When deciding what to read next in your bookclub, you might want to see what books celebrities and bookstores are talking about. Here are some “official” recommendations from Barnes & Noble, Oprah, Reese and Jenna.
I always enjoy a Lisa Jewell book – she keeps you engrossed and guessing. The last one I read was I Found You. about a missing husband, an unidentified stranger and a charming teenager. Plenty of mystery to keep you engaged!
Oprah’s Book Club
Oprah’s latest pick is Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. See Oprah making the announcement on CBS This Morning HERE.
If you need a refresher on the cranky, honest main character before you tackle the new Strout book, check out the Pulitzer Prize Winner, Olive Kitteridge .
You can also see the television mini series with Frances McDormand on HBO.
Reese’s Book Club – Hello Sunshine
Sticking with an author she loves who creates compelling characters, Reese chose The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes for this month’s pick.
If you haven’t already indulged yourself, Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You love story trilogy is perfect for those snowy days to come, and warrants a warm blanket and a huge box of tissues!
The movie is also great; CLICK HERE for the trailer!
Read With Jenna
Jenna Bush chooses some interesting books that aren’t as obvious as the other celebrity choices. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is about a woman who takes care of two kids who have a special ability. The reviews have been very good and readers are surprised at how much they are liking this one.
Choosing a book for your group to read can be challenging. I always like to pick something that has some meat…enough to discuss beyond the plot and writing style. Whether it be a setting, character relationships or social issues. Discussing the book and beyond can be informative as well as a bonding experience for participants in the group discussion, as long as everyone is willing to offer up their personal insights and opinions. All of these books have much to talk about and make great choices!
I took the opportunity to listen to The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff and I was captivated by this wonderful story of friendship, dedication and courage. Suspenseful, and fast moving, this historical fiction novel takes us to 1940s NYC. Grace, a young widow trying to get her life together, discovers some photos in an abandoned suitcase in Grand Central Terminal. After some digging, she finds they belong to Eleanor, a woman who had just been in an accident, and was previously the ring leader to a group of women who were spies in Europe during World War ll. Grace also learns that Marie, a brave mother who left her young daughter behind to assist with the war efforts and act as a radio operator, is missing, along with the rest of the women spies. Grace is determined to investigate the suspicious disappearances of these women and learn all she can about their contributions to the resistance.
Pam Jenoff does a remarkable job intertwining fact and fiction when it comes to history and women’s efforts as spies in the 40s. We hear from Grace, Eleanor and Marie as they navigate their lives and make difficult choices during wartime. I enjoyed the audible version – different voices were assigned to each character and it was easy to follow the alternating time periods. I love stories that have strong female characters, highlighting friendships, dedication and courage, and how they shaped our history. The Lost Girls of Paris does just that!
Pam is the author of several novels, including her most recent The Lost Girls of Paris and The Orphan’s Tale, both instant New York Times bestsellers. Pam was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.
Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.
Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff practiced law at a large firm and in-house for several years. She now teaches law school at Rutgers.
Reconnecting with life after loss can be a struggle and Ann Napolitano’s Dear Edward, uplifting and hopeful, is a story of a young boy’s journey to overcome challenges, pick up the pieces and begins to dream again following a deadly plane crash.
An unthinkable tragedy leaves a young boy devoid of normalcy and purpose, yet over time, love, friendship and community breathe life back into him as he finds his way. Edward, along with his older brother, Jordan, and their parents are on a flight from NJ to LA when the accident happens and there are no survivors…except for twelve year old Edward.
Dear Edward, is an emotional and beautiful story of a young boy’s coming of age as he learns new ways to love while coming to grips with the loss of his family. We meet many of the airplane passengers like the injured army vet, the woman with memories of past lives, the stewardess, the Wall Street guy, and the pregnant girl who dreams of getting married. We learn about Edward’s family; Bruce, Edward and Jordan’s father, homeschooled the boys and they have a very close relationship, while Jane, a working mom, is sitting in the front of the plane on her own getting some work done. After the accident, Edward is alone, and he must leave his home to live with his mother’s sister, Lacey and her husband, John. They were hoping to have a baby and were now given the unexpected responsibility to raise their nephew while suffering their own voids. When trying to deal with the trauma and loss, Edward is told:
“What happened is baked into your bones. it lives under your skin. It’s not going away. It’s part of you and will be part of you every moment until you die. What you’ve been working on …is learning to live with that. “
Author Ann Napolitano wrote a wonderful story; not focused on a plane crash, but on the rebuilding of human connection and heart with sensitive characters full of life and feelings. The story was so satisfying, as information was revealed in bits and pieces, going back and forth from past to present time, leading up to the tragedy and then the aftermath. I felt Edward’s pain and numbness he experienced in his life after the accident, and I rejoiced in his growth, little by little, as he engaged in his surroundings and made observations with his teenaged point of view. Relationships are formed anew as we continually get glimpses of people from the past and Edward’s current support system as he forges on.
