Archive for the ‘MomAdvice Book Club’ Category

This Is Where I Leave You (TIWILY) Book Club & Giveaway (Plus Caramel Apple Sangria Recipe!!)

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You (TIWILY) Book Club Ideas #TIWILYbookclub, #TIWILY *This post is sponsored by Warner Bros. Pictures

I am so excited that my book club was chosen to participate in a This Is Where I Leave You book club before the film hits the big screen on September 19th.  When I was asked to participate, I had heard of Jonathan Tropper, but had never read one of his books before.  I can honestly say that if you are wanting to add a little sparkle and hilarity to your book club discussion, This Is Where I Leave You is the book for you.

I read this book in a record two days and my husband kept finding me with it in some state of crying-laughing almost every moment I read it.  Although he isn’t much of a reader, I handed it to him and said, “You must read it.”  Each night when I crawl into bed, I hear random laughing and snorting on his side of the bed.  It is that kind of book that you finish and hand off to someone else so you can laugh about it together.

This Is Where I Leave You (TIWILY) Book Club Ideas #TIWILYbookclub, #TIWILY

When their father passes away, four grown siblings, bruised and banged up by their respective adult lives, are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and the frayed states of their relationships among the people who know and love them best, they ultimately reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways amid the chaos, humor, heartache and redemption that only families can provide—driving us insane even as they remind us of our truest, and often best, selves.

This-Is-Where-I-Leave-You-Book-Club-Questions-5
In this story, each of the siblings are told that it is their father’s dying wish for them to sit shiva together as a family. The irony is that their father is an atheist who made it known he didn’t believe in religion, but with their mother’s persuasion, she manages to get their family together under one roof for one week. With no escaping each other and a lot of time to reflect on life and the choices they have made, it really makes for some hilarious moments of family dysfunction at its best.  What I loved about this story more than anything is the message that even when they drive us crazy, we will always love our family.

I love it in the way that I loved the movie Bridesmaids- so wrong and so right. Raunchy, hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming, and so perfectly pitched. I would highly recommend this one for fans of Arrested Development as it reads just like my favorite episodes of the early seasons of the Bluth family. The crazy family dramas are always my favorites and this family does not disappoint in the craziness department. For better or worse, they are family, with all that history and messiness and love. 

This Is Where I Leave You (TIWILY) Book Club Ideas #TIWILYbookclub, #TIWILY
Love stories told from male authors sometimes fall short for me, but that was not the case in this one. Tropper does such a fantastic job of sharing what a failing marriage looks like, what it would feel like to lose the love of your life (interweaving old stories of the couple and new), and how one can find love again. Even in the darkest of moments of this marriage, Tropper finds a way to bring the hilarity into even the depressing situations of losing your life partner.

Since the movie will be hitting the big screen on September 19th, I hosted our book club to read the book and then we plan to make an outing to see the book on the big screen.  Sometimes it is difficult to find a book that we all like, but this one fit the bill perfectly for our group and we used the time to have a delicious brunch together and celebrate the kids heading back-to-school.

After seeing the trailer, I already know that this is going to be one of my favorite movies this year. I have to say that after reading the book, the film could not have been more perfectly cast and I kept seeing these actors in these roles even as I read the book.  Many times the movies just don’t live up to the books, but I can already tell that this one won’t be the case.

This Is Where I Leave You (TIWILY) Book Club Ideas #TIWILYbookclub, #TIWILY

TIWILY Boozy Brunch Ideas

Here are some delicious brunch options for a fun morning with your girlfriends that are some of my favorite when I am entertaining. I am selecting these because they can be made before everyone arrives so that you can really enjoy book club with your friends.  You will also find a fun drink I have created just for your book club that you can sip while chatting about the book.

In the theme of the book and all the food that is brought to the family as they sit shiva, you could also make your friends bring you brunch dishes potluck style in excessive abundance, taking the pressure off of you as the hostess.

Perhaps you could even pass some of these recipes on to them and ask them to make them for you.

It just seems like something awkward that the Foxman family might try in the book.

Blame the theme.

Delicious Brunch Options:

Sausage & Vegetable Frittata

Slow Cooked Honey Crisp Apple Oatmeal

Easy Bloody Mary Mix

Baked Blueberry Donuts With a Lemon Glaze

Dairy-Free Crustless Quiche

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls

Blueberry Sangria Lemonade

What is a book club without a good discussion? LAME. Here are some of my favorite book club questions that I gathered for our discussion together!

TIWILY Book Club Questions

1. What was your first impression of Judd’s wife, Jen? Because you see her almost entirely from Judd’s perspective, was there any chance to see her as a sympathetic character before Judd finds her so? Do you think that Judd and Jen have a chance at salvaging their relationship, with or without a baby girl to raise?

2. Discuss Judd’s mother and her relationship with each of her children. Do you think that Hillary Foxman was truly a bad mother? Was there any real irony in her being a child-rearing guru? What was your opinion of her character?

3. Most of the characters in this novel struggle against living up to an ideal established either by themselves or by a friend, family member, or spouse. Judd fails to be the perfect husband, brother, and son; Jen fails to be the perfect wife; Wendy fails to be the perfect mother and Alice fails to become a mother at all. Mort and Hillary Foxman, it turns out, fail their children spectacularly in some ways while succeeding in others. What do the lives of these characters reveal to us about perfectionism, ideals, and our expectations for ourselves and others?

4. For all of their faults, is the Foxman clan a likeable group of people? What makes them an endearing group of people? Who did you like the most, and who did you find the least appealing, and why? Were there any characters you would have liked to see developed further?

5. Clearly, Judd is an adult, yet this book can also be seen as a delayed coming-of-age story. What does Judd learn in the end about himself and his role in helping to create the world in which he finds himself?

6. Discuss Judd Foxman, the novel’s protagonist, from his very ironic and dry sense of humor (shared also by his brothers and sister), to his anger and vulnerability regarding his wife’s infidelity, to his conflicted emotions regarding his immediate family. What was your first impression of the protagonist/narrator of this novel? What did you find the most engaging aspect of his character? Did you find any aspect of him off-putting?

7. What comment is Tropper making about the role of trauma and tragedy in our lives? Almost every character in this book suffers or has suffered: Phillip from his neglected/overindulged childhood; Judd from his wife’s infidelity; Horry from his brain damage; Paul from the Rottweiler attack; Wendy from her unhappy marriage; and Alice from her infertility. What does their unhappiness, and the way each person copes with that unhappiness, teach us?

Be sure to head to the theaters to see This Is Where I Leave You on September 19th!

Want to connect more?

Visit the official website

Like This is Where I Leave You on Facebook

Follow @wbpictures on Twitter and Instagram

Share your own book club and hashtag it with #TIWILY #TIWILYbookclub

In honor of the movie, I am hosting a giveaway today for one (1) $50 Visa gift card and a copy of the book so you can enjoy reading the book and then catch the film in theaters September 19th! Please follow instructions in the Rafflecopter below to enter to win by September 12th! One winner will be chosen at random!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Caramel Apple Sangria

Caramel Apple Sangria
Recipe type: Drinks
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
Nothing screams the Fall season like caramel apples. This recipe is just 4 simple ingredients and perfect for your next get together!
Ingredients
  • 1 bottle of Pinot grigio
  • 1 cup caramel flavored vodka
  • 6 cups apple cider
  • 2 medium apples, cored and chopped
Instructions
  1. Stir the wine, vodka, and apple cider together in a large pitcher or serving container.
  2. Add the chopped apples to the pitcher, or to individual glasses.
  3. Serve the sangria over ice.

