that I have read this year and can hardly believe that it is the author’s first book.

Every single day Christine wakes up not knowing who she is, where she is, and who her husband is.  It is the same scenario every day as she makes her way to the bathroom, where pictures are layered upon the mirror that explain who she is and who her husband is. Each day she must go through the heartbreaking discovery that she has had a terrible accident that has caused her to have permanent amnesia. People she thinks are alive have died.  She can’t remember if she is a mother. She doesn’t know why she doesn’t have any friends. Some days she wakes up and she believes she is in her twenties and cannot even recognize the woman who looks at her in the mirror.

When Christine begins meeting with a doctor, he encourages her to begin journaling each day to help jog her memory of what has been happening in her daily life. As each day opens, Christine opens her journal and begins to read and as she reads, she begins to discover that the life that she is leading might not be all that it seems to be.  As Christine becomes more and more aware of her story and begins to challenge the information that her husband is feeding to her about what has happened, the reader is left wondering if Christine is obsessing about details because she can’t really recall them or if the stories she is hearing are even real?

If you read one thriller this year, let it be this one. I promise you, it is truly amazing and will leave you stunned when you read the final pages.  I can’t wait to read more from this author.

mudbound

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Mudbound is storytelling at its very best and offers a beautifully rendered portrayal of race and politics in the South during the forties. This book is told from alternating points of view and shares the story of a Memphis-bred Laura McAllan who is struggling to adjust to being a farmer’s wife and living the idyllic dream that her husband Henry has for them to live off their own land. When Henry makes an error by trusting a handshake rather than a contract on the home they are renting, they find themselves living in less than ideal conditions in a shack that Henry had hoped to turn into his dream house. Laura not only must deal with the difficulties of living in this shack, but she has to do it with her racist father-in-law constantly judging and spewing hate at her.

As Laura struggles with this, the real story unfolds when Henry’s brother Jamie returns home from the war. Always the favored one, Jamie comes home as a raging alcoholic, struggling with nightmares and post-traumatic stress from the war he left. Ronsel, a son of the sharecroppers who have been hired to work on Henry & Laura’s land, also struggles with leaving the war after being a hero in fighting for his country; he is now seen as just a black boy and treated with only racism and hatred.

When a horrible crime is committed, the four lives of these main characters are woven into one and the reader is taken along on the journey every harrowing step of the way. Twist after twist creates a plot that illustrates racism in a very unique way.

This book is a fast-paced read, that will shock and grip you until the final pages. Not for the faint of heart- a great debut novel from Hillary Jordan worthy of the 2006 Bellwether Prize that she won for this.

Water For Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is an oldie, but a goodie! I actually waited a long time to read this one, but I think I savored it even more! The book opens with Jacob Janowski who is ninety (or ninety-three, a fact he can’t remember) and now living in a nursing home.  His days are now spent being shuffled from his room to the dining area, suffering from the everyday minutiae of life in a nursing home. Of course, his life wasn’t always like this, in fact, Jacob’s life was spent with a traveling circus after the untimely death of his parents. Circus life was a hard life for Jacob and one that he jumped to unknowingly when he boarded a train to escape after his parent’s death.

Gruen’s writing is as vivid as a movie screen as the reader is swept away into the hard and difficult life of being a part of the traveling circus during the Great Depression. When Jacob is appointed to veterinarian, he has a difficult role under August, a paranoid schizophrenic, who acts as the animal trainer of the circus. The reader is swept into the sad life of the animals and the repeated abuse that August inflicts on the animals.

The only sparkle of light in Jacob’s life is Marlena, a beautiful performer in the circus, who Jacob cannot stop thinking about. Sadly, it is August’s wife that he has fallen in love with, and the reader will sit on the edge of their seat as Jacob risks it all to free Marlena from the abusive life that she has been leading with August.

More than a love story, it is an unbelievably well-researched look into the life of the circus at this time, and a love story of how Jacob & Marlena fall in love with an elephant named Rosie who makes a reader’s heart melt in her beauty. Equally impressive is how Gruen is able to capture the life of the elderly as Jacob reminisces and longs for his youth. The ending is perhaps a little too neatly woven, but is a satisfying conclusion to it all as a reader!

Vivid, descriptive, cinematic, raw, chilling… I felt as though I was on a roller coaster just reading this one! Definitely give this one a read before hitting the movie theater! Let’s hope the movie is half as good as this book!

