Review: The Day the Falls Stood Still

February Omaha Bookworm’s selection

I look forward to discussing The Day the Falls Stood Still with Cathy Buchanan in February and will post a recap of our discussion late February.

From the authors website: Born and bred in Niagara Falls, Ontario, I grew up awash in the lore of William “Red” Hill, Niagara’s most famous riverman.  I’d see the rusted-out hull of the old scow still lodged in the upper rapids of the river and be reminded of him rescuing the men marooned there in 1918.  I’d see the plaque commemorating the ice bridge tragedy of 1912 and know he’d risked his life to save a teenage boy named Ignatius Roth.  I’d open the newspaper and read a story about his son Wes carrying on the Hill tradition and rescuing a stranded stunter.

Synopsis: Steeped in the intriguing history of Niagara Falls, this epic love story is as rich, spellbinding, and majestic as the falls themselves.

1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near Niagara Falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she had left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, her vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating-and harboring a secret.

The night of her return, Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him-against her family's strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the power of the falls for themselves. As their lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future.

Type: Historical fiction, 320 pages, Hardcover

Quick Take: I had not heard of this book until a member of the Omaha Bookworm’s selected it for us to read.  I enjoy historical fiction so I was excited to reach out to Cathy, asking her if she would be interested in discussing the book with us.  I did listen to a few interviews with the author that I believe enhanced my reading experience (I had no idea there was so much controversy over the falls in the early 1900’s, although this makes so much sense). 

Buchanan paints a vibrant picture of the Falls - it's grandeur, beauty, and danger. There are photos throughout the book which are helpful and I have to say they help the reader become emotionally attached to the story.  The story surrounding the falls is a love story, yet filled with politics and historical events.  You get a sense of how difficult it was to live just one day at the turn of the century. If you enjoy historical fiction, you will love this one.

You can spend hours learning on Cathy's website!  It's filled with author Q&A's, maps and so much history to explore.  Be sure to check out the site before and after reading this book.

Review: April & Oliver

Manic Mommies Book Club Selection: January 2010

We will be discussing this book with the author on Jan 20.  Watch for details as we get closer to the date. 

From the author’s website: With a hunger for travel, I spent six months after graduation backpacking through Europe, India, and China. I watched a lunar eclipse from a storm-tossed boat on the East China Sea, and saw a gentle old leper quietly die on a street in Calcutta. From Beijing, I took the Trans-Siberian railroad through the Soviet Union and out through snow-laden Helsinki. Later, I spent two years in China and another in Argentina. Throughout this time, I kept journals and scribbled an occasional story. Several of my articles were published in New York Newsday and elsewhere through syndication. I wrote to explore things I didn’t understand. My questions drove me. 

Synopsis:The story of April and Oliver, two inseparable childhood friends whose existences again collide with the sudden death of April's younger brother

Type: Fiction, 336 pages, Hardcover

Quick Take: As I read this book I couldn’t wait to read the ending – I kept thinking, I’m not sure if the author means for us to hope April and Oliver get together or if their lives collide but continue separately.  I do not want to share the details but I can tell you that when I had about 30 pages left I put the book down and told my husband “I’m not ready for this one to be over”.  You will feel like you are reading someone’s story, it's quite sad and desperate in the beginning but the second half of the book is filled with hope and a future.  Read it, there is a lot to discuss.

Click here to listen to an interview with BlogTalkRadio

Author Q&A:

Tell us a little about yourself: The Nuts and Bolts Answer: I grew up on Long Island, but have lived many places within the United States and abroad. I am married with two children, and teach writing to middle school students. My work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Boston College Magazine, Cottonwood, Stylus Anthology, Newsday, and elsewhere through syndication. An excerpt of April & Oliver was published in Agni and subsequently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I have a Masters in Education from SUNY Buffalo and an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College.

The Amorphous Answer: I enjoy noticing the way light from a window patiently traverses a room over the course of a day. Clouds capture my attention, as well as bird songs, swaying branches, and gusts of wind. My propensity to stop and notice makes me an oddball. At the same time, I live a life teeming with deadlines, appointments, and responsibilities. How do I manage? Not very well! Every day, life gives me ample opportunity to laugh at myself.

Do you write daily? When I am in the momentum of a project, I write daily.  I like being swept up by a story and surrendering to it. When I have that kind of relationship with a piece, hours pass like minutes. As a mother and teacher, however, I don’t often have hours at a time. Sometimes schoolwork and other responsibilities take over, in which case I write in snatches.

What was it like getting your first book published? It took time for me to hone my skills as a writer. At some point, I gave up on the idea of publishing and decided to focus on teaching. Nevertheless, I kept writing because it is what I do. I worked on April & Oliver on and off for years, periodically stuffing it in a drawer for long stretches. It was my good friend, novelist Sasha Troyan, who encouraged me to haul the manuscript out one more time. Having been away from it for so long, I reread the manuscript with a blend of satisfaction and horror. Because so much time had passed, and because I myself had changed, (the stretching effect of parenthood), I could clearly see what rang true and what did not. It was as if I was reading someone else’s manuscript, and knew precisely what to fix. When I was satisfied, I sent it to an agent, and promptly forgot about it. Six months later, the agent called, asking to represent it. Two days later, the book was sold. I feel very grateful for my good fortune.

What do you think of kindle? Electronic publishing makes particular sense for subject areas where content is constantly being updated, such as science textbooks. It can also help spare our kids’ spines, not to mention a tree or two. Personally, I do not enjoy reading novels electronically. I like the tactile experience of reading, dog-earing, underlining, and hearing the whisk of each page as I turn it. However, I think people should enjoy books in whatever format is easiest for them. Currently, I spend hours in the car driving my kids to school, travel soccer, etcetera, and have taken to listening to books on tape. Given the demands of my life at the moment, if I were not listening to audio books, I would not be doing much reading at all. Therefore, I think people should enjoy books in whatever format is most accessible to them, whether kindle, audio, or old fashioned paper.

