Sole Survivor Finds His Way Back to Living in Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano; Author Q & A included.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano book cover

My Review:

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.

Anderson Cooper talks with Stephen Colbert about grief and loss.

 

Goodreads Summary

Author Ann Napolitano

About the Author:

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.

Learn How to Navigate Change, Wrestle With Failure and Live An Intentional Life; Neil Pasricha’s You Are Awesome Provides Solid Advice and Inspiration

You Are Awesome

My Review:

Bestselling author, podcast host and TED speaker, Neil Pasricha, has charisma and positivity that emanates from the pages of his new book, You Are Awesome.

We will all experience challenges and often face failures, but if we look at them in a positive light, appreciate what we have learned and move on, continue moving forward and growing, the negative feelings won’t drag us down or hold us back.  We have the ability to consciously change our thought process, and Neil Pasricha provides us with “9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life”.

I loves Pasricha’s thoughts on resilience and I couldn’t settle on who this book was best for, my son, my husband or my mother!  Neil hits the nail on the head when it comes to adjusting your outlook on your own life and on people and the world around you.  He puts a positive spin on what we might typically see as failure, bad news, short end of the straw.  Opportunity awaits us around every corner and behind every door.  It is just a matter of being able to see the good, be resilient, keep on going, and put yourself in the best situations to encourage success.

With smart stories and examples, we get advice on how to overcome negative feelings and how to take control of our lives. You Are Awesome is a quick and uplifting read – a great gift for everyone in your life!

 

Q & A with Neil Pasricha:

Q:  You seem to have a glass half full outlook (and a quick wit) – how much of that do you think is inherent in your personality and how much is attributed to the work you put in with what I will call “self therapy” and telling yourself a different story?

A:  A lot is self therapy! I think the wit was sharpened at a young age as a way to avoid being bullied. I was tiny, I had thick Coke bottle glasses, and I was the only brown kid in my school. The nerd preservation system kicked in! But, to your point, sure, there is a baseline. Positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubirmirsky has posited a model saying 50% of our happiness is genetic, 10% is circumstances, and 40% is intentional activities. My point is that I’m really cranking on that 40% (the self therapy bit) but … yeah, I mean, I don’t know where I am on the 50%. Likely decently high. 

Q:  You speak to large groups in person, and through your books, Ted Talks and Podcasts.  Have you ever coached individuals and have you received any feedback from people who embraced your process?

A:  Not formally, no, although after my speeches I almost always say onstage “And I’ll be the last to leave tonight!” And I mean it. Which means after the stage is packed up, and the AV team is leaving with big heavy suitcases, there are always a few people with the longest / toughest / meatiest questions lingering towards the end. Those often end up as deeper conversations. We get into it! I listen, ask questions, offer them my energy, offer them my love. 

Q:  Have you ever thought about creating ongoing seminars or workshops for people who, after reading your book, need more formal assignments and exercises to implement the ways of thinking over time?

A:  I have but I’m a big believer in following your passion. I did a lot of that kind of work at Walmart. I spent ten years there in a variety of HR roles across learning, training, leadership development, that kind of thing. It wasn’t a huge passion for me. I loved the writing, I loved the standing up and teaching, and I think I do both those things now. I have experimented with creating a couple of classes with places like Teachable and CreativeLive but it’s never quite worked. Lots of people email me asking if they can use concepts from my books in their workshops or classes and I always just reply saying “Sure, go ahead.” I value karma over copyright.

Q:  Do you keep a journal?

A:  Yes! Three of them actually:

1) I start my day with Two-Minute Mornings. (I will let go of…, I am grateful for…, I will focus on…)

2) I have a deeper wide-open longform journal that I just use to process “lumps in my stomach” or things that I’m getting stuck on. (I use this maybe 2-3x a week.)

3) I subscribe to ahhlife.com — a free online email journal that prompts me when I set it to which is Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9pm.

Q:  In You Are Awesome, you give us 9 secrets.  How many did you start off with before you whittled it down to 9?

A: At least double that! I think the second or third draft still had about 13 or so.

Q:  You tell a story about a guy you meet on a plane who tells you a secret.  After running into him once years later, you never saw him again.  Do you ever wonder if he has read any of your books and if he will recognize himself in You Are Awesome?

A:  I’m not sure! Although I was careful to anonymize enough of the story so that it *could* be a number of people. He literally is just “the bald bearded consultant” in the book and, let’s be honest, there are probably a lot of those. (Ha). 

Q:  What books do you read for inspiration?  

A:  I love reading and rereading “On The Shortness Of Life” by Seneca. I actually buy the Penguin Classics edition in bulk and hand them out and I keep one in my suitcase to crack open whenever I land in some hotel room and feel a bit stressed. It adds tremendous perspective because it was written 2000 years ago but sounds like an email from a friend today. 

In addition to talking about how to be awesome, (Ted Talk The 3 A’s of Awesome), Neil Pasricha also speaks about happiness, (Three Secrets to Achieve Happiness) and How to Get Over Social Anxiety.

