The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

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Source:  TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
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The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy is a dual narrative in which Eden and Sarah both deal with a personal dilemma.  Sarah lives during a time of turmoil for the United States, when the Underground Railroad has flourished and ensured the escape of slaves to the North and civil unrest has taken something most dear to her.  Eden lives in the modern day and she and her husband have moved into New Charlestown to start a family and slow life down a bit.  Unfortunately, their plans are sidetracked and disappointment and self-loathing are Eden’s dominant emotions, until one day she finds the head of a porcelain doll in her root cellar.

“The Old House on Apple Hill Lane shuddered against the weighty snow that burdened its pitch.  The ancient beams moaned their secret pains to the wintering doves in the attic.  The nesting duo pushed feathered bosoms together, blinked, and nodded quickly, as if to say, Yes-yes, we hear, yes-yes, we know, while down deep in the cellar, the metal within the doll’s porcelain skull grew crystals along its ridges.  Sharp as a knife.  The skull did all it could to hold steady against the shattering temperature for just one more minute of one more hour.” (pg. 1)

McCoy is a gifted story-teller who immediately captures the attention of her readers with detail and mood.  Her books always transport readers to another time and/or place, and her characters are strong and flawed, like most of us.  Readers can connect with their struggles because they too have struggled similarly or know someone who has.  Eden’s modern problem and Sarah’s are the same, but how they deal with it is very different.  Eden shuts down and tries to cocoon herself against the pain and the disappointment, while Sarah takes her time and accepts it, giving up the one she loves in the process for a greater cause. Eden looks within herself for far too long and has alienated her life, but Sarah seeks an outward cause to turn her energy toward.  And the mystery that ties these women together is well woven and readers will enjoy unraveling it with Eden.

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy is wonderful, and beautifully written.  It had me reading into the late hours until I finished!  McCoy’s book is brilliantly told and chock full of research about the Underground Railroad.  But at its heart it’s about learning what family is and how much that one word can include, particularly outside of one’s immediate relations.

***Another contender for the Best of 2015 list!***

***If you are in Gaithersburg, Md., you’ll be able to catch Sarah McCoy live at the local book festival on May 16, 2015.






To win a copy, please leave a comment below by April 30, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. EST.  U.S. and Canadian residents only.

About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is the  New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Ricoand The Mapmaker’s Children (Crown, May 5, 2015).

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 336 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien, which was the final read-a-long for the 2014 War Through the Generations challenge, is the story of soldiers in Vietnam as they struggle with courage and honor and fate.  Paul Berlin appears to break from reality and is the daydreamer of the group, but he latches onto the dream of Cacciato, who claims you can walk out of the Vietnam War, across Asia and into Europe, all the way to Paris.  In a series of chapters that alternate from reality to fantasy and back again, O’Brien examines what it means to be a soldier in war, struggling to process all the dangers and lulls in danger around them.  Berlin is an observer, but he is quaking in his boots when he arrives.  However, he has a plan, stay on the outside of everything, don’t get attached, and he’ll make it through.

“They were all among the dead.  The rain fed fungus that grew in the men’s boots and socks, and their socks rotted, and their feet turned white and soft so that the skin could be scraped off with a fingernail, and Stink Harris woke up screaming one night with a leech on his tongue.  When it was not raining, a low mist moved across the paddies, blending the elements into a single gray element, and the war was cold and pasty and rotten.”  (page 1)

As O’Brien blends reality and fantasy, readers will want to believe in the fantasies to cling to the adventure story, which also perilous seems less dire than trudging through rice paddies and jungles in search of the enemy.  There is that pervasive feeling throughout the book of being caught — a hopelessness of the situation and a desire to escape it by any means necessary.  When the only purpose to war is the winning of it, morale gets bogged down in the failures and the confusion, at least this is the case for Berlin and his squad members.

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien is O’Brien at his best, using magical realism to bring forth the realities of the war for soldiers and their internal struggles.  A complex novel with a great deal for book clubs to discuss about duty, honor, courage, and self-preservation.  O’Brien is considered one of the best novelists writing about the Vietnam War and this book proves his skill and compassion.

About the Author:

Tim O’Brien was born in 1946 in Austin, Minnesota, and spent most of his youth in the small town of Worthington, Minnesota. He graduated summa cum laude from Macalester College in 1968. From February 1969 to March 1970 he served as infantryman with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, after which he pursued graduate studies in government at Harvard University. He worked as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post from 1973 to 1974.

34th book (Vietnam War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Source:  LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 368 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg is a perfect book for book clubs who want to discuss social and cultural issues.  Nordberg is a journalist in Afghanistan, and she stumbles upon a family with a son who is not what he seems.  He is bacha posh or dressed up as a boy in Dari — it is a technique used by families to save their families’ honor when they have only daughters.  The pressure on low-income, middle-income, and even rich families to have sons is great, and while there are rules in place, they can be bent.  Some families take their youngest girls and dress them as boys, and these girls are then allowed the same privileges as true sons — which means education, sports, being outside unescorted, and wearing boys clothes.  While these privileges only last a short while, the daughters mostly enjoy their time as sons, but there are some who prefer to be girls and wear dresses, but do what they must for their families to survive in society and earn the money they need to live.