 

*This post is sponsored by Warner Bros. Pictures.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

Pin It

Sundays With Writers: The Orphans Of Race Point by Patry Francis

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I am so excited to be interviewing our next MomAdvice Book Club author today. In case you missed my unofficial announcement on Facebook, I decided to add one more summer selection since I am assuming we will have more time to read in the summer.  The first reason is because I read this book, shut it, and immediately wanted to share it with you. The second reason is because Patry Francis is such an intriguing and inspiring woman that I know you will be just as swept away in her words and life as I was.

The Orphans Of Race Point by Patry Francis

For our July selection for the MomAdvice Book Club, we will be discussing The Orphans Of Race Point.  This book is absolutely stunning from start to finish. It was filled with words that begged to be read again because they felt like poetry to me.  It is a  beautifully woven story with big moral messages about love, forgiveness, and redemption. The plot twists? I never saw them coming, which happens rarely when you are an avid reader like I am. I will say now that you will see this book on my top ten books I read this year list and I have no doubt it will be in your top ten too! 

Set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Orphans of Race Point traces the relationship between Hallie Costa and Gus Silva, who meet as children in the wake of a terrible crime that leaves Gus parentless. Their friendship evolves into an enduring and passionate love that will ask more of them than they ever imagined.

On the night of their high school prom, a terrible tragedy devastates their relationship and profoundly alters the course of their lives. And when, a decade later, Gus—now a priest—becomes entangled with a distraught woman named Ava and her daughter Mila, troubled souls who bring back vivid memories of his own damaged past, the unthinkable happens: he is charged with murder. Can Hallie save the man she’s never stopped loving, by not only freeing him from prison but also—finally—the curse of his past?

Told in alternating voices, The Orphans of Race Point illuminates the transformative power of love and the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives.

When I finished the final pages on this book, I contacted Patry to ask if she would participate in a discussion of her book with you and if I could interview her about her life. After doing some research on her, I knew that this is the kind of writer whose backstory was just as fascinating as her book. Patry graciously agreed to talk to me and you this summer! 

Our book club discussion will be held on July 29th so be sure to order a copy of the book or put one on hold at your library. If you are anything like me, you will want this one for your bookshelf because it is a book worth rereading! Let’s dive in and learn more about the author behind this beautiful book! 

Patry Francis

Many moms put on hold their own ambitions to support and raise their families. You are a mom of four that supported them through a waitressing job and used pockets of time to write. What would you tell another mom who has put her dreams on hold to support her family?

My oldest son was born when I was just nineteen so children and the necessity of physically caring for them, learning what they needed most to develop their gifts, helping to support them financially–and just enjoying them– has always been woven into my story. However, writing was also a dream I’d nurtured since childhood, and I always believed that my commitment had to be as big as my dream. Though my priority was my family for many years, there was rarely a day when I didn’t find a stray hour, or even fifteen minutes, to devote to my goal. Since writing usually requires a a long apprenticeship, it’s not something that can be put off till “someday”–at least, not entirely. I was fortunate to have a husband who believed in me and demanded that the family take “Mom’s work” seriously.

Your words in your book, The Orphans of Race Point, read like poetry to me and you have such a beautiful way of weaving words that I found myself repeating the phrases out loud. Do these moments just flow out of you or is this something a writer has to develop and practice to achieve?

First of all, thank you for saying that! I wrote poetry in my early years, partly because I loved reading it, but also because it was easier to complete a draft in an hour, which gave me a sense of accomplishment. With fiction, I began like most writers do, by imitating writers I admired. At the time, I was reading a lot of novels about sophisticated singles living in urban settings. I emulated their style and even their subject matter, even though my own life and preoccupations couldn’t have been more different. It took practice before I trusted myself enough to write about characters who were more like people I knew, and issues that were really important to me. When my own voice finally emerged, it was like finding my wings.

I want to save our discussion of The Orphans of Race Point for this summer’s book club, but I loved the character of Gus, in all of his beauty and brokenness.  How much of your husband’s work as a minister helped to shape the role of Gus in your book? Did he also help you with what he thought Gus might think, feel, or do in those pivotal moments?

I love this question because it allowed me to ponder something I hadn’t previously considered. (My husband,Ted, appreciated it, too! ) Gus, who is the heart of the novel for me, came in the mysterious, almost inexplicable way that the characters who haunt me most appear. The only way I could get to know him was by listening to his voice as I wrote. So in that sense, the answer is no. Neither my husband, nor anyone else could really help me.

However, the subconscious is another matter! In the childhood section of the novel, there is a scene in which Gus deliberately picks the weakest player for his baseball team because he feels the other boy’s shame at always being chosen last. When my husband, who was also very athletic as a kid, came upon that passage, he asked if I knew he had done that, too. I didn’t, but I can’t say it surprised me!

Ted has also done a lot of work in hospitals, and undoubtedly many of his stories about the patients he met, his openness to hearing their stories and offering them comfort helped me to understand Gus’s gift for working with the sick and the reason he found so much satisfaction in it.

I have witnessed the power of community & friendship through online writing and I know you have too. During the publishing of your very first book, you were diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, which should have been a true time of celebration for you and that moment. Your community of writers/bloggers came together (300 of them!) to encourage you and the sale of your book since you were having surgery and recovering during its release. Did that help you gain strength during that time? How are you feeling now?

When I first received my diagnosis, I planned to keep it private. But the connection I felt with my online community was so real and vital that eventually I decided to share my experience and how I was dealing with it on my blog in a post I called “Two Ounces of Bliss”. I knew my online community would be supportive–they always were–but I never could have predicted the incredible outpouring of kindness and generosity I received.  Organized by my friends, Susan Henderson, Amy MacKinnon, Jessica Keener, and Tish Cohen, it swelled to include novelists like Khaled Hosseini and Neil Gaiman, who had never met me, but who took to the internet to promote a fellow writer who couldn’t do it for herself. Though I was pretty sick at the time, it was one of the most extraordinary days of my life, and it still lifts me up whenever I think about it.

I spent the next two years in and out of  hospitals, but I’m currently in good health. If anything positive came from the experience (aside from witnessing the goodness of my communities, both real and virtual) it was that that I no longer take anything for granted.  Whether it’s sharing a cup of tea with a friend, enjoying a family milestone, or bringing the novel I began twelve years ago to readers, I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am to be here.

What is a book other than your own which you would recommend?

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

 I look forward to discussing The Orphans of Race Point with you in July! A huge thank you to our featured writer, Patry Francis, for sharing her heart this Sunday with us!

