Review: The Life Room

I was an art student my first years at University so this book was familiar to me – the idea of the life room, revisiting history and sometimes rewriting history (why does our memory do this to us?).

The Life Room is the story a woman traveling to Paris to present a paper on Anna Karenina; while in Paris she runs into an old friend and history resurfaces (see synopsis below). She starts to revisit memories of her youth and the impact past decisions have made on her life today.

When she returns home, to her husband and two sons, her life begins to unravel. She is haunted by memories and decisions made years ago. Eleanor has to make some decisions that will impact her family’s future.

I enjoyed reading this book, the characters are messy and you find yourself wanted to know how the book will end. I am looking forward to our discussion on April 22.

I was pleased to see The Life room is a Reading Group Choices selection for March. There is a lot of buzz around this book, our timing is perfect!

Here are the links to a few articles worth reading: Washington Post, NY Times Review

A Chicago Tribune favorite book of 2007

Author Q&A:
Tell us a little about yourself (biography):
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up in the suburbs and my memories are of snow filled winters and long, endless summers. As a young girl I connected with books to quench my curiosity and curb my loneliness and wished one day to be a poet and novelist. I was enamored by the experience of reading a novel or a poem and entering an entirely foreign new world. I was fortunate enough to attend a poetry workshop at Ohio University as an undergraduate and to have studied with a poet who encouraged me to find my own voice. Ever since I have had a love affair with the written word.

What are you reading now? Now I am reading A Room With a View by EM Forester, a wonderful novel about the unknowable self revealed through an encounter in Italy. I just finished Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, a devastating portrait of a marriage. And by my bedside are many volumes of poetry I turn to again and again.

Format: Hardcover (337 pages), paperback (352 pages)

Synopsis:Eleanor Cahn is a professor of literature, the wife of a preeminent cardiac surgeon, and a devoted mother. But on a trip to Paris to present a paper on Anna Karenina, Eleanor re-connects with Stephen—a childhood friend with whom she has had a complicated relationship—that forces her to realize that she has suppressed her passionate self for years. As the novel unfolds, we learn of her hidden erotic past: with alluring, elusive Stephen; with ethereal William, her high school boyfriend; with married, egotistical Adam, the painter who initiated her into the intimacies of the "life room," where the artist’s model sometimes becomes muse; and with loyal, steady Michael, her husband. On her return to New York, Eleanor and Stephen’s charged attraction takes on a life of its own and threatens to destroy everything she has.

Jill Bialosky has created a fresh, piercingly real heroine who struggles with the spiritual questions and dilemmas of our time and, like Tolstoy’s immortal Anna Karenina, must choose between desire and responsibility.

“A suspenseful tale.” – The NY Times Book Review

“Bialosky creates a character brave enough to look back and try to regenerate all the emotional intensity of her younger self. Eleanor Cahn’s journey is not just a reawakening, but a reclamation of a vital part of herself long buried under domestic minutiae and the travails of balancing family and career.” – The Boston Globe

Customer reviews from Amazon:
Enchanting: The Life Room is a captivating read. The text is thoughtfully and beautifully written, bringing the novel's main character to life in the readers mind where she will stay long after the book is closed.

"Were we all, we who lived deeply, doomed?": With Tolstoy's tortured Anna Karenina as subtext, literature professor Eleanor Cahn leaves her beloved family in New York for a ten day conference in Paris where she has been asked to give a paper. Conflicted about the trip, Eleanor grants herself permission to indulge in the professional aspect of her life, forever at war with the more traditional...

Review: The Other Mother

Guest Review by Lisa

Gwendolen Gross, author to The Other Mother, is the author of two other novels Field Guide and Getting Out, and received an M.F.A. in fiction and poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in northern New Jersey with her family.

Amanda, a working mother from "the" city, and her husband move into the suburbs during her eighth month of pregnancy and finds herself living next door to Thea, a stay-at-home who lives in the same house she grew up in. Shortly after, a tree falls on Amanda's house and Thea invites Amanda's family to stay with her family. When Amanda returns to work, her inability to find a nanny or suitable daycare, leads to Thea becoming baby Malena's babysitter. But resentments, misunderstandings, and personalities that just don't mesh lead the women to part ways and things become tense.

