Archive for the ‘Reads’ Category

It’s The 3 Little Things: The Perfect T-Shirt, Popcorn Popping Heaven, & My Passion Drink

Friday, May 16th, 2014

It's The 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends!  I enjoyed a much quieter week than usual and I am so excited to end our week on a high note with another happiness list!  Let’s go ahead and get started since I am excited to share!

Perfect White T-Shirt

The Perfect T-Shirt

Can I just say that it is so hard to find a good quality t-shirt that fits properly and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? Over the Fall I found these Old Navy Vintage Wash T-Shirts and promptly took home a gray v-neck to wear with all the things in my closet. I loved it so much that I was wearing it almost every day. It is one of those staple pieces you can dress up or down. When summer rolled around, I was thrilled to find that these also come in white and black so I stocked up for the summer to wear with all of my maxi skirts, summer skirts, and shorts this year.

Perfect Grey T-Shirt

Perfect Grey T-Shirt

You might remember spying that v-neck when I did our coverage of our site sponsor, Flourish Boutique. Honestly, I wear these t-shirts almost every day and they are under $10 each. The white is a little on the thin size, but with nude undergarments (like my favorite ones) or a full-coverage tank that covers your bra straps (these are my favorite), they are perfectly modest.  They are long, v-neck (but not too v-neck), and they fit true to size. This one shown here is an X-Small as I am a very wee woman on top. Not to be fooled, I am very Sir-Mix-A-Lot-Y on the bottom.

I wouldn’t pay full price for these- do a little hunting and you are bound to find some coupon codes or catch them on sale. I wouldn’t wait too long though-the best stuff always goes quick! ($8.50 each)

Nooch Popcorn from Gimme Some Oven

 Addictive Butter-Free Popcorn 

I happened upon this corn popping technique from Gimme Some Oven and it has now become our families favorite popcorn ever. The kernels are popped in coconut oil and then receive a liberal shaking of nutritional yeast. In our family, it also receives a generous handful of sea salt to top it all off. My kids now call it my homemade popcorn and beg for it on our weekends while we are tackling an evening of board games or Just Dance. You must try it- it’s a popcorn game-changer and healthy too!

TAZO Passion Fruit Tea Bags

Iced Passion Fruit Tea

I think we should just start a section of the site called, “Things Amy Drinks.” I am pretty sure every edition of this feature I have done so far included something to drink. I am so addicted to Passion Fruit Tea and was so thrilled to find that they have these iced tea bags at our local supermarket. For less than the price of one drink at Starbucks, I can make these at home and sweeten it just like I like to sweeten it. You can also mix in lemonade for a Passion Fruit Tea Lemonade, although I love it on its own.

I’ve priced these babies out all around town, in our town the best price is at Walmart, but buy them wherever the price is best around you. For $3.48, you can get SIX PITCHERS of tea. Holy heaven!

This drink helped me break my Diet Coke cravings and is the perfect thing to sip outside while enjoying the warmer temperatures!


Bonus Happy

And this week’s bonus happy, courtesy of my Instagram feed.  “You always bring a sun over my rainy cloud.”  To be loved like this? It’s the stuff that dreams are made of!

I also am excited my favorite band, Nickel Creek, has come out with a new album. This song is everything I love about that group! It’s been stuck in my head all week and oh-so-worthy of it.

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

Now it’s your turn, what makes you happy this week? Feel free to share in our link up below and link back to this post to participate!

Share 3 things that are making you happy today!

Amy’s Notebook 05.14.14

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Small corner office - Sarah M Style

Source: Sarah M Style


This small corner office space is so fresh and bright – and shows how you can create a cheerful space in a small area with no natural light!

This reminder to not lose your real life to the online world really resonated with me.

Being a coffee lover, I love these 5 essential tips for serving good coffee to a crowd.

I’m definitely adding these 21 female authors you should be reading to my book list!

Here’s a printable ‘cheat sheet’ for cooking vegetables so that you’ll never have limp, overcooked veggies again.