 

Goodreads Summary

Neil Pasricha

About the Author:

My name is Neil Pasricha (PASS-REACH-AH) and I’m the New York Times-blah-blah bestselling author of YOU ARE AWESOME, THE HAPPINESS EQUATION, and THE BOOK OF AWESOME series. My books have published a lot of languages I can’t read, spent eight years and over 200 weeks on bestseller lists, and sold millions of copies. I run the award-winning podcast “3 Books” (www.3books.co) which is my epic 15-year quest to uncover and discuss the 1000 most formative books in the world…. 3 books at a time. (Sample guests: David Sedaris, Judy Blume, Malcolm Gladwell, etc.)

But, anyway, it didn’t start out like this. Ten years ago my wife left me and my best friend took his own life in the span of a few weeks. I channeled my energies into writing a blog called 1000 Awesome Things to cheer myself up. (And I gave a TED Talk about it called “The 3 A’s of Awesome”)

The blog took off and won the Webby for Best Blog in the World two years in a row and scored over 50 million hits.

What was I doing during all this? Working at Walmart. I spent a decade as Director of Leadership Development there and developed a passion for managing and developing people when studying at Queen’s (2002) and Harvard (2007).

You can learn more about what I’m up to now at www.neil.blog and www.globalhappiness.org.

 

The Dirty World of NY Crime and Sex Trafficking Investigated By TV Producer Ethan Benson is Exposed in Live To The Network By Jeffrey L. Diamond

Live to the Network cover art

My Review:

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 SVUCriminal 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!

 

Summary

Jeffrey L. Diamond

Q &A with Author Jeffrey L. Diamond

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 to      high 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 copes    with 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 in            writing 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 analyzing      the 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! 

Q:  How do you write about a psychopath?  
Jeffrey L. Diamond

About the Author

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.

What Goes On Behind The Closed Doors of a Therapy Session is Revealed in Maybe You Should Talk To Someone – and Q & A With Author/Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb

My Review:

I loved and learned so much reading Maybe You Should Talk To Someone.  Heading to therapy when life throws you a curveball may be just the thing you need to face your problems head on.  It is a process, not a quick fix, and it can be a wonderfully fulfilling relationship that develops over time. Committing each week to talk with a trained professional has the potential to allow you to feel supported and understood.

Los Angeles Psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb provides that safe space to her own clients, and after she suffered a personal crisis, she needed that kind of support, so she sought out to find a professional to talk with. In Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, Lori shares her enlightening therapeutic experiences that helped her learn more about herself and allowed her to better help others.

“We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”  

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, gives us the privilege to observe growth and change while peeking behind the scenes of therapy sessions, with Lori Gottlieb as the therapist and also as the client.  She has a wonderful gift of writing dialog and connecting the reader to her characters through language and humor, causing me to become fully invested in everyone’s lives. I loved when she described one of her client’s crying as “not breaking down but breaking open”.  I cried for Lori’s clients: John was having marriage problems and suffered a devastating loss, and Julie was having trouble starting a family and then was facing her imminent death.  I could feel compassion through the pages and could tell how breakthroughs with patients seemed to deepen the therapist – patient relationships, increasing trust, and nourishing and feeding Lori, providing her own self awareness and validation in her field of expertise.

I loved so many things about Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, including this quote about dance therapy:

“The movement of dance allows our bodies to express our emotions in a way that words sometimes can’t. When we dance, we express our buried feelings, talking through our bodies instead of our minds – and that can help us get out of our heads and to a new level of awareness. “

It is also great to learn a new vocabulary word:

ultracrepidarianism – the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence

Lori Gottlieb allows us to feel deeply and freely, laughing and crying as we take a therapeutic ride with her and people just like us, as they journey to a higher level of self awareness and understanding.  She is suffering a loss and her clients are faced with cancer, infertility, relationship problems and all the feelings that go with it.  Reading is known to make people more empathetic, and this beautiful book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, is a perfect place to start if you want to gain insight into emotions and behaviors of our fellow humans.  I loved it and highly recommend it!

 

Goodreads Summary

Q and A with Lori Gottlieb

Q:  I imagine your job is a serious one – people come to you with problems.  In your book you also had a problem and were sad and upset and there was an overall feeling of tragedy, yet your book is full of humor and is so heart warming.  Are you known to be funny, were things funny in real time or did you add the humorous moments when you were writing?

A:  I think life is inherently comic and tragic, sometimes at the same time.  One way we manage pain is be seeing the humor in the ridiculousness of the human condition.  I mean, we’re all ridiculous at times even though our pain is very real.  So the humor was inherent to the narrative.  I didn’t need to add anything.

Q:  Do you think all that you went through has helped you become a better therapist?

A:  I think that seeing Wendell made me a better therapist.  As his patient, I got to see a therapist who brought his personality into the room, who was so unselfconscious and authentic while also holding appropriate boundaries.  In graduate school, we’re taught to be careful in many ways and sometimes that layer of training gets in the way of being human in the room, of creating a deep, rich experience that ultimately helps the patient most.  I wouldn’t be the therapist I am today had I not had that modeled for me by my own therapist.  And I think you can see some of that evolution happening in real time in the book, as I leave his office and go to my own, and make different choices in the therapy room with that day’s patients.