A wonderful coming of age story in the wake of a terrible tragedy, Napolitano has delivered a life-affirming novel with a perfect ending. I highly recommend reading this. Pre-order on Amazon today – book goes on sale 1/14/20.
Q & A with Ann Napolitano
Q: I couldn’t put Dear Edward down and was compelled to read cover to cover. The emotional story is mostly about the coming of age of a young boy after tragedy, but the actual tragedy is something I have mulled over quite a bit. What inspired you to write about such a deadly accident? And how did you manage to make this story uplifting and hopeful?
A: Thank you for the kind words. As far as the inspiration, I became obsessed with a story in the news about a plane crash in 2010. The flight originated in South Africa and crashed in Libya – most of the passengers were Dutch, and on their way home from vacation. Only one passenger survived, a nine-year-old boy named Ruben Van Assouw. The boy was found still strapped into his seat about a half mile from the wreckage – the speculation was that he’d been sitting near the fuselage and had been basically ejected from the plane. He had a badly broken leg and a punctured lung but was otherwise fine. Everyone else, including his parents and brother, had died immediately. I couldn’t read enough about this story, and the obsession was such that I knew I was going to have to write about it. I was going to have to write my way into understanding how this young boy could walk away from this wreckage, from the loss of his family, and not only survive, but find a way to live his life. Also, I was always aware that as a reader I might find a book about a plane crash too upsetting to take on, so I wanted to write not about the crash, but the living and surviving that sprang from it.
Q: Being a sole survivor is intriguing and complex, especially for a young boy. Your choices for the story are unique and powerful…Edward must have had other school and family friends and teachers in his life prior to the accident, yet you pull him out of all that was before and place him alone with only one familial connection that feels distant. Tell us why…
A: Edward and his brother were homeschooled by his father, so he didn’t have other peers or teachers, per se. And he has no living grandparents. His family was a very tight unit, in part by their father’s design. Jordan had a secret girlfriend at the deli, but Edward was still too young to have broken away into his own personal life and relationships.
Q: Both Edward’s mother and his aunt Lacy were not the typical, doting motherly types – Edward seemed to connect more with his father and uncle. Why did you make these choices?
A: That’s interesting, because I wouldn’t have thought about it that way. I guess the depiction of the men and women in the book simply reflects my opinion that people more often operate outside of their gender-stereotype, than within it. All of the grown-ups Edward encounters after the crash offer him what they can, and Lacey is particularly hindered because she lost her sister in the plane crash.
Q: Were any of your characters influenced by real people?
A: As I said above, Edward’s situation was based on a Dutch boy named Ruben Van Assouw. But because I learned very little about who Ruben was as a boy, or how he recovered, I had to make Edward himself up. The love between Edward and Jordan was inspired by the love between my sons. My boys have been devoted to each other since my youngest son was born, and their devotion found its way into the book. When I thought about Edward’s losses in the light of my sons’ relationship, it became clear to me that the loss of his brother would be the most devastating.
Q: I love your writing, it is visual and your characters say and do just what I craved every step of the way – a most satisfying experience when reading a novel. The limited lens in which you create for the reader encompasses the perfect amount of character development and cast – and the contents of the big locked bags are revealed when we are ready to digest more. Why was it important for the family members of the deceased to reach out to Eddie?
A: Thank you – and the real answer is I’m not sure. The letters were something that showed up in a very early draft, ad it felt right to me that these families who had so abruptly lost their loved ones, didn’t have closure and would reach out to the one person who survived the crash. One theme I think I try to explore in the novel is interconnectedness – as the storyteller I was always looking for ways to connect the storyline in the sky with the storyline on the ground. i felt like the two sections of the story would lean toward each other.
Q: Edward’s emotions after the accident seem very realistic and true to life.Have you seen Anderson Cooper’s interview with Stephen Colbert about loss?
A: I did see that interview – it was wonderful! I actually tweeted about it saying that the conversation those two men had about loss and grief felt like the heartbeat of Dear Edward.
Q: How long did it take you to write Dear Edward and was there anything drastic that changed in the editing process?
A: It took eight years to write Dear Edward – I am very slow :). The plane sections never changed much from the initial version, but Edwards’ present storyline changed mightily, many times over the years. For instance, I had one version in which we see him live his entire life, and at the end of the book he’s in his seventies.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this novel and what did you learn that was most surprising?
A: I did a lot of research, which was very fun. I spoke to a retired commercial pilot about planes and possible reasons for a crash, and then read many transcripts from National Transportation Safety Board hearings. I also read different non-fiction books as research for the characters on the plane. For instance, I read War by Sebastian Junger in preparation for writing about Benjamin Stillman, and Jack Welch’s autobiography to make sense of Crispin Cox.