Ever think that bobby pins could be life-changing? Check out these bobby pin tricks to see if they are for you.

This garlic-butter shrimp is drool-worthy AND done in 20 minutes!



I hope you enjoyed this notebook – a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!


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Sundays With Writers: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Happy Mother’s Day, my amazing mom readers!  Today’s Mother’s Day gift to you is a beautiful Sundays With Writers interview with bestselling author, Maggie Shipstead, on her beautiful new book, “Astonish Me.”  I am so honored that she agreed to do an interview with my little blog because I am such a fan of this talented writer. Although Maggie is most famous for her book, “Seating Arrangements,” I have to say that I enjoyed Astonish me even more and I have a feeling that you will too.

“For the first time she can remember, she is not afraid of failing, and the relief feels like joy.”

What truly makes Shipstead’s novels such a treat is her ability to write character-driven pieces.  When you are done with her books, it is as though you know her characters inside and out. With a backdrop of the ballet and what life is truly like to be a ballerina, the novel immediately pulled me in until the final pages.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

In this book a young American dancer named Joan decides to help a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. Although they had a passionate love affair, Arslan soon moves on to other things and Joan realizes that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background.

After her relationship with Arslan ends,  Joan decides to take her life in a different direction and marry the man that had always been in love with her, raises their son, and leaves the ballet for a quiet suburban life. Joan soon comes to realize though that their son,  Harry,  is a prodigy, in more ways than one. Through this discovery, Joan finds herself being pulled back into the world of the ballet and back into Arslan’s life once again.

If you are a fan of the ballet and you love character-driven pieces, this book is a treat from start to finish.

As always, no spoilers, just love for great books and writers on our Sundays With Writers series. So grab your coffee and let’s have a chat with the talented Maggie Shipstead.

Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me is so different from your first novel, Seating Arrangements, but the one element I found to be similar was your ability to write such well-developed character driven plots. To me, it is one of those truly unique elements of your writing. Have your stories always been very character-driven and how do you shape them so well for your books?

Well, thank you! I’m glad you think so. My relationships with characters vary from project to project. Seating Arrangements exists pretty much only because I had what I’d describe as strong chemistry with the protagonist, Winn Van Meter, who is the 59-year-old father of a pregnant bride. He’s nothing like me as a person–I’m female, 30, from California, and no one would accuse me of being emotionally withholding–but I thought the idea of him was interesting and also like I understood him. The book started as a short story, but I felt I had lots more to say about Winn and also like I knew what he would do or say in almost any situation. As I expanded the story into a novel, I incorporated more characters’ perspectives, too.

Astonish Me was a little different in that I didn’t conceive of Joan as a fully-formed person in the same way as Winn, but I started out wanting to write about someone who’s very talented (enough to be in a major ballet company) but who will never be the star she wants to be. So in a way Joan evolved out of the circumstances of her life–the incredible discipline needed to be a dancer, the frustration of encountering her own limitations, the stubbornness she has about her doomed love affair with a Soviet superstar dancer. Sometimes when I’m having trouble writing, the problem is that I’m not connecting with my characters, and I’ll take some time to just stop and close my eyes and try to actually engage with these imaginary people. Being a novelist is kind of a weird job in that way.

When I was a kid I took ballet and there is something magical about it, which is why I was so captivated by this story. Did you also do ballet? How did you do your research for this setting for your book?

I did ballet very, very briefly–for a year when I was five. But my mother and I both love to watch ballet, and she took me to about four performances a year from kindergarten until I left for college. She danced more than I did and knows a ton about ballet, so I learned a lot from her over the years. I wrote Astonish Me mostly over five months while I was traveling abroad, and I dragged a hardback ballet reference book around with me but also relied heavily on the internet. I have to say that YouTube is an incredible resource for dance. I watched multiple versions of every variation I wrote about, and some companies, especially New York City Ballet and The Royal Ballet, post lots of backstage videos of rehearsal and class online, which I found incredibly helpful. I watched full-length documentaries as well and read interviews with dancers and things like that. In the end, though, it was all a bit of a leap of imagination because I’m just never ever going to know what it’s like to exist in a dancer’s body.

