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The Best Books of 2015

Bestof2015

I hope everyone’s 2015 ended with some great reading, family, friends, and fantastic food.

Of those I read in the year 2015 — those published in 2015 and before — these are the best in these categories:

Best Series:

Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue)

Best Children’s Book: (TIE)

Best Memoir:

Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Best Nonfiction:

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart

Best Short Story Collection:

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War 

Best Young Adult Fiction:

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Best Reference:

How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids by Matthew Jervis

Best Women’s Fiction:

French Coast by Anita Hughes

Best Historical Fiction: (TIE)

Best Fiction:

Best Poetry: (TIE)

Here is the list of BEST BOOKS PUBLISHED in 2015:


  1. Wet Silence by Sweta Vikram
  2. The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
  3. Vessel by Parneshia Jones
  4. LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart
  5. The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck
  6. The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
  7. Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor
  8. One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart
  9. The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson
  10. The Sound of Glass by Karen White
  11. Mistaking Her Character by Maria Grace
  12. Earth Joy Writing by Cassie Premo Steele, PhD


What were your favorites in 2015?

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

tlc tour host

Source:  TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

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.

 

 

 

 

Giveaway:

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.

Mailbox Monday #319

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou from the author for review.

What was Jane Austen like as a child? What were her formative influences and experiences, her challenges and obstacles, that together set her on the path toward becoming a writer?

Drawing upon a wide array of sources, including Austen’s own books and correspondence, Lisa Pliscou has created a “speculative biography” that, along with 20 charming black-and-white illustrations, offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of young Jane Austen. Also included is a richly detailed, annotated version of the narrative and an overview of Austen’s life, legacy, and the era in which she lived, as well as a timeline of her key childhood events.

YOUNG JANE AUSTEN is sure to intrigue anyone interested in Jane Austen, in writing and the creative process, and in the triumph of the artistic spirit.

2.  Looking for Potholes by Joe Wenke from the publisher for review.

Poetry by Joe Wenke. Joe has written several books including: Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (January 2015), The Talk Show: a Novel, Free Air: poems, Papal Bull: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic Church, You Got Be Kidding! A Radical Satire of The Bible and Mailer’s America.

 

3.  The Sound of Glass by Karen White for review from the publisher.

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

4.  The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy for a TLC Book Tour.

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.  Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.

5.  One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, my pre-ordered hardcover finally arrived!

Set in Florence, Italy, One Thing Stolen follows Nadia Cara as she mysteriously begins to change. She’s become a thief, she has secrets she can’t tell, and when she tries to speak, the words seem far away.

What did you receive this week?

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 368 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is a collection of short stories by a number of great authors from Karen White to Sarah McCoy and Pam Jenoff in which the linchpin is Grand Central Station in New York City.  What makes this collection a solid five stars (a designation I never use in reviews) is the connections — small as they may be — between the stories and characters.  You’ll find one character from a story early on is in the background and evokes an emotion in a character in a story later on.  This collection is so strong and examines that various aspects of reunion and love after World War II — whether that is love between father and daughter or an instant connection between strangers in a train station.

From “Going Home” by Alyson Richman

“But no matter the style, the clocks all gave a sense that one had to keep moving, and Liesel liked this.  It enabled her to focus on her responsibilities.  When she wasn’t dancing, she was sewing.  And when she wasn’t sewing, she was dancing, either at her ballet studies or performing at the supper clubs that helped pay her bills.” (page 14)

In these talented ladies’ hands, Grand Central comes to life with the bustling passengers on their way to trains and coming from trains and the subway, the people earning a living with their art in the hallways, and those waiting for their soldiers to return from war.  World War II was a pivotal time in history, but it also was the last time that the country was truly united behind a cause — the cause against a pervasive evil that must be vanquished.  These stories are about what happens when that cause is complete and those who fought and those left behind have to pick up what’s left of their lives.  What does it mean to be lucky, especially when you are all that’s left of your family — like Peter in “The Lucky One” by Jenna Blum?  Or what does a mother do after the Lebensborn program ends when her children are gone and the Nazis are vanquished in Sarah McCoy’s “The Branch of Hazel.”

From “The Harvest Season” by Karen White:

I glanced down at my ruined hands, thinking of Johnny and all the boys in the county who would never be coming home.  I wanted desperately to hold on to this moment for Will, to allow him to believe that while he’s been away we’d held on to the life he remembered so he could slip back into it like a familiar bed.  But time could not be fenced no matter how hard we tried.”  (page 336)

Some of these men and women face pivotal moments in their lives in Grand Central Station, while others are merely passing through onto that moment that will change their lives forever, but all together these are tales of strong people living beyond the hurt of the past to seek out the hope of the future.  Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is stunning, an emotional collection tied together by love, sadness, loss, and Grand Central Station. No matter who passes through their lives, there is an indelible impression left behind.

22nd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

15th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

Some Local and Not So Local Events…

Washington, D.C., is a thriving literary community of poets, journalists, and authors, and there is never a dearth of writing events or readings for those looking for the next big book.  With that in mind, two great translated thrillers are coming out this month and both are translated by none other than K.E. Semmel, formerly the communications guru at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md.

One More Page Bookstore in Arlington, Va., will be hosting him for a night of Scandinavian Noir in Translation on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.

He’ll talk about his two translations and be interviewed by Art Taylor, who said The Caller was “chilling” and that it provided “a provocative portrait of a troubled mind.”  Between The Caller and The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen, readers will be on the edges of their seats with excitement.

About The Caller:

One mild summer evening, a young couple are enjoying dinner while their daughter sleeps peacefully in her stroller under a tree. When her mother steps outside she is stunned: The child is covered in blood.  Inspector Sejer is called to the hospital to meet the family. Mercifully, the child is unharmed, but the parents are deeply shaken, and Sejer spends the evening trying to understand why anyone would carry out such a sinister prank. Then, just before midnight, somebody rings his doorbell.  No one is at the door, but the caller has left a small gray envelope on Sejer’s mat. From his living room window, the inspector watches a figure disappear into the darkness. Inside the envelope Sejer finds a postcard bearing a short message: Hell begins now.

About The Absent One:

Carl Mørck used to be one of Copenhagen’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of Copenhagen’s coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn’t dead … yet.

For those of you outside the D.C. area, Sarah McCoy, author of The Baker’s Daughter, and Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, will be engaged in an Aug. 23 jamboree at the Crown Publishing Facebook page at 7 p.m.

Many of you have likely read Sarah’s book (check out my review) and loved it, so here’s your chance to chat with her for an hour. For those of you reading or hearing the buzz about Gillian’s book, this is a great opportunity to pick her brain.

For those of you that cannot get enough of short stories and reading, check out the third issue of The Coffin Factory, which is chock full of stories from greats like Joyce Carol Oates and James Franco. Oates has said the magazine is “a brilliantly imagined, highly readable, and important new literary magazine with the most incongruous title.”

The magazine has not only short stories, but also illustrations, and considers itself a “magazine for people who love books.” What more could book bloggers and readers ask for?

The first and second issues are available for PDF download, but why not check out a subscription or pick up a copy in your local indie bookstore?

Also, there’s going to be a great short story discussion on Savvy Verse & Wit in September of “The Mapmaker” by Thaisa Frank, which is from her collection Enchantment.  If you haven’t entered to win one of 4 copies, you better get a move on.  Time is running out.

The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy

The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy is a coming of age novel about a young girl, Maria — also known as Verdita — in Puerto Rico during the debate about whether or not the nation should become a member of the United States or remain independent.  Part of Maria Ortiz-Santiago’s family lives in the United States and part lives on the island in a little barrio, and readers get a taste of the differences between the two lives when Omar, her cousin, comes back to visit.  As the two grow older and grow apart, Verdita continues to ramp up her competitive spirit when he’s near to retain her hold on her father.  She’s always had a fear that a boy would usurp her father’s affections, especially after her mother becomes pregnant.

“For my eleventh birthday, Papi made piraguas.  He left balloons of water in the freezer until they were solid, then peeled the plastic off like bright banana skins.  On the veranda, he used his machete to shave the globes into ice chips.  Hard bits of cold spit out where the ball and blade met, landing on my arms and legs, cheeks and nose.  Papi said it was a Puerto Rican snowfall, and laughed long and deep.”  (page 1)

Verdita is a willful girl and very curious about everything around her, including the independence debate, the cock fights at the local bar, and the United States.  Readers will find that she’s obsessed with the United States and how different it is from her home in the barrio.  She wants to be blond, listen to Elvis, and learn English.  She wants to remain close with her father, but push her mother away.  All this mixed up emotion and desire in one girl is so vibrant on the page, female readers especially will remember what it was like to become a senorita and leave girlhood behind and all of the mixed and high emotions that brought with it.

“I ate until my stomach pushed into the table ledge.  I didn’t even really like the hamburger, but I liked that it came from America — that I was eating like an American.  It made me feel bigger than my finca on the mountain, bigger than the whole island.  I’d seen the States, even if I hadn’t seen President Kennedy.  My stomach was full of America.”  (page 59)

Even as she sees the goodness in her roots and her family, she still longs for the foreignness of the United States.  She becomes accustom to sharing her life with a sibling, but still longs to break break free.  She’s struggling between the desire to grow beyond her roots, deeply earthed in Puerto Rico, but barely realizing that she can grow taller and broader by taking the leap without having to sever her ties to home.

McCoy’s choice of first person point of view is spot on for a coming of age story, and while filtered through Verdita’s eyes rather than the other characters, readers will not feel as though they have missed anything.  She’s observant, opinionated, curious, and eager to explore.  The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico is not only about growing up, but about taking chances and spreading wings to find out who we are, who we want to be, and how we can make the best of everything we are given in terms of familial support and available opportunities.

This was a book I just had to pick up at the Gaithersburg Book Festival when Sarah McCoy was in town.  She’s a lovely writer and woman, and it was great to see her again and get another autograph.  I cannot wait to read her next novel.

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.

Mailbox Monday #177

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Martha’s Bookshelf.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received last week:

1.  The Subject Tonight Is Love by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky from last week’s library sale.

To Persians, the fourteenth-century poems of Hafiz are not classical literature from a remote past, but cherished love, wisdom, and humor from a dear and intimate friend. Perhaps, more than any other Persian poet, it is Hafiz who most fully accesses the mystical, healing dimensions of poetry. Daniel Ladinsky has made it his life’s work to create modern, inspired translations of the world’s most profound spiritual poetry. Through Ladinsky’s translations, Hafiz’s voice comes alive across the centuries singing his message of love.

2.  The Hot Flash Club by Nancy Thayer, which was also from the library sale for my mother.

From the bestselling author of Between Husbands and Friends and An Act of Love comes a wise, wonderful, and delightfully witty “coming of age” novel about four intrepid women who discover themselves as they were truly meant to be: passionate, alive, and ready to face the best years of their lives.

Meet Faye, Marilyn, Alice, and Shirley. Four women with skills, smarts, and secrets—all feeling over the hill and out of the race. But in a moment of delicious serendipity, they meet and realize they share more than raging hormones and lost dreams. Now as the Hot Flash Club, where the topics of motherhood, sex, and men are discussed with double servings of chocolate cake, they vow to help each other . . . and themselves.

3.  The Wonder of It All by Elizabeth P. Glixman from the poet for review.

4.  Sea Change by Karen White for review in June from the publisher.

For as long as she can remember, Ava Whalen has struggled with a sense of not belonging, and now, at thirty-five, she still feels stymied by her family. Then she meets child psychologist Matthew Frazier, and thinks her days of loneliness are behind her. After a whirlwind romance, they impulsively elope, and Ava moves to Matthew’s ancestral home on St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia.

But after the initial excitement, Ava is surprised to discover that true happiness continues to elude her. There is much she doesn’t know about Matthew, including the mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death. And her new home seems to hold as many mysteries and secrets as her new husband. Feeling adrift, Ava throws herself into uncovering Matthew’s family history and that of the island, not realizing that she has a connection of her own to this place—or that her obsession with the past could very well destroy her future.

5. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian for review from Random House.

The Sandcastle Girls is a sweeping historical love story steeped in Chris Bohjalian’s Armenian heritage.

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The year is 1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.

Fast forward to the present day, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed “The Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.

6. Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen from the publisher/author for review.

High-school sweethearts Julia and Michael have left their humble West Virginia roots far behind for a glamorous life in Washington, D.C. As they achieve more in their careers—she as a high-end events planner, he as the CEO of his own sports-drink company—they lose themselves as a couple. After Michael has a near-death experience, he decides to give away all their wealth and focus on his relationship with Julia. But she’s not ready to forgive him for choosing his work over her when she needed him most. Pekkanen’s novel traces the couple’s attempts to make amends for allowing success to replace love.

7. These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen from the publisher/author for review.

Cate, Renee, and Abby have come to New York for very different reasons, and in a bustling city of millions, they are linked together through circumstance and chance.

Cate has just been named the features editor of Gloss, a high-end lifestyle magazine. It’s a professional coup, but her new job comes with more complications than Cate ever anticipated.

Her roommate Renee will do anything to nab the plum job of beauty editor at Gloss. But snide comments about Renee’s weight send her into an emotional tailspin. Soon she is taking black market diet pills—despite the racing heartbeat and trembling hands that signal she’s heading for real danger.

Then there’s Abby, whom they take in as a third roommate. Once a joyful graduate student working as a nanny part time, she abruptly fled a seemingly happy life in the D.C. suburbs. No one knows what shattered Abby—or why she left everything she once loved behind.

8. The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner from the publisher for review.

So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

9. The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy, which I bought at the Gaithersburg Book Festival and had her sign!

It is 1961 and Puerto Rico is trapped in a tug-of-war between those who want to stay connected to the United States and those who are fighting for independence. For eleven-year-old Verdita Ortiz-Santiago, the struggle for independence is a battle fought much closer to home.

Verdita has always been safe and secure in her sleepy mountain town, far from the excitement of the capital city of San Juan or the glittering shores of the United States, where her older cousin lives. She will be a señorita soon, which, as her mother reminds her, means that she will be expected to cook and clean, go to Mass every day, choose arroz con pollo over hamburguesas, and give up her love for Elvis. And yet, as much as Verdita longs to escape this seemingly inevitable future and become a blond American bombshell, she is still a young girl who is scared by late-night stories of the chupacabra, who wishes her mother would still rub her back and sing her a lullaby, and who is both ashamed and exhilarated by her changing body.

Told in luminous prose spanning two years in Verdita’s life, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico is much more than a story about getting older. In the tradition of The House on Mango Street and Annie John, it is about the struggle to break free from the people who have raised us, and about the difficulties of leaving behind one’s homeland for places unknown. At times joyous and at times heartbreaking, Verdita’s story is of a young girl discovering her power and finding the strength to decide what sort of woman she’ll become.

10. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith from BookCrossing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival.

In Morality for Beautiful Girls, Precious Ramotswe, founder and owner of the only detective agency for the concerns of both ladies and others, investigates the alleged poisoning of the brother of an important “Government Man,” and the moral character of the four finalists of the Miss Beauty and Integrity Contest, the winner of which will almost certainly be a contestant for the title of Miss Botswana. Yet her business is having money problems, and when other difficulties arise at her fianc?’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she discovers the reliable Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is more complicated then he seems.

11. Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs from BookCrossing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Among the ancient remains in a Native American burial ground, Tempe discovers a fresh skeleton — and what began as an ordinary teaching stint at an archeology field school in Charleston, South Carolina, fast becomes a heated investigation into an alarming pattern of homicides. The clues hidden in the bones lead to a street clinic where a monstrous discovery awaits, and Tempe — whose personal life is in upheaval, with two men competing for her — can’t afford any distractions as she pieces together a shattering and terrifying puzzle.

What did you receive?

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.

Reading with Sarah McCoy, Author of The Baker’s Daughter, at Novel Places

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy was published in January 2012 and already has received a number of praising reviews and even one blogger, Anna of Diary of an Eccentric, says that the book will be on her best of 2012 list.  With all of this praise, I’m looking forward to my TLC Book Tour stop in March, but I also wanted to see the author in person.  Who is this woman who has generated so much buzz in the blogosphere with her sophomore book?  (Her first book for those interested was The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico)  Lucky for me, Novel Places in Clarksburg, Md., was hosting a reading with this author and I could make it with some finagling by me to have the hubby watch “Wiggles.”

I’ve loved the few readings I’ve been to at Novel Places because the store is cozy and the readings are intimate — more like a conversation with a book club and author than a formal reading.  People arrived early to get copies of the book and chat with the author before 7 p.m., and I just sat and listened.  What I learned from the event was that most authors have the same type of personality in that they love listening to their characters in their heads and garnering inspiration from the people and things around them.

The Baker’s Daughter is actually inspired by a German woman whom Sarah met at a farmer’s market once and who told her how she married an American soldier at the end of WWII before coming to the United States.  That was all that was said, and while Sarah has not seen the woman since, it was enough to send her off on a journey of history, relationships, and more, which is all housed in her second book.  Although she says that she will never hand the woman a copy of the book and tell her that she was the inspiration, I think the woman would be happy to know that she touched the author in that way.

Author Sarah McCoy at Novel Places

I love that Sarah brought the red hat from the cover and although she’s too young to be in the Red Hat Society, she agreed to become a Pink Lady.  She was asked about her writing and revision process, which she says is long with journaling about her characters at the start, rather than plot outlines, and about 10-12 rounds of revisions once the first draft is written. Her research process is narrowed by the characters she is inspired to write about, limiting research to a particular year in a particular region or city in Germany for example for The Baker’s Daughter.  She says that otherwise, she would just research too much, get overwhelmed or after 10 years still not have written a book.

Her younger brother also was in attendance and was apparently not only chauffeuring her around to each event while she’s in the area, but also taking photos.  It was obvious from the way she interacted and talked about him and her family that they are all close.  It’s wonderful to see those family connections in person, especially given that her novel touches upon family connections and interactions during some difficult periods in history.

Answering Questions at Novel Places

She talked about her MFA program and her teaching stints in Texas where she now lives with her husband, though she is a former Virginia resident (her parents still live in Fairfax County).  Overall, it was an engaging and conversational event.  She’s affable, delightful, and vivacious, and obviously very outgoing; I think I was in awe of her — too in awe to actually ask any questions, though there were many buzzing in my head.  Perhaps, I’ll get the chance to interview her once I’ve had the chance to read the book and review it here for the blog tour.

Hopefully, I didn’t miss much in the conversation, but that sickness is going around and I think it has finally reached me because my head was feeling awfully foggy.  I’m lucky I remembered my book and Anna’s for Sarah to sign and to talk to her about how much Anna loved the book — by the way, she remembered Anna from that blue cat tattoo icon she uses. . .how cute is that?!

Thanks to Patrick for hosting another AWESOME event!

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Sarah McCoy is a former resident of the area and her family still lives here.

Mailbox Monday #161

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the At Home With Books.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy, which I received for my TLC Tour stop in March.

2.  Vampire Knits by Genevieve Miller, which came unsolicited from Random House.

These I won from BookHounds and some of these will find homes with my mother (who just loves mystery novels) and some other friends:

3. Fadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes

4. Day by Day Armageddon Beyond Exile by J.L. Bourne

5. The Rock Hole by Reavis Wortham

6. Bet Your Bones by Jeanne Matthews

7. Swift Justice by Laura DiSilverio

8. Electric Barracuda by Tim Dorsey

9. Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

10. Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

11. Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

BACK to the review copies and the book buys from the weekend:

12. The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachman by Ken Brosky

13. The Three Colonels by Jack Caldwell for review from Sourcebooks

14. Mr. Darcy Forever by Victoria Connelly for review from Sourcebooks

15. Catalina by Laurie Soriano for consideration in the Indie Lit Awards Poetry category

16. If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien, which I bought at the book club meeting at Novel Places for $1.50 to complete by collection of O’Brien books.

17. The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore, which I also bought at the book club meeting at Novel Places for $1.99 because I loved this book when I first read it and want my own copy.

18. Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos, which I also bought at the book club meeting, since Anna told me it was hilarious.

What did you receive this week?