Book Review: The Identicals, by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand novels are not only essential to vacation, they ARE my vacation. She is one of the few authors I can say whose entire collection I own and have read. (Although I’m always a year behind because I wait for the paperback). Even though many of the storylines are recycled and mixed into something new, there is something about her writing that makes each character and each plot fresh and unique. I guess there’s just something about reading about overprivileged (mostly) white people living on an overpriced (beautiful) island that helps you escape!

The Identicals is about, you guessed it, identical twins Harper and Tabitha Frost, who have been estranged since the death of Tabitha’s young son. Harper lives on Martha’s Vineyard with their father who has just passed away, and Tabitha lives on Nantucket with her daughter and their cold, ultra conservative mother. A series of circumstances causes the twins to switch islands, taking over the others’ responsibilities.

As per Hilderbrand usual, the story is told through each twins’ perspective, as well as from Tabitha’s “troublemaker” teenaged daughter, Ainsley. This time, however, she also occasionally writes through the perspectives of the islands themselves to provide an omniscient view. To be honest, I was a little resistant to the addition of Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve grown so accustomed to reading exclusively about Nantucket – the Chicken Box, the beaches, and buckets of chilled Veuve Cloquot. But I quickly adjusted and found the comparison of the “identical” islands as interesting as the comparison of the identical characters.

As always I enjoyed the book and looked forward to the chunks of time I could spend with it on my vacation (just one more chapter, just one more chapter), but I wouldn’t say this was my favorite. I didn’t find Tabitha a particularly sympathetic character because I don’t tend to like characters who blame all their problems on someone else. One such example was when the twins’ parents divorce and they had to “rock paper scissors” to decide which twin went with which parent. Tabitha was unhappy having to live with her domineering mother and blamed Harper for “winning” their dad…but yet she continued to stay with her mother, even working for her company, decades into adulthood when she could have made other choices for herself. I found her a bit spoiled and immature, and her love story a little like….what?

Harper on the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed. She is unconcerned with other people’s expectations of her, and while flawed with a history of missteps and regrets, still a good person who is grounded in a desire to be a good person. One caveat: she calls her mother Mommy. What’s up with that?

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Book Review: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, by Louise Miller

I hate to sound smug, but the fact that I, as a native Vermonter, loved this book, is high praise for debut author Louise Miller. It’s the story of Olivia Rawlings, who accidentally starts a fire in the kitchen if the fancy Boston hotel where she works and feels to the fictional town of Guthrie, Vermont, where her best friend scores her a job as the baker at a quaint country inn. The owner is cantankerous, her accommodations are in an old sugar shack, and she has a little trouble adjusting to the small town where rumors flew about her before she’d even been there a week, but she quickly makes friends with the kitchen staff, rediscovers her love of playing the banjo in a proper country band, and is “adopted” by the McCrackens, family friends of the owner, one of whom is a handsome, rugged man named Martin.

Often people born outside Vermont like to “write down” to Vermont and its citizens, as if the lot of us are uneducated and toothless, living simple, peaceful lives revolving entirely around serving the city folk who deign to visit. While Miller DOES play up the simple life aspect of Vermont, very much fitting into the idyllic stereotype of small-town rural community, I still found it more true-to-life than other “flatlander” authors, I found myself pulled deeply into the charm of Livvy, Salty, Margaret, and the McCrackens. Miller’s writing style is effortless, easy-to-read and easy to be pulled in. Although at times I found it difficult to follow the dialogue, and some of the scenes fell a little flat, it still kept me turning the pages and I looked forward to my reading time, and that’s the sign of a book I’ll return to. Both reading the book and doing the baking it put me in the mood for gave me a great sense of peace and contentment.

I’m very excited to have found Miller, and learned as I was finishing this book that her second releases this week. I immediately ordered it and can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Coming Out of a Rough Month #ifeelalittlebad

Hello all,

Anyone watch The Break w/ Michelle Wolf on Netflix? You might know Michelle Wolf as the BAMF who slayed the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (some people said her monologue went too far, to which I roll my eyes. She came correct and awesome. And who the hell booked her who thought she was going to pipe it down?) If you haven’t seen it, here it is. It’s worth 20 minutes of your time.

michelle-wolf-netflix-300x250Anyway, I’m loving the show, although I can only watch one episode at a time because her voice is a BIT much. After the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, she made an important point about how the culture of social media portrays only the good parts of life – our babies doing cute things, our puppies doing cute things, our awesome accomplishments, selfies where we look awesome, awesome vacations, etc. And those are all great, and they should be celebrated, and I do the same thing so I’m not judging you.