What is one tip you can share with aspiring writers? At the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference some years ago, I had the privilege of working with the late Ted Solotaroff. He said in a lecture that during his tenure as founder and editor of The New American Review, he saw many gifted writers come and go. The ones who went on to become accomplished authors were not necessarily those who showed the greatest natural talent, but those who simply did not give up. My main advice is to keep at it, and always trust your own deepest instincts.

What are you reading now? I recently finished Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Presently, I am in the middle of a reread of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Next in the queue is Herzog by Saul Bellow. The last paragraph of The Road left me so astonished that I am still having dreams about it.

Name some of your all time favorite novels, excluding classics: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez; Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Review: Rooftops of Tehran

December Selection: Omaha Bookworm’s

A few of the gals in our book club read this book late summer/early fall and asked if we could discuss this novel with Mahbod Seraji.  I’m pleased to announce that we will be talking with the author on December 15.  I will include a follow up post of our discussion to share with everyone later this month.   

From the author’s website: Mahbod Seraji came to America in May of 1976, with the intent of obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, and then returning to Iran to work in its booming construction industry.  But it wasn’t long after his arrival that upheaval and turmoil swept his country -- the Shah was overthrown in 1979, the American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage by a group of radical university students, and Saddam Hussein’s army attacked Iran, starting a war that lasted over eight years and claimed over one million lives – and Mahbod was forced to change his plans by staying at the University of Iowa until 1989 and securing his Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees. 

Quick Take: This is a beautifully crafted story.  A coming of age story, during the instability of Iran's political climate. Filled with culture, values, and affection.  Reading reviews on, I saw a few comparisons to The Kite Runner (I can see how this comparison is made).

Click here to listen to an author interview with Carrie from Words to Mouth.  I highly recommend listening to this - it's a wonderful interview

Author Q&A:
Tell us a little about yourself: I was born in Iran.  Came to the US in 1976 before the Iranian revolution.  I received all my degrees (BS, MA, and Ph. D.) from the University of Iowa.  I always wanted to write, but never had the chance because of my corporate career.  Eventually I was laid off at a job and started to write.  I lived most of my life in the Midwest but moved to CA at the end of 99.  

Do you write daily? ....I try.  I find myself doing some sort of writing everyday - it feels inescapable... while writing Rooftops, I felt most creative during the evenings.  I would start around 7:00 PM and go to bed early in the morning. Sometimes not realizing how much time had passed.  It is amazing how you find more energy for things you love to do! 

What was it like getting your first novel published? I was going through some stressful experiences at the time with some, let’s say, not very nice people.  One evening the phone rang, but by the time I got to it, the call had gone into the voicemail.  I looked at the caller ID and recognized my wonderful agent’s phone number (Danielle Egan – Miller).  She had never called that late in the evening – so I figured something must be up.  When we got the good news, my wife started to cry - with everything that had been going on in my life, she had been praying for something positive to happen - anything to get me out of the funk  -  She had no idea that her prayers were being answered by having a lifelong dream of mine come to fruition. 

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I know the trend is irreversible just like any other technology – for example, we can't go back to not having emails, and I remember people who thought emailing was destroying our social lives at work – Instead of walking over to talk to people, we were sending each other emails two cubes down the hallway.  But we lived through it and our social lives have enhanced because of on-line social networking, forums, blogs, etc.  Of course in Kindle’s case there are environmental advantages in going electronic and I welcome it from that perspective...  but for me there is something very special in the experience of holding a book in my hand, seeing it on my bookshelf, falling asleep with it on my chest….  I don’t think the book, as we know it, would go away in my life time, and I'm happy about that.   

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Don’t give up whether you hit a bump when writing a story, or when attempting to publish it, don’t give up. But also listen to advice.  It takes a lot to publish a book and many people have to feel right about it.  So sometimes you need to be flexible in the way you think about your craft. 

What are you reading now? I recently finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and enjoyed it very much.  But right now I'm reading a non-fiction book by Stephen Kinzer called Overthrow.  I think his All the Shah's Men was fantastic. I love intelligent writers.  Next fiction on my list is Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. 

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics:  Wow, excluding classics?  Angela's Ashes, The Road, Life of Pi, all of these books will be on the classic list someday, if they're not already.

Just for fun:
Favorite Season: Spring - always - this is when the days start to get longer - more light - more playing time - more life - but I wish I could forego the damn allergies 

Morning or night: Oh, night for sure 

Favorite ice cream flavor: Simple - Vanilla 

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: I've been traveling throughout my life for work -- so I’ve been to most places already but would go back to China any day - great country, so much history and so very much left to learn.  

Type: Fiction, 368 pages, Trade paperback

In this poignant, eye-opening and emotionally vivid novel, Mahbod Seraji lays bare the beauty and brutality of the centuries-old Persian culture, while reaffirming the human experiences we all share.

In a middle-class neighborhood of Iran's sprawling capital city, 17-year-old Pasha Shahed spends the summer of 1973 on his rooftop with his best friend Ahmed, joking around one minute and asking burning questions about life the next. He also hides a secret love for his beautiful neighbor Zari, who has been betrothed since birth to another man. But the bliss of Pasha and Zari's stolen time together is shattered when Pasha unwittingly acts as a beacon for the Shah's secret police. The violent consequences awaken him to the reality of living under a powerful despot, and lead Zari to make a shocking choice...

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