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.

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Being A Well Adjusted and Confident Teenager Is Not The Norm in Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney

My Review:

Don’t miss Sally Rooney’s newest novel, Normal People.  This engaging page-turner is about two teenagers from Ireland but it is for everyone!  Connell is a smart, popular athlete with a working class single mother, and Marianne is an intelligent, oddball loner who lives in a mansion with her disfunction family, enduring their physical and mental abuse.  They two are intellectually well matched classmates yet socioeconomically incompatible and they steer clear of each other in high school.  Connell’s mom is the cleaning lady for Marianne’s family and when Connell picks his mom up from work the teenagers’ paths cross. Their attraction is powerful, they enjoy conversation, and they secretly spend time together, agreeing to keep it under wraps.

Their relationship is complicated in public. The kids at school would never understand or accept their being a couple, but when they are alone together they are drawn to each other.   “Most people go through their whole lives, Marianne thought, without ever really feeling that close with anyone.” Their feelings grow and the companionship brings them both some sense of normalcy and happiness, until Connell makes a bad decision that hurts her feelings and changes the course of their relationship.  This crucial choice pushes Marianne away, and so begins the rough road of ups and downs these complex Irish teenagers’ experience in this coming of age love story, Normal People.

Marianne struggles with self worth in high school, but in college she appears more confident and popular with many friends.  Connell ends up at the same school but is more reclusive, his security of high school having disappeared.   He truly loves her and tells her he will never let anything bad happen to her.  Their magnetism is mutual and undeniable, and even though they are not a traditional couple, they end up feeling understood and normal when they are alone together.  Unfortunately due to misunderstandings, they have fall outs over and over. They are both on the constant search for self worth and love, and they each have other relationships, but Marianne’s are not always healthy.

“There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love.  In school the boys had tried to break her with cruelty and disregard, and in college men had tried to do it with sex and popularity, all with the same aim of subjugating some force in her personality.  It depressed her to think people were so predictable.  Whether she was respected or despised, it didn’t make much difference in the end.  Would every stage of her life continue to reveal itself as the same thing, again and again, the same remorseless contest for dominance?”

Connell and Marianne did not feel normal in their own skin, struggling with intellectual superiority along with insecurities and feelings of unworthiness.  They knew each other best, yet communication was often misinterpreted between them and their reactions based on what they thought was going on impacted the choices they both made along the way.

This coming of age love story deals with social and economic status, depression and dominance…very real and often sad and frustrating.  There were things I hoped Connell and Marianne would have said to each other and I desperately wanted a different ending, but even though they suffered the consequences of poor communication, we are left with the hope that these two young people will ultimately find themselves happy and together.  Sally Rooney’s writing is easy to read, direct and gives a clear picture of the complexities of  a teenage, fluctuating relationship over a four year period.  I loved Normal People and highly recommend it!

Goodreads Summary

Sally Rooney

About the Author:

Sally Rooney was born in 1991 and lives in Dublin, where she graduated from Trinity College. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Dublin Review, The White Review, The Stinging Fly, and the Winter Pages anthology.

Rooney completed her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, whilst still studying for her master’s degree in American literature.  She wrote 100,000 words of the book in three months.

Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, was published in September 2018 and it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize of that year.  On 27 November 2018 it won “Irish Novel of the Year” at the Irish Book Awards. Normal People won the Costa Book Award in January 2019 and has been long listed for the 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize. In March 2019, Normal People was long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Young Korean Refugee Sacrifices Love and Education for Stability in If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

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My Review:

This wonderful debut novel, If You Leave Me, centers around five characters growing up during and after the Korean war.  Haemi is a spirited, willful and independent 16 year old refugee who lives with and feels responsible for her widowed mother and her sickly younger brother, Hyunki.  She and her lifelong friend, Kyungwan, are experiencing young love, but he wants to get an education and be a better man before he expresses his feelings.  Kyungwan’s older, wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has no immediate family, and he also takes a liking to Haemi.  Before he goes off to war he asks her to marry him, with the hope that when he returns he will have family waiting for him.  Jisoo can ensure less struggling and provide food and medicine for Haemi and her family.  Despite her connection with Kyungwan, her hope of having a life with him, and her desire for education, she ignores her emotions and accepts Jisoo’s proposal, knowing this union will provide stability and financial security for her aging mother and sick brother, and will allow all of them to continue living together.  Understanding he cannot provide the security Haemi needs, Kyungwan leaves.  Jisoo returns from war and he and Haemi have children, but she struggles with life and loss, and has a difficult time finding peace with her decisions.  After 11 years, Kyungwan returns for a short visit…

