Review: American Wife



There has been a lot of discussion about the novel American Wife in recent years, readers wondering if this the true story of Laura Bush. I have owned a copy of this novel for about a year but after hearing that several people didn’t finish the book I put off reading it until this week. I just had to read it, see what all the hubbub is about.

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the bestselling novels American Wife, Prep, and The Man of My Dreams, which are being translated into twenty-five languages. Prep also was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times, nominated for the UK's Orange Prize, and optioned by Paramount Pictures. Curtis won the Seventeen magazine fiction writing contest in 1992, at age sixteen, and since then her writing has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic Monthly, Salon, Glamour, and on public radio's This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she was the 2002 - 2003 writer in residence at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. (source: Authors website)
Reading an article posted on the authors website the author she says she is “a liberal who has this weird admiration for Laura Bush…. And if I'd wanted to write a book that was a hatchet job on Laura Bush — if that was my big goal — I could have made it 200 pages. But I wanted to explore the human heart much more than I wanted to explore politics”. It’s important to know this upfront as you read this book. There are many events from Laura Bush’s life that help build the plot and mold this book but I did read this as fiction and enjoyed it.

The novel opens the Alice as a young girl of eight and quickly moves to her teenage years, college, and meeting her husband at age 31. We read about the intimate details of marriage, the stories we often leave unspoken and the life of the strong woman behind the man.

After reading American Wife, I will be adding Prep to my list. I would like to read another title by this author.

Below is an interview with Time Magazine that caught my eye:
TIME: How did this idea come to you?

Curtis Sittenfeld: Soon after George W. Bush was elected I read a few articles about Laura Bush that made her seem different from what I would have expected. I learned that she's a big reader, and that she would invite people who had political opinions different from her husband's to events at the governor's mansion and then events at the White House. And then I read a biography of her in 2004 by Ann Gerhart called The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush. That reinforced the sense I had that she had led a really complex and interesting life. So I wrote this article for Salon — which I would not have written it if I'd known that I would end up writing this book — that was basically about being a liberal who has this weird admiration for Laura Bush. In that article I said that her life resembled a novel. And then two years later it occurred to me, I should write that novel. Click here to read the complete interview/article.
Type: Fiction, 555 pages, trade paperback
Synopsis
A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. And when her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers that she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with–and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband’s presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.

Reviews:An intimate and daring story… Alice is a woman of considerable intellect, compassion and character. – USA Today
An eye-opener… This searing page-turner.. will make you wonder what unspoken promises lis behind the smiles of any power couple. - Redbook

Review: Abide with Me

I have been wanting to read Abide with Me after reading Olive Kitteridge (which won the Pulitzer last year), I was curious to read another book from this author. I see comparisons between the books and Elizabeth’s writing style and do plan to read Amy and Isabelle, which is her first novel.

Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer last year for Olive Kitteridge. I haven’t been about to locate a website for the author but you can click here to read her Wikipedia page for more information.

As for Abide with Me, I didn’t have a strong connection for any of the characters and kept hoping for more character development and attachment to the characters. The storyline holds the book together - this novel is about a father and his relationship within his community given current circumstances. The book has several elements to keep the story moving forward, including religion, death, birth, gossip and compassion.

This is another book getting so so reviews on BN.com.

Powell’s has a lot of information (synopsis and reviews) for Abide with Me that you might find interesting

Type: Fiction, 302 pages, trade paperback

Synopsis
In her luminous and long-awaited new novel, bestselling author Elizabeth Strout welcomes readers back to the archetypal, lovely landscape of northern New England, where the events of her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, unfolded. In the late 1950s, in the small town of West Annett, Maine, a minister struggles to regain his calling, his family, and his happiness in the wake of profound loss. At the same time, the community he has served so charismatically must come to terms with its own strengths and failings–faith and hypocrisy, loyalty and abandonment–when a dark secret is revealed.


Tyler Caskey has come to love West Annett, “just up the road” from where he was born. The short, brilliant summers and the sharp, piercing winters fill him with awe–as does his congregation, full of good people who seek his guidance and listen earnestly as he preaches. But after suffering a terrible loss, Tyler finds it hard to return to himself as he once was. He hasn’t had The Feeling–that God is all around him, in the beauty of the world–for quite some time. He struggles to find the right words in his sermons and in his conversations with those facing crises of their own, and to bring his five-year-old daughter, Katherine, out of the silence she has observed in the wake of the family’s tragedy.

A congregation that had once been patient and kind during Tyler’s grief now questions his leadership and propriety. In the kitchens, classrooms, offices, and stores of the village, anger and gossip have started to swirl. And in Tyler’s darkest hour, a startling discovery will test his congregation’s humanity–and his ownwill to endure the kinds of trials that sooner or later test us all.

In prose incandescent and artful, Elizabeth Strout draws readers into the details of ordinary life in a way that makes it extraordinary. All is considered–life, love, God, and community–within these pages, and all is made new by this writer’s boundless compassion and graceful prose.

