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.

Exploring Complicated Relationships and the Impact of Performance Art in The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

My Review:

So much to love in this fictional novel centered around interesting characters and the real Marina Abramovic and her Artist is Present Performance Art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 in NYC.  Just as Abramovic explores the human longing for connection in her art, Heather Rose’s characters grow and change as a result of their observation and contemplation at the performance artist’s exhibit.

The Museum of Modern Love explores complicated relationships and the impact of performance art.  Arky is a composer and at this time he is a lost man.  His wife, Lydia is ill and she has requested he not see her.  He is struggling with his music and is drawn to an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art featuring Marina Abramovic, a performance artist.  He attends everyday, watching her sit and face other visitors as they look deep inside themselves.  Arky meets Jane, an art teacher from Georgia who is mourning the loss of her husband and has abandoned her plans to visit art galleries in NYC to attend this intriguing MOMA exhibit.  Captivated by Abramovic and the unique and powerful artistic expression, the two of them work through their thoughts on the importance and impact of art and contemplate their own personal loss and relationships.  This wonderful book is worthy of research and discussion – so much to think about when it comes to love and commitment, and a lot to learn about the courageous and one of a kind artist, Marina Abramovic… all available online, including a very funny spoof video with Fred Armisen and Cate Blanchett, Waiting For the Artist.

Additional Thoughts:

My book group had the wonderful opportunity to FaceTime with Australian author of The Museum of Modern Love, Heather Rose – from Tasmania to Westport, CT.  With a fourteen hour difference, we decided to do a practice run and lucky we did.  At 5AM I awakened by a FaceTime call, but the rehearsal was meant for 7pm my time, not her time! Heather and I tried again her next day, later the same day for me…and ultimately we got it right for the book group meeting!

Heather told us she had been working on writing a book for many years.  At the same time, and totally unrelated, she had come across something about performance artist Marina Abramovic and had been researching her, even though there was hardly any information available.  Abramovic had put her life on the line for her art and self expression – something that intrigued Heather.  Then, while on vacation, Heather was sitting at a restaurant alone at the hotel with an empty seat facing her.  She had this idea that different people would come and sit across from her and it sparked an idea for her book – people who had passed would come to visit the character… so she went up to her room and wrote all night.

Shortly after, she heard that Marina Abramovic was going to be at The Museum of Modern Art in NYC in an exhibit called The Artist Is Present, where she would be sitting with an empty chair facing her and inviting people to sit across from her.  Heather Rose went to NY and spent several weeks there.  She sat in the chair across from Marina 4 times, talked with people waiting in line, and each experience was profound and different.  With approval from Abramovic and her team, Heather rewrote her book with Marina Abramovic as the center piece of her fiction novel.

Heather Rose seemed to have some special connection with Marina Abramovic and heightened intuition and foresight which brought her to writing this novel.  Her personal life greatly influenced the characters and their journeys as well – she has a chronic illness as mirrored in the character of Arky’s wife, and she and her husband divorced during the writing of this story.  Our group was excited to hear she writes childrens books with a friend under the pen name, Angelica Banks, the Tuesday McGillyCuddy series, and knowing she enjoys spending time in NYC, we all hope to see her in person someday!

I loved this book and highly recommend it!  If you enjoy art you may want to check out The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis and On Color by David Scott Kastan.

Jennifer Blankfein's book group

Jennifer Blankfein facetiming with Heather Rose

Goodreads Summary

Author Heather Rose

About the Author:

Heather Rose is the author of five novels with a further two due for publication in 2016. Heather writes for both adults and children. Her adult novels include The River Wife & The Butterfly Man.

Heather writes the acclaimed Tuesday McGillycuddy series for children under the pen name Angelica Banks with award-winning author Danielle Wood.

Heather’s first novel White Heart was published in 1999. It was followed by The Butterfly Man in 2005 – a story based on the disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974. It was longlisted for the IMPAC Awards in Ireland, shortlisted for the Nita B Kibble Award and won the 2006 Davitt Award for the Crime Fiction Novel of the Year written by an Australian woman.

