Tag Archives: book recommendation

A Year of Reading: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

It seems love is in the air, as the theme of February’s A Year of Reading book challenge was romance. I am not normally a reader of romance books, so I went with the nonfiction recommendation, Modern Romance, by comedian Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg.

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Ansari was curious about the dynamics of falling in love and relationships in the modern age. Were things easier before so much technology? How have dating websites changed the name of the game?

Whether you’re single, dating, or married, this book has plenty of interesting viewpoints on love. The authors (Ansari and Klinenberg) conducted focus groups around the world and spoke to leading sociologists, anthropologists, and economists.

Even with all that research, it’s a fast read. It’s not as in depth as you might want it to be or think it would be from its premise, but it does touch on multiple reasons why we date the way we do.

One thing I found interesting was the impact geography had on love. I’m a bridge Gen X/Gen Y baby, so for my peers, we’re on the cuff of cyber-dating’s rise. I have lots of friends who married someone they met online. For our grandparents, that didn’t exist. Most couples met and married someone that grew up in their neighborhood, many times in the same apartment building! The notion of e-meeting someone across the country and long distance dating, or the willingness to relocate based on a connection with someone they met online, is pretty new.

Texting is big in this book. The art of the text, and even the sext, is well examined by Ansari, who in his stand up, shared examples of text conversations he had with women he liked. They’re often nerdy and humorous. He would also call others up on stage to share confusing text messages they’d received from potential partners. If you’re fascinated by reading the meaning between the lines, dissecting the denotation between phonetic spelling and emojis, and just plain curious about some of the texts you’ve received, you will laugh your butt off in these chapters. But probably learn something too.

My most favorite A-Ha! moment from the book was this: The idea of the soulmate is a relatively newer trending ideal. For our grandparents, they selected individuals who would be good partners. And that partnership was most commonly about work duties. For example, if you were a farmer, you needed a partner who could weather long days, hard work, planning ahead for the seasons, money pinching, etc. Among all the elderly couples Ansari and Klinenberg interviewed, this was a reoccurring statement. Courtships were shorter, both people knew their roles, and love came later, over time. (Note* I’m simplifying this a bit, as the book does cover an example of discriminatory gender roles and an abusive marriage. I think that bears mentioning as it’s still an all too real issue today.)

Couples today are much more likely to say they’re looking for their “soulmate”. We want a partner that “completes us,” we want them to understand, know, and accept us like no one else on earth can, we want intimacy, AND we also want a partner to work with – they need to pay their share of the bills, keep the house clean, raise the kids, fix dinner, etc.

We’re asking a lot.

That hit me. Maybe because I’m a language nerd and the emotions and needs tied to the language we use for our partners is powerful. We want them to be EVERYTHING for us. Of course I think all unions should have partnership and love to be happy. But now, I understand why that feels so stressful to maintain.

We want our partner to be the person we tell our secrets to and we want them to take the damn trash out already! It is really, truly, and undeniably hard for one person to fill every single role all the time. They are bound to fail. We fail. We’re all only human.

That’s one idea why relationships today appear to struggle more than the “good old days” when “things were simpler.” And it did make me more appreciative of my partner and all that we do provide for each other.

Don’t take my word for it! Listen to Ansari himself, in this fabulous mockumentary dating vid about the book!

Aside – I need to watch the movie Singles like right now thanks to this clip. Seriously, remember that movie? When Sheila Kelley makes her singles dating video that looks like she’s flying over the city and invites guys to “Come to Debbie Country.” 

Anyway…

What are your thoughts?
What do you think of modern romance?

Ever watched Singles? It’s so good. 

 

 

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Insurgent: When Reading Interferes With All Your Other Plans

I’m one book into my 2015 To Be Read Pile Challenge already. I finished reading book 2 of the Divergent series, Insurgent, by Veronica Roth.

And I can’t wait to pick up the 3rd book, Allegiant. Alas, I’ll have to because I borrowed all these books from my sister and she hasn’t finished reading it yet.

Insurgent is the continuing tale of a dystopian society that has had its infrastructure broken apart. War is on the verge.

In Divergent, we learn about Beatrice “Tris” Prior, a sixteen year old girl born into the Abnegation faction. There are five factions in the world she lives in. Abnegation – the selfless. Amity – the peacemakers. Candor – the honest. Erudite – the scholars. And Dauntless – the brave.

Every year, the sixteen year olds attend the choosing ceremony, where they select the faction they will belong to the rest of their lives. Beatrice has a duty to her family to uphold her abnegation birthright. But Beatrice doesn’t choose abnegation.

She chooses Dauntless. And that’s not all that’s unique about Beatrice.

She is also Divergent – a person who doesn’t belong to any one faction, but has aptitude for multiple ones. They can’t be controlled, and they are viewed as threats.

*****

This is why I stayed up late at night and read all morning on the weekends. Why I’ve got barely any writing done. Why I missed mealtimes. And why I didn’t bother to shower every day.

I was too busy reading Insurgent.