I didn't really connect with either woman (the chapters alternate between first person narrations by each mother) and frankly, found some of their behaviors not believable. I also found the ending awkward. I did enjoy the examination of the battle between stay-at-home moms and moms that work outside the home (both women here feel the tug of both sides which should have made them get along better but neither was willing to admit to envying the other).

Author News:
Gwendolen Gross discussed her new book the East Brunswick Public Library on May 6, 2008 at 8pm. Check out the details on the Motherhood News Blog.

The Other Mother was selected as a best Jersey book of 2007 by Jersey Writers, a best book of the year by the RoleMommy blog.

Type: Fiction, 320 pages, Hardcover

“[The Other Mother] paints an electrifyingly complex and explosively gripping portrait of contemporary, have-it-all motherhood.” — Booklist

“[The Other Mother] is a thoughtful, multi-faceted look at what divides and unites mothers.” — National Public Radio

BN.COM Peer Review: I absolutely was drawn in by this haunting story and could not put it down! The characters are wonderful and real. Don't miss it even if you are not a mom yourself.

Review: Buffalo Lockjaw

Buffalo Lockjaw is the first novel for author Greg Ames. I have to thank Gayle at EDIWTB for selecting this book for her book club selection.

This is James’ story but you also feel a connection to his mom and dad. James returns home for the first Thanksgiving since his mothers move to a nursing home. It’s a heartbreaking tale of a family learning to adapt to the impact of Alzheimer’s. As you turn each page, you feel like you live in Buffalo, the side stories help you learn about the family and how James’ is surviving from day to day (or not surviving).

To avoid giving up too much of the story, I will just say this is an important book and it’s easy to connect to the characters. This is not a story of Alzeimer's but a story of a family struggling to communicate and the impact of the illness on the family. It’s good for everyone to understand how illness impacts the family (and the person with the illness). My heart broke for Ellen, James and Rodney.

Author Q&ATell us a little about yourself (biography): I live in Brooklyn and have taught literature and writing at both Brooklyn College and at Binghamton University, but I took this semester off to focus on promoting my book.

Do you write daily? I try to write daily but I don't force myself. I am pretty disciplined but I'm not strict about it. I don't feel guilty if I miss a day or a week. :) Writing is a pleasure for me, and I want it to stay that way.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I don't really know enough about the Kindle to have an opinion. I've never even see one. As a lifelong reader, I think I prefer good old-fashioned books. I want to feel the paper and bend the book and mark it up with pencil and make it mine. The tactile pleasure of holding the book and turning the pages really appeals to me. But who knows? Maybe the Kindle is wonderful.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Be disciplined and stubborn. As far as I can tell, the people who succeed in anything are the ones who refuse to be denied. Just keep doing it. Keep revising. Keep writing new drafts. Refuse to be denied. You will get better. Writing is not like figure skating or gymnastics where you're washed up at the age of twenty. You can write for your whole life. You can make a breakthrough at seventy. And be careful who you listen to. People who have never tried to write before might not understand why you do it. They will tell you to stop. Don't stop.

What are you reading now? Right now I'm reading "Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Two wonderful short story collections: "Spirits" by Richard Bausch and "The Gifts of the Body" by Rebecca Brown.

Type: Fiction, 288 pages, Trade paperback

James Fitzroy isn’t doing so well. Though his old friends in Buffalo believe his life in New York City is a success, in fact he writes ridiculous taglines for a greeting card company. Now he’s coming home on Thanksgiving to visit his aging father and dying mother, and unlike other holidays, he’s not sure how this one is going to end. Buffalo Lockjaw introduces a fresh voice in American fiction.

