PLUM FULL OF MAD SCIENTISTS…& MONKEYS — A REVIEW

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In the opening scenes of Plum Spooky, we once again see Stephanie Plum involved in her usual bounty hunting, plus a little extra something. Diesel, another hunky guy with special qualities, has popped into her life, and hovering nearby is his cousin Wulf Grimoire, a power-hungry evil entity.

Wulf has partnered up with some power mad science geniuses in an effort to control the elements. And in the Pine Barrens of Jersey, a whole cast of quirky characters will plunge the story into a quagmire of challenges that also include a lot of monkeys.

What do the monkeys have to do with the scheme the scientists are brewing? How will Stephanie manage to keep Diesel under control while he is camping out in her apartment? And how will one particular monkey named Carl seem to add that special something to the story?

As usual, Stephanie gets into a lot of trouble on her way to catching her bounty, and there are still the familiar hot men: Morelli and Ranger. But they are minor characters in this particular romp that had me turning pages rapidly, even as I knew that in the end, Stephanie and her cohorts would save the day. 3.5 stars.

AUTHOR WENDY WAX SHARES THOUGHTS ON MOTHERS & DAUGHTERS — MAY 4

Today, Author Wendy Wax, whose delightful books have engaged readers for many years, is back to share some thoughts about mothers and daughters.  Her newest novel, Ten Beach Road, has just been released.

And while you’re hear, click on over to read a Q & A with Wendy Wax.

The Mother-Daughter Thing
Wendy Wax

“If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother!”  I saw a pillow with this stitched on it in a store the other day. I have a pillow just like it, bought long ago, and I’ve never been able to look at it without smiling; or perhaps more truthfully, grimacing.

I spent part of my twenties talking to a therapist about my own relationship with my mother. I was fairly certain that all of my insecurities could be traced to the things she’d said and done. In conversations debating nature versus nurture, I always went with nurture, which allowed everything that was wrong with me—and there were an awful lot of things—to be my mother’s fault. In fact, I didn’t originally intend to have children at all because I was so afraid of messing them up.

That resolve weakened in my thirties and I now have two fabulous teenaged sons (whom I don’t think I’ve scarred too badly). In the process I discovered that mothering is way more complicated than it looked from the receiving end. I also switched sides in the ‘nature vs. nurture’ conversation not just to absolve myself of the full load of responsibility I dumped on my mother, but because my sons are different from each other in almost every way, and those differences were obvious from birth.

Still, it would be difficult to argue the fact that most of us are the mothers we are because of—or in spite of—our own mother’s mothering style, which we either emulate or reject completely. If they were hypercritical, we may bend over backward not to criticize. If they were disorganized we become fervent list-makers. If they never got up to make our breakfasts before school (something my mother’s generation apparently never got the memo on) we’re up at the crack of dawn squeezing fresh orange juice and scrambling those eggs. Or at least popping the frozen waffles into the toaster.

As loaded with emotion as the mother-daughter relationship is, it can be hard to find much middle ground. Which explains why it so often finds its way into women’s fiction novels. I’ve addressed it in many of my books, but even I was surprised when I ended up with not one, but two important mother-daughter relationships in my newest novel, Ten Beach Road.

Ten Beach Road is a story about Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford and Nicole Grant, three strangers who lose their life savings to a Ponzi scheme and are left with only co-ownership of Bella Flora, a dilapidated beachfront mansion, which they’re forced to spend a sweat soaked summer nursing back to life.

But the number of women at Bella Flora expands to include Madeline’s unexpectedly pregnant daughter and Nicole’s estranged mother. Both of these strained relationships factor greatly in the story and are a real source of conflict. None of which is helped by their having to share a single bathroom during a good part of the renovation. Their resolutions differ greatly as these kinds of relationships do in real life. Although my characters’ relationships aren’t tied up in a bow of happiness and understanding, the characters do grow and change. Sometimes that’s the most you can hope for.

No one can love you or hurt you more than your mother.  Just this week I listened as one friend and one complete stranger vented about their relationships with their mothers. But of course, once you become a mother you realize that this relationship cuts both ways.

I worry that one day my sons will feel the need to vent about me, despite my best attempts to be the mother I thought they needed. As my mother once observed, it’s amazing how differently both sides of this relationship can view the same conversation or event. Like two witnesses to a crime or an accident, what happened is rarely as clear cut as we’d like.