Q: What do you like to read and can you recommend a few current books we should add to our reading list?
A: I love to read, mostly literary fiction and then non-fiction that delves into whatever subject I’m currently interested in. As far as current books, I recently read and loved The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is not a new publication, but I just finished The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and I loved it with every cell in my body. I’m looking forward to a few upcoming books: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel.
Ann Napolitano’s new novel, Dear Edward, will be published by Dial Press in January 2020. She is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach. She is also the Associate Editor of One Story literary magazine. She received an MFA from New York University; she has taught fiction writing for Brooklyn College’s MFA program, New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.
Ann lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, The Yellow Bird Sings touches the music of your soul. It is 1941 Poland; Roza and Shira, mother and daughter are Jews, hidden in a barn by farmers. Henryk, the husband, ensures their safety while violating Roza in the night, and his wife Krystyna, provides extra food for Shira; she believes all children deserve an equal chance. Roza and Shira, silenced and afraid, lay quietly in the barn’s hay for more than 15 months. After their family was violently taken from them, they have no choice but to go into hiding. They revisit their cherished memories, whisper stories, use their imagination, and create music in their heads to soothe themselves and pass the time.
When the Germans announce plans to use the farmer’s barn for storage, mother and daughter must find a new safe space right away. They are encouraged to separate so Shira can go to a convent to have lessons and be with other children, allowing her a better chance of surviving. Filled with sadness, regret and fear, Roza is on her own and heads to the forest.
The Yellow Bird Sings will rip your heart out as you feel the emotional and physical struggles of both mother and daughter; at first stifled, secluded and living in silence with the burden and horrific fear of the unknown, with only what is inside their minds and their hearts to comfort and sustain them as they live day by day in hiding. And then separated, longing to be together, doing everything possible to survive.
Author Jennifer Rosner tells an extraordinary story with beautiful use of language; her words and phrases are visual and powerful….
“Words to Zosia (Sofia) are like glass beads around her neck. If one were to break loose, they would all clatter to the floor and scatter, shatter the quiet that kept her and her mother alive, entwined beneath hay.”
When referring to understanding loss; “What is whole does not comprehend what is torn until it, too, is in shreds.”
When seeing other mothers with their children, “Something breaks loose inside Roza and skitters down the stairs of her heart.”
We follow Roza and Shira on their separate journeys, holding out hope that they will be reunited after the war. With a blanket from the past, a magic yellow bird, cherished memories in their minds and soulful music in their hearts, The Yellow Bird Sings delivers a powerful story of Roza and Shira’s incredible survival, their unbreakable connection, their will to be heard, and the celebration of music that, through the generations, links us to each other. Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, I could not put this book down and highly recommend it!
I loved your debut historical fiction novel, The Yellow Bird Sings. The story was powerful and your characters were filled with so much pain and love at the same time. The deep emotion it conveyed, the evocative, visual language you utilized and the heartfelt music that was described made me feel like I was experiencing the written word more fully and completely.
Thank you so much! This means a lot to me:)
Q: As a young child, Shira seems to have a special musical aptitude. What inspired you to use music in such a big way in your novel?
A: Music has had great connective power in my life; I sang as a child, and later trained to become an opera singer. My singing forged a rare connection between my mother and me; also, my father played violin daily, and his music connected us to each other, and also to Judaism.
In my novel, music is a connective tissue linking mother and daughter, together and apart, and expressing a bond that endures even in the most brutal of circumstances. Beauty, in music and in other forms, is a lifeline, conveying hope.
Q: Shira has a special relationship with her violin teacher. Who inspired this character?
A: Several mentors in my musical, academic, and writing life have been deeply supportive and generous. In developing the teacher’s character, and their relationship, it felt important for Shira to feel a profound connection to the person who coached her and supported her musical genius.
Q: Shira conjures a magic yellow bird, which she cups in her hands and also muffles to keep quiet. Shira’s mother then tells a nightly story of a girl and her bird, who avert threats and find safety. What is the significance of Shira’s bird?
A: While Shira must be silent, her yellow bird sings out the music she hears in her head and in other ways enacts the childhood she cannot. Her bird brings security as well as expression. The magic of Shira’s bird is that it admits her powerful imagination (and her mother’s) into their horror-filled situation. I believe that much survival occurred because people kept alive their imaginations (their artistry, their poetry, etc) and stayed aware of what beauty they could find in their circumstances.
Q: Can you share with us why you were interested in writing about a mom having to keep her child silent?