Reviews:The voice of this novel invites you right in, and Ames knows how to build up the world with a light hand while still getting to the complicated and painful ways we muddle through. Funny and fresh and generous. - Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt

Buffalo Lockjaw, like its charming, bitter screw-up of a narrator, reaches finally for larger meaning, and succeeds. Greg Ames has written a brazen and tender book about a city and a scene, a mother and a son, and the beauty and pain of several kinds of love. - Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land
In Buffalo Lockjaw, Greg Ames manages to evoke place and expose the complexities of character in a single swift phrase. It is a funny-sad, heartbreaking, hypnotically readable debut. - Adrienne Miller, author of The Coast of Akron

Review: The Laws of Harmony

The Laws of Harmony is the fourth book written by Judi Hendricks. Scroll down a bit for her complete biography.

This is the story of Sunny Cooper who grew up on a commune and flees at eighteen after her younger sister’s accidental death; she’s needs to get away from her mother's hippie lifestyle.

Fourteen years later Sunny seems to have made a life for herself until her fiancĂ©e’s dies. She struggles to find the answers to who he really was and where her life is going. No longer certain of anything she flees again in search of a life she can believe in.

Remember, the Joy is in the journey, not the destination, and you're already here. This is an enjoyable novel about a woman lost and trying to find her way through life.

Click here to visit Judi’s blog.

Click here to listen to Judi Hendricks interview with Bookclub Girl

Author Q&A

Tell us a little about yourself (biography): I was born in Silcon Valley when it was called the Santa Clara Valley, or more poetically, the Valley of Heart’s Delight, because it was a lovely, bucolic place known for its orchards and sleepy small towns.

The first thing I remember writing when I was about seven years old was a story about a family whose Christmas tree went missing. That was followed by a few plays written with my best friend Lynn Davis and performed in her garage to a captive audience of intimidated younger kids. The plays were mostly outer space/cowboy stories—don’t ask. In junior high it was gothic romance thrillers and high school was given over to bad poetry about the varsity basketball team.

My checkered college career encompassed numerous schools and involved changing my major a lot. When I finally graduated with a degree in journalism, I seemed doomed to drift from one job to another—journalist, substitute teacher, public relations for the phone company, public television, advertising, airline res agent, travel agent and baker, never quite getting it right.

Finally during a period of enforced unemployment that followed a serious surgery, I decided on a whim to take a writing seminar at UC Irvine. It was like sitting down in an unfamiliar chair and finding it so comfortable you never want to get up.

When I was working on my first novel, Bread Alone, I was possessed. There weren’t enough hours in the day that I could spend writing. I was constantly beating myself up for not having started writing seriously before the age of fifty. I worried about the time I’d wasted in all those other jobs where I was bored and unhappy and not particularly good. And then one day it just came to me that all the unimportant stuff wasn’t unimportant at all. That it was actually a necessary—one might even say crucial—stage that I had to pass through on my way to becoming a writer.

Do you write daily? I try very hard to write every day, even if it’s just a page or two, because if I don’t, I get cranky.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I can see certain advantages, but for myself, they’re too much like reading a computer screen, and they’ll never replace the feel of a book in my hands.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Read! It’s how you learn to write.

What are you reading now? American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella Haasse, Blue Rodeo by Jo-Ann Mapson, At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen

Type: Fiction, 496 pages, trade paperback

Sunny Cooper has been running since she was eighteen—from the New Mexican commune where she grew up . . . and from the haunting memory of the freak accident that took the life of her younger sister. Now, at thirty-two, Sunny voices radio spots in Albuquerque while struggling to hold on to a floundering relationship. But when a second tragic accident—and the devastating truths that come to light in its aftermath—turns her world upside down, Sunny runs again.
In the town of Harmony on San Miguel Island, she takes a new job, learns to ride a motorcycle, and makes some surprising new friends. But the past is never far behind. A startling discovery—along with an emotional and revelatory reunion with her estranged mother—is forcing Sunny to step out from the shadows of yesterday to embrace an uncertain future

Reviews:“Hendricks call to mind Barbara Kingsolver in her affinity for wise women and the power of close female friendships” – Booklist

“Hendricks writing is graceful, funny, and poignant – and best of all, she is a master of women’s stories.” – Jo Ann Mapson, author of Bad Girl Creek

The Red Leather Diary

Omaha book club selection, May 2009

This is my second post for this book, I am a little behind in reviews. Visit my previous post for author Q&A and so much more about the author and the book.