I was totally hooked. Someone get me a copy of Allegiant STAT!

Even my Instagram account is being taken over by Divergent and Insurgent…

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What am I going to do in the meantime???

Have you ever been this hooked on a series?
Have you read any of the Divergent books?
What should I read in the meantime???

 

 

What I’ve Been Reading About – Sex, Lies, and Murder

Hey Dudes and Dudettes,

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about my progress with the To Be Read Pile Challenge, so I thought I’d better “update my status.” You see I’ve been reading a lot about relationships lately, so I have three titles of love advice for anyone to enjoy.

And as a refresher, if you’re unfamiliar with the TBR Pile Challenge, it’s a reading contest hosted by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader. The goal is to complete in 12 months time 12 books that have been sitting on your bookshelf for a year or more. You know the ones, they linger in the ever-looming “to be read” pile. At nine months in, I’m just two books away from completing the challenge this year. Holla!

What have I recently crossed off my list?

TBR book collageBonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Roach - BonkLittle known fact about me, or maybe it’s no secret, I love learning about sex and sexuality. I minored – and only because it wasn’t offered as a major at the time – in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I’m passionate about women’s issues and rights, and I’m thrilled to be working at a reproductive health clinic in my town. Reading about the history and science of sex research was right up my alley.

The author, Mary Roach, is quite possibly the queen of nonfiction exposition on risque topics. Her other books dive into the worlds of human cadavers, the digestive track, and what happens when we die. For Bonk, the woman volunteered herself and her husband to be lab rats for sex research on orgasms. That’s dedication.

In Bonk, not only will you learn about the doctors and scientists behind the “G-spot,” the infamous Kinsey “attic sessions,” or just how artificial insemination happens in a pig, but so much more!

The American Heiress

american heiressAlright, let’s tame things down a bit. For all you Downton Abbey diehards and regency era wannabees, I suggest you give Daisy Goodwin’s The American Heiress a try. My book club read this one and it was well enjoyed.

Cora Cash is an American debutante. She is wealthy, beautiful, and definitely high society. Her mother, opinionated at her core, has high plans of wedding her daughter to an English Duke, which would grant Cora the one thing she doesn’t have…a title.

It won’t surprise readers to learn that Cora is soon wed in the novel, however can Cora’s marriage last when she comes from a different world than her husband? So many unknowns!

Escape on a whirlwind love affair in Europe, walk the halls of the great English mansions, and go galloping with the finest – or are they – members of society.

Rebecca

rebeccaBy and far one of my favorite reads this year! I can’t believe I didn’t read it sooner! After all, the film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock is tied for first place (with North by Northwest) as my favorite film of his.

Be very aware, young lovers, when falling head over heels into this tale. A young woman of unfortunate circumstance believes her luck has turned around when she meets and marries millionaire, Maxim De Winter, owner of the luscious estate, Manderley. But all is not well inside these walls. The great rooms of the house, the garden with its roses, and the forgotten cottage down by the beach – they are all haunted by Rebecca – the first Mrs. De Winter.

A shocking truth brings the honeymoon to a miserable end in this chilling story by Daphne Du Maurier. I can’t tell you what happens, just read it for yourself!

*****

What have you been reading? Are you participating in the TBR Pile Challenge? How’s it going? Got any recommendations for me?

 

 

 

Write Strong Women and Marry Your Best Friend: An Interview About Romance With Author Roni Loren

As part of my To Be Read Challenge, I included a (signed – squeee!) copy of Crash Into You by erotic romance author, Roni Loren (@RoniLoren). I met Roni at DFWcon 3 years ago and have attended her sessions on writing realistic romance scenes. She is fabulous.

So are her books.

*****

Crash Into You

Sometimes the past can bring you to your knees…

Brynn LeBreck has dedicated herself to helping women in crisis, but she never imagined how personal her work would get, or where it would take her. Her younger sister is missing, suspected to be hiding from cops and criminals alike at a highly secretive BDSM retreat—a place where the elite escape to play out their most extreme sexual fantasies. To find her Brynn must go undercover as a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, The Ranch is invitation only. And the one Master who can get her in is from the darkest corner of Brynn’s past…

 

 I am very pleased to welcome Roni to the Happiness Project!

*****

Describe yourself in three words.

Perfectionistic, Introverted, Curious

What drew you to writing erotica? What do you love about your genre?

It was a genre I loved to read, of course. But I was really drawn to the fact that it had very few boundaries. Like I could write suspense in my story but it didn’t have to fit the restrictions of a romantic suspense. And it could be contemporary but the romance didn’t have to be light and airy. All I needed to make sure I had was a happy ending and a lot of steam (which is fun to write.) So it allows for a lot of freedom in my stories, which makes my muse happy. 🙂

I write nonfiction about my family and they all want pseudonyms. 😉 How did your friends and family respond when your first book came out?
I’ve been lucky. My family is hugely supportive and not hung up on the fact that I write the sexy stuff. My mom even reads my books (even when I told her not to, lol) and tells her friends to buy my books. I don’t hide what I write from anyone because I’m not ashamed of it. If they ask, I’ll tell them. Though, people are usually surprised when they find out because I’m the quiet, mom-next-door type. I think some people expect erotic writers to fit some outrageous image. But the people writing it (and reading it!) are every day women (and men, for that matter.)

