Archive for the ‘MomAdvice Book Club’ Category

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!

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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

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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! 

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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.

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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!

 

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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!

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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! 

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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!  

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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!

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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!

 

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January MomAdvice Book Club Selection: The Paris Architect (GIVEAWAY!)

Friday, December 13th, 2013

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.

Charles Belfoure

Charles Belfoure is a debut novelist and is an architect by profession, which is why this book is so beautiful in detail and thought. He runs his own blog called The Wicked Architect. I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one!

Charles has graciously offered two 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, “The Paris Architect,” please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!  

MomAdvice Book Club

Our book club discussion for this novel will take place on January 28th. I will try to collect your questions for the author before that though via our Facebook group! Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed and connect with me on GoodReads too!

*This post contains affiliate links.

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Welcome to the MomAdvice Book Club

Friday, December 13th, 2013

MomAdvice Book Club

I’m so excited to be launching the much-anticipated (for me, anyway!) MomAdvice Book Club for our readers. This has been something that we have been talking about through our Facebook community as an opportunity to bring my favorite readers together with great book selections that we can share about and discuss.

Here is what you need to know about this book club!

There Will Be Monthly Selections

Each month I will select a book that we can read together starting this January. I will do my best to give you one month’s advance notice of the next selection to give you plenty of time to purchase, borrow, or download the monthly selection. If I am at all able to get books for you or give them away, I promise to do that.

This Won’t Be Your Average Book Club

For the most part, I am going to try to stay off the path of those bestselling books that have already been heard of and have probably already been read by you. My hope is to highlight those hidden gems of books that you may not have heard of before and embrace debut novelists. The purpose in this is really twofold. By selecting a novel that a first-time novelist is trying to promote or finding books you may not have heard of before, I am hoping that many of these authors will more willing to collaborate with us by providing books and/or participating in a book club discussion with our readers. The second reason is, I truly love finding these types of books to share with you and as an author myself, appreciate promoting someone who is just beginning their career!

I will always read the selection before selecting it because I really want to be assured that I am not wasting your precious reading time. I will be honest with you about the topic-matter. There will be tough books and there will be light books. I will be honest if I feel a novel is graphic in nature, but I will not censor books from making the cut if there are scenes in it like that. I want to pick books that I believe will stick with you and sometimes those scenes will be in there (as they are in this month’s selection). If it isn’t your cup of tea, you can always avoid those types of books.

You Can Always Connect With Me on GoodReads

If your goal is to read more books this year, I highly recommend joining the GoodReads community. I use the app and site daily when deciding what books to read and finding new books to add to my to-be-read pile! You can find me over here and thanks to my author profile, you can also find my blog and stay up to date with what is happening with the site!

When & How Will We Discuss the Books?

The announcement for the books will be made by or before the first of the month. Once the selection has been made, you will have (at least) three weeks to read it. The book discussions will be on the last Tuesday of every month. One week before, should we have an author participating in a discussion, we will ask for reader questions to submit to them. The timeline is tentatively based on if that author can return the questions in that time frame. It is best to join our Facebook community and our newsletter list (new newsletter coming soon!!) to stay up to date on what is happening! Be sure if you sign up for our newsletter that you check your email box for the confirmation link to click through to make sure you are signed up!  Following the conclusion of the discussion, the next book will be announced so you can get your selection.

We will try different ways of meeting up (please leave a comment below if you have a preference). Some questions may be asked on our Facebook page, we might try a Google hangout, or perhaps some other avenues of virtual meet-ups. For this first one, we will keep it simple here on the blog! 

MomAdvice Monthly Selections (updated monthly with an affiliate link)

the_paris_architect

January- The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (announced HERE and book club discussion HERE)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

February- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (announced HERE and book club discussion HERE)

A White Wind Blew by James Markert

March- A White Wind Blew by James Markert (announced HERE and book club discussion HERE)

the_bear_claire_cameron_book_cover

April- The Bear by Claire Cameron (announced HERE)

Love With a Chance of Drowning

Summer Selection- Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

 

If you have any questions at all, please leave them below! Happy Reading Friends!

This post contains affiliate links! 

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