Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Waiting for Unicorns

Waiting for Unicorns by Beth Hautala

Ages 10 & up

"From debut author Beth Hautala comes a brilliant middle grade novel, Waiting for Unicorns. It's a beautifuk exploration in nature of one girl's ability to open up: to new people, to second chances, and to moving forward with life. Talia McQuinn's world is shattered after losing her mother to cancer. To make matters worse, her whale researching father uproots them for the summer to the arctic, an unfamiliar place for a twelve-year old girl. Talia's father leaves on an expedition shortly after their arrival, leaving her in the care of Sura, and Inuit woman who has spent her entire life in the frozen landscape. Although this new lifestyle is absolutely foreign to Talia, one element strikes a chord in her broken heart: traditional storytelling. A tale about Narwahls, or the unicorns of the sea unlocks something in Talia that has been buried since her mother's death: her ability to hope. "      

Author Q & A
Thank you for agreeing to sit down with me, Beth. Your debut novel Waiting For Unicorns really touched a chord with both me and my daughter. What was the inspiration for Waiting For Unicorns?

Thanks for taking the time to read unicorns and to ask about it! I am so thrilled you enjoyed it and so excited to tell you more about the book and the writing process. The physical inspiration for Unicorns came from an oceanic‐museum trip I took with my Dad when I was very small. My memories are rather vague. I remember small aquariums filled with various local sea creatures, maps and diagrams of our costal region, and something about seafaring vessels. But I distinctly recall wrapping my hands around a Narwhal tusk at the instruction of our tour guide during one point in the tour, and hearing him tell my Dad and I about the Unicorn of the Sea. The feel of that tusk and the idea of a “real” unicorn existing in one form or another captured my imagination and has never let go!
Author Q & A with Jennifer Smeth 
The emotional inspiration came from a very different place—my first daughter was two weeks old when I started drafting UNICORNS, and there was suddenly this new and impossible question: “What would become of her if something happened to me? And also, as a daughter myself, “What will happen to me if something should happen to my mom?” I know this is a universal question. We all wonder. What do we do with our lives when terrible things happen and leave us crumbling in the wake? UNICORNS was, in some small way, my attempt to answer that question for myself. There is grief, of course. The kind you never completely get over. But also, there is never just grief. Because life is too big, too beautiful, too full of possible and impossible things. So we plunge, yes. But then we rise.

Before publishing your first novel, you were an associate editor for a magazine, editorial director and co‐owner of an advertising agency. What prompted you to write a novel? And why did you decide to write your first book for the middle grade audience?
I think I have always been in the process of writing a novel . . . from the moment I learned to read I knew I wanted to tell stories that move readers to think and feel real things. To learn things they might not otherwise have learned. To love in ways they might not have otherwise loved. But while I was learning to write books I still had to work. So I chose words as my profession. I worked with them and in them until I learned to write them more proficiently myself. Middle grade literature has always been my favorite. Partly becuase it is free (for the most part) of some of the overly-heavy adult themes that YA and Adult lit have more freedom to delve into. Sex, drugs, etc. But more than that, middle-grade kids are developmentally at a point in life where the child and the youth meet. They are still young enough to believe in wonder and magic and impossibility while being old enough to grasp difficult and abstract ideas.

How many different titles did you experiment with before deciding on Waiting For Unicorns?
Honestly, the title was always going to be WAITING FOR UNICORNS. It was firmly cemented in my mind even before the book was fully alive. Fortunately I was never asked to change it. As the story grew, it grew around the title and both my agent and editor like it. So it got to stay.

What say did you have, if any, in choosing the cover for the book?
None. It was really a complete and most‐delightful surprise. I feel very blessed as a new author to have received the kind of grace I did when it came to the cover of this book. I knew my editor and the team that was working on my book had my best interest at heart, and I trusted them completely. But I was so overjoyed when they revealed the cover.
“What do you think?” Was the question. “Are you okay with this? Can we go with this?” “IT IS BEYOND PERFECT,” was my instant response. I knew they would do great, but I didn’t realize how exactly they would understand what I was trying to say. It’s just magic. Couldn’t be happier.

Which novels have had the most impact on you as a writer? Is there a particular book that made you want to write?
I read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech my junior year in college—not as an assignment, but just because it sounded interesting to me. I credit that book as being a monumental force in my writing life. It moved me. Deeply. When I set it down I couldn’t think about anything else for weeks. The character development is fantastic. I told myself that if I ever wanted to do my job as a writer I would have to do it like that. I pray I can get there someday. I hope UNICORNS is a start in the right direction. Sharron Creech, Kate Dicamillo and Jerry Spinelli have probably been the most influential contemporary middle grade authors in my life, but books in general have been like food to me. I have tried to read widely and deeply.

