Archive for April, 2011

Jen’s Jewels with Sarah Jio

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Oftentimes, life’s most challenging moments spark a new beginning. Whether blindsided by a cheating spouse or devastated by the death of a loved one, learning to start anew is a skill many admire but few come to master. In order to truly define a person’s character, one must face adversity while traveling down unfamiliar and sometimes rocky roads.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Sarah Jio addresses this very topic in her debut novel THE VIOLETS OF MARCH. It’s the story of a newly divorced woman Emily Wilson who is suffering from the fall-out inflicted by her cheating ex-husband. With nowhere else to turn, she seeks refuge with a relative on serene Bainbridge Island. One of my Top 5 Picks for the summer, this talented novelist is sure to be one of fiction’s next rising stars.

As part of this interview Plume, an imprint of Penguin Books, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: As a debut novelist, your career is just taking off. So that my readers may have glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please share with us a brief overview of your educational and professional background.

Sarah: Thank you for having me on your blog, Jen! A little about me: I’ve come to the fiction world by way of magazines. I am the health and fitness blogger for, and a frequent contributor to magazines including Real Simple, Glamour, Health, Redbook, and many others. I have a degree in journalism and pretty much have always had a pen in my hand.

Jen: As a freelance writer, you have contributed to various major magazines such as Redbook and Glamour. Please describe for us your “Ah! Ha!” moment when you decided to take the plunge and become a novelist.

Sarah: I knew from an early age that I wanted to write novels, but finding the right idea was tough. I considered a lot of stories, and wrote one novel, in fact, before The Violets of March. But it wasn’t THE novel that spoke to me and grabbed my heart the way Violets did. At first it was hard to juggle magazine work with fiction, but I found my groove. I’d work on magazine projects by day and fiction at night. I still keep that schedule.

Jen: Your poignant novel THE VIOLETS OF MARCH is a captivating story set on the beautifully serene Bainbridge Island. First of all, how did you arrive at the premise? And, do you have ties to the island?

Sarah: I’ll never forget when the idea for Violets came to me—while on vacation for Christmas at my sister’s house in San Diego. I had been mulling several novel ideas, but when the inspiration for Violets hit, I knew I had to write it. As for the island, yes, I grew up just over the bridge from Bainbridge Island, and spent many happy hours playing on its shores as a child.

Jen: The novel is actually a story inside a story. In terms of nuts and bolts, how did you go about constructing the dual storyline? Did you write an outline first? Or, did you simply just allow the novel to take on a life of its own?

Sarah: I allowed the story to free flow, which is how I always love to write, but when things got a bit tangled, my husband (ever the scientific mind) encouraged me to make an outline and use note cards to organize the plot threads. I did this, begrudgingly, but it really helped. Now I outline all of my novels (I’m working on my third) and it works well for me. I still allow myself to veer off course when I want to, but the outline provides the roadmap to keep me on track.

Jen: At the beginning of the book, Emily Wilson, a bestselling author, is coming to terms with her marital separation due to her husband’s infidelity. In what ways does her personal life mirror her professional one?

Sarah: That’s an interesting question, and a good one. Emily’s career and her marriage are sort of floating along aimlessly, numbly. She’s become vacant in both. It’s as if she’s stopped participating, almost.

Jen: In order to fully wrap her head around her present situation, Emily decides to take off to her Aunt Bee’s house on Bainbridge Island. What makes her seek comfort from this woman rather than her own mother?

Sarah: I think it’s because she identifies with Bee more than her mother, with whom she has a complicated relationship. She and Bee have more in common than Emily really knows, and that comes out later in the story.

Jen: Often childhood memories evoke a sense of calmness that can be quite healing during difficult times. In particular, why is Bainbridge Island a special place for Emily?

Sarah: The island is her “happy place,” the place where she has the fondest, warmest childhood memories. Readers, I hope, will feel her letting go of her worries and tensions almost immediately when stepping off the ferry. This is the sense of comfort and calmness I hoped to evoke. It’s funny, when I leave the hustle and bustle of the city (I live in Seattle) and take the ferry over to the island, where I still have family living nearby, I always feel that same sense of calm.

Jen: Upon her arrival, Emily finds a diary hidden in a dresser draw that dates back to 1943. Why does she not share this discovery with her aunt?