If You Leave Me is a war story and a love story; life choices are influenced by the Korean war and the challenges of being a refugee.  Crystal Hana Kim takes us through 16 years and we witness the struggles…what they do for love and what love does to them.  This is a generational saga with multiple prospectives over time, and we see how the old and the young are influenced by western culture as it is integrated into Korean life. Families are torn apart during the civil war in Korea, and the people are desperately trying to repair their lives. If You Leave Me is about difficult decisions, the security found in new families, and the unforgettable ache of lost love.  If you loved Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, you will love this one!

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Crystal Hana Kim Book Talk

Upbringing

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Crystal Hana Kim and as always, hearing from the author enhanced my understanding of where the story ideas came from and gave me a deeper appreciation for the creativity, effort and final product.  I learned that Crystal’s  Korean maternal grandmother came to New York to help raise her for a few years when she was a baby and then returned home to Korea where she goes to visit every year.  Crystal remains close to her grandmother and they keep in touch through texts and selfies.  Her parents are immigrants and throughout her childhood they spoke Korean,  were influenced by the culture and ate Korean food at home.  When Crystal went to school she felt people did not understand her or know who she was.  When she told a boy she was Korean he said no, she must be either Chinese or Japanese.  Shocked to realize Americans knew little about Korea she decided she would one day write about her culture and her family’s country.

Grandmother

Crystal’s grandmother often tells her stories about her youth and how she was a teenage refugee and had to flee her home during the Korean war.  She talks to her about poverty and the restraints on women and how marriage gave her stability even though she wanted an education, likely influencing Haemi’s character development in If You Leave Me.  (In order to fulfill her dream of education today, Crystal’s grandmother is taking harmonica lessons and is in a poetry class!)

Research

Research for the novel started with Crystal’s knowledge of Korea and her own personal family experiences and traditions, and then expanded to a civilian focused effort, interviewing many of her Korean relatives.  Her hope was to create a novel that was vivid, descriptive and portrayed family and cultural history with integrity, and I believe she was hugely successful.  I loved If You Leave Me and highly recommend it.

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Q & A with Crystal Hana Kim

Q:  I enjoyed the multiple perspectives in If You Leave Me, and each character painted a vivid picture of their life and surroundings.  I know you are a first generation American…have you been to Korea?  How much of your story came from your experiences or people you know? Did your parents’ experiences influence your story?

A:  I grew up going to Korea every summer because my mother’s side of the family all live there. She wanted to make sure that my sister and I spent as much time with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins so that we could maintain strong ties despite the physical distance. The stories in If You Leave Me are all fictitious; my favorite part of writing is creating characters, lives, and circumstances. My grandparents all survived the Korean War, and the tragedy of this war did inspire me to write about this particular time, but the characters are all my own. 

Q:  All your characters were flawed and realistic – and the war and political situation influenced their life choices and decisions.   In addition, the western cultural influences had an impact and it seemed like traditional values were being challenged by new thinking.  Do you think people who live through these type of unstable times and suffer terrible loss can recover from them and find happiness?

A:  I’m an optimist, so yes, I believe in the resilience of humankind. However, I do think that the ways in which we cope with violence, civil war, hunger, and tragedy depends on the individual. There are so many factors that shape our individual selves, from our family relationships to cultural expectations to our access to class, privilege, and opportunity. In If You Leave Me, my goal was to create a complex, diverse group of characters who felt as real and human as possible.   

Q:  We never find out who received the yellow dress but are made to feel like Jisoo bought it for another woman.  Why did you choose not to tell us who received it?  Did it not matter? (It came up in the book discussion!)

A:  Ah, the yellow dress! I prefer books that do not tie up every loose end, that instead allows room for the reader to make their own judgments. What the yellow dress represented—mistrust, disloyalty, and the fracturing in Haemi and Jisoo’s relationship—were more important and interesting to me than neatly concluding whether or not Jisoo bought a dress for another woman.  

