Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents Of Marriage


Exploring emotional abuse and traumatic brain injury with unflinching honesty, Accidents Of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers (Atria Books; Trade Paperback June 9, 2015) is a clear and immediately engaging account of life inside of a marriage and the choices that can make the difference between living in hell and salvation. Now available in paperback, Meyer’s critically acclaimed novel "isn't for anyone who insists on happy endings, but it rewards readers in deeply satisfying ways." (Boston Globe)

For Madeline Illica, the love of her husband, Ben, was her greatest blessing and biggest curse. Brilliant and charming, Ben could turn into a raging bull when crossed—and despite her training as a social worker, Maddy never knew what would cross him. When Ben was in a conciliatory mood, they worked on techniques for communication and anger management, but on the day of the accident nothing seemed to help. He was furious at having to drive Maddy to work, the road was wet, and that SUV was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ben never meant for them to go off the road or for Maddy to go flying through the windshield.  Now she’s on a ventilator in intensive care and no one knows if she’ll re-awaken from her coma and, if she does, whether she’ll ever be her old self. Maddy’s family blames Ben. Maddy’s friends blame Ben. The children blame Ben. Ben blames Ben—and he is sick to the pit of his soul over the fear of losing his one true love. Fourteen-year-old Emma sees things a little differently. She desperately misses her mother but misses being a teenager more as she’s forced to pick up the slack from Ben and parent her younger siblings, Gracie and Caleb. On the cusp of coming of age, she needs Maddy so she can discuss the hard decisions she’s being forced to make. And her confrontations with her volatile father are growing more heated by the day.


Randy Susan Meyers is the author of The Comfort of Lies and The Murderer’s Daughters, contributor to The Huffington Post and a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Her writing is informed by her work with batterers and victims of domestic violence, as well her experience with youth impacted by street violence. "Working with batterers taught me far more than I can put in a paragraph" says the novelist,  "but here is my version on the most important take-away:  never underestimate the hatred some men have of women. [...] We do not choose to hit and scream at our bosses. We choose to hit and scream at people in our homes. The hierarchy of power always comes into play."

Meyers will be launching the paperback release of Accidents of Marriage with actress Marianne Leone (Christopher Moltisanti’s mother in the tv series, The Sopranos), author of Knowing Jesse: A Mother’s Story, and Leone’s husband,  Oscar winner Chris Cooper, on June 18 at 7 p.m. at Bella Luna Restaurant at 284 Amory Street in Jamaica Plain, Boston. The proceeds resulting from sales of the book during the event will be matched and donated to AccesSportAmerica, a national nonprofit founded in 1995 by Rev. Ross and based in Massachusetts. The organization aims to promote higher function and fitness for children and adults of all disabilities through high-challenge sports and training.

 

Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers


1. Can you tell us a bit about the book and the relationship between the characters?
Accidents of Marriage asks what is the toll of emotional abuse on a family. It’s an account of life inside a marriage that seems fine to the outside world, an account of emotional abuse, traumatic injury, and how a seeming accident is really the culmination of years of ignored trouble. It’s the story of an unexpected gift of clarity making the difference between living in hell and salvation.
For Madeline Illica, the love of her husband Ben is her greatest blessing and biggest curse. Brilliant, handsome and charming, Ben could turn into a raging bull when crossed—and despite her training as a social worker Maddy was never sure what would cross him. She kept a fragile peace by vacillating between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their three children, until a rainy drive to work when Ben’s temper gets the best of him, and the consequences leave Maddy in the hospital, fighting for her life.
Accidents of Marriage, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Emma, takes us up close into the relationships between all family members. The children, lost in the shuffle, grasp for sources of comfort, including the (to them) mysterious traditions of their Jewish and Catholic grandparents. Emma and her grandparents provide the only stability for the younger children when their mother is in the hospital. Ben alternates between guilt and glimmers of his need to change, and Maddy is simply trying to live.  Accidents of Marriage reveals the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.