A: The seed for this story came years ago when I was at a book event for my memoir about deafness. (If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard) . My daughters were born deaf. With hearing technology (cochlear implants and hearing aids), they were learning to listen and talk and I was describing our efforts as we encouraged them to vocalize. After the book talk, a woman from the audience came up to me. She told me about her childhood experience, hiding in an attic with her mother during WW2. She had to stay entirely silent. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her, and also her mother. While I so wanted our daughters to speak, this mother had to keep her young child from making any sound at all. From this seed, my novel grew.
Q: You do a beautiful job keeping the reader engaged, giving just enough in each chapter to motivate us to tackle the next. Once the story splits into two when Rosa and Shira go their separate ways, did you write the book in the order that we read it, or did you write one character’s story and then the other’s?
A: In later drafts, I wrote the chapters mostly in the order they appear. However, earlier in the process, I wrote out long swaths of each character’s story trajectory, to understand where they were going and how their stories might dovetail. There was a lot of cutting and reworking!
Q: What kind of research did you do for the book? How long did it take to write?
A: While I was writing the book, I interviewed several “hidden children”— adults who, as children during the war, were secreted in attics, barns, and the woods. I also traveled to the settings of my novel. In Poland I visited areas of countryside with barns much like the one I’ve written about; I visited a convent where Jewish children were hidden; and I went to a swath of deep forest where a Partisan/family camp was formed.
I consulted with experts on Holocaust history and convent life. I talked to a tracker to learn how my character could traverse the forest without leaving a trace. A Polish translator, also a mushroom forager, advised me on which mushrooms my character might find in the woods! And I consulted with a musicologist and a master class violinist, as I sought to discover how a prodigy like Shira would practice; how she would progress, what she would play. It took years to conceive of and to write this novel, and many many drafts.
Q: When Shira plays Kaddish on her violin, my thoughts went to the Mourner’s Kaddish and my heart breaks for her and the loss of her mother. Music invokes so much emotion, personal to each of us. How did you choose the musical pieces you refer to in the book?
A: Yes, Ravel’s Kaddish is haunting and evocative, and I chose it for Shira to play as a mourning piece for her mother.
Generally speaking, I listened to a LOT of music before choosing pieces; I waned to make sure each one contributed to the story, and that it would fit Shira’s circumstance and her level of play. As I mentioned, I consulted with musical experts.
Q: It amazed me how long Roza and others lasted living in the forest in Poland. We are always looking for a parking spot closest to where we are headed so we don’t have to walk an extra step, and these people walked miles and miles, with little food and shelter, and lived outside in the elements for weeks, months and years! How did you learn about the resistance camps and why did you choose to set your story in Poland?
A: I learned about the Jewish Partisans years ago from a friend who is a documentary filmmaker. (Julia Mintz is a producer/director/writer and her film is The Jewish Partisans.) When it came to researching my novel, I went to an area of Polish forest—in winter—to understand what it would be like for my character! I read innumerable accounts of people hiding in wooded camps, as families and as Partisans. We can’t overestimate the ingenuity, strength, and perseverance they brought to their survival.
Q: You have received praise for the cover of your book; can you tell us about it?
A: The brilliant art director at Flatiron developed the cover. He based it on a torn photograph, signaling that something is torn in the story. (The Picador UK cover, wildly different, is also wonderful; it suggest elements of an enchanted garden floating out from a barn window.)
Q: What have you read lately that you recommend?
A: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong — it is astonishing.
Other books I’ve recently read and loved:
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Q: Are you going on book tour and where can we expect to see you?
A: Yes, I will be scheduling events, starting with a book launch on my publication date, March 3, 2020. I will keep an events list running on my website (www.jennifer-rosner.com) and would be happy to receive invitations to read, to attend book clubs, etc!
Q: Are you working on a new book yet?
A: I have just begun a new novel – but it’s too preliminary to describe! Stay tuned.
Jennifer Rosner’s revelatory memoir explores family, silence, and what it means to be heard. When her daughters are born deaf, Rosner is stunned. Then, she discovers a hidden history of deafness in her family, going back generations to the Jewish enclaves of Eastern Europe. Traveling back in time, she imagines her silent relatives, who showed surprising creativity in dealing with a world that preferred to ignore them.
Rosner shares her journey into the modern world of deafness, and the controversial decisions she and her husband have made about hearing aids, cochlear implants and sign language. An imaginative odyssey, punctuated by memories of going unheard, Rosner’s story of her daughters’ deafness is at heart a story of whether she – a mother with perfect hearing – will hear her children.
If a Tree Falls is a poignant meditation on life’s most unpredictable moments, as well as the delights and triumphs hidden within them.
To order Jennifer Rosner’s novel, memoir and/or children’s book, click below.
Jarring, thrilling and heart pounding, Live to the Network by Jeffrey L. Diamond is an addictive, dark mystery; compelling storytelling with a pace that leaves you breathless. Ethan Benson, a tv producer at The Weekly Reporter, assists the police force by taking on a forgotten case of gut wrenching, seemingly related murders of several young girls, to generate more public attention. He devotes himself to shedding light on the monstrous offenses, and in turn becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Danger increases as each new clue he discovers gets him closer to solving the murders, and at the same time he is battling his own demons, causing his personal life to fall apart.