I wish I could share the clip where Wolf talks about this, but it’s only on Netflix so far (episode is called Hate it or Love It), so I will quote it for you.

“It’s okay to admit that life is terrifying and we never know what’s going to happen next. I mean, we only know 5% of what’s in the ocean, and most of the earth is ocean. That’s TERRIFYING. There are things called Goblin sharks. SCIENTISTS NAMED THEM THAT…And yet, we’re all just walking around answering the question “How are you?”, with “Good.” No, I’m not good, haven’t you seen the nightmare fish? Also, space goes on for INFINITY!

“Let’s make it okay to admit you’re not doing great, and really listen to other people when they admit they’re not either:

‘How’s it going today?’

‘Well, I’ve been thinking about 9/11 nonstop and both my legs hurt.’

‘Oh, I just cried in my car for 20 minutes thinking about how dogs can’t tell you when they’re sick. Also space goes on for INFINITY!’

‘Cool, so you want to grab a table or sit at the bar?'”

She went on to encourage people to share more of the bad stuff on social media, not only to be real and to get support, but so that other people can scroll through their feeds and recognize themselves in others. She also somewhat seriously asked for people to use the hashtag #ifeelalittlebad.

It’s a good skit, and it has a good point.

Now, I don’t like complaining, I try to keep it positive. I’ve worked for many years to be a more positive person. I realize that my life, when compared to much of the world, is pretty freakin’ awesome. But that doesn’t mean I always feel great. So when people – wonderful, curious, supportive, loving people – ask how my book is going, I often reply “I don’t know, it’s too early to tell.”

I do this because, when I reply “Not so great. It’s only sold about 15% of the copies they printed and I haven’t gotten any new press or reviews on Amazon or Goodreads in a month and my publisher hasn’t outright rejected my next book but their option has passed and they haven’t made an offer and my agent said she was going to send me a submission plan for other publishers which I thought could be good because maybe I’ll get a bigger publisher who can put more into marketing but I haven’t heard back from her in a month after three follow-up emails and I feel invisible and like I’m going to have to start all over again and why does my dream have to be such an uphill slog and I think I’ll probably be an assistant forever,” people tend to feel uncomfortable.

And of course, because people are wonderful and want to make me feel better, they say things like, “It’s still early days,” “You just need to get into Oprah’s book club,” and my personal favorite “At least you published a book.” This latter is the most well-intentioned comment that makes me want to scratch my own eyes out. Because here’s the thing, I didn’t want to just publish a book. Publishing WAS huge, and perhaps I should give it more weight, but that was never where the dream ended. I want to publish several books. I want to be a book-a-year author. I want to write full-time. I want at least one of my books to become a movie. Authors never tell you this is what they want because they feel like it’s boastful, like who am I to think my writing is good enough for that? Sp this comment always makes me feel like not only is my book not as successful as it needs to be to move me to the next stage, but I’m also ungrateful for what I have accomplished.

And this is true! I know it’s true.

This all leads to “It takes time.” And it does. But it’s not like I haven’t been working my ass off for ten years already, enduring 189 rejections and daily self-doubt. A small, admittedly naive, part of me hoped that the hard part was over. At some point, I started having this belief — deep, inexplicable belief, that I could actually feel in my chest — that this book would be huge. I knew the odds were against me, but I believed it anyway. And because of the stress of “unsuccess” and other factors, I haven’t connected to that feeling in a while. I’ve had good days, where I have a sense of humor about it and recite positive mantras and all that, where I really really try to believe again, but I just don’t feel that warmth in my chest. That belief. And I miss it.

I wish I didn’t want the things I want. I wish I wanted simple things, things under my control like, to learn how to speak German, or, to be some hot shot marketing executive, or to make the world’s best cookies. Those things, if you work hard enough, you will likely achieve. Writing, publishing, being one of the big names? I could work my whole life at that and never get it.

And I’m the most impatient person in the world, so, you know, great fit as far as career choices go.

So yes, this post has not been very positive, and I’m sure many of you will find it whiney. I had some great things happen in the beginning of 2018. My first book came out, I did my first TV interview, I did my first readings and had a big party to celebrate. My husband and I built our house, an actual dream house (not financed by my book earnings, by the way, although I giggle when people think that) and moved into it.

It was fun and exciting and stressful, and when it all topped off I CRASHED like Roseanne’s career after her racist tweet. It’s been hard. I’ve been struggling. So I’m sharing this because life is not just book parties and cute babies and sleeping puppies. When the camera turns off, the party is over and everyone is hungover AF, the baby starts crying and keeps you up for 140 hours and you don’t get to shower, the puppy wakes up and shits on your rug. That’s real life. And it’s okay to say #ifeelalittlebad.

 

 

Book Review: You are a Badass, by Jen Sincero

Another audiobook!

This one came to me at the exact right time, as I’ve been in a pretty negative place with super low energy. The book offers a lot of advice, largely focused around the power of positive thinking/the law of attraction, that anyone who’s read pretty much any self help book will recognize. But although there’s nothing earth shatteringly new in here, it still serves as a great reminder of the power your thoughts have on what shows up in your life. And as an added bonus, Sincero delivers a valuable, if not new, message with a little bit of swearing and a lot of humor and common sense. It’s kind of like all the best advice and revelations from every self help book ever written all compiled into one book. One quote that particularly resonated with me and where I am in my life was “The only failure is quitting. The rest is just gathering information.” I really believe that and needed to be reminded!

Book Review: Heartburn, Nora Ephron

I listened to this as an audiobook and I think that highly enhanced the experience of this book. Can you imagine a better narrator than the outrageously talented Meryl Streep?

Heartburn is the story of 7 months pregnant Rachel, who discovers her husband is having an affair. Interwoven with the plot is her full romantic history and the influences of her comic and eccentric family. My favorite part, which will sound sick until you read or listen, is the scene where her mother “dies.” Oh, and she’s a professional chef who also provides some very comfy and simple recipes that tie to the story.

While the main character was perhaps a little vapid, she is still somewhat relatable and highly entertaining. Readers of Marian Keyes, Jane Green, and Elinor Lipman (closest to the latter), or any fan of romantic comedies will enjoy this book. Five stars.

Book Review: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

One of my favorite books was returned to me today. I first read it 12 years ago as I wrapped up my backpacking trip In Australia. The trip, and this book, was very formative for me.

I remember underlining a ton, and I was worried I would be embarrassed at all the things I found deeply relevant in that “finding myself” phase of my life. But as I look through it now, copying my favorite quotes into a little notebook I keep for that purpose, they all still ring true.

It makes me want to read it again, although with so much in my TBR pile it’s hard to justify a time out to re-read a 1,000 page book. Still, if you haven’t read it, you need to. It’s based on the life of a robber and heroin addict who escapes from prison to establish a free medical clinic in Bombay…and then becomes involved in the Bombay mafia.

It’s more than an adventure, though. It’s a love story, it’s funny, and above all deeply philosophical and spiritual. Five stars.

Book Review: Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

You may have noticed I’m starting to post book reviews here…a sad indicator that there is nothing exciting to report on my own book. Oh well, I’m still immersed in the world of books!

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to read this book for some time, but the clincher was finding it on Audible narrated by Lauren Graham herself! While there was nothing particularly surprising about Graham’s first novel, I found it delightful and fun to listen to. There were times that the fast talking and description of every racing thought was a little much, but it was interesting to hear the neuroses inside a struggling aspiring actress’s mind, and to hear some of the process and decisions behind creating a character. It was a little like Lauren Graham narrating what it’s like inside my own head!

Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This weekend I finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and it was amazing. I can’t believe how much is packed into this little book! The story of two half sisters born in Ghana and the seven generations that follow them, we’re taken from the beginning of the slave trade to modern day, exposing those of us who need a historical and cultural awakening to the inexhaustible injustices the African and African American people have been forced to (and continue to) endure. The storytelling is rich and haunting, the diverging perspectives gives such a broad range of experiences. I think it should be required reading!