 

*This post contains affiliate links! Love our Sundays With Writers series? Check out all of our past interviews!  
Pin It

April Book Club Discussion With the Author: The Bear

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The Bear by Claire Cameron

Welcome to our April Book Club! I am so excited to be talking about this month’s selection, “The Bear,” by Claire Cameron.  Claire has truly been such a generous author to share in our book club discussion today and her book was so beautifully written that I could not wait to talk about it today.

Just as a recap from our announcement last week, here is a little on the basic premise of this book.

While camping with her family on a remote island, five-year-old Anna awakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A bear has found their campsite and her parents become the bear’s victims.

As her mother lays injured on the ground, she convinces Anna to take her brother in the canoe, getting them away from the bear and (hopefully) to safety. Anna & Sticky must fight for survival as they are lost and alone in the wilderness.

Told through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, we see the struggles and triumphs as she tries to find safety with her brother.  A survival story unlike any other I have read, it is one that you just won’t be able to put down because you must know what happens to these children.

Wow, I don’t know about you, but this novel kept me on the edge of my seat until I finished it. I could not close the final pages until I knew if Anna & Sticky were safe.

As readers, we are swept away in the suspenseful story of Anna & her brother Alex (nicknamed Sticky). While their family is camping on a remote island, five-year-old Anna awakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A bear has found their campsite and her parents become the bear’s victims.

As her mother lays injured on the ground, she convinces Anna to take her brother in the canoe, getting them away from the bear and (hopefully) to safety. Anna & Sticky must fight for survival as they are lost and alone in the wilderness.

Told through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, we see the struggles and triumphs as she tries to find safety with her brother.

Although telling the story through the eyes of a five-year-old can get a little old, I think it lends itself well in this survival story because we have to understand what Anna’s motives are for keeping her brother safe.

In the author’s note, we learn that in October of 1991, Ryamond Jakubauskas & Carola Frehe pitched a tent on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park and were attacked by a large male black bear.

Both of them died from injuries inflicted by the bear and there were no clear reasons why this bear attacked, other than hunger.

The author worked as a counselor at a summer camp at the park and used these stories and theories about what happened as a basis for her novel, adding in the children.

Since this story is only about the children, it is told through Anna’s eyes and her interpretation of what happened to her parents, who attacked them (referred to as a dog), and, ultimately, how they will survive.

Of course, since it is told through a child’s eyes, we also sometimes follow along confused about what is happening to them and what is real versus what is imagined. This helps us to truly understand Anna’s own confusion about the situation.

I loved that the story, in the end, had them come back to the place where the attack happened, in a small ceremony bringing a little more peace to them both.

Claire Cameron

Born in 1973, Claire Cameron grew up in Toronto. She studied History and Culture at Queen’s University. She then worked as an instructor for Outward Bound, teaching mountaineering, climbing, and white-water rafting in Oregon. Next she worked in San Francisco for Pearson Plc before moving to London in 1999. There she was director of Shift Media, a consultancy whose clients included the BBC, McGraw-Hill, and Oxford University Press. Her first novel was the taut thriller, “The Line Painter.”  Claire lives in Toronto with her husband and two sons. You can become a fan of Claire Cameron on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, follow her on IG, and on GoodReads.

bookclublogo (1)

 

Getting in the head of a five-year-old voice can’t be easy. Who was your inspiration and how did you capture it in this novel?

It might not surprise you to hear that my son was five when I started writing the novel. He was in a really talkative stage and I used conversations with him to establish the emotional scope and ability of the character. The first draft was actually about two little boys. At some point in the endless rewrites, I realized there was a lot of me in Anna. That’s when she became a girl. I let her be me.

 I read an interview where you shared that, “the bear,” symbolizes our fears at parents. What is, “the bear,” to you as a mother?

Writing the novel was emotionally challenging as, in some ways, I was typing out my greatest fears. It was hard to live that way. In retrospect, though, it helped me relax as a mother. My story ended up being about how kids can be resilient and how they can cope. When I finished, I knew that was true and that they would be fine, whether or not I was there to help.

I suppose that’s ‘the bear’ to me, the idea of not being there to help my kids when they are in trouble.

 Have you camped at all since writing this book? Do you think it has made you nervous or added another perspective on camping?

Last summer I took my family on a canoe trip back to the island in Algonquin Park where the bear attack that I reimagined in The Bear took place. I did think about the attack, but I also found that I’ve slept in a tent so many nights before that I knew we were fine. It helped that it was a great blue berry season. The bears were full!

The first night we were back home, I tucked my son into bed and asked him if he felt safer in his bed, rather than sleeping in a tent. He said no, it’s scarier at home. Why? Because when camping we were all together in the same tent, but in our house we sleep in different rooms so his Dad and I are farther away. It helped me realize that feeling scared is different for everyone. Fear is a perspective and a mindset, not a set thing.

Did the father leave the family during arguments or did I misinterpret that part of the narrative? (from reader, Sarah)

I purposely left the details of Anna’s family situation in the state that 5 year olds often experience them, a bunch of vague details that don’t quite make sense because I child is rarely told the whole story. My hope is that a reader will use her experience to fill in the details (sorry that is probably a frustratingly vague answer).

Some of the scariest scenes for me are the ones where Sticky disappears and Anna isn’t watching him. As a mom, I think I held my breath until he came back. Of course, there are terrifying moments like that peppered throughout the book. What were some of the most difficult scenes for you as a mom?

The scariest scene to write was the same, when Sticky disappears. I know this because I skipped over it in the first draft. It was my editor, Sarah Murphy at Little Brown, who pointed it out–that I had worked up to this moment and then only vaguely sketched it in. When she said this I thought, “oh no, I’ve been caught out. Now I’m going to have to buck up and write it.”

That is the definition of a great editor, I think. Someone who is so in tune with the story that they can see the emotional gaps.

In, “The Room,” by Emma Donoghue, she utilizes a young narrator to tell a story of survival and a reader can’t help but notice the similar theme in your book. Have you read this book and what do you think makes your narrator different than Donoghue’s?

The book that was the bigger influence at the beginning of writing THE BEAR was LORD OF THE FLIES. I re-read it and, having boys of my own, couldn’t accept the mean take on human nature it shows. When I was about 1/3 of the way through the first draft. I got tired and wondered who would want to read a story told in a 5 year olds voice. That’s when I thought of ROOM. I read it and loved it, so I knew it was possible and I got a lot of strength to keep going from that. Both books have a child in a survival situation, but Anna is a very different child with more varied experience than the child in ROOM, Jack. Her voice reflects that. She needs to make a new normal after her rescue, whereas Jack has to find out what normal might be for him.

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

Such a hard question! Maybe TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson because it is such a great adventure story. I love Long John Silver as he’s the best kind of bad guy–one that feels so complete that you can’t help rooting for him.

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

I am writing a lot at the moment, but I’m not entirely sure what the book will be just yet. It will involve the wilderness, as that is a long time passion. I am interested in capturing the amazing things that happen in the outdoors between people. That’s at the heart of my interest. When you go through a survival situation with another person, you get to know them in a whole new way.