Author Jeffrey Diamond knows first hand what goes on behind the scenes in television broadcast news. With forty years of experience under his belt, he offers up a vivid, frightening look at sex trafficking and inappropriate relationships between the law enforcement and the mafia, through the eyes of alcoholic producer Ethan Benson.
Live to the Network is a wild and thrilling criminal mystery ride. For fans of Law and Order SVU, Criminal Minds and Silence of the Lambs, this is the perfect combination of heinous crimes, sly detective work and difficult personal journeys. Available soon! Pre-order your copy today!
Q: As a journalist, producer I imagine you have had some incredible experiences. What was the most exciting story you worked on?
A: I worked for over forty years as a writer, producer, and director in television news and produced hundreds of stories, ranging from investigative reports on consumer fraud tohigh impact interviews, political profiles, human interest, entertainment, breaking news, and dozens and dozens of crime stories. Picking one that was the most exciting or the most memorable is nigh on impossible. But there was one story I produced over thirty years ago that haunts me to this day. It was a profile of the serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, who I met in an old rural jail in Texas. At the time, Lucas had been convicted of at least a dozen murders, and the authorities had linked him to well over a hundred more. I spent two days with Lucas, filming him in his jail cell, walking to and from the interview location—guarded by half a dozen Texas Rangers toting long guns—and chained to a chair in a conference room while my crew of ten shot the interview. Lucas was a small, unassuming man, who on the surface, appeared calm, almost meek, but underneath this placid exterior, was a violent and unstable killer who exploded without warning during the interview, rocking back and forth against his chains, screaming obscenities, and then withdrawing back into himself. During the two days I was with him, I never knew what to expect or how he’d react to my camera crew or what I’d capture on film as his personality swung from one extreme to the next. I can truly say that Henry Lee Lucas was the most frightening human being I have ever met. He was pure, unadulterated evil. When writing my second novel, Live to Tape, I modeled my killer, Rufus Wellington, on Henry Lee Lucas—trying to portray the personality of my character on the way Lucas made me feel when I was producing my television news story about this infamous serial killer.
Q: Ethan Benson has a drive to investigate cases and be in the line of fire when it comes to discovery. How much of you is in your hero?
A: There are definitely parts of me in my character, Ethan Benson. He is a producer and a reporter in television news. I was a producer and a reporter in television news. He is an investigative journalist. I was an investigative journalist. He works with camera crews, production personnel, and anchormen. I worked with camera crews, production personnel, and anchormen. He covered the crime beat for The Weekly Reporter. And I covered the crime beat for the ABC Newsmagazine 20/20. But Ethan’s personality, the essence of who he is, is drawn—not only from me—but from the many people I worked with during my long career in production. I have tried in my books to create a hero who is not only one of the best at what he does—at solving crimes—but who is also troubled, insecure, and flawed as a human being. He is deeply sensitive and insecure, and at times, buries his fears and his demons in a bottle of Scotch. For me, one of the goals of my Ethan Benson series is not only to weave a good tale in each of my murder mysteries, but to also develop my character as he copeswith life’s uncertainties and with his own fragile ego, showing my readers how he handles the roadblocks in his life and changes from one book to the next.
Q: Live to the Network includes a lot of violence against young women; what lead you to write about crimes investigated by the Special Victims Unit?
A: Live to the Network, like all of my Ethan Benson Thrillers, is drawn from my personal experiences working as a journalist in television news. During my career, I produced many stories about young women and young girls, who were abused mentally, physically, and sexually by violent predators lurking in the shadows. Most of these stories, especially in the larger urban areas like Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and New York, fell under the jurisdiction of the Special Victims Units, where the cops are specifically trained to investigate the most horrific crimes committed against women, children, and the elderly. When writing Live to the Network, I tried to incorporate in my storyline the many firsthand experiences I had working alongside SVU detectives—studying their crime scene photos, reading their police reports, going with them to the scene of the crimes, and interviewing, not only the killers, but the families of the victims. All of these experiences have left me with vivid and troubling memories, and when writing this book, I tried to bring these memories to life—as horrific as they may be—so my readers would understand that there is unspeakable evil in our society that leaves a permanent mark on everybody it touches. So it is this sense of evil that I have tried to capture, not only in Live to the Network, but also in my two other Ethan Benson Thrillers, Live to Air and Live to Tape.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of the priest in Argentina, the Chinese mob in NYC, and the corruption in the police department? What is the process for developing a good story that seamlessly connects characters and locations?
