ANNA read-a-long: Part 6

Thank goodness for audio books!  I have been reading Anna but listened to part six so I could keep on schedule with the read-a-long.

Kristi (PeatSwea) and I are almost done with Anna, I can't wait to see what's going to happen.

Part six is titled 'When Hope Lives'.  We are learning more about the characters but nothing explosive happens to move the plot forward (it's just keeping a good pace).  In the beginning of this section there was a lot of time spent with the men, on a hunt. To be honest, this part didn't keep my interest and I was wondering if it was necessary to the story.  Looking back I'm happy it's there, we did get to experience the day to day life in this section.

Those who know the couple understand why Anna fell in love and most are sympathetic to the situation but are guiding her to takes the necessary steps towards divorce and continue living where she is currently living (away from society).

By the end of part six you get the sense that change is coming.  Anna and Vronsky are living a married lifestyle, even though she is not divorced yet.  Vronsky discusses how his child bears Karenin's last name and this is a terrible misfortune.  Anna does share a secret, the illness she has recovered from has left her barren. In addition to this news, Anna is starting to really understand the consequences to actions earlier in the story.

Review: Heart of the Matter

I read my first Giffin novel just before her third book was released - starting with book one and working my way through her novels.  I enjoy how the author brings at least one character forward, letting the reader get to know someone I'm slightly familiar with. 

Synopsis: Tessa Russo is the mother of two young children and the wife of a renowned pediatric surgeon. Despite her own mother's warnings, Tessa has recently given up her career to focus on her family and the pursuit of domestic happiness. From the outside, she seems destined to live a charmed life.

Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlie--a boy who has never known his father. After too many disappointments, she has given up on romance--and even to some degree, friendships--believing that it is always safer not to expect too much.

Although both women live in the same Boston suburb, the two have relatively little in common aside from a fierce love for their children. But one night, a tragic accident causes their lives to converge in ways no one could have imagined.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This novel explores before and after (before the fire, after the fire), love, parenting, friendships and the social side of a family unit.  Told from the voice of two women, we never hear the husband's voice.  

I found myself connecting to all the characters in the book, I even unstood the connection Valerie had with Tessa's husband - he made it so easy for Valerie. 

Giffin writes a wonderful story and each word serves a purpose.  I wonder how long I need to wait to read another book written by her - it's worth the wait though.

Source: Personal copy

Review: The Poisonwood Bible

Omaha Bookworm's June 2010 Selection

I read this book as a new release and remember sitting in the living room, rushing to finish the book the day before book club.  That was the book club I belonged to where we didn't discuss books, we passed them along. 

Five years ago the Omaha Bookworm's read it and I happened to be traveling for business the day we discussed the book. 

I finally get a chance to discuss this one!

Synopsis:  The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil.

This tale of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction, over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa, is set against history's most dramatic political parables.

The Poisonwood Bible dances between the darkly comic human failings and inspiring poetic justices of our times. In a compelling exploration of religion, conscience, imperialist arrogance, and the many paths to redemption, Barbara Kingsolver has brought forth her most ambitious work ever.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Highly Recommend - This is the first book that I have read twice.  I am so thankful I read it again, so much so that I want to reread my favorites now (I wonder if they will still be favorites).

I had forgotten that the story covers the life of the characters, beyond the mission timeframe.  I can't wait to discuss Nathan and his wife.  Did you relate to one daughter more than others?  If you were the mother, how do you think you would have handled the challenges of the Congo? Would you have stood up to Nathan and taken control earlier?

These are just a few questions I have for our discussion.  I can't wait!

Have you read this book?  Do you have any questions for us?

Source: Personal copy

Review: Just Breathe

When I go to the library sometimes I pick up books that I have never heard of, this was the case with Just Breathe.  I bought it home, then looked up the reviews on BN.COM and decided to listen to this one as an audio selection.

Synopsis: Chicago cartoonist Sarah Moon tackles life’s real issues with a healthy dose of sharp wit in her syndicated comic strip Just Breathe. As Sarah’s cartoon alter ego, Shirl, undergoes artificial insemination, her situation begins to mirror Sarah’s own difficult attempts to conceive. However, Sarah’s dreams of the future did not include her husband’s infidelity: snag number two in Sarah’s so-called perfect life.

