Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review and TLC Tour Stop: Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello

Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello
Paperback: 336 pages
Avon A; Original edition (November 30, 2010)

I received a copy of Salting Roses from the publisher in exchange for my participating in the TLC Book Tour for this book.

Summary from the author's website:
A small town Alabama girl, left on a doorstep as an infant, finds her quiet world turned upside down on her twenty-fifth birthday when a stranger informs her that she is the kidnapped daughter of a New England financier and heiress to an enormous fortune.
My Thoughts:
My first inclination was to think that Salting Roses would be your typical 'strike it rich' story, but I was wrong.  Lorelle Marinello constructed a tale about Gracie, a girl who learned that she was not who she believed herself to be - in the span of a day, she learned the truth about her biological parents and the inheritance that she was entitled to receive.

I am a huge sucker for great character writing, and Lorelle Marinello impressed me.  Gracie, Sam, Alice, Ben, Artie, Kate and even Conrad were written so beautifully and were so real.  The story line could have been so predictable, but it wasn't.  The characters could have been flat and uninteresting, but they weren't.  The love story that was woven into Gracie's new world could have been over the top or too sappy, but it wasn't.  Salting Roses was well-crafted, believable, entertaining, funny and heart-warming.

I'm so happy that I had an opportunity to review Salting Roses and participate on the TLC Book Tour.  I highly recommend Salting Roses to lovers of women's fiction, and to those who are looking for a light and entertaining read.

Other TLC Book Tour Participants:
November 30th: Rundpinne
December 2nd: Raging Bibliomania
December 7th: Life in the Thumb
December 8th: Calico Critic
December 9th: The Lost Entwife
December 13th: Café of Dreams
December 16th: Book Club Classics!
December 20th: In the Next Room
December 21st: Tales of a Capricious Reader
December 22nd: Books Like Breathing
December 28th: BookNAround

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent
Hardcover, 320 pages
Reagan Arthur Books (November 8, 2010)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for participating in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from GoodReads:
In the harsh wilderness of colonial Massachusetts, Martha Allen works as a servant in her cousin's household, taking charge and locking wills with everyone. Thomas Carrier labors for the family and is known both for his immense strength and size and mysterious past. The two begin a courtship that suits their independent natures, with Thomas slowly revealing the story of his part in the English Civil War. But in the rugged new world they inhabit, danger is ever present, whether it be from the assassins sent from London to kill the executioner of Charles I or the wolves-in many forms-who hunt for blood. A love story and a tale of courage, The Wolves of Andover confirms Kathleen Kent's ability to craft powerful stories of family from colonial history.
My Thoughts:
I'm a little rusty in my review writing, but it certainly doesn't mean that I've stopped reading!

I read The Wolves of Andover as part of the Manic Mommies Book Club and I am looking forward to discussing the book with the group on Wednesday night.  While it wasn't my most favorite book this year, I did enjoy it.  Kathleen Kent's writing is beautiful and emotional and feels very true.  I am a long-confessed lover of historical fiction and The Wolves of Andover provided a glimpse of a piece of history that I was not at all familiar with - I love it when I learn something new.

The book provided Martha as a very strong character - secretly longing to be married, but at the same time having an abrasive personality that sometimes offended more than it attracted.  Inevitably, Martha did attract Thomas Morgan, who was the character that I enjoyed most of all.  His strength and his larger-than-life physical presence did not overshadow his generous and caring heart, and the secrets that he held fortunately did not keep him from expressing his emotions.

Kathleen Kent's writing is skilled and I felt that I lived the events, and came to know the characters.  My only complaint was that the transition between storylines - Britain to the Colonies, the hunters to the hunted - felt a bit disjointed at times.  This personally took a bit away from the overall experience of the book.

Thanks so much to the Manic Mommies Book Club and Hachette for allowing me to have the opportunity to read and review The Wolves of Andover.  I very much enjoyed the writing and the story and would recommend the book to lovers of historical fiction.

