The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

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

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

Ravens by George Dawes Green

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. 


The Wolves Keeper Legend by Sylvia Weber

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’.

Annies Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg

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.

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

Dead Witch Walking

Over the years I’ve heard Kim Harrison’s name and Amazon keeps trying to recommend her Hollows Series to me.  The titles are all clever takes on movie titles (mostly starring Clint Eastwood).  It wasn’t until Lisa Damian’s interview with Kim Harrison that I decided I would give the series a try.  She seemed like such a nice person, how could I possibly ignore her novels any longer?

Months later I found myself reading Dead Witch Walking, the first in the series.  In an alternate history, bioengineering created a plague that killed a lot humans.  This allowed the supernatural inhabitants (Witches, Pixies, Vampires, Weres, etc.) known as Inderlanders to come out of hiding since they were no longer outnumbered.  Humans moved closer to the cities. 

This series features Rachel Morgan, a witch.  In Dead Witch Walking, she’s an Inderland Security Runner who takes advantage of capturing a leprechan for tax evasion.  Working for the I.S. isn’t what Rachel thought it would be and she’s looking for a way out.  The leprechaun is her opportunity.  Before Rachel knows it, her former I.S. partner, Ivy Tamwood, and her I.S. backup, Jenks, use up the remaining wishes to leave the I.S. too.  Ivy is one of the best I.S. Runners and their former boss puts a price on Rachel’s head.  He knows she has something to do with Ivy’s resignation.  Partnered with a living vampire and a pixie, Rachel must evade the bounty hunters while trying to find a way to get the contract cancelled. Continue reading Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

The Trap by John Smelcer

The Columbus Metropolitan Library offers recommendations by the librarians on its web site and that was how I heard of The Trap.

Johnny Least-Weasel knows that his grandfather Albert is a stubborn old man who won’t stop checking his own traplines, even though other men his age stopped doing so years before.  But Albert Least-Weasel has been checking his traplines in the Alaskan wilderness, alone, for the past sixty years.  Nothing has ever gone wrong on the trail he knows so well.

When Albert doesn’t come back from checking his traps, and with the temperature steadily plummeting, Johnny must decide whether to trust his grandfather or his own instincts.

Continue reading The Trap by John Smelcer

That Went Well by Terrell Harris Dougan

That Went Well

That Went Well is more than a funny memoir about growing up with and caring for a special needs sibling.  It personalizes the movement to create day care centers and free public education for children with special needs.  The reader meets Terrell Harris Dougan, her sister Irene Harris, and the people who come into their lives because of Irene.  The family makes the best of the circumstances for everyone.  When one child is different from the others it can cause stress for the parents and other children can feel ignored.

The stories are told with humor and are mostly in chronological order.  When Terrell begins to date, Irene greets the suitors with one of her dolls and asks where his mother is.  A second date was much more likely to happen if he spoke with Irene instead of ignoring her.  Irene doesn’t outgrow her dolls and delights in seeing the dolls of her young nieces but never wants to share her own.

I was introduced to this book by At Home With Books and was provided with an Advance Reading Copy by Paula at Author Marketing Experts.  Thank you both!  The Deseret News has a nice profile about the Harris sisters if you’d like to read more about them.

Author Interviews Work

Last week I listened to a Kathy Griffin interview on NPR on my way into work.  At one point she mentioned she knew NPR listeners were readers.  Poor Kathy either forgot to mention or it was cut out that her own book is being released in September.  The title is a plea for Oprah to read the book and recommend it – Official Book Club Selection.

I’ve found more than one book added to my TBR pile or Amazon Wish List because I heard the author interviewed on NPR.  The most recent one was Annie’s Ghosts which I really enjoyed.

Have you bought a book after hearing an author speak about it?  On the other side of the coin, if you’ve had a book published, did you find the sales increased after doing radio interviews?

Baron Thinks Dogs are People Too! by Laurie Dean

Baron Thinks Dogs are People Too

Cute and lovable Baron wants a best friend… but in an effort to get his family’s attention, Baron’s lively antics take him in the wrong direction.  After being whisked away to doggie school, Baron learns important lessons about behaving himself.  But will he ever find the friendship his furry heart longs for?

Baron sounds a lot like the Resident Corgi which is one of the reasons I wanted to review this book.  Both are exuberant and jump to get attention.  Baron’s dog school experience went a lot more smoothly than that of the Resident Corgi.  I like to say the Resident Corgi has no impulse control but that’s one of his unique qualities.  Baron loves people and wants a best friend.

Like many children’s picture books, this one has cute pictures.  Kevin Collier’s illustrations have bright colors for children to identify.  Children who know their numbers can count the flowers, clouds or bones on some of the pages.  Parents and children can discuss how silly Baron looks in a tutu or how scared Mom and Dad are when Baron runs towards the street.

Multiple messages and lessons can be found in Baron’s story.  From personal experience and observation, family dogs are happier when they have a job or know what is expected of them.  Obedience school can go a long way towards making this happen.  The author, Laurie Dean, gives the parents a contemporary twist – Dad is a member of the Air Force and gets called to duty.  Life goes on while Dad is away though he is certainly missed.  This should sound familiar to children with parents in the military or parents who travel for work.  In order to gain friends we must sometimes figure out what other people need and do nice things to make them feel better.  Baron’s actions at the end are a good example of this lesson.  I look forward to reading this book to my young nephews.

Every copy of Baron Thinks Dogs Are People Too! purchased through the Big Tent Books web site has $1 donated to Operation Smile.  If your child likes Baron and wants more of him, visit his web site at  It has a coloring page, online puzzle game and pictures of Baron’s visits with children.

About Laurie Dean and Kevin Collier

Laurie Dean - Author
Laurie Dean - Author

LAURIE DEAN writes children’s stories for pleasure, and is now pleased to share the lively antics of “the happiest dog on the planet” in her debut picture book, Baron Thinks Dogs Are People Too! Laurie grew up in a small town, the oldest of five children and many pets. Throughout her years of marriage and raising two sons, Laurie honed her keen awareness of the importance of reading aloud to young children in her capacity as Director of her church nursery department. Also an expert in relaxation, Laurie is a licensed Massage Therapist.  Visit Baron and Laurie at

KEVIN SCOTT COLLIER is the author of many children’s books, including (the story of a young boy whose pen pal is an angel), and Esther’s Channel. He has also illustrated over 60 children’s books, including Topsy Turvy Land, which World Magazine (Dec. 6, 2006 issue) voted one of the top 50 children’s picture books of all time. Kevin works weekdays as Art Director for a daily Michigan newspaper. More of Kevin’s artwork can be seen at