That’s awesome! What are you reading right now?

I just finished Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland because I’m a pantser with plotter envy (and am obsessed with writing craft books.) But fiction wise, I’m reading Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (YA Steampunk Paranormal) and rereading The Shining by Stephen King.

Oooh, nice picks!
Settled in for the night after conferencing, reading Roni's book

Settled in for the night after conferencing, reading Roni’s book

I read Fifty Shades of Gray, and hated it. The main character is pretty flat – quite literally, actually, she’s tied down and having sex so much. Your lead female in Crash Into You (Brynn) is really 3-dimensional. Her mother works in the sex industry, Brynn is a sexual assault survivor, she works in a social work setting with other domestic violence victims, and she struggles to claim her own sexual identity despite her past. In what ways do you think Brynn is a champion for women, and what do you think are her shortcomings?

It’s important to me to write really strong women, particularly because of the power dynamic I use between the hero and heroine. In Brynn’s case, I wanted to show how tough and smart she is because even though she has this urge to be sexually submissive in the bedroom, she’s an independent, brave woman in her every day life. She’s driven to help others, and ultimately, she learns to help herself. The theme in all my books usually comes back to healing and self-acceptance, so I think Brynn is a prime example of that. No one fixes her problems for her. She has to learn to move through her fear, heal, and then embrace who she is.

I’m getting married in 2 months. What’s your advice for keeping the passion alive?

Yay, congrats! 🙂 I’ve been married for almost 13 years, and it still feels like we just got married (so I guess that’s good!)

 

That’s wonderful! Congrats to you, lovebirds!

 

I think the key is to marry someone you have a deep friendship with, who gets you, and who makes you laugh. That takes care of a lot of things. But with keeping the passion alive specifically, I think it’s important to develop a level of trust that you literally can talk about anything (including fantasies, likes/dislikes, etc.) with no judgment or expectations, so that you can keep things fresh. When I hear that some husbands don’t like their wives reading romance novels, I want to bonk them on the head because—hello, that’s just going to give her new ideas of what she wants to do with/to you, lol. Buy her stacks!

 

Great advice! I know you love to watch Reality TV, what are your guilty pleasures right now?

 

I just finished American Idol, of which I’m a faithful follower. And now I am so ready for Big Brother. It’s the one reality show that I can convince myself I’d have a shot at winning (ha!) unlike shows like Survivor or Amazing Race where I’d last 3.2 seconds. But there’s something about watching all those intricate human dynamics that I can’t look away from.

 

If you could host a Romance Award ceremony, who would you bestow a trophy to for the following:

 

Hottest Big Screen Actor: Oh, so many. Bradley Cooper is always a fave. And recently I’ve developed a crush on Jimmy Fallon (though, not technically a big screen actor) because funny is hot.
Best Couples Getaway: I like cold places since I live in TX, so a mountain cabin in Lake Tahoe maybe.
Most Decadent Dessert: Cheesecake

Sexiest Thing About Women: Our brains.

What’s next for you? What can readers watch out for?

In August, I’m releasing a novella called BLURRING THE LINES that is separate from my Berkley series. It will be sexy contemporary romance with a paranormal twist and is part of a multi-author continuity series called Invitation to Eden. (I’m thinking of it like the show Lost but with more sex and happily ever afters, lol.) Then in September I’m releasing a novella, FOREVER STARTS TONIGHT, and in November, my serial novel, NOT UNTIL YOU, is being put into an omnibus edition. So lots of things coming up! (In other news, I won’t be sleeping until next February, lol.)

We’ll be watching! Thanks Roni for joining us. Always a pleasure learning from you and I love your advice (and characters) about being strong, independent women with PASSION!

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Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son.

If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars, er, rock concerts. Yeah, that’s it. She is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of The Loving on the Edge series from Berkley Heat. Website: www.roniloren.com

*****

E-BOOK GIVEAWAY!!!

One lucky commenter will be receiving an e-copy (Nook or Kindle U.S.)
of Roni’s book Still Into You!

Random drawing will be held on Wednesday @ 5pm CST,
winner announced on Thursday’s blog!

The Art of Eating Rice Cake, Or Mistakes Made While Traveling Abroad

I’m a little over halfway in my To Be Read Pile Challenge. Which is saying a lot since last year, I think I only finished 4 books? This year I was more strategic with what I planned to read. I made my list a mix of humor books, book club books, and ones that have sat on my bookshelf too long.

My 2014 To Be Read Pile

  1. How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley
  2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  3. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
  4. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
  5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  7. Crash Into You by Roni Loren
  8. She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel
  9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  10. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  11. Bonk by Mary Roach
  12. The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

I have some reviews to get up here yet, but I’ve finished reading 8 books already!