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Book Review: The Letters by Fiona Robyn

The Letters by Fiona Robyn
Paperback, 320 Pages
Snowbooks Ltd; UK open market ed edition (March 2, 2009)

A birthday present from my husband off my Amazon Wish List

Summary from the Goodreads:
Violet Ackerman has drifted through a career, four children and a divorce without ever knowing who she is or what she wants. After moving to the coast, she starts receiving a series of mysterious letters sent from a mother and baby home in 1959, written by a pregnant twenty-year-old Elizabeth to her best friend. These letters intersperse Violet's turbulent relationships with her lover, her infuriating son and the eccentric fellow members of the Village Committee. Who is sending Violet these letters, and why? What will happen to Elizabeth's baby? The Letters invites us see what happens when we don't run away. Will love be enough to encourage Violet to stay?
My Thoughts:
After having read both The Blue Handbag and Thaw by Fiona Robyn, I was interested to read her novel The Letters.  I was not disappointed.  Robyn has an amazing ability to capture human emotion and have the reader become invested in the characters of the book.   

Violet is a middle-aged woman who is exploring her life after divorce and after a breakup with Tom.  Robyn describes Violet's somewhat ordinary life with such realism and accuracy - she has a way of including the mundane everyday activities of a person and incorporating them into the story, which adds a bit of vibrance and real-life presence.

And the letters...  I am a fan of epistolary novels, where the author uses letters or diaries to bring forth the story.  The inclusion of letters from Elizabeth to Bea within the novel is quite interesting.  Even a one-sided story of Elizabeth's pregnancy and her time in a mother and baby home is clear and captivating, without Bea's response, or any additional background.  The mystery of why Violet may be receiving the letters is left to the last pages.  I thought that I had discovered the mystery of the letters early on, but I was mistaken. The truth that unfolded was very well done.

Having read and reviewed all of Fiona Robyn's novels now, I can absolutely profess myself as a fan.  I recommend The Letters for lovers of fiction and women's fiction and I look forward to additional novels by Robyn.

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson
Hardcover, 336 pages
Grand Central Publishing (June 8, 2010)

Review Copy received from Hachette Book Group for participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from the author's website:
Ro Grandee is the perfect Texas housewife. She's determined to be nothing like her long-missing mother, the one who left her with only a heap of old novels and her father's fists for company, so Ro keeps quiet and takes her husband's punches like a lady. But Ro wasn't always this way. Underneath her pastel skirts and hidden bruises lies Rose Mae Lolley, teenaged spitfire, Alabama heartbreaker, and a crack shot with a pistol. Rose Mae is resurrected when a gypsy's tarot cards foretell doom for dutiful Ro: her handsome husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first.

Armed with only her wit, her pawpy's ancient .45, and her dog Fat Gretel, Rose Mae hightails it out of Texas. In a journey that is by turns harrowing and exhilarating, she uncovers long buried truths about her family and herself, running from the man who will never let her go, on a mission to find the mother who did.
My Thoughts:
First, I am admitting that when I first saw the title of the book I inferred that "backseat" would have something to do with action that a teenager might see in a backseat... And I was wrong.

Backseat Saints was an entertaining and thought-provoking book and I really, really liked it.  I have been fortunate to have read so many books this year that have strong and believable characters, and this book ranks right up there at the top.  The story of Ro Grandee could have easily been a flat, predictable tale of the battered wife - suffering the blows and one day deciding that she wasn't going to take it any more.  Instead Joshilyn Jackson weaves in Ro's history to give the story a different direction and gives Ro a different path to choose.  Predictable, this story was not - I was amazed by the skillful ending.

I have not read other novels by Joshilyn Jackson, but I am a new fan.

Thanks so much to Hachette Book Group for the opportunity to read Backseat Saints.

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Book Review: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
Paperback, 272 Pages
Harper Perennial (August 3, 2010)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my participation in the TLC Book Tour.

Summary from the author's website:
With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry -- lonely, friendless, not too good at sports -- spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele -- a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others -- especially those we love -- above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.

In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, Joyce Maynard tells a story of love, sexual passion, painful adolescence, and devastating betrayal as seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy -- and the man he later becomes -- looking back on the events of a single long, hot, and life-altering weekend.
My Thoughts:
Joyce Maynard created an extremely intriguing book in Labor Day.  The story line was unlike anything that I had read before. Each of the characters were strong and the way that the author was able to recreate the thoughts of a 13 year old boy was quite impressive. 

Henry's mother, while strange and wounded, created an interesting life for Henry.  I think that she taught Henry about love an acceptance in an unconventional way.  Frank's character also taught Henry things that he needed to learn as a growing boy and it seemed that it helped Henry to be a stronger person.  Henry was lacking so many things in his life before Frank arrived - his relationship with his own father and his mother's hermit-like life let Henry be open to what Frank had to teach him.  Labor Day really worked as a coming of age story.

