A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az8ey+zMCzTb0OF4sfMxKIA+WsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuSummary: In 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s flower girls—orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive.

Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie—a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie’s pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart. (Excerpt from Goodreads)

My Thoughts: I’ve never read anything by Hazel Gaynor before even after hearing so many great things about The Girl Who Came Home which came out last year. However, when I read the summary of A Memory of Violets and saw that it was going on tour with Tasty Book Tours, I knew I had to bump this up on my list – and I am so glad that I did! A Memory of Violets is such an emotional story and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. This story touches on the bonds of sisterhood and is about never giving up, regardless of your circumstance or misfortune.

The story goes back and forth between the past and present focusing on two particular characters. Tilly, a young woman who just left her home to become a housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls, a place where girls who are orphaned or crippled can come to live and make beautiful fake flowers. And then there’s Florrie, a flower girl who lived at the same house (and even in the same room as Tilly) and passed away years after being separated from her sister Rosie. The two stories connect when Tilly, after just arriving to the home finds Florrie’s diary and is enthralled by Florrie and Rosie’s story. I loved reading from both perspectives and seeing how the two storylines intersected; it added a lot more to the story and made the book even more enjoyable to read.

hazel-gaynor1Gaynor’s storytelling is so powerful and I loved the author’s writing in this book. When she described the intricacies of the flowers that the girls made, I felt like I was there in London taking in and enjoying their beauty. And when Gaynor described the extremely filthy and shocking situations the girls grew up in, I felt like I was there in the streets watching and aching for them to have a better life. However, the characters are what made the story so special for me; the women and children at Mr. Shaw’s Home were remarkable and showed unimaginable strength and courage.

A Memory of Violets is a beautiful story about second chances and loving people for who they truly are. This book gave me chills and had me bawling like a baby throughout; make sure you have the tissues handy. I received this book as part of a book tour but I ended up buying two copies and giving them out as gifts because I loved the story so much. I can’t wait to go back and read Gaynor’s first novel; I’m sure I will love it as much as I did this one.

Q&A with Cynthia Swanson – Plus, a Giveaway!

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted but I guess life just gets in the way sometimes and unfortunately, my blogging has suffered. However, I am happy to report that I am back and have plenty of wonderful reviews and Q&As lined up for the next few weeks. And to kick it off, I’m starting with a Q&A session with author Cynthia Swanson, whose debut novel The Bookseller hit stores back in March.

22635858Thank you so much for sitting down with Karen’s Korner for a Q&A session. What was your inspiration for The Bookseller?

I started playing around with the ideas of: “How did I get here? How did my life change so quickly, in such a short amount of time?” For me personally, that meant going from being single, living alone, having a successful technical/marketing writing career, to being the married mother of three, struggling to find time to write, do some design work on the side, and take care of my family. All that happened very quickly for me.

The Bookseller is not autobiographical, but the seed of the idea came from thinking about my own “What if?” moments, and speculation about how my life might have been different if I’d chosen another path.

How long did it take you to write The Bookseller?

It took six months to write a first draft. Many revisions followed; it was eighteen months after I finished the first draft when I felt I had a manuscript that was ready for “agent eyes.” So about two years total.

What has been the best compliment you’ve received about your book so far?

I love when readers say they can relate to Kitty/Katharyn. Such a sentiment indicates that the struggle to “have it all” is still very real. As 21st century women, we have more choices than our mothers and grandmothers did – but I think that means we also put more pressure on ourselves to achieve perfection in all we do. Thanks in large part to social media, we’re often left with the impression that everyone else has somehow achieved the perfect balance we seek. Reading a story like Kitty/Katharyn’s – and talking about it with friends – helps us realize we’re not alone in this struggle.

What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline before every book you write and do you write every day?

I don’t write an outline. I get an idea and go with my instincts. While writing a first draft, I do very little research. I get the basic story down, allowing myself to leave holes and take lots of notes. I work to fill in those holes in subsequent drafts.

I do write every day, at least for a short while. When I’m not writing, I’m generally still problem-solving or stirring ideas around in my head. I count that as time spent working on a book, too.

8333761I love the cover of The Bookseller! Who designed it and how many different ones did you go through until you found the right one? 