One of my favorite authors to read is David Sedaris, and I recently finished When You Are Engulfed in Flames on audiobook, which in my opinion, is the BEST way to read a Sedaris book. He has the greatest voice and often reads his work aloud – even drafts – which I think is fascinating. He is then able to tell his agent what lines got the biggest laughs by the audience. Very cool.

In this book, Sedaris talks a lot about living abroad and his relationship with his partner, Hugh, as well as the eclectic group of neighbors they’ve had over the years.

Over the course of their lives together, David and Hugh have lived in New York, France, and Japan. When I visited my friend Amy in South Korea, I spent hours practicing basic Korean phrases out of a language book I’d checked out from the library, only to arrive and find out I’d memorized them with the totally wrong pronunciation. Certain consonants sound very different in the Korean alphabet than they do in English. The letter ‘G’ for example, often takes on the sound of a ‘K’ in Korean.

I greatly sympathized and heartily laughed while reading David’s recount of being the dumbest kid in Japanese class. I loved that his teachers were still kind and encouraging to him, patting him on the head for being the dunce that he was, surrounded by a class much younger than he.

One day I was shopping in Insadong Market by myself and I stopped in a beautiful second floor tea shop to journal about my trip and watch the crowds of people traverse the street market below. I ordered a Green Tea Latte and what I thought was a delicious pastry of fried dough with cinnamon and sugar inside. Amy and her boyfriend, Lin, had bought one for me earlier in the week and it was a yummy treat.

100_2000I thought THIS is what I ordered.

Instead, what appeared on a plate before me was what I would describe as a melted patty of rice cake. Now, to be quite clear, rice cake is NOT cake. And it’s consistency is pretty chewy even at room temperature. The tea shop attendant also gave me the tiniest fork I had ever seen.

Not wanting to be rude, I picked up the fork made for fairies and tried to cut a piece of the rice cake off. It was so gooey, I ended up wrapping it around my fork like a spaghetti noodle, making giant rolling waves with my arm. It just kept winding…and winding!

Once inside my mouth, the rice cake coated my teeth so that my jaw was sealed tight by this taffy-like food. I ate about half of…whatever it was I ordered. When I later described the food to Amy and Lin, neither one had a clue.

Much like David Sedaris, I live life in an experimental manner, a sort of “well, this is what I said I  wanted so best to make everyone think I’m an expert at eating it.” But as the rice cake cooled, it stuck to the plate and I had to use my fairy fork to drag the stuff across it and wind it still. There was no grace or expertise about it.

I highly recommend David Sedaris’s book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. It is a fantastic read for anyone who adores humor books and for lovers of wanderlust everywhere. The best part about travel is that you accept adventures. You could end up like David, sitting in a French hospital waiting room – naked. Or you might just accidentally order rice cake. 😉

*****

Thanks to all who left loving comments for my friend, Cat, last week. Your encouragement warms our spirits.

Now how about you? What are your favorite funny books or travel moments?

 

 

She Got Up Off the Couch: A Seriously Funny Read

I just finished reading Haven Kimmel’s book, She Got Up Off the Couch, which was part of my To Be Read Pile Challenge list.

I was first introduced to Haven Kimmel’s books by a local librarian at a book club discussion about memoirs. I immediately read her bestselling memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, and it’s quite possibly one of my favorite books ever.

Ever.

In one of my FAVORITE parts, Haven (Zippy) believes her family when they tell her she was born in a gypsy tribe and found abandoned in a wagon. Also, she had a tail. For weeks, she rides around town on her bike believing she is the renegade daughter of nomadic gypsies and that her adoptive family had her tail surgically removed.

This is just genius.

In She Got Up Off the Couch, Haven’s story continues, growing up in the small town of Mooreland, Indiana. The person who gets up off the couch, is her mother, Delonda Jarvis. Haven is pretty open about the fact that her family was a bit broken, though she didn’t know it at the time. Her mother spent all hours on the couch reading books or talking on the phone, until one day, she decided to go to college.

The thing is, Delonda didn’t know how to drive. So she bummed rides to the neighboring town for awhile before buying a cheap, rundown Volkswagon and learned to drive it. She graduated with a degree in English and went on to become a teacher. But the story of how she got there and how this shift in the routine impacted the Jarvis family is a page turner.

Here’s a quote about her mother:

“She had done all these things and she was going to graduate summa cum laude, which meant Good But Loud, from the Honors College, and she had done it all in twenty-three months. It takes some people more time to hang a curtain.” She Got Up Off the Couch

While the title of Haven’s book refers to her mother, it is just as much Haven’s story too. She grew up in a Quaker home, and went on to attend Seminary School, where she ended up writing her first memoir, Zippy. In this second glimpse, we meet Haven when she’s entering her early teen years. Her older siblings have moved out of the house, leaving her and her estranged parents to deal with another.