What is your writing process like? How do you keep yourself organized? And is there one writing habit you have that would make us go “huh?!”
My writing process generally begins with a poignant scene. It’s crystal clear and the story builds around it. After that, the process is a little sketchy due to the chaos of life. I have four kids ages eight and under, so my writing time is basically snatched from the ether. I write in my car in thegrocery store parking lot, I write while waiting for doctor appointments, I write while the baby naps in her car seat, and I when I am disciplined, I write in the very wee hours of the morning. I also do a lot of “head writing.” —I play and replay the story in my mind as I am driving, washing dishes, folding laundry, etc., until scenes come alive enough to set them on paper. It makes the drafting process slow and tedious, but when I finally get the story out, I know it. It feels alive and this makes revising it so much easier. I wish I were more organized. I wish I could use an outline. I’m trying that method a little bit, but too much structure in the initial drafting process tends to stifle me. Weird writing habits . . . hmm. I type too fast. Is that weird? Sometimes have to force myself to slow down so the thoughts can roll around a little better before falling out. So I use a pen and paper to draft. I also carry a notebook (a little one) with me at all times. It is full of what I refer to as ‘launch points.’ Random parts of scenes, phrases I hear the characters saying, events I know will occur at some point in the story, character names, etc. Basically that notebook is the story in miniature form, totally out of order, and completely incomplete. Someone else wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of it, but if I ever lost that little notebook, I’d lose half my story‐in‐process. I need to photograph the pages or something and save myself from that disaster!

What book is currently on your nightstand?
“The Great Unexpected,” by Sharon Creech

As the “Best of 2014” lists are coming out, I have to ask what books would be on your list?
I have to be honest here and say that this year has been a terrible reading year for me. *sad face* I had my fourth baby this spring, finished revisions on Unicorns, I run an ad agency with my husband, and between my desire to sleep and my desire to read, sleeping often won out. I can tell you a few of the books on my TBR list from 2014 though! In no particular order:
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson, I'll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson, East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Margi Preus.

As a debut author has your life changed at all?
Yes and no. It has changed in the sense that I’ve seen a life‐long dream come true! Something I have worked incredibly hard to achieve has finally come to pass. So I am more deeply thankful—for people, for experiences, for time, for health, for the encouragement I’ve received, and yes, even for the rejection! It made me a better, stronger writer.Also, life has changed in the sense that I’m a little more knowledgeable. I was so naïve when this process began. And I am still a literary baby, but I feel so much better equipped to do this again, and also to encourage others along their own writing journeys. But other than that, life has not really changed that much. Right now I am just doing what I love—working at writing, being wife and a mom, and trying to keep the chaos to a minimum!

I know that you are busy promoting Waiting For Unicorns but what are you working on next?
I’m working on a story about a brother and sister duo. There is an ostrich involved, Aspergers, a displaced zoo, old cars, and old vinyl records, Peter Pan, and a finding‐lost‐things superpower. But I don’t want to say too much more than that. I’m having a blast writing it!

Thank you, Beth for the Q & A, and for the opportunity to showcase your novel Waiting for Unicorns here! 

You can find Beth on  Twitter at @BethHautala
Order the book here

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir

This audiobook was so far from what I normally choose it may has well have been on Mars rather than on Earth, a click away. I knew this particular book was being made into a movie, and my audiobook selections this year are going to be all of the books I am interested in reading that are being made into movies.

In The Martian, Mark Watney (who will be played by Matt Damon) and his crew are on a NASA mission on Mars when something goes terribly wrong. While completing an exercise on the Red Planet, Mark is struck with an antennae which punctures his suit. His crew, thinking he is dead, leaves the planet after an exhaustive effort to save Watney. Turns out Watney is far from dead. This botanist is made of the tougher stuff, and manages to survive for much longer than anyone else could have. The question that remains for the reader is whether or not Watney will be saved. He has NASA, JPL, and the American people rallying for his safe return to Earth. Will Watney be able to survive the number of Sols required to survive life on Mars? If you are into Science Fiction, I doubt you'll find a story more engaging. I continued listening to the book, even though the first half hour was a little dry for my taste. The one drawback for me would be all the Science lingo, even if it was fictional. This book definitely earned 5 stars from me! Incredible narration on the audiobook.  

See who would be playing your favorite character in the movie version of The Martian.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Importance of Darkness

Most associations our brains have with darkness are with emotions such as sadness, depression, and loneliness to name a few. It is the essence of every emotion we try to run from. We constantly hear the message "change your thoughts, change your life." While we understand that at a fundamental level, it is more difficult to remain hidden from the darkness that will inevitably pop up in our lives, and sometimes threaten to consume us. Darkness is an essential ingredient in our life. No matter how hard we try, we can never escape the darkness. If you have lived a full, and beautiful life, you understand that "life is both beautiful and brutal. They are woven together, and you cannot have one without the other." That quote was from Glennon Doyle Melton, who runs the amazing blog Momastery. I'm currently obsessed with everything she does, and writes. Recently, I came across a post where Glennon shared, on Instagram, a picture of a quote by Mary Oliver. The quote spoke to me, and had me reflecting upon all of the times that I let darkness threaten to consume me. I'll share the quote with you, and then we will get to the goods. The books that offer both a taste of darkess, and the light.