Reviews:
“Strout’s greatly anticipated second novel… is an answered prayer.” – Vanity Fair

"Deeply moving....Dark as much of this beautiful novel is, there's finally healing here...In one beautiful page after another, Strout captures the mysterious combination of hope and sorrow." - Washington Post

Review: A better view of Paradise


Thank you Pump up your Book Promotions for sending me a copy of A Better View of Paradise.

A Better View of Paradise is the third novel written by Randy Sue Coburn. She lives along the waterfront in downtown Seattle and relishes morning strolls through the Pike Place Market with Binx, a floppy-eared terrier known by name to many more vendors in the Pike Place Market than his mistress. (source: author website)

As this book opens, Stevie’s life is falling apart. Her latest project as a landscape designer gets a horrible review, she has just broken up with her boyfriend and while at then event in Chicago a strange woman approaches her. That same night her father calls with bad news and Stevie’s life takes a turn. She’s on the next flight home to Hawaii to be with her father.

We follow Stevie’s journey as she puts her life together, builds a strong relationship with her dying father and learns more about Margo (the mysterious woman from Chicago). To avoid sharing too much of the story I will tell you this is what I often refer to as smart chick-lit. If you like Jane Green books, you will also enjoy this one. I would pass this along to a friend looking for a fun heartfelt story.

Type: Fiction, 368 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:Dramatic, moving, and exquisitely written, A Better View of Paradise explores the tender bond between fathers and daughters, ponders the delicate nature of healing, and celebrates the redemptive power of forgiveness and love.

Thirty-six-year-old Stevie Pollack has come into her own as a celebrated landscape architect. Her designs, famed for their evocative natural beauty, reflect her upbringing amid the splendor of Hawai‘i. But when critics blast her latest efforts and her boyfriend abruptly ends their relationship, Stevie seeks solace in her roots among the dazzling flowers, and comforting traditions of the islands and their calming waters. Still, in the back of her mind, Hawai‘i holds troubling memories of a childhood with Hank, her emotionally distant father, and a reserved British mother.

Despite her irascible father’s presence, the trip home promises Stevie a welcome departure from her trials on the mainland. But the shocking news that Hank is dying forces the pair’s reunion into high gear. As father and daughter attempt to rekindle their bond, Stevie discovers sides of Hank she never knew, including family secrets that have shaped their lives. And what started as a holiday escape for the beleaguered architect becomes a chance for transformation, one as exciting as it is uncertain. Inspired by her father’s insight, and energized by the attentions of an attractive local veterinarian, Stevie learns to surrender her inhibitions and seize the day.

Reviews:

“Coburn’s moving tale reminds us that sometimes we need to jump in and give ourselves over to love when the past has taught that love can be a terrifying thing” – Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Review: The Birthing House


Author Christopher Ransom and I exchanged emails when he was getting ready to send me copies of his Debut novel. He wanted me to know this wasn’t your typical book club selection! I was game since I’m trying to expand my horizons this summer.

In 2004, with their three rescued pound mutts—Cowboy, Nacho, and Tater-Tot—in tow, Chris and his wife relocated to a 140-year-old former birthing house in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Working as a copywriter for Famous Footwear in Madison, Chris spent the next three years conceiving and delivering his first novel, The Birthing House, which was recently published by the Sphere imprint of Little, Brown, in the UK, and will be released by St. Martin's Press in the US on August 4, 2009. (source: author website)

Let me start my saying this book isn’t scary, I didn’t have any issues reading this book. It the story of a couple; the husband buys a house in Wisconsin on a whim after receiving some inheritance money and wanting to find a way to save his marriage. He and his wife move from LA to the small town. Conrad’s wife quickly leaves on a work assignment and we follow Conrad on his twisted story. Is the house haunted, you have to read it to find out!

If you are looking for an entertaining light thriller, this is a smart, quick read.
Type: Fiction, 320 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:
It was expecting them.

Conrad and Joanna Harrison, a young couple from Los Angeles, attempt to save their marriage by leaving the pressures of the city to start anew in a quiet, rural setting. They buy a Victorian mansion that once served as a haven for unwed mothers, called a birthing house. One day when Joanna is away, the previous owner visits Conrad to bequeath a vital piece of the house’s historic heritage, a photo album that he claims “belongs to the house.” Thumbing through the old, sepia-colored photographs of midwives and fearful, unhappily pregnant girls in their starched, nineteenth-century dresses, Conrad is suddenly chilled to the bone: staring back at him with a countenance of hatred and rage is the image of his own wife….

Thus begins a story of possession, sexual obsession, and, ultimately, murder, as a centuries-old crime is reenacted in the present, turning Conrad and Joanna’s American dream into a relentless nightmare.