In 2007 Heather received the Eleanor Dark Fellowship and an Arts Tasmania Wilderness Residency for her novel The River Wife. The River Wife was published in 2009.

In 2010 Heather began collaborating with Danielle Wood and the Tuesday McGillycuddy series for primary age readers was born.

The series begins with Finding Serendipity published in Australia, Germany and the USA in 2013/14. The sequel A Week Without Tuesday has been published internationally in 2014/ 2015 and the third book in the series – Blueberry Pancakes Forever – will be published in 2016/17.

In 2016 Heather’s next novel – The Museum of Modern Love – will be published by Allen & Unwin. It is based on the life and work of the artist Marina Abramovic.

Heather’s work has appeared in journals and anthologies including: Dirty Words – A Literary Dictionary of Sex Terms – edited by Ellen Sussman (Bloomsbury, USA), Some Girls Do – edited by Jacinta Tynan (Allen & Unwin) and Mosaic – edited by Ros Bradley (ABC Books). Her stories and reviews been published in various editions of Island magazine.

Jump on an Emotional Rollercoaster with Romance and Heartache and Let Your Tears Flow with The Last Letter by Rebecca Yarros.

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My Review:

If you like a story that rips your heart out over and over, grab a box of tissues and a copy of The Last Letter.  Special ops officer, Beckett, grew up in foster care and went into the armed services to run away from his difficult, transient life.  His best friend was killed in action but before he died, he wrote a last letter, asking Beckett to take care of his sister, Ella if anything happened to him.  She had been married and pregnant at 17, her husband left her to raise twins on her own.  One of the twins was very sick and needed treatment, and without her beloved brother, she really could use some support.  Will Beckett leave the military to follow up on his buddy’s last request?  

The book is a back and forth exchange of letters, where we not only learn the day to day happenings and the past leading up to it, but also the deep feelings, insecurities, hopes and dreams of Ella and Beckett. Through the eyes of a military family, Yarros has mastered the tugging of heartstrings and created complete characters who fight their own demons and exercise restraint, while at the same time explore love and loss, worry and hope, with physical chemistry that rivals 50 Shades of Grey at times.  Life’s mix of emotions is experienced in this sorrow-filled, yet beautiful love story.  One day at the beach or on a plane with this book is all you need to become immersed, absorbed and drained!  Add The Last Letter to your list for a quick and emotional read.  Don’t forget the tissues!

Goodreads summary

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About the Author:

Rebecca Yarros is a hopeless romantic and a lover of all things coffee, chocolate, and Paleo. She is the author of the Flight & Glory series, including Full Measures, the award-winning Eyes Turned Skyward, Beyond What is Given, and Hallowed Ground. Her new Renegade Series features Wilder and the upcoming Nova, and is sure to keep your heart pounding. She loves military heroes, and has been blissfully married to hers for fourteen years.

When she’s not writing, she’s tying hockey skates for her four sons, sneaking in some guitar time, or watching brat-pack movies with her two daughters. She lives in Colorado with the hottest Apache pilot ever, their rambunctious gaggle of kids, an English bulldog who is more stubborn than sweet, and a bunny named General Fluffy Pants who torments the aforementioned bulldog. They recently adopted their youngest daughter from the foster system, and Rebecca is passionate about helping others do the same.(less)

A Marriage in Dog Years by Nancy Balbirer

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My Review: 

A Marriage in Dog Years author, Nancy Balbirer takes us with her on the rocky journey of life as we see her joy filled marriage filled with hopes and dreams blossom then fizzle, at the same time her beloved, terminally ill beagle, Ira struggles to defy the odds and live another day.  From LA to NYC, single to married with a child, from puppy to old dog, and dreams of second chances, so much of life’s ups and downs happen and Nancy keeps you laughing through your tears.

A Marriage in Dog Years is a touching true story is told with honesty and humor, stirring up so many different feelings including love, anger, forgiveness and hope, well written in the author’s unique voice. Balbirer’s story is reminiscent to Sarah Jessica Parker’s hit show, Divorce on HBO – the good, the bad and the ugly truth about the slow death of a marriage, a complex relationship crumbling with regrets and infused with hope for peace and a bright future, with the added bonus of actual puppy love – unconditional and unwavering mutual support and devotion in man’s/woman’s best friend. If you love love, and if you love your pet, this emotional ride is for you!

As Seen on Goodreads:

When Nancy Balbirer learns her beloved eleven-year-old beagle has kidney failure, she’s devastated. She and her husband had gotten Ira as a puppy—a wedding gift to each other, and their first foray into “parenthood.” Now, her dog is terminal, her marriage is on life support, and Nancy is desperate to save them both (whether they want it or not). In a single year, she loses her two best friends, but Nancy’s life is about to take yet another unexpected turn.

With humor and heart, Nancy Balbirer shares her story of relationships, loss, and canine friendship in this illuminating memoir about the lengths people will go to keep love alive…and the power of finally letting go.

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About the Author:

Nancy Balbirer is a writer and performer of stage and screen. She is the author of “Take Your Shirt Off and Cry.” She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

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My Review:

I am a huge fan of Lisa Genova’s and have enjoyed and highly recommend her four previous novels, Still Alice, Inside the O’Brien’s, Left Neglected and  Love Anthony.  Genova has a degree in Biopsychology and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, and her medical knowledge adds powerful enrichment to her heartbreaking and life affirming stories that tackle real neurological diseases.

In Every Note Played, concert pianist, Richard, experienced life’s joy through playing piano, his expert fingers on the keys were his livelihood and his passion.  Once given the detrimental diagnosis of ALS, Richard started losing the use of his hands, then arms.  His ex-wife, Katrina was leading an unfulfilling life, teaching piano to disinterested kids after school.   Years ago her career was put on hold for Richard, and she never faced her fear to pursue her dreams.  Feeling like she has little choice, Katrina reluctantly decides to be Richard’s caretaker.

Genova expertly explores regret, guilt and forgiveness as we witness the progression of this deadly disease. Richard and Katrina tip toe around their past while they attend to the growing responsibilities and challenges ALS demands of them.   Fighting their feelings of denial and anger, Richard, Katrina and their daughter use their fleeting time together to work through the disappointments of their relationships from the past and try to connect again one last time before it is too late.

Every Note Played is a tragic and upsetting story about a horrible degenerative disease, but with the eye on human relationships and great insight, Genova explores life choices and their consequences, giving us incentive to be less selfish, and strive for peace and understanding amongst family and friends before we run out of time.  I highly recommend this book.

As Seen on Goodreads:

From neuroscientist and New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice comes a powerful exploration of regret, forgiveness, freedom, and what it means to be alive.

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

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About the Author:

Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction and the Michael Crichton of brain science, Lisa Genova is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels STILL ALICE, LEFT NEGLECTED, LOVE ANTHONY, and INSIDE THE O’BRIENS.

Lisa graduated valedictorian from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. She has captured a special place in contemporary fiction, writing stories that are equally inspired by neuroscience and the human spirit. Her books focus on people living with neurological diseases and disorders who tend to be ignored, feared, or misunderstood, portrayed within a narrative that is accessible to the general public. Through fiction, she is dedicated to describing with passion and accuracy the journeys of those affected by neurological diseases, thereby educating, demystifying, and inspiring support for care and scientific research. She has written about Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, autism, Huntington’s disease, and ALS.

STILL ALICE was adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish. Julianne Moore won the 2015 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alice Howland.

In 2015, Lisa was named one of the U.S. Top 50 Influencers in Aging. She received The Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square,The Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award, The Global Genes RARE Champions of Hope Award, and The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Media Award for Informing the Public about Treatment and Ongoing Research in Medical Illness.

In 2016, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bates College, The Alzheimer’s Association’s Rita Hayworth Award, and The Huntington’s Disease Society of America Community Awareness Award.

Her 2017 TED talk, “What You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s,” was seen by over 2.5 million viewers in its first few months and was one of the most popular TED talks of 2017.

Her fifth novel, EVERY NOTE PLAYED, is about ALS and was published in March 2018.