Sarah: I always felt that Emily felt a little guilty about reading the diary, as anyone would probably feel about reading a diary that isn’t her own. Emily, I believe, new the diary had some connection to her aunt Bee, and she didn’t want to ruffle feathers or bring up any part of her aunt’s painful past.

Jen: In what ways does Emily feel as if she and Esther, the mysterious woman who wrote the diary, are spiritually connected?

Sarah: One of the great pleasures of working on this story was being able to draw connections in the story between past and present. Along the way, Emily begins to see little glimmers of the diary in the present day—landmarks, words, people, even flowers. She pieces together the mystery by noticing the clues around her, and, in doing so, she forms a connection to Esther, the diary’s mysterious author.

Jen: During her stay, Emily rekindles a relationship with a former flame as well as sparks another one with a newfound beau. Is her sudden interest a knee-jerk reaction from being rejected by her husband Joel? Or, is it a path to self discovery?

Sarah: Yes, Emily has two men put in her path shortly after she lands on the island. I felt that confronting past relationships and embarking on new ones needed to be a part of her journey and path to healing.

Jen: Who is the stronger character Bee or Emily? And, how so?

Sarah: While both are strong in their own ways—Emily in her curiosity and Bee in her wisdom, I think that Bee wins. She’s kept a lot of secrets for a very long time—that takes a lot of inner strength.

Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about the promotional side of the book. First of all, please take us on a tour of your website, highlighting special points of interest.

Sarah: My web site is part blog, part professional site for my magazine and novel work. I try to update the blog portion as frequently as I can, which is never often enough, and post news about my novels. It’s fun to share the latest news—like last week, when I got to share that my second novel, The Bungalow, was sold in Germany!

Jen: Do you participate in Author Phone Chats? If so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Sarah: I would love to phone in for book clubs! Interested readers are welcome to email me at [sarah AT sarahjio DOT com].

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you share with us?

Sarah: Yes, I recently sold my second novel, THE BUNGALOW, to Penguin (Plume) and it’s coming out in April of 2012. It’s a very special story to me, about a woman, who at the very end of her life, receives a letter that forces her to confront the bittersweet memories of her time in the South Pacific during the war, particularly an unfinished love affair, an unspeakable tragedy, and the mysterious beach bungalow at the center of it all.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and chat with my readers. I highly recommend THE VIOLETS OF MARCH to all of my readers. It is a fabulous read! Best of luck in the future!

Sarah: Jen, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I can’t wait to share THE BUNGALOW, with you. More to come on that, soon!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Sarah. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of the first readers to e-mail me at with the correct answer to the following trivia question.

What is the name of Sarah’s next release?

Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with New York Times bestselling author Rachel Gibson. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…


Pulitzer Prizes

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

The winners of the Pulitzer Prizes in the letters and drama categories were announced April 18:

  Fiction: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Find in our catalog)

Summary from our catalog: “Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.  We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city’s demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life—divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house—and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang—who thrived and who faltered—and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.  A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both—and escape the merciless progress of time—in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.”

  General nonfiction: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “The Emperor of All Maladiesis a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer – from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with – and perished from – for more than five thousand years. The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out “war against cancer.” The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist.”

  History: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “The author of many books on U.S. history, Foner (History, Columbia University) traces the evolution of Abraham Lincoln’s ideas and policies on slavery from his early career to his presidency, placing Lincoln within the broad spectrum on antislavery thought. The author suggests that it’s a mistake to seize on any particular single quotation or speech as representing the “real” Lincoln: Lincoln’s thinking evolved over time, Foner shows, and he argues that the hallmark of Lincoln’s greatness was his capacity for growth. Showing Lincoln at his best and worst, and outlining his successes and failures, Foner’s book gives readers a new way of looking at the man who was arguably our greatest president.”