It was designed by Jarrod Taylor, a freelance graphic designer who works with HarperCollins. We had a different cover originally (also designed by Jarrod) that showed the “two sides” of the main character in a single design. We decided to go with this final image instead; we all agree it’s really striking.

What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors and what books/authors inspired you to write?

Don’t give up. Write every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Join a local writers’ community. Attend writers’ conferences. It’s good to be around like-minded souls.

As for inspiring books and/or authors, there are too many to name. I’ve been a reader and a writer my entire life, so it would be difficult to pinpoint a small group of authors or books that inspired me. I find inspiration in just about everything I read. I’m not saying it’s all positive – sometimes inspiration comes in the form of: “Wow, I’ll remember not to do this.” I count that as inspiration, too.

If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?

Yes, I’m working on a new novel. Same time period – early sixties – but very different characters and setting.

Connect with Cynthia:

To celebrate the success of her debut novel, the team at Tandem Literary have provided Karen’s Korner with a copy of The Bookseller for a giveaway! Enter via the Rafflecopter below:

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Author Q&A with Rachael Herron – Plus, a Giveaway!

I fell in love with Rachael’s writing last year when I read Pack Up the Moon so I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in a Q&A session with Karen’s Korner! To celebrate the release of her new novel Splinters of Light (which just came out last week), we sat down with Rachael and asked her questions about her books, writing and even what she has coming up next. We are so excited to have Rachael on the blog today – plus, we are giving away a copy of her new book!

51fWw3Yq3XL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thank you so much for sitting down with Karen’s Korner for a Q&A session. What was your inspiration for Splinters of Light? How do you come up with your ideas for books?

Thanks for having me! The inspiration for Splinters of Light actually came from, of all places, a People magazine! (You’d be surprised how many writers use this trick of finding inspiration in current magazines.)

What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline and do you write every day?

I write every day, at least a little bit. I like to get up, drive to my favorite local café where I know everyone and they know me, and then I get down to business. I normally start with an outline, and then all those plans go out the window, which is hard because then I have to drag my characters back in line later on.

How do you feel your writing has changed since your first novel?

I think my writing has gotten deeper. I’m definitely willing to go further into a character’s soul, to mine the really rich, difficult subject matter that I was scared of ten years ago. I find it super rewarding to find out what scares a character most and then make it happen to them (and then fix them later, because books should always end with hope—at least mine, anyway).

What has been the best compliment you’ve received about your books so far?

Great question! I’ve heard that my books help scared readers get through difficult time in hospitals, while they’re either recovering or waiting for a loved one to recover from something. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

I love the covers of Splinters of Light and Pack Up the Moon! Who designs your book covers and how involved are you in the process?

Oh, I’m not involved in that at all, and I feel like I won the cover lottery for both. I give my ideas of what could go on the cover (for example, for Splinters of Light, lemons were a theme, so I suggested that) and then the talented designers at Penguin do the rest of their magic.

If you didn’t write books, what would you do for a living?

I would be a 911 fire/medical dispatcher. (Wait! I am one! I have two full-time jobs, and I love both of them.)

zdNkp9FbWhat writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

Write the worst stuff you can possibly write. It will be bad (all first drafts are terrible). You can fix it later. Don’t be scared. Revision is the BEST part of writing—most writers learn this truth well into their career.

Do you have a favorite author and what authors or books have inspired you to write?

Lately I’ve been loving Tana French’s dark thrillers which are set in Ireland. I read all over the map! But when I was growing up no one influenced me more than Anne of Green Gables. I think I’m a writer because of her.

If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?

Yep, I’m working on the next book for Penguin, Taking Care, which is about a woman who, when she learns her deceased husband hid a whole family from her, determines to make that family her own. It’s still in early second draft, but I love this feeling of being so deep in the writing. I’m crazy about these characters.

Thank you so much for having me!

Connect with Rachael:

To celebrate the release of her new novel, Rachael and her team have graciously provided Karen’s Korner with a copy of Splinters of Light for a giveaway! Enter via the Rafflecopter below (US entries only):

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Author Q&A with Deborah Moggach

To celebrate the release of her new novel Heartbreak Hotel (which just came out this week), we interviewed Deborah Moggach and asked her questions about her writing, her career, and even what she has coming up next. I loved getting to know more about Deborah (who wrote the bestselling novel turned movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and I hope that you will too!