 

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

 

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Conversation with author Rhiannon Navin:

First I would like to say I loved Only Child. Your writing pulled me in so I couldn’t put down the book until I finished; I think about the characters and how they dealt with tragedy and loss everyday, and I see the value of empathy now more than ever.  I felt hesitant when I was ready to pick up my copy – we as a country are experiencing the aftermath of a school shooting once again and emotions are difficult to keep in check when thinking about the minute by minute experience of the kids during the occurrence, so I was not sure I was ready to put myself in the position to live through such a frightening, life changing event along with your young elementary school narrator, Zach.  After I finished the last page I decided everyone in the country is ready to read this; in a way it is a guide for how to (and how not to) manage your emotions and understand each other’s feelings and take care of yourself and loved ones during difficult times.

What made you decide to write about a school shooting?  Do you have any personal ties to a similar tragedy?

About two years ago, shortly after my twins Frankie and Garrett started kindergarten, they experienced their first mandatory lockdown drill at school. That same afternoon, I found Garrett hiding from the “bad guy” underneath our dining room table. He was petrified. So I began to wonder: What would it be like for him to experience an actual shooting? And how would he navigate what came afterwards? And so I sat down and wrote the opening scene of Only Child. In this scene, Zach, my six-year old protagonist, is hiding in the closet of his first-grade classroom, together with his teacher and classmates. They are hiding from a gunman who’s at large at the school and who, during the course of his rampage, takes nineteen lives.

How did you get into the head of a first grader?  

I used my own kids as my focus group for how Zach might act or speak. In a way, the process of discovering Zach’s character and writing his story brought me closer to them because I paid more attention and watched them intently for clues: What are they thinking right now? How are they processing, expressing themselves? I call my kids by the wrong name all the time—even the cats’ and dog’s names sometimes—and because I hung out with Zach so much while they were at school, I even called them Zach once or twice. They were very confused.

Your characters all dealt with grief in different ways; Zach worked out his feelings with colors on paper, read Magic Treehouse books that in essence were “self help” for kids, and tried to be close with his parents.  His mom shut him and the rest of the family out as she turned inward to process her loss alone, and then invested her energy in anger, retaliation and connection with other victim’s families, and Zach’s father did his best to be supportive and present for his son by sitting with him in his hideout and trying to be understanding, but was distracted with his emotions regarding his adult relationships.

Do you think there is a right way to deal with grief?

No, there is no right or wrong way. Grief will manifest itself differently for each person and there’s very little you can do to control how it will affect you. In an ideal world, you would seek out help, hold your loved ones close, and try to pass through that trying time together. But as we all know, that’s not how it always plays out in real life. Writing the character of Melissa, Zach’s mom, was very difficult, not only because I often felt her pain like it was my own, but because I also often didn’t agree with her actions. I often felt disappointed in her or even angry sometimes. But—that’s grief. It can be all-consuming and overpowering.

Do you believe Charlie was to blame for his son’s actions?  

I think it’s impossible to place blame on any one person or circumstance when a young man like Charles Jr. in my story, or the many real-life examples we have seen lately, commit such a horrific act like a school shooting. What surprised me was how much empathy I felt for Charlie and his wife while writing my story. That is not something I expected at first. And now, whenever news of the latest school shooting breaks, my first thoughts are always with the victims and their families of course. But I do also think about the shooter’s family. While the victims’ families have to deal with their unspeakable losses, the perpetrator’s family is dealing with guilt and shame over their child’s actions in addition to having lost a child. A community comes together and rallies around the victims’ families, while the shooter’s family is ostracized and completely alone with their grief. As a mother, the only thing I can imagine that would be worse than having my child killed in a school shooting would be my child committing one. 

Did you intend for this book to be a catalyst for change when it comes to legislation?  How do you think it can impact discussions regarding mental illness and gun access and responsibility?  

I began writing Only Child without an agenda. I simply needed an outlet for all the fears and worries I am experiencing as a mother of three young children. I lie awake at night worrying about their safety while at school. Writing my story was a way for me to work through my fears and my grief. It was never my intention to get up on my soapbox and shout out my views on gun control. Instead, I wanted my story and my little protagonist’s experience speak for itself. I hope my readers will find themselves in a hopeful place when they reach the end of my book and maybe even feel inspired to take action to be part of the solution, to make sure their child or their neighbor’s child or the child across town doesn’t have to become the next Zach.