What did you think of The Bear?  Share your thoughts on our  book club pick below and offer recommendations for what you might like to see on our list in the upcoming year!

Our book club will now be going to a quarterly selection. Be sure to pick up our summer selection, “Love With a Chance of Drowning.” In the meantime, catch up on what is happening this year and explore our past book club selections here!

 

Pin It

MomAdvice Summer Book Club Selection: Love With a Chance of Drowning

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Love With a Chance of Drowning

First, I just want to thank everyone for your feedback today about the MomAdvice Book Club. I hope you didn’t feel like I was coming down too hard about it, but the MomAdvice Book Club was a special project for me this year.  I have spent an unbelievable amount of time investing into reading so many books to find the perfect books, coordinating with publishing houses to get free books to giveaway, gathering questions for authors, and then posting/sharing each discussion. In all honesty, it became a little part-time job for me on top of my full-time job.

I didn’t mind doing it until the discussion and participation dwindled.

Based on your feedback, you are 1) very busy mamas 2) are waiting for library copies 3) didn’t have time to read this year.

Again, I get that! I totally do.

In order to make things more relaxed and fun again, we will be selecting a quarterly selection moving forward. This gives you plenty of time to get books, read them, and have questions for our featured authors. On alternate months, I will just share my book reviews as we have done in the past. 

Love With a Chance of Drowning

This summer we will be reading the AMAZING memoir of Torre DeRoche called, “Love With a Chance of Drowning.” It is our first non-fiction selection and I am so excited to share this book with you because I am enjoying it so much.

Not sure if you can get on board with a non-fiction pick? Just picture me laughing until tears are rolling down my cheeks ever since I picked this book up. Then picture me reading aloud almost the entire book to my husband, while trying to read it to him, still laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks and trying to catch my breath so I can read every word to him. It is that funny and that awesome.

Here is a book synopsis from Amazon…

City girl, Torre DeRoche,  isn’t looking for love, but a chance encounter in a San Francisco bar sparks an instant connection with a soulful Argentinean man who unexpectedly sweeps her off her feet. The problem? He’s just about to cast the dock lines and voyage around the world on his small sailboat, and Torre is terrified of deep water. However, lovesick Torre determines that to keep the man of her dreams, she must embark on the voyage of her nightmares, so she waves good-bye to dry land and braces for a life-changing journey that’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying.

 

Somewhere mid-Pacific, she finds herself battling to keep the old boat, the new relationship, and her floundering sanity afloat. . . .

 

This sometimes hilarious, often harrowing, and always poignant memoir is set against a backdrop of the world’s most beautiful and remote destinations. Equal parts love story and travel memoir, Love with a Chance of Drowning is witty, charming, and proof positive that there are some risks worth taking.

Our discussion for this book will be the last Tuesday in July! I will touch base with you in the upcoming month if I am able to secure a discussion with our author. If not, I still think this is a book that is perfect for your beach bag!

the_bear_claire_cameron_book_cover

In the meantime, this month’s selection, “The Bear,” is a short and powerful novel that I think you will be able to finish in just a couple of short days. It is hard to put down and is an author discussion that I am excited to participate in. I am doubly honored since Claire was featured in a glowing review from People Magazine, that she would take the time to chat with us.

I hope that you can join in and thank you for being candid in your thoughts about what works best for you!

xo,
Amy

Pin It

April Book Club Selection: The Bear by Claire Cameron

Friday, March 28th, 2014

The Bear by Claire Cameron

I am so excited to announce our next book club selection and giveaway for April. This month we will be reading, “The Bear,” by Claire Cameron.  The past three books have all been historical fiction so I wanted to branch out a bit from that and try a different style of book this month.

I found, “The Bear,” at my local library and immediately was swept away in the suspenseful story of Anna & her brother Alex (nicknamed Sticky). While camping with her family on a remote island, five-year-old Anna awakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A bear has found their campsite and her parents become the bear’s victims.

As her mother lays injured on the ground, she convinces Anna to take her brother in the canoe, getting them away from the bear and (hopefully) to safety. Anna & Sticky must fight for survival as they are lost and alone in the wilderness.

Told through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, we see the struggles and triumphs as she tries to find safety with her brother.  A survival story unlike any other I have read, it is one that you just won’t be able to put down because you must know what happens to these children.

Claire Cameron

Born in 1973, Claire Cameron grew up in Toronto. She studied History and Culture at Queen’s University. She then worked as an instructor for Outward Bound, teaching mountaineering, climbing, and white-water rafting in Oregon. Next she worked in San Francisco for Pearson Plc before moving to London in 1999. There she was director of Shift Media, a consultancy whose clients included the BBC, McGraw-Hill, and Oxford University Press. Her first novel was the taut thriller, “The Line Painter.”  Claire lives in Toronto with her husband and two sons. You can become a fan of Claire Cameron on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, follow her on IG, and on GoodReads.

Claire Cameron has graciously offered three of our readers the chance to win her book. She has also offered to answer your questions, which I could not be more excited about! 

MomAdvice Book Club

Our book club discussion for this novel will take place on April 29th. I will try to collect your questions for the author before that though via our Facebook groupSign up for our newsletter to stay informed and connect with me on GoodReads too!

To enter to win a copy of, “The Bear,”  please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!  Just leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts on our book club and book club selections so far! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pin It

March Book Club Discussion With the Author: A White Wind Blew

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

A White Wind Blew by James Markert

A warmest welcome to all of our readers today as we discuss our MomAdvice Book Club pick for the month of March. I am particularly honored to have James Markert sharing his own thoughts on his book with us and I hope you will find his answers as fascinating as I have!

Tuberculosis and how this illness affects its patients, and those that love them, are often the central focus of this book.  After I finished reading this and then reading the historical notes about Waverly Place, I immediately went in search of more information about the illness and the backdrop for this book. Although the book goes into great detail of symptoms of TB and what the patients experience, it does not delve into why people have it because, in this time period of the book, people do not know how to cure it or why it lies dormant in some, while killing others.

Tuberculosis, is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It typically attacks the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. It is spread through the air when people who have an active TB infection cough, sneeze, or otherwise transmit respiratory fluids through the air. Most infections are asymptomatic and latent, but about one in ten latent infections eventually progresses to active disease which, if left untreated, kills more than 50% of those so infected.

As we are able to read in this book, treatment for progressive cases often included removing ribs to help the lungs and all patients were encouraged to get as much fresh air as possible, even in wintery weather conditions, because fresh air was believed to help cure this illness.

Delving into the book, we have an unlikely band of friends that have gathered together to create an orchestra who are working together to perform a concert. I love how the author pulls together these unlikely people and then, oftentimes, paints a very different portrait of what we expect them to be like and then tells us the true story of who they are when we dive further into the book.

Rose’s death, for example, takes me completely by surprise as I believed it was one way and it was not.  McVain, who begins the novel as an unlikeable bully, later delves into his story of his true wartime injury and the unlikely love he discovered. Herman, when given a little love and attention from Susannah, steals the show with his beautiful voice. And, one of the most pivotal moments for Wolfgang, is when he finds out the death of his father is very different than his childhood interpretation of what really happened.