One book that we read for our book club was A Constellation of a Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. In his book, he jumped forward and backward through time, taking and building the plot in these different time periods. Your book also does this as we jump decades around these characters lives. How difficult is it, as a writer, to take your readers through time travel?

It can be very difficult, definitely. There are a lot of technical decisions that go into figuring out the chronology of any narrative and a boggling, infinite number of places and times you can take the story at any moment. So that can be overwhelming. The structure of Astonish Me, though, for some reason, evolved organically from the beginning. I would write along chronologically, and then, when I got to a point in the story where I felt like a piece of information was missing, I would jump back in time to fill in the gap. The book is written in the present tense, and it’s meant to feel immediate and episodic, sort of like a ballet.

In the book, Joan gives up on her dream of being a ballerina because she believes that she isn’t good enough to ever be a prima ballerina. Did you ever give up on anything because you didn’t think you would be able to be the best at it?

When I was in high school and for some years afterward, I was a really serious horseback rider. I trained most days and had two horses I was obsessed with and missed a lot of school to compete, but I wasn’t particularly talented. I really, really, really wanted to qualify for certain events that took place at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden or at another big show in D.C., but I never did. I have to say, as frustrating as that experience was, I think it was ultimately good for me to understand that the process was worthwhile even if I had absolutely no chance of ever being the best. I liked spending time with horses, and I liked the pursuit of a physical skill and the excitement of competing, especially when I won, which did happen occasionally. And, generally, the idea of being the best is tricky, right? I hope I mostly try to do the best I can.

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

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

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

I’m working on a third novel–about a female pilot after World War II–and I have a bunch of short stories I’d like to finish.

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


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It’s the 3 Little Things: Advanced Readers, Gluten-Free Deals, & Fancy Dresses

Friday, May 9th, 2014

It's the 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends, and a happy Mother’s Day to each of you!  I always look forward to sharing my happy list with you and I can’t wait to see your lists too! Today’s happiness list involves advanced readers, gluten-free deals, and fancy dresses. I also have a pretty cute bonus happy for you!

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Advanced Readers from NetGalley

When I started reviewing books for our site, I had no idea that NetGalley existed and everyone kept telling me I should sign up, especially when I first launched our book club.  NetGalley is a site that if you are a reviewer, blogger, journalist, librarian, bookseller, educator, or in the media, you can use NetGalley for FREE to request, read and provide feedback about forthcoming titles.  If you are any of these people, I can’t tell you how fun it is to get to preview books before their release date. I have them sent directly to my iPad, using my Kindle app, and get to sneak peek books from some really amazing authors.

That is how I got to sneak peek, “One Plus One,” by Jojo Moyes. If you haven’t read The Girl You Left Behind or Me Before You, you must reserve them at your library because they are amazing. I don’t know how she does it, but this book made me laugh, cry, and connect with every character in this book. She weaves an endearing story of a mother who is down on her luck and can barely make ends meet when her daughter is offered the chance of a lifetime to receive a scholarship for her excellence in mathematics that will cover 90% of her daughter’s education. Coming up with the other ten percent seems impossible, but she is determined to make this happen for her daughter. When she hears of a math contest happening in Scotland that offers a cash prize, she must do everything she can to get her there… including hitching a ride with the most unlikely man who could ultimately change their entire world. 

Anyone who has ever struggled financially or who would sacrifice it all to give their kids everything they need will appreciate this extraordinary book that, I hope, will be adapted to movie one day. It is that good!

Spending my evenings with this book made me oh-so-happy! It truly was a treat from start to finish.  If you can sign up for NetGalley, it’s a lot of fun to sneak peek these books before they hit the shelves.