Q:  Haemi loses everything over the course of her short life…her father dies, she spends her childhood caring for her widowed mother and ailing brother, she gives up her relationship with Kyunghwan so her family has financial stability, she sacrifices her will to be educated to become a wife to a man she doesn’t love and she loses her brother.  She mentions several times how she has a hard time recovering after pregnancy.  She also was so angry and seemed to recognize this and try to control it at times.  Did Haemi have post partum depression or a mental illness? 

A:  Haemi had to sacrifice a lot for her family, and yet there were real moments of joy in her life as well. For example, even in her relationship to Jisoo, there is a form of love in the earlier years of their marriage. Even though she finds motherhood difficult and is not the perfect caretaker, she also deeply loves her children. I wanted her life to be complex and yet realistic to the time she grew up in. 

I specifically depicted Haemi struggling after pregnancy because I wanted to write about a strong female character suffering from post partum depression. Haemi tries to articulate how she is feeling to those around her, but they cannot comprehend her illness and thus have no empathy for her. I wanted to showcase how frustrating this could feel for a mother of young children—in addition to suffering from post partum, she does not have the vocabulary to articulate her illness to others.   

Q:  How long did it take you to write this book?

A:  In 2011, when I started my graduate studies in MFA at Columbia University, I began writing about Haemi and Solee. I was interested in their mother-daughter relationship and their circumstances. As I wrote scenes from their perspectives, the other characters began to take shape. At first, I thought I was working on an interconnected short story collection about a Korean family over three generations. In 2014, I realized that I could take part of that collection and turn it into a novel. At that point, the premise and scope of If You Leave Me was born, and it was published a few years later in 2018. 

Q:  Would you ever consider writing a book centered on one of the daughters as a continuation?

A:  Yes, I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing a book about the daughters in their adult years! I think it would be interesting to explore the different trajectories these daughters’ lives would take as they grapple with their childhoods, their mother’s leaving, and Korea’s modernization. I also think this could be a way to explore immigration to the United States, which, as the daughter of Korean immigrants, I would love to write about.  

Q:  What 3 books have you read recently that you recommend?

A:  There are so many books I’d recommend! Chemistry by Weike Wang was published in 2017, but I read it this year. Chemistry is a funny and moving story about an indecisive Chinese American Phd Chemistry candidate trying to understand what she wants out of life. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell) is a slim, powerful, eerie, and odd conversation between a sick young woman in a rural hospital and a young boy. It’s an unsettling book that is difficult to describe but that will stay with you for a long time. The Return by Hisham Matar is a memoir about the author’s return to Libya to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his father decades before. 

Q:  What books are on your nightstand that you are looking forward to reading?

A:  I am very excited to read Heavy by Kiese Laymon, Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, and American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. 

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Crystal Hana Kim holds an MFA from Columbia University and is a contributing editor for Apogee Journal. She has received numerous awards, including PEN America’s Story Prize for Emerging Writers, along with fellowships and support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Born and raised in New York, she currently lives in Chicago.

Can Dogs Help Us With Grief? In Sigrid Nunez’s Latest Novel, The Friend, You May Get Some Insight.

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Meeting the Author and My Review:

Fortunate to have had the opportunity to see her speak,  I have not come across many authors who are as impressive, authentic and old school as Sigrid Nunez.  A true, lifelong writer for writing’s sake, not caught up in the business of marketing her work or following her reviews, Nunez seems focused on her craft, and just expressing herself and getting her story out of her head and onto the paper.

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According to the author, her novel, The Friend just flowed and formed itself on its own without an outline or a plan. A while ago she had been asked to do a 10 minute reading so she wrote what turned out to be the beginning of The Friend.  Soon after, she was asked to do a 25 minute reading so she added on and she felt she had something of a novel developing so she just continued to the end.  She did not do much research for this book; most of the story was meditative as the reader is alway in the consciousness of the book’s narrator.  Nunez chose to keep to the tone of a “hushed, intimate voice of someone writing a love letter” but did not write in a letter format.  She enjoyed the freedom of going from thought to thought, and felt this form was liberating and easier to write than in any other way.

Nunez is a big reader, and could never envision herself living a happy life without it.  She likes to write in the morning, at home or in the school library where she is teaching, (currently she is at Syracuse University) and works on only one project at at a time.