T514PvdDJ22Lhank you so much for sitting down with Karen’s Korner for a Q&A session. What was your inspiration for Heartbreak Hotel? How do you come up with your ideas for books?

I fell in love with somebody who lives in a small town in Wales, and moved there. And I wanted to write another novel with Buffy as its hero – he’d already featured in an earlier novel and I had grown so fond of him I wanted to give him another story.

How do you feel your writing has changed since your first novel?

It hasn’t changed – each novel is different, and with each I feel I’m starting out afresh. Terrifying!

What has been the best compliment you’ve received about any of your books?

They make people recognize themselves in them.

What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline before every book you write and do you write every day?

I write every morning from 9-1, every single day. And yes, I have an outline but the novel changes as I write it.

What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

Be truthful to your characters, let them get under your skin before you begin to write.

hbh_deborah_moggach_authorIf you didn’t write books, what would you do for a living?

God knows. Maybe a landscape gardener, I love heaving earth around and planting flowerbeds.

What has been the best moment so far in your writing career?

Seeing several of my novels being made into films, with actors re-creating my characters. And I love going on set. I’m usually an extra, too!

If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?

I’ve just finished a novel called “Something to Hide”, set in China, Texas and West Africa – so it’s a broader canvas than this one, with big global themes.

Connect with Deborah:

About the Novel:

HEARTBREAK HOTEL follows a retired actor as he moves from the hustle and bustle of London to a run-down B&B that leans more towards shabby than chic. Realizing he needs to fill the B&B’s beds quickly—and tidy up the garden while he’s at it!—Buffy comes up with a brilliant plan to kill two birds with one stone: a class that teaches the newly divorced how to perform the everyday tasks previously done by their other halves, like the gardening…

Enter a motley crew of guests: Harold, whose wife has run off with a younger woman, Amy, who’s been unexpectedly dumped by her boyfriend, and Andy, the hypochondriac postman whose girlfriend is too much for him to handle. But under Buffy’s watchful eye, this disparate group of strangers finds that they have more in common than perhaps they first thought.

Author Q&A with Christopher Noxon – Plus, a Giveaway!

To celebrate the release of his debut new novel Plus One (which came out this January) we interviewed Christopher Noxon and asked him questions about his novel, writing and even what he has coming up next. We are thrilled to have Christopher on our blog today and I have loved getting to know him – I hope you will too!

Thank you so much for sitting down with Karen’s Korner for a Q&A session. What was your inspiration for Plus One and how long did it take you to write?

PlusOneCvr1_FinalA few years ago, I came to a crossroads in my career and creative life. I’d published a book, had a piece in the New Yorker, appeared on The Colbert Show and pretty much satisfied pretty much every journalistic ambition I’d ever had. Meanwhile my wife Jenji’s career had taken off and the income I brought in as a journalist was no longer a real factor for our family.

And so I did what many partners of successful spouses do: I got domestic. I handled carpools and home repairs and travel plans. I helped out at school and got serious about diet and exercise. I spent many blissful mornings at a coffee place with a small and exotic cohort of men married to women whose success, income and public recognition surpasses their own.

I was having fun and enjoying my time with the kids, but I found myself dogged by insecurities. I felt embarrassed that my wife bore the burden to support our family. I got twitchy and defensive when people asked what I “did.” I was prone to odd outbursts of aggression – peeling out in the minivan at carpool, mowing down kids at a Lasertag birthday party, getting whiplash after leaping off a rooftop into a swimming pool.

And so I started writing again. And for the first time in my life I wrote without an assignment or editor, without any idea if what I was writing would be published. I just knew there were funny, true and deep stories to be told about men learning how to hold a house, women who win the bread, what it’s like to be arm candy at the Emmys and how it feels to ease off the professional pedal and settle into a support role. I wrote about men who cook and caretake and sing backup for their front-and-center provider wives.

Along the way, I returned again and again to the question: how do men act out against the societal and even biological pressures that can feel conspired against them?

About 18 months later, I had a draft. Then came the rewrites and submissions and all the rest of it. All told it was two and a half years between when I started and when the book was done.

I love the cover of Plus One – who was the designer?