Why did you make Andy such a difficult child?  

It was important to me not to write a story that would be pitting “good” against “evil.” My goal was to paint a picture of an ordinary family that I can relate to and that many readers will be able to relate to. My characters are all flawed in their own way, because that makes them relatable to me. Zach’s family is an average family dealing with everyday problems. Being married is hard, even under the best of circumstances. Parenting is hard, especially when your child has behavioral challenges, like Andy. The fact that Andy was a difficult child and an unkind brother made the grieving process that much more confusing for Zach and interesting for me.

At the end of the story the family came together, possibly realizing they needed to in order to get to the next stage of grief and begin to go through the motions of living life again.  Do you think in the case of Zach’s family, loss will keep them together or break them apart in the end?

I think I left Zach, his family, and his community in a place of hope. Their story is far from over, of course, and they are only beginning to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. But they have started down a path towards healing and forgiveness, and instead of trying to walk it alone, they have come together and will lean on each other.

Only Child was so well done, a deep look into how tragic experiences can influence and shape a young person’s thoughts and actions.  Will you write from a child’s perspective again?  What are you working on now?

I think I will continue to try writing from unique perspectives. I very much enjoyed putting myself into such completely different shoes. I don’t know if it will be a child’s point of view again. I have begun working on another story. I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it too much, but like Only Child, it’s a story that deals with a family in peril, although an entirely different kind of peril.

And finally, what books have you read lately?

I’ve read a whole range of very different books lately. I just finished “Restless Souls” by Dan Sheehan (out here in the US on April 10) and absolutely loved it. Before that I read “One Goal” by Amy Bass and “The Devil’s Claw” by Lara Dearman, both crazy talented friends of time. Next up is “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig, very excited for that one.

Thank you so much to Rhiannon Navin!  I look forward to reading her next book!

As seen on Goodreads:

A Tenderhearted debut about healing and family, narrated by an unforgettable six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts and the quietest voices speak the loudest.

Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.

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About the Author:

RHIANNON NAVIN grew up in Bremen, Germany, in a family of book-crazy women. Her career in advertising brought her to New York City, where she worked for several large agencies before becoming a full-time mother and writer. She now lives outside of New York City with her husband, three children, and two cats.

The Salt House: A Novel by Lisa Duffy

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My Review:

In The Salt House, author Lisa Duffy masterfully takes us deep into the layers of emotions of the Kelly family as they work through feelings of guilt, responsibility and pain following a tragic family loss.  After losing their baby, Hope is paralyzed with her grief; she is having trouble moving forward and is unable to return to work.  She refuses to scatter the ashes and has been reluctant to continue with the renovation of The Salt House, the home the family loves and plans to move in to.  Jack, a lobster fisherman, throws himself into his work on the boat, is rarely home with the family and is neglecting his health.  Overcome with guilt, combined with  the sorrow of losing a child, and the stress it put on the marriage, the Kelly family’s world starts to cave in.  The daughters, Jess and Kat, are living and dealing with the loss of their baby sister in their own ways while baring the brunt of parental stress and disagreements at the same time they are trying to grow up.  So well written from each person’s point of view, the characters dig deep to expose their pain, past and current, and their journey together sets an example for how families can rescue each other from debilitating hurt and grief by facing it head on with truth and honesty.  I felt emotionally overwhelmed and shed many tears while I read The Salt House, a sign of a great book that really touched me, and when it ended I had feelings of renewal and hope for the future.  At under 300 pages, this is a great book to pick up this summer…I loved it!

As seen in Goodreads:

In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

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Lisa Duffy is the author of The Salt House, her debut novel. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her short fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and can be found in The Drum Literary Magazine, So to Speak, Breakwater Review, Let the Bucket Down, and elsewhere. Lisa is the founding editor of ROAR, a literary magazine supporting women in the arts. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children.

