Friday, February 27, 2015

TLC Book Tours Review: Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

Title: Girl Runner
Author: Carrie Snyder
Format: ARC
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: February 3, 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Girl Runner is the story of Aganetha Smart, a former Olympic athlete who was famous in the 1920s, but now, at age 104, lives in a nursing home, alone and forgotten by history. For Aganetha, a competitive and ambitious woman, her life remains present and unfinished in her mind.

When her quiet life is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of two young strangers, Aganetha begins to reflect on her childhood in rural Ontario and her struggles to make an independent life for herself in the city.

Without revealing who they are, or what they may want from her, the visitors take Aganetha on an outing from the nursing home. As ready as ever for adventure, Aganetha's memories are stirred when the pair return her to the family farm where she was raised. The devastation of WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic, the optimism of the 1920s and the sacrifices of the 1930s play out in Aganetha's mind, as she wrestles with the confusion and displacement of the present."

My Two Cents:

"Girl Runner" is the story of Aganetha, a now 104 year old, who has essentially been shuttered away in a nursing home. She tries not to dwell too much on her past as an Olympic runner for Canada. She seems to be looking for the end. She seems resigned to the idea that her best days are behind her and she is ready for her sunset. A young man and woman come looking for her at the nursing home and it drums up memories of Aggie's life that she never thought she would have to confront again.

This book was a little shaky for me. It took me awhile to get into the book. I was very interested in the part of the book that took place in the past. Seeing how Aggie goes from a farm girl to a runner was so interesting. She does some really amazing things in a time where women athletes were not prevalent at all. Aggie is truly a trailblazer. The present day story did not grab me very much at the beginning until the motives of the two young people who spring Aggie from the nursing home become clear. This does not happen until the middle to the end of the book so I kept wondering where this part of the story was going. I also wanted more out of the ending of the book.

The writing in the book is good and it definitely kept me reading and interested in the story. I really liked how Aggie's voice was captured. Snyder really makes us feel for her and care about her. I would love to read more by Snyder in the future.  

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, February 3rd: Bookshelf Fantasies
Wednesday, February 4th: BookNAround
Thursday, February 5th: Broken Teepee
Monday, February 9th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, February 10th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, February 11th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, February 12th: missris
Monday, February 16th: The Discerning Reader
Wednesday, February 18th: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, February 19th: Helen’s Book Blog
Tuesday, February 24th: Fuelled by Fiction
Wednesday, February 25th: Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, February 26th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Friday, February 27th: A Bookish Affair
TBD: Bee Splendid

Review: New Uses For Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick

Title: New Uses For Old Boyfriends
Author: Beth Kendrick
Format: Paperback
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: February 3, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "After growing up in privilege and marrying into money, Lila Alders has gotten used to the good life. But when her happily-ever-after implodes, Lila must return to Black Dog Bay, the tiny seaside town where she grew up. She’s desperate for a safe haven, but everything has changed over the past ten years. Her family’s fortune is gone—and her mother is in total denial. It’s up to Lila to take care of everything...but she can barely take care of herself.

The former golden girl of Black Dog Bay struggles to reinvent herself by opening a vintage clothing boutique. But even as Lila finds new purpose for outdated dresses and tries to reunite with her ex, she realizes that sometimes it’s too late for old dreams. She’s lost everything she thought she needed but found something—someone—she desperately wants. A boy she hardly noticed has grown up into a man she can’t forget...and a second chance has never felt so much like first love."

My Two Cents:

In "New Uses for Old Boyfriends," Lila's life falls apart and the only place that she can think of to go is Black Dog Bay, her hometown. She finds that even her hometown has changed and the gold status that she once enjoyed is gone. Her mom's financial status is in ruins and she wants Lila to help her keep her home but she may be forced to leave her home behind. This book explores one woman's try at trying to put her life back together when the conditions are anything but easy.

This book takes place in the same super cute town as Kendrick's previous book, "Cure for the Common Break-up," a book that I really enjoyed. I was very excited to go back to Black Dog Bay. Although the story focuses on Lila mostly, we do get to know a great deal about the denizens of Black Dog Bay, which I loved. It is always nice to visit some old familiar characters!

Lila is a great character. She is definitely sort of humbled when she has to come home from a glamorous life that fell apart. Everyone held her in such high regard because of her great marriage and her great career. Lila can't help but to feel like she's coming back to town with her tail between her legs after her so-called perfect life is shattered. I really felt for her. I also liked how for the most part, she really begins to realize that she has to be the vehicle for her own happiness. Some of her ex-boyfriends come out of the woodwork to help her along the way. I really liked how the love matches in the book were dealt with. As with "Cure for the Common Break-up," Kendrick cooks up some leading males that are off the beaten path including a former military man with a penchant for sewing incredible things (a great surprise)!

I did not like this book quite as much as "Cure for the Common Break-up" as I liked the love story in that book a little bit better. However, "New Uses for Old Boyfriends" is still an adorable read with a lot of heart!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Title: The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Katherine Tegan
Publish Date: August 27, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?"

My Two Cents:

In "The Beginning of Everything," Ezra's life changes very quickly after a horrific accident. Ezra has prided himself on being a star athlete but the accident changes all of this. Now he finds himself on the "loser" debate team. He misses his old life but wants to make the best of the situation. I think this quote from the book says a lot about the story: "Oscar Wilde once said that to live is the rarest thing in the world, because most people just exist, and that’s all. I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that I spend a long time existing, and now, I intend to live."

At first, it took me a little while to warm up to Ezra. He was very woe-is-me at the beginning of the book. While his friends don't seem to want to isolate him, Ezra seems so upset at the prospect of his life changing after the accident that he isolates himself and creates a divide between his old life and his new life. Eventually I warmed up to him as he seems to stop feeling sorry from himself and tries to move on (the divide between his old popular life and his new more unpopular life remains, which was interesting to me).

I did like the love story between him and Cassidy. Cassidy is vastly different from the girls that Ezra used to date (who mostly seem to be vapid silouettes of actual people). She is carefree, intelligent, and seems to be a good foil for Ezra but is hiding a lot. Ezra slowly starts to uncover Cassidy's past. This was probably one of the most interesting parts of the book for me.

Overall, this book was a little mixed for me but grew on me as the story went on.


Monday, February 16, 2015

TLC Book Tours: Author Guest Post and Giveaway by Dora Levy Mossanen

I am very excited to welcome Dora Levy Mossanen, author of Scent of Butterflies (see my review of the book here) to A Bookish Affair today!

 The title of this novel has gone through many, many reincarnations, before I decided to settle on Scent of Butterflies, which is a strange title, I know.  Perhaps it is this strangeness, then, that makes this title my favorite among the titles of all my books.

I bet that you had no idea that butterflies give off all types of scents.  But they do.  Just ask Soraya, my protagonist, and she will convince you.  So much so that from now on, your olfactory cells will twitch and tremble every time you come across a butterfly.  Warning: if ever tempted to catch a butterfly to smell it for yourself, make sure you do it gently.  Butterflies can easily lose the powdery scales on their wings, which can cause tears in their wings, which in turn will hamper their ability to fly.

In the twenty years it took me to write and rewrite Scent of Butterflies, my protagonist, Soraya, changed, grew, unraveled, and became increasingly obsessed with butterflies.  Why?  Because the name of her husband’s mistress is Parvaneh, which means Butterfly in Farsi.  So as the line between butterflies, the insects, and Butterfly, the mistress became increasingly blurred in Soraya’s mind, she began to plant butterfly friendly trees and plants in her garden to lure butterflies, which she trapped and studied obsessively in hope of learning more about Butterfly, her nemesis, the woman her husband is having an affair with.

Here then, is the scene in the novel that gave birth to the title of the book.  Soraya is studying a butterfly trapped in her net: “Unlike experts, I don’t have to go through a series of complicated rituals to detect the characteristics of a scent, the base notes and top notes, lock myself in dark rooms, or blow my nose clean, pinch my nostrils, sprinkle a handkerchief with perfume, and wave it in the air to bring out its gaseous state. No! I don’t need any of these rituals to detect that live butterflies smell different from dead ones. Still alive and active, like the one trembling in my net, they give off the odor of predators, acidic and pungent, similar to the stench of Butterfly’s Chanel No. 5. Reaching into the net, I tenderly rub the butterfly’s fuzzy warmth, caress the throbbing underbelly, stroke the quivering antennae. My forefinger crawls up to tease the erogenous spot on top of her head, the spot the aroused male fondles with his antennae…. Scarcely dead and still supple to my touch, she begins to give off the smell of public baths, humid and cloying and a bit dirty. And now, just this instant, limp and rendered harmless, she emits the bland odor of stale flowers.”

Are you convinced now that butterflies have different smells? 

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, February 2nd: My Book Self
Wednesday, February 4th: Bibliotica
Friday, February 6th: Back Porchervations
Friday, February 13th: Reading and Eating
Monday, February 16th: Chick Lit Central
Monday, February 16th: A Bookish Affair – guest post
Tuesday, February 17th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Wednesday, February 18th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, February 23rd: Bibliophiliac
Friday, February 27th: Shelf Pleasure – guest post
Monday, March 2nd: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Tuesday, March 3rd: Too Fond
Thursday, March 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom
TBD: Books a la Mode – guest post


One lucky winner will win a copy of this great book (U.S./CAN only)! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Favor

Guys, Kate Quinn is a phenomenal historical fiction author and a friend of mine. I will actually be on a panel with her and a few other amazing people during the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, CO in June. I am in awe of her writing and storytelling and not only is she a great writer, she is just an all around awesome person so I was very sad to hear that she and her husband suffered a very scary house fire this week!

There is a Gofundme fund (find it here!) that has been set up for Kate and her husband as they recover from this horrible situation. If you can (and I know money is tight for so many of us), please consider giving a little bit to the cause. 

If you can't contribute, maybe consider pre-ordering Kate's latest release, Lady of the Eternal City, which will be released on March 3rd? I got my hands on a copy early, read it this weekend, and it is absolutely fantastic (review forthcoming)!!! You can also check out any of her back list, which are fantastic as well.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Title: Five Days at Memorial
Author: Sheri Fink
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: September 10, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing."

My Two Cents:

Wow! I've been trying to fit a little more non-fiction in my reading diet and this book was definitely a good pick. I was pretty much totally captivated all the through the entire book. This book is definitely a page turner. The book takes place during Hurricane Katrina in a hospital in New Orleans. As the situation gets more and more dire, the doctors are forced to make decisions that bring up many questions about ethics. There is so much to think about in this book and I know that this is definitely a book that is going to stay with me for a very long time after I finished.

I really think that books about ethical decisions are fascinating. What do you do when you are faced with a situation where any decision is more than likely going to have really bad consequences? The doctors and hospital staff are faced with terrible choices in this book. I have no idea what I would have done if I were in their place.

The writing in this book is great and can best be described as long-form journalism. I like that the author really left it up to the readers to decide what they felt about the situation. I love books that make you think. It feels like you get to get a little more involved with the book. Fink drew on many, many interviews in order to recreate what happened in Memorial during the storm. You can see what the hospital looked like as the water began to encroach on it. You can smell the horrible conditions. You can see the doctors, patients, and family and feel just how much they must have wanted to get out of that place.

Being interested in strategic planning, I also found the discussion on how the hospital did not really have a plan in place for what to do in a situation like a hurricane, which New Orleans sees quite frequently. This event spurred other hospitals to look at what they needed to be able to do when a major disaster happened, which Fink looks at a little bit.

Overall, this is a great read!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: Just My Typo: From "Sinning with the Choir" to "the Untied States" by Drummond Moir

Title: Just My Typo: From "Sinning with the Choir" to "the Untied States"
Author: Drummond Moir
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Publish Date: July 8, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "From the sublime to the ridiculous, Just My Typo is a hilarious collection of typographical errors, slips of the pen and embarrassing misprints which, like any typo of any kind, should never have happened, cannot be excused, and must not in any way be glorified. Enjoy.

You’ll travel back in time to meet great figures from history: Sir Francis Drake (who circumcised the world in a small ship), Queen Victoria (who pissed graciously over the Menai Bridge), and Rambo (the famous French poet).

You’ll find moral instruction (‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall irrigate the earth’) and pearls of wisdom (‘love is just a passing fanny’).

You’ll be outraged by politicians who exploit disasters to boost their pubic profiles; entranced by lambs that gamble in the fields; concerned for a man who was admitted to hospital suffering from severe buns; and appalled to meet 11-year-old twins Helen and Ugh."

My Two Cents:

"Just My Typo" is a funny collection of typos. Some of them I have seen before (typos seem to be popular viral fodder for the internet) but some of them were brand new to me and were very funny. We readers and writers are a funny breed. We love the written word and when the written word goes wrong, something poignant can easily turn into something that is either hilarious, embarrassing, or both. This book is a collection of an editor's worst nightmare!

This book is perfect for those who like to read and to write. I do a little of both and I also love editing. If you don't have a good editor, you may miss something that totally changes the meaning of what you're writing. It was fascinating to me to see how many small mistakes totally changed what was being said. Some of the mistakes I laughed pretty hard at!

I could see this being for a really great gift book for the reader, writer, or editor in your life! Very funny!


TLC Book Tours: The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli

Title: The Last Good Paradise
Author: Tatjana Soli
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: February 10, 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "On a small, unnamed coral atoll in the South Pacific, a group of troubled dreamers must face the possibility that the hopes they’ve labored after so single-mindedly might not lead them to the happiness they feel they were promised. Ann and Richard, an aspiring, Los Angeles power couple, are already sensing the cracks in their version of the American dream when their life unexpectedly implodes, leading them to brashly run away from home to a Robinson Crusoe idyll. Dex Cooper, lead singer of the rock band, Prospero, is facing his own slide from greatness, experimenting with artistic asceticism while accompanied by his sexy, young, and increasingly entrepreneurial muse, Wende. Loren, the French owner of the resort sauvage, has made his own Gauguin-like retreat from the world years before, only to find that the modern world has become impossible to disconnect from. Titi, descendent of Tahitian royalty, worker, and eventual inheritor of the resort, must fashion a vision of the island’s future that includes its indigenous people, while her partner, Cooked, is torn between anarchy and lust."

My Two Cents:

"The Last Good Paradise" is the story of a group of people who all seem to be running away from something. The story centers on Ann and Richard. Ann is a successful lawyer who sees her marriage to Richard beginning to disintegrate. Richard is a chef that dreams of owning his own restaurant. Those dreams are dashed and Ann decides that the best thing to do would be to run away from their lives in L.A. to an island where they hope to disconnect from the rest of the world (literally in some ways and figuratively in others) and begin to put their lives and their marriage back together.

Aside from Ann and Richard, there are a lot of characters in this book. Each has their own story and their own reason for finding themselves on the island. All of the characters form somewhat of a ragtag group and they all seem to be trying to find something that they missing within the others in the group. To some degree, I wish that we got a little more insight into the motivations of the various characters. We see that they are running but we don't necessarily get the why other than these characters want this disconnection. Because we don't get to see the motivation, I had a hard time connecting with the characters.

After reading Soli's "The Lotus Eaters," I was very excited to read this book. I loved "The Lotus Eaters" for its insight into what made the characters tick. I wanted more of that in this book. To some degree, this book felt almost as if it was about the idea of being disconnected and sheltered rather than about a story itself. The good writing is still there and still made the book enjoyable and worth a look.

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, February 3rd: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Wednesday, February 4th: Too Fond
Thursday, February 5th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Monday, February 9th: Caribousmom
Monday, February 9th: BookNAround
Tuesday, February 10th: Kahakai Kitchen
Tuesday, February 10th: The Feminist Texican Reads
Wednesday, February 11th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, February 12th: Writing Whimsy
Friday, February 13th: Books on the Table
Monday, February 16th: The Well Read Redhead
Monday, February 16th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, February 17th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, February 17th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, February 18th: Reader’s Oasis
Thursday, February 19th: Book Dilettante
Friday, February 20th: Olduvai Reads
Monday, February 23rd: 5 Minutes for Books
Monday, February 23rd: Suko’s Notebook
Tuesday, February 24th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, February 25th: nomadreader

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TLC Book Tours: The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

Title: The Tell-Tale Heart
Author: Jill Dawson
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publish Date: February 10, 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "After years of excessive drink and sex, Patrick has suffered a massive heart attack. Although he's only fifty, he's got just months to live. But a tragic accident involving a teenager and a motorcycle gives the university professor a second chance. He receives the boy's heart in a transplant, and by this miracle of science, two strangers are forever linked.

Though Patrick's body accepts his new heart, his old life seems to reject him. Bored by the things that once enticed him, he begins to look for meaning in his experience. Discovering that his donor was a local boy named Drew Beamish, he becomes intensely curious about Drew's life and the influences that shaped him--from the eighteenth-century ancestor involved in a labor riot to the bleak beauty of the Cambridgeshire countryside in which he was raised. Patrick longs to know the story of this heart that is now his own.

In this intriguing and deeply absorbing story, Jill Dawson weaves together the lives and loves of three vibrant characters connected by fate to explore questions of life after death, the nature of the soul, the unseen forces that connect us, and the symbolic power of the heart."

My Two Cents:

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Patrick gets a new lease on life after he has a heart transplant. Patrick is a professor who has spent his life passionately studying and perhaps neglecting his personal life. His family life isn't great and being able to essentially get another chance has really made him think about previous choices and whether or not they were the right ones. This book also explores whether or not the heart has some sort of internal memory. Not only is Patrick the focus of this story but Drew, the teenaged donor, and one of his ancestors become a part of the story as well.

This story felt very experimental in a lot of ways. The connections between the three main characters are tenuous and we do not really get to see the overall connection between all three of the characters until the very end of the book. I wish that we would have been able to see a little bit more of a connection sooner as I think it would have helped me to connect with both the stories and the characters a little quicker. While Patrick's story is interspersed throughout the book, Willie and Drew's stories are packed into one section for each character pretty much. All three of these characters are very different but they are connected to some degree in the way that they see the world, which is sort of cool.

I did really enjoy the writing in this book. There are some really interesting and good bits of writing in this book that kept me reading. Overall, I liked the writing and would try another book by this author but I would have liked more of a connection to the story.  

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, February 10th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, February 11th: JulzReads
Thursday, February 12th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Monday, February 16th: Books and Bindings
Monday, February 16th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, February 17th: As I turn the page
Wednesday, February 18th: Cold Read
Thursday, February 19th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, February 19th: Sidewalk Shoes
Monday, February 23rd: Vivacious Hobo
Tuesday, February 24th: Every Free Change Book Reviews
Wednesday, February 25th: Why Girls Are Weird
Thursday, February 26th: A Patchwork of Books
Friday, February 27th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review and Author Guest Post: The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe

Title: The Tragic Age
Author: Stephen Metcalfe
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: March 3, 2015 (Almost there!)
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "This is the story of Billy Kinsey, heir to a lottery fortune, part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided that the best way to deal with an absurd world is to stay away from it. Do not volunteer. Do not join in. Billy will be the first to tell you it doesn’t always work— not when your twin sister, Dorie, has died, not when your unhappy parents are at war with one another, not when frazzled soccer moms in two ton SUVs are more dangerous than atom bombs, and not when your guidance counselor keeps asking why you haven’t applied to college.
Billy’s life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another’s mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie’s. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul. 

With Twom, Billy visits the dark side. And with Gretchen, Billy experiences possibilities.Billy knows that one path is leading him toward disaster and the other toward happiness. The problem is—Billy doesn’t trust happiness. It's the age he's at.  The tragic age."

My Two Cents:

In "The Tragic Age," Billy is struggling. He has lost his twin sister, Dorie, and now it is just him and his parents who don't seem to know how to act around each other any more. Billy is trying to cope and the best way he knows how is to try to melt into the background. He doesn't talk to anyone at school anymore and he is totally withdrawn. It'll take a group of people, including Gretchen, Billy's love interest and Dorie's best friend, and the mysterious Twom to breathe some life back into Billy. This is a coming of age story that captures some of the difficult emotions that teenagers must deal with in great detail.

This book started out a bit confusing for me. To some degree, it felt as if Billy was keeping the reader at arm's length, which while frustrating for me, definitely kept in line with how Billy is feeling in the beginning of the book. As he begins to open up and the major action in the book begins to pick-up, I definitely got into the book more. Billy is a fascinating character. He is definitely going through a lot and we get to witness it alongside him.

The writing of the book really does a good job of capturing all of the chaos that Billy is feeling between his new friends, the trouble that they get into, and the chaos of his home life. I've seen the comparisons to Salinger here and there and there is a comparison to be made with regard to the issue of growing up. This book definitely has some major mature moments and therefore although this is a YA book, it may be more appropriate for older YA readers. The book deals with some pretty heavy topics like sex and suicide. Overall, this was a good front row seat to one teenager's inner turmoil.

 Author Guest Post:

Today, Stephen Metcalfe is here on A Bookish Affair to discuss his writing process and how he got into the heads of his characters.

You had to ask.
I don’t really think much about “process”.  I’m usually pretty disciplined about sitting down and working five days a week,  three, four or five hours at a time.  However.  No matter where I am and what I’m doing – and my wife is nodding vigorously as I write this -  the work  is always swirling around the forefront of my brain.  I even dream about it.  Which means I’m never not  working.  (Of course, I enjoy what I do which also means I’ve never worked a day in my life.)
Any writing process I have begins quite some time before I begin putting words on a page.  It usually starts with the recognition of a specific event.   A young man is skateboarding down a hill and he runs into a car.  Four young people break into a deserted house not to vandalize or steal but to just hang out.  How?  Why?  What preceded this event?  What follows it?  Who exactly is he/are they?  Concentric circles grow wider.  One idea suggests another and then another.  The playwright in me often turns these ideas into scenes.  (I do, in fact, have a large in process file on my computer that’s filled with such scenes.)  But just as often I’m storing them in the memory bank to let them ferment.  (I spend a lot of time fermenting.)
When I finally sit down with a play, screenplay or novel to begin the actual writing,  I have a good sense of where my starting point is and what my final destination will be.  I don’t know exactly how I’m going to get to that destination but I do know what it is and however rambling the road, I also know that I have some specific stops I want to check out along the way.  
I read a lot.  Mostly in small bites.  It informs the work.
I rewrite constantly.   I have I don’t know how many drafts of everything I’ve ever worked on.  If I discover something new about my characters I have to do back and see how the new revelation affects all that’s come before.  I’m constantly working on the rhythm of the words.  They have to sound right to me.
When I was working on plays and screenplays I often worked on several things at a time.  I find this impossible with a novel.  It seems to be much more all consuming.
Character.  I feel my work has always been driven by my characters.  Having said that, I have no idea where characters come from.  I usually hear their voices first.  I know what my characters feel and think, where they’re from and what they want, long before I know what they look like.  Once I have a character in my head, I try not to impose anything on them.   I follow their lead.   Sometimes I feel like a director doing improvisations with talented actors.  I throw out a specific objective.  I then put up obstacles to said objective.  Objective versus obstacle equals conflict.  Action begets reaction which begets reflection which begets further action.  We discover together.  We journey together.  We are often surprised together.  Hopefully we all arrive together at our planned destination all roughly still in one piece.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review and Author Interview: The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya

Title: The Orphan Sky
Author: Ella Leya
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: February 3, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Set at the crossroads of Turkish, Persian and Russian cultures under the red flag of Communism in the late 1970s, The Orphan Sky reveals one woman’s struggle to reconcile her ideals with the corrupt world around her, and to decide whether to betray her country or her heart.

Leila is a young classical pianist who dreams of winning international competitions and bringing awards to her beloved country Azerbaijan. She is also a proud daughter of the Communist Party. When she receives an assignment from her communist mentor to spy on a music shop suspected of traitorous Western influences, she does it eagerly, determined to prove her worth to the Party.

But Leila didn’t anticipate the complications of meeting Tahir, the rebellious painter who owns the music shop. His jazz recordings, abstract art, and subversive political opinions crack open the veneer of the world she's been living in. Just when she begins to fall in love with both the West and Tahir, her comrades force her to make an impossible choice."

My Two Cents:

"The Orphan Sky" is the story of Leila, a talented musician and committed daughter of the Communist Party. Leila loves her music and she believes that Communism is the way to go for her beloved country. It is 1979 and her world is changing rapidly. Leila will have a chance meeting with Tahir, a fellow musician who opens Leila's eyes in many different ways. Leila will find herself trapped between love, free-thinking, and everything that she thought that she knew before.

Leila is a great character. The author did a great job of showing what a big transition that Leila goes through. In the beginning, we see an almost timid young woman whose life revolves around the fervent passion drummed up by the young Communist group that she belongs to. She sleeps and breathes it and doesn't question the mission that she is given to spy on Tahir. Tahir shows her that there is so much of the world that she is missing. He shows her the forbidden music that she is missing and it is through that music that we witness Leila and Tahir falling for each other. I really loved the love story between Tahir. Tahir is irreverent and shows Leila that there is another way. Leila realizes how dangerous it is but cannot help but to fall hard.

Before reading this book, I did not know much about Azerbaijan at all. I especially did not know anything about the country during Communist times. I love when a book can teach me something new. In a way, Leila's transition throughout the book reflects the changes that Azerbaijan was going through at the time. It was interesting to me to see how the author showed these changes set against each other. It really helped me to be pulled into the book. Overall, this is a great story of love and passion and the way that they have the power to change us mere mortals.

Interview with the Author:

I am thrilled to have Ella Leya here to A Bookish Affair today.

1. What inspired you to write this book?

A tragic loss of my son Sergey. He was almost nine and had a beautiful way with words. The endless nights in the hospitals seemed shorter when Sergey and I collaborated on our songs. I came up with melodies, and Sergey weaved his magic with stories. His English was much better than mine after the first three years in America. And we dreamed that some day we would have enough money to go to the studio and record a CD. Then Sergey was gone, and all I was left with were a bottle of morphine and our ten songs, resonating with some happier moments from our past, filled with nostalgia for the places far away… ‘The Orphan Sky,’ initially titled “Maiden Tower” grew out of those songs—my escape from pain and loneliness, a chance to go back to the beginning and try to change, fix, rewrite destiny.       

2. What do you want people to know about Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan stands at the cusp of Asia and Europe, at the crossroads of Turkish, Persian, and Russian cultures, and at the flash points of the most dangerous, volatile and unpredictable region of today’s world.  

Azerbaijan is the ancient “Land of Fire,” surrounded by the austere Caucasus Mountains and washed by the warm turquoise waters of Caspian Sea. It is where Zoroastrian priests burned their eternal flames gushing from the bowels of the oil-rich earth and where whirling dervishes span into divine ecstasy. 

Azerbaijan is as much a fairytale of my childhood as it is a gloomy reminder of my growing up in an Islamic male-dominated, communist-subjugated society, deprived of freedom, brainwashed by lies, constantly forced to make impossible moral choices.

3. Why do you think music is so powerful?

I believe that music is a divine part of our human existence. It has the ability to bypass the barriers of languages, traditions, egos, and reasons and strike right into our souls, bringing emotions that can be felt and can’t be described. As a composer and a logical person, I understand that any concerto, sonata, or song is simply a combination of the notes, rhythmical patterns, dynamics, and instrumental and vocal timbres. But then I will be recording a music piece in the studio, and the moment comes when all rationale disappears and, instead, comes the sensation of ‘touching the skies’—something so ethereal and unconditional.  Like first love.  

4. What was your writing process like for this book?

Crazy. Erratic. Unruly and endless like Richard Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”

I started writing in Chicago what was supposed to be a memoir. Then recording a CD and producing a play distracted me. I resumed writing in Laguna Beach, California. That period was a paradise— morning walks on the beach to get my thoughts together, followed by 4 hours of writing on my balcony facing the Pacific. When I finally settled into a routine, I had to pack and move to London. The first six months I spent complaining that I couldn’t write because London was dark and gloomy and lacked an inspiration for me. Then one day, as I stood by a Rembrandt’s painting of his son in the Wallace Collection, I felt the presence of my Muse. Knowing how fickle she is, I rushed home and dove into the novel, afraid to stop till I had the first draft. Of course that was only the beginning of the next phase called ‘rewrites and revisions.’

    5. If you could bring any three historical figures or fictional characters to a deserted  island, who would you bring and why?

Either Scheherazade or Salman Rushdie, so they could bewitch me with the spell of their nightly storytelling.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—to be awaken by the sounds of Piano Concerto #20 spilling out of his fingers, accompanied by his laughter and his not always tasteful jokes.

As for the third candidate, I would probably need someone who could defend and keep us alive on the deserted island. How about Golem? A Jewish mythological hero and a fictional character in hundreds of books written over the centuries (starting with Talmud). Golem was a prototype for many contemporary superheroes, like Superman.   

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review: Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Title: Secrets of a Charmed Life
Author: Susan Meissner
Format: Paperback
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publish Date: February 3, 2015 (Today!)
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades...beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden--one that will test her convictions and her heart.

1940s, England. As Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London’s civilian population, one million children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. Acting at cross purposes just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction, the sisters are cruelly separated, and their lives are transformed…"

My Two Cents:

At its core, "Secrets of a Charmed Life" is a story of sisters and secrets. Set during World War II in England, this historical fiction book focuses on the London evacuation of children during the war. Emmy and Julia are two of those children to be evacuated. Older Emmy sees an opportunity to carve out a new life for herself, separate from the difficult life she had growing up. It may mean leaving some things behind though and she is not sure that she is ready to leave the past behind. This book mostly follows Emmy's journey.

This book started out a little stiffly to me but really hit it's stride later on. Although the book really focuses on the events of WWII and the aftermath of the war in Emmy's life, the author introduces a present day element. The present day element is warranted as it allows the reader to gain some insight into what happened eventually because of Emmy's decisions as a young woman. I just did not like this part as much. We really don't get to know Kendra, the present day graduate student who interviews the mysterious Isabel. She is more of just a vehicle for the secrets and therefore it felt to me like she was a just sort of stuck in the story.

I loved the historical detail in this book though. I knew about the evacuations of the children from London but I did not know too much about them as in how they actually happened and what it might have been like for the children to be evacuated. I liked how the author gave readers some insight into what it must have been like. Overall, I enjoyed this story and believe that other historical fiction lovers will enjoy it as well.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: February 3, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You're interested in World War II.
  •  You like stories about sisters.
  • You're interested in unsung heroes.
 What's the Story?:

From "In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

My Two Cents:

At the beginning of every year, I am always thinking about when I am going to find my first five star read for the year. What book is going to take my breath away? Sometimes it takes awhile to find that first great read but other years, I find it very quickly. Luckily for 2015, it happened quickly. "The Nightingale" is the story of two sisters, Isabelle and Viann, who live in France during World War II. Isabelle has always been a little bit of a rebel. Viann has been happy to be a wife and a mother who doesn't rock the boat. These two very different sisters will both rise to the occasion of protecting and defending the things and people that they believe in during arguably one of the most tumultuous times in France's history.

I really loved the way that this story was written. Hannah has a great way about pulling the reader right into the thick of the story and quickly making the characters feel like people that you really want to root for. There is so much good detail in here. I could see Isabelle's dangerous Paris where every action could potentially get her in trouble. I could see Viann's small provincial town where Nazis billet with the people of the town and everyone is under a lot of scrutiny. The detail never feels forced or overbearing. Hannah deftly creates a really realistic setting where the constant fear and danger feel fantastically real.

I fell quickly for both Isabelle and Viann. Their relationship is so complicated but it felt really well. Viann has always seen Isabelle as being too impulsive and too much of a dreamer. Isabelle has always seen Viann as being sort of a stick in the mud. They are as different as two sisters can be. During the war, Isabelle falls quickly in with the underground movement to help even if it means putting her life on the line. Viann thinks Isabelle is crazy but circumstances eventually drive Viann to take a stand after her best friend, Rachel, a Jew, is taken away. Viann will find strength that she never knew that she had! Both of the main characters are so amazing and are a great representation of some of the amazing unsung heroes of WWII.

The story itself is fantastic. World War II continues to be one of my favorite eras to read about. This story covered a topic that I really love to read about. Throughout the stories of WWII, there are stories of all sorts of different people who truly rose to the occasion and did some really incredible things to save their fellow men or to try to at least better a horrible situation a little bit. It is truly inspiring. This book is a great tribute to those who took a stand.

This book had me going through so many different emotions. I love when a book can do that. It is almost as if the story is truly transcending the pages. This is a book that I will be thinking about for a long time!

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