I occasionally complain that my sons don’t share their feelings or even the details of their day as much as I’d like (or in the way that daughters do), but it’s begun to occur to me that this may actually work to my benefit. Perhaps they also won’t need to ‘tell all’ to a counselor. Or regale their friends and future spouses with stories about my mistakes and foibles.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never seen that crotched pillow that reads, ‘If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother!’ I’ve got it tucked away in a back closet where my children, who are male after all, will never find it.

A JOURNEY TOWARD REDISCOVERY — A REVIEW

Three women from very different circumstances have one thing in common.  They have all suffered financial ruin at the hands of a financial manager, and they all now share ownership in a ramshackle beachfront property in Florida.

When they meet to assess their property, they come to a seemingly untenable decision.  They will restore the historic home back to its original beauty, and then sell it.  But they must achieve this in a record amount of time and by doing the work themselves, under the guidance of a local contractor.

The journey brings out all the strengths they weren’t sure they had and forges friendships that will bring more than they could have bargained for.  What happens during the course of this amazing journey will be totally unexpected, with some sad and some victorious moments.

Avery, Nicole, and Madeline will end up with something else they hadn’t expected.  They will discover untapped resources inside themselves that they will carry with them into the future.  But what disasters and obstacles will befall them before they’ve reached their goal?  And what will sustain them in the days, weeks, and months ahead?

Each character was someone I could relate to, even though none of them had experiences I’d enjoyed.  Avery, an architect who had been reduced to a “Vanna White-like” role on the HGTV show she co-hosted with her ex-husband, is frustrated and full of anger; Nicole has a very successful matchmaking business to high-end clients, but something is missing from her life; and Madeline has been a homemaker all of her life, but her current empty nest has her seeking something new to do with her life.

In many ways, they are each ripe for the picking when fate throws them a few curves.  Isn’t it true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?  Each of them is forced to find out the truth of that on their new journey.  I loved that each of the women began to reach out to one another, despite the secrets they tried to hold tight within.  I felt emotionally drawn to them when obstacles popped up, as inevitably they would in such a situation.  None of the women has been trained to do an “extreme makeover” like the one they face.

The contractor, Andrew, is an old family friend to Avery, but the way he seemingly condescends to her, calling her “Vanna” repeatedly, raised my ire.  I could identify with the plight of being diminished by a man who is in a position of power.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Madeline came into her own as the leader and go-to person for organizational skills.

As I turned the pages of Ten Beach Road, I didn’t want the story to end.  Even though I wanted to see what would happen, that satisfaction would come at the price of losing these friendships.  For by this time, I felt as though these women were part of my own friendship circle.  This book earned five stars from me.

****

Check out the Q & A With Wendy Wax

Author Bio:

WENDY WAX


“All of my class pictures from Sunshine Elementary School are displayed at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum on Pass-a-Grille,” says Wendy Wax, speaking about her childhood in St. Pete Beach, Florida. “Fish Broil was the big event every fall and the best days were when we had recess or art class on the beach, but what I remember best is running loose with my friends and exploring every inch of the beach we called our own. Is it any surprise it’s still one of my favorite places in the world? Or that it ended up as the setting in one of my books? It was bound to happen someday.”

Someday came when Wendy began reading about how the lives of so many people, from so many different walks of life, changed dramatically as a result of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. It wasn’t long before she was imagining a scenario in which three women face bankruptcy at the hands of an unscrupulous money manager. At the end of the day, these three strangers discover that all that’s left of their savings is shared ownership of a once-glorious beachfront mansion. They’re faced with a choice. They can cut their losses and sell for whatever amount of money they can get, or—in a bid for solvency—accept the backing of a local contractor in order to restore the historic property themselves, bit-by-backbreaking bit.

The basics of her plot and the themes Wendy imagined—women facing adversity, making choices, redefining themselves and discovering the strength of friendship—gave her a wide range of possible settings for TEN BEACH ROAD. When it came time to embrace ambiance, architectural styles, and local color, she chose a
place she knows well, her hometown of St. Pete Beach. It was right for so many reasons. Its tropical climate, dual
cultures of vacationers and residents, and even the current real estate market fit her story well, and presented
challenges her characters might not have faced elsewhere. Of course, it also gave Wendy an opportunity to indulge in researching the Mediterranean-Revival architectural style she so admires and the history of the area, as well as to share her pleasure in magnificent Gulf sunsets and some of her favorite spots in Historic Pass-a-Grille.

Among her fondest memories are visits to her local library. Wendy read voraciously as a child, becoming fast friends with Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. Her love affairs with language and storytelling paid off beginning with her first shift at the campus radio station while studying journalism at the University of Georgia.

