Let’s Talk State of Wonder

July 22, 2016 Book Review, reviews 6

Let’s Talk State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on June 7th 2011
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 353
Source: purchased


For the month of June I joined a casual readalong led by Care of  Care’s Books and Pie, along with Debbie, and Katie, for Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I thought it quite fitting to do so as I visited Parnassus Books for the first time while at a conference in Nashville. {Side note – if you ever get a chance to visit Parnassus Books created and run by Ann Patchett, be sure to do so!}.

This is not going to be a typical review post, and in fact I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and include spoilers. So if you haven’t read State of Wonder and you plan to – DON’T READ THIS POST YET. And if you are a traditionalist and simply don’t want to know spoilers, DON’T READ THIS POST. And in case you haven’t gotten get the gist yet SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILERS UP AHEAD!!!

I’m not sure why I have never read an Ann Patchett novel because once I read the synopsis of State of Wonder it sounded like the absolutely perfect read for me – a little bit of Clive Cussler trekking through the jungle, some James Rollins and big business conspiracy all wrapped up neatly in a literary package.

Our main character, Marina, works at a large pharmaceutical company as a researcher. She’s worked closely with Anders, her co-worker until he was sent to the jungles of Brazil to track down another doctor doing research for the same pharmaceutical company. When the book opens we learn that Anders has died from an unknown fever and the doctor he had been searching for, and found, buried him in the jungle. Well Anders’ wife is not good with either the idea her husband is dead nor that he was buried thousands of miles away. The CEO of the pharmaceutical company, Mr. Fox, is not good with it either. He still had not received the information Anders went to Brazil to get. So, we have Marina coerced by both Mr. Fox and the wife of Anders to go find out what happened, bring him home, and discover what the heck is going on at the research facility in the middle of the Brazilian jungle.

So many small threads of storylines ran through State of Wonder.

  • Marina and Mr. Fox. They’ve been dating for a number of years and she thinks he’s about to propose in the car as he takes her to the airport but instead he gives her a phone?!? Talk about symbolism! Mr. Fox is her boss, CEO of the company she works for, and though he is a widower, Mr. Fox refuses to acknowledge their relationship. What is up with that! Why does Marina put up with that? They even have to go out of town to dinner where no one will recognize the two together.
  • Marina, the wife and the co-worker. Marina has to tell the wife the horrible news of Anders death while the wife comes to rely on Marina to ‘find him and bring him home.’ The pressure on Marina from both the wife and Mr. Fox is unbelievable! The wife cannot leave because of their children and Mr. Fox is only thinking of his company.
  • Marina and Dr. Swenson. Is Marina going to become a Dr. Swenson just as the good doctor anticipates? Will Marina break and tell Mr. Fox it is a cure for malaria and not the miracle pregnancy drug he’s expecting? I was surprised Marina had the strength to walk away – or maybe it wasn’t strength but more she was completely broken by the end?
  • Marina and the Lakashi people, where the research facility is located deep in the Brazilian jungle. Staying in the jungle amongst the Lakashi allows Marina space and time to focus on becoming comfortable in her own skin and to be able to shed a certain Mr. Fox. Do you think there was any attraction to Milton, the driver and Marina’s often-time rescuer?
  • And most tragic of all, Easter and his relationship with everyone in the research facility, especially Anders, Marina, and the doctor. I’m still disturbed by the ending and it’s been over a month ago I read the book. On the one hand I can understand why Anders did what he did, BUT on the other hand my heart breaks, I’m shocked and horrified. What a philosophical nightmare ~ who is most at fault here? The doctor who kept Easter? Anders that gave him away? or Marina for taking him to look for Anders when she refused to take anyone else from the camp?

This book was a wonderful escape. While there were moments I had to suspend my disbelief {like the anaconda scene}. . . . although I do know of someone who picked up a copperhead just like the local Lakashi picked up the anaconda, so suspending disbelief over that scene was not quite as difficult! I was somewhat thrown off by how proficient Easter seemed to be at most everything.  An unlikely hero yet a hero nonetheless.