I loved this book from start to finish. Although the book is filled with death and disease, it offered a surprising amount of hopefulness in it. There is so much love and beauty as the patients join forces to complete and perform the requiem and the beauty of these unlikely friendships and loved is solidified because they are all battling this same fight.

bookclublogo (1)

James Markert is a debut novelist and screenwriter, which is why his writing feels oh-so-cinematic. James  lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and two children. He has a history degree from the University of Louisville, where, in his senior year, he was honored as the school’s most outstanding history major. He won an IPPY Award for The Requiem Rose, published by Butler Books.

With Requiem’s local success, James was signed by Writers House Literary Agency in New York, and the book was sold to Sourcebooks, Landmark in January 2012. Rewritten and retitled, it became A White Wind Blew.  James is currently working on his next novel, The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley, a story that takes place in the late nineteenth century and involves the theater scene, a lunatic asylum, and the theatrical version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…and possibly a few gaslights, cobblestones, and an eerie fog.

He runs his own blog called Markert Ink where you can read about some of his thoughts on books and writing. I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one and you can follow James on Twitter!

James has graciously answered all of our questions about the setting, inspiration for the book, and who inspires him in his own writing. I am particularly excited for you to read his thoughts on adapting A White Wind Blew as a screenplay!

James Markert

Upon reading the historical notes about Waverly Place, we find that this sanitarium is considered one of the most haunted places in the United States. Why did you decide to set a book here and do you think you hint at the darkness of Waverly Hills (the Death Tunnel and the suicide scene in the book) in nod of this history you discovered?

I grew up only a few miles from Waverly Hills and was always fascinated because of the legends and stories of ghosts there, but when I visited a few years ago, it was the history, the wooded surroundings, and grand architecture that drew me in. History seeped from every room. I went in wanting to come out with a story idea, something scary, actually, but instead, while I stood out on the fourth floor solarium porch, listening to the wind and watching the trees sway, I thought to myself: What if this place really is haunted? What if I am surrounded by ghosts? What is their story?  I imagined the sound of a violin, and, coupled with the fact that they had no cure back then, the story of musical medicine took root. Waverly is known around the world as a haunted building, I thought the real flesh and blood inhabitants, the people who lived and died there, deserved to have a story told that revealed their fight and struggles. But in doing this, I also wanted to incorporate some of the legends, namely the nurse suicide and the body chute.  And Big 15 was also taken from an actual man who worked there, doing the same job, and his name was Big 14 because of the size of his feet!

The whole book really centers on music and music therapy for the patients. What type of research did you need to do to prepare for this portion of the book?

My sister-in-law is a music therapist, so I did consult her. My sister is a pianist, and I think her constant practicing, although it annoyed me and my brothers as kids, really sunk in with me and inspired this book later in life. TB had no cure, and I feel that music can be really healing. I did a little research online, and have since become involved with the National Music Therapy Association, but since music therapy was not really a “field” during the time of the story, I intentionally didn’t research that much from current music therapy practices because I wanted it to come off as something new for Wolfgang as well, something unpolished and evolving.

When Wolfgang witnesses the horrific death of his father, he always blames his mother & never forges a relationship with her. When she comes to visit to take one of the instruments and Wolfgang discovers the true reason for his death, he invites her to the concert. Is there a reason why you did not write her into the concert scene at the end?

I did consider writing her into the concert, but ultimately decided not to. White Wind is a moving story.  It can be sad and funny in parts, and make you really think in others, and, although I wanted the concert to be uplifting on many levels, I didn’t want to wrap everything up too nicely for Wolfgang. It didn’t want it to seem like the concert solved everything for him, so I decided to leave her at home.

Who are some of your favorite authors or favorite books that have influenced you as a writer?

I grew up a huge fan of Stephen King. I was not a reader until sophomore year of high school. My English teacher told out class, “Ok, I know half of you won’t want to read the “classics”, and those who do probably won’t fully enjoy it, so we’re reading Stephen King novels all year.” And we did, but not his scarier stories.  We read Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand by Me, etc… and we had great discussions because all the kids read them. That’s when I fell in love with books, and I then devoured every Stephen King book available. From there I moved on to Dean Koontz, and those two authors heavily influenced by first few unpublished novels. The way I write now, with historical fiction, I’d say my biggest influences are Ken Follett, Pat Conroy, Caleb Carr, and John Irving. I love how John Irving develops his characters. As far as suspense, I’m a big fan of Greg Iles. George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones books are probably my favorite to read at the moment. Pillars of the Earth is my favorite book. Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafron is also one of my favorites. I could read Pat Conroy and John Irving all day long.

The ending is left open to interpretation by the reader. As the writer, do you see Wolfgang choosing the priesthood or do you picture him continuing his work at Waverly Hills?

I go back and forth on this, which is only part of the reason why I did it. Whenever someone asks me why, I always tell them that I fell asleep halfway through that sentence. But the truth is, when I got to that part, and I honestly didn’t have an answer when I got there, I thought to myself that it didn’t matter as much to me. Wolfgang had already begun his healing by then and I didn’t want to lead him one way or another. The concept of faith is big in the book, but I don’t try to answer it.  The question: Where do we go when we die? Is also another big part of the book that I intentionally don’t try to answer either. Faith is an open-ended question with many answers that lead to many other questions, so that is the main reason I ended it that way. Like faith, I wanted the reader to take that on themselves.  I wanted to let the reader take Wolfgang where they thought he should go, and no matter, their answer would be right.

As a screenwriter, many aspects of this book feel like they would lend itself to a movie. Are you planning to develop this for the screen?

YES!!! I actually wrote the screenplay for this story before I wrote the novel because screenplays are quicker to write and the story, with the music, was so cinematic. I’ve always envisioned it as a movie. After I finish my next book in a few weeks I plan on rewriting the screenplay for A White Wind Blew. I’ve recently opened some doors with another movie I’ve written that could make A White Wind Blew a bigger possibility in the future.  It will be a movie someday, even if I have to produce it myself!

Who would be part of your “dream cast,” for playing these roles?

I don’t always do this with books I write, but I did with this one. I had three actors clearly in mind when I wrote it. For Wolfgang I imagined Joaquin Phoenix. For Susannah I imagined Amy Adams. And sadly, for McVain, I had imagined Phillip Seymour Hofmann. But my second choice for McVain would be Russell Crowe. And for Rose I’d always had Audrey Tautou in mind. She plays Mathilde in the French film, A Very Long Engagement, and she’s also in The Da Vinci Code.

Thank You so much to all the readers in your book club for reading my debut novel, and for the insightful questions. Please feel free to tell many other books clubs about it!

Best wishes,
James Markert

What did you think of A White Wind Blew? Can’t you just picture this as a movie? It is cinematic storytelling at it’s best.  Share your thoughts on our  book club pick below and offer recommendations for what you might like to see on our list in the upcoming year!

Our next book club pick will be announced on March 28th- this is a big departure from our past three historical fiction books! In the meantime, catch up on what is happening this year and explore our past book club selections here!

 

This post does contain affiliate links! 