Q:  Your story was enlightening and gave me a lot to think about.  One thing that struck me was the fact that therapists mourn alone due to privacy issues.  Did Julie’s husband recognize you at the celebration of her life, or did you attend unnoticed?

A:  He knew who I was because I saw Julie at their house for the lat few sessions when she was too sick to come into the office.  So I met him then.  But I was very much anonymous, by design, at her funeral to protect her privacy.

Q:  You described therapy as a relationship between patient and therapist rather than one sided.  When you told Wendell he wasn’t a man (meaning you didn’t see him that way, you saw him as a therapist) did you realize that is how others may see you?  Is it difficult for you to be stripped of your feminine self and seen as a therapist rather than a woman?

A:  I’m still my feminine self in the therapy room – I/m me, in all of the ways i present in the world.  That’s the point he was making.  We’re not robots, we’re human beings.  And patients respond to us the way they respond to people in the world.

Q:  I cried so many times while reading your book: you knew exactly how to get to my emotions.  Why do you think that is the case?

A:  I think the book resonated so widely because it’s real life – not the social media version of life, but just life.  And that’s so relatable.  Readers are deeply invested in these people because they see parts of themselves in each person I write about.  They’re invested in both their hardships and their triumphs.  Readers become very attached to these patients, just as I did as their therapist.

Q:  What are you reading these days?  What do you recommend?

A:  I just read the galleys for Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again.  It’s a follow up to Olive Kitteridge and it’s phenomenal.  Can’t recommend it highly enough!  I just reviewed it on Goodreads.

Q:  I hear your book is going to be a drama series on TV.  Can you share any details about it?

A:  The TV version is both comedic and dramatic, like the book.  Therapists have been portrayed in all kinds of unrealistic ways on TV, so I hope this show helps to change that. It’s about a woman who happens to be a therapist, versus a show about a therapist.  And I think that distinction makes all the difference.

Follow Lori Gottlieb on social media here Facebook + Twitter + Instagram.

Lori Gottlieb - author

About the Author:

LORI GOTTLIEB is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author of MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE, which is being adapted for TV with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to the New York Times. She is sought-after in media such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, CNN, and NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

Learn more at LoriGottlieb.com or by following her @LoriGottlieb1 on Twitter.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a smart, humorous look at marriage and relationships.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

My Review:

Toby Fleishman is a short, Jewish liver doctor with a few hangups, but a seemingly sincere family man. Newly separated from his wife of 15 years, he unexpectedly finds solace in online dating apps. He is overwhelmed with the attention he is getting, basking in the never before received interest from the ladies.  Bombarded with sexy photos and texts, Toby tries to stay focused on his patients at work and being a good parent to his young daughter and son.

His ex-wife, Rachel, a successful talent agent, drops the kids off to him earlier than he expects one summer morning, based on their separation agreement, and after several days she is not returning messages.  After quite a while of not answering her phone, she now seems to have disappeared, and Toby is left with the question of where she is, and whether or not he truly understood his wife to begin with.  Fleishman Is In Trouble  is easy to follow and so enjoyable; a smart, humorous look at marriage and relationships.

Toby’s best friend Libby, a girl he met on a trip to Israel with his friend Seth when they were young and single, is back in touch after many years and is being a good friend to him, meeting him for lunch and trying to help solve his current problems without mentioning her own personal struggles.

Libby feels compassion and empathy for him, much like the reader is meant to, and we understand Toby’s marriage and divorce situation from his point of view.  Once we are completely absorbed in Toby and his troubles, Libby mentions to him that he is so busy with the dating apps, he hasn’t realized SHE could use a friend, and that she has some problems too.

This is when I realized I got so sucked in to feeling sorry for Toby, I may have been manipulated by the author to see only one side of the Fleishman marriage. And that is one of the many wonderful aspects of the author’s writing as she is able to bring her audience on the ride with her and ultimately sharing different perspectives.  With her story of Toby and Rachel, along with other sub-plots like the one with the patient that has Wilson’s Disease, Brodesser-Akner highlights the idea that we may be able to predict our future if we are observant and look hard enough.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is an acute observer and talented journalist, known for her profile pieces on famous people like Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Cooper.  She has an incredible talent for pulling the reader in to all she writes about, and then tells you something that causes a seismic shift in your thinking!  Speaking to the human condition, she allows you to empathize with each of her characters even though we can clearly see their flaws, not to mention her witty commentary that keeps you laughing out loud. Her sense of humor brings additional charm just when comic relief is needed and I experienced many moments of joy and delight while reading, all the while thinking this would make a great tv show!

The author has no problem getting into the head of a man and providing the male perspective of his relationship.  Toby didn’t really consider where Rachel was coming from or how she might feel – she didn’t clearly communicate it to him, but he had little intuition.  She was having a breakdown, her upbringing contributed to her style of mothering and she was struggling, yet nobody was there to help her get through it.  Because of Toby’s point of view, I disliked Rachel until, through Libby, I learned more about her.  Taffy Brodesser-Akner took over the power of my emotions with her vivid observations, guiding me to feel the way she intended.