Now I’m off to read everything Ann Patchett has ever written. Highly recommended for men and women! For anyone who fell in love with Indiana Jones or enjoys the adventure novels of Clive Cussler, James Rollins and Lincoln Child – with lots of fantastic descriptive writing.

Have you read State of Wonder? What are your thoughts on that ending?



Spotlight Tour: The Great Disneyland Scavenger Hunt

July 19, 2016 Book Talk 0

My first time to the enchanted land of Disney was with my parents and baby brother. I was probably 5 years old and mesmerized by the magical wonder. To see the castle, ride Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World {I still know all the lyrics!}. Over 40 years later the memories of my visits to Disney still fill me with nostalgic pleasure.

Which is why I’m so happy to have Catherine Olen, author of The Great Disneyland Scavenger Hunt, guest post here at  The Novel Life! Please join me in welcoming Catherine as she shares her motivations and desire for this book!

the great disneyland scavenger huntSee Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure through new eyes when you discover fantasy, thrills, and dreams around every turn. Whether you’re perusing the shops, waiting in line, or riding attractions, there’s plenty to uncover for even the most knowledgeable Disney fan.

If this is your first visit or your five hundredth, you will discover something new with “The Great Disneyland Scavenger Hunt.”

The history of Disneyland has been well documented over the years in literally thousands of books. Disney is a topic that fascinates people all over the world, but did you know Disneyland itself was created by history? My goal for writing The Great Disneyland Scavenger Hunt is to show those who love Disney some of the amazing details included by founder Walt Disney.

As someone who has been fascinated by history, I have wondered at the details included to honor the founders of the United States and the history surrounding the creation of our amazing country. Factual and fictional history combine to honor those who have come before us.

  • Enter the hall of the Main Street Opera house and listen to Abraham Lincoln as he gives the Gettysburg Address once more.
  • Ride on the Mark Twain Riverboat on the Rivers of America and hear your narrator talk about the history of the great rivers.
  • Enter New Orleans Square and find yourself face to face with bands of marauding pirates as they recreate the days when plundering was the rage.

Not just factual history, but fictional history shaped the Disneyland we know today. Check out the chapter on Fantasyland to see:

  • Walk through the gates of Sleeping Beauty Castle, designed after famed Neuschwanstein castle in Germany.
  • Ride with Peter Pan over the rooftops of London on your way to Neverland as you become center stage in one of Walt Disney’s films.
  • Ride on King Arthur’s Carousel and be transported back to the age of kings and queens.

The Great Disneyland Scavenger Hunt takes you on a tour of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom in a whole new way when you take time to see the wonders of Snow White Grotto, The Hollywood Tower of Terror and Soarin’ over the World.

From first time visitors to families with small children to the most seasoned annual pass holder, there is something new to discover within the pages of The Great Disneyland Scavenger Hunt.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Books-a-Million ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Powell’s Books ~ Chapters.Indigo.ca

Catherine F. OlenAbout the Author

Catherine Olen has enjoyed a love affair with the magic of the Disney theme parks for as long as she can remember, counting herself among Disneyland passholders for the last twenty-five years. Previously, Olen owned and operated Hollywood Grave Hunter and is the proud author of The Final Curtain: Celebrity Deaths and The Upside of Undertaking, chronicling her previous career experiences. She has been a correspondent to Entertainment Tonight (US and France), The Biography Channel, Reelz Network, and the Mark & Brian radio show.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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To follow along the book tour please visit iRead Tours here


How to DIY MFA

July 12, 2016 Book Review, reviews 1

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

How to DIY MFADIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community by Gabriela Pereira
Published by Writer's Digest Books on July 8th 2016
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 294
Source: complimentary review copy, purchased


In 7th grade Mrs. McNeary introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle. Although we were surly middle schoolers, Mrs. McNeary read A Wrinkle in Time to us every afternoon. By the time the third day rolled around I had already been to the school library to check out A Wrinkle in Time. By the fourth day, I had the book finished and had checked out A Wind in the Door, Book 2 in the Time Quintet Series. I remember thinking that if I could write like anyone, I wanted to tell stories just like Ms. L’Engle. I also wanted to be a pilot, Navy Seal, and marine biologist, but writer was always at the top of my list.

