This Summer: Cool Down With Agatha Christie Read-Alongs & A Watch-Along

Agatha Christie is a name familiar to a lot of people. She is one of the most read and beloved authors in the world. She was my introduction into the world of adult literature and mysteries, and this year, she’s coming back with a whole new look when HarperCollins reissues all the books in the Christie collection. Almost all of the books with the exception of the Tommy and Tuppence books will be out this summer. Tommy and Tuppence will follow in Winter 2012

HarperCollins is proud to now be Agatha Christie’s global publisher and will be reissuing all of her books in beautiful trade paperback editions. These wonderful authentic editions are exactly as Christie wrote them using the original UK texts. Read all of the Christie mysteries including the Hercule Poirot Mysteries, the Miss Marple Mysteries, and the Tommy and Tuppence Mysteries. And don’t miss a single one of Christie’s stand-alone novels and short stories.

Very exciting. In celebration, 5 bloggers (me included) will be hosting read-alongs of Christie’s work over the summer (from Memorial Day to Labors Day. Sign up information and information on books for all the areas can be found at the different blogs. We would love for you to join in on the readalongs of some of your favorites books or to discover some new ones. This will be my first time reading the Poirot books, so I am eager to dive into the books and the movies.

Bookclub Girl -Short Stories
Booking Mama – Hercule Poirot Mysteries
Devourer of Books– Standalones
Linus’s Blanket – Masterpiece Theater Mystery Movies
The Sunday Review – Miss Marple Series

Sign up to join us on the Mr. Linky below.

For those interested in the Watch- Along, the schedule will be as follows:

June 20th-June 26th: Three Act Tragedy – PBS June 19th
June 27th-July 3rd: The Clocks – PBS June 26th
July 4th-July 10th: Hallowe’en Party – PBS July 3rd
July 11th-July 17th:  The Pale Horse – PBS July 10th

The movies will be available for streaming on the PBS website for a month after each airdate.

If you plan on participating, you can win a set of the books to get you started.  I have five sets to give away. To win a set, e-mail me at nicole [at] linussblanket [dot] com with the subject line “Nicole, I want to watch Agatha Christie movies with you this summer.” I will pick five winners on Friday morning.

I will post a more detailed schedule next week, and we’ll have some prize packs for the participants, that I am really excited about.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty   Beth Hoffman, Author of Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, Answers Eight Questions

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Out of Twenty – Beth Hoffman, Author of Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, Answers Eight Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing author and they choose their own interview by choosing the which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Beth Hoffman, author of Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt played along and answered  questions.  Here is what Beth had to say about reading, writing and the rich inner lives of introverts.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

When I was a little girl I loved to create stories and characters. I also loved to make them houses out of shoeboxes that I’d decorate with pictures of furniture I cut from catalogs. By the time I was 5-years-old, I was drawing and painting, and eventually I chose to study art which segued into interior design. I became co-owner and president of an interior design studio, and though I loved my work, the dream of writing was with me every day. Then, when I nearly died from the same infection that took puppeteer Jim Henson’s life, I began to see things differently and my priorities shifted—dramatically. After several years of contemplating how I wanted to spend the rest of my life, I made the decision to leave my business and go after my dream of writing a novel. It was the gutsiest thing I’ve ever done.

Inspiration for my writing is derived from my fascination with the unpredictable terrain of individual and collective emotional landscapes—ordinary people who, upon closer inspection, have experienced extraordinary circumstances. Plus, my love of nature, animals, antiques and historical architecture will always play a role in my novels. I’m a nut for quirky people and objects that are old and unusual.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I’m a card-carrying introvert, and one of the characteristics of introverts is that we have rich inner lives. One of my rituals is to live my story internally as I’m writing it externally. When I wrote CeeCee’s story, she became a part of me to the point that I began to see all of life, not just my writing life, through her young eyes. It was quite an experience. When I need an escape and a creative mind cleansing, nature comes into play—whether it’s working in the garden, watching the birds at the feeders, going for a long walk in the woods, or cuddling my kitties, I find that I need animals and nature to keep me grounded.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

After years of ridiculously long work hours and constant stress, I yearned to go back in time and see the world through a child’s eyes—to recapture those pure emotions and wonderment while examining the tender complexities of youth. Writing Saving CeeCee Honeycutt gave me the freedom to reach deep into myself and become a child again. The time I spent with CeeCee, Oletta, Aunt Tootie and all the women in the story, were among the happiest years of my life.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

Right now I’m reading, I guess I should say studying, a book about bird feathers for research on my new novel. As for favorite authors and books, so it’s hard to pick just a few, but these are always at the top of the list: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, Roxanna Slade by Reynolds Price, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?