Book Review – Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

You’re going to want a box of tissues when you read Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.

Based on true events, Lilac Girls weaves narratives about WWII through Caroline, a wealthy philanthropist working for the French consulate in New York; Kasia, a Polish teenager caught working for the underground resistance movement; and Herta, the only female surgeon at the Ravensbruck women’s “reeducation” camp. ⠀

This novel, Hall Kelly’s debut, is simply stunning. Each character brought a unique voice to this incredibly tenuous and traumatic time in our world history. While I was completely wrapped up in each character’s story, I was glad for the transitions because I think reading any one of the characters for the whole book would have been too difficult. (For example, the “lightness” of Caroline’s story broke up the horror of Kasia’s, but would maybe have not held my attention for the entirety of the book).⠀

Despite the weight of the subject, Hall Kelly has a simple writing style that is easy to read and keeps you flying through the pages. With themes of resilience, forgiveness, and the enduring power of love through tragedy, you will be hard pressed not to find something that tugs at your heart strings. ⠀

If you liked All the Light You Cannot See, you will LOVE Lilac Girls. ⠀

What It’s Like to Be Published

Friends and Other Liars has officially been out in the world for one month, and many people have (naturally) asked how it’s doing. I haven’t come up with an easy answer for that yet. The real truth is, I’m not really sure. There is a thing called Author Central on Amazon that provides some pretty bleak numbers, but my agent tells me it doesn’t update as quickly as the publisher’s numbers, that it doesn’t include e-book sales, and that independent stores take longer to report. So it’s not an accurate picture. She tells me the numbers she’s seeing are a “modest, but not terrible,” beginning.

Which isn’t exactly comforting.

So, because I like to keep it real, I’ll tell you that I’ve had some hard days. Deep down I know this book is good, that it deserves to be read, that it will be successful. I also know that I’m the most impatient person in the world and my expectations of it soaring to number 1 overnight are entirely unrealistic (I’ve always known that, but you know, law of attraction and what not).

Being a published author is a dream come true. It really is. But that’s only the beginning of the dream. My real dream is to be a novelist. For this to be my career. To write a book a year. To have a readership who is excited for my next to come out. To support myself doing what I love. Everyone tells you this is impossible, that such a small percentage of writers get to this level. And yet, that’s what I want. That’s what I’m determined to get.

So while perhaps I should be focused on getting that first step crossed off, instead I’m trying not to freak out. As I’ve mentioned before, my publisher has until the beginning of May to decide whether they want to buy my next book. And on top of worrying if they’re going to even like it, I know a large part of their decision will be based on if I’ve hit their target with my first book.

No pressure.

I’m slowly moving into a place of peace about it. I’m not checking Author Central every day (I would like to not check it at all, but come on), I’m not refreshing Goodreads and Amazon every ten minutes to see if more reviews have posted (again, I do find myself checking every couple of days). I’m not worrying about the numbers, or obsessing over what I could do to boost sales. I’ve done practically everything within my power, and now it’s simply up to all the strangers out there who are browsing for a new book.

Instead, I’m focusing on all the wonderful people out there who have featured me on their blogs, (full list on my events page) – interviewing, reviewing, posting excerpts, and running giveaways. Book bloggers are da coolest.

I’m focusing on the fact that when I did check Goodreads the other day that 134 have rated it, 83 have reviewed it, and nine people are currently it. No, that’s not thousands or even hundreds, but that’s 134 individual people I don’t know who thought my book looked interesting and added it to their cart, who could be holding my book in their hands right now, in places from Spain to South Africa to Tanzania, (yes, I stalked them all).

One negative about this particular novel: it is the author’s debut, which means I can’t grab all her other work for immediate reading.

This may well be Kaela Coble’s debut novel but I am certain it won’t be her last.

I’ll miss them all [the characters]. I feel like I’ve lived it with them.

I’m focusing on all my friends on Facebook and colleagues who drop in my office to tell me they loved it, that they couldn’t put it down. Your support means everything!

And perhaps most importantly, I’m focused on writing the next thing. One way or another, it will be shared with the world.