Forgotten

Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie

I can’t believe that I didn’t review this book sooner for you all! I am a HUGE Catherine McKenzie fan and this one is another excellent beach read that you won’t be able to put down.

Emma Tupper is a dedicated lawyer with a bright future. But when she takes a month-long leave of absence to go on an African vacation, she ends up facing unexpected consequences. After she falls ill and spends six months trapped in a remote village thanks to a devastating earthquake, Emma returns home to discover that her friends, boyfriend, and colleagues thought she was dead–and that her life has moved on without her.

As she struggles to re-create her old life, throwing herself into solving a big case for a client and trying to reclaim her beloved apartment from the handsome photographer who assumed her lease, everyone around her thinks she should take the opportunity to change. But is she willing to sacrifice her job, her relationships, and everything else she worked so hard to build?

In “Forgotten,” Catherine McKenzie tweaks a classic tale of discovering who we really are when everything that brings meaning to our lives is lost.

When She Woke

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Imagine if your sins were on display for the entire world to see?  Hillary Jordan creates a futuristic spin on how society would look if our skin was colored based on the crime we committed.  The story follows Hannah Payne who has recently been, “chromed,” and is red because she has committed murder.  Hannah knows that this is the cross that she must bear for her crimes, but she has no idea how horrible her life will be now that society knows the sins she has committed.

Hannah was always a good girl and was raised in a very conservative family where it was even frowned up on to wear anything with color or that would draw attention to her natural beauty. The climate of the government also leans towards conservative views and the laws go along with the government views of what is right and wrong in this dystopian society.  She has always been a girl that has done the right thing, but she falls in love with a married man who sweeps her off her feet and causes her to make a decision that she will now spend the remainder of her sentence paying for.  To protect the future of the prominent man that she has fallen in love with, she must bear the burden alone and is now melachromed for her actions for all the world to see.

When an extremist underground group tries to help Hannah and reverse the chroming that has been done to her, the reader is taken on a thrilling journey as Hannah risks her safety and life for the crime she has committed.

Hillary Jordan could not have picked a book concept further from her fantastic debut, “Mudbound.”  This book would lend itself well to book club discussions as it flips every political debate on its head.  From abortion to women’s rights to Christianity to punishment for one’s crimes, no political rock is left unturned.  While one might not agree with Hannah’s viewpoint or those of the extremist views of the underground group, the concept of chroming is rich with discussion and a true modern day take on, “The Scarlet Letter.”

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

I love debut novelists and the first book that I read on Scribd was The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.  This book deals with big topics like race identity and where we fit in the world when we are biracial. Rachel is the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

Faith

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith is a masterpiece of literature that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. The novel does have a slow build as it shares a bit about the history and the scandal of 2002 when many Boston priests were accused of molestation in the Catholic Church, but the story is worth the plot set up and is a book that you will want to share and discuss with your friends.

Art is the apple of his mother’s eye and is wholly committed to dedicating his life to God from the time he is a child and on. He lovingly serves his church and feels great satisfaction in his work as a priest. When suddenly he is thrust into the spotlight and is accused of molesting a child that he has grown close to through his work in the church, he is devastated as his life is under scrutiny by the media, by other church members, by other priests, and by his family.

While some in his family side with him, others do not. When shocking discoveries are made into his past and the relationship that he has had with the little boy, the reader must examine which side they might be on and see both sides of the coin as his family comes to terms with these accusations. How would you feel if your son, your brother, or the person you trusted in your church was accused of such an act? Could you stand beside them or would you shun them even if they told you they would never do such a thing?

Haigh’s writing is exquisitely rich and the story is told through a fresh set of eyes from the scandal that we witnessed in the media.  Haigh brings in an angle that led me to believe that there truly are two sides to every story.

Spin

Spin by  Catherine McKenzie

I would be remiss if I didn’t include one more book by Catherine. Her books are the perfect addition to your beach bag and this past month, she came up with a sequel to this book that I am dying to pick up. Although I don’t see the sequel listed on Scribd yet, you must read this first book and get ready for it because it is such a fun escape!

