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Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby & Giveaway

Welcome to Hachette Group’s Early Birds Blog Tour for Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby, a book that examines one young genius’ struggle to find himself and his place in his own family and society; Thanks to Miriam Parker at Hachette for sending the book along for the tour.

Theodore Mead Fegley’s father runs a furniture store and funeral home with his brother Martin, while his mother’s main goal in life is to push her son to achieve as much as possible and not squander his intelligence. The pressure mounts for Mead as he speeds through his elementary and high school years, reaching the University of Chicago at age 15.

Mead is an awkward “geek” who tries to keep his head down and make it through what he believes is the roughest period of his life, high school. Despite attempts by his cousin, Percy, to pry Mead out of his shell, Mead stuffs his nose in his studies to graduate high school and head off to college away from his overbearing mother and the small town that despises and ridicules him.

The narrative easily shifts from the present to the past, and the chapter breaks make it easier to keep the timeline in perspective with details about what period in Mead’s life is witnessed and what location he is in.

Mead is a young teen thrust into academic life with peers who are much older and experienced. Even though he looks forward to college life and mingling with his peers, he finds the experience to be as difficult and confusing as his high school years. Mead’s life takes a stark turn when he meets Herman Weinstein, a fellow mathematics student at the university.

Mead meets Dr. Krustrup, who agrees to mentor him and Weinstein at least until Weinstein’s family fortune and connections convince him otherwise. Mead is easily pushed aside when Dr. Krustrup becomes chair of the mathematics department. While he is initially angry, he learns that his new mentor, Dr. Alexander, is much more inspiring. Under the tutelage of Dr. Alexander, Mead throws himself into the Riemann Hypothesis, and he hopes to either prove or disprove the hypothesis, which has been debated for more than 100 years.

Jacoby carefully intermingles events from Mead’s past into his present as a way to show how Mead’s character has developed and explain the reasons behind some of Mead’s reactions and behaviors at the university. As Mead grows closer to a solution, Herman insinuates himself further into Mead’s life. Tensions between the two friends–and I use this term loosely–continue to intensify, until a family tragedy and university pressure mount, forcing Mead to run home to rural Illinois several days before graduation, his major mathematical presentation, and his valedictorian speech.

While math problems make me cringe, this story brought me back to high school with the discussions of matrices–math I actually understood at one point–but Jacoby does a great job of including this information without burdening or boring the reader. As Mead’s life unfolds and the mystery grows more intense, the pages flow quickly, making the reader more anxious to learn the reason why Mead flees his sanctuary at the university when he is on the verge of success. Although this novel is dubbed an academic thriller that portion of the story fell flat. The descriptions, perceptions, and events in Mead’s life point the narrative more in the direction of a coming of age story. Jacoby’s academic thriller plotline did not have the foundation or twists and turns necessary to a successful thriller narrative. However, at the conclusion of the narrative, the reader will be pleased to see Mead find himself, what’s important to him, and how to cope with his reality.

About the Author:

M. Ann Jacoby has been an art director at Penguin USA for more than two decades. Life After Genius is her debut novel.

Without further ado, here is M. Ann Jacoby about her writing process.

Do you have a set writing routine? Do you get up early and start writing or do you write when the mood hits?

I do have a routine. After getting my errands out of the way Saturday morning, I sit down around noon and write for about six hours. The first hour or two involves a lot of staring out the window and getting back into the world of my novel. By Sunday I’m into it. I get started around 8 or 9am and can go all day. I have to remind myself to stop and eat. Then, reluctantly, I have to put it all away and go back to my Mon-Fri job. I commute to work on the train and usually wait till midweek to read and edit what I wrote over the weekend. I don’t write during the week. I need large blocks of time without interruption to get lost in the world of my characters. I usually get 12-15 pages written over a weekend. It’s a long, slow process but I find the breaks in between give me a chance to step back from my work and rethink before plunging in again.

Was the research and writing process for Life After Genius different from your normal writing process?

Research takes time away from writing. And I find that I write too much of my research into the story at first. I want to put all that new information to good use! But eventually I edit most of it back out so that the research feels more like a natural backdrop.