An extraordinary marriage of supernatural thrills and exquisite psychological suspense, The Birthing House marks the debut of a writer whose first novel is a terrifying tour de force.

Reviews:
“As exceptional debut… Ransom’s style mimics that of the early Stephen King and Dan Simmon’s horror fiction: - Library Journal

“A biting and well-written novel…The kind of genuinely scray story that makes little hairs stand up on the back of your neck… - Peter Blauner, author of Slipping into Darkness

Review: The White Queen


Like most of us, I have read several Philippa Gregory novels. Earlier this week I decided to download an audio book to listen to as I worked on a project… The White Queen was listed on the iTunes home page for $15 and was under 7 hours. I had no idea the book was released just that day!

Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the novel The Other Boleyn Girl which was made into a tv drama, and a major film. Now, six novels later, she is looking at the family that preceded the Tudors: the magnificent Plantaganets, a family of complex rivalries, loves, and hatreds.

She lives with her family on a small farm in Yorkshire where she keeps horses, hens and ducks. (source: author website)

As with all Gregory novels, you receive a history lesson while reading a passionate tale. The White Queen recounts history, in the mid 1400’s, telling the story of a young widow who falls in love and secretly marries King Edward.

It’s hard to imagine families changing history to benefit their status and reading about this, knowing its part of history, brings a sense of joy to the story. Most of the book takes place during a time of war. Families trying to rewrite the family tree, dissolve marriages and remove sons from the record in the attempt to win the throne. If you like historical fiction, you will certainly enjoy Gregory’s latest novel.

Have you been to the author’s website? It’s a must visit. There is a twitter application that allows you to read Catherine’s story, told 140 characters at a time.

Type: Fiction, 432 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:
Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

Reviews:
With The White Queen, Philippa Gregory brings the artistry and intellect of a master writer and storyteller to a new era in history and begins what is sure to be another bestselling classic series from this beloved author. - USA Today

Review: The Opposite of Love


Have you ever read a book twice? By accident? I recently read The Opposite of Love for a second time. As I read I kept thinking to myself… this sounds so familiar! Julie Buxbaum’s novel is getting 4 ½ out of 5 stars (with 20 reviews on BN.COM), at least I read a good book twice.

After graduation, I moved to New York to work as a litigator at a large law firm, where I spent two long winters, and many, many hours working in the MetLife building. When I realized I had not seen sunlight in almost seven hundred and thirty days, I asked to be transferred to their Los Angeles office, which upon seeing my pale and desperate face, they kindly obliged. I eventually moved to a much smaller firm, but shortly thereafter realized that maybe I wasn’t cut out for the whole lawyer thing. As part of a New Year’s resolution, I quit my job, downsized my life, and went to work immediately on The Opposite of Love. (source: author website)

This is the story of Emily, a twenty nine year old woman with a law degree and a great boyfriend. One night, after she feels life is treating her too good she breaks up with her boyfriend and the story leaps into action from this moment forward. We follow her struggles with her creepy boss while on a business trip, deal with ethical issues at work, an ailing grandfather, unresponsive father and more. The book is filled with moment’s right out of Bridget Jones’ diary (awkwardly funny at times, yet compassionate). I would pass this book along to a friend to read.

Type: Fiction, 320 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis
With perfect pitch for the humor and heartbreak of everyday life, Julie Buxbaum has fashioned a heroine who will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has loved and lost and loved again.

When successful twenty-nine-year-old Manhattan attorney Emily Haxby ends her happy relationship just as her boyfriend is on the verge of proposing, she can’t explain to even her closest friends why she did it. Somewhere beneath her sense of fun, her bravado, and her independent exterior, Emily knows that her breakup with Andrew has less to do with him and more to do with...her. “You’re your own worst enemy,” her best friend Jess tells her. “It’s like you get pleasure out of breaking your own heart.”

As the holiday season looms and Emily contemplates whether she made a huge mistake, the rest of her world begins to unravel: she is assigned to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit where she must defend the very values she detests by a boss who can’t keep his hands to himself; her Grandpa Jack, a charming, feisty octogenarian and the person she cares most about in the world, is losing it, while her emotionally distant father has left her to cope with this alone; and underneath it all, fading memories of her deceased mother continue to remind her that love doesn’t last forever.How this brave, original young heroine finally decides to take control of her life and face the fears that have long haunted her is the great achievement of Julie Buxbaum’s marvelous first novel. Written with the authority, grace, and wisdom of an author far beyond her years, The Opposite of Love heralds the debut of a remarkable talent incontemporary fiction.

Reviews:

“You’ll want to keep reading all night” – Library Journal

“Gripping, wise and extremely refreshing. I loved it” - Marian Keyes

Review: Accidentally on Purpose

I saw this book earlier this summer and had to read it. I fell into parenthood unexpectedly (albeit completely different situation) and was pleasantly surprised to see a book this candid. After a few emails back and forth with Mary, we learned that we both recommend ‘We need to talk about Kevin’. Have you read it?