Oh yes. I always read whether I’m working on a novel or not. I don’t read for inspiration per se. I read for escapism and pure enjoyment. But the two ingredients that rank highest on my list of reading preferences are a wonderful narrative voice and that the story be primarily character-driven.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

Though I honestly loved all the characters in CeeCee’s story, it was Oletta who stole my heart.  She’s one of those rare characters that a writer hopes for. Oletta arrived in my imagination fully realized, and she was so strong and wise that the things she said and did often surprised me.

Not only did Oletta become CeeCee’s friend and most trusted confidante, but she also taught her that friends could (and should) come from different cultures and in varying ages and colors. As the manuscript unfolded, I was delighted by how their unlikely friendship and genuine camaraderie was as easy as breathing and yet profound in its complexity. I love Oletta Jones; she’s real to me. I believe if every child had an Oletta in her/his life, the world would be an astoundingly better place.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

I tend to write like my pants are on fire, and when I come to a passage that needs more research than I’ve already done or I need to flesh out a detail, I’ll put in a few general keywords to keep the story flowing, but I won’t stop the writing process when the muse is with me. Once I reach a point where I need to take a breather or the muse up and leaves me for a day or two, I’ll then do the research and go back and complete the passage.

Oftentimes I’ll visit a particular city or geographical area numerous times during the writing of my manuscript. I always take a ton of photographs and notes while on location because I never know when I might need the tiniest detail.

What’s next?

Right now I’m fully immersed in my new novel that’s titled Looking For Me. Set against the polar opposite backdrops of hardscrabble farm life in Slade, Kentucky and a small antique shop in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s a story of a young woman’s journey of perseverance, discovery, and how she finds the courage to embrace the gifts hidden within the wreckage of her family history.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty – Wendy Wax, Author of Ten Beach Road Answers Ten Questions

About: Beth lives with her husband and three very smart cats in a quaint historic district in northern Kentucky.

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Sherry & Narcotics, by Nina-Marie Gardner – Book Review

Nina-Marie Gardner’s debut novel is a riveting read. Mary Cartwright has just finished her graduate studies and taken a position helping students re-write their college essays to improve their chances for admission into top universities. Mary is in a very fragile place after the death of her father, distance in her relationship with her mother, and a tenuous sobriety which has long slipped away but for her hiding it from her family. It’s under such inauspicious timing, while living in London, that Mary starts up a correspondence with a dreamy poet, but from the very beginning things are far from how they appear.

Gardner’s writing is ridiculously addictive, and though I only picked it up to skim a few pages for a small preview, I was hard-pressed to put it aside to finish what I had been originally reading. Sherry & Narcotics is an incredibly fidgety and angsty story that delves so completely into the life and the mind of an addict that if you’re not careful, you will slowly drift from watching the train wreck to being in a seat on the train. It sucks you into the interior life of the main character. I really wanted her to have what she wanted out of life and for her to get her happy ending, even though I could very clearly see that what she wanted was probably not the best thing for her (or anyone else for that matter!), but such was the case with Mary, and her tortured and doomed love affair with silver-tongued poet, Jake Potter.

Gardner excels at capturing the details of hard struggle with a drinking problem- the careful rationing to which Mary can never adhere, the compromises which are then compromised- but the brilliance of the novel reveals itself in the way she reveals minute nuances of emotion. Even if you’re not a raging alcoholic, you’ve probably been in love, or loved the wrong guy, or tried to break a bad habit, or had some regrets. The pitch perfect illustration of these emotions and the immediacy of the language makes this not only a visceral read, but a compelling one. Neither Mary or her circumstances fall into the category of being easily forgotten. Highly Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Reading is My Superpower | Monsters and Critics | Kristen’s Book Reviews

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson   Book Review

Review Copy.