Pin It

March Book Club Selection: A White Wind Blew by James Markert

Friday, February 28th, 2014

A White Wind Blew by James Markert

As I turned the final pages of, “A White Wind Blew,” I knew immediately that this would be a fantastic book for our book club discussion. The book covers so many issues including religion, racism, prohibition, war, the power of music, friendship, illness, and love.

Markert is a screenwriter and the book reads with the cinematic quality of a beautiful film. He also has a history degree from the University of Louisville and, with this background, it is evident that the details he includes in this book really shine.

Dr. Wolfgang Pike practices at Waverly Hills, a tuberculosis sanitarium in Jefferson County, Kentucky. He is a theological student from Saint Meinrad Abbey and is continuing to study to be a priest while practicing as a doctor at the clinic.  Music and his former love, named Rose, are the center of his life and he still mourns the loss of her daily. He has been working on a requiem for her that he just cannot seem to finish in his evenings, never able to fully bring this piece to a close. During the day though, he visits his patients and uses music therapy to help ease their pain and relax them, despite the belief of his boss that this is a waste of time.

When a former concert pianist checks in, he begins to believe that he will be able to help him finish this requiem to Rose. With his help and an unlikely choir of singers and musicians in the hospital, he begins to see the transformative power of music on these patients and what these times of practice mean to them. Unfortunately, not everyone believes this is a good idea. When Wolfgang finds a musician from the colored hospital to participate, during a time where racism runs rampant, many lives are threatened while unlikely friendships & relationships are formed.

James Markert

James Markert is a debut novelist and screenwriter, which is why his writing feels oh-so-cinematic. James  lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and two children. He has a history degree from the University of Louisville, where, in his senior year, he was honored as the school’s most outstanding history major. He won an IPPY Award for The Requiem Rose, published by Butler Books.

With Requiem’s local success, James was signed by Writers House Literary Agency in New York, and the book was sold to Sourcebooks, Landmark in January 2012. Rewritten and retitled, it became A White Wind Blew.  James is currently working on his next novel, The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley, a story that takes place in the late nineteenth century and involves the theater scene, a lunatic asylum, and the theatrical version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…and possibly a few gaslights, cobblestones, and an eerie fog.

He runs his own blog called Markert Ink where you can read about some of his thoughts on books and writing. I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one and you can follow James on Twitter!

James Markert has graciously offered three of our readers the chance to win his book. He has also offered to answer your questions, which I could not be more excited about! 

To enter to win a copy of, “A White Wind Blew,” please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!  Just leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts on our book club and book club selections so far! 

MomAdvice Book Club

Our book club discussion for this novel will take place on March 25th. I will try to collect your questions for the author before that though via our Facebook groupSign up for our newsletter to stay informed and connect with me on GoodReads too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pin It

February Book Club Discussion With the Author: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

I am so excited to discuss our MomAdvice Book Club pick, A Constellation of a Vital Phenomena with you. I am doubly excited that Anthony Marra has agreed to answer our questions about his astonishing debut novel with you.

With a book of this gravity, it is hard to know where to begin in our discussion. First, I want to thank you all for participating in this month’s selection.  I know that we had two historical fiction books that centered upon wartime topics, but once I began to read this book, I knew from Marra’s beautiful writing that this would be a book worth discussing with you all.

Let’s begin with our cast of characters in this book, as there are many, all of them offering much importance to this storyline and beautifully woven together at the end of our story.

The Cast of Characters

 

Sonja: An amazingly talented doctor who is almost singlehandedly carrying for the wounded at an abandoned hospital. Sonja is consumed with worry and grief over the loss of her sister, Natasha, who has disappeared.

Akmed: The neighbor who discovers Havaa in the woods and offers his services as a doctor in exchange for Havaa’s safety at the hospital. We later learn in the story of why Akmed is so motivated to save Havaa.  Of course, we also soon discover that Akmed is more of a dreamer and artist than a doctor, but he offers his services nonetheless. He is also husband to Ula, who has dementia and is completely reliant on Akmed to care for her.

Havaa: Is the eight-year-old child that is saved by Akmed when her father is taken by the Russian military, leaving her without her father and her home. She has now become the target of the Russian military and Akmed has volunteered to keep her safe. Although Havaa is at the center of our story, her storyline isn’t as deep as many of the other characters. Her suitcase that she carries, however, holds a secret that weave some of our characters together.

Natasha: Sonja’s beautiful younger sister is truly a victim of war.  She becomes a victim of sex-trafficking, a drug addict, and is dealing with PTSD after all she has been through. We follow Natasha through both of her disappearances and discover the outcome of both of those, although Sonja never does.

Khassam: Is a scholarly elder neighbor and friend to Akmed and became one of the most endearing characters to me. Khassam writes a book on Chechnya and its history, yet only gets a fraction of his thousands upon thousands of pages published. He is in a nonexistent relationship with his son because his son has become an informant. His best friends have now become a pack of feral dogs.  While Akmed is at the hospital, he visits Akmed’s wife and shares his life story to the one person who will never remember them, due to her failing mind.

Ramzan: Is Khassam’s son and, perhaps, one of the most complex characters in the book. Ramzan has become an informant after two times of brutal torture.  He is the one who has turned in his friends & neighbors to keep his own safety and protect his father.  He is the boy that never felt loved and is still hated even when he feels he is, “doing the right thing,” for his family.

Dokka: Is Havaa’s father and a good friend of Khassam & Akmed.  Dokka has suffered horrible mutilation when he is tortured during this war.  He is a kind soul that takes in refugees during the war.  He is abducted by Russian soldiers in the opening chapter and accused of aiding Chechen rebels.  He is not a central character to this story, as those above are, but his story does weave into these other six characters in some unexpected ways.

Now that we have all of our characters, let’s delve into this book more!  As a reader, we were able to follow the timeline from 1994-2004 as it moved forwards and backwards through time, taking the reader on a journey of what each of these characters went through during the war and how it had impacted each of them as people.  

In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa.  Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.

Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.

I found myself completely swept away into each of these characters and what they had to overcome.  Although the book was about war and suffering, the book was also all about love and what we do for love.

This entire book was so beautiful that I reread some of the scenes over again. For example, the scenes when Natasha finally has some happiness and purpose when delivering babies in the hospital, brought me a lot of joy as a reader. The scenes when Khassam goes to visit Ula to tell her his secrets because he knows her failing mind will never remember them truly moved me to tears. The beautifully drawn portraits that Akhmed drew that hung in the street deeply moved me as a reader.

Everything about this book seemed to have significance and meaning. In previous interviews, Marra has described how he settled upon, “A Constellation of Phenomena,” as his title.  In an interview he states, “One day I looked up the definition of life in a medical dictionary and found a surprisingly poetic entry: “A constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” As biological life is structured as a constellation of six phenomena, the narrative life of this novel is structured as a constellation of six point-of-view characters.”

The reader quickly realizes that every word is precious and every sequence of events will later have meaning and be woven together. Marra frequently writes of what we can expect to come from these characters and even clues us in on their longevity through an omniscient voice that help us sometimes know whether we should get too attached or worried about the next scenes outcome.