Live G Free ALDI

Gluten-Free Deals

I was so excited to see that ALDI is offering this week their own line of gluten-free products called Live G Free. I hit my store this week and stocked up on brownie mixes, gluten-free sandwich wraps, frozen pizzas (to take with me when I have the dreaded pizza parties), crackers, pizza dough mixes, and brown rice pastas. I chatted with our cashier and she said they had some trouble keeping the shelves stocked which she said is always a good sign if ALDI decides to carry these items regularly in their store.

I was getting a little sweaty when they started ringing everything up though because I definitely stocked up on items and I brought cash. Luckily, I had just enough cash for everything so you could say that made me extra happy to not be outed for enthusiasm for gluten-free foods.

If any of these items are a big hit or if I hear anything about them keeping these on their store shelves, I will let you guys know. In the meantime, I left them feedback on their FB page begging for them to keep this stuff. It never hurts.

Twice Clothing

Fancy Dresses With Pockets

It is no secret that I have become addicted to Twice. If you missed my past posts about it, it is a site that has extremely discounted mint condition brand name stuff and it is marked to half or less than its retail price.  I always keep my eyes glued to the dresses page because… can a person have too many dresses? I think not.  I saw this dress pop up and I had to have it so I used my referral credit (thank you, friends!) and treated myself to this Anthropologie shirt-dress and HOLY HEAVENS, it is perfect in every way. The sleeves are just right, the print is even prettier in person, it has a built in petticoat that makes it full and pretty on the bottom, but (as if it couldn’t get better) it has pockets. So I sashayed around in this and graciously accepted the compliments on it. I mean…wouldn’t you?

I don’t know if anything else they sell will ever top this beauty.


And here is one last bonus happy for you.  This amazing photographer, Dave Engledow,  has his first book out, “Confessions of the World’s Best Father,” with some of the most hilarious pictures with his daughter that you just have to see and belly laugh over how cute they are.   There is a great round-up of some of the images over here and you can also get a little hilarity on your Facebook feed by liking his page.

Happiest of Mother’s Day, friends!  We are planning to spend the day visiting our local botanical garden and walking all the nature trails together in honor of the the holiday! I hope you have lots of fun in store too!

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

Now it’s your turn, what makes you happy this week? Feel free to share in our link up below and link back to this post to participate!

Share 3 things that are making you happy today!

Amy’s Notebook 05.07.14

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Homemade maple syrup from My Humble Kitchen

Source: My Humble Kitchen


Did you know you could make maple syrup from any maple tree in your yard? What an amazing science experience for your kids!

These 15 simple ways to live on less are timeless – and effective. My favorite is to know your goals – so important!

How about a DSW Eames Chair poster printable to download free? I’m loving this – such a cool and unique decorating idea!

Here’s another free printable – sweet and simple tags for Mother’s Day to decorate your gift.

These completely gorgeous diy tissue paper poppies take my breath away – what a fabulous Mother’s Day gift!

Homemade margaritas with only 3 natural ingredients? Now there’s a a perfect Mother’s Day drink, don’t you think?


I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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Sundays With Writers: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Sunday, May 4th, 2014


Sundays With Writers is quickly becoming my new favorite feature on MomAdvice. Is it for you too? I really hope so!  My only dilemma is reading enough that we always have fresh new authors to feature. This week I finished a riveting book called, “The Enchanted,” by Rene Denfeld and I can’t wait to share our interview with the author.  As soon as I finished it, I knew that I needed to email her to see if she would participate in our discussion. Not only is the book itself a fascinating look at prisoners on death row, but she is, in her real life, a death penalty investigator. She uses this background well to plot out the corruption of the prison world and what an investigator does to present facts about a death row inmate before going to trial.

You know that I always disclose if a book is graphic in language or in nature. This book is graphic and, as we learn in the interview with Rene, it is altogether true that many of these things do happen in the prison system.  There were points where I had to detach myself from the book in order to press on through it. Although in many cases, it infers violence and sexual abuse, sometimes it allowed my mind to fill in those blanks and I had to step away from it.