My book club likes to read at least one memoir/biography a year. We were struggling with our selection process this year so I reached out to a contact at one of the publishing companies and ‘The Leather Diary’ was on this list.

After a visit to my local bookstore and scanning several of the recommendations I felt a connection to Florence. My grandma is just a few years older than Florence and grew up in NYC – many of the stories were familiar.

I’m interested in the discussion with my book club (in May). I was able to relate to so much in this story, being from NYC and hearing similar stories my entire life. I'm curious to hear how my friends with family roots in the midwest will connect to Florence’s stories.

Author interviews posted to Google Authors, Words to Mouth and a great NY Times article

Type: Memoir/Biography, 320 pages, Trade paperback

“A world straight from the pages of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel…An extraordinary story about coming of age, following your dreams, and discovering (or rediscovering) who you are, were, and want to be.” – Parade

“An Amazing Story” – Chicago Times

BN.COM Reader Review: I randomly picked up this book at the store. I started reading it while waiting for my friend. I thought it was very interesting. It took me back to Florence's youth. I liked how she was very modern for her time. I would recommend this book to anyone. It makes me wish I had kept a diary when I was younger. I would have loved to read it now and remember how it felt to be that young.

BN.COM Reader Review: This book was a treasure to read. Lily Koppel guided me through the diary and provided me with a wonderous glimpse into the life of another generation. The book was cleverly designed from the cover to the pages to resemble the actual diary. I felt like I had discovered a secret as well.

Guest Review: Chocolat

Request review by Lisa

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, was born in her grandparents' candy shop in France and is the great-granddaughter of a woman known locally as a witch and a healer. Half-French, half-English, she teaches French at a school in Northern England.

Those that have seen the movie adaptation will not be disappointed. Most of the main characters and nearly all of the major events are familiar, although there are some fairly substantial differences (particularly in the backstory).

Vianne and her daughter, Anouk, travel from place to place, just as Vianne and her mother did. Then they land in Lansquenet, open a chocolate shop and begin to become a part of the village, much to the chagrin of the village priest. The quiet, restrained villagers begin to experience the pleasures of life, discover their own strengths, and examine their relationships.

Harris's writing evokes a powerful sense of place. You can clearly envision the village, smell the flowers, and taste the chocolate. Just don't read it on an empty stomach!

Author Q&A… click here to read the complete Q&A

Why do food and drink play such a major role in your books?
I think tastes and smells are particularly evocative to us because as newborns we first experience the world through those two senses. That means that our emotional response to a taste or a smell (think of Proust and his lime-blossom tisane) can act upon us at a very powerful, subconscious level. This is also true in literature, folk tale and mythology, where food and drink have played an important symbolic role for centuries. In more recent literature, such references provide a handy means of reflecting different cultures and distant places. It's also a very useful indicator of personality. Eating habits provide us with an insight into a person's background, character, family and upbringing, as well as their general attitude to life and to other people. Besides, readers understand food; in our increasingly diverse and multicultural society, eating remains one of the very few experiences we all have in common; a pleasure, a comfort and a means of expression.

Do you identify with your characters?
Yes, often; I don't think it's possible to avoid it really, although I don't usually tend to identify with one specific character. Instead I try to understand all the characters I write; even when they are difficult, harsh people, it should be possible to identify why they behave as they do, and to feel some sympathy for their position.

Type: Fiction, 320 pages, trade paperback


BN.COM Review: 'Chocolat', the beautiful and captivating story i read a few years ago, still stands as my favorite book. Joanne Harris writes with powerful and colorful imagery in this story about love, self-confidence, friendship and of course chocolate.

Review: Sarah's Key

Tatiana de Rosnay has published nine novels. ‘Sarah’s Key’ is her first novel written in English, has been published in 28 countries and film rights have also been sold.