  1. Memoir
Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whitson-Donaldson

This books is utterly devastating, and beautifully written. It is both sweet and sorrow all wrapped into one beautiful package. While every parent avoids thinking of the worst case scenario, Anna Whitson-Donaldson offers a grace and poise that each one of us can only hope to possess when that time of sorrow arrives in our own lives. While this book is not for the faint of heart, read it and embrace the message. It's a masterpiece. 

"On the other side of heartbreak, a story of hope rises.

On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace.
In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.”
With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe.

This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think."

2. Fiction

The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

Can I tell you how much I loved this book? It tackles a tough subject matter that no mother wants to face. Another woman trying to take the reigns in raising your children. I don't think so! Right? Goodness knows we have all had dark days after the birth of our children, but no one talks about it. I just devoured this book, and in the end I actually felt a sort of softening for one of the characters. You must read it to find out if you agree with me.

Today, looking at my kids, I thought of how fragile life is. I started smelling their hair, and kissing their faces. Of course, they responded with, "MOOOOM!" I replied, "What? I just love you sooooo much." I do. No one can love them like I do, which is true. Nevertheless, (omg, I just made a funny-read the book) other people can love them a lot. They can love my children in their own way, just not MY way.

They are growing up so fast. I feel inadequate, like I wasted so many moments when they were babies. I am being too harsh on myself. This book, I hope, will have you seeing your family differently. We are all only composed of our parts. Sometimes you put the pieces of the puzzle down wrong, and you have to pick it up, and try to fit it into the right spot. Once you do that, you can see the beautiful picture.

"To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the Northern California river town of Elbow, California, with her husband Joe and his two young children. But one summer day Joe drowns, leaving Ella alone with Annie and Zach—until his ex-wife, Paige, shows up at the funeral. For three years, Ella believed that Paige had selfishly abandoned her family. Yet—as the custody fight between mother and stepmother ensues—Ella realizes there may be more to the story than Joe ever revealed.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of step-motherhood, pitting good against evil, but a captivating story of two women who both claim to be the mother of the same two children."

The Underside of Joy

Because I love these books, and want to share the love, I'm giving away a copy of EACH book to two lucky readers. Enter your name in the comments section if you really want a copy of one of these great reads. Please specify your preference on either book, so you'll be entered into that drawing! Good luck. xoxo 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Welcome back! Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back! Oh my goodness, it feels great to be behind the keyboard again bringing you the best books out there! Today's review features the lovely Jane Green. I just finished reading Jane's newest book, Saving Grace, and trust me-you will not want to miss this one! As a bonus, I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader. Yay for comebacks and great books!

Here's the Scoop  

Grace Chapman has lived a charmed life, or so it appears from the outside looking in. Her marriage is seemingly perfect, and her appearance is always put-together, giving her friends and family the impression that she has everything in order.  They live in a quiet little community where Grace works at Harmont House, a shelter where she cooks her delicious meals for the residents. What boils below the surface is her tumultuous marriage to writer Ted Chapman whose star has been falling for a while now. The tiny fractures in their life threaten to crack open and expose their real truth-the scared, often desperate feeling she has to please Ted, and how that manages to be impossible lately.

It is just at this time that Beth, a frumpy, dowdy young girl happens to be at their table at a literary event. Grace is charmed by Beth, and everything she seems to have to offer in the way of assisting Ted. Beth enters their lives, and Grace finds the peace and serenity she has so desperately been seeking.  The funny thing about fractures is that they start out small, but if you continue to put it under pressure, it eventually breaks. The feeling you cannot shake, the impression you get that everything is imploding around you-what if you are the only one who sees it?

With Grace at the throne of a life unintended, her family, friends, even her own daughter question her. Is Grace unraveling? Is she doomed to follow in her mother’s footsteps? The once poised, radiant Grace Chapman seems to be only a shadow of her former self. The thing about shadows is that they always follow you, carrying with them the darkness that can be cast over the light if given the perfect position. Saving Grace will lead readers on a suspenseful journey, and it’ll be one you will not soon forget.  This book also contains recipes at the close of some chapters, the very same recipes Grace prepares or mentions in the book. I whole-heartedly recommend the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe found on page 295. 

If that synopsis piqued your interest in Jane's newest book, Saving Grace, please comment to enter. The winner will be chosen next Thursday, January 15th. If free books really aren't your thing (I mean, really?) then follow one of the links to purchase!