In, “The Enchanted,”  we are viewing a stone wall prison through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Though he is confined in a cell,  he sees visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.

We follow through the story through his eyes of two outsiders, a fallen priest and the Lady. The Lady is an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption which reveal many secrets of her own.

I promise to never post any spoilers in these interviews so please read on as we learn more about Rene and her amazing debut novel (picked as a Best Book of the Month by Amazon)!


As a death penalty investigator, you truly have the background to write about death row. The story that you weave is a tough one to swallow for someone who is on the outside- corruption within the prison system, constant sexual abuse of prisoners, lack of basic resources, and most of the death row inmates are products of their sad upbringing. Has this really been your experience and how did you get drawn into this type of profession?

The story is very much the narrator’s story—what he sees in this enchanted place. But much of what he sees I recognize from my work. Sadly, what happens in the book to the character called the white-haired boy is real and common. I got into the work in 2008 when I was looking for a day job. I had been a journalist, but had adopted three kids from foster care, and writing wasn’t paying the bills. Truth be told, I needed a job. I had met death penalty investigators as a journalist and was fascinated. It seemed like a chance to really learn the truth of a person and a crime. I love the work. It is often terribly sad, but I can also bring moments of profound insight.

I reread many lines and paragraphs in your book because they were filled with so much truth and made me stop and think. On page 119, It says, “She thinks about how sad it is that we remember the killers and not their victims. What if the world forgot Hitler and remembered all the names of his victims? What if we immortalized the victims?” Do you find that in your job that people are often more worried about the killers than those who were victims in your cases?

I worry that in our society we focus so much on the criminals we erase their victims. For all our focus on crime and violence—all the graphic televisions shows and movies—we don’t stop to really dig deep to understand why some people hurt each other. We devalue the gravity of what they have done, to real people.

As our narrator imagines the world he is in with majestic golden horses, that also happen to grace the cover of your book, do you believe that the narrator is just highly imaginative, mentally ill, or do you think that being locked away in a cell is causing hallucinations after being away from the outside world? Are these golden horses meant to symbolize something to the reader?

The narrator truly believes he lives in the most magical, enchanted place. And for him, he does. I spend a lot of time with people with profound mental illness, and one thing I remind myself is they could be right and I could be wrong. Perhaps they are seeing something I cannot. It is real to them, that’s what counts. I think the narrator has a lovely view of the world. The golden horses in particular—to me they symbolize his hunger to escape the confines of his bars, to feel and see wild passion and beauty in the world.

Since books are such an escape for me, I loved that the narrator’s escape was also literature. His favorite book, The White Dawn, brings him so much joy. What made you pick this particular book for your narrator?

What a lovely thing to have in common with you! Books have been my escape, too, since I was a young child. The library was my sanctuary. The White Dawn happened to be one of my favorite books as a child. I kept my tattered copy on my bed stand the entire time I was writing the novel. At night I would touch it and hope the narrator would continue to come and bless me with his story.

What is one common misconception about death row and the death penalty that you wish more people understood?

That we will never prevent crime if we don’t truly understand why it happens. And that the human capacity to find joy and beauty—no matter what our circumstance—cannot be extinguished.

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

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

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


It’s The 3 Little Things: Retro Swimwear, Beach-Scented Products, & Free Eyewear

Friday, May 2nd, 2014



Happy Friday, friends! It’s time for our list of the 3 little things that are making me happy this week!  I hope you guys are enjoying these as much as I enjoy sharing them with you!  Let me know in the comments what is making you happy this week!


Modest Retro Swimwear

Each year our family gets a community pool membership for the summer so, in order to get our money’s worth, we spend a lot of time at the pool. I should rephrase that and say that I spend a lot of time *by* a pool in a shady spot reading my library books. Each year I try to get one modest swimsuit that I can wear and I have had luck finding them at places like Sears & Target. This year I just couldn’t find anything, but I remembered this speech I saw on Rey Swimwear, their company tagline being “who says it has to be itsy-bitsy?”  and decided that I would check there.