A: Research. Research. Research. For me, that’s the first and most important step inwriting a novel. Each of my books always begins the same way—with a vague idea, a kernel of thought, a memory of a story I produced as a journalist that simply pops into my head at the most unexpected of times, and once this idea crystallizes into a possible subject for one of my novels, I begin to fill in the blanks by reading everything I can put my hands on to help me understand and then develop the storyline. In Live to the Network, which focuses on the underbelly of human trafficking and the sex trade industry, I spent months doing research into the ins and outs of this problem—reading dozens of books and newspaper and magazine articles, talking to the experts in the field, surveying locations where the problem is most acute—to give me a solid foundation in the facts before I sat down at my computer and began to write. Then it was simply imagination. Imagination. Imagination. Whatever I dreamed up to make my story interesting, compelling, and a good read. The priest in Argentina came from a trip I took to Salta, Argentina and a morning I spent at its most famous cathedral. The Chinese mob came from the time I spent visiting my son who lived near Chinatown in lower Manhattan. And the corruption in the New York City police department, well, that came from the dozens of newspaper stories I read on a daily basis. The end process is taking all of these elements and writing a good story, creating tension in each chapter, and weaving in the characters, and the way I do this is something I really can’t explain. It’s just what I do.
Q: Ethan Benson is a drunk, and he may not always have his priorities straight, but I was always rooting for him. How do you create a character that is flawed and pathetic in some ways, but still is likeable and heroic?
A: People ask me all the time how I created my hero, Ethan Benson, and why I created him with flaws and imperfections. That, in essence, has been and always will be my biggest challenge. Heroes in murder mysteries are always good at what they do. Detectives are good at looking for clues and catching the bad guys. Attorneys are good at analyzingthe facts and prosecuting the villains or defending their clients. And private detectives are good at earning their money and working on the periphery of whatever cases they are investigating. Ethan is a producer and a reporter and one of the best at digging into the facts and unraveling the inconsistencies as he draws his own conclusions and solves the mysteries hidden in each of his stories. But Ethan’s private life is plagued by problems. His marriage is falling apart, he questions his own self-worth, and his ego is fragile. That’s why he drinks. That’s why he buries himself in a bottle of Scotch. The challenge in all of my books is to show the reader how he uses his talents as an investigative reporter as a counterweight to his failures as a human being and to develop in my writing how he copes with both halves of his personality and changes as a human being from one book to the next. I think that’s what makes Ethan Benson interesting as a character, that’s what makes him likeable, and that’s why my readers root for him to get his life back on track.
Q: Your writing is extremely visual and Live to the Network could easily be on screen. If you could choose an actor to play Ethan Benson, who would it be?
A: The answer to that is simple—Kevin Bacon. Each of the characters he plays is flawed as a human being but one of the best at what he does. Case in point is his role as a corrupt FBI agent on City on a Hill or his role as an emotionally and physically scarred FBI agent on The Following. In both of these television series, he brilliantly balances the good and bad of his characters. I could see him playing Ethan Benson and bringing just the right touch as an actor to my hero.
Q: This is your third Ethan Benson thriller. Live to Air and Live to Tape are the first two? What is next for you?
A: I plan on continuing to write my Ethan Benson Thrillers. I have already completed a draft of my next novel, All Cameras Live, in which my hero investigates a series of fires set by an arsonist/murderer in the Springfield area of Massachusetts, and I’m currently researching my fifth book in the series about a female serial killer who terrorizes the Florida Keys that I hope to begin writing soon.
Q: What books have you read lately that you would recommend?
A: I read all the time, and if you like murder mysteries, I’d highly recommend the latest Harry Hole novel, The Knife, by Jo Nesbo. I just finished it, and it’s great. If you like fantasies, pick up a copy of the first three books in the new Terry Brooks series, The Fall of Shannara, or anything written by Joe Hill. My personal favorite—NOS4A2. I’m just about to begin A Good Man in Africa—the first of fourteen standalone novels written by British author, William Boyd, and published in 1981. I’ll let you know what I think as soon as I finish the book!
Jeffrey L. Diamond is an award-winning journalist with forty years of experience in television news. He began his career in the early 1970’s at ABC News, where he produced hundreds of stories ranging from several minutes in length to a full hour of programming for Special Events, Weekend News, and World News Tonight, before moving to the weekly newsmagazine, 20/20. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING.
Fellow Westporter, Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly, treats Westport Library patrons to a wonderful book event a few times a year. She recommends a long list of new books, fiction and nonfiction, and gives us a short summary of each and reasons why she loves each one. Here is her current list!
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This is a captivating story of three women of different generations in the same family. In A Woman Is No Man, Etaf Rum shows us the challenges of Palestinian immigrants who are “torn between two cultures and struggling to start anew”. She reveals the truth about life and all that must be endured as an Arab woman in America.
