Posts Tagged ‘Book Club Picks’

Sundays With Writers: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

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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.

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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)!

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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.

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

 

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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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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