Do you have any advice for writers just starting out?

It’s very hard to sort out criticism in the beginning. What to listen to, what not to. For me, there was a lot of trial and error. A lot of crying. Try not to let the negative remarks destroy you. Look at them as an opportunity to learn and grow.

What are your favorite rewards for reaching your writing goals and why?

To create something that speaks to another person is a reward in itself. Immeasureable. Plus, it means I can go back and create more characters and more imaginary worlds. To get to do what I most love and get paid for it is like winning the lottery.

Are you working on any other projects, and if so would you care to tantalize my readers with a few hints?

The novel I’m working on now is loosely based on my mother’s parents who were bookies in West Palm Beach, Florida. The main character is Libby Freybaker who shared the pants in the family with her husband, my grandfather. She’s funny and smart and unconventional. It opens with them being handcuffed and arrested, then flashes back to tell the story of what led up to that point.

***Want to win a copy of Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby from Savvy Verse & Wit and Hachette Group?

I will pass along my copy to one International winner, please let me know in the comments if you are international! Hatchette Group will pass along a copy to a winner with a U.S. or Canada address.

***Make sure you leave me a way to contact you either an email address or through your blog. Those not leaving emails or blog links, will not be entered. Deadline is November 5, 2008.

1. Leave a comment on this post for one entry telling me what you find most interesting about the book or Jacoby’s writing process.

2. Post this contest on your blog or sidebar and return here to leave me a link to where you posted it for a second entry.

3. For those of you that do not have blogs, email five friends and cc savvyverseandwit AT gmail DOT com for your second entry.

Check out the other stops on the Life After Genius tour!

Marjolein Reviews
The Book Nest
Seaside Book Worm Blogger
Books by TJBaff

Linus’s Blanket

The Optimistic Bookfool
The Printed Page
My Friend Amy
Shooting Stars Mag
Books, Pungs, and More
A Novel Menagerie
The Tome Traveller’s Weblog
medieval bookworm
Book Critiques
B&b ex libris
Sharon Loves Books and Cats
At Home With Books
A Circle of Books
Book Line and Sinker

***More contests from Savvy Verse & Wit:

A copy of Black Flies by Shannon Burke

A copy of The Safety of Secrets by Delaune Michel! Deadline is Tonight at Midnight EST. Go here, follow the rules, and enter.

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Testimony by Anita Shreve, which will be released on Oct. 21, was such a surprise in my mailbox from Hachette Group’s Miriam Parker. Thanks, Miriam! I met Anita Shreve at the 2002 National Book Festival signing in Washington, D.C. I’ve been in love with her writing since I first read The Pilot’s Wife many years before that, and I will admit here that I’ve tried to emulate her style in my own writing, though my writing has not met muster.

Testimony is one of those novels that slowly draws you into a prep school known as Avery Academy in Vermont where four boys and one girl make a decision that will change their lives and the lives of other students, teachers, administrators, families, and neighbors for years to come. Testimony is given throughout the novel from a number of characters–minor and major characters–illustrating the depth to which decisions of one or several people can impact others who are seemingly unconnected to the decision-makers. Jacqueline Barnard, a researcher from the University of Vermont, receives the interviews either in written form or through personal encounters with several of the characters.

The videotape that surfaces in Avery Academy Headmaster Mike Bordwin’s office is central to the story that unfolds in the novel, but another decision among a pair of adults also impacts the students and others in the town. Shreve is a master of character development and setting. I was drawn into the bitter cold winter snow of Vermont and the coziness of the town and the school, as well as the dark undercurrents in each of these characters’ lives. Shreve is adept at highlighting the nuances of how underage sex and drinking affects the students, the faculty, and others, while not preaching to the reader.

Silas and Noelle, two of the main adolescents in the novel, share a deep connection to one another at a tender age. It was tough to watch how this connection was tested and ultimately severed. Silas and his mother, Anna, also have a tight bond and naturally this connection is tested. Another adolescent boy, J. Dot and his bravado, serves as a foil to Silas’ hard-working, compassionate, and dutiful persona. Noelle is the naive and romantic girl-next-door, while Sienna is the wild girl looking for trouble even if it is on a subconscious level.