Back and forth in time, we meet Isra, a young girl in Palestine who has an arranged marriage to Adam. The young couple moves to Brooklyn to start a family; Isra is lonely and afraid but hopeful she can win over the hearts of her new husband and mother in law. Fareeda, Adam’s mother, is a strong woman with stringent rules and specific ways of doing things. Along with shouldering the sins of her past, Fareeda’s respect for tradition and customs influences her actions and interactions with her sons, their wives and her grandchildren. Deya is a teenager living in Brooklyn with her three sisters and Palestinian grandparents. Her parents, Isra and Adam, died when she was 7, and she is being raised with the customs from Palestine by her grandmother, Fareeda.
Deya does not want an arranged marriage at 17, she want to go to college and choose her own partner when she is ready to settle down, but her American dreams will be squashed if Fareeda has anything to say about it.
“To want what you can’t have in this life is the greatest pain of all .”
Fareeda believes in arranged marriages, that sons are more valuable than daughters, and women should do all the housework and raise the children. She is haunted by her past and chooses to stick by her traditions. “Fareeda knew her granddaughter could never understand how shame could grow and morph and swallow someone until she had no choice but to pass it along so that she wasn’t forced to bear it alone. “
In Palestine, abuse was common. There was no government protection and women believed they were worthless and deserved to be beaten. They were dependent on men, had no education and were filled with so much shame. The hurt, disappointment, anger and violence got passed down until the new generation stood up for their rights as American women.
Author Etaf Rum created characters strong in their convictions, yet weakened under the pressure of deep struggles…and I felt deeply for all of them. I wanted Isra to find love in her marriage, approval from her mother in law, joy in motherhood and her daughters, and purpose in her life. Fareeda deserved to feel at peace with her choices of the past and her granddaughter, Deya, had the right to an education and to make her own choices regarding a life partner.
A Woman Is No Man was not just about women, but men, too. Most of the characters stood by their cultural roles (either to be oppressive or to be oppressed), and were challenged to break free from what the old Palestinian society expected. The men and women in the story were equally weak; Isra’s husband, Adam, in accepting his position of strength as head of the family, found no way out. Suffering under the pressures of being the first born son, he could have spoken up, but he wanted to please his parents. Similarly, Isra wanted her in-laws’ approval and the love of her husband, despite not wanting the arranged marriage. Struggle within the confines of the traditions to raise a family in this country presented challenges that many families new to America are subjected to. Ultimately, individuality and confidence the younger generations develop, being exposed to life as Americans, gives them the courage to bend the family rules and go for what they want.
Etaf Rum gives us a peek into Arab traditions, superstitions, and customs, conveying the challenges of teaching the old ways to the new generations. She also provides us with a good look into why Palestinian women may want to take on a more American approach to life to increase their self worth and independence.
I could not put this book down, loved it and highly recommend it…great for a book club discussion!
The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English Composition and teaches undergraduate courses in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Etaf also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans and is also a Book of the Month Club Ambassador, showcasing
her favorite selections each month. A Woman Is No Man is her first novel.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a wonderfully rich story, in the form of a letter, written by a Vietnamese son to his mother who will most likely never read it. She is illiterate and has had a difficult life of her own, which has influenced her parenting skills and contributed to her mental health. Overloaded with the burden of abuse, feeling like an outcast not being a white American and battling with his own sexuality, the adult son comes to terms with his vulnerability, his abusive and unreliable upbringing, his first intimate relationship and his feelings for his mother and grandmother, all while he fearlessly and unapologetically tells the story of his childhood and his search for acceptance.
In the form of a letter to his mother, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous has many tangents that accommodate the author’s trains of thought. It is self-reflective and written poetically, infused with insight gained with age. As the narrator looks back, he describes in detail how kids picked on him, and his mother could not help him because she didn’t speak English. She hit him until he was 13 years old; her violent tendencies possibly due to mental illness. He describes in detail, play by play, his first sexual encounter with another young boy. Expertly conveying the roughness and the tenderness, he reveals his vulnerable and insecure self with no apologies. So much of what he shares is painful and sad, yet we witness glimmers of self-acceptance at his personal turning point when he looked in the mirror and saw something someone could love.
“To be gorgeous (like sunset), you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”
The author makes interesting structural choices in his novel. He used Moby Dick by Herman Melville as a guide; exploring tangents surrounding the main story to give background and context. The letter format of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous allows the writer to say whatever he chooses without having to worry about a beginning, middle and end, a character arc or a formal conclusion.
Ocean Vuong is a poet and his book is autobiographical in many ways, although we don’t know all of what is fact or fiction. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because he takes us on a unique and beautiful journey; one of a life that is not easy. He nourishes the actual happenings with details of family, tradition, superstition and cultural history which enhance our understanding of this boy. The writing is rich and vibrant, the subject matter excruciatingly painful at times; an unusual combination that makes this a slow, fully absorbing and fulfilling read.