When Marra brings it all together, it is beautiful and surprisingly hopeful, especially when we learn of the fate of the beautiful Havva.

MomAdvice Book Club

I am so honored that Anthony Marra has agreed to speak with us today, to share more about this amazing book. You can become a fan of Anthony Marra on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Anthony Marra is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, The Atlantic‘s Student Writing Contest, and the Narrative Prize, and his work has been anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a Jones Lecturer in Fiction at Stanford University. His first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, was published in May 2013 and will be translated into over a dozen languages.

In short, he is a big deal, and he is talking with us today! 

Anthony Marra

Questions for Anthony Marra

I understand that this novel began as a short story called, “Chechyna.”  At what point did you feel that this short story was actually a novel and what did a process like this entail for you as a writer?

Nearly as soon as I finished the short story, I realized that the characters, their pasts and futures, stretched much farther than a twenty-five page piece of short fiction could contain. In the short story, I’d only just crossed the border into a land that fascinated, perplexed, and moved me. The next several years were my attempts to explore that land more deeply and draw a map of what I had found.

Many times as a reader we are clued in on the fates of these characters, even during pivotal scenes, which is a rarity as a reader. Was this style of omniscient narrating difficult to flesh out since you had to know how these characters stories would develop?

My writing process is largely based on retyping. As soon as I finished the first draft of Constellation, I printed it out, dropped it in front of my keyboard, and retyped the book from the first word on, and did this a number of times until I had a final draft. I find this useful for a few reasons. First, it forces you to go through the book at a glacial pace, meaning you end up noticing both the inconsistencies and the small resonances you might miss if you were moving through the book at a rate of more than a page an hour. Second, it tricks your mind into returning to the same creative well from which the sentences first emerged, letting the language change organically from the inside out, rather than through the transposition of red-pen edits. Third, and most important, you begin to see the scene both as you write it, and through your earlier imaginings. There was a David Hockney exhibition here in San Francisco a few months back, and there were entire walls of the same landscape painted again and again, in different seasons and different mediums. One of the placards said that Hockney believes he sees the landscape more clearly the more times he paints it, because he’s seeing it not only through his eyes, but through his memory.

I had a similar experience writing this book. Up until the fourth retyping of it, the novel was told in a very limited third person perspective. The reader never knew or saw beyond a single character per chapter. But the fourth time through, I felt like I knew the scenes so well that my eye began to wander away from the main characters to minor characters I hadn’t paid much attention to before. In a sentence I projected the future of a character who only appears in the book for the space of a paragraph. It felt like a big bang right in the middle of the book. Suddenly the story seemed like it could be much larger, more inclusive, really trying to wrap the covers around as much of this world as it could encompass. And I realized that I wanted to tell a story in which there were no minor characters. Just about every character, no matter how minor, gets their sentence in the spotlight.

The weaving and gathering of six characters together really brought these stories together for me as a reader.  How hard was it to pull these six characters together for you as a writer? Did you always know how they would interweave?

I knew from the beginning that if I was going to write about the Chechen conflict, it couldn’t be a novel with a traditional beginning, middle, and end. Violence has broken these characters sense of time and narrative. Yet they’re all trying to piece their lives together, to recover what’s been lost, and while they often don’t succeed, by attempting to rescue their past they instead create new and unexpectedly meaningful present. I wanted the novel to embody at a structural level this central act of its characters, mending their individual stories into a communal whole.

While writing the first draft, I had a final page in mind that I was writing toward. Even though I ultimately decided to go with a different ending, it gave me a destination, a concrete point in the future of the novel that I had to get to, even if I didn’t really know the way. Sometimes I knew characters would interweave fifty pages in advance, other times it wasn’t until I was in the midst of writing a scene. A novel contains not only a writer’s thoughts, to paraphrase Marilynne Robinson, but also a pretty good blueprint for how a writer thinks. As a writer, I tend to find myself tuning into the echoes trapped between narratives, and using those echoes as the connective tissue to build the kind of mega-story made up of many small stories that feels a lot like life as I experience it.

Natasha and Ramzan both find themselves as prisoners a second time. When faced with the reoccurrence of this, Natasha sacrifices herself while Ramzan sacrifices those around him to save himself.  Were you able to sympathize with both of these characters and why they made the choices they did?

That’s a great question, and yes, I found both characters very sympathetic. Ramzan, the ostensible villain of the book, probably has more of my empathy than any other character. He’s more or less an average person placed in very difficult conditions. A place like Chechnya in this time period magnifies moral choice. Because the stakes are so high, the smallest betrayal can lead to tragic consequences. Were Ramzan to live in America, his ethical failures would probably result in nothing more calamitous than, say, lying on his CV. So I felt it was important to portray his experience without any kind of authorial judgment. The ability to recognize ourselves in a character like Ramzan makes his betrayals all the more harrowing.

Natasha, when confronted with different but no less difficult choices, decides to resist because she reaches a point at which she values her dignity more than she values her survival. If placed in those circumstance, I think we’d all like to believe we’d have her courage. More likely, we’d have his fear.

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

Well, I’d initially thought I’d packed my bags and head to warmer climes after Constellation. Instead, I ended up in the Arctic Circle, working on a book that revolves around a 19th-century landscape painting, and the lives of those who alter, repaint, buy, lose, receive, and restore the painting, along with those who live and die on the plot of land it portrays.

Thank you to Anthony Marra for joining us today in our book club discussion. Isn’t he amazing? I was so honored that he took our questions on his book!

 

What did you think of The Constellation of Vital Phenomena? Did you like the omniscient narrative in this one? Which storyline moved you the most?  Share your thoughts on our  book club pick below and offer recommendations for what you might like to see on our list in the upcoming year!

 

Our next book club pick will be announced on February 28th- stay tuned! In the meantime, catch up on what is happening this year and explore our past book club selections here!

This post does contain affiliate links! 

Pin It

February Book Club Selection: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (GIVEAWAY!)

Friday, January 31st, 2014

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

I am so excited to share with you our next book club selection for the month of February. The book for this month is, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” by Anthony Marra.

My intention this month was to step away from historical fiction and read a lighter book. I proceeded to read five good books, not *the* book. When I picked up A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, it hooked me within it’s opening sentences.

“On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones. While the girl dressed, Akhmed, who hadn’t slept at all, paced outside the bedroom door, watching the sky brighten on the other side of the window glass; the rising sun had never before made him feel late. When she emerged from the bedroom, looking older than her eight years, he took her suitcase and she followed him out the front door. He had led the girl to the middle of the street before he raised his eyes to what had been her house. ‘Havaa, we should go,’ he said, but neither moved.”

Just as, “The Paris Architect,” moved me to tears, this book is one of the best books I have ever read and brings to life a country and time of war that I was completely unfamiliar with.

In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa.  Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.

Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.

Again, because we are dealing with a wartime topic, there is a lot of graphic violence, gory medical scenes, and violence in this book. One torture scene in particular is difficult to read (but can be skimmed over).  It is a necessary part of the book though to truly capture what is happening to the Chechens.