Robert Russell designed the cover. He’s an artist and designer and fellow Plus One — he’s married to the actress Lisa Edelstein. I loved that he was able to use one of my drawings — I drew the guy in the tuxedo holding the purse.

What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline before you write and do you write every day?

With three school-age kids and a wife who often works long hours, I’m a between-dropoff-and-pickup writer, starting at 8:30 and finishing before 2 for bus pickup. I write all over LA, in coffee shops and restaurants and libraries – anywhere but home (where I’m often interrupted by dogs, deliveries or the telephone). I love the ornate Mediterranean reading rooms at the Pasadena Central Library and the sunny modern stacks at the West Hollywood Library and have even written sitting on park benches and in my car while waiting for pickup at school.

Do you have a favorite author and what would be your top 5 all-time favorite books?

I love funny, unhinged domestic stories that entertain and shed hard-earned truth on the lives of their characters. I guess you could say I’m a solidly middlebrow reader. I can’t say who my favorite author is or even my five all-time favorite books… but when thinking about Plus One, I closely read the following books for tone, structure and overall awesomeness:

  • Tom Perrotta’s Little Children
  • Jennifer Weiner’s The Next Best Thing
  • Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife
  • Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You
  • Nora Ephron’s Heartburn

What are you currently reading?

Just finished Patton Oswalt’s Silver Screen Fiend, a super smart and sweet addiction memoir about cinema and comedy and LA in the mid-90s. Loved it. Next up excited to read Julie Buxbaum’s “After You” — she Tweeted at me when “Plus One” was published and she seems terrific.

CN-headshotWhat writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

Boy that’s tough. Everyone is different; some people need encouragement while others need tough love. I guess I’d defer to books of advice I go to in moments of despair: Anne Lammott’s “Bird by Bird,” Stephen King’s “On Writing” and “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg and Lamott are way more spiritual and woo-woo than King, but all these geniuses say the biggest predictor of success is persistence. Keep writing. Treat it like exercise: do it every day and keep the muscles moving. The writers who succeed are the writers who keep at it.

If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?

I wrote a pilot script for a half-hour comedy based on the novel for ABC. I just heard this week that they passed on the pilot, meaning that for now the TV adaptation is dead. I’m bummed, but I remember that my wife Jenji wrote 12 pilots before one got made and while I was happy to take a crack at it, I never saw this book as a multicam ABC half hour sitcom. Hoping the book is adapted in some form in the future — I’d love to see the movie!

Meanwhile I’ve started work on another book about another family; this one is told through the viewpoints of multiple characters, one of whom is a 12-year-old foster kid named Milo. I’m excited about using more drawing and art in narrative and moving further afield from my own experience. The new book is still set in LA though. And there’s a 50-year-old guy who may or may not be a projection of myself (or Alex) in some imagined and not-terribly-complimentary future. In the end I can’t seem to escape myself.

Connect with Christopher:

To celebrate the release of his debut novel, the team at Tandem Literary have graciously provided Karen’s Korner with a copy of Plus One for a giveaway! Enter via the Rafflecopter below (US entries only):

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – Plus, A Giveaway

91ALAySZBtL__SL1500_Summary: In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime. (Excerpt from Goodreads)

My Thoughts: I finished The Nightingale last week and I wanted to let the story sink in before I started writing my review. Well, I think that may have been a bad idea because I’ve been having trouble jumpstarting into a new book; all I can think about are these characters and their stories. I don’t think there has been a Kristin Hannah book I haven’t loved but I believe this may be her best yet. The Nightingale is a powerful, heartfelt and emotional story of two sisters living in France during WWII – this was one of my ‘top reads for 2015’ and it surpassed all of my expectations (which, for a Kristin Hannah book were high to begin with!)

kristin-hannah4The story centers on two French sisters: Vianne, who is the eldest sister and somewhat reserved and then there is Isabelle, a spunky and fierce woman who spent most of her life breaking the rules. The book hits a little bit on their pre-war lives and how they grew up but really centers around their lives during the war, starting with the German invasion of France. These women are two of my favorite protagonists from the past year or so and I started to care for them deeply throughout the novel during times of fighting and standing up to the Germans and in times of unimaginable pain and trauma (both physically and emotionally.) The struggle and experiences these women and others went through during this time is gut-wrenching and just tore at my heart throughout the book.