With Chicago – and her marriage – in the rearview mirror, she flees to the small Northern California coastal town where she grew up, a place she couldn’t wait to leave. Now she finds herself revisiting the past – an emotionally distant father and the unanswered questions left by her mother’s death. As she comes to terms with her lost marriage, Sarah encounters a man she never expected to meet again: Will Bonner, the high school heartthrob she’d skewered mercilessly in her old comics. Now a local firefighter, he’s been through some changes himself. But just as her heart is about to reawaken, Sarah discovers she is pregnant. With her ex’s twins.

It’s hardly the most traditional of new beginnings, but who says life and love are predictable...or perfect? The winds of change have led Sarah here. Now all she can do is just close her eyes...and breathe.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - I didn't know if I was going to like this book when I originally brought it home but I was pleasantly surprised.  While reading this novel I kept comparing it to books written by Kristin Hannah and Marisa de los Santos.  You feel like you are listening to a friend tell a story.  There are a few sub-plots that keep the reader interested and the story moving at a good pace.

If you are looking for a light/fun book for reading at the beach, this is a great choice. 

Source: Library (audio)

Review: The Stormchasers

I know many of you have been waiting for me to post this review, so much so that I will host a book giveaway with my copy (with the move next week I am trying to declutter one more time).

Giveaway: If you are interested in reading The Stormchaser's, leave a comment with your email address.  It's that simple.  I will pick a winner on Thursday evening (I need to get the book in the mail before Monday).  Good Luck!  Congratulations to Joanna, winner of this book giveaway.

Synopsis:  As a teenager, Karena Jorge had always been the one to look out for her twin brother Charles, who suffers from bipolar disorder. But as Charles begins to refuse medication and his manic tendencies worsen, Karena finds herself caught between her loyalty to her brother and her fear for his life. Always obsessed with the weather-enraptured by its magical unpredictability that seemed to mirror his own impulses- Charles starts chasing storms, and his behavior grows increasingly erratic . . . until a terrifying storm chase with Karena ends with deadly consequences, tearing the twins apart and changing both of their lives forever.

Two decades later, Karena gets a call from a psychiatric ward in Wichita, Kansas, to come pick up her brother, whom she hasn't seen or spoken to for twenty years. She soon discovers that Charles has lied to the doctors, taken medication that could make him dangerously manic, and disappeared again. Having exhausted every resource to try and track him down, Karena realizes she has only one last chance of finding him: the storms. Wherever the tornadoes are, that's where he'll be. Karena joins a team of professional stormchasers-passionate adventurers who will transform her life and give her a chance at love and redemption- and embarks on an odyssey to find her brother before he reveals the violent secret from their past and does more damage to himself . . . or to someone else.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - How can I not like a book set in the Twin Cities.  I grew up in Bloomington and lived in Wayzata before moving to Omaha.  I used to watch Belinda Jensen on KARE11 Saturday mornings (loved that show).  If you haven't read this book yet, she's our local media personality (weather and so much more).  The author made sure to include the small things that make us who we are, for example we say Pop instead of Soda which I enjoyed seeing in print (she did her research).

I enjoyed reading about Karena's need to find her twin and emptiness felt by his absence.  In addition to the twin storyline, there is a love interest in the book and the reader will walk away feeling educated about the need for some to follow weather so closely and the desire to be in the storm.

This is a great summer read - we had a night of bad storms and tornados as I was reading the book (this added to my experience).

Source: Review Copy

Author Q&A
Tell us a little about yourself: I've wanted to be a writer since I was a very little girl--I've never wanted to be anything else. My dad was a writer, a broadcast journalist for the network morning shows. Once Walter Cronkite came to our house for dinner, returning my stuffed dog, Henry, whom I'd left in the newsroom. I love rootbeer floats and thunderstorms. If I don't read for at least an hour a day, I get cranky. I live in Boston with my black Lab, Woodrow, a.k.a. King of the Universe.