Her natural curiosity makes her a loveable character. Haven is a girl who never wears shoes, or skirts, and occasionally puts rocks in her mouth – cause she likes the way they taste. Her father is a charismatic factory worker who doesn’t work in a factory, and her mother is about to turn their worlds upside down. This is a coming of age story for all three family members, and right or wrong, each is going to make drastic changes and question everything they knew to be true before.

Author Haven Kimmel

Looking for something to read? Definitely pick up one of Haven Kimmel’s books. I’ve purchased multiple copies of A Girl Named Zippy as gifts for friends and family. It is that good.

Happy reading!
What book(s) have you recently finished that you loved?

Interview & Book Giveaway w/ Amber West

Today I’m thrilled to welcome A Day Without Sushi blogger and author of The Ruth Valley Missing, Amber West to the Happiness Project!

*applause, applause ~ cheering crowds*

Amber is here to answer some really important questions on the meaning of life* and whether dogs or cats make better pets.

Note* ~ Amber will not really define what the meaning of life is. The owner of this publication sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience.

Bonus!! One lucky commenter on this post will win a FREE copy of Amber’s book, The Ruth Valley Missing, along with a cd playlist of music that inspired the story!

Share this post via Twitter or Facebook and receive a bonus entry in the drawing! Winner announced on Friday, December 13, 2013!

AmberWest-TheRuthValleyMissing-200x300 Click here to read about The Ruth Valley Missing!

Jameson Quinn is sick of trying to find herself in the big city. After a gallery opening ends in a trip to the ER and an argument with her self-involved boyfriend, she decides to take off for the peace and quiet of a small town — Ruth Valley.

The small town has everything Brooklyn lacked: simple people, peaceful surroundings, and a feeling of safety. Jameson even finds the perfect house to rent from the town’s most eligible bachelor, Sheriff Jack. Life is finally headed in a promising direction.

But something isn’t right. A young man is mysteriously injured, then disappears — and Jameson finds he isn’t the only person to suddenly vanish. The suspicious behavior of an abrasive nun and a creepy priest set her off on an investigation of what’s really happening. Will she figure out the secrets of Ruth Valley before she’s the next to go missing?

Take it away, Amber!

*****

Getting to Know You:

1.     Share three words that describe you. 

Loyal, generous, weird.

2.     Share three words you wish described you. 

Confident, comfortable, organized.

Pick a book.AWest Quote3.     What is your favorite book?

It’s actually a play, but being that it’s a book on my shelf that I’ve read more than any other, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is at least worthy of a mention. When my husband and I were dating, he gave me the book Myst (yes, like the computer game) and I actually really loved the story.

Having said that, I’m not very good at picking a favorite book. It’s like asking me to choose a favorite food – there’s so many factors involved. What’s my mood? What am I craving?

4.     What are you most grateful for today?

Family. I happen to be fortunate enough to be close to my parents and several of my siblings, which means always having people in your life you can rely on.

5.     If you could live in any time period, what one would you pick and why?

So, I’m going to totally cheat here and say that I would just travel with the Doctor in his TARDIS. Then I don’t have to choose! I can just travel anywhere I want to go.

The trouble with choosing a time in the past is that, being a woman, there’s so much I could end up giving up. And then I feel like I’d have to specify, “well, I’d live in time period X, but only if I was wealthy and married to a man of status who also happens to be a nice dude who loves me”.

That’s kinda boring. The Doctor it is.

6.     Favorite social media hangout?

I flip between Twitter (@amberwest) and Facebook the most. Facebook is where more of my family and friends I’ve had from before social media are, and it lends itself to more lengthy group discussions (like the most recent thread I’ve got going there that has 170+ comments). However, I love interacting with people I’ve met on Twitter. It’s a faster pace there, and clever (at least, the people I interact with are).

About Your Book:

1.  Tell us about your book in one sentence.

It’s mystery and silly banter and a touch of romance all rolled into one.

Absolutely Horrible.AWest.Quote2.  The Ruth Valley Missing has a big twist in it. What are your favorite books or films that shock you at the end?

Is it absolutely horrible that I can’t remember the last time a movie or book shocked me with a twist? I tend to figure things out way ahead of time. Having said that, the show Scandal has surprised me in its ability to throw out some shockers in the story.

3.  Is there a real Ruth Valley? What inspired you to set the story there?

Ruth Valley is definitely fictional. The town feel is very much meant to be like a small town in North Carolina, but it’s a made up town.

I set it in in NC for a few reasons. As you know, there is a Catholic church in the small town. Small town North Carolina isn’t exactly where you’d find a dominant Catholic population. I wanted to separate this little church community from the larger religious group, so intentionally putting them somewhere out of the way, and realistically out of place accomplished that.

From my experiences in various small towns in North Carolina, I knew I wanted to set the story in a sort of amalgam of various places I had been there – places where the community is tight knit, charming, but also a bit odd for someone used to the city.

4.   What actors would you cast to play the lead roles of your book?    

Dylan – Ryan Gosling. It’s a small role, but he was the type of guy I pictured when I started writing him. It should be noted that I don’t have the same love for Gosling that created the “Hey Girl” meme. Ha.