  Biography: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “In  Washington: A Life celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America’s first president. Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull. A laconic man of granite self-control, he often arouses more respect than affection. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow dashes forever the stereotype of a stolid, unemotional man. A strapping six feet, Washington was a celebrated horseman, elegant dancer, and tireless hunter, with a fiercely guarded emotional life. Chernow brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods. Probing his private life, he explores his fraught relationship with his crusty mother, his youthful infatuation with the married Sally Fairfax, and his often conflicted feelings toward his adopted children and grandchildren. He also provides a lavishly detailed portrait of his marriage to Martha and his complex behavior as a slave master.  At the same time, Washington is an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people. Not only did Washington gather around himself the foremost figures of the age, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, but he also brilliantly orchestrated their actions to shape the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency. In this unique biography, Ron Chernow takes us on a page-turning journey through all the formative events of America’s founding. With a dramatic sweep worthy of its giant subject, Washington is a magisterial work from one of our most elegant storytellers.”

  Poetry: The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “Kay Ryan’s recently concluded two-year term as the Library of Congress’s sixteenth poet laureate is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet; her awards include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, four Pushcart Prizes, and a Guggenheim fellowship. Ryan’s The Best of It: New and Selected Poems has garnered lavish praise. The two hundred poems in The Best of It offer a stunning retrospective of her work, as well as a swath of never-before-published poems: all of which are sure to appeal equally to longtime fans and general readers.”

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand

Monday, April 25th, 2011

  If you are tired of the cold & dreary Maryland winter & just yearning for long summer days on the beach, The Island (Find this book in our catalog) will certainly put you in the mood. Hilderbrand’s novel is set on Tuckernuck Island, off the coast of Nantucket.  When Chess calls off her long planned wedding & leaves her city job, her mother, Birdie takes them to their old island home on Tuckernuck. Here with the help of Chess’s sister, Tate, & Birdie’s own sister, India, Birdie hopes to help Chess heal. These hopes appear to be dashed, however, when tragedy strikes & Chess sinks into despair. Yet during the ladies’ stay on the island, secrets are revealed, love affairs begun and hopes for the future flame anew. This is an entertaining summer read that has depth & warmth. It will make you wish for happy endings for all the characters.

Visit Elin Hilderbrand’s website at  This is the 9th book by this author who lives with her family on Nantucket.

Two More Biographies Reviewed by Shelley – Wives and Widows

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

  A Box of Darkness: the story of a marriage by Sally Ryder Brady (Find in our catalog)

After her husband Upton’s death, Sally Brady discovers gay pornography in one of his drawers and the fact he left her in a precarious financial state.  These discoveries lead her to examine and question their life together from the time they first met until his death.  She struggles to reconcile the facts with what she thought was her life.  Brady wants/needs to know if Upton loved her and if he did, how could he have had a secret, other life.  Despite it all, her love for him prevails. 

  A Widow’s Story: a memoir by Joyce Carol Oates (Find in our catalog)

Oates’ husband, Raymond Smith, dies unexpectedly of an infection while hospitalized.  Oates is devastated and as the book’s title states, this story is a widow’s story.  She recounts her grief in great detail and its deep affect on her.  A Widow’s Story offers a portrait of a marriage, insight into mourning, and hope of finding oneself again.

Posted by Shelley

Minding Frankie – an audiobook review by Tracy

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

  Minding Frankie  by Maeve Binchy (Find this audiobook in our catalog).  Read by  Sile Bermingham.

So much of the success of an audiobook hinges on its reader.  A good reader can add something to a story beyond the words written on the page.  I especially love listening to books where the narrator has an accent appropriate to the story: It really brings a book alive to be able to hear it pronounced as it is written. 

That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy’s newest book, set in a small neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland.  The Frankie in the story is a baby, born to a mother who is dying from cancer.  The mother reaches out before her death to Noel, a hapless recovering alcoholic, and asks him to raise the child.  Noel had only a casual relationship with the mother and at first denies that the child may be his.  Eventually, with the help of his extremely capable Aunt Emily, he steps up and takes responsibility for the baby girl.  The book weaves together the stories of the various people in the neighborhood who help Noel with this task during the baby’s first year.  The narrator, Sile Bermingham, reads the story with a light Irish accent that definitely adds to the book’s charm.

