The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

Posted in Review at 12:23 pm by Amber

Greg and Tess MacAvoy are one of four prominent Nantucket couples who count each other as best friends. As pillars of their close-knit community, the MacAvoys, Kapenashes, Drakes, and Wheelers are important to their friends and neighbors, and especially to each other. But just before the beginning of another idyllic summer, Greg and Tess are killed when their boat capsizes during an anniversary sail. As the warm weather approaches and the island mourns their loss, nothing can prepare the MacAvoy’s closest friends for what will be revealed.

The Castaways

In a small way, the couples on this island remind me of a high school clique that end up dating all of the other people in the clique resulting in a shared history.  It’s only because their relationships are so intertwined and not because of immature behavior.

Don’t be fooled by the cover like I was, into thinking this would be a light summer read.  The title refers to the nickname the group give themselves before embarking on their first group trip.  There are no chapters and most of the book contains the thoughts and stories of the best friends.  The thoughts after the MacAvoy’s deaths aren’t always pleasant and there is the requisite could-haves, should-haves and would-haves.  There is a bit of a mystery about the boat accident and that keeps popping up.  I always like to say that no one really knows what goes on in a marriage except for the people involved and Hilderbrand’s novel is confirmation.

Hilderbrand is a student of people.  As a resident of Nantucket herself, she understands the nuanced differences between residents and tourists.  The observations made by the characters are interesting.  They are self-aware of how they seem to the other Castaways.  Ed Kapenash, the Police Chief, even categorizes himself and a few of The Castaways into two groups – cops and robbers.  It’s safe to say Hilderbrand spent a lot of time with the characters to get to know their backstories.  There are parallels between the characters in the book (for example, Phoebe Wheeler is a twin and the MacAvoys have twin children) that can account for their closeness as friends.  Without giving too much away, the character of Phoebe Wheeler had the most dramatic journey but stayed true to herself.

Elin Hilderbrand

About Elin Hilderbrand
Elin Hilderbrand lives on Nantucket with her husband and their three young children. She grew up in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and traveled extensively before settling on Nantucket, which has been the setting for her five previous novels. Hilderbrand is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the graduate fiction workshop at the University of Iowa.


Excerpt from The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr., and Tanner Colby

Posted in Event at 12:12 am by Amber

I read The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts and will have the review up soon.  It’s mostly comprised of interviews with the friends, family and co-workers of Chris.  Below is Chapter 6 from the book and is a good example of the format used to tell the story of Chris Farley.  (Thanks to FSB Associates for providing the excerpt.)

Super Fan
by Tom Farley, Jr., and Tanner Colby,
Authors of The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts

CONAN O’ BRIEN, writer:
When Chris first got to the show, I met him hanging out in the conference room outside Lorne’s office. He was dressed kind of like a kid going to a job interview. We chatted for a bit. I liked him right away.

I came in and out of that conference room several times during the day, and Chris was still waiting. Lorne would do that to you, make you wait a long time. At the end of the day, I was feeling bad for him, so I said, “Hey, kid. I’ll show you around the studio,” and I led him on kind of a mock tour where I pretended to be in charge of everyone. Chris fell in and started playing along with me. After that I left and went home. I came back to work the next day, and Chris was still waiting outside Lorne’s office.

He had this energy, even when he was sitting there waiting for his meeting, rocking back and forth in his ill-fitting sports jacket with his tie all pulled off to the side. He seemed really earnest about doing the show. You just had the feeling that he was going to be a lot of fun and he belonged here. It was like the show — and I don’t mean this to sound condescending — but it was like the show had been given this new golden retriever puppy.

From the day he arrived at Saturday Night Live, Chris Farley was already suffering comparisons to the other outrageous, larger-than-life figure in SNL history: John Belushi. When Chris died seven years later, eerily, at the same age as Belushi, those comparisons became gospel. In truth the two men shared far more differences than similarities. Still, in life and in death, Chris has borne the accusation of trying too hard to follow in Befushi’s footsteps — an accusation with varying shades of truth. Yes, Chris looked up to and admired his predecessor, but whatever influence Belushi’s ghost had on a young Chris Farley paled in comparison to the truly dominant forces in his life: his father, his family, and his faith. As far as drugs and alcohol went, Chris’s bad habits were very much his own, seeded in his DNA and showing up at keg parties long before Belushi’s demise. And if Chris followed Belushi in more positive ways, he was hardly alone. Read the rest of this entry »


Characters on a Journey

Posted in Writing at 9:57 am by Amber

One reason why readers keep reading a story or book is to find out what happens to the characters.  Sometimes an event will push the main character on their journey and other times the main character comes to a realization and acts on it.

Examples of an event would be job loss, war or a death.  Examples of realization include understanding the motivations of a loved one or deciding something (alcohol or a group of friends) is not good on a daily basis. 

As a reader it’s always the journey that includes both that seem the most satisfying to me.  As a writer, if I can’t get those realizations into my stories or novels I feel like they aren’t complete.

Do you have a preference regarding the type of journey characters take?


Ravens by George Dawes Green

Posted in Review at 1:02 am by Amber

Ravens are thought to be scavengers but really they are intelligent creatures who can get animals to do the hard work for them.  Such is the case with the raven characters in George Dawes Green’s book by the same name.

Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko are traveling to Florida for a vacation from their tech support jobs in Piqua, Ohio.  While stopped in Georgia, Shaw overhears the convenience store clerk talk about the identity of the unannounced winner of the 318 million dollar jackpot. 

Shaw gets the idea to hold the Boatwright family hostage in exchange for half of the prize money.  He uses Romeo as a threat to keep them under his control.  Romeo is armed with a map showing the addresses of their friends and relatives.  As the person in Shaw’s life who has always stood by him, Romeo goes along with the role he’s been assigned in this tale.  Romeo and Shaw may be friends but they are made of different stuff.  Romeo has compassion.  Shaw is interested only in what will get him ahead.  The reader can see the differences between them from their actions.

At the news conference to announce the lottery winners, Shaw announces he’s going to give away all of the money.  Lured by his image and his story, people come from miles around to be near Shaw.  They want to meet the man who turned his life around and pledged to do good for others.  Except for the convenience store clerk, no one has a clue that Shaw didn’t spend any money towards the winning lottery ticket.

The Boatwright family (Mitch – father; Patsy – mother; Tara – teenage daughter; and Jase – pre-teen son) deal with the situation in varying ways and go through a gamut of emotions.  Tara is Shaw’s way into family and tries to keep the others level.  Ravens hooks the reader and refuses to let go until the unexpected ending.  It’s true to all of the characters and was satisfying on many levels. 



Meet Sylvia Weber – Author of The Wolves Keeper Legend

Posted in Event at 1:00 am by Amber

As part of the Pump Up Your Book Promotions tour for The Wolves Keeper Legend, Sylvia Weber was kind enough to take time from her schedule to answer a few interview questions via email.  You’ll find her personal blog, Rock the Cage, on blogspot.  I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did!


Amber:  You’ve lived in many places in Portugal. Is there any one place that you would call more beautiful than the others?

Sylvia:  The most beautiful place in Portugal, one that I sometimes remember with a certain sorrow in my heart, is Serra da Estrela. There, among the mountains, is a small place called Ponte das Três Entradas, which is truly unique. It has a small crystalline river, tall majestic conifers, grey boulders that seem miraculously balanced upon each other. There we can see the beautiful giant, Serra da Estrela dog, and taste delicious cheeses and bacons. The people are simple and gentle. I know people, nature lovers, from several places in Europe who like to spend there all their holidays.


Amber:  I noticed in your biography you spent some time in Scotland before settling in England. Did your stay in Scotland influence your use of Gaelic in the story or were you interested in Gaelic before then?

Syliva:  My first contact with Gaelic was through the books of Enid Blyton, when I was still a young girl. I remember that the Author defined this Language as a melody and it sounded very beautiful.

Then, I had a new contact when I was in University, studying Linguistics. I always had the idea of doing research for my Masters Degree in Historical Linguistics, by comparing the medieval languages and studying their branches of evolution, specially in what they are still connected to each other.

Being in Scotland certainly changed everything.  We went there decided to move to Aberdeen, the “all different; all equal; all together” city.  I fell in love with
Scotland and its people when we went there. While we were driving around, all night long, looking for a place to sleep, we met a man who worked in a reservation and were talking with him for a while.  That’s when I had the first contact with the real Gaelic, the spoken language. From there on, I decided to do more research.


Amber:  Was it a practical choice or an artistic choice to have the vocabulary words italicized each time they are used?

Sylvia:  At the beginning, there were some words that I italicized and some others that I didn’t. In one of the revisions, I was advised to use one only criterion and then I decided to italicize them all. It has something to do with the fact that most of the words I use, as I researched, are from archaic Gaelic, and Latin, not from the actual one. I found this technique in books that make references to archaic Languages, such as, for example, The Tutankhamun prophecies, by Maurice Cotterell or Secrets from the Lost Bible, by Kenneth Hanson. The real purpose was highlighting the differences, making the Language more visible to the reader and, at the same time, showing deference.


Amber:  Sealgair learned how to make fire from his father. Because of his curse he doesn’t know about the birth of his son. What do you think Sealgair would have taught Seanns?

Sylvia:  In my opinion, the biggest legacy that Sealgair could teach Seanns would be his Art, his work with clay.  There is something magic about clay, the primordial material. I’ve seen the clay being worked, when I was a child, and I consider it a fascinating Art. In a few years, unfortunately, it may be extinct.


Amber:  Seanns is a wise boy. Are there more tales in the works featuring Seanns?

Sylvia:  I love Seanns as a son, ever since I met him. I’m deeply interested in his growth and in his learning. I intend to make another journey with him… My journey hasn’t finished yet, nor has his. We’ll cross the ocean together. Who knows what we’ll find?


Amber:  It can take a long time between writing a novel and publication. You wrote this when you were 12. How did you feel when you finally had a
printed copy of your book in your hands?

Sylvia:  I felt fulfilled, finally. For the first time, and only so far, I felt that my journey was worth it. Leaving home, leaving everything behind, not being able to
find a job as a teacher, enduring so many difficulties. This publishing gave me a reason to go on. It gave hope for the future. It was like a breath after a long

The Wolves Keeper Legend by Sylvia Weber

Posted in Review at 12:58 am by Amber

The Wolves Keeper Legend Cover

The Wolves Keeper Legend is the debut novel of Sylvia Weber.  Printed by Vanguard Press in the UK, it’s categorized as General / Children’s fiction.  The English and Gaelic vocabulary lend the book as suitable to pre-teens or teenagers.  The book contains two intertwined stories.  One story is about Sealgair and Awena, two lovers who have been cursed to be apart by the jealousy of a sorcerer.  The second story is about their son’s quest to locate the papyrus-pearl in the stone pot.  Seanns is a boy who means no harm with his mischief and strives to do what is just.

Weber’s style has been called poetic prose.  She uses a variety of words to create imagery for the reader.  Here are two sentences/paragraphs from the book to provide a little taste:

Sealgair reclined by the crackling fire and felt the heat flowing across his body like a sunbeam.

When the first rays of dawn began painting the celestial view in crystalline colours, he was awakened by the effusive peeping of birds greeting the sun.

Doesn’t it seem more interesting than my contrasting interpretation?  “Sealgair felt the warmth of the fire as he lay next to it.  When the dawn broke, the sound of birds woke him.”

Having read quite a bit of fantasy in the last year I look for details that might be missed by younger readers and provide clues to later scenes.  It’s possible Weber’s style distracted me from realizing those details were picked up later or an editor missed some continuity.  My theory is The Wolves Keeper Legend is only the beginning of Seanns’ adventures – Weber left a few things out because they are not for this particular story but play a role in future tales about Seanns.

About Sylvia Weber
Sylvia Weber was born in Abrantes, Portugal, on 20th June 1968.  She started writing at the age of twelve, sending articles to newspapers and participiating in school contests.  Graduating in Modern Languages and Literature, her whole career was dedicated to teaching and developing the children’s greatest potential.

A wide diversity of interests took her to a life of researching and studying a variety of subjects such as languages, phytotherapy and painting.  A strong belief in dreams took her to the United Kingdom at the age of thirty-nine, searching for a place to call ‘home’.



Posted in Uncategorized at 1:37 pm by Amber


Writing As Your Characters

Posted in Writing at 5:30 am by Amber

One key to writing a successful novel is to slip inside the skin of the characters.  Narrators can provide a buffer between the reader and the characters.  The reader gets to know the character from the narrator’s point of view which is not always reliable.  But when the reader gets to know what the character is thinking and feeling it can get the reader more involved.

The last year or so I’ve seen more authors writing as their characters outside of their published work.  They create entire web sites and blogs for their characters.  Here is a nice blog by Jill Thompson for her character Magic Trixie.  She posts often enough that readers know she’s still updating it.  Jill does the artwork and the posts so it takes quite a bit of time to update. 

Some even answer interview questions as their characters.  Here’s Beverly Stowe McClure’s interview with Lea Schizas and Lea’s characters Bubba and Giganto.

Have you come across any character blogs or interviews lately that you find interesting?


Book Blogger Appreciation Week In September

Posted in Event at 7:24 am by Amber

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is happening again this year!  In 2009 it will be from September 14th through September 18th. 

BBAW Award nominations are now open until August 14th.  Many categories are available including Best Book Published (so far) in 2009, Best Name for a Blog, Most Chatty, and Best Published Writer Blog.  If you’re a writer or a reader, feel free to fill out the nomination form.


Annies Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg

Posted in Review at 12:05 am by Amber

Annie's Ghosts

Washington Post associate editor Steve Luxenberg is a master of investigative journalism.  The editor of two Pulitzer Prize-winning series, Luxenberg has now written his most compelling story: his exploration of his late mother’s secret.

Beth Luxenberg always claimed to be an only child, but a chance mention led to the discovery that she had been hiding the existence of a sister, Annie.  The girls had grown up together, living in a series of cramped apartments until Annie’s commitment to a mental institution at the age of twenty-one.  Why was Annie committed?  How had Beth so thoroughly erased her sisters existence?  Why had she wanted to?

That’s a small blurb from the FSB Associates press release for Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret that gets to the heart of Luxenberg’s questions.  This is currently my favorite non-fiction book of the year and should be added to book club reading lists.  A big thanks goes to Julie at FSB Associates for introducing me to this book.  When I heard Luxenberg’s interview on NPR I found him to be engaging and hoped his writing would be the same.

Every family has secrets, whether they know them or not.  Sometimes they die with the people who know the secret but in this case Beth Luxenberg’s secret took  on a life of its own.  Because this secret involves his mother and an aunt he never knew, he has an emotional investment in what he finds.  Every good detective story has a reliable narrator that tries to make the dots connect and Luxenberg serves that purpose well.  He doesn’t hold back information to surprise the reader or create shock value.  If any information is held back it’s because it’s revealed in approximately the same timeline in which he learned it.  This provides the reader the thrill of what was formerly thought to be a dead end as a new avenue of information. 

Edmund Wilson is often quoted with “No two persons ever read the same book” because the reader brings their own experiences and interpretations to a book.  One of my points of reference while reading this was Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling. Imagine my surprise when Luxenberg used this movie as an example in yesterday’s guest post, but from a different angleThe main character is institutionalized against her will and meets other women in similar circumstances.  Luxenberg educates the reader about the Michigan mental health system and changing attitudes towards psychiatry in an interesting way without it being boring or overly technical.  He sheds light on how a man or woman could find themselves involuntarily admitted into an institution for life. 

In the last 30 years amazing progress has been made in the fields of psychiatry and orthopedics.  It gives the reader hope that today’s disabled and mentally ill people have a better quality of life than Annie and makes the reader sad she was born before these advances.  This journey does make Luxenberg evaluate what he knows about his parents.  Though he can understand his mother’s motivations for keeping her sister a secret he never judges her.  And that’s one of the main reasons why I like this book.

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