Review: Love begins in winter


Sweet, Romantic, great gift book
Simon Van Booy was born in London and grew up in rural Wales and Oxford. After playing football in Kentucky, he lived in Paris and Athens. In 2002 he was awarded an MFA and won the H.R. Hays Poetry Prize. His journalism has appeared in magazines and newspapers including the New York Times and the New York Post. Van Booy is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love, now translated into several languages. He lives in New York City, where he teaches part-time at the School of Visual Arts and at Long Island University. He is also involved in the Rutgers Early College Humanities Program (REaCH) for young adults living in underserved communities. (Source: his website)

I found this book while browsing for books at my local bookstore last week. While having coffee with my son, we both picked up a few books are started reading a few pages before making our final selections. I read the first story in Love Begins in Winter and knew I wanted to finish this book.
It’s a collection of five stories about relationships and is perfect book to put in a guest room.
BWAV rating of this book: 4 stars
Type: Short Stories, 256 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:On the verge of giving up—anchored to dreams that never came true and to people who have long since disappeared from their lives—Van Booy's characters walk the streets of these stark and beautiful stories until chance meetings with strangers force them to face responsibility for lives they thought had continued on without them.

Reviews:
Simon Van Booy knows a great deal about the complex longings of the human heart, and he articulates those truths in his stories with pitch-perfect elegance. Love Begins in Winter is a splendid collection, and Van Booy is now a writer on my must-always-read list. – Robert Olen Bulter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
“In the five impressionistic stories in Van Booy’s latest collection, following The Secret Lives of People in Love (2007), the author continues to develop his highly original style…More about what is felt than what happens, Van Booy’s stories pay beautiful homage to human connection.” — Booklist

Review: The Tricking of Freya

Christina Sunley grew up hearing stories about her Icelandic relatives and their journey to North America, following the 1875 volcanic eruption that decimated much of Iceland's farmland. To write The Tricking of Freya, she spent several years researching Icelandic history, mythology, and genealogy, including three trips to Iceland and a stint as writer-in-residence at Klaustri├░ (The Monastery), a stone farmhouse in a remote area, near where her grandfather had lived. (source: Christina’s website)
I have had The Tricking of Freya on my TBR list for a few months. I don’t remember where I heard about this book but it intrigued me. If you like learning while reading, you will love this story. The author weaves in the Icelandic language and mythical stories as she tells a story about a young girl who learns of a family secret.
At age seven, during Freya’s first visit home to meet her family, Freya overhears that her Aunt Birdie had a child.
The novel opens with Freya, now a grown woman, writing a letter to a cousin she has yet to meet. As the pages turn we learn about Icelandic culture while reading about a family of strong women. Aunt Birdie is often at the center of the story, and Freya’s journey to finding her cousin is a memorable one.
Sunley is a talented storyteller. I loved the ending!
A BN.com review: Having grown up with grandparents who lived in Gimili and the surrounding districts of New Iceland, yet growing up in the U.S. myself, I felt that Christina Sunley did a fantastic job of describing how it was to be a Western Icelander....the rich heritage & traditions of our ancestry is so much of who we are today. She nailed it, yet did so with the captivating story of Freya....I LOVED IT!!! Thank-you Christina!
BWAV rating of this book: 4 stars
Type : Fiction, 342 pages, Harcover

Synopsis:A young woman obsessed with uncovering a family secret is drawn into the strange and magical history, language and landscape of Iceland.
Freya Morris grows up in a typical American suburb – but every summer, she enters another realm entirely when she visits her relatives in Gimli, a tiny village in Canada settled by Icelandic immigrants. Here she falls under the spell of her troubled but charming aunt Birdie, who thrills her with stories of exotic Norse goddesses, moody Viking bards, and the life of her late grandfather, the most famous poet of "New Iceland."
But when Birdie tricks Freya into a terrifying scandal, Freya turns her back on everything Icelandic and anything that reminds her of the past. She is living an anonymous, bleak existence in Manhattan when she finally returns to Gimli for the first time in two decades – and stumbles upon a long concealed family secret.
As Freya becomes increasingly obsessed with unraveling her family’s tangled story, she finds herself delving into the very memories she has worked so hard to forget. When the clues dry up in Gimli, Freya journeys to Iceland itself. On this rugged island of vast lava fields and immense glaciers, Freya’s quest comes to its unsettling conclusion.
A beautifully-written debut novel that deftly weaves together Iceland’s distinctive history, ancient mythology, reverence for language, and passion for genealogy, The Tricking of Freya is a powerful exploration of kinship, loss and redemption.