When Kate Sandford lands an interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line, it’s the chance of a lifetime. So Kate goes out to celebrate—and shows up still drunk to the interview the next morning. It’s no surprise that she doesn’t get the job, but her performance has convinced the editors that she’d be perfect for an undercover assignment for their gossip rag. All Kate has to do is follow “It Girl” Amber Sheppard into rehab. If she can get the inside scoop—and complete the thirty-day program—they’ll reconsider her for the position at The Line. Kate takes the assignment, but when real friendships start to develop, she has to decide if what she has to gain is worth the price she’ll have to pay.

Fun, fast-paced, and one I couldn’t put down- you will love it!

2014 Summer Reading List

Now that you have some tried-and-true ideas for your summer reading, here are nine books I am dying to read on Scribd this summer. Maybe you can read along with me?

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Unless by Carol Shields

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

In celebration of summer reading, Scribd is offering EVERY MomAdvice a free three month trial membership by using our exclusive access code. To access your free membership head HERE and then input the following code: momadvice0614.   I’m so excited for you to try this service and I just know that you will love it as much as I do! Leave us a comment and let us know what you are excited to read on Scribd! 

This post is sponsored by Scribd. I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and effort in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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My Top Ten Books of 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Best Reads of 2013 from MomAdvice.com.Well, it was another incredible year of reading and I am so excited to share with you my top ten picks for the best of reading in 2013. Not only will I share with you the top ten best books of 2013, but I’d also love to share a few honorable mentions to add to your reading piles.

This year I read 42 books, although I had a goal of 60. Does coming out with your own book this year count as a two or three books? I sure hope so!  I don’t waste my precious reading time reading terrible books and I value your time too, that is why I create this list every year to hopefully inspire you to pick up something new from your local library.

Be sure to connect with me on my  Author Profile on GoodReads and you will find my book is listed there too! I would be ecstatic if you became a fan of my writing and would love to see my book listed as something you might be reading in 2014. 

As always, if you are looking for a little inspiration this year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, I read many more books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of the month here. If you want to read more, please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

In no particular order, here are my favorite books of 2013!

11/22/63

11/22/63 by Stephen King

It has been many years since I have read a Stephen King book, but I kept hearing that I should pick up this book from so many people (including my amazing friend Kristen from Dine & Dish) that I thought I would give this book a try. I can’t rave enough about this book. YOU MUST READ IT.

This is not horror fiction, but historical fiction offering up the hypothetical scenario that if you could change something in history, would you alter it and what would the consequences be if history was changed.

Jake Epping  teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and is recently divorced from his wife and going through the everyday minutiae of middle-aged life. When he happens upon an assignment from one of his students, a brain-damaged janitor’s story of a childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father, it brings him to tears and he finds that he can’t stop thinking about what if his life had worked out differently.

When he has lunch at his favorite diner, the diner owner and friend, Al, shares that he has a secret portal to 1958 that he uses to time travel in the back pantry of his restaurant.  He has been taking notes and following Lee Harvey Oswald to see if he can alter the JFK assassination. His dying wish is that Jake can use his notes and actually complete the mission of killing Lee Oswald Harvey before he kills JFK.

Jake decides to fulfill Al’s dying wish and begins a new life in 1958 under the name of George Amberson. What Jake doesn’t expect is how quickly his life can become settled in this new era or how his life would change if he met his one true love?

I loved absolutely everything about this book and when I finished it, I wanted to read the story all over again. It has a beautiful love story, great suspense, and leads to the ultimate question, “Would you change history if you could?”

I can’t recommend this book enough- I would give it ten stars if I could!

Forever Interrupted

Forever Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins

In the summer I am always looking for a good reading escape and I have found that with, “Forever Interrupted,” by Taylor Jenkins. It is a love story that has been forever interrupted when Elsie Porter meets her soul mate, gets married, and finds herself being widowed… all in six short months?

What complicates the story further though is that Elsie’s husband has never told his family about her and his mother is less-than-happy to find out that Ben had a wife that he had never told her about.

It would be an awfully short story though if it ended there and Reid beautifully weaves together the amazing love story of Elsie & Ben from the very beginning while flashing forward as Elsie struggles to move on and finds comfort in one of the most unlikely of people.

I would recommend this one for fans of Emily Giffin, our readers that loved, “Arranged,” as much as I did,  and for those who appreciated the love story of, “One Day.” I found myself both laughing, crying, and sometimes laughing and crying all at the same time.

I bet you read this one in just a couple of short days- it is a hard one to ever put down! I can’t wait to read more from this author!