Wendy returned home, graduated from the University of South Florida and then worked for the Tampa PBS
affiliate, WEDU-TV, behind and in front of the camera. Her resume includes on air work, voiceovers and production work on a variety of commercial projects and several feature films. She was best-known in the Tampa Bay area as the host of Desperate & Dateless, a radio matchmaking program that aired on WDAE radio, and nationally as host of The Home Front, a magazine format show that aired on PBS affiliates across the country.

The mother of a toddler and an infant when she decided to change careers, Wendy admits it may not have been the best timing in terms of productivity. “I’m still not certain why I felt so compelled to write my first novel at that particular time,” she says, “but that first book took forever.” Since then she’s written six others, including
Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist; The Accidental Bestseller and Single in Suburbia. Her novel 7 Days and 7 Nights was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has been sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Wendy lives in Atlanta, which she has called home for 14 years. A former broadcaster, she spends much of her non-writing time speaking to writer’s groups and book clubs, enjoying time with her husband and sons, and visiting her family in St. Pete. She continues to devour books.

AUTHOR WENDY WAX WEBSITE

TEN BEACH ROAD/Berkley/Trade Paperback
On Sale May 3, 2011/$15.00 ($17.50 Canada)/0-425-24086-X . 978-0-425-24086-1
Includes the Readers Guide
.
MAGNOLIA WEDNESDAYS/Jove Books/Mass Market/Reprint
On Sale April 26, 2011/$7.99/0-515-14984-5 . 978-0-515-15984-5
Contact: Joan Schulhafer, joan@joanschulhafer.com, 973-338-7428

or Erin Galloway, erin.galloway@us.penguingroup.com

THOUGHTS FROM A “HUNGRY WRITER” — KAREN WHITE

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Today I’d like to welcome bestselling author Karen White, who is sharing some thoughts about writing.

One of her previously released books, Falling Home, will soon be released again—in November 2010.

 

 

The Hungry Writer

Have you ever gone shopping in a grocery store when you’re really, really hungry?  Don’t.  Because what you’ll end up bringing home is a lot of Hostess Twinkies and a party-sized tub of whipping cream among other things that should probably never be seen outside a fraternity house on a Friday night.

I’m currently in my fourth year of writing two full-length novels per year.  Yes, two.  I don’t know what possessed me to say, “Sure, that sounds like fun!” but I’d like to find out whatever it was and open a can of whoop-a** on it.  Having so many books on the shelves has brought me a lot of new readers for all of my books, and for that it’s worth it.  But I really, really miss my sleep.

So when the rights to one of my out-of-print books, Falling Home, reverted back to me, I immediately sold them to my current publisher for a re-release.  This was the book of my heart back when I wrote it in 2000.  I sold it to a small New York publisher with hopes that it would be my “break out novel”, but I was disappointed with its small print run and how quickly it became out of print.  Soon, desperate fans were paying really ridiculous amounts to get a used copy of it, and I was answering lots of emails asking me how readers could find a copy.

When my current publisher suggested publishing it in November of this year, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I already had a book out in 2010 (On Folly Beach) so this way I would STILL have two books out, but I wouldn’t have to do any extra work!  Oh, the plans of mice and men…

Since “biting off more than I can chew” has become my new mantra in the last few years, instead of saying, “Hey, it’s good to go—publish as is,” I hesitated.  I had written ten other books since I’d first written Falling Home. Hadn’t my writing become stronger?  My ability to tell a story tighter and more meaningful?

Just as a hungry girl walks into the grocery store, I told my editor that I wanted to revise the book.  I loved what my readers loved about the book—the story and the characters.  It’s a “Steel Magnolias” story set in the fictional small town of Walton, Georgia and is about two estranged sisters who reunite to fight a common enemy.  My hope is to create a lot of laughs and a few tears as readers fall in love with the citizens of Walton—and especially Sam Parker, the town doctor.

What I wanted to change was the writing and the emotional impact of the book. So I opted to rewrite it, despite that fact that I had another looming deadline for the next book.

So, did I do the right thing?  Yes, I feel pretty confident that I did.  The book is better, and I’m so glad that new readers will have the chance to read it for the first time and I believe that readers of the older version will enjoy revisiting favorite characters.

Of course, now I’m so far behind on my next deadline that I’m desperately searching the Internet for somewhere to buy a clone.  So far no luck, but I’ll keep you posted.

Karen White’s Website

Karen White’s Blog

Hope you’ll stop by on October 6 for Karen White’s interview with the Dames!