The plot of the book did require me to suspend a bit of reality and attempt to block thoughts on what I would have done in Henry or Adele's situation.  The uniqueness of the story and the strength of the characters that Maynard created made that much easier.  I enjoyed Labor Day very much and recommend it to fiction lovers drawn to complex family stories, and young people navigating the challenges of growing up.

Thanks so much to Trish and TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Labor Day!

Please take an opportunity to check out these additional stops on the TLC Book Tour for Labor Day:
Thursday, July 22nd: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, July 26th: Café of Dreams
Wednesday, July 28th: Rundpinne
Monday, August 2nd: Book Chatter
Tuesday, August 3rd: Jo-Jo Loves to Read!
Wednesday, August 4th: excess baggage
Friday, August 6th: Stiletto Storytime
Monday, August 9th: Alison’s Book Marks
Tuesday, August 10th: Lisa’s Yarns
Wednesday, August 11th: Bookstack
Thursday, August 12th: The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness

For more on Joyce Maynard, please listen into her interview on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl on August 30th at 7:00pm ET. 

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Review: Good Things I Wish You by A. Manette Ansay

Good Things I Wish You by A. Manette Ansay
Paperback, 272 pages
Harper Perennial; 1 edition (June 22, 2010)

I was provided a copy by the publisher in support of my participation in the TLC Book Tour.

Summary from the author's website:
The acclaimed author of Vinegar Hill and Midnight Champagne returns with a compelling tale of two summer romances, separated in time by over one hundred and fifty years.

At forty-two, Jeanette Hochmann—newly divorced from her husband of more than a decade—struggles to reassemble her life with her young daughter. Lately, the world seems bereft of the passion that’s always inspired and sustained her, first as a child prodigy at the piano, later as a teacher and writer of fiction. Now, she can’t seem to get traction on her latest book, a novel based on the forty-year relationship between nineteenth-century German pianist Clara Schumann and her husband’s handsome young protégé, the composer Johannes Brahms.

Through a chance encounter, Jeanette meets a native of Leipzig, Clara’s birthplace—a mysterious entrepreneur whose casual help with translations of diaries and letters blooms into something more. There are things about men and women, he insists, that do not change. The two embark on a whirlwind emotional journey that leads Jeanette to a similar crossroads faced by Clara Schumann—as a mother, as an artist—well over a century before.

Beautifully designed, enhanced with photographs, sketches and notes from both present and past, A. Manette Ansay’s original blend of fiction and historical fact captures the timeless nature of love and friendship between women and men.

My Thoughts:
I enjoyed how Good Things I Wish You combined a historical story with a contemporary one.  The reader is first introduced to Jeanette, who is a modern-day author setting out on the dating scene after having been divorced.  The novel then began to transition back and forth between Jeanette's story and that of pianist and composer Clara Schumann in the nineteenth-century. 

The relationship between Clara and Johannes Brahms was a forbidden one.  I believe that Ansay captured the interesting relationship quite well.  Johannes offerings to Clara were significant, even though their relationship could not move beyond friendship while Clara's husband was alive.  Johannes offered Clara the freedom that she needed in order to pursue her career.  I wondered near the end of the novel whether Johannes would come to resent Clara, after having given so much for so long.

Jeanette's relationship with Hart was strange to me and I never felt the connection between them.  Hart was weird to me - Ansay provided bits of biographical information about him, but I didn't feel enough emotion from him in order for me to connect with him as a character.  I believe that Hart's daughter Friederike provided a bond between Hart and Jeanette that may not have existed had Friederike not been there.  Her music and her connections in Leipzig gave Jeanette the opportunity for additional research on Clara and Brahms, and provided the excuse for a shared trip for Hart and Jeanette.  In Friederike's absence, I wonder whether Hart and Jeanette would have connected in Germany at all.

Though I enjoyed both Jeanette's story and that of Clara, I did not find enough similarities between the two in order to make the novel flow back and forth seamlessly.  Both women had a similar drive for their careers, and both were impacted greatly by the mental illness of their spouse.  Where the women showed such great contrast was in the relationship with their children.  Jeanette seemed to have great concern and focus for Heidi's well-being, while Clara seemed to surrender her children to Johannes while she toured for her career.  There were parallels between these two women, but not enough for me to not wonder whether their stories belonged together in the same book.