My book group enjoyed On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; some of us listened to it and enjoyed the author’s voice and emotion while others preferred to read so they could take the time to absorb the beautiful language. We found it challenging in our discussion to keep the author and the narrator separate – drawing the line between truth and fiction was murky but in the end we all appreciated the writing and the story. Check out Ocean Vuong’s late night conversation with Seth Meyers to get a feel for what he is like!
Ocean Vuong is the author of the debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 15 other languages worldwide. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.
Vuong’s writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, alongside Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon and Justin Trudeau, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, VICE, The Fantastic Man, and The New Yorker.
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at Umass-Amherst.
It’s time to stock up on some of the latest and greatest novels out this fall! From Africa to Argentina, England to Dominican Republic, Soviet Russia to New York, my fall reading list spans the globe and covers a variety of engrossing topics, including immigration, families, sex trafficking, abduction, slavery, spies and friendship.
Be sure not to miss the new books released from the authors of past favorites like Olive Kitteridge, The Girl With the Pearl Earring and Me Before You. And it is never too late to pick up the latest by Alice Hoffman, author of more than 30 works of fiction, many in the genre of magic realism, or Hank Phillippi Ryan, award winning investigative reporter, 36 time EMMY winner and author of 11 suspense novels.
As stated in Goodreads:“This is how we carried out of Africa the poor broken body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, David Livingstone, so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own land.” So begins Petina Gappah’s powerful novel of exploration and adventure in nineteenth-century Africa—the captivating story of the loyal men and women who carried explorer and missionary Dr. Livingstone’s body, his papers and maps, fifteen hundred miles across the continent of Africa, so his remains could be returned home to England and his work preserved there. Narrated by Halima, the doctor’s sharp-tongued cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a rigidly pious freed slave, this is a story that encompasses all of the hypocrisy of slavery and colonization—the hypocrisy at the core of the human heart—while celebrating resilience, loyalty, and love.
As stated in Goodreads: Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child….Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.
As stated in Goodreads: In his boldly imagined first novel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, brings home the most intimate evil of enslavement: the cleaving and separation of families. This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.
As stated in Goodreads:Prickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge is “a compelling life force” (San Francisco Chronicle). TheNew Yorker has said that Elizabeth Strout “animates the ordinary with an astonishing force,” and she has never done so more clearly than in these pages, where the iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace.
As stated in Goodreads:The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are. Filled with suspense, you may read it quickly to find out what happens, but what happens to Danny and Maeve will stay with you for a very long time.
As stated in Goodreads: What does it mean to lose your mother? What makes a family? How is it possible to survive cruelty and continue to love? In a life that is as unreal as a fairytale, Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew takes us on a journey of loss and resistance, good and evil, the fantastical and the mortal, to a place where all roads lead past the angel of death and love is never-ending.
As stated in Goodreads: Law student Rachel North will tell you, without hesitation, what she knows to be true. She’s smart, she’s a hard worker, she does the right thing, she’s successfully married to a faithful and devoted husband, a lion of Boston’s defense bar, and her internship with the Boston DA’s office is her ticket to a successful future.
Problem is–she’s wrong. And in this cat and mouse game–the battle for justice becomes a battle for survival.
As stated in Goodreads: From the author of Jerusalem Maiden comes a remarkable story, inspired by little-known true events, about the thousands of young Jewish women who were trafficked into prostitution at the turn of the 20th century, and whose subjugation helped build Buenos Aires.
As stated in Goodreads:Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.
As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.
As stated in Goodreads: A thrilling tale of secretaries turned spies, of love and duty, and of sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago.
As stated in Goodreads: LATTICING one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans?
A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.
As stated in Goodreads: 1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.
Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren’t expected to grow. Told in Chevalier’s glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.
As stated in Goodreads:Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.
As stated in Goodreads:Girl , Edna O’Brien’s hotly anticipated new novel, envisages the lives of the Boko Haram girls in a masterpiece of violence and tenderness. I was a girl once, but not anymore. So begins Girl, Edna O’Brien’s harrowing portrayal of the young women abducted by Boko Haram. Set in the deep countryside of northeast Nigeria, this is a brutal story of incarceration, horror, and hunger; a hair-raising escape into the manifold terrors of the forest; and a descent into the labyrinthine bureaucracy and hostility awaiting a victim who returns home with a child blighted by enemy blood. From one of the century’s greatest living authors, Girl is an unforgettable story of one victim’s astonishing survival, and her unflinching faith in the redemption of the human heart.
As stated in Goodreads:Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, the storytelling itself here is enthralling–the pages fly, and the book is unparalleled in its scope and its epic breadth. Funny, heartbreaking, and rewarding, it is a rich novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.