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Out of Twenty – Nina-Marie Gardner, Author of Sherry & Narcotics, Answers Eleven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing the which questions, and how many questions they want to answer! Nina-Marie Gardner author of the newly released Sherry & Narcotics, played along and answered seven questions.  Here is what Nina-Marie had to say about reading, writing and being Kyra Sedgwick’s understudy.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I grew up in a small town outside of Boston called Marblehead (where nothing bad ever happens). In college I knew I wanted to be a writer or an actress, and once I graduated I spent a good many years as an actress in New York and LA.  I played a lot of troubled teenagers. The highpoint of my career was probably understudying Kyra Sedgwick in the LA premiere of David Mamet’s ‘Oleanna.’ I don’t know how familiar you are with the play, but it was the kind role where people wait for you at the stage door when the play is over not so they can congratulate you, but because they want to beat you up.

During those years I also held just about every job known to man—waitress, bartender, dogwalker, SAT tutor, gardner, executive recruiter, retail associate. I was also Jack Klugman’s assistant for time, as well as William H. Macy’s.

I was always writing stories and short plays while I was acting, and eventually I got fed up with Hollywood—I also hated seeing myself on film—so I applied to creative writing programs and wound up doing my degree in London.

I am most interested in writing about people on the fringes: the loners, the losers, the quirky and/or invisible types. The quiet wallflowers who do the observing. The late bloomers. The ones who maybe have fallen through the cracks, the deeply flawed but big-hearted, the lost but relentless. I care most about keeping it real and honest and true. I am interested in writing about women and addiction and recovery. Language matters a great deal to me; I also hope to expose readers to a perspective or emotional place they might not have considered before.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Books and reading have always sustained me, I cannot imagine not having books as an escape. My favorite rituals include waking up at dawn, before it’s light out, for my main writing session of the day. I drink black sweet coffee, and usually this is my most productive time. Maybe because the judgmental over-thinking part of my mind isn’t warmed up yet, and my subconscious still rules.

Many weeks this is the only time I have for my own work, as I have to devote the rest of the day to the freelance editing and other jobs I do to pay the bills. On the weekends, I like to wake up early, get my coffee, and crawl back into bed with a book and just read. That to me is the ultimate indulgence.

The two books I turn to when I am stuck or discouraged or simply need to recharge my muse and mind are The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Letters of John Keats. There’s enough courage and heart and soul in each of those books to inspire the universe.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Are you an Ernie or a Bert (from Sesame Street)?

I am most definitely an Ernie!

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Sherry & Narcotics is based on a devastating affair and extended relapse I had while living in the UK. When a friend first suggested I write about it, I was horrified—it seemed like the last thing I would want to revisit, even as fiction. However, the seed had been planted and it eventually consumed me. Writing the book was incredibly cathartic, and also terrifying. I never would have kept going if I hadn’t been in a workshop where I was submitting a new chapter every week. With each chapter I felt it was just this stark ugly mess nobody would want to read, but they kept urging me to keep going and then it was done. It absolutely changed me—in the way facing your deepest darkest fears changes a person. I was fairly convinced publishing this book was going to ruin my life. But it hasn’t—yet:-)

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

Just finished People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman and it was phenomenal. Generally I like the darker, edgier stuff.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I avoid reading when I’m writing, unless it’s something I want to examine or get the feel of for my own work. When I was midway through my first (unpublished) novel, I made the mistake of reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and I had to take to my bed for a few days. I just thought, why am I even bothering? But I just have to remind myself that my work is what it is—it’s all right if it’s not resplendent with glaring genius. Simple and sparse and quirky and dark can be okay too.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

I have three or four going at any one time. Nothing is ever completely scrapped—I think of them as temporarily abandoned or set aside—I always hope to come back to them

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

Fewer people hate me than I thought.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

Well, there’s the rock stars from Brooklyn like Jonathan Lethem and Jennifer Egan. Fortress of a Solitude is one of my favorites, and Welcome to the Goon Squad is a beautiful, beautiful book. I’ve always enjoyed Maggie Estep’s books, and Melissa Febos is pretty great too. There’s a writer named Liza Monroy from Brooklyn who wrote this book Mexican High—and Siri Hustvedt, I can’t wait to read her new book. Although she currently lives in Venice CA, Ruth Fowler has split her time between the same three cities I have: New York, LA and London. She writes beautifully. I am completely in awe of her right now.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

The only place I can really write is at home—either in my bed, or at the kitchen table. And I can’t have music on, or too much noise from the neighbors or the street or whatever. I wear earplugs when I have to, but it also drives me crazy listening so intimately to the sound of myself swallowing.

What’s next?