In the end, I enjoyed Good Things I Wish You.  It was a fast read and I thought the historical research extremely well done.  I like both Jeanette and Clara's stories - the historical fiction lover in me liked Clara's a bit more.  Even though I sometimes struggled to see how the two women related to each other, I found the novel pleasant overall.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.

Other Participants on the TLC Book Tour for Good Things I Wish You:
Tuesday, June 22nd: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Wednesday, June 23rd: nomadreader
Wednesday, June 30th: Rundpinne
Thursday, July 1st: Lisa’s Yarns
Tuesday, July 6th: The Lost Entwife
Wednesday, July 7th: Café of Dreams
Tuesday, July 13th: Hospitable Pursuits
Wednesday, July 14th: Books Like Breathing
Thursday, July 15th: Coconut Library

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Anna Karenina Read Along: Part 6

Mari at Bookworm with a View is hosting a Read Along of Anna Karenina.  We are reading one of the novel's eight parts each month.  I have posted a synopsis and my responses to the discussion questions for Parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five.

Mari has posted discussion questions for Part Six on her site.  If you have read Anna before, or if you are reading along with us, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this part.

Part Six Synopsis (Wikipedia):
Dolly, her mother the Princess Scherbatskaya, and Dolly's children spend the summer with Levin and Kitty on the Levins' country estate. The Levins' life is simple and unaffected, although Levin is uneasy at the "invasion" of so many Scherbatskys. He is able to cope until he is consumed with an intense jealousy when one of the visitors, Veslovsky, flirts openly with the pregnant Kitty. Levin tries to overcome his jealousy but eventually succumbs to it and in an embarrassing scene evicts Veslovsky from his house. Veslovsky immediately goes to stay with Anna and Vronsky, whose estate is close by.

Dolly also pays a short visit to Anna at Vronsky's estate. The difference between the Levins' aristocratic but simple home life and Vronsky's overtly luxurious and lavish country home strikes Dolly, who is unable to keep pace with Anna's fashionable dresses or Vronsky's extravagant spending on the hospital he is building. However, all is not quite well with Anna and Vronsky. Dolly is also struck by Anna's anxious behaviour and new habit of half closing her eyes when she alludes to her difficult position. When Veslovsky flirts openly with Anna, she plays along with him even though she clearly feels uncomfortable. Vronsky makes an emotional request to Dolly, asking her to convince Anna to divorce her husband so that the two might marry and live normally. Dolly broaches the subject with Anna, who appears not to be convinced. However, Anna is becoming intensely jealous of Vronsky, and cannot bear it when he leaves her for short excursions. The two have started to quarrel about this and when Vronsky leaves for several days of provincial elections, a combination of boredom and suspicion convinces Anna she must marry him in order to prevent him from leaving her. She writes to Karenin, and she and Vronsky leave the countryside for Moscow.

My Thoughts:
Enough with the hunting scenes, already.  Part Six was very difficult for me to get through.  Just when I had given up hope, the last several pages brought me back to the topics that I enjoy reading in Anna Karenina.  I still am enjoying the dynamics between Kitty and Levin - I think that it is interesting how jealousy played such a strong part in this section for Levin.  Tolstoy's writing is beautiful, and his ability to capture and describe human emotion is excellent. Despite my frustration with the section, his talent was apparent in Part Six - Levin's jealousy, Dolly's concern for Anna and her self-evaluation, and Anna's struggles with her emotions.

I have mentioned that I read Anna Karenina before.  Up until Part Six, I didn't remember anything about the story line.  It is starting to come back to me in pieces, so I'm anxious to get to Parts Seven and Eight, so I can have the full picture again.

Discussion Questions (from
1.Talk about Dolly's visit to see Anna. What do you think of Anna's "secret" and her reasons for keeping it?

I think that Anna is starting to doubt herself and her relationship with Vronsky.  Their isolation has turned her into a different person, I think.  Dolly's visit meant so much to Anna - she needed a friend to confide in.  I think that Dolly may have regretted her decision to visit Anna, and the book told of how she was anxious to be back with her family, even after a short while.  I understand Anna's hesitation to tell Vronsky that she will be unable to have more children.  She feels that she is struggling to keep him interested - admitting her secret to Vronsky may be seen as a flaw that may turn him away.

2. Has Anna and Vronsky's love affair grown healthier now that they are away from the prying eyes of society? Do you feel they are still in love with each other?

I think that Vronsky has found out a great deal about himself by being away from Moscow and St. Petersburg.  He enjoys the privileges and work that goes along with being a landowner. I think that Anna and Vronsky have grown into a comfortable relationship, similar to that of a couple who has been married for a few years.  I think that Anna wants to be with Vronsky, but I sense that she wants to be with him more out of fear of losing him, than out of love.  I do believe that Vronsky loves Anna, but he also loves his freedom and is working to test the limits of Anna's control over him.

3. At the end of Part Six, Anna and Vronsky settle in Moscow expecting of a divorce from Karenin. Knowing what you know, do you expect him to grant it?

I doubt that Karenin will grant the divorce.  He is now under the influence of Countess Lydia Ivanovna, which may have an impact on his decision.  The granting of a divorce is Karenin's last bit of control over Anna and I don't anticipate that he will want to relinquish that control.

I am ready to move on to Part Seven!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Author Interview: Jill Dawson

I am very excited to have had the opportunity to interview author Jill Dawson.  I recently read her most recent novel The Great Lover as part of a TLC Book Tour (my review here).  As a lover of historical fiction, I was impressed by the research that went into Rupert Brooke's life and the historical setting.

Jill Dawson was extremely gracious - I hope that you enjoy her thoughts as much as I have.

I learned that you performed a significant amount of research on Rupert Brooke’s life prior to writing The Great Lover, which included travel to locations where he lived and visited during his life. Can you describe your research process and your favorite surprises about his life?

I think of my research process as a little like method acting. Or a kind of immersion technique. So it’s not all about books, documents and archive material (although that too, of course). It’s also about swimming in the River Cam (as Rupert did) seeing honey being ‘spun’ (as Nell does), making beeswax candles (Nell again) swimming in the sea off the coast of Tahiti (Rupert) – you get the idea. I don’t think all writers should work this way; a novel is after all, a work of imagination. But for me the research is such fun, I find it hard to stop! Some lovely surprises about Rupert was to be offered his diary to hold by the man who owns the Orchard where Brooke lived. Also, that after the novel came out someone told me they had met Brooke’s daughter in the 1970s (she died in the 90s) and that I was right to believe she existed. Then there was the cache of sexy letters between Brooke and Phyllis Gardner that had only recently come to light, and has not yet been incorporated into any biographies or scholarly works on him.

After the novel was finished I took my family to the Greek island of Skyros where Rupert is buried and visited his grave, which is on a lonely and bare part of the island. Another surprise for me was how moved I felt. How well I felt I knew him. I wondered if his mother had ever travelled there to visit him and learned that she had, but many years later.

I was intrigued by your quote in This Side of Paradise in the About the Book section of The Great Lover: “Novelists thrive on the gaps in a story, the murky places that only imagination can illuminate.” Which biographical gap in Rupert Brooke’s life would you say had the most impact on The Great Lover?

Hmmm….I’m not sure now! Perhaps one thing I was thinking of was that Rupert wrote lots of letters but was so clever and funny and witty in them and so good at dissembling that it took a lot of unpicking to figure out when he was being serious, and what he might really have meant to say. Also, his time in Tahiti, which seemed to have such an impact on his writing, but was documented in only a few letters and poems.

I felt that Nell was an excellent compliment to Rupert Brooke’s character in The Great Lover. How was her character created or inspired?

I’m glad you liked Nell – I found myself liking her immensely. I think she embodies the characteristics I always admire: plain speaking, an ability to look squarely at her own self (eventually, anyway!) and practical domestic skills (which I don’t have at all) of making a home, cooking, sewing that kind of thing. My father’s mother was a maid in service, but I didn’t know her well. So I think Nell may have sub-consciously been based partly on my sister Debra who has great warmth and a knack of making any house she lives in or visits seem homely and welcoming.

I wanted to suggest that Nell’s talent was to love. She is The Great Lover of the title in the end – she loves her bees, she loves Rupert, she loves her father (despite his lack of warmth towards her), she loves her job, her family back home, she loves her son. To me to love well is a gift that few people have, but Nell definitely does.

Have you given thought to what type of life Rupert Brooke may have led if his life had not been cut short?

I love his prose writing – supple, witty, ironic, playful – and I’ve wondered if he might have become a novelist. He did say in one letter that he wanted to write a novel about his Tahitian love, Tatamaata. So I did it for him….

What have you found to be your favorite part of publicizing your books?

Travelling! I’ve just come back from Hong Kong, Beijing, New Zealand….there’s something special about meeting people in countries and cultures that I’m not familiar with, who have read my books and want to talk to me about them. Does writing travel? Does imagination travel? I’ve just come back from a conference here in the UK debating those ideas. My strongest sense of this was taking part in a project in Russia where 150 academics were reading (and teaching) my second novel, Magpie. I did feel touched that they ‘got’ the novel. There is a Russian saying which someone translated to me as: ‘what comes from the heart reaches the heart.’ Over and over they told me that. I felt highly complimented.

I read a interview where you commented that you approach your writing as if you are writing for a stranger, and that you do not need to know what people think. For this reason, do you avoid reading reviews of your work? If not, do you incorporate review comments into your future works?

Yes I still feel I’m writing for a stranger, even though I meet my readers very often, and I do read reviews. It’s just that the writing mode is a different one than the publicising mode – writing is almost done in a trance state and I feel that reading a novel is best when it’s an intimate experience: one human voice echoing in your own head. I later incorporate into the book I’m working on my editor’s comments and my husband’s comments and my agent’s comments – and that’s it! I can only cope with three.

I learned that you are the current director of Gold Dust, a mentoring scheme for writers. Do you have a favorite moment from this experience, or a time where you felt that you had an impact on a young writer?

I love mentoring. One of our Gold Dust mentors, novelist Jane Rogers, was my mentor when I was just starting out – she taught me on an MFA in Creative Writing that I did. I know how valuable the right word at the right moment, from someone you know is well-regarded and serious about writing, can be. It felt to me as though Jane gave me permission to write the novel I was working on, and a few practical tips – such as use a map to get the sense of place right – and then a whole lot more: confidence, optimism. It really pleases me that now under the scheme I set up she mentors other new writers. We have sixteen mentors of a very high calibre, all published and many of them short-listed for prizes like the Booker or the Orange.

You are currently adapting Wild Boy for the screen. Do you enjoy the screenplay writing format? How is the process different from your prior writing experiences?

Yes, I do enjoy writing screenplays because I tend to think in scenes, and to have one central character that I’m following, a device which works as well in film as in novels. What is different is that having written a script, the process of being ‘in development’ is long and nightmarish.

I read that you will be traveling to Sri Lanka in 2011 for the Galle Literary Festival. What is the most enjoyable traveling experience that you have had in relation to your writing career? Do you find inspiration from your travels?

That’s easy. A few years ago I went swimming with hump-back whales in the Caribbean as part of research into the life of a marine biologist, for my novel Watch Me Disappear. (I also wrote a piece for The Times which you can read on my website on the journalism page). The humpback mothers and calves were the most extraordinarily impressive creatures and being under-water with them was spooky and awe-inspiring.

What do you have planned next?

I’ve just finished and delivered an early draft of my seventh novel, Lucky Bunny, about the life of Queenie Dove, a contemporary Moll Flanders…..should be out in 2011, fingers crossed!

Thank you Jill for taking the time to answer my questions.  I will be looking forward to Lucky Bunny next year!

Jill Dawson's Website:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: Just Don't Call Me Ma'am by Anna Mitchael

Just Don't Call Me Ma'am: How I Ditched the South, Forgot My Manners, and Managed to Survive My Twenties with (Most of) My Dignity Still Intact by Anna Mitchael
Paperback, 256 Pages
Seal Press, April 2010

I received a copy of this book from Newman Communications in exchange for my review.

Summary from the publisher's website:
Anna Mitchael is like a lot of twentysomething women with full lives. In her fast-moving world, she might be called on as a friend, coworker, daughter, girlfriend, confidante, brat, cynic, or domestic-goddess-in-training. But there’s one label she’s simply not ready to embrace: ma’am.

Like so many bright-eyed college graduates before her, Mitchael begins her twenties armed with the conviction that the world is hers for the taking. And she discovers that it is, mostly—only no one told her just how often she’d have to pick herself up off the floor along the way.

From moving to new cities to domestic disasters to the occasional nervous breakdown, Mitchael guides readers through the various stages of her self-discovery with disarming humor and—like the best of friends—unmitigated honesty. Written for every woman who’s experienced the ups and downs of trying to figure out who you’re really meant to be, Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am is a story of one woman and the choices that add up to be her twentysomething life—and of how sometimes you have to remember where you came from before you can figure out where you’re going.
My Thoughts:
Just Don't Call Me Ma'am was a funny and entertaining book and Anna Mitchael most certainly has a gift for writing.  I appreciated many of the stories that were told and the experiences that Mitchael shared in the memoir, however I did not feel that I was able relate to the book overall.  The memoir was divided up into several sections which captured different phases of Mitchael's self-discovery.  While the individual stories were funny - one in particular about an experience with a Brazilian wax was hilarious - the book didn't flow for me.

I have seen several great reviews for Just Don't Call Me Ma'am, which makes me feel that I may have been missing something. There were some sections of the story where Mitchael was retelling very personal and emotional experiences, however I felt distanced from the true feelings of the author.  It seemed like much of the personal story may have been masked by trying to rely on her fantastic sense of humor.

I very much enjoyed Mitchael's relationship with her mother in the book.  I think that everyone needs a person in their life that gives them the wings that they need to grow up and be successful, and also the kick in the pants that we sometimes need to get out of a rut and move on.  When I reached the acknowledgements at the end of the book, I was saddened not to see her mother mentioned, because of the strong connection that I felt for this relationship.  When I flipped back and saw that the book was dedicated to her mother, I became choked up: "For my mother, who let me leave without letting me go."  Perfect!

It is hard and maybe unfair to critique a memoir, because the writing is obviously core to the author.  The book was by no means a failure - I had quite a few chuckles and I am happy that I read it, but I must be honest that this one just didn't work overall for my reading style. 

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review: Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm

Heart of Lies: A Novel by M.L. Malcolm
Paperback, 336 Pages
Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition (June 8, 2010)

I was provided a copy by the publisher in support of my participation in the TLC Book Tour.

Summary from the book's website:
Meet Leo Hoffman, a dashing young Hungarian with a gift for languages. Because of his talents, he is adopted by a wealthy Jewish family in Budapest, only to have his dazzling new life destroyed by World War I and its aftermath. When his attempt to rebuild his life inadvertently embroils him in an international counterfeiting scheme, Leo escapes with his lover to the decadent city of Shanghai, where he discovers that the gangsters who control the city from the shadows do not intend to let him outrun his past.

My Thoughts:
Heart of Lies provided me with just the right combination of love story and historical fiction.  As a fan of novels set in the World War I and World War II eras, I found something very intriguing about the story that Malcolm created, and something different and unexpected about the setting and the storyline.

Leo's character had many layers that allowed the book to evolve and find new paths.  His talent for languages and even more specifically, his ability to adapt into various cultural and class settings was very impressive.  Writing this character could have easily become forced, but I felt Leo to be genuine, regardless of his circumstance. 

The love story between Leo and Martha, and the obstacles that they overcame to be together was lovely and beautifully told.  Martha's emotions while waiting to be with Leo were real and raw.  Their first days and weeks together in Shanghai seemed to be out of a more modern fairy tale.  I enjoyed seeing how Leo and Martha learned about each other, grew into their new surroundings, and enjoyed amazingly steamy love scene.

Despite my enjoyment of the early portion of the story, as Martha and Leo found each other, I felt a greater connection to the last third of the story that focused on Martha and Leo's daughter Maddy.  Without giving away the plot, I felt that the Maddy went through an evolution of her own, just like her father and mother experienced between Europe and Shanghai.  Maddy's strong character and her experiences brought the story to life and provided the ending and closure that Leo's character needed so badly.

I really enjoyed Heart of Lies, and recommend it highly.  The depth of characters and the very believable storylines created a very successful novel.  I feel like I learned something from the historical settings, but the characters also touched me deeply.

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.

Other Participants on this TLC Book Tour:
Tuesday, June 8th: My Two Blessings
Wednesday, June 9th: I’m Booking It
Thursday, June 10th: Books for Breakfast
Monday, June 14th: Diary of an Eccentric
Wednesday, June 16th: Rundpinne
Tuesday, June 22nd: Raging Bibliomania
Monday, June 28th: Heart 2 Heart
Tuesday, June 29th: Chefdruk Musings
Wednesday, June 30th: Dolce Bellezza

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.