I really loved this heartbreaking and hilarious story of marriage, with valuable insights into how men and women think and communicate.  The NYC upper east side references were pure joy, as my husband and I lived in the Wellesley on 72nd St. and ate at EJ”s in the early 1990s, so it was a welcomed walk down memory lane (or 3rd Avenue) for me!  Fleishman Is In Trouble is a smart, humorous and accurate look at marriage, midlife, dating and relationships and reminds us that paying attention now can help us to navigate in the future.

It is worth your time to check out the three links below!

Taffy Brodesser-Akner interviewed by Jake Tapper at Politics and Prose Bookstore

Gwyneth Paltrow NYTimes Article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner-Akner

Bradley Cooper NYTimes Article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Goodreads Summary

Taffy Brodesser-Akner

About the Author

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine. Prior to that, her work appeared in GQ, ESPN the Magazine, Matter, Details, Texas Monthly, Outside, Self, Cosmopolitan and many other publications. Fleishman Is In Trouble is her first novel.

Everything In Its Place, by the brilliant Oliver Sacks, and discussion with author/photographer Bill Hayes

Everything In Its Place

My Review:

Oliver Sacks, the bestselling author and professor of neurology wrote many books about his patients, his own disorders and nature, including the notable, Awakenings.  In his final compilation of essays, Everything In Its Place, he talked about a myriad of topics, from his love of libraries, to how cold temperatures stop the growth of cancer, from dreams and near death experiences to medical case studies and a town where everyone has Tourette’s Syndrome.  He was a true, deep thinker and scientist who studied the past.

Oliver swam every day, was severely shy and suffered from prosopagnosia (was unable to recognize faces). He was celibate for 40 years and was private regarding his sexuality.  He passed away in 2015 at 82 years old from cancer.  Everything In Its Place consists of his essays that were configured into this book and released post mortem.

Sacks lived alone, focusing on his work most of his life, but in his seventies he fell in love and enjoyed a wonderful 8 years with author and photographer, Bill Hayes.  Bill wrote the must-read memoir, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me, along with 3 other non-fiction books, and a book of photography called How New York Breaks Your Heart.  My book club and I had the incredible opportunity to meet with Bill and we discussed his unsurpassable relationship with the brilliant neurologist and learned about their interests and the wonderful friendship and love they shared.

Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes

Conversation with Bill Hayes:

Oliver grew up in a Jewish home and left England at 27 years old.  He lived at the hospital where Awakenings patients were being housed and he put all his efforts  into his job as a physician and neurologist.  Oliver had no romantic relationships for most of his life while he concentrated on his work.

Bill Hayes lived in San Francisco for 25 years.  He wrote a trilogy about medical history and the human body, and he studied anatomy at UCSF.  At 48 years old, in the spring of 2009, Bill moved to NYC to reinvent himself after the devastating loss of Steve, his long time partner of 17 years, passed away suddenly.  Previously, Bill had written to Oliver Sacks about one of his books, and coincidently, once in NYC, they ran into each other in the west village and they developed an intellectual and romantic kinship.

Oliver enjoyed the new found companionship with Bill, savoring the time they spent together making dinner and everyday chores like loading the dishwasher.  According to Bill, the two men had a deep connection despite their 30 year age difference.  They were kindred spirits, and both had been through a lot.  Bill says Oliver was “chronically quotable, hilarious, eccentric and philosophical”.

Oliver had prosopagnosia, and discussed it in his books, bringing this condition to the surface.  He was not able to easily recognize faces, something he deemed a “neurological hiccup”.  He studied how people adapt to different conditions including bipolar, Alzheimers, dementia, Tourette’s and autism, and wrote about them.

Bill told us Oliver mastered the art of writing.  It came easily and fluidly.  He wrote longhand with a fountain pen on yellow lined paper.  He used no technology, no wifi, and no computer.  He had two assistants in his office and they transcribed what he wrote.  He composed in his head and generally there were not a lot of revisions.

Oliver insisted Bill keep a journal and six months after he passed away, Bill felt free to write.  Using conversations he recorded in his journal, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me, was released in 2015.  Today it is being made into a film.

Oliver published 16 books and Bill suggested we read Gratitude (4 essays about death that appeared in the NYTimes), and The Island of the Colorblind, which he described as most lyrical.

Oliver’s writing includes medical case histories,  essays on human behavior, nature, swimming, and other interests.  When compiling this collection, Bill fought hard to include the Why we Need Gardens essay in the book and it was added 6 weeks before Everything In Its Place went to press.

Bill’s memories with Oliver are joyful.  They shared so much laughter, even during his failing health in the last year of his life.  Bill says a lot had to do with Oliver; he was so clear when he learned he was terminal.  He wanted to live out his life with Bill, writing, reading, traveling and spending time with friends.  His old friend, Laura Snyder is currently in the process of writing a biography of Oliver Sacks.  She had written The Philosophical Breakfast Club, his favorite book.

Our book group was luck enough to see Oliver’s apartment via FaceTime and we asked Bill a few personal questions about himself. He told us he is currently single and dating, although the bar was set high once he met Oliver Sacks.  He also willingly shared the important significance of his five tattoos:  the end of one life and the beginning of another, I am my own anchor, a Joni Mitchell song, his five sisters and Oliver’s middle name, Wolf.

