For the first time, I am reviewing two books in one post. Unknowingly, I chose to read two books dealing with a similar premise in close succession. I found myself comparing the actions and reactions of the characters in the two books when placed untenable situations. I’m afraid this post may be a little spoiler-y so continue at your own risk.
In Defending Jacob, a child is murdered, and District Attorney Andy Barber is working the case. As the schoolmates of the victim are interviewed, a suspect is revealed, and to Andy’s horror, it is his own son, Jacob.
But Jacob’s a normal fourteen year old, right? Sure, a little quirky and shy and awkward, but of course, completely incapable of murder, right?
So begins the premise of William Landay’s Defending Jacob. Andy Barber finds himself on the other side of the courtroom, supporting his son, the defendant. Ostracized by their neighbors and former friends, Andy and his wife, Laurie, stand by their son.
In The Dinner, two couples meet for a dinner none is excited about. After all the polite conversation and reminiscing, the talk turns to the children, of course. But in this instance, the privileged fifteen year old sons of the couples share accountability for a terrible incident. And like Defending Jacob, The Dinner explores how far parents are willing to go to protect their children.
Both books are an examination of the parent-child relationship and an exploration towards the instinct of self-preservation. Both also touch on whether a tendency towards violence can be inherited. And both books do this in very different ways.
In Defending Jacob, I found myself sympathetic towards Andy and Laurie Barber. Andy, because he truly believes, and wants to believe, that his son is absolutely innocent. Laurie, because she sees the situation and fears in her bones that her son may be guilty.
On the other hand, Claire and Paul, and Serge and Babette, the parents at the center of The Dinner, seem to have a much more laissez-faire approach to the acts of their children. Perhaps, they say, some people deserve to be victims, deserve whatever happens to them. The empathy I felt for the parents in Defending Jacob was nowhere to be found in The Dinner. In fact, I was appalled by the reactions of the parents, and didn’t really like any of them. But what author Herman Koch did with that is still make me wonder what I would do, really, if I were in this situation. Perhaps what I didn’t like about Claire and Paul wasn’t so much that they didn’t do what most of us characterize as “right”, but that if I looked at the deepest parts of myself, I’m not entirely certain that I would not make the same choices they do.
In both stories, there are signs that the kids are not all right. The reactions in both books are similar to a small degree- a desire to explain away the signs, ignore them, children will be children, it will be all right, blah, blah, blah. But as more is revealed, each parent makes choices in the extreme for how to deal with the situations, and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One I found tragic and sympathetic; the other, appalling and dangerous.
The Dinner is written with more tension- I wanted to know what happened, and this seemed to be a very long dinner to finally get to that part of the story, but the build up was worth the wait. Koch sprinkles contextual clues that will explain the characters’ choices as more of the plot is revealed. Defending Jacob takes the tension in a different way- we really don’t know definitively of guilt or innocence, which makes the parents’ choices that much more interesting. But the tension I felt reading The Dinner is not in Defending Jacob.
Both were good, entertaining, and fast paced reads that I am telling friends to put on their must-read list. I’m also suggesting they read them close together and do some comparison of their own.
The risky thing about agreeing to a blog tour, especially a review, is that you’re agreeing before you actually read the book. So you’re taking a leap of faith on the synopsis of a story that you’re going to enjoy the book. There’s always that little trickle of doubt when I start a book for a blog tour, “What if I don’t like it?”
When I read the synopsis for Sometimes Ya Gotta Laugh, I loved the premise:
When friendships are threatened, how far will you go to protect it?
Jordan Spencer is thirty-six and hasn’t had a relationship that’s lasted more than six months. He’s cool with that, though. He’s got space issues. And what difference does it make anyway? He has his two best friends Gabby and Chris for happy hours, clubs, and weekend hangouts. But Gabby is falling for a guy that Jordan doesn’t like and Chris-the-sex-machine is having a phallic crisis.
Jordan thought that their friendship would last forever. But with each day, they drift further apart. Without Gabby and Chris at his side, Jordan finds himself facing his own emotional loneliness. Should he fight for the friends who have become his family? Or has the season of their friendship passed?
Jordan Spencer will learn that in a world full of swingers, lies, and drag queens, even the best of friends occasionally lie to each other. Sometimes they cry for each other. But in the end, sometimes you just gotta laugh …
I’m calling myself out here. Due to my own preconceptions of what I thought the tone of the book would be before I had turned the first page, I had that anxious feeling of wondering if this would be the blog tour where I was less than pleased with the storyline. But, I kept reading, and I’m so glad I did. Once I got over what I thought Timothe Davis should be saying and read the book to understand the message he wanted to share, I really enjoyed it.