Reviews:
“This grand coming-of-age-novel boasts a dynamic set of characters and a rich bank of cultural and personal lore, making this dark, cold family tale a surprisingly lush experience.”- Publishers Weekly

“…Sunley’s astonishingly accomplished debut is a bewitching tale of volcanic emotions, cultural inheritance, family sorrows, mental illness, and life-altering discoveries.” - Booklist

Review: All we ever wanted was everything


All we ever wanted was everything is our July selection for our Summer Reading Series (discussion on July 14). We had over 40 people enter for the free book! If you didn’t win one of the copies I hope you will still read with us – this book is hysterical!

I don’t know where to start… within the first thirty pages I was hooked and read this book in two days. The book opens when Janice’s husbands company goes public and the family is instantly wealthy. Janice goes about her business throughout the day feeling euphoric until she receives an email from her husband… a ‘dear john’ email after 29 years of marriage.

As the pages turn we learn that both of Janice’s daughters are spiraling downhill and all three women are living in the same house but are not connected to each other. This book is laugh out loud funny at times yet you will connect to each character.

Take a moment to visit Janelle’s blog, she has a new post talking about the 9 different covers for this book.

From the original post…
Janelle answers a few questions:

Tell us a little about yourself: I'm 35 years old, and I live with my husband Greg and our lab-mix rescue dog in a little bungalow in Los Angeles. I've been a writer my entire life - I decided I wanted to be an author when I was in second grade (when I started writing short stories about talking animals) and stubbornly stuck to the plan for the next thirty-odd years. I grew up in Silicon Valley and started my career as a journalist in San Francisco, working for magazines like Wired and Salon, writing a lot about the technology boom and how the Internet was changing our lives. I moved to Los Angeles seven years ago in order to start writing fiction, became a freelancer writing for publications like Vogue, Self and the New York Times, and published All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (my first novel) last summer…. Click here to read the complete Q&A

Type: Fiction, 431 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:
When Paul Miller’s pharmaceutical company goes public, making his family IPO millionaires, his wife, Janice, is sure this is the windfall she’s been waiting for—until she learns that her husband is leaving her and has cut her out of the new fortune. Meanwhile, 400 miles south in Los Angeles, the Millers’ daughter, Margaret, has been dumped by her actor boyfriend and left in the lurch by an investor who promised to revive her irreverent postfeminist magazine, Snatch. Sliding toward bankruptcy and dogged by creditors, she flees for home, where her confused and lonesome teenage sister, Lizzie, is struggling with problems of her own: She’s become the school slut.Holed up in their Georgian colonial bunker, the Miller women wage battle with divorce lawyers, debt collectors, drug-dealing pool boys, country club ladies, evangelical neighbors, and nasty social climbers—and in the process all illusions and artifice fall away and they must reckon with something far scarier and more consequential: their true selves.

Reviews:
“Executed with nerve and wit” – The NY Times book review

“A killer summer read” – Daily Candy

Review: Precious


Thank you Lisa for inviting me to read Precious for the TLC book tour last month.

Precious is Sandra Novack’s first novel. She has been published in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Gulf Coast. She has three times been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and currently resides in Atlanta.
This is the story of the Kisch family – they give new meaning to the term dysfunctional. The mother has an affair and returns months later to find her family hostile and angry. The father is dealing with his own demons and their two young girls (17 and 9 years old) are trying to survive from day to day.

In the opening pages we learn that Eva and Sissy’s mom has left the family. Natalia, the mother, is having an affair and followed the man to Italy. Sissy’s best friend Vicki is missing and Eva is angry.

As the story unfolds we follow Eva down a dangerous path. Her mother has left and she needs to take care of her 9 year old sister and the house. With Vicki, the neighbor girl, missing everyone is on high alert and afraid to let the children play. Eva is not prepared to be a mother figure and take on this responsibility. We watch her struggle with the reality of her life and she starts to make bad decisions, one which results in sleeping with her English teacher and carrying on an affair with him.

I do not want to give away the story but can assure you this is a story worth reading, each character is well developed and interesting. The plot has many twists and keeps you engaged. There is a lot to discuss and I recommend this to book clubs. I will be recommending Precious to my local book club.