Although the pricing is on the higher end for me, I just received this swimsuit that I had ordered and  I am in HEAVEN. It looks like one piece, but the bottom is separate and it is a full bottom so no worries about bits and pieces hanging out that is better left tucked in.  They have beautiful stuff and I will probably order one suit from there each year.

If you have little girls, they are also starting a kids line.


Beachy Cleaning Products

I somehow ended up on a mailing list for Method cleaning products and for the last couple of years I have been enjoying trying out their new stuff as they come out with it.  This month’s shipment was unbelievably awesome.  For their Spring line they launched Lime + Sea Salt Dish Soap, Beach Sage Cleaning Spray, & Sunset Breeze Laundry Detergent.

I hate cleaning up the kitchen at the end of the day, but I hate waking up to a mess of dirty counters and dishes. It actually feels like more of a treat when I use this dish soap and cleaning spray. The Beach Sage, in particular, is heavenly. I still hate cleaning and doing laundry, but at least everything smells beachy while I am doing it.  You also can’t beat that it is priced at around $3  for the soap/cleaners, which is a lot cheaper than a flight to the beach!

Sadly, it’s limited edition so I am going to have to stock up on a few extras before they take it off the shelves. Which makes me wonder why everything I love always limited edition?


Free Glasses

I’m really sorry if you are tired of this picture of me, but you are going to be seeing it every time I can score an interview with an author on here. I kept getting questions about these frames and I just want to tell you that these glasses make me SO happy and they were FREE. It was my first time ordering through Coastal so I was a little nervous that they were going to be cheap and poor quality.

They offer their first pair of glasses to you for free and I picked out these frames after reading through all the reviews and sizing. The frames came and the company included a really nice case and a little eyeglass kit to care for them. I almost never take them off anymore and just had them adjusted at the eye clinic because I wear them so much that I sometimes fall asleep in them.

I can’t rave enough about how much I love these glasses, in fact, my brother ordered a geeky pair himself and now we feel like hipsters with our cold brew coffee, spinning our vinyl, and rocking our free geek frames!

Lastly, if you want to make your kids happy this Friday, show them this video- guaranteed belly laughs for everyone! Bonus mom points, if you show them these cute sloth pictures. My kids loved the sloths that were celebrating their birthdays!


Sloth Squeak! from Lucy Cooke on Vimeo.

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

Now it’s your turn, what makes you happy this week? Feel free to share in our link up below and link back to this post to participate!

Share 3 things that are making you happy today!

Amy’s Notebook 04.30.14

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

High-Low Geometric Lamp

Source: I Heart Organizing


Isn’t this diy geometric lamp amazing? So cool – and the fact that you can have a high-end look for less.

So loving these adorable crafts made with recycled tin cans.

I’m pretty sure these tips to pack for a road trip will come in handy for the trips we’re planning for this summer!

There’s a ton of great ideas in this Frozen themed birthday party that my kids would flip for!

Artichoke & leek frittata sounds about perfect now – a light and springy meal.

Um, sure, I’d like to know 10 ways to stuff your face with asparagus, wouldn’t you?

And this modernized Mexican 7-layer dip? Oh yes.


I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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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.

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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!


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Sundays With Writers: Margot by Jillian Cantor

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

I am always so excited when I can feature beautiful books in our Sundays With Writers series. Today’s book, Margot by Jillian Cantor, explores a fictional account of what it would be like if Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister, actually lived and had to carry the secret of her escape.

In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind.


Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history.

I was captivated by the premise of this book and it brought to light some things that I had not thought of for those that did escape the Nazis. We witness a very real reaction to the post-traumatic stress that one would suffer if they escaped and what it would be like to live day-to-day with a number from a concentration camp tattooed on your arm.

When I finished this book, I just knew that I needed to interview Jillian and learn more about what moved her to create this fictional life for Margot and how she developed an entirely fictional concept while staying true to the life of Anne Frank’s family and history.