As always, Shreve has outdone herself in this novel, weaving a series of disjointed testimonies into a coherent and heart-wrenching story of love, loss, responsibility, and adolescence. I’ve often wondered if Shreve has ever tried her hand at poetry because the language she creates on the page paints a vivid image, and those images often conjure deeper meanings and emotions for the reader.

Also Reviewed By:
A Writer’s Pen
The Sleepy Reader
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Reader for Life
At Home With Books
For the Good Times
CaribousMom
Bookshipper
S Krishna’s Books
Peeking Between the Pages
Breaking the Spine
Booking Mama
Literarily
Redlady’s Reading Room
B&B Ex Libris
Pop Culture Junkie
She Is Too Fond of Books

7th Heaven Sure Is a Firey Pit

Despite a bump in the road with 6th Target, James Patterson has picked up the Women’s Murder Club Series in 7th Heaven, and it looks like Lindsay is on the brink of yet another emotional dilemma. In this book, Michael Campion, who has a bad heart and happens to be the son of a former governor, disappears, but a tip comes in leading to a potential suspect. At the same time, a series of homes are set afire, robbed, and their occupants killed; these fires appear to be arson or accidental, but the detectives must follow a gruelling set of leads to discover the truth. Meanwhile, Lindsay Boxer continues to live with her FBI boyfriend, Joe, even though she has yet to say yes to his proposal from 6th Target.

***Spoiler Alert***

While this book has a much cleaner plot and the suspense is kept high for most of the book, I don’t see the attraction Lindsay has to Rich Conklin, her partner. I know that Patterson is setting it up to be a love triangle with Lindsay caught between two men–her partner and her former FBI boyfriend–but I guess I am partial to Joe. I want to see her happy, and after cheering him on and happily applauding his decision to finally move to San Francisco and quite the FBI to be with Lindsay, I want my happy ending for them. I knew once Jacobi was moved up and no longer her partner, another hunk was moving into her life. I wonder if it is her desire for Conklin or her inability to commit that has her so confused about the men in her life. I gather its a bit of both.

This is one thing I have noticed about Patterson’s crime stories–and it bugs me–the main characters who are detectives in police forces never can just have a happy home life. Wives die, marriages end in divorce, partners become lovers, and other activities happen that keep these detectives merely bouncing from bed to bed. I find that disturbing. I would like to see something out of the ordinary from one of his main characters; I would like to see them fall in love, get married, and have families all while remaining on the job and platonic with their partners.

As for the crimes, the Campion case takes a series of twists and turns that even had me baffled for a while, though I finally had it figured. I love the ending to this case, folks. If for nothing else, you should read this book to find out what really happens to Michael Campion. I have to say the conversation with Boxer, Conklin, and Campion’s father was the biggest clue to the ending for me. It was a good point in the story to bring it out as well.

The rash of fires in the area among wealthy families was intriguing and the discovery of who Pidge and Hawk really are was captivating. The only question I have for those characters is what sick and twisted world do you live in that setting fires and killing people can be equated with 7th Heaven? Talk about a disturbing title for a graphic novel/manifesto of crime. It makes one wonder how these minds become that twisted to think hey let’s set fire to homes, rob them, and kill the couples inside rather than sell this really detailed graphic novel that received rave reviews and become rich ourselves. I think in this instance, I would have preferred a bit more detail into how these criminals came to those conclusions. What motivated them to kill, rather than make money and change their lot in life? Then again, I suppose most cops and prosecutors never find that out even if the perps are arrested.

***End Spoiler Alert****

Also, keep a watchful eye on this book for the newest addition to the Women’s Murder Club. The group is growing. Overall, this was an enjoyable, quick read that kept my interest throughout. While some parts angered me and there is still no resolution to the Joe, Lindsay, Conklin interactions, I would recommend this crime drama, 7th Heaven, as a must read part of the series, just skip over the 6th Target.

