Books with writers as characters

Have you ever noticed how often the books we read include characters who (or is it that – someone please tell me the rule!) are writers? Some are novelists, poets, journalists or podcasters. Some are based on real-life writers. Many are struggling with their careers. They’ve either made it big and are losing their touch, or they’ve written one successful book, but haven’t written a second. Still others have made it big but struggle with the fame. These characters aren’t always the main part of the story, but many are.

I wonder if I’m just drawn to this kind of book? Here’s a list of what I’ve read:

The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner – children’s author

Less by Andrew Sean Greer – struggling novelist

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – Emily Dickinson

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Ernest Hemingway (nonfiction)

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – novelist

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders – novelists/publishing house

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney – one sibling is a struggling novelist

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – romance novelist who may be losing her touch

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin – journalist/podcaster

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – Ernest Hemingway as he writes The Sun Also Rises

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand – popular mystery writer, past her peak

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – investigative journalist

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – struggling novelist

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – Truman Capote

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg – mystery writer

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple – struggling graphic memoirist

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – travel journalist

Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk – new novelist who makes it big

I’m about to start another one that will make this list: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It’s a hot book this summer and my hold just came in from the library.

Do you like reading books about writers? Can you add any to this list? I may have to read them next!

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Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes
by
Mary Beth Keane

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I very much enjoyed this story about two families in a suburban town outside New York. A tragic event splits them apart and the resulting pain haunts them for decades. The story begins in New York in 1973 as Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope graduate from the police academy. Marriage and children follow and the two families become next door neighbors in the fictional town of Gillam. As the children grow, Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope become best friends and are on the verge of romance until the night that changes the course of both families’ lives.

After that night, Kate and Peter’s families are burdened with trying to move on and many other problems, including hushed family secrets and worries of history repeating itself. Each character wonders if the events could have been altered had they acted differently. They struggle with marriage, parenthood, and the rippling effects of mental illness, alcoholism and sexual abuse. And whether they like it or not, their families will always be interconnected.

What I liked most about this book is the way I got to know the characters and saw how they worked through situations over time, finding their way back to each other. But first, readers see how the families, engaged in daily life, don’t acknowledge their deeper problems until they lead to bigger crises. I also liked Brian’s brother, George, whose quiet resilience and self-knowledge is there for any of them to see, if they would only notice. By the end of the story, I felt like I understood why each acted the way they did.

I don’t want to give anything more away, because family dramas are much more enjoyable if you experience the events as they unfold. And although the families’ problems seem overwhelming, friendship, love, acceptance and forgiveness ultimately dominate.

Ask Again, Yes was voted a 2019 Summer Read by fans of Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show (read about that here). And for readers who like to know how authors develop stories, here’s a BookPage interview with Mary Beth Keane.

I recommend Ask Again, Yes to readers who like family sagas and stories about resilience. I think it would make a good book club book.

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Short reviews from 2013: The Cay, The Giver and Orphan Train

As I approach my 7-year blogging anniversary, I’ve been looking at some of the old reviews I posted. A lot of them are pretty short, with limited plot descriptions, and mostly my opnions. I’d love to go back and beef them up a bit, but I think I’d have to re-read the books before I did that. So today I’m just going to share three short reviews of books I liked, but didn’t say too much about!


The Cay
by
Theodore Taylor

Rating:

This is a touching coming-of-age story about eleven-year-old Phillip Enright, an American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II. When Phillip and his mother leave the island to escape the dangers of the war, their boat is hit and sunk by a German U-boat. Phillip is struck in the head and thrown into the water and he wakes to find himself on a raft with Timothy, a large, old, black man from the West Indies. The blow to Phillip’s head causes him to lose his sight as the two of them float aimlessly in the Caribbean.

This unlikely pair struggles to survive first on the water, and later on a tiny uninhabited island. But the biggest struggle is within Phillip, whose preconceived ideas about a black man run counter to what we see in Timothy. Timothy pushes Phillip to learn how to fish, climb trees and find his way around the island on his own, without his sight. Timothy is both kind and patient and through his wisdom, Phillip learns the true meaning of friendship and sacrifice.