A conversation with Sandra NovakTell us a little about yourself: I grew up in a blue-collar family in Pennsylvania, and I have two older brothers and sisters who are about 10-15 years older than I am (which makes me the condom that broke!). Unlike some, I didn't always know that I wanted to be a writer and had plans to perhaps go into counseling. I came into writing during my Masters program, though, and continued on for an MFA. I'm a huge lover of books and reading, have taught workshops in a variety of places, and have lived in about five different states since leaving PA. Right now, I'm currently living in GA but will be moving to Chicago this summer, which is great because my husband and I love variety and love various ethnic foods. Is there a better thing than eating a great dinner with someone you love? We also have entirely too many pets, which is an issue best left to the shrinks. My husband, Phil, is a paleontologist and does weird things, like lick fossils, which makes us very compatible in our weirdness, because I do weird things like smell Vick's Vapor Rub (spelling?) and tape, just for the heck of it. We were made for each other! We have no children, by choice, because I always think I'd be a horrible mother. But all in all, at thirty-six, I'm happy and content with my life, which is much different than I was at, say, age eighteen. I think time does wonders to improve us all, like good wine. At least I hope so! That said: some of my closest friends have told me I'm much sweeter at 36, but also much crankier...Oh, and yes, this brings me to the final point: I curse an awful lot. It upsets my mother, who "didn't raise me that way".

Do you write daily? I do try and write each day, yes. It keeps me level! Plus, I find that when I'm "off" my schedule it's more difficult to get back into it. When I was on the reading tour for Precious, I didn't write for almost a month and it took about that long to start up again once I got home. Mostly a good writing day is one in which I wake up, walk the dog with my husband, write from maybe about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. If I can acoomplish that (no matter how badly the writing is!) I feel like I've had a successful day. Like most writers I know, I also fart around a lot.

What was it like getting your first novel published (I have heard some great stories and would love to include your story if you would like to share your experience)? My agent landed me a two-book deal with a partial novel and a completed story collection. So I wrote most of Precious under a nine month deadline. That was exciting, to just have my life seem to change overnight. And the entire process was really educational, actually, if not a wee bit tiring. Mostly I'm a process girl and feel best when I'm just writing; it's like that's when I have a purpose. But actually having the first novel published and in hand? I don't know. I found it to be a bit of a downer. It's like you get your book delivered and everything that was once beyond you and bigger than you is suddenly packaged and sold for 16.50 (automatic discount on Amazon!). On my launch day, my editor and publicist sent flowers and told me I should celebrate, but you know mostly I just sat around and slept. That probably wasn't the story you wanted to hear.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I think they are changing the way people read, and that this all will have ramifications for the industry. Personally, though, I love the feel of a good book, and I am so low-tech I barely even use my cell phone. I don't have an Ipod, and I wouldn't know what to do with a BlackBerry, so I suspect it will be quite a while before I personally get a KINDLE. That said, I have recently thought that KINDLE would be an excellent way to store those books I can't seem to live without but probably won't ever read again. (I know, I know, I hoard.) Having the knowledge that the words are there, stored electronically, would be comforting, I think. Plus, it would mean I don't have to pack up 100 boxes of books, like I did the last time we moved. Boxes of books are surprisingly heavy.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Read, anyone you love, and learn from those writers. Also, don't be afraid to fail. (I realize that's two tips; sorry.)

What are you reading now? John Irving's The Cider House Rules (he's so wonderfully sensitive toward his characters!) and I plan to start reading Bound South, by Susan Rebecca White. She's a debut writer I recently did a reading gig with in Atlanta. She's very funny on the page, and she has a great first-person voice.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. The list changes, though, depending on my mood.
Just for fun:Favorite Season: Fall
Morning or night: Morning
Favorite ice cream flavor: Potato chips
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Italy, but did I mention I hate to fly?
BWAV rating of this book: 3.5 stars
Type: Fiction, 288 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:The summer of 1978, ten-year-old Vicki Anderson rides her bike to the local park and goes missing. The face of her tight knit, blue collar Pennsylvania neighborhood, where children roam the streets at night playing lightening tag, above-ground pools litter the back yards, and flowers scent the air, will never be the same.

Down the street from Vicki's house, another family is in crisis. Troubled by her past, headstrong Natalia Kisch has abandoned her husband and two daughters for another man. Frank Kisch, grappling with his anger, is left to raise their girls alone, oblivious to his daughters' struggles with both disappearances: Eva, seventeen, plunges into an affair with her married high school teacher, and nine-year-old Sissy escapes to a world of imagination and storytelling that becomes so magical it pierces the reality of the everyday.

When Natalia unexpectedly returns, the struggles and tensions which have built over the summer erupt into a series of events that change the Kisches irrevocably—forcing them to piece together their complicated pasts and commitments to one another.