Me Before You

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

It is rare for a book to stick with me as long as this story has, but Me Before You holds a special place in my heart this year. Although I think it falls in the chick-lit vein, the story of the challenges and difficulties of becoming and living as a paraplegic made me think about those living with this challenge in a new way.

 

Louisa Clark is on the hunt for a job and unable to find work when she stumbles upon a job caring for a paraplegic. Although she has no medical background and feels this job isn’t really a good fit for her, she is simply asked to be a companion and keep Will Traynor company. Will is wheelchair bound after a tragic accident that has altered his entire life. A man who loved extreme sports and travel, he wonders how much longer he can live like this and if a life like this is worth living.

 

I absolutely loved this story and the reader will find themselves wondering what they would do if they were in these character’s shoes. Beautifully told with emotion and humor,  you just won’t be able to put this one down!
Eleanor & Park

eleanor & park by rainbow rowell

Eleanor & Park was an Amazon Book of Month in young adult fiction in 2013 and once these characters weave their way into your heart, you will understand just why this book was selected.
Eleanor just doesn’t fit in with her peers, wild hair and patchwork outfits, do not seem to help her blend in better. When she is forced to choose a seat on the bus she ends up sitting next to Park, a quiet kid who is obsessed with comic books and an outsider himself.
When Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulders, he starts sharing them with her, which later develops into a sharing of great mixed music tapes, and then develops into more than either of them can imagine.
Set in 1986, this book made me laugh out loud and made me cry. Eleanor is one of those quirky characters that you just can’t help rooting for. Although this is written for young adults, anyone who ever survived those awful days of high school will love this book.
Editor’s Note: Adult Language

Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

I absolutely love Diane Chamberlain. Pair a Diane Chamberlain with a period piece? Well, I am there!  Necessary Lies is one of those books you just want to share with a book club because it lends itself to such a great discussion on what role our government should play (if any)  in our lives when they happen to be the system our families need to rely on in financial struggles.

Chamberlain weaves a fictional story about the very real North Carolina’s Eugenics Sterilization Program that was in effect from 1929 to 1975. In this story, 15-year-old Ivy Hart, her mentally slow 17-year-old sister, and young nephew “Baby” William all live with their grandmother who is in failing health. Jane Forrester becomes Ivy’s family’s social worker and she encounters the state program that seeks to sterilize “mental defectives,” among others with supposedly undesirable characteristics. Through every choice she makes from then on, Jane triggers an inescapable series of events that thrusts everything either she or Ivy ever held to be true into a harsh light, binding them together in ways they do not immediately comprehend or appreciate.

Although I felt this one had a slower build for me, it was worth powering through for the incredible discussion and the endearing characters that are told through this story.  I just can’t stop thinking about this one! If you love this book, be sure to check out her prequel!

East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I always try to tackle one classic each year and  I am so proud that I actually tackled this and Wuthering Heights this year, which was no small feat for me! My husband has been hounding me since high school to read this book and still had his old dog-eared copy for me in our nightstand. I finally relented and read it and I am SO glad that I did. It was definitely one of the best books that I have read this year!

The book takes place in California in the Salinas Valley, a home to two families whose lives are fatefully intertwined in many ways. Over the generations, between the beginning of the twentieth century and the end of the First World War, the Trasks and the Hamiltons replay out two of the Bible’s most memorable stories- the story of Cain & Abel and the story of Adam & Eve.

The story is so beautifully told and shockingly provocative for the time, it is said to be Steinbeck’s greatest work. After reading it, I would say that it is one of the greatest works I have ever read. I really want you to read this one too!
Editor’s Note: Adult Language & Sexuality

The Storyteller

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

I will admit that I have given up on the last few Picoult books that I have read. The books just didn’t have the spark that I was looking for anymore and started to feel predictable. Each week though, someone recommended this book to me on our reading thread so I decided to give in and read it. This is nothing like she has ever written before and will likely be one of my top ten books I have read this year. You really MUST read it.

Sage Singer works the night shift as a baker, preparing pastries and breads until the wee hours of the morning. She is scarred physically and emotionally and prefers to work alone, but finds that she is leading a lonely life.. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship that will forever change both of their lives. You see, Josef has a secret that he has been living with his whole life, and he is about to ask Sage for a favor that he hopes she won’t refuse.