I highly recommend reading some of Oliver Sacks’ work, and Bill Hayes’ memoir, Insomniac City.  Both men are fascinating and a wealth of knowledge, compassion and creativity.

 

Goodreads Summary

Oliver Sacks

About the author:

Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, was a British neurologist residing in the United States, who has written popular books about his patients, the most famous of which is Awakenings, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Fiona Davis takes us back to the McCarthy era, NYC theater and the Chelsea Hotel in her brand new novel, The Chelsea Girls. Author Q & A included!

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

The McCarthy Era, NYC theater, and the Chelsea Hotel…Fiona Davis has treated us to another wonderful novel, The Chelsea Girls!

I love the historical setting of the Chelsea Hotel in NYC in the 1950s, with writers, actors and musicians in residence; what an interesting place to live during the McCarthy era when there was a threat of blacklisting.

Hazel is a playwright and upon her return from being on tour with the USO in Italy, and against her parents’ will, she moves out of her childhood home and into the Chelsea Hotel to work in theater.  Soon after, she is reunited with Maxine, her actress pal from the tour, when she moves to NY and into the same hotel.  Their friendship is strong and they end up working together on a play that is headed for Broadway just when the red scare casts a shadow over the theater industry.  The hunt for communists becomes prevalent and causes fear and upheaval with the girls and their co-workers. These complicated times presented difficult challenges with friendships that threatened loyalties, and I was rooting for Hazel and Maxine to beat the odds.  I found myself absorbed in each of the young women’s stories through the linear storytelling, and the deep dive into their friendship we learn through narration, conversation and diary entries.  The Chelsea Girls was compelling, interesting, educational and satisfying.

The history Fiona Davis shines a light on is enlightening and google-worthy in all of her novels and The Chelsea Girls is no exception.  Many notable people have lived in the Chelsea Hotel over time…including Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Bette Midler, and due to the many deaths that occurred there, The Chelsea Hotel is known for its’ famous ghosts that are present.

A wonderful story that includes history, NYC and friendship, I highly recommend The Chelsea Girls and all of Fiona’s other novels too (The Dollhouse – takes place at The Barbizon Hotel, The Address – takes place at the Dakota, and The Masterpiece – takes place at Grand Central Terminal)!

Jennifer Blankfein of Book Nation by Jen and author Fiona Davis

Q & A with Fiona Davis

Q:  I love the setting of The Chelsea Hotel for your newest novel…how did you come across it and decide to use it as a backdrop for your book?

A:  I knew I wanted to have the plot be about two women trying to mount a play on Broadway during the McCarthy era, and the hotel made the perfect location, as several of its residents were investigated by the FBI during that time, one was even imprisoned, and the place has been a political and artistic hotbed since it opened in 1884.

Q:  The acting and theater challenges Maxine and Hazel faced were authentic and believable.  How has your background impacted how you wrote about them?

A:  I think maybe my background offered specificity when it comes to the details of putting a show up on Broadway, and I have no doubt that having read a lot of plays helped me when it came to writing dialogue. When I acted in a theater company when I first came to New York, we did everything behind the scenes – from costume design to selling tickets – so it was a crash course in how a play gets mounted as well as the many obstacles involved in producing.

Q:  The age of McCarthy and the witch hunt for communists took a toll on the people in the entertainment business in the Chelsea Girls- can you tell me a little about what happened during that time period in real life?    

A:  One of the best books to read on the subject is Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time. She describes the initial reaction that the witch hunt as a joke. They figured since they were innocent of anything illegal, it would all disappear in time. Instead, the circus grew stranger and stranger and more threatening, and her account of testifying before Congress will send a shiver up your spine.

Q:  I love the how the chapters alternate between the two main characters.  Did you write them in the order they appear in the book?  Why did you choose to have only Maxine keep a diary?

A:  I wrote the book in order, going back and forth between Hazel’s perspective and Maxine’s. I liked the way that their perspectives offered up a different viewpoint as to what was going on, depending on their own opinions and backgrounds. I wanted to have only Maxine keep a diary so we could get deep into her head, and have a recorded account of the events.

Q:  Hazel and Maxine had struggles and I enjoyed both of them so much!  Even though there was deceit, their friendship was powerful and necessary in order to sustain composure during those times.  Who do you identify with most?

A:  I think I identify with Hazel most, as while I loved acting, it wasn’t suited to my more introspective nature. She feels the same way, and finds herself by writing plays just as I discovered so much joy in writing books.

Q:  Do you see hints of McCarthy era parallels in reverse today with accusations toward our president of having Russian connections?  Is it equally as damaging?

A:  It’s amazing how history repeats itself, but I think the way that people are bandying about the term “McCarthyism” today requires a hard look at what really happened, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write about it in the first place. Back then, politicians were trying to find an “other” to demonize, a way to find a common enemy and thereby consolidate their power. My hope is by taking a close look at the past, we can avoid going down the same road again.

Q:  After your book tour for The Chelsea Girls, What is up next for you?

A:  I’m hard at work on the next book, which is called The Lions of Fifth Avenue and set in the New York Public Library. It’s a big endeavor but I’m enjoying it immensely.

Q:  What is on your nightstand to read next?