What was it like getting your first novel published?  Getting THOSE WHO SAVE US published was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream--but actually my first novel, which I wrote and shopped when I was 11, was about my crush on my 7th grade Social Studies teacher. It received some very nice comments from editors but nobody appeared on my doorstep with a giant check, a la Publisher's Weekly. I was puzzled but undaunted. For the next couple of decades, I wrote and submitted short stories, had some stories published, had infinitely more rejected, wrote and submitted more stories, and worked in food service to support my expensive writing habit. For every story or novel excerpt I had rejected, I'd send out ten more. While I was writing THOSE WHO SAVE US, I worried that I had become somebody who sat in a room all day and played with imaginary people, whereas my friends were getting married, buying houses, having children, buying second houses, buying wine refrigerators for the basements of those houses. I had to get THOSE WHO SAVE US published or, I told my mom, I'd move to Nebraska to be a truck stop waitress. I stalked around in an old, long black coat, pretty much what I could afford, feeling like a literary Darth Vadar. So when THOSE WHO SAVE US got an agent--and my agent is superb, the best in the universe--and my agent sold the book about six weeks later to Harcourt, it is fair to say it validated my whole existence. It is still a miracle I give thanks for daily.

What is your writing schedule like?  I’m a crop-rotation writer; my writer’s life occurs in seasons. There’s the season of rest, when I don’t write much of anything except journaling and correspondence, and this is typically when I am miserable to live with because I always feel I should be writing. But in my wiser moments I remember this fallow-feeling period is actually very productive and necessary, because it overlaps with the information-gathering season: I’m traveling to research, I’m forming and discarding and considering ideas. Then there is writing season, when I’m actively working on a project; I go into lockdown, immerse totally, write and talk about and think writing 24/7. For instance, while I was writing THE STORMCHASERS, I moved to a motel in the small town the book is set in, lived there for two months with my black Lab Woodrow, so I could write without distraction until the novel was done. In order to write, I need strong coffee, Ultra-Fine black Sharpies, canvas-covered notebooks from Borders to write longhand in, my MacBook Air to write the scenes, and Woodrow for ruminating walks. Finally, when all the writing and revising is done, it’s promotion season, as it is now. This is the delightful time when I get to go out on the road to bookstores, book clubs and events to meet the readers who have been so wonderful and supportive to me and my books. I very, very much hope everyone will come out and let me introduce them to THE STORMCHASERS, and I hope they will love my second baby as much as I do.

When you start writing, how much of the story do you have mapped out and how much is organic?  It's a combination. I can't imagine setting out on a journey the size of a novel without a map, and because I like to make sure I know what the book is about and the scenes in it are expressing that thematic point, I always, always have an outline. I insist on this for my students at Grub Street Writers as well--99.9% of problems with novels are structural. Sometimes people resist outlines, saying they hamper the creative process, they feel constraining, etc. But in fact outlines are fluid; they change as the book changes. For THOSE WHO SAVE US and THE STORMCHASERS, I had at least 11 outlines each! And they don't have to be the scary essay outlines you remember from middle school or laundry lists of scenes. To me the architecture of a book is its own creative process. One student I had clipped index cards to a clothesline across her study and moved scenes around. For THE STORMCHASERS, my later outlines were storyboards, like board games, complete with illustrations.

That said, when I am finding my way into a novel--and all the way along--I am writing the scenes as they come to me, then plugging in the ones that fit. I started out writing as a short story writer, and I still love the form, so to me a good novel chapter should be like a short story: it should have its own internal structure, beginning, middle, and not-necessarily-resolved end. A lot of the scenes I write don't make the cut. I have 800 pages of dead darlings on the shelves in my study! But some of the earliest scenes are most heartfelt, and they make it into the novel verbatim.

What are you reading now?  Sue Miller's THE LAKE SHORE LIMITED.

If you could interview anyone, who would if be and why? What would you like to ask them?   Because it is not my natural metier and therefore challenging for me, I save interviewing people for when I am researching--though I then love asking questions. The last person I interviewed was Belinda Jensen, the KARE-11 meteorologist in Minneapolis, who let me tail her around her studio/ newsroom for STORMCHASERS. I asked her if she ever got death threats when the weather was bad, and she said calmly, "All the time.