The Nightingale goes back and forth between the present and the past, focusing heavily on the past. It isn’t until the final pages that you find out the fate of both sisters. I will try and not give anything anyway but the ending left me completely speechless. The Nightingale is the heaviest and most emotional read for me so far this year and like many other bloggers, I cried like a baby at this one. Tamara (from Traveling with T) and I went back and forth on Twitter talking about how many tissues we needed and how badly we were sobbing at this book!

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction lately (maybe I’m becoming a little obsessed with it – who knows!) and I think everyone should read this novel at some point in time. The writing and storytelling is magnificent and so moving – you will feel every emotion with the characters as you read through the pages. This is Kristin at her best, delivering a brilliant WWII story that you will remember for ages. For all you readers, make sure that The Nightingale is on your list for 2015!

To celebrate the success of The Nightingale, Kristin and her team at St. Martin’s Press have provided Karen’s Korner with a copy of the book for a giveaway! Enter via the Rafflecopter below (US entries only):

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The To-Do List by JC Miller – Plus, a Giveaway

PrintSummary: Between unending housework and thankless efforts to appease a loutish husband and acid-tongue teens, Ginny Cooper’s to-do list never seems to get done. Her guilty pleasure—fantasizing about her husband’s demise—her weakness—the drive-thru at Arby’s. On the job as head librarian at the county’s obsolete library, tedium reigns. One afternoon Ginny innocently stumbles upon a dating website, where the rabbit hole awaits.

Who is Ginny Cooper? She is every woman who knows the exact number of calories in a Snickers bar, every woman who has ever struggled with her weight. She is every woman who has grappled with the gray areas, every woman who has wanted to escape her own life. At times the reader will want to reach between the pages, shake her, and talk some sense into her. But Ginny will have to navigate her own road. And through it all, we root for her.

Ginny’s childhood memories of her fading hometown provide a bittersweet backdrop for The To-Do List.

My Thoughts: Every time I sign up for a book on CLP Blog Tours I know I’m in for a refreshing and fun read – well, The To-Do List was no exception. The book was a very quick read that made me feel as if I was reading about a friend or family member – it hit on so many struggles and insecurities that women deal with on a daily basis.

I also loved that this book was centered around a librarian and Ginny was someone I felt myself rooting for. Plus, I am the queen of making ‘to-do lists’ so I instantly connected with the protagonist from the very beginning. The To-Do List is a story about finding yourself and being happy with who you are. Another great chick-lit novel that had me laughing throughout!

Excerpt:

They pile into the minivan, Kelly up front with her mom, Kevin in back still sulking about cereal. Ginny drives a half-mile, stopping at the corner of Shady Glen and Cedar, where Elliot, an eighth grader—like Kevin, but without the sullen expression—waits in front of his house.

JC MillerElliot’s mom, Bronwyn, stands by the front door, hands on hips. She glares at Ginny. Unlike Ginny, Bronwyn is slim and punctual, arriving early to pick the kids up after school. Ginny has never been invited inside her home, but she imagines a tightly run ship. She pictures Bronwyn in June Cleaver pearls, apron-clad, baking flax-soy cookies for Elliot every day. The bitch.

About the Author: JC (Jeanne) Miller, M.A., is an educator and founding member of JAM, an editorial-consultation team. An avid reader, aspiring traveler and table tennis enthusiast, she resides in Northern California.

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Author Q&A with Meg Donohue – Plus, a Giveaway!

To celebrate the release of her new novel Dog Crazy which hits stores March 10th, we interviewed Meg Donohue and asked her questions about her writing, her pups, what she has coming up next and much more. We are so excited to have Meg at Karen’s Korner today – plus, we are giving away a copy of her new book!

Thank you so much for sitting down with Karen’s Korner for a Q&A session. What was your inspiration for Dog Crazy? How do you come up with your ideas for books?

22573873Thanks so much for having me, Karen!