Double XX, Marks the Spot

Double Cross by James Patterson, the latest in the Alex Cross series, is a gripping continuation. There are two psychopathic killers on the loose and they are in competition with one another. Alex has yet another love interest, Bree Stone, who just happens to be a detective with the Washington D.C. police department, but Cross is no longer with the FBI or the police department. In fact, he’s become the family man, with his own psychiatric practice and patients.

This is the book I’ve been waiting to read from Patterson. The last two Patterson books I’ve read have left me wanting better writing and more intricate plots. This has most of both. The writing is better, the characters are sympathetic and varied, and the plot is definitely much less contrived than the previous two.

***Spoiler Alert***
Alex Cross has his patients and comes home for dinner with the family on a daily basis, which is something that his kids are certainly not used to. It’s good to see him with the family and the newest love of his life, but you know something will happen to draw him back into the game. First there are a series of killings by a serial murderer interested in having an audience for his crimes, and those audiences get bigger and bigger. Then, Kyle Craig, Alex Cross’ archenemy The Mastermind, escapes from the inescapable prison in Colorado. What is Craig after and how did he escape. I almost wished there was more with this storyline, rather than the DCAK murders, but I’m sure that Craig will resurface in the next installment.

DCAK is a ego-maniac in search of his own infamy…he wants to be larger than life, bigger than Kyle Craig, himself. It’s this desire to be better and then thinking he is better that becomes DCAK’s downfall. I love the meeting of DCAK and Craig. That is the best interlude in the book. The showdown in the alley near the end is suspenseful and nerve-wracking. I couldn’t wait to see the outcome.

***End Spoiler Alert***

Patterson does a better job in this book of maintaining my interest in this book. Overall, this series is the most well-crafted of the ones he has created and is probably why it remains so popular. The suspense in the latter half of the book is phenomenal, and I over-thought the book a bit when I was waiting for Bree Stone to turn on Cross and shoot him and reveal herself as part of the coup. It’s a great addition to the Cross series, and this time around the end gives you an even bigger lead in to the next book that is sure to come in the series.

The Quickie

How shabby can a plot or characters get? I remember a book I read long ago by Zane in which the character was not well created and everything under the sun happened to her by the end of the book. The Quickie by James Patterson is much like the title suggests, a quickly written novel to fill the space between two better written novels. I already reviewed Step on a Crack and You’ve Been Warned.

Unlike those two books, which has suspense and plot twists, The Quickie was a roller coaster ride you wanted to get off quickly. When I reached about halfway through the novel and it ended in a shootout with the bad guy, I thought thank goodness that is over. But it wasn’t over. I handled the transition to the subplot behind Detective Scott Thayer’s odd behavior and ultimately his death relatively well, but I could not absorb the other twists thrown my way.

***Spoiler Alert***

Lead character Detective Lauren Stillwell of the NYPD is not a good detective at all. She had no idea Scott Thayer was playing on her vulnerabilities and insecurities, and she is a “tough as nails” cop. She was equally blind where her husband was concerned, and still wanted to save his sorry butt even after learning he has another “wife and child” with twins on the way, not to mention he committed robbery, shipped off millions to be laundered in a foreign nation, oh and killed her lover boy Scott Thayer. Nevermind, Paul’s sordid past.

How is it that Patterson can write this many novels in one year without making mistakes? At one point she is driving around in her mini cooper when she has to head home to tend to “brownies” when she leaves to return to the scene she has a completely different car–did she misplace the mini, was it beamed away while she was looking for her husband or hiding the evidence that he killed Scott, or was it the editors and Patterson forgetting to keep the story consistent? Miraculously, and this is the part that really got me thinking about Patterson’s production levels this year, Lauren gets pregnant and it is determined she’s been pregnant a lot longer than she initially thinks, especially given she just slept with Thayer 6 days before the news. However, many places in the book, the character refers to her and her husband’s stagnant love life at home…which leads the reader to believe they are not sleeping together. So, I ask you how did she get pregnant? Immaculate conception or his sperm jumped through the air when they passed one another in the mornings. I have no idea.