Father Mike – Kyle Chandler. This may have something to do with watching a lot of Friday Night Lights when I was working on the book.

Jack – I personally went with Nathan Fillion for this one. If you’ve seen his role in Waitress, think more that than his current Castle role. I’ve had a few readers recommend Blake Shelton. I’m not a country music girl, but I can see the appeal.

Jameson – Ruth Wilson, more for her look than her voice, considering she’s a British actress. She does seem to be good at quirk, though, so if we can just get her some American accent lessons…

Sister Marjorie – Susan Sarandon. I don’t remember how she came to mind for the role, but once I thought of it, I couldn’t see anyone else.

5.    What’s next for you? Can we expect another thriller?

It’s funny. I never set out to write a thriller or mystery. I’m a dialogue junkie, so I think in a way I’m probably more of a women’s fic writer at heart. But, this story just sort of developed from my first NaNoWriMo attempt and I found I just had to finish it. While I never thought of writing mysteries or thrillers, I find I like having that extra something as part of a plot. (And I should give a huge shout out to Jen Kirchner and Tiffany White, writers who told me that I had a story worth finishing and publishing – writers encouraging writers are the best!)

I have three different books I’ve been working on, all with a substantial amount of words written, but I think the one I’ll focus on finishing next is a follow up to Ruth Valley Missing. While RVM definitely works as a standalone, I wrote the ending somewhat open, mostly because I like open endings.

The response to the book has been overwhelming – beyond anything I ever expected. (I mean, Stephen Colbert hasn’t called to give me The Colbert Bump or anything, but it’s been good.) Among the many responses I’ve received from readers is the desire for more Jameson, as well as some other characters, so I have been working on a story that gives everyone more of what they want: banter, and Jameson stumbling into mysterious situations she can’t help but stick her nose in.

About Life in General:

1.   Dogs or cats? Coffee or Tea? Book or Kindle?

I have both, but I am more of a dog person. If I had a large piece of land and the funds, I’d be adopting dogs left and right. (I’m a total supporter for adopting from shelters – so many dogs need homes! Always check shelters when considering adding a new pet to your family.)

Tea v Coffee? At the moment, tea over coffee, since I’m pregnant. I love a good cup of coffee, but if I had to be tied to one, I think I would still choose tea. There’s greater variety!

Book or Kindle? The traditional girl in me so badly wants to say “book”. But, the mother of an active four year old with one on the way yelps “kindle!” (or more accurately, kindle app on the ipad). The only way I get any reading done nowadays is when the lights are out and the kid is asleep, so the Kindle app is the way to go.

2.     Best parenting tip?

On Parenting.AWest.QuoteYikes. I so don’t feel qualified. I guess I’d just say, be informed, then follow your instincts and enjoy your kid. There is so much pressure now, I think even more than in my parent’s era, to create the perfect child. So many benchmarks to be met, so much comparing, so much fighting over what you should and shouldn’t do.

I feel like the areas where we’ve made great progress with our kid have been from following our instincts (I read a ton, so those instincts are informed, mind you), and just enjoying being with our kid.

3.     What’s worth watching on TV these days?

I watch everything online via Hulu, Netflix, and so on, so I’m sure there are shows I’d leave out strictly due to accessibility. Having said that, among the newest shows, Blacklist is one that’s really pulled me in. I just cannot resist a show with James Spader in it.

Not on your TV, but worth checking out on Hulu, is The Wrong Mans. It’s a British show that follows two guys who get caught up in this whole crime/conspiracy thing. It’s exactly what I love – humor and kind of regular people caught up in a crazy story. And it’s only six episodes, so it’s worth taking the time to check it out.

4.     Favorite piece of advice you’ve received?

I think I’ll share some advice that I found particularly encouraging when it comes to pursuing creative things (though it could be applied to a lot of things). The advice came via Wil Wheaton’s blog, from Shane Nickerson:

“If I’ve learned anything in my shaky life as an artist, it’s that you must stop talking and spinning and whining and start making your thing today. Pick up a camera. Pick up an easel. Open your laptop and turn off your Internet connection while you write. Find a starting point. Ignore the voices. Ignore the critics. Reward yourself for having ideas by valuing them enough to believe in them.

Failure does not exist.”

And then this extra bit from Wil Wheaton:

 “…Failing at one thing does not mean you fail at all things and that’s the end of it. Failing at something can often be the beginning of succeeding at another thing.”

I think the fear of failing, particularly at something we love can be so crippling, so these bits of wisdom have helped me when I get in that “sad writer” rut.

*****

tennantandmecrop_SnapseedAmber West is a Northeastern transplant dodging rodent sized bugs and sweltering heat in the jungles of Central Florida. When she isn’t battling the urge to pass out, she’s busy being a wife, mother, geek, photographer, and writer, in no particular order. You can read her ramblings at http://www.withoutsushi.com or find her on Twitter (@amberwest) where she abuses hashtags and makes people laugh. Or at least, makes herself laugh.