I wish I could say more, but this is one that I guarantee you will be thinking about and that would lend itself well to any book club discussion. I dare to say that this is the best book yet by Jodi Picoult!

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Just at the tail end of this year, I was able to sneak in this gem of a book and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it. The characters in this one are so beautiful and Brunt writes the angst and emotions of a teenage girl in an achingly beautiful way that will remind you of your own youth.

The story is set in 1987. June Elbus is at the tender ag e of fourteen and her uncle (and best friend), a renowned painter has passed away from AIDS. At the time, it is still an illness that few people understand and there is much shame and secrecy about Finn’s death.

At Finn’s funeral though, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days after the funeral, June receives a package that has a note from a man named Toby, who claims to be a friend of Finn’s. He sends to her Finn’s teapot, a treasured item that June has always loved, and says that he woud like to meet with her.
An unlikely friendship is forged, but it is a secret friendship that threatens her family in unlikely ways.
This book is heartachingly beautiful and pitch-perfect. I hope you can give this one a try!
Orphan Train

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Everyone has been talking about this book, but I didn’t read it until a couple of months ago. All I can say is, wow. Any book that teaches me something new about history and weaves in a beautiful story is a winner in my book. It was a book that I couldn’t stop talking about and would lend itself well to any of your book club discussions!
If you haven’t read this one yet, it is actually two stories told in alternating chapters. First it the modern-day story of  Molly Ayer who is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. After stealing a beloved classic book from her local library, she is assigned community service. Through her boyfriend’s mom, she finds a job helping an elderly woman named Vivian sort through her possessions.

As they sort, Molly learns that Vivian was an orphan too. A young Irish immigrant orphan who was placed upon a train in the Midwest, just as hundreds of other children, in search of a home. The reader follows Vivian’s journey in and out of homes as she searches for the kindness of a family and a safe place to sleep. It is a heart-wrenching tale, but Molly & Vivian are going to find a way to help each other through their unlikely friendship.

The Paris Architect The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Did you hear? We started our first Book Club! I’m so excited and I hope you will join in. It wouldn’t be a top ten list without our book club pick.

I am so excited to be getting our first book club selection off the ground and have chosen, “The Paris Architect,” by Charles Belfoure as this month’s selection.

You know when you read a book and you can’t stop talking about it? That book was this book for me this month. The story is set in 1942 in Paris and tells the story of a gifted architect named Lucien Bernard. In a time of true economic strife and rations in the city, Lucien is commissioned to design secret hiding places in homes to hide wealthy Jews to prevent them from being taken by the Nazis. Although, Lucien is no way supportive of assisting the Jews, he is very hungry for money and if he can design these spaces, he is also given other jobs that can help him continue leading a rather comfortable life.

The problem is… by assisting the Jewish people he is risking his own life. The other problem is… what if he actually starts to care?

This book will be graphic in nature. There is violence, language, and sexuality. This will not be an easy topic. This is a book you will want to talk about. This will be a book you will remember.

I hope you will join us next month for our discussion! Get your questions ready for Charles by January 17th! I will be emailing them to him for his answers!

Although these are my top ten of the year, I do have a few honorable mentions for you to consider for your book bags as well! 

Honorable Mentions

Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

If you read one book with your kids this year, let it be this one. Wonder is truly one of the best kid’s books I have read in a long time and Augustus is the most fantastic little boy that you will want your child to emulate and look up to.

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity and thanks to his numerous surgeries he has been homeschooled by his family.  Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. 

The book is told from August’s perspective and then tells it from other kids that are around him, his sister, and even his sister’s boyfriend. When all of these stories are pieced together, it creates the perfect telling of what it is like to be someone who looks different then those around him and what it would be like to love or be friends with someone who is different.

This book is absolutely perfect in every single way from start to finish. It deals with big issues, but truly is captured in the voice of a fifth grade boy. I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait to share this book with my two children.

Z

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

If there is one lady that I now have mad love for it is Zelda Fitzgerald after reading this fantastic historical fiction account of her life.

Zelda Sayre is anything, but typical. Reckless and a little wild, Zelda  meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918,  when she is just seventeen years old and he is serving as a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama.  Zelda has always been determined to never settle down, but Scott’s charms wear her down despite the fact that he has no wealth to his name, no prominence, and isn’t even Southern. Her family is unimpressed, but through a little trickery of her own, Zelda manages to push Scott into selling his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s.  Days later, Zelda boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, believing that everything will work out in the end.