She reviews film for Time.com and MSN.Movies. For many years, she was the movie critic for the Contra Costa Times, and her reviews could be found in the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune. Pols has written for Time Magazine, The New York Times, Self, Wondertime, MoreIntelligentLife.com, Glamour.com, the Times of London, Red Magazine and Grazia. Her memoir was optioned by BermanBraun and is being developed for a television series by CBS. (Source: website)
Mary Pols is candid about her life, at times you might feel like you are intruding. This is the story of a woman building her career, watching her friends get married and start families and pondering life’s next move. She ends up pregnant by a man she barely knows, and to be honest, they are in different stages of life. We read along as Mary and Matt establish a relationship that works for them.

After baby Dolan is born, the story becomes one that every mother can relate to. Juggling motherhood with its highs and lows, work, family, friends, a relationship and more…life, it’s messy.

Visit Mary Pols site to read her blog and watch a ‘book trailer’
Synopsis
At thirty-nine, movie critic Mary Pols knew she wanted to have a baby. But never—not in a million years—on her own. When she finds herself unexpec­tedly expecting, she plunges into the greatest adventure of her life. With humor, insight, and compelling honesty, Pols reveals what it means to compromise in the name of love and to find joy in an accidental life, suddenly brimming with purpose.

Reviews:“Sharp, witty, and slightly self-deprecating, she addresses [questions of single parenthood] with firsthand candor, humor, and insight.” – San Francisco Chronicle
“Both engrossing and endearing.” – New York Observer

Review: Two Years, No Rain


Two Years, No Rain is Shawn Klopareens’ second novel and our third selection for the Summer Reading Series (with Lisa from Books on the Brain).

Klopareens was born squarely in the palm of Michigan in the winter of 1970, and grew up between there and Central Ohio. After studying English and Geological Sciences in the beautiful foothills of Appalachia at Ohio University, then to Jackson, Wyoming for what he thought would be a one year break from graduate work, and has been here ever since. (source: authors website)

This book is about Andy, a weatherman in a funk. His wife has left him, his career is going no where and he’s not sure what’s next. As I read this book I kept thinking, this is guy-lit. It was interesting reading this story from the perspective of a man rather than a woman.

Andy interviews for a voiceover job with a children’s show and is hired to host the show and quickly moves from coasting through life to being in the spotlight. Children love him, Mom’s love him. To add to the confusion, Andy has had a crush on Hillary for years. What will he do?

I enjoyed the writing style, an entertaining read from a different perspective. I did struggle with the main character at times, wanting to shake him and say “take control of your life”.

If you are reading with us, Lisa is hosting an online book discussion on August 18th. Lisa’s June book club was the most interactive online discussion I have participated in. I can’t wait to discuss this book, there’s a lot to discuss.
Type: Fiction, 384 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:
An earnest journey from heartache to heartthrob and all the emotions along the way; at once an old-fashioned love story and a cautionary tale of self-reinvention.

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming…

Reviews:
“Compelling characters…Klomparens is frequently a funny and stylish writer.” — Publishers Weekly

“Klomparens is…a genuinely original new voice in fiction” — Omnivoracious

Review: The Beach House


I picked up this book to read while on vacation after seeing in it on the ‘Girls of Summer’ reading list as published in the NY times June 12, 2009.
I have read most of Jane Green’s novels, which I would describe as light reading with content. Jane Green has written eleven books; all dealing with what I refer to as "women’s issues" (relationships with family, identity, and weight to name a few).

Jane Green was born in London and has lived in Connecticut for seven years. One of the founding writers behind the genre known as ‘chick lit’, Green now writes novels that reflect the lives of real women today, with all the trials and tribulations that come with real life: from in-laws, motherhood, mid-life crises and loss, all of which are told with Green’s trademark warmth, wit and wisdom. (source: author website)

This book is about a woman who finds out she doesn’t have the monetary funds to live out her life as planned. She actually has almost no money at this point. Her short term solution is to open her home by renting rooms for the summer.

I know I will always enjoy a Jane Green novel. As the review below mentions, I am not expecting an epic or all time favorite book selection from the author but I’m never sorry I read the book. The story takes a little bit of time to unfold but I encourage you to give the book the time it needs to set the story up, it’s a good thoughtful book.

Click here to read Jane’s Blog

To view some Audio & Video clips, click here

Type: Women’s fiction, 352 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:Jane Green is one of the preeminent authors of women’s fiction today, and with each new novel, her audience grows. Green’s avid and loyal fans follow her because she writes about the true-to-life dilemmas of women—and The Beach House will not disappoint.

Known in Nantucket as the crazy woman who lives in the rambling house atop the bluff, Nan doesn’t care what people think. At sixty-five-years old, her husband died twenty years ago, her beauty has faded, and her family has flown. If her neighbors are away, why shouldn’t she skinny dip in their swimming pools and help herself to their flowers? But when she discovers the money she thought would last forever is dwindling and she could lose her beloved house, Nan knows she has to make drastic changes.