A:  I have two books that are coming out next year to read: Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford (which is also about the blacklist, I like to think I started a trend, although I’m sure she’s been working on it for years), and The Girls in White Gloves by Kerri Maher. 

Goodreads Summary

Fiona Davis author

About the author:

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

Is There Still Sex in the City? Author Candace Bushnell says the answer is YES!

Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell

My Review:

Decades after Carrie Bradshaw, a young and hopeful writer for a NYC newspaper, and her girlfriends took on the challenges of sex and dating in the big city, author Candace Bushnell re-examines life in her new book, Is There Still Sex in the City? with a new group of female friends as they navigate the highs and lows of middle age today, along with the challenges of mating.

Twenty years ago, Candace Bushnell reshaped the landscape of pop culture, first as a reporter for the New York Observer and then with her book Sex and the City.  It became a huge tv hit and spawned two movies, developing a loyal, female following. She published nine books in total, including The Carrie Diaries, a prequel to Sex and the City, and Lipstick Jungle, about successful business women friends and their lives with challenges, perks and sacrifices, both of which were popular tv shows.

Is There Still Sex in the City? is inspired by real happenings, based on Bushnell’s and her friends’ escapades with men, their female friendships and the ups and downs of midlife.  A keen social observer, her stories are delivered with distinct style and humor.

I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Candace Bushnell on the eve of the release of her latest book, Is There Still Sex in the City? at the Westport Library in Westport CT in front of a crowd of more than 300 people and we learned how her new book came about and some of her findings when researching middle age dating trends!

Jennifer Blankfein of Book Nation by Jen

After her unexpected divorce, Candace left New York to take some time away and she retreated to CT where she had a house.  When Tina Brown asked her to come back to the city and write about middle aged dating she refused, but soon after she received an email from a young woman reporter begging her to help.  All of this young woman’s friends were on Tinder and they were unhappy – they needed Ms. Bushnell to jump in and find out what was going on.  And so she did.

Back and forth between NYC and the Hamptons, Candace and her middle aged friends were the source of information on how things go over 50.  Parents die, kids leave home, people get divorced, jobs are lost and opportunities for reinvention are created during the tumultuous time for women which Ms. Bushnell calls Middle Aged Madness.

She read a funny excerpt from the book about how she was peer pressured into going out on a date with a former Ivy League football star who said he was in his late 60s but turned out to be 75, closer to her dad’s age, and all he wanted was sex.

Author Candace Bushnell with Book Nation by Jen Blogger Jennifer Blankfein

We talked about technology and its impact on dating today, and Candace referenced her book when saying how there is a whole group of young men in their 20s and 30s who are interested in dating women 30 plus years their senior – this trend is called Cubbing and it can happen to the most unsuspecting of middle aged women!

In her book, she says, “Society colludes to tell men they’re a little bit better than they actually are while it tells women they’re a little bit worse.”  She agreed that the MeToo movement has allowed women to stand up for themselves more than before but believes men and women both feel the pressure to stay youthful.  There are special surgeries and luxurious creams available to keep women looking and feeling young, but ultimately everyone has to make choices on what they want to invest in based on their own personal comfort level.

We talked about how in the 1990s working for The New York Observer, she was asked to investigate Jeffrey Epstein due to some suspicions about a private plane and models, but was warned by someone close to him to stay away and stop asking questions.

Around the same time Charlie Rose asked her which was more important to her, writing or a relationship and back then her answer was writing.  Candace Bushnell’s priorities still stand, as she is passionate about her work and disciplined to accomplish her goals every day.  She enjoys spending time with her current boyfriend but they maintain their own residences and alternate time together and time apart.

Jennifer Blankfein of Book Nation by Jen with Candace Bushnell author

If you loved Sex and the City and the dating adventures of the iconic women friends in NYC, you will love Candace Bushnell’s new book that is a satirical tale based on her life after divorce and how she and her single, divorced and widowed friends tried to get back in the game in middle age.

Earlier this year the WSJ came out with an article about the new rules of middle age and Bushnell was quoted as saying “We are not going to do our 50s the way everyone is telling us we’re supposed to.”  She believes after our reproductive years we are reinventing ourselves, starting new ventures and taking chances and learning new things more than ever before.

Recently the NYT published an article about Bushnell’s Sunday routine which included snuggling with and walking her standard poodles, surfing the internet, writing, exercising and eating.  Maybe not what you expected from an ex-party girl, Candace admits to wearing the same pair of pants all the time and going out in NYC without makeup.

When asked which reality show is her favorite, she enthusiastically answered “Married at First Sight“.  She believes it is beneficial to have therapists meeting with the couples to give them tips on relationships and coaching throughout the early weeks of marriage.

Filled with heartbreaking and humorous anecdotes revealing adventures and challenges, Bushnell tells it like it is, sex and dating over 50 in all its glory and ugliness… she introduces us to labels she developed to categorize types of men, like the Hot Drop, Bicycle Boy and the Spouse-Child. And of course there are the well preserved Super Middles (middle aged people that are like they were before, only better)… and then everyone else. It’s not easy looking for love and Candace Bushnell keeps up chuckling through disappointments as she and her friends face the challenges of new hopeful romantic relationships and the settling for status quo companionships. Do the vibrant and experienced women over 50 today have strong relationships and good sex in their future?