There’s a story about an American girl who finds herself at an all-boys boarding school in England, another about a murder on a college campus—but the one that is tugging at me most powerfully right now is about friendship and fame. The loss or fading of a close friendship can be more devastating than losing a lover. I want to explore the usual things that interest and plague me—the search for one’s identity, what it is to love, to be true and to be betrayed—all set against the backdrop of our current celebrity-obsessed culture.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, by Deborah Baker

About: Nina-Marie Gardner was born in New York City. Her fiction has been published in 3AM Magazine and the anthologies Bedford Square and 3AM London, New York, Paris. She is a graduate of Yale University and the Creative Writing program at the University of London, Royal Holloway. She has lived and traveled extensively abroad, and currently lives with her dog Lulu in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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BOOK CLUB – The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, by Deborah Baker

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are going to be chatting about The Convert, by Deborah Baker which was published by Graywolf Press.

The Last Convert tells the story of Margaret Marcus, a young Jewish woman who renounces her faith, converts to Islam and travels to Pakistan under the guardianship of her adoptive father Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, the intellectual leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, a political organization which laid the foundation for militant and political Islam. Marcus becomes Maryam Jameelah, who in her new country writes extensively and famously of the problematic nature of “The West.”

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page.  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

So…to start:

  • What were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • The Convert deviates from the traditional structure of a biography, in what ways, if any, did this enhance your reading of the book and in what ways, if any, was this problematic. How does the way the book is arranged help or detract from the ideas it contains?
  • What role did Margaret Marcus’ parents and guardian play in her life? Was anyone of them a more critical part in the life that she led and the choices she made?
  • How did you experience this book as you read it? Were you pulled into the story, or did it take awhile for you to get into?
  • The Last Convert is subtitled, A Tale of Exile and Extremism. Baker stresses that she chose to make the word tale a part of the title very purposefully. Did the subtitle shape your expectations or the way that you read the story?
  • What surprised you most about reading The Convert? Is there a person in the book you would most like to meet? What would you want to discuss with them?
  • Baker and the research she did on Margaret Marcus/Maryam Jameelah quickly became a part of this story. What did you learn about her as the story progressed? Did her story enhance your understanding of the subject matter?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
  • What questions did you have for the group?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Picking Bones From Ash, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

12 review copies of The Last Convert were provided by Graywolf Press in order to facilitate this discussion.  Thank you so much!

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The First Husband, by Laura Dave – Book Review

The First Husband by Laura Dave thoroughly and somewhat humorously explores factors of choosing a partner, the longevity of relationships and how the quirks of upbringing and personality can sustain or doom romance. Annie Adams has settled into a life that she expects to enjoy. She has a satisfying career as a travel journalist, a lovable dog and a stable relationship with a man whom she adores. Her doomed luck with the movie Roman Holiday, brings it crashing to an end. After watching it, her boyfriend Nick tells her his “futures counselor” has recommended they take a break, and Nick takes up with a woman from his past.

I have heard of Laura Dave for years, especially about her novel, London is the Best City in America (which I think I purchased at some point, and might still have) so I was excited to read The First Husband. Dave writes in a wonderfully engaging and intelligent style.  I enjoyed her on target observations on relationships and human behavior via protagonist Annie Adams. The examination of Annie’s journey in the aftermath of the loss of her relationship as she tries to take a friend’s advice to be “the opposite of herself”, yield surprising revelations. The irony of life puts the shoe on the other foot. The “opposite self” finds Annie married, living in the back of beyond in Massachusetts, and thinking about her choices in navigating the thorny issues that pop up in her new and improved life (a troubled brother-in-law, instant nephews, alluring ex-girlfriends and a decidedly cool mother-in-law).

The “first” husband of the title proved somewhat problematic for me because I didn’t completely get a sense of the instant love that he felt for Annie (or that she loved him beyond a rebound for that matter). He was a little one note for me in comparison to his colorful and troubled brother. However, I truly wanted to see the Annie would choose for herself when given the opportunity, because, of course, Nick does come to his senses and come back for her. The intricacies and contradictions in Annie’s character and her search to discover her own happiness made this the charming and thoughtful novel one that I enjoyed reading. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Amused By BooksMy Friend Amy – Devourer of Books – That’s What She Read

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Water for Elephants   Movies Trailer & Algonquin Books

Review Copy.