“Often, as we have seen in Kabul, it is a combination of factors  A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.  They are all Afghans, living in a society that demands sons at almost any cost.  And to most of them, the health workers say, having a bacha posh in the family is an accepted and uncontroversial practice, provided the girl is turned back to woman before she enters puberty, when she must marry and have children of her own.  Waiting too long to turn someone back could have consequences for a girl’s reputation.  A teenage girl can conceive and should not be anywhere near teenage boys, even in disguise.”  (page 68 ARC)

Nordberg consistently brings in outside data about the culture of Afghanistan, and she admits that her efforts to apply logic to the situation is pointless, and yet she keeps trying.  These women have defined beliefs and adhere to their culture, even if they wish certain traditions and customs regarding women were different.  Even one female politician adheres to the culture because to outwardly thwart it would bring dishonor to her family and particularly to her husband.  Each of these women knows that to survive they must work within the system, and sons are regarded above everything, though women are considered property and as good as cash when making advancements in society — which is why many women were sold off into marriages at very young ages.  While some aspects of the culture are less arcane, it is clear that Afghanistan is resistant to “Western” ideas and ways, and when the Taliban is in charge, things are even more dire for women.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg touches upon a phenomenon that is more widespread than expected, but it is not documented, as these girls dressed as boys are considered acceptable so long as the secret is not widely broadcast.  While many would see this as a form of resistance in a rigid society, the women in these families do not see it that way in many cases.  It is merely a way to survive and maintain a honorable reputation in the eyes of society, and if dressing a girl like a boy magically results in a son being born, so much the better.

About the Author:

Jenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.  In 2010, she broke the story of “bacha posh” – how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg’s original research in the piece was used for follow-up stories around the world, as well as opinion pieces and fictional tales.  Check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.

The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting by Josie Jeffery

Source: Blogging for Books
Hardcover, 104 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting by Josie Jeffery is a reference guide that not only helps first-time gardeners understand the principals of companion planting, but also explains basic botany.  Included in the guide is information about the parts of plants — to help pair certain plants together in the most beneficial way — and soil elements so that gardeners know to test their soil and ensure the right nutrients are available for flowering and vegetable plants.  At the very beginning is an explanation on how to use the directory section of the book that helps gardeners pair their plants effectively.  However, this explanation would have been better served right before the directory to keep all of that information in one place and after all of the explanations and background on companion planting.

While planting season has for the most part already started in the Washington, D.C., area, this guide will come in handy for next season.  The information about composting and rainwater use were very insightful, and some of the companion plants talked about were new to me.  Marigolds are one plant that makes a good companion because bugs tend to stay away from plants in the same area.  The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting by Josie Jeffery is more than just a guide to companion planting.  It offers beginners some background information on the basics and provides some innovative ideas to recycle products that are no longer being used, including hanging CDs in the garden to scare away birds and using cans around seedlings to keep out pests.

40th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Interview with Sarah McCoy, Author of The Baker’s Daughter

If you haven’t seen reviews for The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy yet, you must have been living in a cave.  I reviewed this phenomenal historical fiction novel told from the perspectives of two equally strong, but scarred women. 

From my review:  “The recipe for a successful novel is two parts dynamic characters, one part intriguing plot and story lines, and one part clever writing style, and The Baker’s Daughter provides all the nourishment you’ll need.”

I’m particularly confident that this will make this year’s best of list for 2012.

And after meeting Sarah in person, I can honestly say she’s a writer I’ll be adding to that coveted list, whose books I read simply because of who wrote them.  Her personality infuses her stories and her writing, and even in dark tales, her positive attitude and joy for life shine through.

Today, I have a treat for my readers; Sarah agreed to answer a few questions even after traveling the country, attending a book festival, battling the flu, and conducting an online book tour.  I applaud her dedication and want you to give her a warm welcome.

Q: How much does your own life influence your writing? Like are there elements of family and friends in your characters?

A: As an author, you are the conduit through which the story is filtered so, of course, elements of your life (fragments of people, events, places, etc.) are incorporated but never replicated. I gave the analogy of a honeybee in this article on Beyond The Margins and I stand by it. I’m just a story bee buzzing from stem to stem collecting as much as I can to make into honey. Each season is different from the next depending on what’s in bloom along the roadside of my journey.

Q: In The Baker’s Daughter there are some chapters that are from male perspectives. When writing from male and female perspectives, which do you find harder to write and what are some of the main differences between them?