HAUNTINGLY COMPLEX & DISCONCERTING

This compelling new novel from Jennifer Egan paints visual images for the reader, scanning the lives of musicians and assistants, from the past to the present; she also gives us glimpses of the future as we follow along in the moments.

Bennie Salazar and Sasha are the centerpiece characters in this tale.  Their lives in the music business carry them from San Francisco, to Naples, and to New York; the time period shifts from the 1970s to the present day or possibly some time in the future.  At the conclusion, the actual time period seems unclear.

We see how the lives of these artists can spin out of control, as exemplified by one Scotty, who is talented and gifted and, in the end, has almost completely slipped off the grid.  He is totally a member of the “goon squad.”

Throughout A Visit from the Goon Squad, I felt a kind of disorientation…the constant shifting of perspectives was disconcerting at times.  First person narrative, third person point of view; it took constant alertness and readjusting of my own perspective to stay attuned to what was happening.

Sometimes I would think…now who is this person?  And then it would slowly become clear.   Like the character Alex, in a moment when he is remembering bits and pieces of past events, expressed in this way:

“Alex looked up at the building, sooty against the lavender sky, and experienced a hot-cold flash of recognition, a shiver of déjà vu, as if he were returning to a place that no longer existed….”

This book made me think of real-life connections, and how our lives intersect with many people in this journey; sometimes, just when we’ve forgotten them, something will recall them for us.

It was sometimes difficult to read this book, which was compelling and haunting and a bit disturbing.  There was one section in the book that was filled with word diagrams instead of regular prose…several pages of them.  I found this style to be disruptive, and because of this aspect of the book, I am deducting one star.

Nevertheless, a four star read is a book that I recommend, especially for fans of Egan.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP

A mysterious and elusive woman, Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics), is the subject of this portrait by Charles J. Shields.

A former English teacher, Shields set for himself the task of writing Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, this compelling biography based on hundreds of interviews, piecing together a picture of this Southern woman who began life in Monroeville, Alabama, the child of an attorney, whose mother suffered from a condition most likened to a bipolar disorder. Growing up, she was known to family and friends as “Nelle.” Lee enjoyed a tomboyish existence in the neighborhood, where she first met and became friends with Truman Capote. Their relationship lasted many years, although in later years, a strain hovered over this friendship—perhaps due to her success and his envy.

In her early years in NY, while she attempted to write her book and live the writer’s life, she became a part of a small community of like-minded friends that included her agent, Maurice Crain, and others of similar interests. Throughout her life, they would be her support system and conduit to the literary world.

At about the time her book was completed and just before its publication, Lee accompanied Truman Capote to Kansas as his assistant, to gather information on the killings of the Clutter family in Holcomb. Some say that her contribution to the eventual book, In Cold Blood, was huge (yet unacknowledged).

After the several years it took to complete To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics), when it finally came out, Lee allegedly remarked that she hoped that some people would like it. She was definitely unprepared for its huge success, which included bestseller status almost immediately; a Pulitzer Prize; and, of course, the movie.

Throughout this compelling portrayal of a fascinating writer, I could not help but long for something more about her life. More rich details of how she lives day-to-day. From all accounts, however, she blends almost seamlessly into the life of her small community. Occasional trips to NY became less frequent. For a woman who attained a great degree of fame and wealth, she certainly reportedly lives like an ordinary person—maybe less so, since she apparently strove diligently to maintain privacy and anonymity.

And yet, in this biographical sketch, there were occasional accounts of interactions with people that might suggest a more sociable side lying just below the surface.

For the most part, however, she seems to stay connected primarily with her family, her church friends, and others in the community. I liked reading descriptions of how she would be seen sitting alone at a table in a local restaurant, eating dinner, and enjoying her own company—or how her modest home is filled with books in every room. These tidbits reveal a contented person, despite what one might conclude. I especially enjoyed reading a comment she made to someone who asked her why she didn’t write another book: “I had every intention of writing many novels,” she reportedly said, “but I could never have imagined the success To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) would enjoy. I became overwhelmed.” And in another instance, she was reported to have said something like…when you’ve reached the top, there’s only one way to go.

How intimidating this degree of success must have been for a woman with no pretensions, who had hoped to achieve her dream of writing a book (or several), and then, in one fell swoop, achieves the totally unexpected feat of becoming the creator of the most widely read American novel ever. To reach this level of success and then to live with it afterwards had to be the greatest accomplishment of all. In another quote from Lee that occurred a little more than a year after her book was published, she said: “People who have made peace with themselves are the people I most admire in the world.”

She seems to belong in that company of admirable people.

Five stars.