So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly, people start moving into the house, filling it with noise, with laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside-down.

Reviews:

BN.COM Review: I read this book in about a week. I was intrigued by the main character who resembled my mother-in-law and the concept of having to rent out rooms in one's house (what a great idea for a lonely widow). The story line was a bit outlandish at points with everything/everyone coming together-seemed a little orchestrated. I would say this is an easy read with an unusual story line that pays off in the end. The Characters are enjoyable but could've been more detailed if this book wasn't so short and a quick read...I'm sure it wasn't meant to be an epic novel; however, it would become a nice movie. I enjoyed the reader's style of writing for this type of book.

Review: Torn by God


I have wanted to read Torn by God: a Family’s Struggle with Polygamy for a long time. The author, Zoe Murdock sent me a copy of her book in the spring and due to over-committing myself to some projects it has taken me a while to get to.

This is the story a family in a state of chaos, the husband has a vision and begins a journey to explore the original laws of the Mormon faith, specifically polygamy. Post vision he wrestles with the idea that polygamy should still be legal and he is trying to decide if his family should join Brother Reuben’s sect. While he makes some decisions the family deals with several roadblocks along the way.

From the authors website: ...I try to achieve a high level of psychological realism, moving into the mental space of my characters, and settling in for the duration. Maintaining this kind or realism can be difficult at times. For example, when I was writing from the mind of my 12-year-old narrator in Torn by God, there were things I wanted to say that I couldn't say and still maintain the child's perspective. Still, I felt the innocence of the child narrator was important because it was indicative of the innocence of all the characters in the story. They are all controlled by the voice of their parents, by the voice of their religious leaders, by the voice of their God. So I let the girl see what she could see and let the deeper meaning lie beneath the surface, in the subtext where it belongs. It is there for my readers to find, if they can.

This is an intriguing story, a story that has stayed with me. I don’t know much about the Mormon faith and I often put my book down to share some newly learned facts about the Mormon religion with my husband. It was interesting to read this story from the daughters eyes, the author was able to leave me wondering and searching for answers as a mother. I kept thinking of how I would deal with a situation and then I would remind myself this is a twelve year olds story taking place in 1959. Life was much simpler in 1959, for everyone.

There is a lot to discuss, family illness, community, marriage and survival are just a few discussion worthy topics in this book. I enjoyed this book and recommend for book clubs.
Interesting links:- Click here to read a good author interview, along with an online dialog (post interview)
- Click here to read a fascinating article, review, and debate
- Click here to read Zoe’s blog

Author Q&A:Tell us a little about yourself: I grew up in a small Mormon town in Utah, the middle child of eleven. The rural environment was a wonderful place to explore, but I felt cramped philosophically. It took me a few years after high school to find my way to the university, but once there, my mind opened up to the world. I designed my own course of study focusing on human cognition, and set about trying to discover the effect that specialized language and concepts have on perception. I have been intrigued with human perception ever since, particularly the way in which belief systems affect perception. Most of my writing has to do with that issue, on one level or another. In my recently published novel, “Torn by God: A Family’s Struggle with Polygamy,” I examine the way in which a father’s belief in the original Mormon doctrine of polygamy brings about the destruction of his family. The story takes place in my little hometown and is based on real events that happened to my family when I was a child.

I finished my B.A. and got most of the way through a master’s in Creative Writing, when the personal computer arrived on the scene. I saw a need for writers and started EZ Technology, Inc., a technical documentation company that produced books for some of the largest computer companies in the world. After that, I returned to the university and picked up two more degrees, an M.A. in Instructional Technology and Multimedia, and an M.S. in Sports Medicine (I knew a lot of master runners at the time who were always getting injured and I wanted to see if I could help them).

For the past 10 years, I have been writing fiction full-time and teaching an advanced weekly fiction writing workshop in California.

Do you write daily? Yes, I do write daily. In fact, I write for most of the day, when I’m not out promoting “Torn by God.” I love to write and wish there were more hours in the day to do it.

What was it like getting your first novel published? Getting novels published these days is a struggle. Many New York agents and publishers were interested in my novel, but thy wanted me to change it to make it more appealing to the mass market. For that reason, I eventually decided to let an LA independent publisher, that I had been involved with in the past, bring it out.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I think electronic books are the books of the future. Sure, there will be printed books, but I think more and more people will be reading on devices such as the Kindle. I agree with many others that the entire publishing industry is in a state of flux. Although publishers will most likely continue to print large first runs for books written by their top writers, I think that print on demand is the direction everyone is going. Why waste money printing books that will never be sold, when you can print them on-demand? Hopefully, when the dust settles, there will be an opportunity for many more authors to be published than is currently possible. Print on demand also makes it possible for authors to publish their own books; readers can decide for themselves if there is something of value in the work. It will be very interesting to look back in a few years to see what the new world of book publishing looks like.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? The most important advice I can give a writer is to join a writing group. And if you can find one, join a group that gives you feedback on technical issues, rather than just telling you how great your writing is. We all need moral support, but more than that, we need a group of people who can help us see what we’ve written. It is very easy to think you’ve succeeded in getting what you intended down on paper, when really it is mostly in your own head. Some people are nervous about writing groups that give real feedback, but if you learn how to listen and consider what other writers are telling you, your writing will be much better.