Fast forward to adulthood where I never quite made it to pilot school, the Navy didn’t want me, and marine biology was only a passing interest because of A Ring of Endless Light. . .my absolute favorite L’Engle novel. Somehow I fell into the non-profit world, children’s advocacy, and writing grant proposals. I didn’t consider myself a writer though. Most grant proposals are dry and technical – where’s the imagination in that?

While trying to find other readers to talk with about books I fell into book blogging. I thought that writing reviews and sharing my world was not real writing. Where’s the imagination in talking books? In order to be a real writer I would have to get my MFA. or so I thought.

Then I came across Gabriela Pereira’s site DIYMFA.com

All of the sudden I realized, wait, I am a writer. I may not be Pulitzer-Prize-worthy, but I’ve been a writer for years! Can you imagine the elation and relief I felt?

So when I read that the entire DIY MFA method was being published in a book I knew I had to get it. As much of a resource as the site has been, the book, I knew, would be chock-full of wisdom. I pre-ordered the book even though I had access to the advanced reader’s copy. After reading the first few chapters I quickly figured out that this book was going to be a much-used and much-loved writing resource, along with my copy of On Writing, Bird by Bird, and Writing Down the Bones.

Gabriela lays out the foundation of writing in a methodical and easily-understood manner. The book is sectioned into the 3-part mission of DIY MFA: “write with focus, read with purpose, build your community.” From there the book is pared down into bite-sized chapters with clear actionable steps/homework. For example, in the Read with Purpose portion we learn to “Read Like a Writer,” and the four types of books a writer should utilize {also known as “the four C’s”}: “competitive titles, contextual books, contemporary books, and classics.”

Gabriela is a big fan of acronyms and tips which further helps to cement the tools learned. For example, the term ‘habits’ becomes:

H = Honor Your Reality

A = Add Constraints

B = Block Time and Batch Tasks

I = Iterate

T = Ten Percent Rule

S = Set the Mood

Gabriela is candid and practical throughout the book. There is no shortcut to becoming a good writer. Practicing is repeated over and over, or actually, what I came to term as Gabriela’s favorite word ~ “iterate, iterate, iterate.” That was my only issue with the book – why say iterate when practice works just as well?

If you have any desire to improve your writing, whether as a blogger or a long-time writer, pick up this book. It is sure to become your favorite writing resource – I know it is now mine!

Side Note: There’s countless worksheets and cheat sheets and even a private online resource for those who purchase the book. And while I would highly recommend purchasing the book, there are still plenty of free resources at DIYMFA.com

Gabriela also hosts a podcast with fantastic guests and resources! Learn more here.

Connect with Gabriela Website | Twitter | Facebook

What writing books/memoirs/resources have you read and/or use?




On Women’s Rights with Author Juliette Fay

July 5, 2016 Author Interview, Spotlight Author 2

Y’all don’t think me too crazy for geeking out over a conversation with Juliette Fay, author of The Tumbling Turner Sisters. Not only has she written 4 award-winning books, she is also quite the impressive person herself!  Her early days were spent as a Jesuit volunteer working with the homeless. She then went on to graduate from Harvard with a master’s degree in public policy. Ms. Fay has seemingly spent a lifetime caring for others while bringing attention to social issues.

In The Tumbling Turner Sisters, {my review here}, the focus is on early 20th century social issues like racism, women’s equality and anti-Semitism. Reading this book made me glad to be living in this time period yet also fascinated by how far we’ve come as a society in a hundred years. And unfortunately, how much further we need to go.

Please join me in welcoming Ms. Juliette Fay!

Juliette Fay

Photo Credit: Kristen Dacey

You write about such controversial issues that were prevalent in 1919, like racial inequality and women’s rights. How did you find a way to approach them with respect and grace?

The sexism and racism of the time was so ubiquitous, such a part of the fabric of everyday life, that most people didn’t see it. It was just the way things were. As with so many forms of prejudice and inequality, it was only when it affected someone you actually you knew that you might say to yourself, “Gee, that’s not fair.”

The two narrators of The Tumbling Turner Sisters are working class teenage white girls from a relatively small town. I had to approach it through their eyes, feel it through their skin. They don’t even know any African-Americans until they meet Tippety Tap Jones.

But they do get to know him, and find him to be helpful, hardworking and tremendously talented. When his race is used against him in such a blatant way, right before their eyes, they are treated to a shocking dose of what he goes through on a regular basis. This changes them, makes them question the social norms they take for granted—and not just about race. About everything. It leads them to look more closely at the inequalities they face as women, and to be ready to stand up and challenge them. To live, as they say, “larger lives.”

the tumbling turner sistersYou highlight the struggles that women had to endure in the 1900’s. Why did you feel it was an important issue to share with women today?

I chose the year 1919 for the novel precisely because it was a time of great social change, especially for women. The question of whether they were competent to vote had raged for 70 years, and was just about to be settled! A big part of that debate was how women’s suffrage would affect society at large—there was genuine fear that if women could vote, they would suddenly become “political,” throw off their apron strings and stop feeding their children. The American family would disintegrate. It was a lot like the argument for slavery: we need someone to do this work, so let’s make it virtually impossible for them to do anything else.

Women and people of color have it vastly better than their forbearers, but society is still rife with racism (though it tends to be more covert) and women still only earn about seventy percent of what men make for the same work. I hope readers will feel both grateful for how much headway we’ve made, and at the same time more aware of the fact that we still have a ways to go. I hope they’ll think about it, talk about it, and maybe even be inspired to take action that keeps us moving in the right direction.

Juliette Fay is the award-winning author of four novels: The Tumbling Turner Sisters, The Shortest Way Home, Deep Down True, and Shelter Me. She received a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a master’s degree from Harvard University. Juliette lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children. Her website is juliettefay.com.


June in Review

July 4, 2016 Book Talk 5


juneinreview (1)

Looking back on May and June I realized I have not read a single book I said I was looking forward to! The best laid plans and such, right?

What I DID Read

I only got three books read, although granted, The Crow Girl was originally published as three separate novels, meaning I really read 6 books, yes?!? The Tumbling Turner Sisters was delightful, engaging and spot-on accurate while State of Wonder had me wondering why I’ve never read Ann Patchett before! I’m still formulating my thoughts on The Crow Girl. It was disturbing to say the least. Before the Fall was an experience. I still have nightmares, not about the ocean, but of Bill Cunningham! Anyone else have that experience as well?


On the Blog

In Real Life

June was another difficult month. My faithful companion and want-to-be therapy dog passed away. We had just celebrated Obie’s 10th birthday {in human years} and then discovered a grapefruit-sized malignant tumor on his spleen. If you are a pet lover then you know how difficult it is to say goodbye to your best friend. Though we got Obie when my kids were ages 10 – 14, Obie and I bonded immediately and completely. He loved the kids, but Obie was always my dog. My protector, confidante, blanket on cold nights, best friend and irreplaceable heart.

The one blessing I come away with is knowing all the people Obie’s gentle, loving spirit touched.

Obie ~ May, 2006 - June, 2016

Obie ~ May, 2006 – June, 2016


Here’s to looking forward to a peaceful July filled with love, family and lots of smiles.