Don’t forget to chat with Amber in the comments below and you could take home your own copy of The Ruth Valley Missing and a correlating cd playlist!

Thanks Amber!

When Reading Becomes Magic

It’s Guilty Pleasures Friday and I think it’s about time we talked books again here on the Happiness Project!  I’ve been a bit slower with my reading progress this year, and feeling underwhelmed by some of the books I’ve started.

Therefore, it was a delightful change of heart when I finished reading Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins the other day.

Hex Hall is the story of Sophie, a teenager who cast a love spell gone wrong (hmm – I may have cast a few of those myself as a teen).  Endangering herself and all magic beings by showing her power in front of humans, Sophie is sentenced to Hecate Hall, or Hex Hall as the students call it.  A little bit Crime and Punishment, Hex Hall is the boarding school for misbehaving witches, faeries, shapeshifters, werewolves, and exactly one vampire – who just happens to be the most hated person at the school, and coincidentally, Sophie’s roommate.

Raised by a human mother, Sophie knows nothing of her magical family’s past, and with flying colors on her first day, manages to piss off the three snootiest teen witches she’ll ever meet.  For Sophie, this is going to be a long year.

I must say at the start of the book, I judged it to be easily “figured out,” and thought the book contained too many similarities to the recent book/film hit, Beautiful Creatures.

I was wrong.

About halfway through the book, I didn’t want to put it down!  Things started getting dangerous!  Students were mysteriously attacked, left with bite marks and no memory!  It seemed like Sophie’s crush, Archer, may be more than what he seems.  And the ghost who was randomly appearing to Sophie, was now giving private magic lessons in a graveyard!  I love cemeteries!

The hardest thing for me to do right now is not give away the amazing jaw dropping twist the end of the book reveals!  I’m dying to tell someone about it, but then why would you read it?

So you have to read it for yourself!

Sometimes, it’s fun to lose yourself in a story, even if it’s another YA paranormal read and you already have too many of those on your bookshelf!

Hex Hall was fun.  And best of all, it was surprising.  And I think more great things will come from the author, who’s completed the Hex Hall trilogy with the sequels, Demonglass and Spellbound.

Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins lives in Alabama and is working on another trilogy series currently.  She taught high school English for 3 years before leaving work to pursue her bigger passion – the book that became Hex Hall.

If you’re interested in learning more about her, I linked to her blog by clicking on her photo.

Give me a shout!  Have you read Hex Hall?  What did you think?  What other books have completely surprised you once you got into them?

And what’s next on your “To Read” list?

The To Be Read Pile’s Final Review: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Did you participate in a book challenge this year?  There are so many fun ones it’s hard to choose, but I completed my first year with the To Be Read Pile Challenge.  It’s a contest to complete 12 books that have been sitting on your shelf for over a year.  The prize for all those who complete their 12 books is a chance for a $50 gift card to Amazon or Book Depository.  Pretty awesome, right?

To learn more about the To Be Read Pile Challenge click the 2013 link above and sign up for next year’s contest!

Part of the qualifier for the contest is to write up a review of each of the 12 books you read.  It can be as elaborate or simple as you like.  Check out my 2012 book list and past reviews at any of these links:

My TBR Pile Challenge Books: 

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  3. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
  4. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  5. Blessings by Anna Quindlen
  6. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  8. The Lace Reader by Bromonia Barry
  9. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
  10. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  11. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund
  12. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, Jane Austen

I have yet to do my final review of the last book, so I present…

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

(goodreads.com)

Geek Love is the story of the Binewski family, a bunch of circus freaks taking their act on the road.

That, and they actually create their act.  Al and Lil Binewski willingly subject themselves to various mixtures of drugs in hopes of birthing the most wonderful freaks and geeks for their family show!  There’s Arturo, the aqua boy.  Iphy and Elly the siamese twins.  Oly, the dwarf hunchback.  And their newest member, Chick, who’s the most special of all.

The story actually jumps around a bit between the family’s early years on the road and where they ended up down the line.

The shining glory of the story is in its bizarre, twisted writing.  It’s strange phrasing of words reminds me of my first encounter with A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Sample the Writing:

Here’s a sample, one of my favorite descriptive paragraphs wherein the father is telling the children about his wife’s glory days in the ring as…the woman who bites heads off of chickens!

She fluttered around like a dainty bird, and when she caught those ugly squawking hens you couldn’t believe she’d actually do anything.  When she went right ahead and geeked ’em that whole larruping crowd went bonzo wild.  There never was such a snap and twist of the wrist, such a vampire flick of the jaws over a neck or such a champagne approach to the blood.  She’d shake her star-white hair and the bitten-off chicken head would skew off into the corner while she dug her rosy little fingernails in and lifted the flopping, jittering carcass like a golden goblet, and sipped!  Absolutely sipped at the wriggling guts!  She was magnificent, a princess, a Cleopatra, an elfin queen!  That was your mama in the geek pit.