A: This was my first time writing from the male POV and I LOVED it! So much, in fact, that half of the novel I’m currently working on (my third)is from a male protagonist’s perspective. Gender doesn’t factor into the difficulty of writing so much as the character’s inner conflicts and moral complications. For instance, in THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER, one of the male perspectives is Josef, a Nazi officer. It took some work to separate my personal author judgements from my writing. In order to be genuine to Josef’s story line, I had to turn off present-day Sarah McCoy and fully embody what it might’ve been like for a German officer: what moral conflicts did he face; what emotional battles waged within; what governing pressures did he withstand; what cultural forces were at play? I had to do similarly for Elsie and the Schmidts. It’s the human spirit that often flummoxes me most–male and female!

Q: Was The Baker’s Daughter the original title of the book? What other titles were considered and how did you ultimately end up with the current title?

A: In my journal entries for the story, I called it the “Lebkuchen Tale”and the “Garmisch Story” as reference guides, but from the time the first word was typed, THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER has been its title. I was fortunate that my Crown editors and marketing team loved it too.

Q: What are some of your writing habits/obsessions that readers may be surprised to learn about (other than your love of history and tea)?

A: I have so many hidden quirks. I could probably fill ten pages with crazy-writer-lady idiosyncrasies. So for the sake of time, I’ll name one: I sit at my same writing desk without any sound during my writing days. No TV or radio. The phone ringer is turned off. Windows are closed, etc. I’m sealed up in a vacuum. That’s how I write best–in a kind of reality black hole where my imagination fills in all the senses: sound, sight, smell, taste, touch. Some people find this absolutely bizarre. Family members, included. But by the time I sit down to write the story on my laptop, I’ve dreamed on it for months. I’ve journaled. I’ve plotted. I’ve filled up my reservoirs with the pollinated story. I need the silent solitude so my characters can speak clearly, so I can feel the fictional landscape through their senses. Again, as I mentioned in the earlier, I consider myself (Sarah McCoy the author) merely the channel through which the story is processed.

Q: Since Savvy Verse & Wit has a focus on poetry a lot of the time, I like to ask authors about their poetry reading habits. If you read poetry, do you prefer contemporary or classic poetry? Form or free verse? And who are some of your favorite poets or poetry collections? (As a side note, have you checked out the Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove?) Or why don’t you read poetry?

A: I hate to admit it, but I don’t read hardly enough poetry. I enjoy it, but I’m much more of a narrative reader. I need big, fat paragraphs of description and plot. However, some of my dearest friends are poets. When they read their work aloud, I am mesmerized. It’s as if they’ve cast a spell and I hang on every breath and syllable. If I had to pick my favorite, it’d be Maya Angelou. She is more than a poet. She’s a force of nature.


Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your thoughts with us about writing, your novel, and poetry.

About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is author of the novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas. The Baker’s Daughter is her second novel. She is currently working on her next.

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The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy is a novel told in a number of different points of view and spans several time periods, including the final year of World War II.  Two strong female protagonists, each haunted by the past and each past is tied to war in one way or another.

Elsie Schmidt is a German immigrant to El Paso, Texas, who spent the last year of WWII in her father’s bakery working and shying away from the decisions that came with living in Nazi Germany.  Unlike her sister, Hazel, who was in the Lebensborn program and praised for her work to help the Fatherland, Elsie sees herself as more of an outsider, lacking in the standard skills expected of a Good German.

“While Hazel thrived and grew more popular, Elsie felt oppressed and stifled by the uniforms and strict codes of conduct.  So at the tender age of eleven, she begged Mutti to work in the bakery.” (Page 16)

Reba Adams is also an El Paso transplant, but she’s a journalist looking for her latest feel-good piece for the magazine she works for, but she gets more than she bargained for when she meets Elsie.  Meanwhile, she’s hiding from her past and the ghosts of her dead Vietnam veteran father and failing to fully commit to the life she’s created in Texas with her fiance Riki, a border patrol officer.

“Everyone on campus knew her from the photograph in the Daily Cavalier: her lips bulging on the mouth guard; fuzzy, dark hair matted beneath the headgear; gloves up and ready.  They thought she was an anomaly coming from the Adams family.”  (Page 33)

The two different main perspectives in two different time periods is deftly handled by McCoy and each of her characters are strong and stubborn, but neither is lacking in dynamism or flaws.  Also unique to the novel is how well McCoy weaves in the elements of baking and pastry into her description; it is seamless and will make readers’ mouths water and have them itching to try the recipes in the back of the book.  Touching on family loyalty, mother-daughter bonds, father-daughter bonds, relationships of all kinds, plus the search for love and forgiveness, McCoy reaches deep inside the dough to knead the bonds of these women to help them grow outward and inward, allowing them to absorb more love and connections.  The recipe for a successful novel is two parts dynamic characters, one part intriguing plot and story lines, and one part clever writing style, and The Baker’s Daughter provides all the nourishment you’ll need.

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About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is author of the novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas. The Baker’s Daughter is her second novel. She is currently working on her next.

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This is my 16th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.