A writer her entire life, she is pleased, I am sure to get recognized by The New York Times (they published an article with the headline, “With ‘The Friend’, Sigrid Nunez Becomes an Overnight Literary Sensation, 23 Years and Eight Books Later”).  She is the winner of the National Book Award for Fiction 2018.

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The Friend is an unnamed woman’s story of grief after losing a lifelong friend to suicide and adopting his seemingly forlorn Great Dane, Apollo.  After meeting with her Friend’s 3rd wife who requested she adopt the pet, she agrees even though no dogs are allowed in her small apartment and she runs the risk of eviction.  The relationship with her Friend’s very large, aging companion becomes important to her and even though others believe she needs help to overcome her grief and back away from the unusual commitment to Apollo, she prefers to be with him rather than socialize with other people.  She assumes he misses his master and tries to understand what goes on in his head and his heart.

In the narrator’s voice, the author makes her own thoughts known regarding the writing community; she likens the publishing industry to a sinking ship, and mocks what could be a status builder, (the crazy but not altogether impossible idea of) a naked author calendar.  The narrator doesn’t believe people write for the right reason and interestingly enough, author Sigrid Nunez, through the voice of her narrator, has made her critical opinions known regarding the loss of integrity on the literary scene, and has unexpectedly received media attention with The Friend.

Throughout the story there is a lot to think about:

Philosophical questions and musings about reading and writing; “If reading really does increase empathy, as we are constantly being told that it does, it appears that writing takes some away.”

Publishing, and how literature has lost its quality;  “I recite your various gripes, which were not much different from those heard every day from other teachers: how even students from top schools didn’t know a good sentence from a bad one, how nobody in publishing seemed to care how anything was written anymore, how books were dying, literature was dying, and the prestige of the writer had sunk so low that the biggest mystery of all was why everyone and their grandmother was turning to authorship as just the ticket to glory.”

Dogs and their understanding; “What do dogs think when they see someone cry?”

The narrator talks about her Friend and his feelings about the benefit of walking as it contributes to creativity because it delivers a rhythm.  She tells stories of suicide, blindness, loss of speech, psychosomatic illness, sex trafficking and prostitution.

Does a good book have to deliver what the reader wants or is what makes it good the delivery of what the author wants to communicate?

I enjoyed The Friend and meeting Sigrid Nunez and hearing about her writing process and the inside scoop made me appreciate it even more!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Sigrid Nunez has published seven novels, including A Feather on the Breath of God, The Last of Her Kind, Salvation City, and, most recently, The Friend. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Among the journals to which she has contributed are The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and The Believer. Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, including four Pushcart Prize volumes and four anthologies of Asian American literature.

Sigrid’s honors and awards include a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters: the Rosenthal Foundation Award and the Rome Prize in Literature. She has taught at Columbia, Princeton, Boston University, and the New School, and has been a visiting writer or writer in residence at Amherst, Smith, Baruch, Vassar, and the University of California, Irvine, among others. In spring, 2019, she will be visiting writer at Syracuse University. Sigrid has also been on the faculty of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and of several other writers’ conferences across the country. She lives in New York City.

Hippie by Paulo Coelho

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My Review:

I loved The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and was hoping his new book would feel as important.  In Hippie, Paulo Coelho writes a story based on his own life experiences, his relationships, political views and personal values, and his adventures of travel and terror of kidnapping.  Throughout this book he has injected his thoughtful ideologies and gives us a description of the ways of the world in the 1970s.

Even though Coelho had gotten himself into trouble often as a young man, it seems as if he was a deep thinker.

“We don’t choose the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we react to them.”

Paulo embarks on a journey from Bolivia to Peru, Chile and Argentina and then to Amsterdam, where he meets Karla, a young girl looking for a travel companion to Nepal.  They take the Magic Bus across Europe and Asia to Katmandu.  We learn about their relationship and the other travelers on the trip.  With no formal plans for the future, what today we might see as a lack of responsibility, the idea of free love and the benefit of simplicity of travel, Paulo communicates his experiences that enriched his life and helped him on his search for meaning.

I particularly enjoyed reading about his discovery of dance and his transformative experience with Hare Krishna dancing and singing in the street.