2. How many different titles did you experiment with before deciding on Accidents of Marriage?
My first working title was A Thousand Suppers (which comes from a line in the book, but ultimately made no sense out of context.) The title I used when I presented it to my editor was simply Maddy & Ben. After many long sessions with poetry books, anagrams of words, and other methods that I use, I came up with Accidents of Marriage.

3. How has working with batterers and victims of domestic violence influenced your writings?
Working with batterers taught me far more than I can put in a paragraph, but here is my version of the most important take-away: Never underestimate the hatred some men have of women. Never think that people (other than the truly damaged)  ‘snap’. If they chose to find it, people can access at least a sliver of decision-making. We have agency. We do not choose to hit and scream at our bosses. We choose to hit and scream at people in our homes. The hierarchy of power always comes into play.

Women (and men) do not choose abusive people as their loves—they pick the charming folks they meet in the beginning of a relationship. There might be signs to look out for, but abusers keep those traits in check until the relationship has solidified, when breaking up is more difficult.
There is not a black and white line between being abusive and not being abusive. There is a continuum of behavior, and most of us fall on the wrong side of the best behavior at some point—whether is be yelling, silent treatment, or some other hurtful conduct. Learning that this can be controlled is a job for everyone.

Batterers can change; we can all change our behaviors, but most often we choose not to do the difficult work that change requires. This is something I hope I bring to my writing.

4. Can you discuss the role of Maddy and Ben’s daughter in the book?
Emma is an average teenager who is thrown into very un-average circumstances. She becomes the stand-in mother, a role she takes on without credit or even being noticed. She is also the keeper of secrets, an impossible position for her to take on. In every stage of her family’s trauma, she is the silent absorber, who ultimately will break or find strength.

5. How did you portray someone with a traumatic brain injury so well?
I did an enormous amount of study. Luckily I find medical research fascinating. My shelves are crammed with memoirs of those with TBI and caretakers of those with TBI, workbooks for those with TBI, and medical texts—as well as spending time on line reading medical information for those in the field and information for those affected by brain injury. I had someone in the field read the novel and am also lucky enough to have a doctor in my writer’s group.

6. Did you have any say in choosing the cover for the book?
Yes! The final cover was the fourth one presented. It was tough finding the right ‘mood’ for the cover, but I was very pleased with the final version. Of course, most authors (including me) would love to actually design the cover, but my guess is our final products would not be the graphic success we imagine.

7. What made you choose a car crash as the tragic turning point between Ben and Maddy?
Abusive and bullying behavior very often plays out in driving. Road rage is a real problem on our motorways and seemed the logical vehicle for demonstrating how Ben’s bad choices result in devastating consequences.

8. Parts of this story make the reader begin to empathize with Ben. Why did you choose to do this?
I don’t believe books that present characters as all good or all bad can adequately capture life’s totality or experiences. It’s important for me to tap into how we are all the stars of our own show and how we often convince ourselves why it is ‘okay’ to act in awful ways.  Ben is not all bad, despite doing awful and bad things. The question I explore about Ben (among others) is can he change? Is he, are we, capable of change, and if so, how does will and can that change manifest?

9. Is Maddy modeled after anyone that you know?
Maddy is modeled after about a thousand people I know—including myself and my friends and family. Most of us have some Maddy in us, at least at some point. We close our eyes to the worst, or we use drugs or alcohol or food or something else to tamp down our feelings. We live in a maelstrom of problems and pretend it’s all okay. We deny and lie to ourselves. Until we can’t anymore.

10. What do you hope readers will take away from reading Accidents of Marriage?
Abusive behavior is wrong, whether it is physical, emotional, verbal or any other type of hurtful behavior. It overwhelms a family. Raising children with verbal and emotional violence is harmful and the ramifications last forever.
Most important, we can control our behavior.
But, most of all, I hope readers take a page-turning story from my book. I don’t write to lecture; I write to tell the stories that mesmerize me, and thus, I hope, fascinate others.
I would like to thank Mrs. Meyers, Atria Books, and our friends at MLM for the opportunity to celebrate the paperback release of Accidents Of Marriage with this post.
Meyers seeks out connections between her novels and the groups to whom she donates:  she met and became friend with actress Marianne Leone when they fell in love with each other’s books. Knowing Jesse: A Mother’s Story Of Grief, Grace, And Everyday Bliss is the story of Marianne and Chris Cooper’s son who suffered with cerebral palsy and died from SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death In Epilepsy) in 2005. In her fiercely honest and heartbreaking memoir, the actress narrates how the remarkable life and untimely death of her child transformed her. Meyer's book release event, which is free to the public, will include a reading and discussion on “Remarkable Fathers and Family” – just in time for Father’s Day, as well as prizes and entertainment.


