An Educated Guess: Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard, The Mystery Box, The Other Typist, River of Dust & Icons

An Educated Guess

Since I can’t read ALL THE BOOKS, I have been reading a couple of chapters of evrything (up to 50 pages) to make determinations about what’s worthwhile for me to read in full and what I want to read and possibly recommend for Bloggers Recommend. While a book may surprise later on, an educated guess can usually be made about the books themes, writing style, and overall entertainment/enjoyment factor. Here is a brief rundown of the educated guesses I have on some upcoming books.

Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot (May 7, William Morrow) – I love historical fiction pieces, especially when they offer the opportunity to shed light on the real people involved in shaping whatever history is being explored. Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard has all the period details and authenticity in place that make reading historical fiction so satisfying and absorbing. I look forward to Franklin’s unfolding relation with his child and that child’s mother.

Mystery Writers of America Presents The Mystery Box edited by Brad Meltzer (April 30, Grand Central Publishing) – The Mystery Box is a collection mystery stories by some of the best and famous mystery writers today. The anthology includes the talents of Laura Lippman, Katherine Neville, Karin Slaughter, and R.L. Stine to name just a few.  I have read two stories in the collection and am really enjoying the twist. Each story I have read has been set at a pivotal point in the world’s past, which is fun. They range from creepy to contemplative, and each features a mysterious box whose contents are sometime revealed and sometimes not. I definitely recommend reading these.

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell (May 7, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam) – By all rights, this book should be a winner this summer. Picking it up is mostly a commitment to read it, as I struggled to let it go and move on to previewing the next book. The Other Typist takes place in old school New York, where women are newly joining the police force – taking down criminal statements and other administrative paperwork. Rindell’s writing will absolutely draw you in, and there is a whiff of obsession and maybe even a brewing unreliable narrator that is deliciously intriguing. I’ll be getting back to this one sooner rather than later!

River of Dust by Virginia Pye (May 14, Unbridled Books) – I wasn’t entirely sure I would like River of Dust when I first stared reading it. It gets right into the action – a child is kidnapped by warriors within its first few pages, but I wasn’t particularly connecting to the parents of that child, a missionary and his fragile wife. As their lives start to unravel, they become more intriguing. The people they were and the reasons they came together in the first place are slowly revealed. I easily made the transition from cautious to intensely absorbed.

Icons by Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May 7) This is an interesting book to pick up because it is one of the few that I have started reading that features teenagers and people who are living in an alien infested world. Earth as we know it has mostly been destroyed or is under alien control. The first few chapters that I read set the stage to find out more about the nature of the aliens and the special children who might be powerful enough to save the world, if they can figure that out and work together. So far it is a bit of a page turner, just because you really want to see more of the story, but those looking for the lush and richer writing found in Beautiful Creatures (the author’s popular collaboration with Kami Garcia) will likely be disappointed.

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BOOK CLUB Giveaway: The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

BOOK CLUB is all about finding those books that Jen and I can’t wait to read and then inviting all of you to read them with us. We want to chat about the books we love! Our next discussion is going to be centered around Helene Wecker’s The Golem and The Jinni from Harper.

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

From the publisher:

An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, Helene Wecker’s dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master-the husband who commissioned her-dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free-an unbreakable band of iron around his wrist binds him to the physical world.

Overwhelmed by the incessant longing and fears of the humans around her, the cautious and tentative Chava – imbued with extraordinary physical strength-fears losing control and inflicting harm. Baptized by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, the handsome and capricious Ahmad-an entity of inquisitive intelligence and carefree pleasure-chafes at monotony and human dullness. Liketheir immigrant neighbors, the Golem and the Jinni struggle to make their way in this strange new place while masking the supernatural origins that could destroy them.

Callie and The Golem and The Jinni
Callie is my little Golem.

The publisher providing these books with the understanding that we (and you!) will have a readerly discussion. There are no further requirements.

If you are a blogger and review the book, great! If you are not a blogger, but review the book on LibraryThing or GoodReads, or talk it up on Twitter, and tell all your friends, wonderful! The main thing is for you to come and discuss it with us on Tuesday, May 21 at Devourer of Books. If you would like to participate in The Golem and the Jinni BOOK CLUB, please fill out this form by 11:59 p.m. EST on Monday, April 29. Your mailing address will be discarded if you aren’t selected to participate, and used to mail you the book if you are. I do not share or retain any personal information. Only those selected will be contacted by email with further book club details.

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Out of Twenty: Claire King, Author of The Night Rainbow, Answers Eleven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing Claire-King-Authorvictim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Claire King’s novel, The Night Rainbow is set in the glorious South of France and features a youthful narrator, grappling with grief and carrying the world on small shoulders. Here is what Claire had to say about reading, writing, and using the best books she can find as inspirational tools.

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’m an English woman, living in France. I’m a mum to two girls. As well as writing I have a ‘day job’ that involves helping people collaborate, and I also run two gîtes – holiday lets – here in the Pyrenees. Like many writers, my love of – and need to – write began at school, with encouraging teachers and inspiring books. I’ve never stopped writing, but it wasn’t until recently that I made it a more serious pursuit. I like to write hopeful books, not shying away from dark issues, but always looking for the best in the human character. Anti-cynical novels, that’s me. I’m particularly interested in first person, unreliable narrators. Where are the truths in the stories we tell others, and the stories we tell ourselves? Trying to understand a human being is complex and sometimes mystifying. In a novel, I like how a first person narrative implicates the reader in trying to solve that mystery.

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?

Walking is important to me. I need to get out into nature and move. It clears my mind, makes me feel physically good and puts me in the calm place I need to sit down and write on my return. When I’m writing I always listen to music on headphones. Even if I’m alone in the room, which I’m often not, I like the bubble effect of the music right by my ears. I do vary what I listen to, and often create a play list of music that captures the mood of a character or a place, but Philip Glass, Ludovic Einaudi and Michael Nyman are my regular writing favourites. They don’t intrude, but they seem to focus my thoughts.

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

Q: What reaction are you hoping for when I read The Night Rainbow? A: I hope that you will feel immersed in the countryside of southern France, because that’s where I want to take you. I hope you feel the sun on your skin and smell the peaches ripening. I hope you feel as though you have The Night Rainbow by Claire Kingclimbed inside the mind of a young girl, and seen things through her eyes. I hope you feel the tenacity and the optimism of childhood again. And then at some point I hope you are seized by your adult reasoning and taken somewhere else again, where you can experience two stories in parallel, through Pea’s eyes, and through your own. I want you to feel the kind of sad you feel when you are sad, and the kind of sad you feel when you are happy. And when you finish I hope you will want to read the book a second time.

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

When I’m writing I have to read in a similar genre to that in which I’m working, so contemporary/literary fiction, either novels or short stories. I read the *best* books I can, that make me feel nourished and inspired by the language and the storytelling. When I’m editing my work I can’t read at all, because I need to be totally immersed in the story that I’m writing in order to keep a hold of it and work with it.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers?  Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read? Although they live in France, Pea and Margot have an English mother and a French father. They definitely have The Tiger that Came to Tea, Le Petit Prince and The Velveteen Rabbit. Maman should read Christiane Singer’s book, Ou Cours-Tu? Ne Sais-Tu Pas Que Le Ciel Est En Toi? for some spiritual nourishment. I can’t find an English translation of the book but the title means ‘Where are you running to? Don’t you know that heaven is within you?’ and includes such breathtaking wisdom as “The landscape is so vast inside a single person that all contradictions must live there and have their place.”  She also needs some Maya Angelou for courage and hope. She should start with the poetry collection And Still I Rise.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

I honestly don’t have a typical day. My days and weeks and months are a great patchwork or different responsibilities and activities. When I read about writers who rise early, and write for hours before getting on with the rest of their day I feel envious I must admit. When I’m away at a client with my day job I write on trains and in hotel rooms. When I’m at home, my mornings are full of the bustle of young school-aged children, of snatching some exercise with the dogs, doing a few of the daily chores and setting things straight. I usually write over lunchtime, and again at night when they’re in bed. But I also need to spend some time with my husband too…Everything somehow finds its place because I keep my eye on my priorities – family, health, and writing.

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

I chose the title The Night Rainbow and no-one ever questioned it. The title is both a metaphor, and a character reference, but you’ll have to work out the rest for yourself.

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 read very early, by 3 or so. My mum spent a lot of time with me and a pack of flashcards. And I generally read holding books upside down because I had spent so much time peering over at my father’s newspaper. Although we didn’t own many books at home, my mum took me to the library once a week and I was allowed two books. It was never enough! I spent all my pocket money (allowance?) on books. As soon as I was asked to write stories and poems at school I realised I loved it. Taking the words and making them dance, creating something that evokes a response in not only yourself but others – it’s quite amazing. I don’t think I ever thought that I wanted to be a writer, I just realised that I am one.

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?

It really depends. But if a big idea comes to me I have to discipline myself. As in love, if you chase every new seduction rather than working on what you’re already committed to, you end up with nothing.

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

I live in the Languedoc-Roussillon, which is the part of southern France that has the Mediterranean sea to the east and the Pyrenees mountains to the west. The Spanish border, and Barcelona, are very close. Victoria Hislop, an author I admire greatly, has written about the coastal area near here in her novel about the Spanish Civil War, The Return. Kate Mosse has her wonderful, historical Languedoc trilogy – Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel as well as The Winter Ghosts. From a more contemporary point of view, Joanne Harris of course set Chocolat north-west of here, and returns with her latest novel, Peaches for Father Francis. Rose Tremain’s Trespass was also set in the area. There’s a lot to be inspired by in this region!

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

It was Pea. This child almost grew to be a real person for me in a way that no other character I’ve created ever has before. Looking through her eyes and empathising with her thoughts, whilst at the same time being acutely aware of my adult perspective on what was happening in her world – it was quite magical and emotional. My own children were younger than Pea when I created her, but she was nourished by the wonderful things they would say and do. I still don’t think I’ve shaken off Pea’s presence in my mind or in my heart.

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Reviews: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin & The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin (January 2013, Mulholland Books) Ian Rankin’s Standing In Another Man’s Grave finds retired John Rebus considering his identity in the absence of being a police detective. He is working as a civilian, looking into cold cases, but he has also put in an application to rejoin CID after seeing one too many “take the gold” (retire), only to die shortly thereafter. It’s always fascinating to see what becomes of aging heroes and how those with particular skill sets adapt to a changing world. Aging out, and how changing technology affect the world and police investigations are big themes  in this novel and though still a maverick, Rebus acutely feels the passage when faced with new gadgetry, social media and more tech-based methods of research, for the most part he is hands on and a people person. This was my first visit with Rebus and I can see why friends and foes are both impressed and repelled by his curmudgeonly charm. Rankin has created a cast of muti-faceted main and side characters, along with an engaging mystery. I am looking forward to exploring earlier works in this series as well as looking forward to what Rebus and company get into next. Recommended.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana MathisThe Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (December 2012, Knopf) Beginning in 1925 with the birth and death of Hattie Shepherd’s twins Philadelphia and Jubilee, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie tells the often lonely and disparate stories of Hattie’s surviving offspring. Though Hattie isn’t a prominently placed figure in each of the stories, as the mother who has shaped them, she is bigger than life and readers get to know her through the ways she has affected her children, and the troubled lives they lead (she touches upon mental illness, parental jealousy, infidelity and sexual abuse, among others). Ultimately this is a touching read  and one that is hopeful, though many of the stories contain elements of profound sadness. Mathis has an extraordinary command of language and excels at mixing the history of the Great Migration all throughout these tales. Her prose is touching and so evocative of her ability to imbue these characters with subtle emotion and understanding. Each of the stories builds on the others in showing how Hattie and her children made a place for themselves within the unyielding marching of history. Highly Recommended.

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Out Of Twenty: Menna van Praag, The Author Of The House At The End Of Hope Street, Answers Twenty 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 whichMenna_van_Praag_HYL_keep_aspect_215x215 questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Menna van Praag’s novel, The House at the End of Hope Street has an enchanting premise, its troubled inhabitants are invited to live their for 99 days, in which time they must turn their lives around. Here is what Menna had to say about reading, writing, and her love for magical realism.

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 Menna van Praag. I’ve been writing novels since graduating (Oxford University, 2002) but was also waitressing full time until getting my first book published in 2009. That was Men, Money & Chocolate, an autobiographical fable about my life as a waitress/aspiring writer. I followed that with the sequel, Happier Than She’s Ever Been, also a fable and novella. My new book, The House at the End of Hope Street, is my first work of literary fiction. All my writing is in the magical realism genre as I’ve always loved imagining that there is more to reality than our five senses show us.

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 like that and yes, writing and reading are both similar experiences of escape and comfort for me. I don’t have a particular routine but just write whenever I can. Before my son was born last year that was often ten hours a day. Nowadays I’m lucky if I get two hours in a day! I love food and have a very sweet tooth. If the writing is going well, I’ll reward myself with chocolate. If the writing isn’t going well, I’ll console myself with chocolate.

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

What a great question! Okay. What is it you love most about writing? I love falling in love with my characters, losing myself in the twists and turns of a great story (these are often as much a surprise to me as to anyone) but most of all I love the words. The way a beautiful sentence feels on your tongue, the delightful surprise of a startling and lovely simile or metaphor. I simply love words.

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?

The story was inspired by a dream I have to buy a big house and give grants to aspiring artists (writers/painters/singers/actors etc.) to live there for one year and do nothing else but study and promote their craft. When I graduated from Oxford I waitressed full-time while writing at night, so I know how hard it is to fulfill an artistic passion while holding down a day job. Anyway, since I couldn’t yet afford to make that a reality I created the fantasy version first. In the beginning I established the magical house and populated it with women who’d each suffered a tragedy that caused them to lose hope. After that, I had no idea what would happen next, how their lives would transform and how they would find hope again. Whenever I sat down to write I was constantly surprised and delighted by the insights and inspirations offered to each character by the house and its landlady, Peggy.

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?

Magical Realism has always been and still is my favorite genre. I’ve long been in love with everything ever written by Alice Hoffman. Alice Hoffman. I love the magic in her tales, along with the acute realism of the worlds she creates. Sometimes her stories are a little too dark for my tastes, but the touches of magic are always a treat. Her writing always appears effortless to me, though I doubt it is. Other favorite magical realism authors include: Isabelle Allende, Laura Esquivel, Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara O’Neal. Other favorite authors include: Erica Bauermeister, Maggie O’Farrell, Ann Patchett, Tracy Chevalier, Carey Wallace, Anita Shreve, Kate Morton, Anne Lamott and Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve just finished The House of Velvet & Glass by Katherine Howe which I found to be a beautiful book.

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

The House at the End of Hope Street ny Menna van PraagYes, I love reading too much to stop while I’m writing. The House at the End of Hope Street took two years to write, so I certainly couldn’t not read for so long! I used to worry that reading other authors would affect my work but now, after so many years, I have a voice that’s mine alone so I don’t worry about that anymore. And I just read whatever I enjoy, brilliantly written books are always inspiring, no matter the subject.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?

Gosh, there was so much I couldn’t include in the end and I’m afraid I’ve now forgotten most of it! The book went through twenty-two drafts over two years and much was lost in the editing process. I honestly can’t remember.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

Another brilliant question! Actually, only one of the characters is a reader and I write a lot about the books she reads. In the beginning of the novel Alba has abandoned fiction and only reads historical non-fiction but, as she grows and develops, she starts to read fiction again and reignites her imagination and heart.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

While writing The House at the End of Hope Street I kept to a very strict schedule that mainly involved writing for ten to fifteen hours a day. After my son was born I had to cut that down dramatically! Since I’ve always been quite an obsessive writer the shift into motherhood wasn’t an easy adjustment for me to make. Nowadays I just write for a few hours in the mornings.

If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende, Dona Flor & Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado and Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman.

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

The title came to me before I’d written a word of the book. It summed up the central theme of lost hope so perfectly that, even though not everyone else loved it, I never wanted to change it.

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?

Clearing out my shed a few weeks ago I found the only surviving copy of the first novel I ever wrote. I started reading a few lines and was so embarrassed (even though no one was listening) that I immediately threw it in the bin. My first two books, little fables, were written in a sweet, simple style. The House at the End of Hope Street is more sophisticated in both its story and style.

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?

As a child I was a typical bookworm, reading everything I could get my hands on. The first book that had a significant impact on me was The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. It opened up the idea of magic hiding within the mundane. I think (though my memory is not necessarily to be trusted) the book that made me want to be a writer was The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende.

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 can only work on one book at a time. I can usually tell early on when something isn’t working but sometimes I hold onto something very tightly until my agents tell me I need to drop it!

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

That nothing really changes.

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

I live in Cambridge, England and I don’t actually have any favorite writers from my local area. I did enjoy I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson, who lives down the road from me.

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

Carmen, the sexy Portuguese singer, probably because we’re so different and she’s so daring, gorgeous and has a magical voice — I’d love to be like that!

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

I do both at once. It’s so easy to get lost in endless amounts of research, since it’s so fun and much simpler than plotting a story. This way I can escape into research for a few hours or days but always bring myself back to the blank page.

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

I can write anywhere but my favourite place is at my desk on a sunny day. I have a window that looks out onto my garden. Whenever I’m stuck for words I usually find inspiration in the flowers and trees.

What’s next?

I’ve just finished editing my second novel, tentatively titled The Dress Shop of Dreams, which I hope will be out next year. It’s the story of a young scientist who falls in love with a bookshop owner, a man with a magical voice. She’s mourning the loss of her parents and needs the help of her grandmother, the seamstress who creates enchanted dresses that transform women’s lives, to learn how to love. She also needs to solve the mystery of her parent’s deaths. Just as I’d love to live in The House at the End of Hope Street, I’d also love to visit the Dress Shop of Dreams.

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Out Of Twenty: Peggy Riley, Author of Amity & Sorrow, Answers Twelve 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 whichpeggy-hi-res-color-6 questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Peggy Rileys’s debut novel, Amity & Sorrow was my editor’s pick for the April edition of Bloggers Recommend and it was Riley’s talent for making her characters so real that you want to shake them, that made such a lasting impression on me. Here is what Peggy had to say about reading, writing, and “wanting more room to tell a story”.

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?

Hi there!  I’m Peggy Riley and my first novel is Amity & Sorrow, about two sisters who are taken by their mother from the fundamentalist, polygamous cult that they call home.  I trained as a playwright and have been writing solely theatre, with the odd short story thrown in, since university.  In my 40s, I found my writing was changing.  I wanted more time and more room to tell a story.  I wanted to see if I could find a new way to write.  I’m very interested in women’s stories and women’s history.  I’m interested in how groups form, how communities come together, and I often write about faiths, myths, and beliefs.

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 never looking for a way to escape the process, really.  I’m looking for ways to burrow in, to go as deeply into the questions I’m asking of the story, as far in to the characters as possible.  I’m very lucky to have a little writing hut at the bottom of the garden, the Blue House, and it is filled with notebooks and reference materials, maps and mood boards, stacks of messy drafts.  I want to wear a book like skin when I’m writing; I want to smear myself with it.  I cut up drafts and push them around on the floor.  Aside from the constant ritual of tea, an over-hot bath aids the transition from a hard writing day to being vaguely human, able to be communicative or sociable.  Writing makes it hard to speak, for me.  But even in the water, more ideas come – and thankfully so!  My notebooks are all waterlogged and the handwriting appalling, elbows up on the bath.  When the obsession wanes and the questions stop coming, then I know I’m nearly done, and then the editing begins, to grapple with the words.  And then the next obsession starts and I find myself buying odd, unrelated reference books and wondering how they fit together.

 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?

You’re right.  Stories do make you tell them.  They nag and wheedle and don’t let go.  I had carried the seeds of the idea for Amity & Sorrow around with me for a long time, and tried to put it on stage, but it didn’t work.  It didn’t fit, but the story wouldn’t let me go.  I had to know more about the characters and what they wanted and what would happen.  Following the story changed my writing; it changed how I write.

 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?

I find it very hard to read anything other than reference that pertains to what I’m writing, while I’m writing.  It isn’t so much a worry about being influenced, but I know I’m not able to detach enough to enjoy someone else’s story.  My mind is too busy chewing over my own.  My eyes will skim pages and pages, but my head is somewhere else.  It isn’t fair to other books and writers, so I wait until I’m done with something, then I binge-read like the clappers.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimatley decided not to include?

I did a lot of research on fundamental and polygamous American faiths, most particularly the early Mormon church of Joseph Smith.  But the news overcame my writing.  When the compounds of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs were raided, I was fascinated by the stories that emerged.  The more I read, the more I realised I would have to invent my own cult, build my own faith from all the faiths that had come before, from Shakers to the Branch Davidians, from Charles Manson to Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, which I remember so strongly from my childhood.  I wrote a lot of this kind of “pioneer feeling” early Mormon material and then cut all of it.  It is too specific and belongs too much to all the “escape” books that have been coming out.  That isn’t my history, so it was easy to let go.

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy RileyIn the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

A typical day involves rising, appeasing the ancient cat, and firing up the kettle in the Blue House as early as possible, rumpled and sleepy-eyed.  I do morning pages with the first cup of tea by my elbow, and I do them online at 750words.com, a fantastic site.  A quick hello to Twitter and I work for as long as I can.  That’s pretty much my perfect day.  Now, there are more tasks to be done at the same time.  There are deadlines set by others.  There are blog posts to write and questions to answer (happily so!).  There are bits of book business that must be done, copy writing or line editing or page proofing.  Days are much busier now and more social than I’m used to, but the job remains – the writing must be done.  You have to schedule in writing time and guard it jealously, no matter how busy the days become.

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

I find titles very difficult.  Most everything I’ve written has been titled by someone else, once they’ve read through it.  Others can pick a phrase or series of words from what I’ve written and say – that’s obviously the title – and I will realise it was right there, staring at me, but I couldn’t see it.  I’ve had lots of working titles over lots of drafts.  I gave a list of 30 titles to my agent. Amity & Sorrow was top of the list and she said – that’s it – and I had to agree, once again!

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?

I don’t look back, really, and I throw away stacks of drafts once a thing is done.  I rarely read early drafts of things that I write now, either.  I have to write them, to get to where I’m going, to understand what it is I’m trying to say and how I feel.  I don’t read these drafts before I write the next one.  I write them to get through them, get past them.  I write a lot of drafts before I begin to feel that any of the text is set, as it were.  I get to grips with characters through dialogue and monologue, hangovers from my playwriting years, I suppose, but I have to get the characters’ voices before anything else will come.  I wait for them to tell me what they want.  I probably approach writing in the same way but what I’m writing is different – the form itself is different.  I also think I write with my heart much more now than I used to.  I used to only write with my head.

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 was a compulsive reader as a child.  I always had a book in my hand and was allowed to spend whole summers reading.  It sounds a cliché, but I cannot remember a time when I could not read.  I don’t remember “the click” of understanding that letters made words and ideas.  I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write my own little stories, staple together my own little handmade books.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, but I had a lot of other jobs and diversions, because life is never straightforward – and the cat’s got to eat.

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 only write one big thing at a time, and occasionally squeeze out a short story in the middle of it.  I didn’t know that I could edit one thing and write another at the same time – it’s a bit of a tightrope walk, but it’s possible!  I have several plays that I’ve scrapped, things that just didn’t hold together no matter how many drafts I’d done, things that never came to life.  It’s painful, but you recover by finding another story to replace it or another question you want to ask.  I’m very grateful I didn’t have to scrap Amity & Sorrow.

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

I am surprised by the generosity of readers, the whole community of book-lovers that reads and blogs and talks about what they’re reading.  Blogging and the internet have given people so many ways to find each other and to find new books.  It’s a very different community to theatregoers or the kinds of people who read plays, most often looking for audition pieces.  I’m grateful to be a part of it.

What’s next?

I’m editing my second novel, which is set in the women’s internment camp on the Isle of Man in WW2.  I put it down to launch Amity & Sorrow, and plan to pick it up again, come May.  Thank you for asking!

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Out of Twenty: Jeanine Cummins, Author of The Crooked Branch, 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 Jeanine Cummin-tinkportrait-300x248by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Jeanine Cummin’s The Crooked Branch was on my radar even before Jen selected it for inclusion in the March edition of Bloggers Recommend, old-school New York and dual narratives are right up my alley. And then when you throw in Jeanine’s love for Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, well, let’s just say she moved up the tbr pile. Here is what Jeanine had to say about reading, writing, and how Yeats affected her life.

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?

Yes!  Thank you for having me.  My first book was a memoir published in 2004 called A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath.  It is the story of a violent crime my family suffered when I was a teenager, and writing it, publishing it, was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’m happy to be writing fiction now.  My new novel, The Crooked Branch, is the story of two mothers from the same family, many generations apart, and their parallel struggles to be good mothers in very different times.  The modern-day character, Majella, is living in contemporary New York, and is struggling to regain her strong sense of identity after the birth of her first child.  During this delicate postpartum time in her life, Majella finds the diary of a great-great grandmother, who was living during the harrowing famine years in Ireland of the 1840s.  Every second chapter follows the trials of that historic Irish mama, and the impossible choices she faces in trying to keep her children alive.  At its heart, this novel is about the universal grief and joy of mothering, in times both catastrophic an ordinary.

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 am an avid reader, as I think all writers must be.  I often read for research, and to learn how other writers deal with specific aspects of their craft, but most often I read for pleasure.  It’s that love of reading that really motivates me to continue writing, even when it becomes difficult or I feel stuck.  I’m also hugely inspired by music.  So I don’t listen to music while I write, because my love of music is such that I end up focusing on that instead of my work.  It’s too distracting.  But whenever I ‘m writing about a specific culture or time period, I tend to infuse the rest of my life (away from my desk) with music from that time and place.

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?

I am a mama to two little girls, so I think, at this point in my life, I needed to write a story about those first years, those first weeks of motherhood.  The historic Irish famine narrative was a story I always knew I wanted to tell, and after I became a mother, I realized that the best way in to that story for me, was from a parent’s perspective.  And then the contemporary side of this narrative was just really bubbling up in me – it was the fastest thing I’ve ever written, and that’s because it was just waiting for release.  My experiences as a new mother were not unusual, but they were so raw and overpowering – and I was tired of the yummy mummy movement, where everything was supposed to be perfect and easy.  I felt like The Crooked Branch by Jeanne Cumminsthere was room on the bookshelf for a more honest, unblinking look at motherhood, with all of its emotional complexities.

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?

I’m reading Fever by Mary Beth Keane, and it is wonderful – the setting and the characters are so authentic, so particular to their time, that it’s hard to imagine how the writer did it, how she captured them so completely.  She must have lived and breathed her research.  I have pretty eclectic taste, as a reader.  I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sebastian Barry, Zadie Smith.  I mostly read fiction, but really I love anything that has a compelling story and beautiful language.  I’m a sucker for pretty words.  I’m happy to say that writing hasn’t really changed the way I read – I know that it does for many people.  Personally, my writing comes more from my gut than my intellect – I worry about craft when I’m revising, but not so much when I’m rough-drafting.  But I do find the inverse to be dangerously true: often, reading changes the way I write.  I have to be careful about what I read when I’m writing, because sometimes if I’m reading something with a really strong voice, I can find echoes of that voice leaking into my own work.

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’m always, always reading.  Usually, when I’m writing a first draft of something, I find myself reading a lot of research – historical texts and fiction from the time and place I am researching.  But once I’m through with the first draft and into the revision process, I revert back to reading whatever strikes my fancy.

If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

  1. Love in the Time of Cholera, for beauty
  2. The Hobbit, for magic
  3. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, for empathy
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for awesomeness
  5. A Rip in Heaven, for my family

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

No, we really struggled with the title for this book.  With both of my other books, I brainstormed (with help), and went through a lot of not-great-ideas before, in both of those cases – A Rip in Heaven and The Outside Boy – there was a eureka! moment, when I knew we had found the right title.  That never happened with The Crooked Branch.  We had to settle into it.  The working title of the book was Hunger because, in many ways, the book is about all different types (spiritual, physical, emotional, familial) hunger.  But everyone except me hated that title.  My agent said it sounded like a nonfiction book about anorexia.  I like The Crooked Branch, but it took us a long time to come up with it.

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 read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I was maybe nine years old, and that book certainly changed my life, opened my mind, provided an insight I had never encountered before.  That was the first time a book did that for me, and then lots of other books followed: To Kill a Mockingbird and Bridge to Terabithia, for example.  But it was probably sometime late in high school or early in college when I read Yeats for the first time, that I felt compelled to add my own voice to the fray.  I remember reading the Yeats poem, The Stolen Child for the first time, breathlessly, and then re-reading it over and over, and then reading every poem of his I could find.  And then realizing that I would never, ever be able to write like that.  But that I wanted to spend my life trying.

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

Perhaps it is this: that I have not yet “arrived.”  I think there’s sort of a standard misconception that, once you have written a bestseller or two, you must be incredibly rich and famous, and then you just sit around all day dictating prose to one of your many hunky, young typists while you eat bonbons and bark at the manicurists.  Or maybe that’s just MY particular fantasy.  But in fact, even with two bestselling books behind me, I’m still working hard in a rapidly shifting publishing landscape to try to “make it” as a writer.  As much as I would love to rest on my laurels (just for a week or two!), I have to be relentless in the pursuit of my career.

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

Oh yes – I live in New York, so you can’t swing a cat around here without smacking into some amazing writer.  I just recently discovered that, in addition to Toni Morrison, the author of Fever, Mary Beth Keane is my neighbor!

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Mini Reviews: Shadow Woman, Shadow & Bone, Darius &The Promise of Stardust

Shadow WomanShadow Woman by Linda Howard (January 2013, Ballantine Books) When Lizette Henry looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognize her own face, she at first searches for a logical explanation (illness, stroke) before jumping to the paranoid conclusion that someone is watching her, out to get her. However, as days go by, she recovers skills like super defensive driving, self-defense and knowledge of weaponry, she decides that something is definitely up. I’ve enjoyed Linda Howard before and she goes to great lengths  to make the implausible appear to be just within the grasp of the imagination. She mostly succeeds with Shadow Woman as I spent quite a bit of time puzzling over Lizzette’s predicament and how she fit together with the handsome man who had a vested interest in seeing her live. The secretive nature of the intrigue, each of the main characters being largely insulated gave a lot of insight into how they operated and what made them good at their jobs, but ultimately detracted a bit from the story. More engagement between the characters, and having it occur earlier in the novel would have made this a less frustrating and more enjoyable read, though the premise was an interesting one.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh BardugoShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo ( June 2012, Henry Holt & Company) Alina Starkov has always been a scrawny orphan child, belonging to no one but Mal Oretsev, but even that begins to change when joins the army to defend Raskava, their once beautiful country that now lives in fear of a black and desolate space called the fold. After saving the life of her best friend from the deadly Volcra (really beastly, gross sounding creatures who fly *shudder*) Alina comes to the attention of the Grisha, the most powerful of whom is a beautiful man known only as, The Darkling. He whisks her away to the palace where she will be trained as Grisha, special warriors of the king who possess natural powers that harness the elements. It remains to be seen whether Alina can overcome the loneliness of her upbringing to find a place in her new world. Shadow and Bone is the first in a trilogy by author Leigh Bardugo. Many aspects – world building, cultural insight, and deep and sympathetic characters – make it a worthwhile read. Where Bardugo really gets me is in beautifully characterizing Alina and her relationships, and the careful way she tells the story of Alina realizing she has given away her power, and her fight to take it back. Readers who are reluctant to commit to a trilogy have no reason to fear this one. The second book, out in June, is even better than the first! Seriously. And I usually have issues that second book. Recommended.

Darius by Grace BurrowesDarius by Grace Burrowes ( April 2013, Sourcebooks Casablanca) Darius Lindsey receives a surprising and intriguing proposition from Lord Longstreet when he approaches him to impregnate his wife and sire his heir. Though he’s never gone this far, he’s no stranger to discreetly offering sexual favors in exchange for payment to other society ladies, which of course becomes a more complicated affair as he and Lady Longstreet become more and more smitten with each other. I haven’t come across a romance novel where the male so so explicitly exchanges sex for money, so in that respect alone, this was a departure. Usually a man will marry an heiress for money, but Darius has actually pimped himself out. There are allusions to an abusive father and difficult family circumstances as being possible explanations for Darius’s behavior, but for the most part this novel is of the tried and true romantic variety. Two people in impossible circumstances fall in love and long to be together, with a good dose of a man changing to be worthy of  the love of a good woman. Told from two perspectives, the characters are charming, and I especially like that Darius in particular is open about his feelings and showing affection, and not withdrawn and needing to be hit over the head to admit his feelings. Darius is a pleasant diversion that will fit the bill for a light and enjoyable romance.

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille SibleyThe Promise of Stardust by Priscille Stribley (February 2013, William Morrow Paperbacks ) The Promise of Stardust is Priscille Stribley’s heartfelt family drama exploring life support termination issues when a man loses the wife he adores and then has to fight her family, and his own, to save their unborn child. Though the narrative moves through Matt and Elle’s history in seemingly random fashion- both before and after she dies- it is always fascinating as it shines a light on their deep romance and love for each other. Theirs is a passionate relationship, but often troubled, dealing with illness, fertility concerns, and betrayal. Moral and ethical considerations, and legal maneuvering are given their due, but they never overpower what is essentially a tale of what happens when enduring love and familial bonds are tested under the weight of duty and grief. Recommended.

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In Paperback: The Story of X by A.J. Malloy

The Story of X by A.J. MalloyWilliam Morrow Paperbacks, April 2, 2013

Originally Reviewed: I didn’t. It’s a paperback original.

New Cover or Old? So far this is the only cover. I’m a little indifferent about it.

From the Publisher: Shy American student Alexandra Beckmann—‘X’ to her friends—arrives in Naples desperate for adventures beyond the sheltered life she has led. She is there to study the Camorra, an infamous Italian crime organization. But in the sun-soaked, ancient city streets, her research leads her to a man like no one else she has ever met. Irresistibly handsome, Lord Marcus Roscarrick is an Italian aristocrat with a mysterious past. Yet, underneath his refined exterior, X senses a man who is well-acquainted with danger.

Soon they begin a passionate affair, and X is drawn into Roscarrick’s world—a world she never dreamed existed. But as she falls ever more deeply under Roscarrick’s spell, X must decide whether she dares to submit entirely to this shadowy realm of dark desire.

What I Thought: The subtitle of this is “An Erotic Tale”, so there is that, and that part got a little old after awhile. I did a bit of speed reading through all the sexy times. The interesting thing about The Story of X is  the research that Alexandra does into the Mafia and the effect that it had on Italian culture as it shaped their neighborhoods. That part was well-written, informative and lovely, even while the rest of the book followed the tropes of the genre complete with a college age heroine, and troubled hero who resists love to protect potential partners from his emotional damage. There was enough here that I enjoyed the light (mostly) and quick read. As Alexandra become more involved with Rosscarick she discovers that he is involved in a super steamy secret society, complete with all the accompanying sexual rites and rituals. So, you’ve been warned.

Book Club Pick? If your book club was into 50 Shades of Grey, why not?

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The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman – Book Review

The Liars' Gospel by Naomi AldermanIt should come as no surprise that I wanted to read Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel. I am fascinated by alternate viewpoints and retellings of established stories because it’s fun to note the differences that time, gender, and perspective can make. Earlier this year, I read Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, which is probably a stricter alternate telling of Jesus’ life –  from Mary’s perspective. While The Liars’ Gospel is purportedly about Jesus’ life, Yeshoshuah – for our purposes, from the perspective of four people to whom he was closest, it  has a wider scope and is much more about the “liars”  and the communities in which they live. They twist pieces of his tale for their own purposes and sense of well-being, and detail Jerusalem in the years after his death when the Jews continued to struggle with Roman occupation of their land.

The four accounts are from Myriam (Jesus’ mother Mary), Iehuda of Qeriot (Judas), Caiaphas(High Priest of the Temple, and Bar-Avo (Barrabas, a rebel set free while Jesus was crucified), and each one of them is a fascinating glimpse into life at that time. Through rich and detailed storytelling, Alderman creates a thought-provoking and memorable set of characters who are both selfish and selfless, enmeshed  in the struggles of their people while also preoccupied with their own personal dramas. One of the most impressive things about The Liars’ Gospel is the way that Alderman puts these figures, who have been so important historically in the evolution of Christianity, into context as players and pawns in a long and bloody war and battle against occupation and for religious freedom. In remembering The New Testament from childhood, I would have been hard pressed to site anything approaching the torture and violence which was routine at the time.

The Liars’ Gospel is a marvel of historical detail and deft storytelling – from its opening scenes of worship, sacrifice, and destruction through its terrible conclusion. It is almost impossible to put down once you’ve started. Highly recommended.

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