When asked if there is still sex in the city, Candace says Yes, but probably a lot less.  And is the sex good?  She says it’s probably the same as it was before – if you enjoyed sex when you were younger you would feel the same over 50.

Hooray for us loyal fans… the fascinating conversation about women and dating over 50 will be played out on the big screen in the future – Paramount Television has picked up the rights to turn this one into a show!

It was a joy to learn more about Candace Bushnell, her life, career and new book, Is There Still Sex in the City?  Pick up a copy today for tips and insights about life, love and sex after 50, and enjoy some good laughs!

Goodreads Summary

Candace Bushnell

About the Author:

Candace Bushnell is the critically acclaimed, international best-selling author of Killing Monica, Sex and the City, Summer and the City, The Carrie Diaries, One Fifth Avenue, Lipstick Jungle, Trading Up, and Four Blondes. Sex and the City, published in 1996, was the basis for the HBO hit series and two subsequent blockbuster movies. Lipstick Jungle became a popular television series on NBC, as did The Carrie Diaries on the CW.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok is a must read…a wonderful immigrant story focused on family and secrets that is also an addictive and compelling mystery! Includes author Q & A…

Searching For Sylvie Lee By Jean Kwok

My Review:

A perfect combination of literary fiction and suspense, in Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok lets us inside the minds of Chinese immigrant sisters Sylvie, Amy and their Ma.  Smart, pretty and accomplished, Sylvie is the golden child in the family.  Having grown up with her grandmother in the Netherlands, she felt compelled to return there when Grandma became ill.  Younger sister, Amy, is shy and insecure.  When Amy hears that Sylvie has mysteriously disappeared, she has to pull it together to be strong, and travel overseas to find out what happened to her beloved big sister.

Ma’s relationships with her daughters are complicated; she immigrated to NYC when she and Pa were young and she was pregnant.  They were very poor and worked many jobs to stay afloat.  Once Sylvie was born they sent her to the Netherlands to be cared for by Ma’s mother, as they thought it would be a better life for her. The  feeling of rejection had a huge impact on Sylvie and her other relationships.  She stayed in Amsterdam for more than 8 years, and when Ma and Pa had another daughter, Sylvie returned to NY, yet she felt she was called home to be a babysitter for her younger sister, Amy.

Communication barriers and lack of understanding add to the tension of this story and is often the case with immigrant families.  The relationship with children can be strained and sacrificed when coming to a new country as the parents have a hard time learning the ways of the new home yet the kids haven’t lived any other way.

Ma’s communication skills are limited because she only speaks broken English, but her thoughts in Chinese are clear and strong.  Sylvie spent her formative years in Dutch culture, feeling loved by her Grandma and cousin and on unsettled ground with her aunt and uncle, and Amy was from NY, had hard working, supportive parents but struggled with a stutter and had a hard time expressing herself.

Searching For Sylvie Lee is a story of love…the beauty and the pitfalls, the joy and the heartbreak.  An unexpected disappearance becomes a full on mystery, and pain, confusion and misunderstandings are the results of buried family secrets – unintentional hurt is inflicted all around, but does the truth come out too late?  

 A Chinese immigrant experience in NY and Amsterdam, Searching For Sylvie Lee is full of suspense and wonderful writing.  This is one of my favorite books of the year!

The idea to write about a missing person was inspired by author Jean Kwok’s brother.  Learn more about the devastating disappearance of Jean Kwok’s brother HERE

Q & A with Jean Kwok

 
Q:  What inspires you to write and how do you decide the format and genre?
 
A:  I always write about issues that mean a great deal to me personally. Searching for Sylvie Lee was inspired by the real-life disappearance of my beloved and brilliant brother. I changed the main character to a woman, Sylvie, to escape the gravitational force of the true story, and Sylvie, her younger sister Amy and Ma indeed took on their own lives. However, since I did want to write about a disappearance and the ways in which we are hidden from each other by language and culture, it was natural to shape this book as a mystery surrounding a suspenseful immigrant family drama. 
 
 
Q:  The backdrop for Searching For Sylvie Lee is an immigration story about a family.  How similar is your personal story?
 
A:  Like Sylvie, I’m a first generation Chinese American immigrant and my family was also very poor when we first came to this country. Although I wasn’t sent away to be raised by my grandmother the way Sylvie was, I saw firsthand what it was like for every able-bodied person in my family to work day and night just to make ends meet. Even though I did end up going to Harvard and Columbia, I was never considered the golden child in my family – that role was reserved for my brother, the one who disappeared. I was too bad at being a Chinese girl: terrible housekeeper and cook, too opinionated and independent. So when he vanished, I had the same feeling that Amy did, of needing to pull myself together to try to figure out what had happened to my beloved sibling. 
 
 
Q:  The Grandmother took responsibility for Sylvie as a baby and in the end Sylvie felt it was important to be with her when she was ill.  Typical family structure with traditional upbringing of the children by the parents was not the route this family took.  How did you come up with this scenario?  Can you tell us about your grandparents?
 
