Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Divergent

Divergent, by Veronica Roth.

"Every faction conditions its members to think and act a certain way. And most people do it. For most people, it's not hard to learn, to find a pattern of thought that works and stay that way." She touches my uninjured shoulder and smiles. "But our minds move in a dozen different directions. We can't be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can't be controlled. And it means that no matter what they do, we will always cause trouble for them."

I feel like someone breathed new air into my lungs. I am not Abnegation. I am not Dauntless.

I am Divergent.

And I can't be controlled.


When I read a book that I want to review on here, I bookmark a page with a quote(s) I like that I plan to later include in the review (like above). In Divergent, I bookmarked not one, not two, but FOUR pages, which, in my opinion, is the mark of a great book.

Beatrice lives in a dystopian society - formerly Chicago - which separates itself into five factions, and upon each member's 16th birthday, they must choose to stay in their faction, with their family, or leave for a new faction. The choices are Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), Amity (peaceful), and Erudite (intelligent/the scholars). Beatrice lives with her parents and brother and is Abnegation - the selfless. In her faction, people put others before themselves, and she is fine with this. After she takes the "aptitude test" that tells her what faction she most clearly belongs to, however, the results are inconclusive, and the tester, Toni, tells her that she is Divergent - but that she should not tell anyone this, as it's a dangerous thing to be.

When Choosing Day rolls around, Beatrice surprisingly chooses to become a Dauntless, and thus plunges herself into a world of the unknown, which is completely upside down from Abnegation.

This novel was so good because the characters are so well developed. The year that the characters live in was never discussed, but some of the "old" Chicago landmarks are there - they call the Sears (now Willis) Tower "the Hub," and Millennium Park, with its "rusted-out structures," simply "Millennium." The idea of dividing into five factions was established as to prevent war, and the system has been in place for a while; it is the people who are "divergent," though - those who have characteristics of more than one of the factions - who will end up trying to prevent this war.

I read on the author's website that Divergent has been optioned for a movie (yay!) and I think it will make one hell of a film. The next book in the supposed trilogy, Insurgent, is expected to be out in May 2012.

4 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Art of Forgetting

The Art of Forgetting, by Camille Noe Pagán.

She paused, then added, "In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that i don't trust myself to not be jealous if the two of you are together. Who knows that that could do to our relationship."

The picture, out of focus for the past two weeks, was suddenly crisp and clear. It didn't matter if Julia was
actually in love with him - which I highly doubted, given her history of commitment issues. What mattered was the fact that Julia couldn't stand the thought of being left behind. Or worse: being ignored.

She gave me a kiss on the forehead.

"You understand, don't you, Marissa?"

"Of course," I said.

But I didn't. Not at all.


The author of this book is a U of M grad and is from Ann Arbor, and she sprinkles bits of Ann Arbor - both made-up and real places/streets - throughout the novel, which I loved. The novel partially takes place in Ann Arbor, and partially in New York.

Marissa has always been the "beta" to Julia's "alpha" - until Julia gets hit by a cab, and suffers severe brain injury. When she wakes up, she's not the same Julia that she was before, and Marissa must learn how to help her friend and also move on with her life, forging new paths for herself and learning to be her own person.

I really liked this novel, and not just because some scenes take place in Ann Arbor. The writing was crisp and easy to read, and the scenes were very believable. Marissa and Julia have been best friends their whole lives, and so Marissa must now learn how to stand on her own two feet, so to speak, and not pander to Julia as much as she used to. Anyone can identify with that sort of friendship, and Pagán deftly invokes this scene after scene.

4 stars out of 5.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interview with Susan McBride, author of "Little Black Dress"

Susan McBride is the author of Little Black Dress (click here for my review) and I was able to interview her via email recently.

How did you start writing, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Susan McBride
(from the author's site)
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and I still have three books I wrote in fifth grade (I even illustrated the covers!). But I didn’t know until I was 19 and between transferring from the University of Texas to the University of Kansas that I truly wanted to be a novelist. That’s when I took some time from school and sat down to write a 600-page historical romance called THE THORN OF THE ROSE. My fate was sealed! Some of the authors I love reading right now (although I’m always discovering new ones!) include Kate Morton, Sarah Addison Allen, Susan Vreeland, Santa Montefiore…oh, gosh, so many! I particularly love novels that blend history with a little mystery or magic.

Do you have your own “little black dress,” though it might not be a dress? (some clothing or talisman that makes you feel lucky?)

I do have a pair of lucky earrings. They’re sterling silver Celtic crosses that I bought about a decade ago. Now I can’t travel without them on. I feel like they keep my planes in the air!

When I first started reading this novel, the dress reminded me of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, in the way that it fit all three woman (Evie, Anna, and Toni). Did you find inspiration in that novel for this one?

Yes, I did get some inspiration from TRAVELING PANTS. When I started conjuring up the idea of a magical black dress, I knew it had to fit sisters Anna and Evie as well as Evie’s daughter, Toni. They are three very different women, not only in personality, but in shape and size. I kind of thought, “Well, if Ann Brashares can do it, why can’t I?” It worked out beautifully!

from the author's site
I read in the press handout that you base some characteristics of the male characters in your novel on your husband, Ed. Were any of the male characters in this novel based on (or made up of parts of) him?

Ed inspires me to write about men who are good and loyal and loving, which is how I see Jonathan Ashton and Hunter Cummings from LITTLE BLACK DRESS. Neither of those men looks much like Ed, but they do have his decency and his steadfastness.

Which is your favorite genre to write, women’s fiction or mysteries?

I really think I’ve found a home in women’s fiction. Writing THE COUGAR CLUB and then LITTLE BLACK DRESS suited me so very well. I just love being able to explore the lives of women and delve into their friendships and families. It’s pretty much what I’ve always wanted to do. I did enjoy writing mysteries immensely, and I’ve got a young adult mystery in the works right now. What’s fun about writing women’s fiction is that you can always incorporate elements of mystery, as I did in LBD. So I feel like it’s the best of both worlds!

Your bio says “[You] were 40 years old and had spent most of [your] adult life working [your] tush off trying to get published.” When did you start writing, and when did you realize you wanted to be a published author one day?

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been writing since I was a kid (and reading like a maniac, too). Once I wrote a full-length manuscript at 19, I realized, “I am a writer.” That’s all I ever wanted to do with my life. After I graduated from college, I wrote a manuscript a year for at least a decade before I signed a traditional publishing contract with a small press. I was 34 when AND THEN SHE WAS GONE finally came out. I learned a lot about the business with my first published book, and I kept learning with each book after. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to work so steadily these past 12 years—and for two wonderful publishing houses, HarperCollins and Random House. I hope I can continue working steadily for years and years to come!

Will you write more women’s literature after this book? Is there anything you are working on now?

Yes, I just finished DEAD ADDRESS, the young adult mystery, for Random House, although it needs a revision before I turn it in. And I’ve got another women’s fiction book that delves into magical realism (like LBD) due this year to HarperCollins. It’s called LITTLE WHITE LIES, about a woman whose lies catch up with her when a tornado dumps a man from her past smack into her lap (well, into her walnut grove anyway). I’m excited about that!

If Little Black Dress was to be made into a movie, who would be perfect to play Evie, Anna, and Toni, in your opinion? What about Hunter and maybe Greg?

Oh, gosh, I’m really bad at this kind of thing. We’d have to cast young Evie and Anna as well as their older selves. Hmm, I don’t know! Any suggestions???

*Interviewer's note: I would suggest the following for a movie adaptation!
Young Evie: Emma Stone 
Young Anna: Evan Rachel Wood (but may have to change hair color)
Older Evie: Maggie Smith
Older Anna: Patricia Clarkson, maybe? This is a hard one to cast.
Toni: Rachel Weisz, though she's about 10 years younger than Toni.

Interview with Georgia Bockoven, author of "The Year Everything Changed"

Georgia Bockoven's newest book is The Year Everything Changed (click here for my review) and I was able to interview her via email.

How did you decide to start writing novels, and how long have you been writing? I saw on Amazon that you mostly write romance novels and “women’s lit.”

I was in my thirties and frustrated by the women’s fiction I was reading when it hit me that I could create the stories I’d like to read myself. Until then, even though I’d always been a reader and writer, I’d thought only “special” people could be published writers, not common folk, like me. The transition wasn’t easy, I was so naïve about the process that when I signed up for a class on writing it turned out to be one for non-fiction writers. This set up a seven-year detour into freelance journalism before I found my way back to fiction. I think the “women’s lit” tag comes from the fact that, while every book I write has a love story, they also deal with broader issues that face women like adoption and loss and infidelity.

Georgia Bockoven
(image from freshfiction.com)
I read in an interview online from 2001 that said that you moved around a lot while you were young, as did Rachel in this book. Is Rachel based on you, or parts of you? Did you base the characters on people you know in real life?

Nice observation! Yes, she is based a little on me. Many of my own experiences are woven into the characters I create. But I’m also a people watcher. And I love talking to people about their life experiences. When I visited my aunt in North Dakota she took me into the basement of the house my grandfather built and told me that she and her seven brothers and sisters lived in this tiny basement for four years before the rest of the house was finished. I can’t conceive how hard that must have been on my grandmother. Many of the thoughts and reactions I’ve had thinking about what her life must have been like seeped into what it must have been like for Jessie’s mother on the farm in Oklahoma. (Jessie is one of the main characters in the new book, The Year Everything Changed.)

Out of the books you have written, which is your favorite? (either your favorite overall or your favorite to write)

That’s a hard one to answer. I spend so much time with the characters that while I’m working on the book, and sometimes for a long time after, they are almost a part of my family. So it’s a little like asking which child you like better. Now, that said, I have a real fondness for the people in The Year Everything Changed because they still join me for an occasional meal or on a long car ride, but because the child in A Marriage of Convenience was based on my first grandson who was born at two pounds, two ounces, there will always be a special place in my heart for that book.

Of course there’s Joe and Maggie from The Beach House and then there’s . . . See what I mean?

If this book was to be made into a movie – and I definitely think it’d be an interesting movie – who would you pick to be cast for Jessie, Elizabeth, Ginger, Rachel, and Christina? While I was reading the book I was kind of picturing Tom Selleck as Jessie, even though I don’t think he’s quite as old as Jessie.

Oh, good choice! He would be perfect. I think Tommy Lee Jones would be another good one. And remember, Jessie didn’t look as old as he was. And I really like Patricia Clarkson for Lucy. Ginnifer Goodwin would be perfect for Christine and definitely Juliana Marguelis for Elizabeth. Ginger is a tough one. I’m going to have to think awhile for her, but Ann Hathaway is a shoe in for Rachel.

Where do you draw inspiration for your writing? For example, how did you get the main idea for The Year Everything Changed?

I like to work with “what ifs” when I’m plotting a book and really love to take the opposite side of accepted ideas. While I passionately believe it is always wrong for a parent to abandon a child, I do recognize there was a time when the popular belief was that a child would be better off if a missing parent just disappeared from that child’s life - that the child would suffer less confusion and be able to get on with his/her life without feeling “torn.” I wanted to show the consequences of this kind of abandonment and yet try to find a way to show that Jessie did what he did out of a sincere belief it was the right thing to do. However, it’s far easier to accept the logic of something like this in the abstract. Jessie’s daughters must learn to forgive and then mourn their loss before they can find peace.

I see that your novel The Beach House first came out in the late ‘90s, and then its sequel, Another Summer, was just recently released. Why is there such a big gap between the two? (did readers demand a sequel?)

Another Summer originally came out in 2001, December, 2001. Which, of course, is why it was missed. I’m delighted Harper decided to reissue it, along with The Beach House, so readers could revisit some of the characters they fell in love with and get to meet new ones. I’ve been asked by readers to do a third book ... I’m mulling it over now.

Who are some of your favorite authors, and why?

There are so many it’s hard to pick among them. I love Catherine Coulter’s FBI series and Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight series. And speaking of series, I don’t think anyone does series books better than Susan Crosby. Stephen King is a master with mood and characterization. And J. K. Rowling’s books could, and probably are, used as teaching tools for writers looking to improve their craft. I could go pages and pages listing the writers I read and love.

Would you ever consider a sequel to The Year Everything Changed, maybe following one of the four households? (Ginger and Logan’s, for example)
Though in my opinion, the ending was perfect.


I think the epilogue answered the questions most readers would ask. It was particularly satisfying for me to end the book the way I did.

One of the questions in the “Questions for Discussion” at the back of the books says “Which daughter do you feel was most like her father? Which was the least?” Who do you think was most like Jessie, or who were you trying to make the most similar to him?

Elizabeth has a lot of Jessie’s personality. She was with him the longest and suffered the most at his loss. Ginger, growing up never knowing her biological mother or father, is the least like her father.

Are you working on any new projects as of the moment?

I am. It’s a book I’ve worked on off and on for several years that was sparked by a photograph I saw that was taken during the depression. The young girl in the picture had the most incredible, haunted eyes. Behind those eyes was a story begging to be told. I’ve moved the time frame to the fifties and given her a name—Katie Ann.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Little Black Dress

Little Black Dress, by Susan McBride.

I never meant to resurrect the dress. I had intended for it to remain out of reach so that there would be no more meddling. But I awoke before dawn with tears in my eyes after another strange dream bout Anna, and I knew I had to find it.

From the press release:
"Antonia "Toni" Ashton has worked hard to build a thriving career and a committed relationship, but she realizes her life has gone off-track. Forced to return home to Blue Hills when her mother, Evie, suffers a massive stroke, Toni finds the old Victorian where she grew up as crammed full of secrets as it is with clutter. While taking on the task of getting her mother's hosue and affairs in order, Toni discovers a mysterious black dress, woven from spider's silk. Toni soon realizes that the dress is more than an old relic; it is enchanted with magic that allows the wearer to glimpse into the future. As she looks to her own future, Toni uncovers long-buried secrets of her family's past. Through the dress Toni reconnects with her mother Evie and learns of her long-lost aunt Anna, a reckless woman who disappeared fifty years ago on the eve of her wedding. Alternating between the voices of Toni and Evie, LITTLE BLACK DRESS is expertly intertwined with dark secrets, enlightening lessons, and unspoken love of a rich and complicated mother-daughter relationship."

This novel reminded me a lot of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, in that the magic "little black dress" fit Evie, her sister Anna, and Toni (Antonia). Readers who are a fan of that series, as well as those who like supernatural books/movies like Practical Magic, will enjoy this book, as well as pretty much ANYBODY who enjoys a good read. The narration is done by Toni and Evie, in alternating chapters, even though Evie is in the hospital in a coma, which forces Toni to return to Blue Hills, a tiny little town about an hour from St. Louis where she lives and operates her business, Engagements by Antonia.

I really liked how Toni's chapters were told in the present, in which we learn of her relationship - a bit strained - with Evie, and Evie's chapters were told in the past, in which we learn of her rebellious sister Anna and exactly what happened surrounding the circumstances of Toni's birth. The little black dress, of course, is ever-present within the entire book, and it begs the question: if you had a dress or some sort of talisman that could tell the future, would you use it? Or would you stay away from it?

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Check back later this week for an interview with the author, Susan McBride.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review; the opinions listed, however, are of my own.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Year Everything Changed

The Year Everything Changed, by Georgia Bockoven.

Lucy took the paper. Fifteen years ago Jessie found his oldest daughter living in Fresno and called her. She'd refused to have anything to do with him. She told him she would get a restraining order if he ever tried to see her. His letters were returned unopened. After a year he stopped trying.

When they'd gone over the information the detective would need to find Jessie's four daughters, Lucy asked if Elizabeth was the only one he'd ever tried to contact. She simply couldn't believe the man she knew would abandon his children the way her father had abandoned her. Jessie had hesitated before answering, plainly upset by the question. She'd let it go then. Now she decided to try again.


Jessie Reed is dying, but before he goes, he wants to see his four daughters again. None of them know the other exist, and some of them don't even know that he is their biological father. He has his attorney, Lucy, find the girls, and then send them a ticket to Sacramento so that he can see them one last time. When the girls arrive, they are astonished to find that there are four of them, ranging in age from 48 (Elizabeth) to 23 or so (Christina), and Elizabeth, the woman that perhaps knew him for the longest as her father figure, storms out of the office. The other three meet him, which is fortuitous, because he dies shortly after.

Lucy is sneaky and adds an addendum to their father's will, which leaves each of the sisters $10 million each: they must meet up once a month, together, to listen to the tapes he made of his life story, before they are eligible to receive their inheritances. The women are all wary of this at first, but soon they find that they actually do like each other, and there is a lot about Jessie that none of them ever knew.

This book was interesting because I had never read a story like this before. There are definitely stories out there of children not knowing they were adopted, or not knowing they had a brother or sister, but I was interested in seeing how not one, but FOUR women would not know they had (half-)sisters out in the world. Bockoven develops each of these characters, as well as Jessie, over the course of the narrative, and their stories slowly begin to entwine with each other's.

I could definitely see this book being made into a movie, and when I was reading it I was picturing Tom Selleck in the role of Jessie.

The Year Everything Changed will be in bookstores this Tuesday, August 23rd. I will be interviewing Georgia Bockoven as well in the next few weeks, so watch this blog for that interview.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions listed, however, are all mine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Witches of East End

Witches of East End, by Melissa de la Cruz.

There was something not quite right about the three dead birds on the beach that morning, the ones she had buried a little ways away in the sand, but Joanna could not put her finger on it just then. Was it a threat? Or a warning? And for what? And from whom?

I love de la Cruz's series Blue Bloods, so when I heard she had written a book about witches for adults, I decided to read it; little did I know that some of the Force family from Blue Bloods would make cameo appearances in it!

The Beauchamp women have not been allowed to practice magic for a very long time, and they live a relatively peaceful life in North Hampton, New York. When strange things start happening in town after they start using their magic again, however, they must find out who - or what - is causing them to happen, and fix it before North Hampton becomes like a 17th century Salem, MA situation.

I really liked this book and there's going to be a sequel, as the author's bio on the back cover says she is currently working on it. It's definitely more "adult" than her YA novels, but didn't have anything too "gratuitous" in it. The witches are likable characters, and the ending definitely sets up the second novel well.

You can check out the "trailer" for this novel below, from de la Cruz's website:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Kid

The Kid, by Sapphire.

I have not read Push by Sapphire, but I have seen the movie Precious on which it is based, and it was a grim, heartbreaking story but also interesting. A friend of mine read Push and said that it was very hard to get through, since Sapphire wrote it in the way that the main character, Precious, would have – with bad grammar and spelling -- and The Kid follows in that vein.

*Read the whole review at BlogHer.com here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Name is Memory

My Name is Memory, by Ann Brashares.

When he first appeared at school there was a lot of commotion about him because he was extremely good-looking. He was tall and strong-boned and self-possessed, and his clothes were a little nicer than most other kids'. At first the coaches were sniffing around for him to play football because of his size, but he didn't pursue it. As it was a small town and a bored town and a hopeful town, kids talked and rumors started. The rumors were ennobling at first, but then he made some mistakes. He didn't show up at Melody Sanderson's Halloween party, even though she invited him personally in the hallway, and everyone saw it. He talked to Sonia Frye straight through the annual junior/senior picnic, even though she wan an untouchable freak to people like Melody. It was a delicate social ecosystem they lived in, and most people got scared off him by the first winter.

Except Lucy.


Ann Brashares is the author of the Traveling Pants series, as well as one or two other adult books, and this book was fascinating; it was about reincarnation, a subject that I find very interesting, and a boy named Daniel who has "The Memory" - he remembers every single one of his past lives. In most of his lives, he is destined to meet up with "Sophia," though she may have a different name in each life, and he has known her ever since the beginning. In this life, she takes the form of Lucy, a senior in high school, and he is the same age as her, so he moves to her town, once he finds her, and enrolls in her high school. They have a brief rendezvous at the end of her senior year, at a dance, and then she doesn't see him for another 2 or 3 years. At first she was a little freaked out, because he tells her all that he knows, but while she is a student at UVA in Charlottesville, she comes to term with it, and then seeks to find Daniel again.

The ending was really open-ended, and I really hope there is a sequel, since I want to find out what happens to these characters.

5 out of 5 stars if there's a sequel; 4 out of 5 stars if there is not.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana De Rosnay.

As she looked at Eva and her mother, the girl wondered if her parents had been right to protect her from everything, if they had been right to keep disturbing, bad news away from her. If they had been right not to explain why so many things had changed for them since the beginning of the war. Like when Eva's husband never came back last year. He had disappeared. Where? Nobody would tell her. Nobody would explain. She hated being treated like a baby. She hated the voices being lowered when she entered the room.

If they had told her, if they had told her everything they knew, wouldn't that have made today easier?


I just saw a screening of the movie Sarah's Key (see my review here) and so I wanted to read the book to see how similar the movie was and also if it was better than the movie, which books usually are. Surprisingly, I actually ended up liking the book better than the movie. The last 20-50 pages or so of the book are very different than the events in the movie, although the ending is pretty much the same, and I felt that the movie version of Sarah herself was more interesting than the book version.

Sarah and her parents and brother Michel live in Paris, in 1942, and are Jews. They must wear yellow stars on their clothing to signify this. One day, they are all arrested by the police, in the Vel d' Hiv roundup, and Sarah tells her 4-year-old brother Michel to hide in the secret panel in their bedroom; she will come back later for them. They are taken to the Velodrome and later, to a work camp, and Sarah worries about Michel every day. Finally, the adults are separated from the children, to be sent to Auschwitz (though they don't know that at the time), and the guards say the children will be sent along a week afterwards. Sarah and her friend Rachel manage to escape, and they find a nice family in France that takes them in. She knows she must get back to Paris to save Michel, though, and so she and the family end up taking the train back there eventually.

The Sarah in the book was a lot less naive than the Sarah in the movie, but her naivete is what makes the movie better than the book. There is a particularly heartbreaking scene, when she returns to her old apartment in Paris to let Michel out of his hiding place, and the movie did this very well; it is perhaps one of the saddest scenes I have seen in a film as of late. The book did this well too, except that the Sarah character is a bit more practical, though it doesn't make that one scene any less saddening.

3 stars out of 5.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Silver Girl

Silver Girl, by Elin Hilderbrand.

"I want to give you a place to rest your mind. I want to spend time with you. I'm not completely selfless, Meredith. I'm lonely, too. I've been lonely every hour of every day since Wolf died. Ashlyn has made herself a stranger to me. We don't speak. There was a misunderstanding at the funeral." Connie shook her head. She didn't want to think about that. "She has no idea how cruel she's being. She won't understand until she has children of her own."

"I'm sorry," Meredith said. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm not allowed to contact either of the boys because of the ongoing investigation. And although Freddy isn't dead, he might as well be."

There was symmetry in their situations, but Connie didn't want to contrast and compare to determine whose situation was worse.


Meredith Delinn is married to billionaire Freddy Delinn, who is currently under investigation for operating a Ponzi scheme. The Feds think that Meredith was in on it as well, and they are planning to raid her apartment; before they do, however, she scatters to the safety of Nantucket for the summer, where her childhood friend and recently widowed Connie has a house. Meredith is hurting because she isn't allowed to contact her sons, in case they may have something to do with the scheme as well, and Connie is still not over the death of her husband, Wolf, almost two years ago, and the fact that her only child, Ashlyn, isn't speaking to her. Together, they will navigate through the events of their summer on Nantucket, some of which may be surprising.

I have read a few of Elin Hilderbrand's books and they are always interesting; this one was no exception. The characters are all very "real" feeling and easy to relate to - you could imagine knowing them in the real world. Freddy Delinn could be any number of characters in our current world that has come under fire for such things, and as such made for an interesting situation. I liked that the setting was in Nantucket as well, where the author lives, and where Meredith tries to seclude herself from the prying press and the investors that lost everything in Freddy's company, Delinn Enterprises, since they didn't know exactly how he was making money for them.

4.5 stars out of 5.