 Many of the characters in this book have made appearances in other Maeve Binchy novels.  While waiting for this audiobook to become available (it just came out and there may be a short waitlist for it), you may want to check out one of Ms. Binchy’s other books. Heart and Soul, also narrated by Ms. Bermingham, tells the story of Clare Casey who is working to establish a heart clinic in a local hospital and all of the staff and patients there.  Many of these characters will make return appearances in Minding Frankie and will feel like old friends if you have heard this book first.  You might also enjoy Whitethorn Woods, a series of short stories about people connected to a village called Rossmore, and the shrine to St. Ann that is located in the woods nearby.  Many people go to the shrine to pray for help with their problems and feel that their prayers are answered through her intersession.  Progress in the form of a new road through the village threatens the shrine and the people’s way of life.

Maeve Binchy’s stories are of ordinary people, but she makes them extraordinary through her insight and her gentle humor.  Her books are engaging and the organization of the books, where she focuses on different characters in turn, make them especially good audiobooks for the car, where you may need to start and stop the book frequently.  Minding Frankie definitely made my driving more pleasant over the last couple of weeks.


Jen’s Jewels with Michael Lee West

Monday, April 18th, 2011

With the coming of spring brings the flurry of weddings. There’s nothing more romantic than walking down the aisle amid spring blooms and sounds of birds chirping. Even the royals are taking advantage of the beautiful weather.  But perhaps before exchanging I Do’s, it’s best to do a thorough background check on your beloved. You never know. You may be tying yourself up with a fugitive or even a self-proclaimed ladies’ man.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Michael Lee West tackles this very topic in her hilarious new release GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN. It’s the charming story of newly engaged Teeny Templeton who finds herself knee-deep in trouble when her so-called handsome, wealthy fiancé winds up dead. Set in historic Charleston, this novel is my must-read pick for summer 2011!

As part of this interview, Minotaur Books has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: Oftentimes, the journey to publication is just as fascinating as the novel itself. So that my readers may have a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please share with us a brief overview of your educational and professional background.

Michael: My mother was a steel magnolia who believed that a career was a back-up plan—“In case your husband dies, you won’t starve.” She guided me into elementary education, but during my freshman year in college, I discovered the English poets and changed my major to English. With iambic pentameters tapping in my head, my mother pitched a hissy fit. Demanded I change my major back to education.

I ended up getting a BS in Nursing at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. I was the only student who wrote 10 page nurses’ notes.  During my senior year, I joined a writing group. After graduation, I worked in a regional hospital: ICU and med-surg. But I kept writing. I “retired” from nursing after my youngest son was born in 1984.  I was a soccer (and football/basketball/baseball) mom and took notebooks to practice (but never to games).  In the mid-80s, several poems and short stories were accepted; I began receiving encouraging notes from New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Redbook. In 1990, when I was thirty-seven years old, my first novel, CRAZY LADIES, was published.

Jen: Please describe for us the “Ah! Ha!” moment when you made the decision to pursue a career as a writer.

Michael: When I was a young girl, I went to Girl Scout camp and got sick with sinus and histoplasmosis (a pneumonia-like disease that’s common in Middle Tennessee). I was put on bed rest for the rest of the summer. I read non-stop. My father owned an old fashioned dime store, and he brought home Big Chief tablets, and I wrote convoluted short stories. My mother encouraged me to become a nurse: “If your husband dies, you’ll have something to fall back on.”

I have a B.S. in Nursing but I never stopped writing.

Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, how long does it take you to complete a novel? And, do you outline and plot first? Or, do you just let the story evolve?

Michael: I used to be a pantster. No outline. But I wrote a detailed outline for GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN. It changed (Red and Ava showed up), but it made the whole process much less harrowing. I wrote a first draft quickly, but it took a year to revise and polish. All told, it takes about a year. I’ve been working on the second Teeny book for 11 months. But I’m almost finished. Book three has been outlined. I will spend a long while getting to know the characters. I make videos, collages, and playlists—and go very deep before I start writing. But the books still throw curve balls. I love it when they do.

Jen: Your writing career includes not only fictional novels, but also a memoir titled CONSUMING PASSIONS. Why did you choose to write a memoir about food?

Michael: I come from a long line of self-taught Southern cooks. Food is a family member. If I cut my finger, I bleed grits.

Jen: Your latest release GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN is a hilarious mix of mystery and romance. Set in my favorite locale Charleston, SC, I am naming it this summer’s must-read pick! How did you arrive at the premise?