For me, it took a little bit to really get into the meat of the story, mainly because of my own lack of education of what had happened in this country. If you struggle in the beginning, I encourage you to keep pushing on. This book is one of the most accomplished books I have ever read. It reads like poetry, the narrative is so unique, you will connect with every character in some way, there are moments of unexpected humor, and there is beauty in the pulling & weaving of these characters together.

Anthony Marra

The author, Anthony Marra,  is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest, and the Narrative Prize, and his work was anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, CA.

I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one!

Anthony has graciously offered three of our readers the chance to win his book. He has also offered to answer your questions, which I could not be more excited about! 

To enter to win a copy of, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,”  please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!  

bookclublogo (1)

Our book club discussion for this novel will take place on February 25th. I will try to collect your questions for the author before that though via our Facebook groupSign up for our newsletter to stay informed and connect with me on GoodReads too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*This post contains affiliate links.

Pin It

January Book Club Discussion With the Author: The Paris Architect

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

January Book Club Discussion With the Author: The Paris Architect

I am so excited to discuss our first book club pick, “The Paris Architect,” with you this week. Even more exciting than that, we were able to collect your questions for the author through our Facebook page and we are sharing Charles Belfoure’s answers with you today.

I have to say that when I picked this book, I set the standard really high for what you could come to expect from our selections. This is truly one of the most interesting historical fiction books I have ever read and it is an era in history that I am fascinated with. When so many stories from this era are told, it is hard to put a unique spin on this time period, but Belfoure does it with ease, thanks to his background as an architect. 

The Paris Architect  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?

Now that you have read it, I want to say that I found the transformation of Lucien quite remarkable. In the beginning of the book, I really disliked him… a lot. He seemed very selfish and hungry for fame and fortune. Usually when I dislike a character that much, I have a hard time seeing a book through. It is the transformation of Lucien that makes this such a compelling read. I had to see what would happen to him and what would happen to those he helped.

There were many scenes were I felt my heart racing and a couple that brought tears to my eyes. As a compulsive reader, it is rare to tap into emotions like that when I am usually disconnected from plotlines. The scene with the Jewish couple who passed away due to Lucien’s faulty design, moved me to tears. The fact that they kept that secret safe even when death was certain, was a truly emotional moment for me as a reader.

Let’s dive in with a discussion with Charles Belfoure. I am so honored he agreed to answer our questions and be a part of this discussion. 

MomAdvice Book Club

Are you new to the MomAdvice Book Club? You can read all about it here and follow along through our Facebook community!

Charles Belfoure

What a brilliant novel that was! I wonder if there really were hiding places like the architect in the book designed? (Cindy)

Although there were crude or makeshift hiding places in barns, attics, and at the backs of closet during the Occupation, I never came across anything like I described. I made up all these elaborate hiding places from my imagination and my architectural knowledge, but they were based on my main inspiration: priest holes in the age of Elizabeth I.

These were just temporary hiding places unlike one of the most famous, Anne Frank’s, which was a hidden apartment used for long-term living.

This book was riveting! How closely aligned was this story to actual happenings in Paris during the occupation? (Linda)

The main plot came from my imagination but the everyday events like the food rationing, priests hiding children, arrests by the Gestapo, German soldier-tourists, and French prostitutes servicing Germans all came from my research of the Occupation. I studied the way Parisians behaved – both heroically and cowardly, how they interacted with the Germans, how they were always hungry and scared of dying. I wanted to include small details of the period in the book, like how people kept rabbits for food but never ate their cats, or how they smoked cigarettes made from grass.

What a great book! Where did the author get inspiration for the story and characters? (Lisa)

The whole idea for the book came from an actual historical event during the reign of Elizabeth I, when Catholicism was outlawed and saying of mass was banned. Priests defied the ban by saying mass in manor houses out in the countryside. When the Queen’s soldiers raided the house, the priest hid in a “priest hole,” a temporary hiding place designed by a carpenter. The soldiers would search the house for hours and never find the priest who was hiding right under their noses.

Some characters in the book were inspired by real people – Adele was patterned after Coco Chanel, who was known to have slept with German officers. Father Jacques was based on the priests who hid Jewish children and were deported. Herzog was based on some information I found about a German officer who kept a diary and wrote that he was ashamed by the roundups of Jews, especially children.

The main character, Lucien, goes through a major transformation from the beginning of the book to the end of the book. Did you always have this in mind for him or did it evolve as you wrote it? (Amy)

I always had that in mind. I wanted him to undergo a moral transformation from a selfish, anti-Semitic guy to a man with a sense of humanity and courage. A main character in a novel shouldn’t be static but should change in character in some regard – from good to bad or vice versa.

Your writing has been compared to Ken Follett.  Do you find your writing to be similar? What authors inspire you the most? (Amy)

I was flattered by the comparison. His book, Eye of the Needle, is one of my all-time favorites.  But I don’t find my writing style to be anything like Follett’s; it isn’t nearly as polished and seamless as his prose. I’m a first-time novelist and have a long way to go to match those books.

I like authors who use their professional backgrounds to write fiction, like how John Grisham, because he’s a real-life attorney, uses his legal training for his novels, and I like his no nonsense prose style. William Golding used his experience as an English schoolmaster to write the classic Lord of the Flies. The exception to this is Anne Tyler. I’ve read all her novels because I like her insight and writing style, plus I like the references to Baltimore because I grew up there.

One of the hardest scenes for me, as a reader, was the scene when Lucien designs the “safe place,” for the Jewish couple that ends up not being safe at all once a fire is lit. It is heart-wrenching as a reader.  Was that a difficult scene to write? (Amy)

When you’re writing any scene, your imagination projects you into that scene to feel and experience it. So, yes, it was tough to put myself in the shoes of the couple and try to feel how it would be to accept death, to physically stuff handkerchiefs in your mouth and keep from crying out and betraying Manet and Lucien. I wanted to show the reader an act of incredible bravery. It’s a moral turning point for Lucien when he sees that these strangers, Jews whom he really didn’t care about, would rather die such a horrible death than betray him.

 Have you started thinking about your next project? Do you see yourself continuing to write historical fiction or delving into other genres? (Amy)

I’ve written the second draft of a novel about an architect in the Gilded Age in New York who is forced to become a criminal to save his family. Although that’s also historical fiction, I plan to also write contemporary novels. Because I’m an architect, I want to continue use my professional training along with my imagination to write novels that have architecture as the basis of the plot. There are some similarities between architecture and writing a novel. The basic plot idea forms the structure of the story, much like a steel skeleton holds up a building. Once the structure is up, you flesh out the story with detail and description like an architect would clad and detail the inside and outside of a building.

Thank you to Charles Belfoure for joining us today in our book club discussion. Isn’t he amazing? I was so honored that he took our questions on his book!

Our next book club pick will be announced on February 1st- stay tuned! 

This post does contain affiliate links! 

What did you think of The Paris Architect? Were there any scenes that you really struggled with? Did you like the evolution of the main character of Lucien?  Share your thoughts on our first book club pick below and offer recommendations for what you might like to see on our list in the upcoming year!

 

Pin It