One more bit of important advice is to never think you’ve finished your book when you finish the first draft. As my husband, Doc, always says, “You never know what your story is about until you’ve finished writing it.” Then you have to go back and rewrite it again and again. Each draft will teach you something new about your story, and this new information will help you refine your story. You’ll know when it’s time to publish it.

What are you reading now? I tend to read fiction with a strong protagonist voice. Books like, “The Book of Ruth,” by Jane Hamilton, “Angela’s Ashes,” by Frank McCourt “Because It is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart,” by Joyce Carol Oates, and “Bastard Out of Carolina,” by Dorothy Allison. I’m presently reading Margaret Atwood’s, “The Blind Assassin.”

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: I love “Memoirs of a Survivor,” and “The Diaries of Jane Somers,” by Doris Lessing and “An Imaginary Life,” by David Malouf.

Just for fun:Favorite Season: Autumn - especially if I’m some place with extraordinary autumn foliage. Spring is nice, too. And Winter, after a snow storm, when the sun comes out and the sky is crystal blue and everything sparkles.

Morning or night: Night, when the world is quiet and I finally have time to think.

Favorite ice cream flavor: I don’t eat much ice cream these days, but as a kid I liked a double cone from Snellgroves with raspberry ripple and Rocky Road. Alas, Snellgroves no longer exists. Today, I’d be more likely to get something mocha-ish.

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: I love Asia and have traveled to Japan, Thailand, Korea, and Hong Kong. I would love to go to Greece and India and Europe and . . . most any place. Traveling is a wonderful psychic and sensory experience. I would love to see what human consciousness has conceived in all corners of the world.

Type: Fiction, 300 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:Inspired by true events, Torn by God is a riveting family drama that takes place in 1959 in a small Mormon town in Utah. It chronicles the devastation brought upon the Sterling family when the father has a vision which leads him to become involved with a local polygamist group run by a self-serving fundamentalist named Brother Reuben. Under the influence of this group, the father comes to believe that the Mormon Church never should have rescinded polygamy. He knows that the practice is against the law and grounds for excommunication, but he feels it is something God demands of him. Twelve-year-old Beth watches helplessly as her father becomes increasingly involved with the polygamists and her mother sinks into depression and illness. Even Beth is not safe from Brother Reuben with his piercing eyes and suggestive sexual remarks. When her father leaves home to build a church for the polygamists, the family is cast off by the Mormon community. It is up to Beth to take care of her sick mother and her little brother, Mikey. This story delves deep into the controversial association between mainstream Mormons and fundamentalist off-shoot groups such as those led by Warren Jeffs.

Reviews:

The book is hard to put down once you start reading it. At once chilling and informative, it exposes the destructive power of fundamentalist religious indoctrination and control. This novel is sure to spark lively discussions, and maybe more than a little controversy. - From FictionWeek.com

Review: The Last Lecture


The Last Lecture is a book filled with living-life-to-the-fullest advice from a college professor. While to some this might sound as interesting as reading a doctoral dissertation, you'd be surprised.

The author, Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, writes so well that you'd probably let him teach you about computers too. Some things he talks about include: remember to laugh, seizing every moment, overcoming obstacles, appreciate the gifts you recieve, and enabling the dreams of others.

Although the author died this year, his wisdom will no doubt be around awhile in this very enlightening book. Other books in this genre I liked include "Finding Happiness in a Frustrating World". (source: author website)

I have wanted to read this book for months and since I knew I would be spending hours and hours hiking on vacation this summer, I bought the audio book from iTunes so I could listen (just under 6 hours, including an interview with the author). I was so inspired when hiking and listening to Randy Pausch’s story, it actually helped me push forward when I was exhausted – how do you stop hiking when you are listening to a dying man’s last wish?

This book reads like ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie’ and I will be buying this for gifts (I also need to pick up a copy for my guest room). Everyone should read this book.