“Dancing transforms everything, demands everything, and judges no one.  Those who are free dance, even if they find themselves in a cell or a wheelchair, because dancing is not the mere repetition of certain movements, it’s a conversation with a Being greater and more powerful than everyone and everything.  To dance is to use a language beyond selfishness and fear. ”

Even though I enjoyed learning a little more about Paulo Coelho, his rebellious stage and his emotional journey to find the meaning of life, for me, Hippie fell flat. Written like a story, but based on his real life, I didn’t think it portrayed Coelho’s vibrant youth and his travels in a compelling and powerful way.  There were tidbits of insight and lessons but the characters were not developed enough for me to care.  The politically charged, free thinking sex, drugs rock and roll hippie attitude was described but not written completely enough to evoke emotion.  I get the feeling that this piece of writing is more meaningful to Coelho than to readers.  But maybe that is just me…

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

The Brazilian author PAULO COELHO was born in 1947 in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Before dedicating his life completely to literature, he worked as theatre director and actor, lyricist and journalist. In 1986, PAULO COELHO did the pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella, an experience later to be documented in his book The Pilgrimage. In the following year, COELHO published The Alchemist. Slow initial sales convinced his first publisher to drop the novel, but it went on to become one of the best selling Brazilian books of all time. Other titles include Brida (1990), The Valkyries (1992), By the river Piedra I sat Down and Wept (1994), the collection of his best columns published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo entitle Maktub (1994), the compilation of texts Phrases (1995), The Fifth Mountain (1996), Manual of a Warrior of Light (1997), Veronika decides to die (1998), The Devil and Miss Prym (2000), the compilation of traditional tales in Stories for parents, children and grandchildren (2001), Eleven Minutes (2003), The Zahir (2005), The Witch of Portobello (2006) and Winner Stands Alone (to be released in 2009). During the months of March, April, May and June 2006, Paulo Coelho traveled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella in 1986. He also held surprise book signings – announced one day in advance – in some cities along the way, to have a chance to meet his readers. In ninety days of pilgrimage the author traveled around the globe and took the famous Transiberrian train that took him to Vladivostok. During this experience Paulo Coelho launched his blog Walking the Path – The Pilgrimage in order to share with his readers his impressions. Since this first blog Paulo Coelho has expanded his presence in the internet with his daily blogs in WordPress, Myspace & Facebook. He is equally present in media sharing sites such as Youtube and Flickr, offering on a regular basis not only texts but also videos and pictures to his readers. From this intensive interest and use of the Internet sprang his bold new project: The Experimental Witch where he invites his readers to adapt to the screen his book The Witch of Portobello. Indeed Paulo Coelho is a firm believer of Internet as a new media and is the first Best-selling author to actively support online free distribution of his work.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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My Review:

In An American Marriage, circumstances put loyalty to the test.  After just a year of marriage, Celestial and Roy find themselves in an undesirable situation and Roy is sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. How does a new relationship endure such a setback? During Roy’s incarceration, the couple grows apart; they exchange letters about their feelings and family, but is it enough to keep them together?  Ultimately Celestial’s prison visits dwindle to nothing and Celestial turns to her old friend Andre for support.  Roy is continually hopeful he and his wife will pick up where they left off when he is released but is naive when it comes to her true feelings.

This uniquely written character driven novel let’s us in on the struggles of an incarcerated man, an independent woman and their marriage during a 12 year sentence.  Through the exchange of letters we learn of their past, their families and their desires, yet their communications are cause for misunderstandings.  Celestial’s family hires a lawyer to fight for justice and after a long time working on the case and five years served, Roy is set free.  He hopes to return to his previous live, but time has moved on and even though Celestial has stood by him in his innocence, she has mixed feelings about his release as she has changed direction in her personal life.

I enjoyed this book although the consensus of my bookclub was that even though it was well written and worthwhile to read, the characters were not likable.  Celestial and Roy’s choices and behaviors are fodder for good discussion:  Should she visit Roy in jail?  Divorce Roy?  Should Roy give Celestial permission to leave him?  Should he act upon his jealousy?  Are they clear with each other about their desires regarding a family?  Did their role models in life effect the way they behave and think?

Race and the justice system are undercurrent themes in this story of love, marriage, commitment and the pursuit of the American Dream, and I recommend it, especially for book groups.