The inspiration for my stories comes from my own life. I hate to admit that because people often misunderstand and think that I mean that my work is autobiographical. It’s not. But each of my books has sprouted from a place or theme or idea that is important to me. With HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE, it was friendships—how friendship is another form a family. With ALL THE SUMMER GIRLS, it was friendships again and how they change over time, but also the love the main characters felt for summer and the beach town where they spent their summers. With DOG CRAZY, I wanted to write with respect and humor about the remarkable dog-human bond. While Maggie (the main character) is very different from me, the love that she feels for her beloved dog Toby is based on the love I felt—feel, still—for my dearly departed dog, Oe. All of the characters in the book are fictional except for Toby, who I readily admit bears a strong resemblance—in spirit if not breed—to Oe.

What kind of dog does your family have and did you grow up with pups in your life?

We have a rescue dog named Cole who, we were told, is a Taiwanese mountain dog. He looks to us like a German shepherd mix. He is a very sweet, skittish, vocal guy. My husband and I adopted him before we had children, and over the past six years we’ve “given” Cole three human sisters, and he has handled each child’s arrival with warmth and grace. We feel very lucky. He is a low maintenance dog (my mom refers to him as “the stuffed animal that breathes”), and it turns out that that is the exact kind of dog you want when you’re caring for babies and chasing after very young kids.

Growing up, we were a one-dog family. We had a huge standard poodle when I was a baby, followed by a rambunctious but beautiful Springer spaniel, followed by a much beloved terrier-lab mix named Poppy. Poppy died when I was a senior in high school, which is when I convinced my parents that we needed a Portuguese water dog (this was long before the breed got the Presidential stamp of approval). I named our PWD King Oberon, Oe for short. Oe came to college in New Hampshire with me, then New York, then Evanston, Illinois, and finally San Francisco. He was—to quote Maggie in DOG CRAZY—my dog soul mate. You’ll get to know him better—as Toby—in the pages of the book.

What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline and do you write every day?

I write an outline. Sometimes I stick pretty close to it and other times I find that the story changes as I write, but I always have a pretty good sense of where things are headed before I begin. I write four to five days a week, about four hours per day.

What has been the best compliment you’ve received about your books so far?

Such a hard question! I occasionally have someone tell me that one of my books is her favorite book, and that blows my mind in the best possible way. I also just about burst with happiness when I hear that something I’ve written has made someone laugh. I love making people laugh. Another great compliment I’ve received is that my books have inspired readers to reconnect with old friends and even—in one case—an old flame! I loved hearing that. Getting emails from my readers is one of the great, unforeseen perks of this job.

I love the covers of all your books – I’m a huge fan of cupcakes, dogs and the beach! Who designs them and how involved are you in the process?

Thank you! I love them too and feel so lucky to work with such a great team at William Morrow. With each book, I’ve been sent an option or two and I’m able to provide some feedback. With ALL THE SUMMER GIRLS and DOG CRAZY, which were both designed by Emin Mancheril, I was sent two options and in both cases felt strongly that we go in one direction and was really glad that my editor and the team agreed. They’ve always seemed open to my ideas, and I’ve always felt that I’m in good hands with experts who know far more than I do about the business of selling books.

 jNS_SGt7If you didn’t write books, what would you do for a living?

I dabbled in freelance magazine and website writing and editing in the past, and I think if I weren’t writing books I’d still be working with words in those capacities. I also enjoyed teaching creative writing to all ages in the past; I could see doing that again somewhere down the road when my children are older and my days aren’t so regulated by their schedules. But really, writing novels is my dream job and one I hope I’ll keep!

Do you have a favorite author and what authors or books have inspired you to write?

I don’t have one favorite author, but I’m inspired by a small new set of books each time I work on a new novel. When I was writing DOG CRAZY I was inspired to varying degrees by YOU HAD ME AT WOOF by the delightful Julie Klam, DOG SONGS by Mary Oliver, THE GOOD HOUSE by Ann Leary, A WEEK IN WINTER by Maeve Binchy, and THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST by Anne Tyler. Right now I am gobbling up the entire oeuvre of Liane Moriarty. She is so good! Her books are juicy and funny and warm.

With an author as a mother, do your children love to read? What are some of their favorite books?

Our children love books! Phew! Our ten-month-old is mostly in the gnawing-on-books phase, but with our five-year-old and three-year-old girls we read a lot of Fancy Nancy and Ella Bella Ballerina books. Some other favorites are Angelina Ballerina and Bea at the Ballet … are you sensing a theme?

If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?