So, what did I like about Sometimes Ya Gotta Laugh? First, these characters are out of their twenties, well into their thirties. This is a time when certain friends become more like family to you than actual family, and that is the situation for Jordan, Chris, and Gabby. And like any family- formed or born into- this family has its troubles. I think what will resonate with readers is that feeling when you have very good friends- best friends- and you sense something off with them. You can’t put your finger on what it is, and for whatever reason, any attempts to get to the heart of the matter are awkward and inept and make things worse before they get better. Sometimes, it takes us a while to realize that we can’t go at it all alone, and our friends actually do want to help us- we just have to let them.
One of the other things I liked about the book was that I had a visceral reaction to one of the characters- thankfully, a character we as readers are supposed to despise. But it’s a credit to an author who can invoke that kind of reaction.
But what I liked most about Sometimes Ya Gotta Laugh is how much I could relate to it. It was almost like Davis was writing about aspects of some of my friends. The characters are diverse, reflecting the mosaic of characters many of us have in our own lives. And Jordan’s exploration of his own emotional distance and deciding that connection is good is something I can well identify with.
TBF: Timothe, what have you learned about yourself through the writing process?
TD: I didn’t think I had the chutzpah to complete a book. A short story? Yes. But a full length novel? Never. I realized that I was more focused and goal-driven than I had ever thought.
Secondly, for me, the writing process called for quite a bit of humility. I’d write, share with a friend, and get some feedback. The feedback wasn’t always positive and that always stings. I’d have to sift through the feedback, decide what applied, and then share again. It’s not easy for an artist to say “this is my work; this is me” and then be told it’s subpar. But it’s part of the process of getting better. And I wanted and want to get better. So I asked for feedback.
Finally, Jordan – the main character – is the one that is most like me. In many ways, he is me. In putting my reactions and thoughts into the character, I was forced to ask myself questions about how I interact with my friends. Am I selfish? Where does my happiness come from? How do I treat them? Some of the writing was equal parts how does Jordan become a better person as well as how does Timothe become a better person.
TBF: What’s it like to participate in a blog tour?
TD: Tough question. The tour hasn’t started, and this will be my first. So I’m hard pressed to say what it feels like to participate. What I can say is that the preparatory steps have been more thought-provoking than I expected. Bloggers and reviewers send their questions, and I expected them all to be about the book. But any of them are about me. And some of the questions are quite complex, they peel-layers, and ask me to reflect on my personal journey. In that sense, it hasn’t been what I expected. On the other hand, “Sometimes” is about people on their personal journey. Hence, in a way, it makes sense that I’d be asked such questions. At this point I’d say, “Not what I expected. But I’m enjoying the process.”
TBF: What are your thoughts about social media and emerging authors?
TD: I’m going to answer out of both sides of my mouth now. LOL.
Personally, I’m horrible when it comes to social media. My friends tease me because my iPhone will show that I have 100 notifications at any given time on FB.
And I just started actively using my Twitter account about 3 months. Plus, most of my “tweeting” is about other people’s works (books and music), not my own.
Nevertheless, while I could (and should) get much better, I do believe that social media can be a great tool for an author to share his work, connect with other authors, and find more fans.
It’s important to remember that social media itself doesn’t guarantee more sales. But it could lead to more exposure, and we’d like to believe that more exposure will eventually lead to more sales. Unfortunately, it’s hard to draw a correlation between the two.
Thanks to Timothe for taking the time to answer these questions. And if you’re ready to read Sometimes Ya Gotta Laugh - and I recommend that you do- here’s what you need to know:
Timothe Davis is a music-loving, martini-drinking, night owl. He spends his days confined within the walls of corporate America but (not so) secretly harbors dreams of writing best-sellers and getting books adapted to movies. Thank God he’s wise enough to have a 401K plan.
You can find him wandering around his loft most times of the night. His friends say his sarcasm belies a warm heart and he’s tried MATCH.com not once but twice.
“Sometimes Ya Gotta Laugh” is his first novel. It’s a fictional story of love, friendship, acceptance, and the journey we take to make ourselves better each day. He hopes that those who purchase it will enjoy reading it as much as he enjoyed writing it.
Connect with Timothe:
(Follow for updates not just of my books but books I’ve read and music I’m playing on my iTunes.)
(Interviews of independent authors, musicians, and other artists.)
(Occasionally updated with thoughts and insights.)
The book can be purchased via most online vendors including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books A Million or through: http://timothedavis.
Today, I’m participating in a blog tour for a new book by award-winning novelist Susan Meissner who’s here with me today to talk about her newest book from Penguin NAL. A Fall of Marigolds is a part historical novel, part contemporary novel set on Ellis Island in 1911 and in Manhattan a hundred years later. Make sure you read to the end of the post so that you can find out how to get in on a drawing for a fabulous gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card.
Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of fifteen books, including The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.
1. Susan, tell us where the idea for A Fall of Marigolds came from.
I’ve long been a history junkie, especially with regard to historical events that involve ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. A couple years ago I viewed a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the section of Ellis Island no one really has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are falling into ruins, a sad predicament the documentary aptly addresses. The documentary’s images of the rooms where the sick of a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. I knew there were a thousand stories pressed into those walls of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life in America. They were so close they could almost taste it. But unless they could be cured of whatever disease they’d arrived with, they would never set foot on her shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate in-between place – it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story.
Here are a couple of photos from the current state of the Ellis Island hospital, and views from the island.
2.What is the story about, in a nutshell?
The book is about two women who never meet as they are separated by a century. One woman, Taryn, is a 9/11 widow and single mother who is about to mark the tenth anniversary of her husband’s passing. The other is a nurse, Clara, who witnessed the tragic death of the man she loved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Manhattan in 1911.In her sorrow, Clara imposes on herself an exile of sorts; she takes a post at the hospital on Ellis Island so that she can hover in an in-between place while she wrestles with her grief. She meets an immigrant who wears the scarf of the wife he lost crossing the Atlantic, a scarf patterned in marigolds. The scarf becomes emblematic of the beauty and risk inherent in loving people, and it eventually finds it way to Taryn one hundred years later on the morning a plane crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.
3. Why a scarf of marigolds? What is their significance?
Marigolds aren’t like most other flowers. They aren’t beautiful and fragrant. You don’t see them in bridal bouquets or prom corsages or funeral sprays. They don’t come in gentle colors like pink and lavender and baby blue. Marigolds are hearty, pungent and brassy. They are able to bloom in the autumn months, well past the point when many other flowers can’t. In that respect, I see marigolds as being symbolic of the strength of the human spirit to risk loving again after loss. Because, face it. We live in a messy world. Yet it’s the only one we’ve got. We either love here or we don’t. The title of the book has a sort of double-meaning. Both the historical and contemporary story take place primarily in the autumn. Secondarily, when Clara sees the scarf for the first time, dangling from an immigrant’s shoulders as he enters the hospital building, she sees the floral pattern in the threads, notes how similar they are to the flames she saw in the fire that changed everything for her, and she describes the cascading blooms woven into the scarf as “a fall of marigolds.”
4. What led you to dovetail the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 with 9/11?
When I first began pulling at story threads, my first instinct was to tell a story about an immigrant struggling to remain hopeful as an unwilling patient at Ellis Island hospital. But the more I toyed with whose story this was, the more I saw instead a young nurse, posting herself to a place where every disease known and unknown showed up. It was a place like no other; a waiting place – a place where the dozens of languages spoken added to the unnatural homelessness of it. Why was she here? Why did she choose this post? Why did she refuse to get on the ferry on Saturday nights to reconnect with the real world? What kind of person would send herself to Ellis not just to work, but to live? Someone who needed a place to hover suspended. I knew something catastrophic had to happen to her to make her run to Ellis for cover. As I began researching possible scenarios, I came across the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which up until 9/11 was arguably the worst urban disaster to befall Manhattan. There were similarities between that fire and 9/11, including the tragic fact that many trapped workers jumped to their deaths rather than perish in the flames. For every person lost in disasters such as these, there is always his or her individual story, and the stories of those who loved them. I wanted to imagine two of those stories.
5. One important plot element is the moral dilemma Clara faces when she discovers something about the dead immigrant’s wife that he does not know. What led you to include this story thread?
A good story has to have tension; there has to be some kind of force tightening the screws, forcing the characters to react and respond. The main character of any novel wants something and the tension increases whenever what she wants eludes her. Clara is desperate to keep love golden, perfect in her mind, and without sharp edges. This moral dilemma I impose on her forces her to truly ponder what she thinks she wants. Is love really at its grandest when there are no sharp edges to it all? I don’t think so. I think to love at its fullest means we might get hurt. Probably will. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth sharing, giving, and having. I include a line in the book that sums it up for me. “Love was both the softest edge and the sharpest edge of what made life real.” I think if we’re honest with ourselves we don’t want to settle for love being just as safe as “like.” Clara wrestles with what to do with her knowledge because she doesn’t want the beauty of love to somehow be tarnished; even it’s tarnished by truth.
6. Your last few novels have had historical components interwoven within a contemporary story. Why do you prefer that kind of story construction?
I think living in Europe for five years awakened my love for history. It’s like it was always there but my time spent overseas just woke it up. When I think back to the subjects I did well in and that came easy to me in high school and college, it was always English and history, never math or science. I appreciate the artistry of math and the complexity of science, but neither subject comes easy to me. History has the word “story” in it. That’s what it is. It’s the story of everyone and everything. How could I not love it? Study history and you learn very quickly what we value as people; what we love, what we fear, what we hate, what we are willing die for. History shows us where we’ve been and usually has lessons for us to help us chart where we’re going.
7. Are you working on anything new at the moment?
My next book is set entirely in England, mostly during The London Blitz. My main character starts out as a young, aspiring bridal gown designer evacuated to the countryside with her seven-year-old sister in the summer of 1940. Though only fifteen, Emmy is on the eve of being made an apprentice to a renowned costumer and she resents her single mother’s decision to send her away. She sneaks back to London – with her sister in tow – several months later but the two become separated when the Luftwaffe begins its terrible and deadly attack on the East End on the first night of the Blitz. War has a way of separating from us what we most value, and often shows how little we realized that value. I have always found the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside – some for the entire duration of the war – utterly compelling. How hard it must have been for those parents and their children. I went on a research trip to the U.K. in the fall of 2013 and I spoke with many individuals who were children during the war; some were separated from their parents, some were bombed out of their homes, some slept night after night in underground Tube stations, some watched in fascination as children from the city came to their towns and villages to live with them. This book explores issues of loss and longing, but also the bonds of sisters, and always, the power of love.
8. Where can readers connect with you?
You can find me at www.susanmeissner.com and on Facebook at my Author page, Susan .Meissner, and on Twitter at SusanMeissner. I blog at susanmeissner.com. I also send out a newsletter via email four times a year. You can sign up for it on my website. I love connecting with readers! You are the reason I write.
This is your first general market novel after having written more than a dozen books for the inspirational market. Why the switch?
I got my start in the inspirational market and am immensely grateful for that experience. Every published novelist wants to connect with her ideal reader. We don’t all like the same genres and we don’t all like the same style and voice. I believe a great many of my ideal readers shop in the general marketplace because that’s where I shop. My favorite authors — among them Kate Morton, Geraldine Brooks, Lisa See, Jamie Ford, and Diane Setterfield — are all general marketplace authors. Add to this that my faith threads are always subtle rather than obvious, then the move to the general market place seems like a great way for me to connect with more readers. My approach to faith in my writing is one that I liken to the subtlety of God’s presence and influence in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. The faith thread in the Book of Esther is as subtle as it can be – God is never even mentioned – and yet the story is powerfully told and the virtues of loyalty, trust, hope, and courage are obvious. I have never thought of myself as writer of Christian fiction but rather a Christian who writes fiction.
What will readers already familiar with your style find different about A Fall of Marigolds?
I would say any difference between my last book and this one is minimal. The takeaway of A Fall of Marigolds is heavily influenced by the idea of sacrificial love – as great a theme as any – as well as the decision we all must make as to whether we believe all of life is random or that there is purpose and design and therefore a Designer. I have never thought of my books as inspirational in nature, even when I was first starting out. I have not sought to point people to my theological positions or anyone else’s. I merely and only want to tell stories that compel my readers to ponder anew what they love, fear, or long for; what they are willing to die for, live for, hope for. I don’t put messages in my books. At least I never want any book of mine to sound like it is message-driven. But I do want my books to make you want to sit down and talk bout the story with someone.
I finished A Fall of Marigolds in an airport, and had to hope that no one noticed my tears. By no means is the book a melancholy tale, but it did take me back to some of the emotion from the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001. To me, that was the payoff of the book. What would you do, or say, if you knew that you were likely living through your last moments with someone you love?
At the same time, the story is about that in-between place, where we are sometimes content to stay, and cannot move on from, although we know we should. I found myself getting frustrated with Clara a few times (and so that I don’t give away anything from the story, I won’t say more about those circumstances here), but I still wanted her to be happy.
The story in A Fall Of Marigolds was also decidedly more Clara’s than Taryn’s than I thought it would be from the book’s beginnings. While that didn’t diminish from the story- indeed, I felt transported back to the early twentieth century and learned a lot from the insight into immigrants’ first arrival in this country- it did make me want to know more about Taryn, and her thoughts and life. However, the end of the book gave me that payoff I was wanting.
I really enjoyed reading A Fall of Marigolds and it impacted me in an emotional way that I didn’t anticipate. I want to read more from Susan Meissner.
As part of the release of A Fall of Marigolds and this blog tour, Susan is giving to one lucky winner a gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card, a copy of the book, the DVD Forgotten Ellis Island, and a beautiful re-purposed infinity scarf patterned in marigolds and made from a vintage Indian sari. To be eligible, just leave a comment here between today and midnight Eastern on Friday, February 21. If you would like to see a list of the other participating blogs on this tour, just click here. Feel free to visit those blogs and increase your chances of winning by posting one comment on those blogs as well. One comment per blog will be eligible.
Additionally, there will be one winner of a signed copy of A Fall of Marigolds from among those who comment on this blog. Just leave a comment by Friday, Feb. 21 and you’re in the running for the grand prize as well as a signed copy of the book. Good luck!
If you’re a regular reader of TheBookFetishBlog, you know I’m a fan of Meredith Schorr’s books. From Just Friends With Benefits, to A State Of Jane, to Blogger Girl and my own interview with Meredith, she and her work are always a treat.
Well, Meredith and her publisher now have a treat for readers! The Meredith Schorr collection is being released as an ebook boxed set. Real Chick Lit for Real Chicks isn’t just a slogan. Meredith’s heroines are characters with whom real women can identify. Their stories are relatable, and there’s a nice mix of humor and heart. If you haven’t read Meredith’s books yet, I hope you’ll check them out. Here’s all the details you need to know:
Real Chick Lit for Real Chicks: The Meredith Schorr Collection
This boxed set brings together three favorites from bestselling chick lit author Meredith Schorr. Blogger Girl follows Kimberly Long, a book blogger asked to review the debut novel of her high school nemesis. In A State of Jane, “good girl” Jane Frank is looking for love, but when all of her dates flake out on her, she decides to turn the tables. In Just Friends With Benefits, Stephanie Cohen is determined to turn the one who got away into “the one” despite advice from a friend not to put all her eggs in one bastard. Meredith Schorr’s characters are believable, relatable, and authentic—women who are easy to root for, despite their flaws. The stories are humorous, heartfelt, and definitely real.
iTunes: Coming soon.
A born and bred New Yorker, Meredith Schorr discovered her passion for writing when she began to enjoy drafting work-related emails way more than she was probably supposed to, and was famous among her friends for writing witty birthday cards. After trying her hand writing children’s stories and blogging her personal experiences, Meredith found her calling writing “real” chick lit for real women. When she is not hard at work on her next novel, Meredith spends her days as a trademark paralegal. She is a loyal New York Yankees fan and an avid runner. Meredith is the author of three published novels, Just Friends with Benefits, A State of Jane and Blogger Girl and the full boxed set, Real Chick Lit for Real Chicks: The Meredith Schorr Collection
But then I read some of the early reviews- many of which were very complementary, but a few saying “hold on, not so fast” and I let the book slip further and further down on the TBR queue. It sat there until last month, when my book club decided to read it.
Before I give you my thoughts, here’s the book synopsis:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
I’m very middle of the road about The Night Circus. I certainly don’t think it lives up to the hype surrounding it at its publication time. It was entertaining, but never a page-turner for me. In fact, I read two other books start to finish while I was also reading this one.
So many things fell flat to me. I felt like the story took forever to really take off. Finally, in the last third or so of the book, things began to happen and I got curious. The training of Celia and Marco is mentioned, but never really explained. As a reader, I didn’t feel any real connection to their magic. Similarly, while their time together was magnetic, I never really felt the jolt that caused Celia and Marco to have so many strong feelings for each other. I didn’t really buy their epic romance. We also didn’t get to see terribly deep into Celia and Marco to feel a real connection with them. I felt much more engaged in the stories of Poppet, Widget, and Bailey. Their stories had a more authentic ring to me. There are other elements that were touched on and I think would have benefitted from a deeper explanation, but I would spoil if I shared those, so I won’t.
The descriptions of the circus were very well done. As a reader, I understood the circus’ pull to the spectators, experiencing all the illusions of the senses that they did.
The most visceral reaction I had to the book was at the very beginning of the story when Celia and Marco were bound to the duel. It was a magical binding, with rules that one of them will die, and this was done to them as children, and without their consent. That their parent/parental figure could do that made me angry.
Most people in my book club thought the book was OK, although everyone agreed it was a slower than expected read.
My bottom line? The Night Circus is OK, but there are a lot of other books I would recommend before this one.