Goodreads summary

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About the Author:

Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, February 2018). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

 

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My Review:

Tin Man, a tender and beautiful story, is heartbreaking and wonderfully moving.  At twelve years old, Ellis and Michael become friends.  They both have difficult family lives and less than stellar relationships with their fathers.  They spend lots of time together having fun and exploring their town outside of London, and then, their close friendship becomes something more.

Ten years later, Ellis is married to Annie and Michael is out of the picture.  Ellis is burdened with shame, stemming from his past, his insecurities about who he really is and fear of his father.  Author Sarah Winman writes about Ellis and Michael as young boys and as grown men, telling us all that happened in between.  It is a complex love story of sorts, really, a life story of two men, their choices and regrets, and also a story of strong women who allow these men to journey toward their own truths by providing love, support, friendship and family.  With memories of love and loneliness, these wonderful characters and powerful relationships are captivating, expressive and unforgettable.  For me, other compelling and interesting parts of the story include Van Gogh’s painting of The Sunflowers, France during the summer of 1969, and the late 1980’s AIDS epidemic.

Don’t be fooled by the small, diary-size of this novel – it packs a wonderful and powerful 5-star punch.

 

Tin Man Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Sarah Winman (born 1964) is a British actress and author. In 2011 her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won Winman several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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My Review:

LOVED THIS BOOK! The Great Alone is an epic story of love of family and love of home –  full of emotion with picturesque descriptions of the beautiful and dangerous Alaskan landscape and the depiction of a non traditional way of life. Powerful and heartbreaking, author Kristin Hannah tells the story of passionate yet struggling husband and wife, Ernt and Cora, and teenage daughter Leni in 1974, showing the capacity for endurance, tolerance, strength, and dedication to family.

When Ernt returns home after being a POW in Vietnam, he is not the same happy husband and father he once was.  Angry and on edge, privately suffering, he is continually searching for freedom, a new and peaceful place to call home with his supportive wife and young daughter.  A perfect opportunity arises and he impulsively moves his small family to a remote village in Alaska.  With no running water or electricity, wild animals and harsh weather, this new way of life is focused on survival, and with some reservations but with dedication and devotion, 13 year old Leni and her mom, Cora are supportive and go all in.  With support from the small, neighborly Alaskan community, they learn to hunt and live off the land and adapt to the challenging lifestyle in hopes of having a happy family life.

When the endless Alaskan summer days turn dark and frigid, Ernt’s PTSD is triggered and his anger and violent behavior put Leni and Cora in grave danger.  Living in isolation, with secrets and fear, mother and daughter must be physically and mentally strong and make some life changing decisions before it is too late.   The hopes for fresh beginnings and endless love turn to misguided obsessions and uncontrollable domestic violence, causing a whirlwind of emotions and making this an exceptional book.

If you loved The Nightingale, where Kristin Hannah shows us the strength of brave women risking their lives for others in the French Resistance in World War II, you will love The Great Alone, fiercely independent women who fight to survive, risking their lives for the love of family, community and each other.  A story of resilience, nature and human nature, this is a must read!

If you would like to read an incredible, true story about a girl who grew up in the mountains, CLICK HERE.

The Great Alone Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Kristin Hannah is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, which was named Goodreads Best Historical fiction novel for 2015 and won the coveted People’s Choice award for best fiction in the same year. Additionally, it was named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, iTunes, Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, Paste, and The Week.

Kristin’s highly anticipated new release, The Great Alone, was published on February 6, 2018 (St. Martin’s Press). The novel, an epic love story and intimate family drama set in Alaska in the turbulent 1970’s is a daring, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival and the wildness that lives in both nature and man. It has been listed as one of the most anticipated novels of the year by The Seattle Times, Bustle.com, PopSugar, Working Mother, Southern Living, and Goodreads.

The Nightingale is currently in production at Tri Star, with award-winning director Michelle MacLaren set to direct. Home Front was optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to write, produce, and direct. Movie news on The Great Alone is coming soon.

A Marriage in Dog Years by Nancy Balbirer

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My Review: 

AVAILABLE IN JUNE! PRE-ORDER NOW! 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!

Amazon Prime members can download A Marriage in Dog Years for FREE on May 1st and Book Nation by Jen will be hosting a GIVEAWAY for a copy hot off the press COMING SOON!

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.