In this haunting, atmospheric debut, Sandra Novack examines loss, loyalty, and family. Lyrical and elegiac, Precious underscores our attempts to make sense of the volatility that surrounds us, and explores our ability, even during the most trying times, to remember and hold onto those we love most.

Reviews:
"[A] lyrical and finely crafted first novel...The graceful prose and bleak atmosphere underscore the loneliness of each character. Novack takes the massive distance between friends, husbands and wives, and makes it her home."—Publishers Weekly
"[A] dramatic, elegantly rendered debut. In this accomplished first novel, [Novack] writes tellingly of the complex relationships among families, lovers, and friends."—Booklist (Starred Review)

Review: Love and Biology...


Jennie Shortridge sent me copies of Love and Biology… and Eating Heaven to preview for the MMBC June selection. We are reading Eating Heaven for June but do to a shipping mix up everyone is receiving both books! I have received many emails expressing their delight with Love and Biology…I needed to see what the excitement was about so I start reading this book today, sitting on the deck and enjoying the beautiful day. I read this book in one afternoon from cover to cover!

Most women will relate to this story. As the book opens you feel a connection to Mira. I have read two of Jennie Shortridge’s novels, I love her storytelling and character development.

This book is well written, dancing around topics with emotion. For those of you that have read my reviews you know I like a book filled with ‘messiness’. This book is about a 45 year old woman who makes a hasty decision and runs away from life. Instead of dealing with life’s obstacles she packs a suitcase and begins driving to Vancouver. Her car breaks down in Seattle where she end up staying and builds a new “family”.

Mira is a strong accomplished woman, at no time in the book do you feel sorry for her.

MMBC readers, I have a few questions for you:

Part One: how do you think you would react to hearing Parker’s story? Would you run like Mira has decided to do?

Part Two: Mira leaves her family behind and creates a new family of sorts… do you think she is satisfied? What is her role in her new surroundings?

Part Three: Did the book end how you thought it would?
Click here to read an author Q&A
Type: Fiction, 367 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:
"An accomplished and superior novelist" (Statesman Journal) delivers a bittersweet book about a woman's midlife crisis that asks: How does a good girl know when to finally let herself be bad?When she learns that her college sweetheart husband has been seeing another woman, Mira Serafino's perfect world is shattered and she wants no one, least of all her big Italian family, to know. She heads north-with no destination and little money- stopping only when her car breaks down in Seattle. She takes a job at the offbeat Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe, where she'll experience a terrifying but invigorating freedom, and meet someone she'll come to love: the new Mira.

Reviews:
“A moving look at the…redemptive power of… getting it right.” – Carolyn Jourdan, author of Heart in the Right Place
BN Review: Jennie Shortridge has written a book for every woman. There is something for everyone in this story about a woman longing to learn who she really is. Mira heads out of her hometown after finding out her husband was about to be unfaithful. As she starts a new and different life, she realizes that she is not who she wants to be. The characters in this book are diverse, funny, and oh so interesting. You will laugh, commiserate, and cry throughout this story. Don't miss it!

Review: Hannah's Dream


Hannah’s Dream is our sixth selection for the MMBC. We will begin discussing the book on Wednesday, July 22nd. The author has generously donated 12 books. If you are interested in participating please send me an email with your address and ‘Hannah’s Dream’ in the subject line.

When I started reading this book last week I mentioned that I expected to shed a few tears reading this book on twitter and I received several emails/tweets back confirming tears where in my future. This is a wonderfully written book and I’m so thankful Harper Collins sent me a copy to read/review. Each month I try to select unique books so we are reading a variety of storylines/themes. I expect everyone will enjoy reading this story!
A must read - a tender story, filled with love and compassion.

Below you will find an author Q&A below to learn a little more about the author, enjoy the book!
BWAV rating of this book: 4 stars
Type: Fiction, 319 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:An elephant never forgets . . . but can she dream?

For forty-one years, Samson Brown has been caring for Hannah, the lone elephant at the down-at-the-heels Max L. Biedelman Zoo. Having vowed not to retire until an equally loving and devoted caretaker is found to replace him, Sam rejoices when smart, compassionate Neva Wilson is hired as the new elephant keeper. But Neva quickly discovers what Sam already knows: that despite their loving care, Hannah is isolated from other elephants and her feet are nearly ruined from standing on hard concrete all day. Using her contacts in the zookeeping world, Neva and Sam hatch a plan to send Hannah to an elephant sanctuary—just as the zoo's angry, unhappy director launches an aggressive revitalization campaign that spotlights Hannah as the star attraction, inextricably tying Hannah's future to the fate of the Max L. Biedelman Zoo.