Yes! Thanks for asking. I’m in the early stages of a new novel called LOVE SONGS AFTER DARK. It’s told from the points of view of a famous radio talk show host and her very shy, horseback riding-loving daughter who undergoes a personality sea change after a riding accident. As in all of my books, there is a mystery element to the plot, as well as a love story (or two). I grew up riding horses so it’s a lot of fun to be thinking about the horse world again. I’m excited to delve further into the story … and eventually, to share it!

Connect with Meg:

To celebrate the release, Meg and her team have graciously provided Karen’s Korner with a copy of her new novel Dog Crazy for a giveaway. Enter via the Rafflecopter below:

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Author Q&A with Stacey Ballis – Plus, a Giveaway!

In honor of her new novel Recipe for Disaster which hits stores March 3rd, we interviewed Stacey and asked her questions about her new novel, her writing, and much more! We are thrilled to have Stacey at Karen’s Korner today – plus, we are giving away a copy of her new book!

Thank you so much for sitting down with Karen’s Korner for a Q&A session. What was your inspiration for Recipe for Disaster? How do you come up with your ideas for books?

RD_COMPS.inddMy book ideas come from all over, but this one was very much influenced by some personal life experiences.  My husband and I are in the process of renovating our 1907 graystone from the basement up, so I knew I wanted to incorporate aspects of home renovation and restoration in this one…I think my audience is ready for a return to some of the themes I dealt with in Room for Improvement, and if I was going to write a book amidst the dust, it might as well provide material!  I also wanted to play with the idea of a heroine who is learning to cook from scratch, instead of one who is already an accomplished chef.  I’m from the Gasteau School…”Anyone can cook!”.  So I thought it would be fun to approach the food part of this one from a different perspective, and hopefully provide some inspiration for my readers who don’t have much confidence in the kitchen.

How do you feel your writing has changed since your first novel?

I think I have a clearer sense of how to construct a story, and I’ve become more embracing of conflict.  I certainly have a much stronger commitment to the editing and rewriting process, that is where the book really comes together, and I’m so grateful to have an editor who is a wonderful partner in making these books.

I adore all your book covers especially Out to Lunch. Who designs them and how involved are you in process?

The wonderful art department at Penguin Random House does the cover art, and I’m not terribly involved.  Luckily I don’t need to be, we have a lovely branded cover template, and they do a fantastic job of making the covers pop.

What has been the best compliment you’ve received about any of your books?

I once got an email from a reader who said that she read four of my books on the long flights to and from Australia!  She said that she was so grateful because she just disappeared into the stories, and before she knew it, the flights were over.  I hate being cooped up in a plane for long stretches, so the idea that I could make those trips seem painless?  That is a true compliment.  Being good company on a cozy snowed in Sunday is one thing, but if I can make your cramped seat in international economy class FEEL like a cozy snowed in Sunday? My work here is done.

What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline before every book you write and do you write every day?

I don’t write everyday, I tend to write in bigger stretches of 3000-5000 words at a time, so I often need to take a day or two off between to recharge the batteries. And I don’t outline.  I do a detailed synopsis, and then I create a list of chapters with the main beats, more like a bullet point list.  I like to be able to get lost in the story and let the characters go their own way, I find if I outline too explicitly, then I focus on writing to those notes, and it feels less organic and creative to me.  Luckily I don’t write mystery or complicated sci-fi fantasy!

If you didn’t write books, what would you do for a living?

Before I left to write full time, I was the Director of Education and Community Programs at the Goodman Theatre, which I loved intensely.  If I wasn’t writing for a living, I believe I would still be working in Arts Education.

gray tilt beauteWhat writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors and what books/authors inspired you to write?

Advice is simple.  Read. A lot.  And write. A lot.  Full stop.  I think for me, writing was less about being inspired to the page by what I was reading, and more that it was a natural creative outlet for my thoughts and ideas and emotions.  But the authors who always keep me striving to be better are Shakespeare for plot, Oscar Wilde for wit, Jane Austen for richness of a created world, Colette for sensualism, MFK Fisher for food, Anne LaMott for clarity and sanity, Stephen King for character development and conflict, Marion Zimmer Bradley for complex and powerful women, and Nick Hornby for clear contemporary voice.