Below is a good review I found on BN.COM that sums it up nicely:
I suggested this book as an afterthought to my book group who had been complaining about the dark and somber books we had been reading during the past year. When I pitched the idea of The Last Lecture and described it as the author's last work after being diagnosed with a terminal disease everyone was stunned into silence. When I realized what assumptions they had been making about this book I quickly explained that it is one of the most life affirming books they will ever read. It is simple in its structure and in the points that are made but, Randy's voice and the supporting anecdotal examples he provides make this book come alive. His passion for his life's dreams, his wife, young family and his work as a professor at Carnegie Mellon infuses all he does and touches everyone in his life in a meaningful way. If you were not at the lecture hall, have not yet seen the lecture on You Tube please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book, so you can be touched by Randy's own instructional life lessons. Everyone in my book group loved it, people I had loaned copies to decided to keep them permanently and I will definitely get myself a replacement copy to keep handy as a reminder of the important opportunity life gives you to leave a legacy which continues long after you've gone in the people you have met for whom you've made a difference. This book is a real gem! While not an overtly spiritual work, I found it very comforting and inspiring. Add it to your library and give it as gift. This is definitely worth sharing with those people you care about.
Click here to listen to the lecture

Type: Patient Narrative, 224 pages, trade paperback

Synopsis:
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." —Randy Pausch

A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave—"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"—wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

Reviews:BN.COM Review: Wow this is fantastic it really motivates you to reach for the stars and go for it. Thanks Randy and Family you are an inspiration.

Review: The Secret Scripture


A beautiful cover, a beautiful story.

Short listed for the man Booker Prize 2008 and winner of the Costa Book of The Year 2008.

I enjoy reading award winner books, some I like some I find challenging to finish. This is a splendid story about a woman who is nearly 100 years old. Told in multiple voices, Dr. Greene is evaluating Roseanne who has been living in an asylum for years. Roseanne’s story is one of valor. As the pages turn we learn her life story, which is difficult (see the BN review below which provides a solid recap along with a good review).

Found myself caring for what would happen to Roseanne and couldn’t wait to hear the ending to her story. I loved the ending of this book.

Links of interest:
- Sebastian Barry may be the most exhilarating prose stylist in Irish fiction. His new book weaves together strands from Ireland's past -- and his own. Click here to read the complete article with Salon.com
- He is a greatly admired figure and, unusually in Ireland, I haven't met anyone who doesn't like him - History and family fuse in the work of the hot tip for this year's Booker, Click here to read the complete article in the Guardian
- The Costa Book of the Year prize has been awarded to Sebastian Barry for his novel The Secret Scripture even though the judges found the book to be 'flawed'. Click here to read the complete article in the Telegraph
Type: Fiction, 320 pages, Trade paperback
Synopsis:A gorgeous new novel from the author of the Man Booker finalist A Long Long Way
As a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, as her hundredth year draws near, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and she decides to record the events of her life.
As Roseanne revisits her past, hiding the manuscript beneath the floorboards in her bedroom, she learns that Roscommon Hospital will be closed in a few months and that her caregiver, Dr. Grene, has been asked to evaluate the patients and decide if they can return to society. Roseanne is of particular interest to Dr. Grene, and as he researches her case he discovers a document written by a local priest that tells a very different story of Roseanne's life than what she recalls. As doctor and patient attempt to understand each other, they begin to uncover long-buried secrets about themselves.
Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, The Secret Scripture is an epic story of love, betrayal, and unavoidable tragedy, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on individual lives for much of the twentieth century.

Reviews:
BN.COM review: It is literary Irish fiction at its best. It records the past dominance of church in secular relations and the maltreatment of women in the hands of men. The story is heard in two voices the elderly Roseanne Mc Nulty a patient and Dr.Greene a psychiatrist. Roseanne is a very old woman who records her secret history in her secret journal and in vivid poetic prose. The doctor is forced to re-evaluate his patients in the asylum and see if they can be released into the community, therein lies the plot of the tale. Our purpose is to discover the reason for Roseanne's admission and in doing so we get a history of Irish life in Sligo in 1930. Dr. Greene too records his interviews with Roseanne. His voice is in a different more modern tone to hers. He is an independent impartial observer to her tale. Gentle not to upset her he teases information from her and so we are left to discover the truth for ourselves. The paradox of the imperfection of human memory as opposed to the factual written word is show here. She develops a wonderful relationship with the doctor based on empathy. He too is grieving the death of his wife and his own imperfection as being the ultimate healer. Roseanne was a beauty in her day living on the outskirts of society who has been maltreated by her community. By recording her tale she gives a voice to the woman who was institutionalized by priests and by society unjustly. In recording her annals she healed herself. She is not so much a victim as a survivor. While some were dismayed by the ending I enjoyed the novel for me it is a wonderful tale on compassionate, love, life and on human inter relations. It is story telling and dialogue at its best. What he records is important but equally so is his eloquent language.