Tatiana works as a journalist for French ELLE and is literary critic for Psychologies Magazine and the Journal du Dimanche. She is married and has two teenagers, Louis and Charlotte. She lives in Paris with her family.

Sarah's Key is an easy read, and it quickly draws you into the story line. I love a good history novel and was not aware of the Vel d'Hiv round up in Paris 1942. This book opens your eyes to some rather unknown events in Holocaust history, it’s hard to put down.

Here’s a review from BN.COM that I was able to relate to: The story of Sarah's love of her brother mixed with events out of her control must give the reader pause to step back and ask ourselves why this could happen, and furthermore, take efforts to never allow it to happen again. Historical fiction places us in the struggles of one little girl and again makes us ponder the woman she may have become. The two storylines, for me, culminated in too-tidy a package. However it did not take away from what I consider the main story. Perhaps a little more character development may have been a better choice. I would have read a few more chapters. It could have added some depth. I would recommend this, however, and also the history behind.

Click here for an interview with The Printed Page

Excerpt of author Q&A, Click here to read the complete interview:

Are Sarah and her family based on people who really existed in 1942? No, Sarah and her family come straight out of my imagination. But my daughter Charlotte, who was 10 years old when I wrote this book, was a major source of inspiration for Sarah. Sarah’s brother’s destiny is also an event I imagined, although I do believe it could have happened in real life.

How long did it you take to write Sarah’s Key? It took me one year to research it, two years to write it, and two years to get it published!

What sort of research did you do to write Sarah’s Key? I read everything I could concerning the round-up. (That book list is at the back of Sarah’s Key in its French version, or on the Sarah’s Key Blog.) I went to Beaune la Rolande and Drancy, several times. And I met Vel d’Hiv survivors, which were unforgettable moments.Type: Fiction, 293 pages, Trade Paperback

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

“It will make you cry – and remember” – Jenna Blum (NY Times best selling author of ‘Those who save us’)

“Rich in mystery, intrigue, and suspense, Sarah’s Key made me wonder and weep” – The Roanoke Times

Josh Henkin Answers our questions

Thank you Josh for answering our questions!

Many of us are preparing for our discussion that starts this Wednesday, I will post questions to the MMBC page and will link to the post here.

Julian is very well written and a believable character, I am interested to know if there is crossover from the author to Julian, or if Julian is based on a few people in his life.

Thanks for the question—for all the questions that follow. They’re great, and I’m looking forward to answering them. And thanks more generally for participating in the Manic Mommies discussion of MATRIMONY. I’m delighted to be a part of it.

People tend to assume that if I’m anyone in MATRIMONY I must be Julian. I’m a writer, and he’s a writer; I grew up in New York, and he grew up in New York; my name begins with a “J,” and so does his. But if anything, I’m probably more similar to Mia than to Julian. I’m Jewish and she’s Jewish, and we’re both the children of professors. In terms of the worlds they come from, Mia’s world is much more familiar to me than Julian’s is. It’s true that MATRIMONY is in part about the writing life, and since I’m a writer, in some vague way some of that material is borrowed from my own like. And I do think almost any writer will tell you that writing is often terrifying. No matter how much success you’ve had, the fraud police is always hovering over you, and you don’t know whether you’ll be able to do it again. The page is just as blank every time you sit down. All that said, Julian’s struggles are often quite different from my own. Both his book and mine took many years to write ( I worked on MATRIMONY for ten years and threw out more than three thousand pages), but there are some key differences. Julian had long periods of writer’s block. I never had writer’s block; I just wrote a lot of really bad pages that I had the good sense to throw out.

In the more general sense, MATRIMONY is not autobiographical in any obvious way. The only character based on a real character is the dog, who’s a dead ringer for my wife’s and my dog (except that our dog is a golden retriever and female and Cooper is a Labrador retriever and male). All the other mammals in the book are invented. I didn’t meet my wife in college, her mother didn’t die of breast cancer, she didn’t cheat on me with my best friend (of if she did, she hasn’t told me yet!), and, alas, I’m not nearly as wealthy as Julian is.
Click here to read the full MMBC Author Q&A

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