When did you learn how to cook?

I grew up watching my grandmother cook, and helping her.  She was always great about taking requests, I’ll never forget when I read in my Raggedy Ann and Andy book about pulling taffy and told her about it…she just grabbed a recipe and we pulled taffy with my sister!  She always made it seem fun and approachable.

What is your favorite thing to cook for your hubby? Also, do you really think it’s true that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?

My favorite thing to cook for my hubby are things he thought he didn’t like, but loves when I make them…I’m big on “flipping the script”!  I’ve converted him to loving Brussels Sprouts, sweet potatoes, meatloaf, and tomato based pasta sauces.  And since he is mad for all forms of pudding and custards, I love to make those for him as well.  I think the best way to a man’s heart is through his mind, but good conversation is hungry work, so having some decent dishes in your back pocket doesn’t hurt!

If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?

I have some exciting projects coming down the pike…I’m currently hard at work on my next novel, Wedding Girl, about a fine dining pastry chef who ends up living with her elderly grandmother and working in a small neighborhood bakery while trying to put her life back together.  It is my homage to the romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s and is a riff on The Shop Around the Corner.  It will be out in May of 2016.  And I am co-authoring a new cookbook called Cooking for You: Wellness in the Kitchen with a very good friend, which should be out sometime this summer.

Connect with Stacey:

To celebrate the release, Stacey and her team have provided Karen’s Korner with a copy of her new novel for a giveaway (yay!) Enter via the Rafflecopter below:

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The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

9780307460196_p0_v3_s260x420Summary: In 1945, Elsie Schmidt was a naïve teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she was for her first kiss. But in the waning days of the Nazi empire, with food scarce and fears of sedition mounting, even the private yearnings of teenage girls were subject to suspicion and suppression. Elsie’s courtship by Josef Hub, a rising star in the Army of the Third Reich, has insulated her and her family from the terror and desperation overtaking her country. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door puts all she loves in danger.

Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is a rolling stone, perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a full-time fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba knows that in every good story, lines will be blurred.

Reba’s latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie’s German Bakery is no easy subject. Elsie keeps turning the tables on Reba, and Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba’s questions have been a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki’s lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive. (Excerpt from Goodreads).

My Thoughts: One of my goals this year is to start tackling some of the older novels on my TBR list and I’m very pleased with the ones I’ve chosen thus far. I know I’m late to the game on a lot of these but I am so happy I decided to finally pick up The Baker’s Daughter, which came out in 2012 (I know, I’m REALLY late in reading/reviewing this one.) This story completed consumed me to the point at which I was sitting there reading it in my car, the grocery line, and on my lunch hour (the list could go on) – I just couldn’t put it down. The Baker’s Daughter is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that touches on love, family, and hardship.

94348The story centers on two women, Elsie and Reba. The first storyline follows Elsie’s journey from when she was a young girl growing up in Germany during WWII up until about 60 years later when she is running her own bakery in Texas with her daughter Jane (a character who I also loved and found hilarious at times.) The second storyline follows Reba, a journalist who decides to interview Elsie for an article she is writing on Christmas in different countries. Reba feels out of sorts and almost ‘stuck’ living in Texas; she constantly itches to get out and experience all that the world has to offer. I love how the women’s stories overlap and the friendship that begins to grow between Elsie, Reba and Jane. All three women were so likeable and I was rooting for each of them throughout the story especially during their times of struggle.

The novel switches back and forth between storylines, jumping between the present and past – I always love when authors do that and it worked so well with this book. Also, as someone who loves to cook (and eat!), I loved reading about the delicious breads, treats, and other baked goods that Elsie and her family made throughout the story – this had me longing to visit one of my favorite German bakeries in the area Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe (where I did a cake tasting for my wedding.) I’ve been busy the past week but I will finally be taking a trip there this Saturday to satisfy my cravings!

The Baker’s Daughter is a powerful, complex and heartfelt story that had me addicted from the very beginning. It had me laughing and crying at the same time; I was a little emotionally spent after reading this (although, in a fantastic way – I just sighed and pondered at how lovely the novel was after the last page.) If you haven’t read this, I highly recommend picking up a copy especially before Sarah’s new novel The Mapmaker’s Children comes out in May – you won’t regret it!

 

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