A charming, poignant, and captivating novel certain to enthrall readers of Water for Elephants, Diane Hammond's Hannah's Dream is a beautifully told tale rich in heart, humor, and intelligence.

Reviews:
“Irresistibly touching, delectably uplifting, Hammond’s understated yet gargantuan tale of devotion and commitment poignantly proves that loves does indeed come in all shapes and sizes” – Booklist

Amazon Review: This is a heart-warming story that brought tears to my eyes! Hammond did a fantastic job bringing the characters and setting to life and I absolutely fell in love with Hannah.

Author Q&A
Tell us a little about yourself: I began my professional life at a department store in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1977, but I was fired, so who cares about that job. I badly wanted to be an advertising copywriter but no one would hire me, so instead I became an editorial assistant for a publisher of building industry tabloids. I lasted there for two years, until a move took me to Washington D.C. in 1980.

There, at a trade association and then a women's college, I had my first experience with editing (I like it, but I'm not very good at it) and public relations (I'm good at but I don't like it). More importantly, I began writing fiction in earnest for the first time, cutting my teeth on short stories, attending classes and workshops at the Glen Echo Writers Center in Glen Echo, Maryland, and joining a number of ad hoc writing groups. I had a total of 10 or so short stories published in various commercial and literary publications, but I was much prouder of the fact that I began receiving personal rejection notices from C. Michael Curtis at The Atlantic Monthly, and Daniel Menaker, then an editor at The New Yorker.

I moved to tiny Newport, Oregon, on the central Oregon coast, in 1984, and have considered myself a Pacific Northwesterner ever since. Newport was a writer’s paradise with its relative isolation, constant winter storms and harsh beauty. I began maturing artistically there, discovering themes and settings that have resonated in my writing ever since. At the same time, I worked for the local electric utility through 1989. Somewhere in through there I also received an Oregon Arts Commission grant. I've never found a workplace or colleagues more interesting; at least, not until I became press secretary for Keiko, the killer whale star of the hit movie Free Willy from 1995 to 1998.

I wrote half of my first book, Going to Bend, in Newport, but got tangled up in craft and plot issues and put the whole thing aside for eight years. In 1998, I resurrected the half-manuscript and saw exactly where I'd been headed, if only I'd known it. I finished the book in six months and it found a home with Doubleday.

By the time the book was released in 2003, we were living in Tacoma, Washington. It was well received, especially in the Pacific Northwest. I wrote Homesick Creek, my second novel, on the road between Bend and Tacoma while we made endless trips back and forth to find and ready a home there. We hop-scotched to Los Angeles briefly, where I worked on Hannah’s Dream, but returned to Bend long before its release in September 2, 2008. For the record, neither my Random House editor nor my agent were at all taken with Hannah’s Dream—Random House turned it down flat (in two separate drafts), and my agent suggested it might be best to shelve it. I stuck to my guns, moved to HarperCollins and, to my astonishment; the book has been a bestseller in the Pacific Northwest and is doing well elsewhere, too. I currently live in Bend with my husband Nolan, daughter Kerry, six very large cats and a Pembroke Welsh corgi named Petey.

Do you write daily? Alas, I still have a day job building websites for small businesses and non-profit organizations, so the majority of my workdays are devoted to my clients. However, I squeeze in writing or editing at some point nearly every day, usually in the early morning or after dinner. I’m currently racing against a mid-June deadline to complete my next book, so I’m definitely writing daily now, and will until that manuscript is resting in someone else’s capable hands.


What was it like getting your first novel published? Some of that story’s in Question #1 above but, briefly, the day I got my agent’s phone call saying that Random House would publish Going to Bend ranked right up there with getting married and giving birth to my daughter Kerry. It was the only real ambition I’ve ever had. Year after year, when asked what I wanted for Christmas, I said, “A published novel under the tree.” And it finally came true. I’ve never been so proud of any other accomplishment.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? Given the current difficult state of the publishing industry, any technology that will convince people to read is a good thing. I can’t imagine giving up paper-and-ink books myself, since I’ve been associating safety and coziness with a book-in-hand for as long as I can remember, but I’ve got nothing against them.


What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Write without ceasing. Steal time from whatever you have to; it’s much too easy to blame over-commitment for robbing you of your dream to write.

What are you reading now? Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True

Favorite novels: What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - Good Family by Terry Gamble


Just for Fun:
Favorite Season: Fall
Morning or night: Used to be night; now it’s morning
Favorite ice cream flavor: Ben & Jerry’s Phish Phood
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: the UK; haven’t been yet.

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