There are so many plot twists and subplots in this book, it was driving me insane. The narration was all over the place and not tied together tightly enough for me to believe in it. The main character is a detective; Patterson writes about them all the time, but this one has to be the dumbest detective I have run across.

***End Spoiler***

I suggest you skip this one and read one of the other two I have mentioned. They are much better books.

Someone asked me if I think it is James Patterson’s use of co-authors that has hindered the plots and entertainment of some of his latest books, but I can tell you that is not the case. Step on a Crack had the same co-author, Michael Ledwidge, as the Quickie and it was a better book. I think it has more to do with Patterson’s schedule; he is cranking out too many books per year these days. I say slow down man, we can wait for a better book.

Warning…for Readers

I finished James Patterson’s You’ve Been Warned in record time while on a mini-vacation with the parents in town. So what did I think of the latest creation from Patterson? It was an odd read. I was confused much of the time while reading it. It’s suspenseful, but annoying at the same time because you are confused much of the time you are reading it, particularly when you are wondering what the main point of the story is and who is chasing the main character, Kristin Burns. This is not an Alex Cross or Women’s Murder Club or Michael Bennett novel of cops and robbers, though the mentality of those cops is carried slightly over into the Burns character who hopes to unravel the mystery. The best part for me with the character of Burns is her love of photography, which I can totally relate to. She just clicks away on her camera, much like I do sometimes…the urge is there to just keep shooting, probably why film got to be too expensive for me and I switched over to digital–though there are some things I prefer about film photography.

She seeks the identity of the man who continues to warn her throughout the novel and continues to avoid the cop following her, but does she do it successfully? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I will tell you this about the new book. It was a great twist at the end; one I had an inkling about; but it was still a great end. You’ll also have to read to figure out if this novel is one of the better experiments run by Patterson over the years.

He’s tried romantic novels with Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas and Sam’s Letters to Jennifer–one faring much better than the other. I really loved Suzanne’s Diary, but really hated Sam’s Letters. Then he attempted a historical novel, The Jester, which I really enjoyed as well. I think some of his bread and butter series, like Alex Cross and Women’s Murder Club, have fallen a little flat as of late, but the recent You’ve been Warned novel indicates there is a muse at work behind Patterson’s writing still, he just needs to pay closer attention when writing the series his readers’ love.

Don’t Break Momma’s Back

Step on a Crack by James Patterson was a quick read and the lead character Michael Bennett is a breath of fresh air–a NYPD detective who actually isn’t the job. Alex Cross is the reason I began reading James Patterson books in the first place, and the Women’s Murder Club series kept me interested in his books with their camaraderie. Those characters forsake their families, lovers, and friends for the sake of catching the bad guy and making the big arrest, but Mike Bennett is different. His wife is his center and the kids are hers, but the job still takes precedence most of the time. When it counts and when he is needed at home, he’s there for the kids. Don’t get me wrong, you know the main point of the books is the suspense and the unraveling of the crime at hand, but the emotions of the characters need to develop beyond surface dedication to the family and the job.

Mike Bennett is a well developed character who made me hope along with him that his wife would not die, and strive to solve the successful kidnapping, though he was distracted. He held fast against the anguish in his heart to pump up the spirits of his brood and still remain dedicated to tracking down the hijackers. There were several points near the end of the book where my emotions nearly burst forth through my eyes as the unthinkable happened.

***spoiler ALERT**

He held his dying wife in his arms at the end of her life just after failing to take down the hijackers and discover their true identities. Her life slipped away quietly in the hospital room.

This was the one and only time I have seen Patterson take a leap and kill off a character he incited readers to believe would make it in the spirit of Christmas and rebirth. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed, but I think the loss may strengthen the drive of Mike Bennett should Patterson choose to create yet another detective series.

***End Spoiler***

While of late I have had a hard time keeping interested in James Patterson books because he puts so many of them out per year, with dare I say not so captivating prose in many cases, Step on a Crack held my attention and made me wonder what will happen next for the main character and his Irish brood.