Book Banter: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

my sister keeperTitle: My Sister’s Keeper
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre:  Women’s Fiction
Length: 448 pages
Where Stacie’s Copy Came From: Personal collection
Plot Basics:  Thirteen year old Anna hires Campbell Alexander, a lawyer, to sue her parents for medical emancipation. Her sister Kate has a rare form of cancer, and every decision in the family’s life has been made to keep Kate alive. Every decision — not just the medical ones — including Anna’s conception.

Banter Points:  Jodi Picoult books are either perfect for my frame of mind, or completely wretched. There is no in-between. I read one about one every five years or so, because they are emotionally draining. I keep doing it because I like the challenges that she puts in front of me as an author.

This title was perfect for my frame of mind. I learned something new about my own views on the world, and while an emotionally draining topic, it was one that (thankfully) I haven’t experienced in my life.

I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to make every decision for my own family with the goal of keeping one of the members alive. In a way, I make decisions constantly about what is best for my family, but they include the easy things like food, clothing, shelter, values (tough enough on their own.) In Anna’s family, everything is done because of Kate, and it is apparent in the telling. The story is relayed through multiple voices which I was glad to see here. I don’t think that the story would have been effective if told only through Anna’s voice or her antagonist’s voice, her mother. Everyone in the family had a piece of the telling and therefore, sharing of how their life was subverted to Kate’s needs. The coping methods used, the dreams that have had to be released. The telling was beautiful.

As a character, Anna reminded me of my own pair of teens, that poignant mix of grown-up views and understanding, mixed childish behaviors and dreams. It made her very real in my mind, especially knowing that my own teens have had startling revelations about adults in their lives.

Two of the story tellers are outside parties, Campbell and Julia. Campbell is the lawyer that Anna hires, and Julia is the guardian ad litem appointed to the case. The pair of them add to the story by being Anna’s grown-up voice, while fighting their own battles and life-choices. I really enjoyed Campbell’s character. As Anna’s lawyer, he wants to stay in the role of legal advise only, but falls into acting as a personal advisor as well. He tries to get to know her, as Julia has suggested he do, and those conversations endured him to me. He wants to hold back, yet cannot complete resist Anna’s personality.

Bummer Points:  I was really disappointed in Anna’s mother, Sara. I really wanted to find her sympathetic, but could not. She pursued Kate’s life to the detriment of her family. I understand the sacrifice and choices made, and why she felt they were right, but I could not empathize with her decisions. At times, I didn’t completely respect them either. I am grateful that I haven’t been in her role, and reading this book gave me a chance to think about what I would have done in her place. Her steadfast focus on the finish line, without knowing what that really means other than extending Kate’s life, against the sacrifice of the family members, often unseen or unknown to her, was something that I found to be hard to accept. It is the central conflict in the novel, and I’m trying to find the middle ground of compromise that would have allowed her to be sympathetic to me.

Stacie’s Recommendation: This may be a good title for you. It could be a good book club selection. Like any of Picoult’s books, it is thought provoking.

Book Banter: Fool’s Fate

fool's fateTitle: Fool’s Fate (Tawny Man trilogy #3)
Author: Robin Hobb
Length: 914 pages
Genre: fantasy
Where Bethany’s copy came from: personal collection

Plot Basics: FitzChivalry Farseer, sometimes assassin for the throne and wielder of both the Skill and the Wit, is accompanying Prince Dutiful on his quest to slay a dragon trapped in a glacier. Fitz’s long-time friend, the Fool, has foreseen his own death in this mission and Fitz is determined to outwit death once more.

Banter Points: Hobb masterfully combines a fantasy epic with a first-person narrative about friendship and loyalty. I read this more than 10 years ago for the first time and, in the ensuing decade, forgot many of the details so this was almost a new discovery to go back to it. At it’s core, it is the classic story — prince must slay dragon to win the hand of a girl — but in Hobb’s way, she asks the questions few of those other stories do: Should the dragon get to live?

Being 10 years old didn’t hurt the re-reading of this book either. As has been written, ““To reread a book is to read a different book. The reader is different. The meaning is different.” The friendship of Fitz and the Fool completely captivated me this time through the whole series in a way it didn’t the first time.

Bummer Points: This book is 914 pages long. There were parts where that length was felt and then others when it just flew by. Also now knowing that Hobb has written a new Fitz and Fool trilogy, I really feel sort of sad for these guys… what else can she do to them?

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you are a fantasy reader, these should be in the List of things you read. I am not the fantasy reader I was when I was younger, but these books remind me of all that is good about the genre. Also, I think I’d add these to books that are fairly safe for a teenage reader. The characters all make some bad choices for sure, but they also have to live with those consequences and I think that shines through in the writing very well.

 

Book Banter: Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott

Title:  Grace (Eventually)51MRl+cTjCL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_
Author:  Anne Lamott
Genre:  Non-fiction
Length:  253 pages
Where Stacie’s Copy Came From:  Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics:  Anne Lamott details the places she has found, and continues to find grace in her life.

Banter Points:  My admiration for Lamott increases with each book of hers I read.  Grace (Eventually) pulls the reader into her life as a mother, friend, church leader, and homeowner, and what grace looks like in each role.

Like other books, Lamott’s transparency about her recovery warms my heart.  Life is struggle and she has the courage to name the struggle.  Lamott tells a story about her son Sam, when he is 16, and what is it like to parent at that age.  It is a story that Sam allows her to tell, which to my thinking, provides insight into their on-going relationship as adult child and parent.  She tells of how he tests her rules and boundaries, her reactions and frustrations, and what grace looks like from her to him.  Personally, I related strongly to this idea of grace as I have a pair of teen boys, one of whom is 16 and grace is something I struggle to find inside of myself for him.  Lamott practices Honest Parenting, which means talking about the bad things too.  I’m blessed with kids who are smart and funny, and as we walk into the transition that will be their adulthood, Honest Parenting becomes increasingly important to me.  Especially when those smart and funny kids are practicing their future negotiations, logic, and reasoning on me, my rules, and my boundaries.

One of the great things about listening to the books is that Lamott is the reader.  She has a very conversational tone to her reading.  There were times, I could have paused the book and said, “Oh, me too!  Let me tell you about my 16yo.”  The presentation is very personal, and is a great choice by the publisher.

Bummer Points:  None with the book.  Now, if I could only muster up  the courage to ask her to be my big sister.

Stacie’s Recommendation: Check out this one.

Sending up the white flag

help

Grant proposals.

2017 budgets.

The WIP.

The TBR pile.

Lourey/Baker

Against what might have been our better judgement, we turned the blog over today to Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker. When we wrote the post title, “Lourey/Baker” it’s supposed to make you think of “Frost/Nixon,” a serious piece of journalistic storytelling. What it really looks like is we got stuck. 

Thank you to Bethany and Stacie for hosting us! Word Nerds is our kind of people: book lovers with a sense of humor. Shannon Baker and I, Jess Lourey, are on a blog tour that we’re calling The Lourey Baker Double Booked Blog Tour (you don’t want to hear the names we rejected) in honor of our upcoming new releases, which serendipitously are both out September 6, with both available for pre-order now.

Shannon’s is Stripped Bare. It’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife and is about a woman sheriff in the Nebraska Sandhills. Shannon also writes the Nora Abbott mysteries; if you like Tony Hillermann’s books, you’ll love these. My new release is Salem’s Cipher, a breakneck thriller about a race to save the first viable U.S. female presidential candidate from assassination. I also write the Lefty-nominated humorous Murder-by-Month Mysteries.

Today, Shannon and I are going to interview each other and close with a writing tip.

Here’s an interview question I’ve been dying to ask you on this entire blog tour, Shannon. You live in Arizona now, right? I heard that you guys don’t do daylight savings time there. My question: is it, like, four years ago there?

Shannon: Yes, Jess. Arizona is the land time forgot. The time change issue is awesome but did you know, you can take a gun into the bar here? Just sitting there on your hip as you belly up.

Shannon…Shannon. tell me your publication story with Stripped Bare. You sold that book differently than the Nora Abbott books, right?

Shannon: Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink, bless her heart, bought the Nora Abbott books from me with no agent. She’s a super friend with lots of book successes to her credit, but sometimes she shows a lack of good sense. I’m joking, of course. The Nora books are really good, as people would know if they’d ever bother to read them. Seriously though, I went in a new direction with the Kate Fox series and pedaled out to find an agent. After less than a dozen queries, Marlene Springer nabbed it and in three months Forge bought it at auction. So yeah, a little different journey.

Jess here. Shannon, you’ve worked so hard, and I’m so happy for successes and only the tiniest bit jealous. Tiny bit, so tiny it’s really more of a freckle that I’m going to have burned off next time I visit the doctor. I’m on my fourth agent (she’s awesome!), and the first book she’s sold for me is Salem’s Cipher. Midnight Ink, who also publishes my Murder-by-Month mysteries, bought my thriller. That’s great because it means I get to work with one of my best friends again, acquisitions editor Terri Bischoff, and also that I have a little more editorial license with the book.

Shannon’s aside: Isn’t it great we both mentioned Terri Bischoff? She’s an amazing editor and great friend.

Jess: Yes! One of the best gifts of this life is that I get to call Terri a friend. Shannon, what do you think of your cover for Stripped Bare? Did you have any say in it? (And Bethany, does Stripped Bare qualify for the Word Nerds September 2016 book challenge of reading a book with a blue cover, or is that pushing it?) WN here… Sure! Why not! We love blue! 

Shannon: Of course it qualifies. It’s blue. Lots of blue. Sky and all. Blue. Honestly, when I got the cover (and no, I had no say) I was taken aback. Aback, I say. I thought it looked, well, way more women’s fiction-y than I think of Kate Fox. But it’s had really great response and I do like it. When I asked about it, my editor pointed out that early readers remarked about the great characters and compelling setting, so Forge went after a cover that reflects that. The artist really caught the feel of the Sandhills. I totally love your cover, Jess. What’s the story behind that?

Jess again. For Salem’s Cipher, I got to see three mock-up covers. The publisher let me choose the one I liked the best, although it had a random pioneer woman on the cover originally. I asked if we could switch out for the photo of Emily Dickinson instead because clues Dickinson encrypted a century earlier figure in heavily in the book. It turns out only one verified photo of Dickinson exists—the one that appears on the cover, and in every poetry anthology ever—and it is in the public domain, so we were able to use it! The church in the upper background is an actual photo of the Salem, Massachusetts Witch Museum, which plays a big part in the novel. The title’s font looks like gorgeous dripping blood in real life, and there is a secret code encrypted on the cover that will lead smart readers to a prize. I am such a fan of the cover!

Shannon, let’s close with a writing tip. Do you have any recommendations for prepublished writers?

Shannon: My writing tip is to know when to quit. I don’t mean on writing in general, but on a book that you’ve become obsessed with. I worked on a manuscript for 10 years, always rewriting when I leaned something new. By the time I finally sold it to a nanopress (it should never have been published) it was a homogenized mess. I should have gone on to different projects, different stories, always learning and improving. This is not to say you shouldn’t edit the bejeezes out of your work, just figure out when enough is enough.

Jess here. I’ve got “finding an agent” advice (http://jessicalourey.com/bio#pub) on my website, but my best advice is to realize that ever writer goes through a stage where s/he is POSITIVE whatever s/he’s working on is the worst piece of crap ever put to paper. Write yourself through that. The good stuff is just on the other side. Also, we spell it bejesus in Minnesota, but we also move our clocks forward and then back.

Share a writing tip, ask us a question, or leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Salem’s Cipher or Stripped Bare, shipped to your home.

To sweeten the pot a little:

If you order Salem’s Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to salemscipher@gmail.com to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner’s home!

If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to katefoxstrippedbare@gmail.com to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.

If you preorder both, you’re welcome to enter both contests.

The laughs just keep on coming as we put the pedal to the metal and zoom over to 7 Criminal Minds tomorrow where we gossip about writers conferences.

Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at http://www.jessicalourey.com, or find Jess on Facebook or Twitter.

Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes of Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. The first in the Kate Fox Mystery Series, Stripped Bare will release in hardcover September 2016.  Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com

 

New to the House

Last weekend, I plunged into adopting a cat from the Oshkosh Area Humane Society. I’ve been thinking about it since January / February of this year, committed to a change in March that made me figure out when it made sense to adopt. The circumstances started with a change in activity level with my resident cat, and my desire to have him play with a feline companion, rather than me. (His idea of playing includes pouncing on me from hiding spots, usually as I’m walking up the steps in my house. Ankles are his favorite.)

The Oshkosh Area Humane Society was my first choice for adopting a cat. They have a great program with committed volunteers and staff. I’ve heard wonderful things about them over the years I’ve lived in Oshkosh, and I wanted one of their pets.

On August 13th, I went to their facility to look around, ask questions about adoption requirements, acclimating my current cat, and in general, find out the stuff I needed to know in order to adopt a cat.

I planned on getting a cat with interesting colors or markings. I found this guy whose boasts of tiger stripes, and after spending some time with him in his room, felt that his personality would match my current cat. My cat pair are named Lucky (the Black Cat, born on Halloween) and Jynx (the Striped Cat, born about a year earlier). My boys are delighted because we have a panther and a tiger living with us now. The 13yo boy also thinks that if we get one more cat, it’s name should be Charms. (Note: Under strong advise from my fellow Word Nerd, I would need another adult living in the house, otherwise I’ve slipped into an adult to cat ratio that places me in the crazy cat lady realm. Two cats is the max, I say.)

The first couple of days have been really good. They’ve had supervised play as Jynx acclimated to the house quickly. They have started figuring out who has what territory in the house. They figured out how to be in the same room together (most of the time.)  Overall, Jynx has been a good addition to the household.

Mercury Monday

mercury monday

Science facts, my friends. Science facts.

Holiday Scheduling

I’m a little odd about holidays. I’m really against the consumerism that is produced by many of the traditional holidays, and frustrated by expectations associated with some of them.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m saying “no” more often than I ever have been. This includes the types of things I will and will not celebrate going forward. I love the idea of picking out a holiday or two that enhances my life.

With that, there have been 3(!) celebrations in August that I need to add to my life, rather than being surprised by them at the last minute.

  • National Coloring Book Day: Occurs on August 2. I’m pretty good about coloring every few days, however, this one needs some vacation time from work, along with new pencils or a new book. Then a coloring spot and a full day for coloring. I can see throwing a coloring party too. Oh, the possibilities!
  • National S’mores Day: Occurs on August 10. Celebrating with a bon fire, friends and some s’mores sounds like the perfect tradition to add to my annual holiday celebrations.
  • National Book Lover’s Day: Occurs on August 9. While I like this one tremendously, I’m not sure it’s making the celebrating list. I’m a heavy library user. Perhaps I should make it a day to purge books and share the love by filling up my local little libraries.

Traditional holidays that I’m keeping:

  • Christmas, minus the consumerism
  • Birthdays for friends and family members
  • Thanksgiving
  • Anniversaries of significant life events

There’s a website devoted to the concept of Celebrating Every Day in some way. If you have the stamina, check out National Day Calendar.  I can see using this as a way to break the “boredom” that happens at my house. Need something to do, but nothing sound fun? Check out what the day offers to celebrate and figure out an activity that encompasses that. Think of the silliness!

Book Banter: Peter and the Starcatchers

starcatcherTruth, I was ready to start this post and then remembered that I’d read it already, and probably Book Bantered in in the past. Lo and behold: Here’s my post from 2005 (!) when Word Nerds was a solo act.

My review from eleven years ago (wow, also, I’ve been doing this that long???) stands pretty much as is. This time, I listened to this book, as read by the exceptionally talented Jim Dale. I didn’t notice Peter’s disappearance from the ending chapters quite as much as in print.

While Jim Dale is a MASTER at voices, it seems like he has one set. It was a little distracting that when I heard certain voices, I instantly thought, “Oh, Cornelius Fudge!” or “Oh! Remus Lupin!” and had to learn who that voice was for this series.

If you’re headed on a car trip with slightly older kids, I’d highly recommend this as an audiobook pick.

Book Psych

fiction psych

Oh gosh, imagine how hard talking to people would be if I didn’t read books all the time.

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