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Literary Feasts: The First Husband, by Laura Dave/ Lobster Scrambled Eggs

Literary Feast Banquet Image @ Linus's Blanket

I always feel like I have hit the jackpot when a character in a book is a chef. Yummy things are usually in store, and that is definitely the case in The First Husband by Laura Dave, due out next week. The novel is a delightful read, all about trying to figure life out in the aftermath of a breakup that is completely unexpected. Trying to put her life back together, Annie Adams meets a sexy chef who makes her lobster eggs in the middle of the night as she is trying out life as a newly single. Here is what Annie had to say about those eggs…

They were totally and completely delicious. The single most delicious thing I had ever tasted. I’d tasted all sorts of things that had competed for that ranking – a mustard coated prime rib in Salzburg, Germany; blowfish in Kyoto; chocolate covered crickets in Nova Scotia- but nothing like these eggs. How do you describe something that good? They tasted like cotton candy, but the egg version. They were creamy and rich and they melted as soon as they touched my tongue, as soon as I tasted the sea-salty edge of them.

I’m disappointed that it’s so hard to see the lobster! Also, not sure about the chocolate covered crickets!

Laura and I chatted about me liking her book and those eggs, and she graciously shared her recipe for lobster eggs on Twitter with me.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/NicoleBo/status/63255850126544896″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/lauradave/status/63258616584617985″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/lauradave/status/63258928686968832″]

We were all hungry after that!

There are more yummy posts about food, cookbooks, recipes and novels featuring food over at Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Check it out!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Atlas Shrugged Part 1   Movie Trailer

Photo Credit: Flickr: Scrambled Eggs and Lobster – Sklathill
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Out of Twenty – Wendy Wax, Author of Ten Beach Road Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing the which questions, and how many questions they want to answer! Wendy Wax author of the newly released Ten Beach Road, played along and answered seven questions.  Here is what Wendy had to say about reading, writing and how post-pregnancy hormones made her write her first book.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

My name is Wendy Wax and I write what I would call women’s fiction in that my books are largely about women’s journeys of self discovery and generally appeal to a female audience (although men are allowed to read them!)

I worked in broadcasting and film for over twenty years before deciding to try to write fiction. My biggest claim to fame during my previous career was hosting a live radio call in show in the Tampa Bay area called ‘Desperate & Dateless’ when I was both.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Books have always been my greatest means of escape. I’ve joked that I could read a book a day if my family would just leave me alone long enough. There were times in my life (before marriage and children) that this was exactly how I dealt with adversity.  Because I’ve always treasured that escape, however brief,  my goal is always to provide that to my reader.

As to what helps me through the writing process, I’d have to say my biggest crutch is my writer friends, especially my critique partners, who are on the same path and understand the extreme ups and downs that are a part of the publishing business.

Other than that it’s just one great big leap of faith. I sit down as close to every day as I can manage and tell myself with firmness that this is NOT brain surgery even when it feels like it and that I CAN do this.  And, of course, having a deadline is a pretty great motivator.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Ten Beach Road, my newest novel, is a story about three women– strangers to each other– who lose everything to a Ponzi scheme and then spend a sweat soaked summer trying to bring the derelict beachfront mansion, which is all they have left, back to life. Like all of my books, Ten Beach Road deals with inner strength, self discovery and getting by with a little help from your friends.

Frankly, Bernie Madoff made me write this book. When I first started reading about the victims of his Ponzi scheme and how much he’d stolen, I was aghast. And then I started wondering what it would be like to have to live with that kind of devastating loss. As any writer will tell you, once you start the ‘what-iffing’ there’s no turning back.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were you in choosing the name of the book?

Of the books I’ve written only a small percentage of them have been published under their original working title. I don’t know exactly what this means, but the reality is a title is very much a marketing thing, like the cover it’s meant to entice you to pick it up and want to read it.  As a result titles are seldom as tied to what happens in the book as an author might like.

Ten Beach Road was The Sand Castle while I was working on it. Leave It to Cleavage (my favorite title ever) was The Making of Miranda, because that’s what the book was really about. But even I have to agree my choice wasn’t anywhere near as catchy.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

No, I have never gone back and read an earlier book. This is partly because I’ve read it so many times in the editing and copyediting and proofing stages, that I just can’t face it and partly because I’m afraid that I’ll see too many things I’ll wish I’d done differently—or better.  So far, I am my harshest critic.

Although I think my ‘voice’ remains the same and I continue to blend emotion and humor, I like to think my writing gets stronger with each book. I know each story has felt deeper and more complex, and I hope more enjoyable.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

I did force a neighborhood friend to teach me how to read fairly early because I thought I was supposed to know how before I went to elementary school.

As a child, I dreamed of being a famous actress or writer, but I never had a specific goal for achieving either. I majored in journalism in college and worked in tv, film and radio for many years, but it wasn’t until I was at home with a two year old and a newborn that I decided to try to write a book. I chalk this up to post-pregnancy hormones and lack of sleep!  I had no idea what I was undertaking.

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

Like most people, I thought that once I was published everything would miraculously sort itself out and I’d simply sail into bestsellerdom and all kinds of publishing happily-ever-afters.  Sadly, this was not the case. (And rarely is.)

My experiences compelled me to write a book called The Accidental Bestseller, which came out in 2009. It’s a story about four writers, critique partners for a decade, who help each other survive the publishing industry. It’s a very real look at what it is to be a writer today. I’ve joked that ‘the names have been changed to protect the innocent,’ but there are some people in New York who I’m hoping recognized themselves.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

In the course of the nine novels I’ve written, I’ve searched out a pretty eclectic mix of  information. The bra industry, cross dressing, financial fraud, beauty pageants and forensics (not necessarily in that order) were all need-to-know topics for an early comedy titled, Leave It to Cleavage .  There was talk radio for 7 Days and 7 Nights and advertising and heart attack for Hostile Makeover. The publishing industry, at least those parts that take place inside the publishing house where authors seldom tread, televangelism, speed cooking, the Oprah Winfrey Show, New York City and Chicago neighborhoods and restaurants, helped me flesh out The Accidental Bestseller. For Magnolia Wednesdays, which was just rereleased in mass market paperback, I took ballroom dancing classes and had to track down the sometimes grim realities of being a war correspondent and an investigative journalist.

As I plotted Ten Beach Road and figured out the financial aspects (I have a husband in finance on retainer for that) I knew there’d be an FBI agent involved, but finding the right agent to speak to proved a trifle unnerving. Especially when they requested all my personal information, at which point I was torn between wanting to disappear (if, in fact, one can do this with the FBI watching) and saying, ‘You’re the FBI—shouldn’t you already know this?”

Ten Beach Road also required knowledge of professional matchmaking, filmmaking, historic preservation, interior design, architecture and construction/renovation. (This last was especially challenging for someone who belongs to a family that can’t use tools without requiring medical attention and ultimately led to a somewhat unhealthy addiction to HGTV.)

Each book and cast of characters present unique situations and challenges. A scene might take a turn and suddenly demand information or background you didn’t realize you’d need to know. I’ve learned the hard way to research those things on the spot or risk the entire story grinding to a halt.  Because if I don’t understand how something works, neither can my character.  And, ultimately, neither will the reader.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

For me first choice is always in my office at my larger screen with the doors closed and quiet surrounding me. My desk sits in a triple window .  I can work on my laptop in almost any situation as long as it’s not too crazy, but I have to have a window, or at least a sliver of a window.

What’s next?

Right now I’m working on a new novel about two estranged best friends currently titled, Reality Check. But I think I mentioned my luck with titles—so I’ll be sure to let you know what it ends up being called!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty – Dani Shapiro, Author of Devotion, Answers Seven Questions

About: Wendy Wax lives in the Atlanta suburbs with her husband John and her baseball-crazy teenage sons, whom she says have turned her into the shortest person in their family. A former broadcaster, she spends most of her non-writing time on baseball fields or driving to them. She continues to devour books.

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Five Books I’m Thrilled Were Recommended To Me…And Would Recommend In A Heartbeat, To You

This week the wonderful women at The Broke and The Bookish want to know all about the books that I am glad came to me as recommendations. I thought this was going to be a hard one for me, since I am usually the one who is recommending books, but once I got going, it was much easier than I thought to come up with some books I might not have read without a little nudge. I didn’t quite make it to ten though.