Michael: I dreamed about Teeny while I was in the Charleston area. I rely on my subconscious—and dreams—to lead the way. I keep a notebook beside my bed and before my feet hit the floor, I’m writing down ideas that floated up in the night.

Jen: As you mentioned, the lead character in this quirky caper is Teeny Templeton. Despite having an unfortunate childhood and less-than-perfect looks, she is rich in optimism and full of heart. Why does she fall head over heels in love with the tacky, yet filthy rich Bing Jackson? What makes this guy so irresistible for her?

Michael: Teeny was reeling from Aunt Bluette’s death. Of course, I know things that happened, like, while Aunt Bluette was ill, a prowler broke into the Georgia farmhouse. Teeny was frightened (she’s a worry wart) and arranged empty Coca Cola bottles in front of the doors. After Bluette’s death, Teeny was in a funk. Bing came along and acted like a knight on a white horse (he’d driven a white car, too, but I deleted it). He was handsome, organized, and persistent.  Teeny was vulnerable. She knew the relationship was imperfect (she tells us secrets about Bing). If she hadn’t caught him with the badminton players, Teeny would have broken up with him and returned to Georgia.

Jen: Caught in the act with two bimbos, Bing has nowhere to hide. Teeny’s initial reaction is to fight fire with fire. In retrospect, does she regret her knee-jerk reaction? Why or why not?

Michael: Teeny wouldn’t be Teeny if she hadn’t reacted. Yes, she regrets throwing those peaches. She wishes she’d thrown ice cubes—that way the evidence would have melted.  Seriously, Teeny will always be spunky and take up for herself, but she will never throw anything again. She’s learned that it’s “perfectly legal to call someone an asshole,” and she may do that, but she’s become mindful of the law.

Jen: With no family or friends to turn to, Teeny relies on Bing’s aunt, Miss Dora, for help. Why does Teeny choose to put her trust in this woman despite Miss Dora’s blood ties to Bing?

Michael:   Dora went out of her way to befriend Teeny. Also, Teeny hadn’t lived in Charleston long, and she considered Dora to be her only friend. (Bing was controlling—he insisted that Teeny quit her job at Food Lion and stay home and “play house.” He didn’t want her to be a gad-about (it might have put a crimp in his philandering).

Jen: While Teeny waits for the killer to be found, she has the pleasure of staying in the historic Spencer-Jackson home courtesy of Miss Dora.  How does Teeny feel about rubbing elbows with the upper crust Charlestonian society?

Michael: Teeny is a Foodie, not a society gal. She is respectful of this world, but it’s not her comfort zone.

Jen: As with any damsel in distress, there must be a prince charming waiting in the wings to come rescue her from despair. Enter Cooper O’Malley! Sexy lawyer and former flame, Coop is hot, hot, hot! Why is he willing to risk it all in order to help Teeny?

Michael: Coop and Teeny have known each other since babyhood. He thought of her as a kid-sister (Coop has no siblings) until right after he graduated from high school, when he escaped his wily girlfriend’s clutches—he discovers that Teeny has grown up and he’s physically attracted to her. Eleven years later, Coop has matured. Teeny represents home, a shared history—but she is also the perfect compliment. Coop is rule-oriented—he sees everything in black and white (as evidenced by the pottery in his bookcases and elsewhere). The color of his house is gray—which serves as a symbol of the man Coop must become, to move the needle out of black/white, into the gray. Also, Teeny’s house is pink, but her front door is gray. Whenever Coop goes through her door, he is changing. In book 2, we’ll meet Coop’s parents—and his eccentric, Chihuahua-toting granny, Minnie O’Malley.

Jen: The scene-stealing character of the book is the rough and tough private eye, Red Butler. (Cute name, by the way!) Why does he appear threatened by Teeny’s presence in his boss Coop’s life?

Michael: When I outlined the book, Red didn’t exist. He just showed up at the beach, and from that moment, he was a force of nature. Red’s mother was a major Gone With the Wind fan (as am I—check out “The Margaret Mitchell Bed” in Consuming Passions), and she named all her children after characters in the book (But Mrs. Hill was a poor speller.). Red is a loyal person. He’s the kind of person who has life-long friends; he will always watch your back. Naturally he’s this way with Coop. Red had a disastrous romance (which will be explored briefly in book 3); even though he has a degree in psychology, he underestimates Teeny.

Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. First, please take us on a tour of your website highlighting points of interest.

Michael: Excerpts from all of the books are available. Also, AuthorsontheWeb added a YouTube channel on the site; I made several “Teeny-related” videos, along with others. My publisher made a beautiful, free ebook called “Teen Templeton’s Kitchen Notes,” which is available for download.

If anyone would like a signed bookplate or bookmark, just send a self-addressed, self-stamped envelope to: Michael Lee West, 102 Hartman Dr., Ste G #314, Lebanon, TN 37087. Add a note – let me know how many you’d like and the type of inscription.

Jen: Do you participate in Author Phone Chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Michael: They can contact me through my website, or through

Jen: Do you have Reading Group Guides for your books?

Michael: Reading Group Guides are available for CRAZY LADIES, MAD GIRLS IN LOVE, and CONSUMING PASSIONS. Just follow this link.

Jen: The question everyone wants to know… when can we expect to see the sequel in stores?

Michael: The second book, A TEENY BIT OF TROUBLE, will hopefully be in stores in 2012. I’m putting the final touches on it now.

Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN is one of my all-time favorite reads. I just can’t say enough about your book. Bravo! Best of luck in the future, and please stop by again.

Michael:   It was my pleasure! Thank you so much, Jen.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Michael. Please stop by your local library of favorite book retailer and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?

Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win!

What is the title of the Michael’s first book?

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with debut novelist Sarah Jio. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…


From Chernobyl to Fukushima

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Voices from Chernobyl:  The Oral History of a Nuclear   Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich

On April 26, 1986, something horrible happened in Belarus, in Eastern Europe.  The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station exploded, spewing radioactive material for miles around and ultimately contaminating huge portions of the air, rivers, lakes, and land of Europe.  When information began to emerge about the disaster, something was made of the scientific side of the disaster and the ecological ramifications, but not too much was heard from the ordinary people whose lives were changed forever because of this disaster:  the people who worked at the plant to put out the on-going fire at the reactor and to entomb the ravaged plant in an effort to bury the radioactive particles; the people who oversaw the vast task of trying to cleanse the contaminated land; and the people who had just simply been living in the vicinity of the reactor.  Svetlana Alexievich allows us to hear the voices of those people – the living and the now dead.

Sometimes a book can spur a reader to action or urge thoughtful speculation or ask important questions and maybe even answer those questions.  This one makes us cry.  It pulls back a veil of silence that had stifled the voices of those people most dramatically affected by the disaster and allows us to hear them as they speak, in all their confusion, sorrow, anger, and worry.  We hear the voices of the wives of men who struggled to bury the highly radioactive plant in a sarcophagus of concrete in the effort to stop the flow of radioactive iodine, graphite, cesium, lead, barium, and even plutonium.  These women watched their husbands die in horribly frightening ways, so horrible that even the health care providers could not look at them or care for them.  We hear the voices of the men, who saw their friends dying one by two by three as the days, weeks, months, and years passed, and who themselves became sick, knowing the one fate that awaited them. We hear the voices of children, who sorrowfully regret that they could not bring a bicycle or a stamp collection or a pet cat with them when they were evacuated, because everything, everything was glowing with radioactivity.  We hear the administrators and party officials denying knowing anything or being responsible of any wrongdoing or blaming foreign press for panic.  Sound familiar?

Twenty-five years ago, something horrible happened in Eastern Europe.  It affected everything – living and nonliving, and its effects linger to this day.  As we consider the situation in Japan at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, we might be well served to read the words of the people of Chernobyl, Minsk, and Pripyat, and listen carefully to their words of suffering, their nightmare, that tell us of the horrors of a nuclear accident that to this day and far beyond ravages a land and a people.


National Book Circle Critics Awards

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Courtesy of Shelf Awareness, a  booksellers’ newsletter of March 11:

” Winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards, honored March 10, with comments from the NBCC:

  Fiction: Jennifer Egan for A Visit from the Goon Squad (Find in our catalog). “A novel at once experimental in form and crystal clear in the overlapping stories it delivers, offering us a sense of youth and what gets lost along the way.” 