 
 




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois by Sophie Perinot (Pre-Order Blitz)

Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

The wait is over. Sophie Perinot, author of The Sister Queens, has a new book available for pre-order! Medicis Daughter travels forward three-hundred years from Perinot’s last novel to the intrigue-riven French court of Charles IX, spinning the tale of beautiful princess Marguerite who walks the knife’s edge between the demands of her serpentine mother, Catherine de Medicis, and those of her own conscience. This is a coming-of-age story that will remind audiences that, when it comes to the 16th century, the Valois are even sexier than the Tudors—and just as treacherous.


02_Medici's Daughter_Cover


Publication Date: December 1, 2015
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot’s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family. Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot's heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother's schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot's wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul. Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.

 

Praise for Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois



“This is Renaissance France meets Game of Thrones: dark, sumptuous historical fiction that coils religious strife, court intrigue, passionate love, family hatred, and betrayed innocence like a nest of poisonous snakes. Beautiful Princess Margot acts as our guide to the heart of her violent family, as she blossoms from naive court pawn to woman of conscience and renown. A highly recommended coming-of-age tale where the princess learns to slay her own dragons!” --Kate Quinn, Bestselling author of LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY


"The riveting story of a 16th century French princess caught in the throes of royal intrigue and religious war. From the arms of the charismatic Duke of Guise to the blood-soaked streets of Paris, Princess Marguerite runs a dangerous gauntlet, taking the reader with her. An absolutely gripping read!" --Michelle Moran, bestselling author of THE REBEL QUEEN


"Rising above the chorus of historical drama is Perinot's epic tale of the fascinating, lascivious, ruthless House of Valois, as told through the eyes of the complicated and intelligent Princess Marguerite. Burdened by her unscrupulous family and desperate for meaningful relationships, Margot is forced to navigate her own path in sixteenth century France. Amid wars of nation and heart, Médicis Daughter brilliantly demonstrates how one unique woman beats staggering odds to find the strength and power that is her birthright." --Erika Robuck, bestselling author of HEMINGWAY'S GIRL


 

Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois Available for Pre-Order at

 
 
 

SP Small

About the Author


SOPHIE PERINOT is the author of The Sister Queens and one of six contributing authors of A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii. A former attorney, Perinot is now a full-time writer. She lives in Great Falls, Virginia with her three children, three cats, one dog and one husband. An active member of the Historical Novel Society, Sophie has attended all of the group’s North American Conferences and served as a panelist multiple times. Find her among the literary twitterati as @Lit_gal or on facebook at www.facebook.com/sophie.perinot.author.




 

Médicis Daughter Pre-Order Blitz Schedule



Monday, June 8
 The True Book Addict
Peeking Between the Pages
So Many Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, June 9
Unshelfish 100 Pages a Day
Mina's Bookshelf
 A Book Drunkard
The Reading Queen
The Never-Ending Book
Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, June 10
 Broken Teepee
Passages to the Past
Just One More Chapter
Historical Fiction Connection
Historical Readings & Reviews
Thursday, June 11
A Bookish Affair
Let Them Read Books
Caroline Wilson Writes
Svetlana's Reads and Views
Friday, June 12
Unabridged Chick
Boom Baby Reviews
CelticLady's Reviews
Book Lovers Paradise
What is That book About

Thursday, June 4, 2015

VERY GOOD LIVES by J.K. Rowling (A Review)


VERY GOOD LIVES
The Fringe Benefits Of Failure And The Importance Of Imagination
by
J.K. Rowling
Little Brown and Company, April 2015; Hardcover, 80 pages
Memoir
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
My Review
The 2015 graduation season has brought quite a few commencement speeches so far to the attention of the media, from the most serious notes delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama, who addressed the crowd at the Tuskegee University with her considerations about racial discrimination, to the “musical” speech performed  by Jon Bon Jovi, guitar in hand, for the graduating class of Rutgers-Camden, to the most humorous message delivered by comedian Stephen Colbert to the young audience at  Wake Forest University.


There is one commencement address from the past, though, that still makes the news today and that is the speech the best selling author of the Harry Potter saga, J.K. Rowling, gave during the 2008 graduating ceremony at Harvard. On that occasion, the popular author of fantasy novels didn’t bring up, as it might have been expected, tales of wizards and warlocks for the entertainment of the crowds, instead she bestowed upon her audience  of graduating students a powerful speech about her most hard-won and valuable life lessons - the fringe benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.


Nothing can be more important than imagination to a writer of fantasy novels, but what does the best selling author of one of the most wildly popular franchises have to do with ‘failure’? Over the span of just a decade, Rowling’s books have sold 450 million copies worldwide; they have been translated in 77 languages, distributed in more than 200 territories, turned into eight blockbuster movies, and yet at some point in her life the British writer thought she was the biggest failure she ever met. “Having the courage to fail,” explained the author during her speech, “is vital to a good life as any conventional  measure of success; imagining ourselves into the place of another - particularly someone less fortunate than ourselves - is a uniquely human quality that needs to be nurtured at all costs.”


Now published in print for the first time (Little, Brown and Company; April 2015; 80 pages), Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits Of Failure And The Importance Of Imagination records the darkest days of the fifty year old author’s life as a way to offer a perspective on what really means to live a “good life” and an eye-opening inspiration to those of us who find themselves at a turning point of their lives.


“A mere seven years after I graduated from college”, the British novelist confesses, “I had failed on a big scale”. Coming from an impoverished background, she found herself facing poverty once again in her adulthood. Her exceptionally short marriage had imploded, she was jobless, a single parent, as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. Although represented by the press as a kind of rugs-to-riches story, that period of her life was a really dark one, one in which she experienced the entire spectrum of hardships poverty entails - fear, stress, depression, humiliations. So, why the benefits of failure?


Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. Rowling stopped pretending to herself that she was anything other than what she was and began to direct all her energy into finishing the only work that mattered to her: writing novels. “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [...] And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” Failure gave J.K. Rowling an inner security and taught her things about herself she wouldn’t have learned otherwise: “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”


Imagination obviously played an essential part in rebuilding her life, but the kind of imagination she talks about in her memoir has a much wider value: “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not; [...] imagination is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared”. On this front, the most formative experience of her life, which informed a good part of what she subsequently wrote in her Harry Potter novels, is her work experience at the African Research Department of Amnesty International headquarters in London. In that position she had the chance to interact with a host of men and women who were risking imprisonment for exposing the totalitarian regimes of their native countries. She daily read about tortures, summary trials, executions, kidnappings, rapes - the blatant evidence of the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans to gain and maintain power. That experience literally gave her nightmares, she claims, but it also taught her how the power of human empathy leads to collective actions that save lives. Amnesty International mobilizes thousands of people to act on behalf of those who have been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs.


Sales of Very Good Lives will benefit LUMOS, the children’s charity of which J.K. Rowling is founder and president. She supports a number of causes through her charitable trust, Volant, but LUMOS seems to be her most ambitious and momentous endeavor to affect the world. “I founded LUMOS to help end the incredibly damaging practice of institutionalization.  As many as 8 millions children are currently being raised in institutions worldwide. The overwhelming majority are not orphans. A wealth of expert opinion agrees that institutionalization is extremely damaging to children’s mental and physical health and has a dire effect on their life outcomes. It is my dream that within our lifetime the very idea of institutionalizing children will seem to belong to a cruel fictional world.”


Incredibly inspiring.