I think this story does a great job showing how an eleven-year-old boy thinks and feels, from selfish, angry and scared to generous and caring.


The Giver
by
Lois Lowry

Rating:

The Giver is a terrific read for anyone, but it’s perfect for middle school students because it is so thought provoking. It is the story of a controlled society in which there are no choices or conflict. When Jonas turns twelve, he must train with The Giver and prepare to receive all the memories of love, happiness, war and pain. During his training, Jonas learns the hard truth about his community and its rules and knows he must act decisively to bring about change.

The best part about this book is that every word counts. Lois Lowry is great at describing her characters and their community. She includes meaningful foreshadowing that leads the reader through a gradual understanding of what might initially seem like an acceptable way to live. She accomplishes this by revealing just enough details and we realize the facts just as Jonas does.

The Giver ends just as you want to learn more. And thankfully, there is more to the story in Messenger, Gathering Blue and Lowry’s newest, Son.


Orphan Train
by
Christina Baker Kline

Rating:

I liked this book that parallels the story of a young girl sent west on an orphan train from New York City in 1929 and a present-day Native American teenage girl who has struggled in the modern foster care system. I think Kline does an excellent job showing us how Niamh Power and these destitute orphaned children, both numb and frightened, must have felt as they traveled and met up with their matches, which were often far from perfect. Molly Ayer’s present-day story of a rebellious, Goth girl whose father has died and whose mother is addicted to drugs is somehow less powerful, but provides a necessary structure to the story. Molly meets ninety-one year-old Niamh, now named Vivian, when she is assigned to a community service punishment for stealing a book. The two form a friendship as Molly helps Vivian sort through her attic and together they relive Vivian’s story.

I liked Vivian’s story very much. I think Kline is great when she describes Vivian’s feelings and her desperate situation. It is very easy to imagine these children and their simple desire to live in a home where they are wanted, or at least fed and clothed and treated kindly. It’s somehow both shocking and understood that these orphans don’t always get that.

I enjoyed the book. It’s a look into a time that, because of the changes and struggles in those years, is full of stories.

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What’s That Book? The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

whats-that-book

TitleThe Nest

Author:  Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Genre: Fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  A dysfunctional group of middle-aged siblings who put the pressure on their charming but reckless brother to pay back a large sum of money from their inheritance. The story is set in New York and begins a few months before Leo, Jack, Bea and Melody Plumb are due to collect money from a trust (The Nest) their father set up years earlier before his death. Each had been counting on the money, which had grown substantially, but when Leo, drunk and high on cocaine, crashes his Porsche, their mother dips into the account to send Leo to rehab, pay off the young waitress in the passenger seat, and above all else, avoid scandal. Out of rehab, will Leo make good?

Leo, the oldest, made his money from a “literary” gossip magazine which helped propel their writer sister, Bea into fame. But Bea never got her long-expected novel off the ground and has been floundering ever since. Jack, always in Leo’s shadow, owns an antique shop, but he’s bad with money and has kept many financial secrets from his husband, Walker. And Melody wants desperately to send her twin daughters to college. She has scrimped and saved her entire adult life, but money is still tight. Secrets between the siblings and their spouses muddle up an already complex dynamic, heck to live through, but lots of fun to read about!

How did you hear about it?  Selected by my book club

Closing comments:  I loved this book. It’s a great balance between serious themes and entertaining plot lines. In particular, I love how the side characters develop and have their moments later in the story.

Contributor:  Ginette


whats-that-bookHave you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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What’s That Book? Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

 

Brooklyn Toibin
Title
: Brooklyn

Author:  Colm Toibin

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating:  *****

What’s it about?  Set in both Ireland and Brooklyn in the early 1950s, Toibin’s novel tells the endearing and compelling story of Ellis, a young woman who must ultimately choose between her home country and her new life in America.  Smart and capable, Ellis leaves her beloved home to find work in Brooklyn.  After coping with a horrific voyage across the ocean and paralyzing homesickness, Ellis soon begins to excel at her job and in her college classes.  She falls in love and slowly her new country becomes her home.  When family tragedy strikes, Ellis is forced to choose between her old life in Ireland and her new life in Brooklyn.  This is a lovely story with interesting, believable characters and lavish descriptions that contrast Ellis’ small Irish hometown and 1950s New York City.

Brooklyn DVD
After your read the book, be sure to check out the movie adaptation which received many film awards and garnered three Oscar nominations including Best Motion Picture of the Year.  The settings are stunning, the acting is superb (Saoirse Ronan was nominated for Best Actress) and the screenplay is wonderfully true to the book.

How did you hear about it?  A friend over the holidays watched the movie and recommended it to me.  I decided to read the book first, then watch the DVD.

Closing comment:  This is the rare but wonderful instance when a movie is as enjoyable as the book on which it is based.

Contributor:  Susan


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

What’s up next? The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

Lots of you have already read this popular thriller and I’m excited to start The Girl on the Train, so I can jump in on the conversations I see on review blogs and in other media. Amazon readers have posted over 40,000 reviews and Goodreads has over 495,000 ratings! If you’re like me and haven’t read it yet, here’s some background on the story and the author.

What it’s about (from Amazon’s description):

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

 

Paula Hawkins
photo: bookfans.net

Here are some interesting facts about Paula Hawkins:

  • Hawkins was born and raised in Zimbabwe and moved to London with her parents when she was seventeen.
  • She studied economics, politics and philosophy at Oxford.
  • Hawkins used to be a business reporter for The Times of London and during that time wrote a financial advice book called The Money Goddess.
  • Although The Girl on the Train is her first book in the suspense/thriller genre, Hawkins wrote a romantic comedy about a woman who loses her job during the recession. Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista was written under the pen name Amy Silver. Hawkins wrote three more novels under Amy Silver’s name, but these books had limited success.
  • Financial pressures prompted Hawkins to send her unfinished manuscript to publishers, hoping one of them would like her story. They did!
  • Hawkins is currently working on a new book, a psychological thriller about sisters.

Visit these sites for more information about Paula Hawkins and The Girl on the Train.

paulahawkinsbooks.com
Paula Hawkins Author Page on Amazon
Welcoming the Dark Twist in Her Career” by Alexander Alter, Jan. 30, 2015, from The New York Times
Wikipedia article about Paula Hawkins

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After You by Jojo Moyes

After You

After You
by
Jojo Moyes

Rating:

Lou Clark has her whole life ahead of her and she made a promise to live it fully. The problem is, she can’t seem to find a way to do that. After You is the sequel to Me Before You, the intense love story with impossible choices that’s hard to describe without spoiling the experience. Moyes’ new book picks up Lou’s story after Will Traynor is gone.

Lou has kept the first part of her promise to Will by moving to Paris, but she’s unhappy there and returns to London, a place where she continues to feel depressed and unsettled. A job at an airport bar offers no promise and a near-death experience fails to jump-start Lou’s desire to move on.

Many familiar characters return to Lou’s story, including her quirky family. Tentative ties to Will’s parents show how complicated Lou’s relationships are. And new characters muddle Lou’s ability to see what she needs to do.

Moyes tells Lou’s story in the same serious/funny style I loved in Me Before You, and the strength of that story reinforces this one. But After You seems to suffer the “sequel curse” as other second books do. Lou’s character rarely shows her lively and appealing former self. Of course, she’s depressed, so it’s somewhat understandable. And although there is a new love interest, the chemistry between them barely registers, compared to what happens between Lou and Will in Me Before You. Moyes includes a parallel awakening plot in which Lou’s mother takes a fresh look at her life, but that storyline seems a little stale. Other new characters are hard to get to know and run through their own flat plots.

The first half of the book is the stronger section. As the plot advances, however, some of the side stories seem forced, drawing on the appeal of the first book to lead the reader to a predictable finish, much different from the first book.

I’m glad I read After You, because I was curious about the characters, but this book doesn’t carry enough impact of Lou and Will’s story to stand on its own. All in all, a good follow-up read for fans of Me Before You, but otherwise a little plain.

For the full picture, check out my posts on Me Before You.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – No spoilers in this review!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – What would you do? – Warning: spoilers below

Thanks for reading – come back soon!

Book Preview: The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

Finally got the book!
Finally got the book!

Two things happened to me when I decided to read The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. I like to use the library when I can so I got right on the e-book wait list, to save me a trip during our long, cold winter. It’s a popular book, so the wait list was pretty long. I didn’t do the math to figure out when I’d get it. I just moved on to something else.

The first thing that happened to me was that one day I actually made it to the top of the e-book wait list! Success!  I tend to do things fast, so no surprise to myself, I downloaded it immediately. But I was busy reading something else and the two-week non-renewable loan ran out before I had the chance to even start it! Frustrating.

I had long forgotten that when I put myself on the e-book wait list, I had also requested the actual book at the library, and put myself on a separate, but equally-long list. The second thing that happened to me was that soon after my e-book loan expired, I got a notice telling me the actual book was waiting for me. Hurray! On a day that wasn’t snowy, I drove to the library, checked out the book and headed home with the best intentions.

I really wanted to read it, but once again the timing was bad! I returned the book when it was due, unread.

Today I went out and bought the book. It won’t disappear on my Kindle. I won’t be risking overdue fees. I can crack it open all the way if I want and if I spill something on it or drop it in the tub, that’s okay.

So here’s to actually owning a book every now and then, in its true physical form. And when someone asks, “Who’s reading The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer?” I can say, “I am!”

(And if any grammar experts can tell me the rule for quotes that end in a question – does a comma go in there too – and if so, inside or outside the quotes? – I’d love to hear from you!)

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Book Preview: The Pieces We Keep by Kristina McMorris

The pieces we keep pic

My book club meets next week and tomorrow I’m looking forward to starting The Pieces We Keep by Kristina McMorris.

This is Kristina’s third novel.  I checked out her website to learn about The Pieces We Keep and you can too:  (http://www.kristinamcmorris.com/home.php?pg=bio):

Two years have done little to ease veterinarian Audra Hughes’s grief over her husband’s untimely death. Eager for a fresh start, Audra plans to leave Portland for a new job in Philadelphia. Her seven-year-old son, Jack, seems apprehensive about flying – but it’s just the beginning of an anxiety that grows to consume him.

As Jack’s fears continue to surface in recurring and violent nightmares, Audra hardly recognizes the introverted boy he has become. Desperate, she traces snippets of information unearthed in Jack’s dreams, leading her to Sean Malloy, a struggling US Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan. Together they unravel a mystery dating back to World War II, and uncover old family secrets that still have the strength to wound – and perhaps, at last, to heal.

Kristina McMorris
Kristina McMorris

In addition to being a best-selling author and recipient of more than twenty national literary awards, McMorris has a wide range of other talents and interests.  These experiences have no doubt given her imagination a lot of material for her books.  Here are some of her other accomplishments:

  • hosted an award-winning children’s television program at age nine.
  • is a film actress.
  • owned a wedding and event planning company.
  • hosted the TV show Weddings Portland Style.
  • is a professional emcee.
  • is a contributing writer for Portland Bride and Groom magazine.
  • used to work as a public relations executive.
  • compiled her grandmother’s recipes for a self-published cookbook.
  • is a guest speaker and workshop presenter.

Books by Kristina McMorris:

Letters from Home – 2011
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves – 2012
A Winter Wonderland (novella by Kristina “The Christmas Collector”) – 2012
The Pieces We Keep – 2013

Thanks for visiting.  Check back next week for my review!

Straight Man by Richard Russo

Straight man pic

Straight Man
by Richard Russo

Rating:

After reading Straight Man, I’m left wondering why Richard Russo decided that a university English department would be so interesting to the reading public. And that’s coming from an English Major!

I read Straight Man for my book club and I attended our monthly meeting wondering what my friends would say. They said, “Read Empire Falls. Then you will understand why Russo is so good.” I did and I do, but Straight Man is not a book I would read twice.

Despite this comment, I thought the writing was very good, and Hank Devereaux’s sarcasm and fresh-talk is amusing and easy to read. But the characters and story-line are so crazily far-fetched, goose included, that I could not fit them into the setting and plot. That bothered me. I’m thinking maybe the joke is on me, however, for not giving into this ridiculous story.