Grab your coffee and let’s sit down this Sunday with Jillian and talk about her amazing book, “Margot.”


Jillian Cantor

One of my favorite writers is Melanie Benjamin because she always finds some of the most unique historical characters and builds a story around them in a fresh way.  The story of Margot Frank reminded me of a character she might pick. What made it truly exceptional though is that you created a storyline around someone who had passed away without her story really being told. Do you think it was harder to build a storyline when the character was, in fact, deceased?

The real Margot Frank died in Bergen-Belsen with her sister, Anne, in 1945. But in my novel, my fictional Margot escapes from the Nazis and moves to America to begin a new life. My novel takes place largely in 1959, the year when the movie version of Anne’s diary came out in the US — fourteen years after the real Margot Frank died. My fictional Margot has changed her name to Margie Franklin and she lives in Philadelphia where she works as a legal secretary. As a writer of fiction, I think it was somewhat easier to write about Margot Frank in this capacity because my Margie Franklin truly is a fictional character. At the same time, I wanted to make sure to stay to true to what I believed the real Margot Frank might have or could’ve become if this had actually happened, so it was a little tricky to try to strike the balance between the truth and fiction.

 The fact that Margie hides her tattoo with the number she was issued by the Nazis is a very important element to her story. We discover that Margie always keeps her arms covered, even in the stifling heat of summer, so no one will know her secret.  Did you read of others who hid this and how did this inspire you?

I didn’t read anything specific about anyone hiding a tattoo with a sweater, though, I did read about Jews who moved to the US after the war and changed their identities in one capacity or another. I also read that some people had their tattoos removed once they moved to the United States, and I thought a lot about this with my character of Margie. Even though she didn’t want anyone to see her tattoo, I also couldn’t see her having it removed. Margie’s tattoo is so visible and so permanent, and yet it is undeniably such a part of her and her history.

Margie is clearly suffering from some severe post-traumatic stress and we witness this when she visits the Rabbi, when the car backfires, and when anyone tries to get close to her. What type of research did you do to prepare for these moments for Margie?

I didn’t specifically read up on PTSD while I was writing. I’ve read a lot in the past about post-traumatic stress, especially in soldiers, so I had an idea of what PTSD was, and I’ve experienced it in small ways in my own life. Shortly before I started writing MARGOT, Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a shopping center near me, and six people were killed – I was in the shopping center at the time, though very luckily I was not involved or hurt. For weeks afterwards I was nervous and jumpy every time I left the house. For Margie, I felt that the small bit of fear and anxiety I felt would be enormously magnified, and that living through such a horrific time and losing her family is something that would stay with her forever. As I wrote, I tried to put myself in Margie’s shoes, to think about how I would’ve reacted in those situations after living through such horrors.

 As children, many of us read or watched the movie of The Diary of Anne Frank. Was this something that you remember from your own childhood and was it a story that always stuck with you?

I read the The Diary of a Young Girl in seventh grade, and it did always stick with me. I felt connected to Anne at the time – I was about her age when I read it, Jewish, and I wanted to be a writer. What I didn’t remember, years later, was that Anne had an older sister, Margot. When I picked up the book again in my 30s to reread it, I noticed Margot but I had no memory of her from my earlier reading. I tried to do some research about her, and I found very little. But I did find that Margot Frank had kept her own diary (though hers was never recovered after the war). I grew up the older of two sisters myself, and I started to think about what Margot’s story might have been and how her point of view might have been different than Anne’s. I started to think about Anne and Margot as sisters, and that was the starting point for this novel for me.

 Is this your first historical fiction piece you have written and do you plan to write more? What other historical fiction characters would you love to write about?

This is my first historical fiction novel, but I have another one coming out some time next year.  My next historical novel revolves around Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. It’s told from the point of view of a fictional neighbor who befriends Ethel and becomes caught up in everything surrounding her arrest, trial, and execution. It’s very much a book about friendship, and mothers and sons, but there’s also spy intrigue and a love story.

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

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

*This series may contain affiliate links!


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