Five Books I’m Thrilled Were Recommended to Me

  • The Cypress House by Michael Koryta – I read So Cold The River (my review) last year by the same author, and while it started it off in a promising manner, it had fizzled out for me by the end. A friend recommended that I try The Cypress House, and almost guaranteed that I would love it, and boy was she right. Probably one of my favorite books this year – so I am really looking forward The Ridge, coming out in June. I am loving Koryta’s brand of supernatural historical mystery.
  • The Taker by Alma Katsu – After finishing and loving  A Discovery of Witches (my review), I was casting about for my next big read and in a paranormal sort of mood. Alma Katsu stepped in to suggest her yet to be released historical novel, a dark and juicy tale of immortality and unrequited love. As you can imagine the two don’t necessarily mix, and it was so intense that I wrote a list of dos and don’t for who should read The Taker. It’s not out until September here in the States, but enterprising types can snag a copy on The Book Depository since it’s already out in the UK.
  • The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand – The other day when I posted the movie trailer for part one of Atlas Shrugged, I commented that most people read Rand either in college or shortly thereafter. It’s about the time in life when the philosophies of objectivism seem feasible and, I dare say, even attractive. One of my friends recommended I read this shortly after we graduated college, so no, I did not escape that cliché.  I did find that this didn’t hold up quite as well a few years later on reread. Still I am glad not to have missed this post collegial rite of passage.
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler- One of my favorite and most recommended books of all time, Kindred (my review), was actually passed along to me by my mother, whose friend had lent her a copy, raving about it. I have since bought my own copy, though my mom might still have the other one (oops!), and it is one of the few books that I have actually taken the time to read more than once since I reached adulthood. This is one of the books that I love to see others review, or tell me that they have read.
  • Dracula In Love by Karen Essex – I actually had this one on the shelves and might have gotten to it eventually, with the proper alignment of the stars. The problem was I had already just read a Dracula re-telling with Mina as the lead character. I didn’t want to read the books back to back, nor did I really want to read a story I had just read in the face of all my other reading options. Allie (Hist-Fic Chic) insisted that not only would I really like this one, but I would like it better than the other book I had read. I was skeptical, but she told me this for months, every chance she got – over brunch and dinner and phone conversations. But she was right (my review of Dracula in Love). The book is a very smart and sexy take on the vampire legend, and I loved it. As it turns out we went on to meet and LOVE Karen, who is so very smart and fun. We always try to see her when she comes to NYC. Karen, come back!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Perfect Peace, by Daniel Black   Book Review

What have been some of the favorite books that you have read that someone else recommended?

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22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson – Book Review

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

Even though I have heard many stories by now about writers, début novels, and how the first published novel is not necessarily the first finished novel, I am still impressed when début authors manage to publish wonderful novels the first time out. Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Britannia Road is one such début, exploring what happens to a Polish family attempting to reunite and build a new life in England after being separated for six years during World War II.

When Janusz Nowak finds his family in a refugee camp, he is told that his wife, Silvana, had been living and hiding in the woods outside Warsaw with their six-year-old son Aurek. Janusz has secrets from the war, and Silvana, only a shadow of her former vibrant self, has secrets of her own. However, the couple is determined to put the horrors of war behind them to raise their son. Janusz has bought and painstakingly prepared a home for them all at 22 Britannia Road. Silvana, fixated on Aurek having a relationship with his dad, goes about learning to keep house, until the secrets from the intervening years threaten to destroy the tenuous hold they have on being a family.

Hodgkinson has a lot going on in this story, not least of which is beautiful prose, crystal clear imagery, and complex characters. The past and present stories of Janusz, Silvana and Aurek unfold in alternating chapters that are captivating, and the weight of what they have endured is evident,even as we learn of the past experiences which have transformed them into who they are. Different characters and time periods were seamlessly woven, and my interest in the story never wavered, no matter which character I was with—past or the future.

Getting to know the  characters, being able to feel the depth of their emotions, and learning what they hope to attain in their new lives made reading this novel incredibly moving and worthwhile. The love that Silvana has for her son is fierce (the bond strengthened by trauma), and Aurek’s slow adjustment from a starving wild child to one who is safe and loved, is carefully illustrated. Janusz’s mostly patient manner is tempered with frustration and high hopes for his family and relationship with his troubled son. There is a beauty in the way that Hodgkinson guides the reader between  past and future events. I had definite ideas about what may have happened to them all, and it was rather nerve-racking see what would play out, and what would not, in this heartbreaking yet satisfying read.

Giveaway – I have two copies of 22 Britannia Road to give to readers with a US or Canadian address. Please fill out this form for entry to win a copy by Saturday, May 7th.


1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 His Other Wife, by Deborah Bedford Book Review

Read More Reviews At: The Website of Gillian E Hamer | Life By Candelight | The Burton Review

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