Review: The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu


Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. - Both are retired professors who have worked in academia and business. Sears is a mathematician, specializing in geological remote sensing. Trollip is an educational psychologist, specializing in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and a pilot. They were both born in South Africa.
They have been on a number of flying safaris to Botswana and Zimbabwe, where it was always exciting to buzz a dirt airstrip to shoo the elephants off. They have had many adventures on these trips including tracking lions at night, fighting bush fires on the Savuti plains in northern Botswana, being charged by an elephant, and having their plane’s door pop open over the Kalahari, scattering navigation maps over the desert.. These trips have fed their love both for the bush, and for Botswana.
It was on one of these trips that the idea surfaced for a novel set in Botswana. (Source: author website)
I have been watching Expedition: Africa which has only peaked my interest in this book.

Botswana Assistant Superintendent David "Kubu" Bengu is investigating the murders of two men in a remote bush camp. Of the men who died, one has the fingerprints of Goodluck Tinubu who died almost three decades earlier, during the Rhodesian civil war. The last small detail to set up the story… another guest at the camp has left suddenly, which makes him the prime suspect.

As the truth comes out and the crime is solved we learn about culture in Africa. A good, solid book for mystery/thriller fans.
Type: Mystery, 463 pages, Hardcover
Synopsis:Two vicious murders, only hours apart.
When two guests—Zimbabwean teacher Goodluck Tinubu and supposed South African tourist Sipho Langa—are bludgeoned to death at the isolated Jackalberry bush camp in northern Botswana, Detective David “Kubu” Bengu arrives from Gaborone to assist the local police.
Ishmael Zondo, another guest at the camp, departed unexpectedly at dawn the morning after the murders. Now Zondo has completely disappeared, and the Zimbabwe police are unable—or unwilling—to trace him. Reports surface that he is wanted as a dissident in Zimbabwe. And, as a final enigma, matching fingerprint records reveal that Goodluck Tinubu was killed in the Rhodesian civil war thirty years earlier.
Then the other guests at the camp start dying one by one. The local police have their own suspicions, but the wily Kubu believes that the obvious is not what it seems. Having discovered that everyone at the Jackalberry camp has something to hide, Kubu sets a clever trap to find the truth.

Reviews:
“Complex…should satisfy all armchair travelers and most mystery fans” – Kirkus Reviews

Review: Don't you forget about me

Fun, easy read, perfect for summer

Jancee Dunn grew up in Chatham, New Jersey. She was a writer at Rolling Stone from 1989-2003, where she wrote twenty cover stories for the magazine. She has written for many different publications and was a veejay for MTV2 from 1996 until 2001. Her memoir "But Enough About Me," about her life as chronically nervous celebrity interviewer, came out in 2006. She and her husband live in Brooklyn, New York. (source: author website)

I first heard about this book last summer, as part of the Satellite Sisters summer reading list. It’s been on my TBR list for almost a year.

If you were a teenager in the eighties you will enjoy a brush up on 80’s pop culture while reading. The premise is fantastic – who doesn’t want to reminisce about what we have been told are the ‘best years of your life’?

After receiving news from her husband that their marriage is over, Lillian takes a leave of absence from her job and returns to her childhood home. She moves back into her childhood bedroom and is surrounded by memories of high school. Compounded with an upcoming high school reunion, Lillian starts to revisit memories and is forced to deal with the important relationships in her life. Lillian is a real character, flawed and quite likeable.

Jancee has one of the best websites I have visited, click here to view.

Click here to watch a video clip from her book launch (17 mins)

Type: Fiction, 276 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:After earning rave reviews with her rock-and-roll memoir But Enough About Me, Jancee Dunn takes on fiction in this comically poignant debut, a perfect read for anyone who has ever looked back nostalgically and wondered what might have been.

At thirty-eight, Lillian Curtis is content with her life. She enjoys her routine as a producer for a talk show in New York City starring showbiz veteran Vi (“short for vibrant”) Barbour, a spirited senior. Lillian’s relationship with her husband is pleasant if no longer exciting. Most nights she is more than happy to come home to her apartment and crawl into her pajamas. Then she’s hit with a piece of shocking news: Her husband wants a divorce.

Blindsided, Lillian takes a leave of absence and moves back to her parents’ home in suburban New Jersey. Nestled in her childhood bedroom, where Duran Duran and Squeeze posters still cover the walls, she finds high school memories a healing salve to her troubles. She hurtles backward into her teen years, driving too fast, digging up mix tapes, and tentatively reconciling with Dawn, a childhood friend she once betrayed. Punctuating her stroll down memory lane is an invitation to the Bethel Memorial High School class of 1988 twenty-year reunion. It just might be Lillian’s chance to reconnect with her long-lost boyfriend, Christian Somers, who is expected to attend. Will it be just like heaven?

Lillian discovers, as we all must, the pitfalls of glorifying the glory days, the mortification of failing as a thirtysomething adult, and the impossibility of fully recapturing the past. Don’t You Forget About Me is for anyone who looks back and wonders: What if?

Reviews:
“This disarmingly funny memoir… allows readers to live vicariously as Dunn reveals tricks for getting stars to spill.” – People

“Incredibly funny… I loved this book from start to finish” – Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep

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