ANNA read-a-long: Part 5

I had to force myself to stop reading when I finished part 5 and not continue reading part 6 - this book is getting so good!  I know we are getting close to the climax and then the storyline/subplots will move quickly to the end. 

I have heard from a few of you who are stuck in part 3.  I can tell you to push through part 3 which is focused on agriculture, and is the toughest section to read. I can't decide if I liked part 4 or part 5 more!

Part five focuses on Kitty and Levin but we also get to see Anna having to deal with the ramifications of decisions she has made.  For example, she visits her young son on his birthday (in secret).  She can't believe how big he is getting and spends time reminiscing and looking at photos she has not yet seen.  When Vronsky is looking at the photos Anna gets upset, feeling that boundaries are crossed or that he doesn't understand.  He tells her this is very hard on him as well,  they are both miserable.

We are using Oprah's discussion guide to help facilitate the dialog. the recap below is from her website.

Part Five: Love rushes in

Review: My Name is Mary Sutter

I started reading this book on a plane last weekend and it became a conversation starter with the gal sitting next to me.  She and I ended up talking for the next two hours and I promised to send her my copy so she can read it when I'm done. 

Jan is a special woman, enlisting in the Air Force in her late thirties, she is a nurse (taking care of the wounded, getting them safely to the hospital in Germany) who is getting ready to retire in the fall.  She returned from ten months in Irag last year and has been on over five 'tours'.  I'm so honored to have met her, she inspires me to be a better person.

Synopsis: In this stunning first novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine-and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak- Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens-two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary's courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering-and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.

Type: Historical Fiction, 384 pages, Hardcover

Quick Take: Highly Recommend - I'm so happy I read this book, it's just that simple.  About half way through the book the plot thickens and carries you to the end of the novel.  I loved the end but also wanted more, I wasn't ready to stop reading Mary's story.  If you enjoy historical fiction you will love this book.

This is one of my favorite books read in 2010.

More Reviews:
Author Exposure

Source: Review Copy

Review: Promises to Keep

Jane Green is one of my go to authors, I love reading her books while on vacation or while sitting on the deck, enjoying a beautiful day.  So imagine my surprise when I was given the opportunity to read and review her upcoming novel Promises to Keep.

Book Giveaway:  If you are interested in winning a copy of Promises to Keep, leave a comment with your email address (it's that simple!).  The winner will be picked Friday morning.   (CLOSED: Congratulations to Julie!)

Synopsis:  Callie Perry is a successful family photographer living in upstate New York. She adores her two daughters, has great friends, and actually doesn't mind that her workaholic husband gets home at 9 p.m. every night-that is, when he's not traveling six months out of the year.

Callie's younger sister, Steff, on the other hand, has never grown up. She's a free spirit, living in downtown Manhattan and bouncing between jobs and boyfriends. Lately, she's been working as a vegan chef, even though she can't cook.

Lila Grossman is Callie's best friend and has finally met the man of her dreams. Eddie has two wonderful children, but also a drama queen ex-wife who hates Lila. And then there are Callie and Steff's parents, Walter Cutler and Honor Pitman. Divorced for thirty years, they rarely speak to each other.

The lives of these colorful characters intersect when they each receive a shocking note that summons them together for one extraordinary summer in Maine and changes their lives forever. This novel is about the hard choices we have to face, about having to be your parents' child long after you've grown up, and about the enduring nature of love.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - I read this book while traveling last weekend, it was the perfect companion to my trip.  Jane Green has a way of connecting her readers to the characters while writing stories about friendship and life. 

Recipes!  There are several vegetarian recipes in this book and I intend to try a few once settled in the new house. 

The inspiration for this novel was a close friend to Jane, Heidi lost her battle with Breast Cancer in 2009. Jane is donating 20% of her royalties to breast cancer research - thank you Jane, you hold a special place in my heart for your generousity. I have a few people close to me battling breast cancer, so this means the world to me.

Source: Review Copy

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