This wild pair earn the fascination and adoration of the public and become a public spectacle that is reported in the papers. They partake in wild partying and drinking as Scott tries to continue writing with little success and little money coming in. Zelda, a writer in her own right, tries to find herself and who she is when she is oh-so-much-more than just F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife.

I absolutely loved this book and reading about their relationship. You know it is good if you go on an evening of reading on Wikipedia after you are done reading a book. I loved this book from start to finish!

A Hundred Summers

 A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

Although summer is long past, if you want to feel like it is summer again pick up this divine book for a quick and wonderful escape. When the ever-so-handsome football hero Nick Greenwald joins an Ivy League campus in the uncertain days of the Great Depression he falls madly in love with Lily Dane. Lily’s family, however, is not pleased that she has found her suitor in a boy from a Jewish family. Her beautiful best friend, Budgie, ends up marrying Nick shortly after they break off their relationship, leaving Lily brokenhearted and bewildered. Seven years later, the Greenwalds turn up at Seaview, Rhode Island, the same town where Lily’s family vacations and Lily finds all the answers she has been looking for all of these years in a minefield of plot twists and turns!

Orange is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman

If the television series on Netflix was too racy for you, this book is surprisingly tamer and a truly interesting read about what it would be like to be a woman prisoner.

Piper Kerman is the girl next door that we all love and admire. She has a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, but Piper also has a past that few people know about. She got herself mixed up with the wrong people  and found herself assisting a drug ring with a suitcase of drug money ten years before. As our pasts often do, her past had a way of creeping up on her and Piper is convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
This book offers a closer look into the prison system and what it would be like as a prisoner and what her life was like over the course of her sentence.

I couldn’t put this book down and read it in just a couple of short days. Although I didn’t feel the story flowed as well as it could have, the content within it was absolutely fascinating to me. The friendships between these women and what a day in the life of a prisoner really would be like, is a far cry from what I had envisioned. This is a very thought-provoking book that would be a great one to share with your book club pals and will have you seeing the whole prison system in a far different light.

Editor’s Note: Adult Language & Sexuality

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

There is so much to love about this book from John Green and the characters are just as endearing as that fabulous Eleanor & Park book that I highlighted above. In full disclosure, this is a book that you need a big box of tissues with and one that will stick with you long after you close the pages.
This is the story of an unlikely group of friends that meet through their Cancer Kid Support Group. Hazel has experienced a medical miracle and her tumor has been shrinking, buying her a few more years, but she finds that she is depressed despite the good news. Her doctors encouage her to participate in a support group which permanently alters Hazel’s path. When she meets Augustus, they quickly form a deep bond that neither could have ever anticipated.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away on this one, but it is so beautifully told, with heart-wrenching honesty, that these kids will wedge right into your heart when you read about them.

The Girl You Left Behind

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

After reading Me Before You, I was dying to pick up this book, especially when I heard that it was historical fiction. I have to say that I loved this one almost as much as I loved Me Before You.

The first part of the story is set in 1916 in France. Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight on the front lines.  When their  town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, this same painting is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is—putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.

Once I started this book, I just couldn’t put it down. Both stories were equally compelling and the story behind this painting is beautifully told and heartbreaking, especially the lengths that Sophie will go to to reunite with her husband.

Night Film

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This book was unlike anything I have ever read before and was one of those books that I have to say was super fun and interactive on my Kindle because of the mixed media approach towards piecing together this mystery and thriller.

Ashley Cordova, daughter of the famous horror movie producer Stanislas Cordova, is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

If you love a good mystery, you will love the interactive nature of this book. The reader gets to surf through web discussions, magazine articles, medical files, news clippings, and photographs to piece together the mystery.

My only critique on this one is that it was about two hundred pages too long and the build-up kind of left me feeling a defeated as to what the mystery was surrounding the death.

I still give it a solid four stars for the genius use of mixed media and getting to feel like a detective for a week. It was the most fun I have had with a book in a long time, but I do recommend splurging for the Kindle version to really enjoy those features. I can’t wait to read more from this author!

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me a latte instead.  Then we both would be really happy and we could have our own little book club together! Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely? Happy Reading!

 

Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2013 or share your links to your own round-ups!? Anything I should 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!

 

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