A:  I actually never met any of my own grandparents because they were left behind in China when we emigrated. However, as the youngest of seven children, I often felt like my parents were in some ways my grandparents too, since they were the age of my friends’ grandparents. I also know many people who either needed to send their children back to their grandparents to be raised because they couldn’t afford to keep them or were sent back themselves as children. So the loving relationship between Sylvie and Grandma is something I understand deeply, even though I didn’t know my own grandparents. I watched my own parents grow older and more frail.
 
 
Q:  I enjoyed all of the details that added to the richness of your story: the bike riding, the music lessons, the trip to Venice, the apple tart…where do you get your ideas?
 
A:  Actually, all of the instances of flirtatious Dutch men on bicycles actually happened to me, which is not as fun as it sounds because my biking skills are even worse than Amy’s. When a huge Dutch guy swung himself onto the baggage rack of my little bicycle as I rode by, I lost control and we almost dove into a canal, which was terrifying because like Sylvie, I can’t swim! I like to use incidents from real life in my books and I also enjoy interviewing people and adding slices of their lives. 
 
 
Q:  I love that each of your main characters, Sylvie, Amy and Ma express their points of view in alternating chapters and yet the reader is the only one that sees the full picture.  How did you decide to write it this way and what was your process?  Did you have to make an outline or organize in any way before you started?
 
A:  One of the questions that Searching for Sylvie Lee asks is, “How well do we truly know the people we love most?” In many immigrant families, the children adopt the dominant language of the country, English, while the parents still struggle with it, resulting in parents and children who no longer speak the same language fluently. I combined those two ideas by having the novel be told by three different narrators – Sylvie, Amy and Ma – all thinking in their own languages: Dutch, English and Chinese. Of course, the book’s written in English but since the inner dialogue is in each woman’s own mother tongue, we are able to get to know each of them in a way that the others can’t. So Ma thinking in Chinese is a much deeper, more complicated person than Amy, her own daughter, will ever know because Amy can only hear the Ma who speaks broken English.
 
I did outline the entire novel before I started writing. The release of information and clues is essential to the pacing of the book, so I had to figure out where to place the Facebook messages, newspaper articles, etc. to keep the reader turning the pages. Many details changed over the course of the novel but I was constantly backing up to check that the overall structure of the book was working well. 
 
 
Q:  Many of your characters have secrets and throughout the story you provide us with clues right up until we learn the truth.  Did the clues appear naturally or did you add them in after you wrote the book?  
 
A:  I planned everything from the very beginning and I did know exactly how the book would end. I personally need to know the ending in advance because the progression of the entire novel is shaped by the ending. I always hope that my work will be both entertaining and enlightening, so I want the reader to enjoy the ride. I’m anticipating the reader experience throughout so that the ending is hopefully both surprising and yet earned. 
 
 
Q:  Sylvie is smart and pretty and looked upon as a being successful…Amy is insecure and lacks direction, but deep down, it seems these sisters are more alike than different.   Can you give us some insight and tell us which one you relate to most?
 
A:  I definitely relate to both of the sisters. I have the same perfectionist drive as Sylvie but am sadly not as talented, so I can identify with Amy who always felt like she was in Sylvie’s shadow as well. In my family, I was never considered smart or successful – that was my brother, and yet, my brother and I loved each other so much. He always took care of me and when we were very poor, he was the person who gave me a blank diary and said, “Whatever you write in this will belong to you.” That was the beginning of my life as a writer. So the love that binds the two sisters is very real to me as well. 
 
 
Q:  How long did it take to write this book and did you have to make any majors changes during the revision process?
 
A:  It took about three years to write this novel and it really seemed to flow seamlessly. I sketched out the story and started writing. There were minor revisions along the way but it almost seemed to write itself. I have a wonderful editor who helped me enhance the relationships, and she also let me know when the foreign languages needed to be pruned back a bit, that sort of thing, but basically, the book has remained unchanged from its initial conception. 
 
 
Q:  This book is a beautiful combination of compelling fiction with well developed characters, varied and descriptive background settings and an addictive mystery.  Do you recommend any other books that have a similar storytelling or other authors that have accomplished the same? 
 
A:  Thank you for your kind words. I think that Miracle Creek by Angie Kim is a wonderful novel that is similar in that it’s a page-turner wrapped around an immigrant family. This novel about a murder trial involving a Korean immigrant family after their medical facility explodes is a suspenseful, deep read. 
 
 
Q:  Can we expect another page turner that takes us on a journey from you?
A:  I’m working on a new novel right now and it’s about a young Chinese American immigrant woman who comes to the US to start a new life, but that fresh start is threatened when she gets involved with her white English teacher and he dies in a suspicious accident involving her. So indeed, I hope this will be another page turner that deals with deeper issues of immigration, culture, race and language. 
 

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Goodreads Summary

Jean Kwok

About the Author:

Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling, award-winning author of Searching for Sylvie Lee, Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in eighteen countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world. She has been selected for numerous honors, including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award international shortlist. She is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese, and English, and studied Latin for seven years. Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia University. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two boys and three cats.

Learn more about Jean here:
www.jeankwok.com
https://www.facebook.com/JeanKwokAuthor