It’s quite entrancing really.  I loved the writing.  But, the story did wane a bit for me.  I would’ve been perfectly content reading more stories about them on the road together as youngsters.  As the story unfolded to their later years, and the subsequent demise of the Binewski circle I began to hate many of these characters.

I do think this book would make for a fascinating movie.  And if I were a make up artist/creature creator I’d so want in on the production! Visually, I love the book.

I am a big Goodreads fan and check out other reader reviews on there often.  It seemed most readers were really divided.  Cumulatively, Geek Love holds a solid 4.0 rating out of 5 stars, which is pretty dang high.  But reader response was quite split between full on love and then other 2.0 ratings like myself where it was a lot of I really liked it, but… statements.

Don’t take my word for it, read it yourself!  It’s certainly an interesting premise!  

And 2013 is almost here!  Sign up for the To Be Read Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader.  See you there! 

The Red Tent: A Review of the Retelling of Dinah’s Story

How’s everyone doing on their To Be Read Pile Challenge?  Whether you officially participated in Roof Beam Reader’s challenge or are just picking away at your own pile of books by the nightstand, tell me how you’re doing?  What books are you currently reading and what is left to complete by the end of the year?

I just finished reading two more books on my list, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and now The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  What’s left?

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave is next up!
  • and I have to finish Geek Love by Katherine Dunn – which I stopped halfway through…

The Red Tent

Anita Diamant’s book, The Red Tent, is beautiful and one I wish I’d read a long time ago.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers–Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah–the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4989.The_Red_Tent

I’m a big fan of historical fiction.  I think writing it is a labor of love for the author.  You’re depicting someone’s life, trying to sound like them, make them whole – and all that takes great patience.  Imagine trying to know a character who lived in the time before Christ.

I was drawn to retell the biblical story of Dinah in large part because of her silence.  In Genesis 34, Dinah’s experience is described and characterized by the men in her family, who treat her as a rape victim, which in that historical setting meant that she was irredeemably ruined and degraded.  Because she does not say a word (and because of the extraordinary loving actions taken by her accused assailant), I found it easy to imagine an alternative telling to the story, in which Dinah is not a passive victim but a young woman who makes choices and acts on her own initiative.  Not only did I find it easy, I found it necessary.”

-Anita Diamant (September, 2007)

Growing up a Catholic School girl, our role models in the church were quiet, benevolent women who spent their days soothing others and baking bread.  Of course I think women who exemplify these behaviors are necessary to the humanity of our people, but it cannot be the whole story.

My childhood Bible – the cool one with the pictures in it – told the story of Dinah as a rape victim, an event which led to her humiliation and degradation within the community.  The story goes on to say that her brothers avenged their sister by ransacking and killing almost an entire town.  What Diamant did was give voice to Dinah, and an alternative thought process to the events which happened.

In Diamant’s version, Dinah falls in love with a man, is married even, to this man who is a noble and of great fortune.  It behooves Jacob’s family to separate with their daughter in this advantageous outcome, but it is Dinah’s brothers who fear power greater than their own and convince their father to ask for grotesquely large dowry payments and obscene actions of obedience .  Still not satisfied, the brothers unleash a silent killing spree through the village, leaving Dinah widowed, alone, and in mourning.

That’s really nothing new for Dinah’s brothers, think “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and you’ll recall the cruelties they also inflicted on their brother, Joseph.  Although he gets a lot more written about him in the Bible.  And subsequently a Broadway Musical, which I saw when I was younger, starring Donny Osmond. 

It took Diamant 4 years to write The Red Tent.  Much of her research was on living conditions, types of foods, etc. that would have grown, thereby creating a realistic world for Dinah and her mothers to live in.  Much of women’s history is lost from that time period because it was never written down.  A woman’s worth was portrayed in the bread she baked, the clothing she wore, and the children she gave birth to.

Over the years, The Red Tent has become a book of controversy.  With religious groups on both sides of the spectrum, its readers range from thinking it sacrilegious to a spectacular teaching tool.  The subjects in the book contain historically accurate depictions of plural marriage, religious beliefs, midwifery, famine, social class, genealogy, and gender divides.

I highly recommend this book.  If it’s not in your To Read Pile, add it!  It’s been described as a luminous read by more than one critic, and I think that’s a fitting depiction as the book does shed light on one woman’s story and what might have been.  This is a fantastic book for book clubs or to share with your female friends.  My own book club spent much time discussing the various advancements in medicine, cooking, etc. we’re thankful for after reading about the daily lives of biblical women.  We contemplated what worked and didn’t work in the marriages of these characters, and what it meant to have a woman from the Bible who was portrayed as strong and intelligent.

Since many of you are writers yourselves, I found this clip of the author sharing her best tips for writers too!

What do you think?  Have you read The Red Tent?  What did it mean to you to hear Dinah’s story told in such a different way?  Have any other books had a profound impact on you?

And what’s left in that TBR Pile of yours?  Inquiring minds are always looking for more titles!  😉

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