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes

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My Review:

I couldn’t help but fall in love with New York City as I lived it through author Bill Hayes’ eyes reading Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me.  He is a wonderful observer and he captures the essence of people through photographs and his stories.  He tells us his life journey (after he loses his beloved partner he leaves San Francisco to start fresh in NYC) and we experience his existence as he heals his soul, taking in the sights of the city and finding beauty in his connections with others.  We here about his relationship with Oliver Sacks, the well-known neurologist,  genius of a man and can feel the love they had for each other through the pages.  Although Sacks was almost 30 years older, Hayes often seemed to be his guide contributing to what made them a well matched, intriguing couple.

I’ve always been enamored with New York City and did enjoy living there for a while, but now, in addition to my renewed appreciation and love for my favorite city I feel warm feelings toward author Bill Hayes who is no doubt a kind, tender hearted, open minded man who, in his life has nurtured loves until they are gone, but he continues to see, appreciate and capture the beauty in this world. Oliver Sacks seemed like a brilliant, unique and loving man…I would have enjoyed meeting him.

As Bill Hayes writes. ” It requires a certain kind of unconditional love to love living here.  But New York repays you in time in memorable encounters, at the very least.  Just remember: Ask first, don’t grab, be fair, say please and thank you, always say thank you – even if you don’t get something back right away.  You will.”

This tender memoir was like reading a love letter to New York City – I have a list of people I know who will cherish it like I did!

As seen on Goodreads:
Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city’s incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera.

And he unexpectedly fell in love again, with his friend and neighbor, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose exuberance–“I don’t so much fear death as I do wasting life,” he tells Hayes early on–is captured in funny and touching vignettes throughout. What emerges is a portrait of Sacks at his most personal and endearing, from falling in love for the first time at age seventy-five to facing illness and death (Sacks died of cancer in August 2015). Insomniac City is both a meditation on grief and a celebration of life. Filled with Hayes’s distinctive street photos of everyday New Yorkers, the book is a love song to the city and to all who have felt the particular magic and solace it offers.

 

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About the Author:

The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction, Bill Hayes is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the author of several books.

A photographer as well as a writer, his photos have appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Granta, New York Times, and on CBS Evening News. His portraits of his partner, the late Oliver Sacks, appear in the recent collection of Dr. Sacks’s suite of final essays Gratitude.

Hayes has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome, the recipient of a Leon Levy Foundation grant, and a Resident Writer at Blue Mountain Center. He has also served as a guest lecturer at Stanford, NYU, UCSF, University of Virginia, and the New York Academy of Medicine.

Purchase a copy of Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me HERE

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner

 

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As stated in Goodreads:

The discovery of long-buried secrets brings three generations of women together to Cape Cod for the summer homecoming of a lifetime.

Marin Bishop has always played by the rules, and it’s paid off: on the cusp of thirty she has a handsome fiancé, a prestigious Manhattan legal career, and her father’s hard-won admiration. But with one careless mistake at work, Marin suddenly finds herself unemployed and alone. Before she can summon the courage to tell her parents, a young woman appears, claiming to be Marin’s half-sister. Seeking answers, Marin agrees to join her on a soul-searching journey to Cape Cod, to meet the family she didn’t even know she had.

As the summer unfolds at her grandmother’s beachside B&B, it becomes clear that her half-sister’s existence is just the first in a series of truths that will shake Marin’s beliefs–in love, and in her own identity–to the core. Filled with shocking revelations, heartfelt romance, and resilient women banding together against the most unexpected twists of fate, THE FOREVER SUMMER is an emotionally resonant page-turner, and a delicious escape for any season.

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Jamie Brenner is the author of THE FOREVER SUMMER coming in April from Little, Brown. Her previous novels include THE WEDDING SISTERS (St. Martin’s Press). She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

 

My thoughts:

I literally could not put this book down – The Forever Summer was about so many things…love, loss, infidelity, illness, secrets, romance, commitment, revelations and personal truths. Each character has their own story, as in real life, and Jamie Brenner does a wonderful job showing the incredible strength in women and the undeniable power of family. Joining talented authors like Jane Green and Elin Hilderbrand, Jamie Brenner has written the next must read for your beach bag.  The New England Coast setting is my favorite for a juicy summer book – don’t miss this one!

Order The Forever Summer HERE