If you want to help millions of children worldwide to regain their right to a family, you can do so purchasing J.K. Rowling’s memoir, Very Good Lives, or make your donation directly to LUMOS. You can also visit the author’s website to learn more about her charitable initiatives.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

THE READING CIRCLE by Ashton Lee (Review & Wine Pairing)




THE READING CIRCLE

A Cherry Cola Book Club Novel #2

by
Ashton Lee
Kensington Books, March 2014
Cozy, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

Review
The charming “Cherry Cola Book Club” series by author Ashton Lee may be just the ticket if you are looking for a light-hearted beach read with a generous dose of ‘Southern’ character, mouth-watering references to regional cuisine, and a social commentary colorfully veiled by the quirkiness and theatricality of its various cast.


Labeled as cozy, due to the small and socially intimate quality of its geographical setting (Cherico, Mississippi), this series made its debut in 2013 with a first installment (The Cherry Cola Book Club) that shone a spotlight on the struggles of a library to remain open and up-to-date with the modernization of public services.


It’s hard enough to keep a small library in business when demand and attendance are at their lowest, let alone when funding is dramatically cut and shady politicians (Councilman Durden Sparks and his sidekicks) keep a dedicated but inexperienced librarian (Maura Beth Mayhew) at gunpoint with the threat of diverting the township budget towards more beneficial projects (namely an industrial park).


...Cherico isn’t the center of the intellectual universe. The men folk talk college and pro sports all up and down Commerce Street, and the ladies complain about their husbands and children and exchange recipes at all the beauty parlors. [...] literary criticism is way down the list of their topics to discuss.


After years of declining circulation figures, Miz Maura Beth Mayhew finally puts her thinking cap on and with the help of some basic marketing strategies (the creation of a book club, potluck gatherings, word-of-mouth advertising), she manages to rev up the attendance  of the struggling library and bring the small community of Cherico together in defense of their cultural patrimony. At the end of the first book, Maura Beth’s efforts seem to get the library temporarily out of the hot water and earn her a one-year reprieve with councilman Sparks, but the conniving politico still doesn’t believe that a number of no matter how delicious casseroles and a few book discussions will change the fate of the under-equipped library.


The comedic flair of the first episode  subsides in its sequel, The Reading Circle (published by Kensington, March 2014),  in favor of a softer characterization of supporting cast. The author shifts his focus from the public sphere of the library conundrum to the more personal and introspective tones of the friendship bonds and love relationships blossoming between the library patrons. Mature romance, first and second chances, old flames and new marriage proposals, suspenseful plot twists and a little bit of ‘espionage’ add substance to the narration. Even Maura Beth’s personality, which almost fades in book #1 against the somewhat overly picturesque foil of the secondary characters, appears more zestful and convincing.


Finally, I have always thought that an author shows his craftsmanship in  the way he writes his villains, in the mannerism of those evil characters that, with their idiosyncrasies and machinations, make the plot of a story so much more intriguing. Councilman Sparks is just that and I look forward to seeing what other devious, backhanded curve ball he is going to throw at our young and fearless librarian in The Wedding Circle (Kensington, February 2015). My rating is 4.5 stars.


Advice to the reader
The culinary theme is a strong feature of this cozy series. If you decide to do your reading in bed, be warned that sleeping is hard to achieve with a growling tummy. All that mention of dipping sauces, fried chicken, pulled pork, mustard and sweet potato salad etc. etc. will cause all kinds of untimely cravings…


***Review copies of The Cherry Cola Book Club and The Reading Circle were kindly offered by the Publisher in exchange for an unbiased and honest opinion.




Wine pairing
My favorite recipe among the gems bestowed by the author throughout the pages of the book is Periwinkle Lattimore’s Easy Banana Cranberry Bread. Ms. Lattimore happens to be the owner of the most popular restaurant in the fictional microcosm of Cherico Mississippi. Good cold or toasted with jelly, the Banana Cranberry Bread would find a great sipping companion in a full bodied, oaky Chardonnay. Recommended by sommelier extraordinaire, Andrea Mussone.