Nonfiction: Isabel Wilkerson for The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Find in our catalog). “A magisterial work, taking its title from a poem by Richard Wright, that chronicles the movement of the six million African Americans who left the Jim Crow South starting in the early 20th century and spread throughout the country.” 

   Biography: Sarah Bakewell for How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Find in our catalog). “A fresh and original treatment from British author Bakewell, a former curator, of the great French essayist in a book that remakes the concept of literary biography.” “

Literary Fiction Review from Annie Kovach

Monday, April 11th, 2011

  A Visit from the Goon Squad  By Jennifer Egan (Find this book in our catalog)

Imagine the movie Crash, with its intertwining characters and plotlines.  Then add the element of time passing and you’re approaching the book A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  It includes a large cast of characters, with the reader going forward and backward in time (but not in a time travel kind of way) to various times of their lives and seeing what they are, what they were, and what they will become.  

The story starts in modern day New York with the story of Bennie and Sasha; Benny is a music producer and Sasha is his kleptomaniac assistant.  It soon goes forward and backward in time, witnessing Benny’s teen years in the punk music scene in San Francisco and Sasha’s experience as a runaway in Naples, Italy.  Each chapter introduces another character (or three); Benny’s wife Stephanie, Stephanie’s brother Jules, Sasha’s boyfriend Drew, Benny’s childhood friend Scott, Stephanie’s employer Lulu, Sasha’s daughter Alison…and a few more.  It sounds confusing, but each story is told with such skill that the element of jumping through time adds interest and complexity to the characters.  In addition to the intriguing character plotlines and the unique storytelling techniques (I never thought a PowerPoint would be such a powerful and effective storytelling tool), A Visit from the Goon Squad is a thought-provoking commentary on the past, present, and future of the music industry, as well as the tools of human connection.

Review by Annie Kovach

Percival’s Planet by Michael Byers – Book Talk by Julia

Friday, April 8th, 2011

(Find this book in our catalog)Percival’s Planet is the fictionalized story of Clyde Tombaugh, the young man who discovered Pluto in 1930. Surrounding Clyde are a number of characters, real or imagined whose stories run parallel to & often intersect his own. There is Mary who suffers from a mental disorder, yet has great strength, Alan who aspires to discover Pluto himself, Constance Lowell, the wife of Percy Lowell who began the search for the planet, Teddy, a fading boxer, & wealthyFelix duPrie (a real character) who is digging for dinosaur bones. These & a few other characters reflect the culture of their time, from the hardscrabble life of a farm in Kansas, to the society lives of  the wealthy. It is fascinating to follow the individual characters’ stories & to discover how their paths will cross. This book also reflects the determination & dedication of the astonomers who worked tirelessly in the 1920s before there were computers to assist them. Byers has written a book of great breadth & historical & cultural interest.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Byers (Long for This World) offers a gloriously expansive view of Depression-era America, from the easy extravagance of the Boston Brahmins to hardscrabble rural life. At its core, this is the story of Clyde Tombaugh, an unassuming Kansas farm kid who achieves international fame for his discovery of Pluto. In addition to Clyde, there is the Harvard crowd that precedes him at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona: Alan Barber, a man of modest background who aspires to the effortless grace of his wealthy colleague, Dick Morrow, and has a crush on Dick’s scholarly and daring girlfriend, Florence. Byers connects Clyde’s story with a number of riveting and eventually interlinking subplots, among them an archeological dig run by the wealthy Felix DuPrie, who has turned his back on the family business to try his hand at unearthing dinosaur bones, and the touching tale of Edward Howe, a former professional boxer who pines after his gorgeous and troubled secretary, whose delusions are portrayed with an amazing sensitivity and realism. Between the faultless storytelling and the juicy historical hook, it looks like a hit. (Aug.)
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Book Group Thoughts. This book really caused mixed reactions from the Abingdon Book Group who read it for March. It is a book that contains many stories. Some of us liked that, some found it confusing & thought there were too many different threads. There are also some passages that could be found hard going as they went into the minutiae of grinding lenses or searching for planets.  These could be fascinating or not, depending on one’s interests, but they do highlight the hard work & tedium of the astronomer’s work & are an integral part of the overall feel of the book. This is not a light or quick read but is worth the effort for its vision & scope.

Michael Byer’s website is

Pluto related websites: