The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story – R J Palacio

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder StoryTitle: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story
Series: Wonder, #1.5
Author: R J Palacio
Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 2014
Source: bought a copy
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com]

Over 1 million people have read Wonder and have fallen in love with Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. Now readers will have a chance to hear from the book’s most controversial character—Julian.

From the very first day Auggie and Julian met in the pages of the #1 New York Times bestseller Wonder, it was clear they were never going to be friends, with Julian treating Auggie like he had the plague. And while Wonder told Auggie’s story through six different viewpoints, Julian’s perspective was never shared. Readers could only guess what he was thinking.

Until now. The Julian Chapter will finally reveal the bully’s side of the story. Why is Julian so unkind to Auggie? And does he have a chance for redemption?

I thought I could never stand Julian, but I was wrong…

When I read Wonder,  I got the impression that Julian was a spoiled kid.  I thought his mother was unsympathetic and I was relieved when the middle-school director hinted that he wouldn’t be coming back in the fall.

In The Julian Chapter,  we got to see everything from Julian’s perspective.  While his parents were supportive, I wouldn’t say they exactly understood what their child was struggling with.  I got that Julian’s mom was trying her best to protect her son.  I could understand why she wanted Julian to be happy but the approach she used was just awful – she was making things worse for everybody.

After reading The Julian Chapter,  I felt relieved to say that Julian wasn’t a bad kid.  He could sound mean and cruel at times but he wasn’t heartless.  It was good to see him making some amends in the end and I liked that he learned to own up to his mistakes.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of tears rolling down my face while reading the story.  I guess I was being caught off guard as I never suspected I’d become emotional as I got to know Julian and his family.  It’s wonderful to see the growth in Julian and the story helped me see why we could never run away from our fear.

Rating:

Breathe Annie Breathe – Miranda Kenneally

Breathe Annie Breathe Blog Tour banner

Welcome to my stop on Breathe, Annie, Breathe  blog tour hosted by Xpresso Book Tours.
Click HERE to see the rest of the blog tour schedule!

Breathe Annie BreatheTitle: Breathe, Annie, Breathe
Series: Hundred Oaks, #5
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Published: Sourcebooks Fire, July 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.

But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

“Breathe, Annie, Breathe is an emotional, heartfelt, and beautiful story about finding yourself after loss and learning to love. It gave me so many feels. Her best book yet.” — Jennifer Armentrout, New York Times bestselling author of Wait for You.

Read an excerpt here.

Previous Books in the Hundred Oak Series:
Catching Jordan Stealing Parker
Things I Can't Forget Racing Savannah

Catching Jordan [goodreads]
Stealing Parker [goodreads]
Things I Can’t Forget [goodreads]
Racing Savannah [goodreads]

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Review:

A story about learning to love again, Breathe, Annie, Breathe  explores the pain of guilt and shame of an eighteen-year-old and how her life transforms as she comes to terms with herself.

Annie didn’t think she could ever forget Kyle.  To honor his memory, she started preparing for the marathon he intended to race.  Since Annie believed she played a role in Kyle’s death, she had a hard time accepting herself as a trustworthy, lovable person.  And when she started having feelings for her running coach’s younger brother (Jeremiah), she believed she must neglect her heart’s desire in order to keep honoring her love for Kyle.  Could she run away from her feelings?

To be honest, I found Annie self-critical and at times, overly harsh on herself. I guess an uneasy childhood shaped her to be strong and responsible but she felt inadequate in so many different ways.  Her inner conflicts felt real and I think a lot of us can relate to her perception about school, friendship, work and life.

I liked Annie’s focus and determination.  It’s not an easy thing for anyone to go through the death of a loved one.  In the story, Annie had her moments of ups and downs.  She felt helpless as she could not control what others thought about the death of Kyle or what she had to come to terms with when Kyle passed.  She wanted to do something she felt she was capable of but running was not something she had liked since she was little.  And when she decided she’d sign up for the marathon, she had no idea what challenges she might face during her preparation.  Her struggles were very realistically portrayed and while it’s unpleasant watching her suffer in agony, I learned to admire her level of endurance as well as tenacity.

I liked her relationship with Jeremiah.  It wasn’t something fanciful but I liked that they both challenged each other to leave their comfort zone in order to feel alive again.  I particularly loved the moment when they confessed their true feelings at the hospital.  It’s a moment of grace that helps me realize why honesty and love are so crucially powerful in our everyday lives.

I also liked that we got to see characters from previous books in the series.  It’s great to see the positive impacts they made and their appearances offered some hearty laughs that helped to counterbalance the sobering tone in some of the passages of the book.

If you’ve enjoyed reading other books from the Hundred Oaks  series, you’ll love the banter and connection between Annie and Jeremiah.  Be sure to get yourself a copy of Breathe, Annie, Breathe  or enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a signed copy.

Rating:

Buy This Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

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About the Author

miranda-kenneally

Follow Miranda:
Website | GoodreadsTwitterFacebook

Growing up in Tennessee, Miranda Kenneally dreamed of becoming an Atlanta Brave, a country singer (cliché!), or a UN interpreter. Instead she writes, and works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., where George W. Bush once used her shoulder as an armrest. Miranda loves Twitter, Star Trek and her husband.

Giveaway

  • End Date: July 29th, 2014
  • 2x 50$ B&N Gift Card
  • 3x Signed copy of Breathe, Annie, Breathe

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good Luck!

 

The Stories We Tell – Patti Callahan Henry

The Stories We TellTitle: The Stories We Tell
Author: Patti Callahan Henry
Published: St. Martin’s Press, June 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

Bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry is back with a powerful novel about the stories we tell and the people we trust.

Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family. But things may not be as good as they seem. Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets “back on her feet.” Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it.

A riveting story about the power of truth, The Stories we Tell will open your eyes and rearrange your heart.

There are stories about family and there are stories about what family should look like.

The Stories We Tell  gives us the goods and uglies of the Morrisons, a well-known family in the community of Savannah where there isn’t much of a fine line when it comes to rumors, gossips and truths.

Eve Morrison has her own set of obligations for herself, her family and her business.  She wants everything to work out smoothly but when her husband and sister are involved in a car accident, she has to ask herself – is she going to fulfill her obligations or set them aside so that she can discover the truth of what really happened?

Life happens, you may say.  But to Eve, she doesn’t want confrontations or public arguments.  Anything that can cause a scene is just not supposed to happen.  But a car accident is not something she can erase or neglect.  And when the ones she loves keep telling things that don’t add up, she knows she has to do something differently.

Eve is not perfect.  I dislike many of her flaws but strangely, she reminds me of those I know in real life, those who appear cheerful but never dare to communicate their honest feelings openly.  I can’t say I agree with her approach towards her husband, but I can see why she doesn’t want her world to crash and shatter.

In comparison, Eve’s sister, Willa, has a much more likeable personality in my opinion.  She is funny and creative.  Even when things are getting ugly for her, I like that she doesn’t yield to lies and deception.  Her love for her sister is strong and I’m just glad that they aren’t being driven apart because of their life circumstances.

I like the people working at the letterpress studio that Eve owns.  They are talented, hardworking and attentive, and I enjoy the ways they help one another out though difficult times.

What I’ve never expected is the truth that surfaces when Eve finally cares to take a stand for her life.  Things aren’t black and white, and while choices have consequences, I don’t know if it’s fair to label one particular person as bad in the story.

And that’s what I love about Henry’s books.  Relationships are authentically portrayed.  You can have your own private debates and come up with your version of what’s morally right.  The stories may offer their glimpses of reality but you don’t feel boxed in just because the books end in a certain way.

Rating:

 

About the Author

Patti Callahan HenryFollow Patti:

website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Patti Callahan Henry is the National Bestselling author of six novels with Penguin/NAL (Losing the Moon, Where the River Runs, When Light Breaks, Betweeen the Tides, The Art of Keeping Secrets, and Driftwood Summer).

Patti is hailed as a fresh new voice in southern fiction. She has been short-listed for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and has been nominated for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Fiction Novel of the Year. She is a frequent speaker at luncheons, book clubs and women’s groups where she discusses the importance of storytelling and anything else they want to talk about.

Patti grew up as a Minister’s daughter, learning early how storytelling effects our lives. She grew up spending her summers on Cape Cod where she began her love affair with the beach, ocean, tides and nature of the coast. Moving south at the tender age of twelve, she found solace in books and stories. While attending Auburn University, she met a southern boy who later proposed on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, next to a historic lighthouse overlooking the Sound. After earning her Master’s degree in Child Health, Patti worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist until her first child was born.

Patti is a full time writer, wife and mother living with her husband and three children outside Atlanta on the Chattahoochee River where she is working on her next novel.

 

One Past Midnight – Jessica Shirvington

One Past MidnightTitle: One Past Midnight
Author: Jessica Shirvington
Published: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, July 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

Name of overseas edition of Between The Lives.

Above all else, though I try not to think about it, I know which life I prefer. And every night when I Cinderella myself from one life to the next a very small, but definite, piece of me dies. The hardest part is that nothing about my situation has ever changed. There is no loophole.

Until now, that is…

For as long as she can remember, Sabine has lived two lives. Every 24 hours she Shifts to her ′other′ life – a life where she is exactly the same, but absolutely everything else is different: different family, different friends, different social expectations. In one life she has a sister, in the other she does not. In one life she′s a straight-A student with the perfect boyfriend, in the other she′s considered a reckless delinquent. Nothing about her situation has ever changed, until the day when she discovers a glitch: the arm she breaks in one life is perfectly fine in the other.

With this new knowledge, Sabine begins a series of increasingly risky experiments which bring her dangerously close to the life she′s always wanted… But just what – and who – is she really risking?

Sabine sees reality differently.  She has one mind, but two lives.  Every twenty-four hours, she goes through a shift – a shift that gives her a different set of family, vastly different lifestyle and incomparable demands. Because she shifts from one life to another every day, her perception about life is not limited by one set of beliefs but two.  When she discovers a glitch during one of her twenty-four hour shifts, she formulates a dangerous plan – a plan that will help her live the life that she’s always wanted.  Will she go ahead and carry out this plan?

At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I’d understand Sabine.  She’s an easy person to like but because she saw life a little differently, her reactions to people and things had this tone of melodrama that was a little irritating at first.  But as I got to know her better, I learned why she had those reactions.  And to be honest, I think I might react worse if I were in her position.  Shifting between lives was not easy and I could see why she never wanted to develop deep feelings with anyone in both of her lives.

The experiments she carried out after her discovery of the glitch were risky.  My heart pounded loudly as I watched her test out her so-called theories.  I wanted her to have what she wanted but at the same time, I wished something better could happen for her.  I liked that Sabine wasn’t unrealistic or impractical.  She took risks but she was never reckless.  Even when she was being thrown into setbacks, I liked that she kept looking for new ways to help her achieve her goal.

The romance in the story was more on the bittersweet end for me.  As I mentioned earlier, Sabine didn’t feel she could develop deep feelings for anyone because of her shifts.  As her mind remembered everything from both of her lives, she felt as though she were cheating if she met and developed intimate relationships with two different individuals in her two lives.  It was both sad and exhilarating to find her fall for a guy in the story.  In my mind, I believe she deserved love just like any fictional characters that I rooted for but because of her reality, I was not certain if I could feel 100% happy for her.  The ending made me cry with both happy and bitter tears.  It’s one of those endings that made me sigh and want to pick up the book to re-read it again (and again and again).

My favorite quotes from the book is something offered by Sabine’s love interest to her.  His name was Ethan.  I didn’t know the full impact of what he meant till the end but the words were so beautiful that I thought I’d share it here…

“You said you wanted someone to know you. Maybe I just want to have someone know me too. Without you in this world, the memories of every moment we’ve shared together will be gone. We only exist because others see us. Part of my existence…an important part, only exists because you are here to see it.”

Rating:

How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky – Lydia Netzer

Today, I’m going to share a book excerpt as well as a Q & A with author Lydia Netzer.

Lydia is the author of How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky.

The Hardcover was just released on July 1st, 2014.

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky Title: How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky
Author: Lydia Netzer
Published: St. Martin’s Press, July 2014
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Links: goodreads | amazon.com

Lydia Netzer, the award-winning author of Shine Shine Shine, weaves a mind-bending, heart-shattering love story that asks, “Can true love exist if it’s been planned from birth?”

Like a jewel shimmering in a Midwest skyline, the Toledo Institute of Astronomy is the nation’s premier center of astronomical discovery and a beacon of scientific learning for astronomers far and wide. Here, dreamy cosmologist George Dermont mines the stars to prove the existence of God. Here, Irene Sparks, an unsentimental scientist, creates black holes in captivity.

George and Irene are on a collision course with love, destiny and fate. They have everything in common: both are ambitious, both passionate about science, both lonely and yearning for connection. The air seems to hum when they’re together. But George and Irene’s attraction was not written in the stars. In fact their mothers, friends since childhood, raised them separately to become each other’s soulmates.

When that long-secret plan triggers unintended consequences, the two astronomers must discover the truth about their destinies, and unravel the mystery of what Toledo holds for them—together or, perhaps, apart.

Lydia Netzer combines a gift for character and big-hearted storytelling, with a sure hand for science and a vision of a city transformed by its unique celestial position, exploring the conflicts of fate and determinism, and asking how much of life is under our control and what is pre-ordained in the heavens.

· · ·

Excerpt

By Lydia Netzer

1

At the time her mother fell down the stairs to her death in Toledo, Irene was far away in Pittsburgh, working in a lab. As her mother bounced down a flight of stairs in a bright city on the sparkling shore of Lake Erie, Irene sat in a dark room, in the basement of an ugly building, in a drab university, in an abandoned steel town. Irene’s mother was named Bernice. They had not spoken to each other in years.

Irene pulled her lab coat around her and stared intently into a small glass window on a large metal apparatus. She wasn’t thinking about her mother at all. In fact, all she was thinking about was her work. As her mother landed at the bottom of the stairs, arms and legs cracking, Irene concentrated only on recording the data from her machine. All of her recent days had been spent alone, just like this, compressed into the space in her own head. Yes, she had a boyfriend, a mother, a boss. But there was her and there was everything else. There was her and there was the world. She had a reason for this. It wasn’t only vanity.

As her mother’s limbs banged and broke and settled into place around her on the floor, Irene peered again into the window in the middle of her machine. It was as big as the whole room, and had the shape of an 8, made of bright metal. She leaned over it and looked down into it, where the two sides of the 8 connected. The machine buzzed under her hand. Inside, the little particles were whirring around. She was an astrophysicist, attempting to observe a black hole by exciting the particles in the machine. It was all she had been doing and trying and thinking about for months: proving that there are black holes all around us, and we have been walking through them all our lives. It was her work, and her entire focus was there.

In Toledo, Bernice’s spinal fluid leaked into the tissue around her cervical vertebrae, and there was thick blood coming out her ear. In Pittsburgh, Irene concentrated on turning a little numbered dial, click by click. Although her eyes were heavy and she was tired, she would not quit.

She adjusted a different knob on the control panel and flicked a switch. She adjusted and peered, over and over. There are a lot of fractions between zero and one. There are a lot of sort-ofs between off and on. She had to test everything. For an almost innumerable number of failures, she had continued. She had to assume that this day would be no different, but she would carry on anyway.

Never once had she felt the desire to hit the machine, to jostle it, berate it. But she had considered what it would feel like to slide it gently into the water, where the two rivers of Pittsburgh converged, then jump in after it. She would ride it down to the sea, like a barrel over the falls. Then, sleeping peacefully, they would drift out on the waves. These things had occurred to her. She had stood for panting, tense minutes at the railing of the George Westinghouse Bridge, glaring down at the train tracks below, flanked by green, thinking of jumping.

In Toledo, her mother was finally dying, and one last breath came out. Irene did not know the fight her mother was having, right at that exact moment.

Outside Pittsburgh, there was a green forest to hike in, with rivers and bald eagles. Inside the city, there were buildings you could look at, visit, and enjoy. A funicular went up and down, up and down, but Irene had never been in it. Irene didn’t care about all that. She just leaned over the experiment, her back bent. There are elements common to all cities. University laboratories, suicide bridges, small apartments to live in, boyfriends to have.

Irene kept her face steady, her eyes open, pointed at the machine. If she worked until her face melted into the detector, if her brain fell down into the path of the accelerator, if it was penetrated by pions and if a small black hole was created in her skull, then at least she would have finished all the data for this set. She blinked her eyes to wake herself up, clicked the knob, and peered into the machine, like every time before. But her mother had nothing left with which to blink herself awake. She could not stop.

Far away, her mother died.

And this time, when Irene looked into that little window, she saw something completely different. This time, even before her forehead pressed against the humming steel, she saw a tiny purple glow. A little bit of light came out the window she had been looking in. Light that had not been there before.

Her stomach dropped. Her brain woke up. She took a deep breath in, and she felt her heart tremble and thump against her ribs. The lab was perfectly quiet, a heavy door blocking out any sounds of the hallway. There was no window and no potted plant, no ticking clock, no stars marching across the firmament, no heavenly witnesses. Irene sat frozen, vibrating, the purple glow from the apparatus window lighting up her eyes. At that moment, she almost couldn’t look. It was too much to take.

As the person who had been standing in the upstairs hallway in her mother’s house came slowly down the stairs, step by step, toward the body, Irene pressed her face up to the experiment one final time in faith, opened her eyes wide, and stared at the evidence.

For the first time, it was there. More beautiful than she had ever imagined. A tiny pinprick in space, absorbing and draining particles, leaking radiation that came to her as light through the detector she had made. It flared up from a deep violet to the fiercest lavender and back again, the size of a speck of dust, as far as her human eye could tell. Her breath came faster. Her eyes did not want to pull away, did not want to leave the window, and the purple light bathed the sharp lines of her face, her pointed chin, tired eyelids, the pencil forgotten in her ear. Her finger pushed a button and recorded an image. Another image.

Then in a mist of lavender, it was gone. She blinked. Her heart surged and hurt against the back of her sternum. She felt prickles of adrenaline rippling down her limbs. Her hand reached into her lap and fished around in her lab coat, picked up a pencil. The hand felt the distance between the coils and the other edge of the notebook, felt its way halfway down the page, and then while her face was still glued to the machine, she wrote.

Irradiated Argon. Polarization 60%. Frequency 16 PHz. Wavelength 47nm. Visible Hawking radiation from possible black hole. Estimated mass, 1 ng. Estimated radius of anomaly, 0 nm. Estimated density, infinite. Halflife

She stopped writing. Had it lived for two breaths? Three seconds? Had she been watching for an hour? She leaned back over the machine and looked into the detector. The particles continued to whirr through the collider. Soon, there would be another one. Now she had no trouble staying awake.

One hour passed. Two hours more, and she was still looking. She saw one more, two more, but it was not enough for her. She was hungry for these results. Just one more, her brain said. Show me one more. Then I’ll sleep. “More gas,” her hand now wrote. A purer substrate. Try protons, for a perfect leptonic decay. The color of irises in spring.

When she finally pulled away from the machine, a visor shape was marked into the pale skin of her face by the pressure of her observation. She waved her hand through the air in front of her body and smiled.

Black holes had formed and decayed, without taking the universe or even Pittsburgh with them. Each left a puff of radiation, just like it was supposed to, and then was gone. A leak of energy that could be measured, documented, graphed, applied to paper, faxed, e-mailed, and reported to the world. The smallest collision, the smallest suction of mass into a singularity, the quickest fade, the sweetest moment of bright purple light in dissolution, like a shallow breath let out quickly. Because of her design, it had been visible. She had seen X-rays it emitted, like no one else on earth had ever done. All around the earth in space, these tiny collisions were happening all the time. Matter rippling like a puddle in a rainstorm. Irene felt better than she had ever felt in her entire life. If she had known a song, she might have sung it. If there had been someone there, she probably would have spoken to them in an elevated tone. She might have even let that person clasp her hand in congratulations.

Her phone rang.

She walked on stiff legs to her desk and picked up the phone from where she had set it down what seemed like years ago. A glance at the time surprised her. So much of it had passed. She slid the phone on and clicked to answer.

“Sparks,” she said.

Irene was a small girl with a face like a trapezoid. Her smile, when it appeared, could have been called winning, but her voice was not charming. It grated, and was not pretty. At times, she cultivated this ugliness. She tried for a caustic manner. Small women have to do this, she had told herself often. It’s bad enough I have to be short. At least I don’t have to be cute.

“Irene? Is that you?” The voice on the phone had the unmistakable buttery tone of her mother’s pastor.

“Hello, Father Allen,” said Irene. Why was he calling? She had not talked to him since the last time her mother had an episode. Inside her happiness, a tiny speck of doubt took hold, spiraled around, and sent a plume of anxiety through her body.

“Honey,” said Blake Allen, his voice sounding like a waterfall of olive oil. “Are you alone? Are you with someone?”

“Yes.” She walked back over to the machine and leaned her face on the metal. It was cool on her forehead. She felt her breath start to come out fast. She felt the blood coursing through the arteries in her head. Something deep inside her chest sent out a little pain. Something bad was about to happen.

“Okay, Irene, I’m with your mom.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s here at home, Irene. I’m at her home right now, and I’m sorry, but she has passed away.”

“What? What are you talking about?” This was not what Irene had expected him to say. Passed out, maybe. Past hope. But not away.

“I’m so, so sorry, Irene. I hate to have to tell you this. But she has passed.”

“Where is she? Where are you?” Irene’s voice scraped along her throat, tears starting up in her eyes.

“She’s here in her home, and I’m with her. Honey, she appears to have fallen down the stairs.”

“Are you sure she is dead? Did somebody really check? She can be—a deep sleeper,” said Irene. Her tears were now making her face wet. Irene used her hand to swab her eyes. She used her lab coat, leaving a rumpled wet patch on it. She began to flick switches on the control panel, powering down, shutting everything off. She was thinking off, off, off as she clicked the metal switches.

“Yes, I’m sorry. It seems that—” Here he coughed. Blake Allen was pastor of the Unitarian Church. Her mother attended weekly, prayed with a prayer circle, knitted shawls for the bereaved. Of course, she also practiced palm reading, tarot, and other astrological divinations. The recitation of liturgy, the meditative chants, altar clothes, tie-dye with bells, a crystal ball, a chalice. All the accoutrements of firm belief. “It seems that the neighbor came by to see her. I guess they usually had afternoon tea together. Anyway, she found her.”

“Are you telling me she’s lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs?”

“Yes, but the coroner will take her away soon. I want you to know that I’m going to take care of whatever needs to be taken care of here. Don’t worry about anything like that.”

Irene paused. She felt like there was too much oxygen in the room. Her lungs just kept filling up and replenishing her oxygen supply and then going back, inexorably, for more oxygen. It was like the damn brooms at the well. She could see her mother, curled innocently on the floor next to the bottom step, one hand closed under her chin, one fist open, palm exposed, as if to say, “Come with me.”

“Is she broken? Did she break—” Irene began to cough.

“We don’t know the cause of death. She may have had a stroke at the top of the stairs, a heart attack, we just don’t know.”

There were times when her mother would say, I’m dying. I need to get a haircut and make a will. Irene would just roll her eyes at that. That was before Irene had said, I am leaving Toledo and I will never come back. I will never speak to you again.

“I’m so, so sorry. I know you and your mom were not close,” said the rector.

“We were close,” said Irene. She choked back a sob.

“Of course, of course. She spoke of you so often.”

The rector said a few words to someone else in the room there in her mother’s house in Toledo. She imagined him stepping nimbly over the corpse of her mother, trotting adroitly over to the front door, stepping out onto the porch. She could hear traffic sounds. He was probably wearing a bespoke suit. He was such a natty dresser.

“I don’t want to come home,” said Irene stupidly. She didn’t know what else to say.

“Really?” Blake Allen wanted to know. “Your mother always said it was your dream to come back to Toledo.”

Her dream was to come back to Toledo, and work at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy. But it was not something she could ever do while her mother was there, or while her experiment was unsuccessful. But now …

“I don’t—” Irene began.

“Irene, excuse me for one moment,” said Blake Allen. He put his hand over the phone and Irene waited, listening to the silence on the line, feeling her heart tap against her ribs in an irregular rhythm. I need to sit down, she thought. I’m going to have a heart attack, too. I’m going to fall down some stairs.

“Irene, I’ve just talked to the coroner. From what he was able to determine, sweetie, there was no suffering in the end.”

“Was she just tired or was she confused or was she—” Irene wanted to say drunk, but that was not something she would ever say out loud. Still, her mind would not comply: Was she blasted? Wasted? Hammered? Was she? Was she like, “Whee! Down we go!”

“Sweetie, we just don’t know. We don’t know. Listen, I need to speak to some people here that have just arrived. I will call you again later.”

Irene turned the phone off and put it down. There was a dense, strange feeling in her chest, like the residual joy at having successfully observed results in her experiments had collided with the grotesque horror of having her mother die of a broken neck, and a black hole had been created in the center of her chest, sucking in all her feelings and her will. She began to cry. She sat down in her chair and put her hands in her lap, coughing and sobbing.

Does death always make you feel sad? What do you do when someone dies? What if the person was a terrible and unsolvable lifelong problem for you? What if the person was your mother?

Irene cried and cried, in spite of herself. Her mother had been a bad mother, yet she was sad anyway. She couldn’t make the sadness stop, just because it was reasonable to feel relief. She tried to figure out what she would say to someone else in this situation. Maybe the years of awfulness dissolve, when a bad mother dies, so that all you really have to feel is sadness. Or maybe Irene would say to the person, “I’m sorry for your loss,” and that would be the end of it.

Exhausted from her tears, Irene finally looked up and saw her gleaming machine. She remembered the good thing that had happened to her, and what she must now do. Then she gathered her backpack and keys and went outside the lab and up the stairs. She did not fall. She did not die. She locked the door.

Outside, she saw it was midafternoon. The blue autumn sky seemed to hover just above the colorless buildings. The breeze felt cool but there was warmth radiating off the pavement all around. She felt sure it was a Monday. A rumbling of shouts came from the stadium, and she knew there was a sports practice going on there. A group of men shouting rhythmically as they ran forward, sideways, backward, or hunched in squats. Irene opened her phone and placed a call to the Toledo Institute of Astronomy. On the phone, her tone was full of spirit.

· · ·

Q &A
with Lydia Netzer

What was the original inspiration for the story?

The idea of two moms plotting how they could make their children grow up to be perfect for each other came to me as I was sitting on a sofa with my friend Kristen, watching our children play and plotting how we could make them grow up to be perfect for each other. They were one year old at the time. Of course in the book, the mothers’ plan goes hideously awry, but we still hold out secret hope for our kids, now 14. In fact, my main character is named Irene after her daughter.

The story seemed like a magical concoction of intuition and science augmented with a touch of unrequited yearning and human awkwardness. Was it difficult to stitch all these seemingly contrasting elements into the story?

The intersection of conflicting ideas is always an interesting place to set a novel. Humanity and technology, good and evil, past and present, etc. Where these abstract concepts collide, there is always a good story. My book examines the intersection of faith and science, and other non-opposite opposites like fate and determinism, planning and spontaneity, true love and the rational choice of a compatible mate. Wrangling opposing ideas and sometimes disparate elements into the shape of a plot — that’s the fun part for me.

Which of the characters in the book “How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky” is your favorite? Why?

I love George. I was playing around with gender role reversal a little bit with this novel. The boy in this love story, instead of being the buttoned-up, business-minded stick-in-the-mud, set free from his boring rules by his interaction with a “manic pixie dream girl” type, is actually the manic pixie himself. George believes in an American pantheon of gods, that visit him in dreams and tell him secrets of the universe. His effect on the serious, pragmatic Irene is explosive — and I love that he so patiently convinces her that love is worth believing in.

What surprised you the most in writing the book?

Unintentional thematic connections always surprise me, and I love it when something like this happens: A character in the book struggles with a persistent dream of a “dark house” and in the center of this house is a broken floor around a whistling, horrifying chasm of nothingness, which she always tries to avoid falling into. This same character is an astrophysicist working on creating black holes in a microcollider. And I didn’t realize that there is actually a black hole at the heart of her nightmare until I was halfway through the book. In the book she never fully makes the connection.

Is there anything you’ve always wished a reader would ask you? What is that question—and how would you answer it?

I wish someone would ask me this: Lydia, how could you write a novel about how dreaming is a practice for death, in which a manifestation of death stalks a character around a mortuary, in which star-crossed lovers are plagued by the failings and feudings of their families, in which both the main characters’ deaths are prophesied, and then write such a happy, happy ending? And I would answer: I didn’t.

Buy the book:
Amazon.com

About the Author

Lydia NetzerFollow Lydia:
website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Lydia Netzer lives in Virginia with her two children and husband.

Her first novel, Shine Shine Shine, was published by St. Martin’s Press. It’s an IndieNext Pick, a SIBA Okra Pick, a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, Amazon’s Spotlight Book in Best Books of July 2012, a People’s Pick in People Magazine, and a NYT Notable Book.

Her new novel, How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2014.

 

That Night – Chevy Stevens

That NightTitle: That Night
Author: Chevy Stevens
Published: St. Martin’s Press, June 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]
Rating:

As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

Confession: I’ve never read a story talking about inmates and paroles before picking up That Night.

I liked the way the story began.  We caught glimpses of what really happened as the story unfolded.  Toni wasn’t the most pleasant character.  She carried a lot of heavy emotions and because of the unfavorable circumstances, she did not have an easy life.  You see, Toni’s younger sister was murdered.  Some people were trying to cover up something and before long, no one really knew whom to trust and what’s the truth.  Things felt kinda unreal to Toni when she and her boyfriend Ryan became suspects.  And when they were both convicted, nothing made sense anymore.

Angry characters were among the hardest for me to connect.  Prison life was tough and Toni didn’t know if she could find a way to make a living when she was released.  She made some friends in prison but she also made some enemies while she was on parole.  It’s difficult not to be judgmental while reading such heavy subject but I liked that Toni was not an immature person.  She learned from her past and she was willing to take risks when the stakes were high.  Through her action, I understood what’s hiding behind her anger and as I was reading the story, I felt an urge to want her to feel safe again.

It wasn’t hard to connect the dots and got a vague picture of what might have happened on the night of the murder.  But the full scope of what exactly happened was beyond my imagination.  I was both terrified and disgusted when I learned the truth!

What saddened me the most in the story was the relationship between Toni and her mother.  They were so similar – very stubborn and intense type – if you know what I mean.  Their relationship was not a positive one but I think we could all learn something valuable out of it.

The secondary characters offered a fair bit of somberness to the story.  There was a motherly figure who helped to bring out the soft side of Toni and I liked that the story had a focus on exploring both the light and dark sides of human nature.

I haven’t read any books by Stevens prior to this but now that I’ve read one, I think I’ll have to check out all her other books.  Have you read any of her books?

 

About the Author

Chevy StevensFollow Chevy:

website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Chevy Stevens is the New York Times Bestselling author of STILL MISSING, NEVER KNOWING, and ALWAYS WATCHING.

Chevy grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still lives on the island with her husband and daughter. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her family in the local mountains. Her debut novel, STILL MISSING, won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel.