Thursday, January 29, 2015

Interview with Maggie King

Murder at the Book Group by Maggie King
Published: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pages: 400
Received: from publisher for honest review via NetGalley
Find It: Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

Hazel Rose never dreamed that the murder mystery book group she and her friend Carlene started would stage a "real "murder. 

Nevertheless, on the night when the normally composed Carlene seems unusually angry and rattled, during group discussion she dies after drinking cyanide-spiked tea. Despite a suicide note, Hazel is skeptical; Carlene never seemed suicidal--why else would she make all those plans for her future? Incidentally, Carlene was married to Hazel's ex-husband, and Hazel has always suspected there might be something more to her past than she let on.

How much does anyone really know about Carlene Arness? And did she die by her own hand or someone else's? Hazel begins a search for the truth that produces no shortage of motives, as she unearths a past that Carlene took great pains to hide. And most of those motives belong to the members of her very own book group...

Featuring memorable characters and a wicked sense of humor, "Murder at the Book Group" shows the darker side of a book club where reading isn't about pleasure--it's about payback.
 
 
Where did you get the idea for Murder at the Book Group?
Murder at the Book Group was a coalescing of many ideas. I’ll present the three main ones:
  1. I like to write and read about people at a crossroads in their lives. In Murder at the Book Group both the sleuth and the victim are standing at a crossroads—Hazel Rose is at loose ends in her life, stuck in a rut. She isn’t unhappy but she isn’t fulfilled either. As for Carlene Arness, the victim, she’s recently published her first mystery but her marriage to Hazel’s first husband is falling apart. Carlene probably wasn’t cut out for monogamy and her eye has started to wander.
    Unfortunately, Carlene doesn’t get to cross the road—but solving her murder gives Hazel the opportunity to grow and get out of her rut.
  1. I’m intrigued by choices and consequences and how so many of us don’t consider the full range of consequences of our decisions and actions.
  1. I love book groups; they have a special dynamic and the members can be fascinating to observe. I’ve known people outside of a book group who have shown a very different aspect of themselves when talking about books—sometimes that aspect is good and sometimes it’s a bit, well … unsettling.
Are any of the characters inspired by real life people?
This is always an interesting question. The answer is yes. And the answer is no! As my characters are a hodge-podge of the many “real” people I’ve known over the years, snippets of their experiences wind up on my pages. And I’ve known women like Carlene Arness who live turbulent lives.
I think people expect similarities between myself and Hazel Rose. Like Hazel, I was born on the east coast, moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, and started my career as a computer programmer. Like Hazel, I had a calico cat named Shammy who accompanied me when I moved back east in 1996 and settled in Richmond, Virginia. Hazel and I share a commitment to the environment, we’re both frugal and unimpressed with the high life.

But divorce and widowhood have not touched my life—I just celebrated 25 years with my one and only husband. I may get stuck in ruts, but not for long. And, alas, I don’t have Hazel’s “money green” eyes.
But the biggest difference between me and Hazel is this: if I needed to re-purpose my life a murder investigation would not be the method I’d choose. No question about it.

But “real” people did find their way into Murder at the Book Group. A case in point is a woman I used to see at a gym in Richmond. I never knew her name or even talked to her except for a hi and a wave. She was partial to leopard prints and chartreuse. The last time I saw her she sashayed into the gym sporting chartreuse stiletto boots and a leopard cowgirl hat, platinum blonde curls cascading down her back. She became Kat Berenger in Murder at the Book Group. As a perk, I gave her a personal trainer job at the same gym.

Jeanette Thacker “reminds” me of a former co-worker. Jeanette doesn’t feel the need to censor her speech. However, her language was much saltier in earlier versions. My editor advised me to ditch the swear words. If the real Jeanette reads my tome and recognizes herself I think she’ll be pleased but will probably wonder why she’s using words like “frigging.”

Another character is based on a woman with whom I once had an adversarial work relationship. I made her nasty as all get out. But I had a runaway word count and some ruthless editing was in order. Ms. Nasty got whittled down and, lo and behold, she became quite nice! I’m still scratching my head about that. Do other writers unwittingly transform their characters via literary nip n tuck? Is writing a vehicle for forgiveness? Someone with savvy in the spiritual realm can weigh in on this question.


What was your favourite part of writing Murder at the Book Group?
Creating the characters and making them unique, giving them voices, quirks. Characters are almost living beings, as they’re born in our imagination. I especially enjoy when they “tell” me what they’re going to say and do.

I also enjoyed creating dialog, a great way to not only develop the characters, but to move the plot along and bury clues.

Who inspired you to become a writer?
As a devotee of Nancy Drew, I wrote mysteries in grade school. In high school I poured my considerable adolescent angst into bad poetry. After that, the only writing I did for many years was journaling. During the last year I lived in Los Angeles, three of my co-workers took creative writing and screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension. I read their work and was impressed by their talent. I also thought “I should be doing this.” I was a member of a mystery book group (it was the model for the Murder on Tour group in Murder at the Book Group) and felt confident that I could turn out a mystery. When I moved to Virginia in 1996 I took a writing course at the University of Virginia and enjoyed it. I took more classes and started writing on a regular basis.

In summary, I credit Nancy Drew, my co-workers, and the two women who taught the UVA writing class—I wish I remembered their names.

As I’m writing this another person I worked with in Los Angeles comes to mind. Patricia was the first writer I ever knew personally. I was awed by her because at the time (circa 1983) I believed that writers spent their days holed up in garrets. But this woman spent her days writing code and her evenings writing fiction. I don’t know if she ever published and she doesn’t show up in my google search. But she just might have inspired my writing at some level, even if it took many years to bear fruit.
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?Write every day and make it a priority.
What does your writing space look like right now? 

About the Author:
Maggie King is the author of Murder at the Book Group, published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster. She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor.
Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Divorce Diet by Ellen Hawley | Review

The Divorce Diet by Ellen Hawley
Published: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Kensington
Pages: 240
Received: for honest review via TLC Book Tours

The Divorce Diet is dedicated to every woman who ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet.

Abigail, an inspired cook and stay-at-home mother, decides to repair the problems in her marriage with a diet book for herself and an elaborate birthday dinner for her husband. But over dinner her husband announces that the whole marriage thing just doesn’t work for him. Reeling, she packs up her baby, her cookbooks, and her single estate extra virgin olive oil and moves in with her parents while she looks for work and child care.
Floundering and broke in this life she didn’t choose, she turns for guidance and emotional support to the internalized voice of her diet book, and it becomes her invisible guru. While she struggles to reconcile the joy she takes in cooking with the book’s joyless and increasingly bizarre recipes and her native good sense with its advice, she works her way from one underpaid job to the next, eats everything but what her diet book recommends, and swears to get her life in order before her daughter’s old enough to create long-term memories.

Her diet book has promised to help her become the person she wants to be, but it’s only when she strikes out on her own that she figures out who that is.


I loved the title of this book. It was perfect for the concept and story. There's nothing like being on a diet, except going through a divorce at the same time. Funny enough, Abigail started her diet on the same day that her husband, Thad*, decides to end things. She had only picked up the book to help her look good for him since she still had a little baby weight kicking around.*Sidenote: I despise the name Thad. It sounds pretentious, but it was a great name for her estranged husband.

During the course of the book, Abby reads the different chapters and recipes in her diet book only to find that she can't bring herself to actually eat the things described in the book and she imagines her little diet fairy verbally kicking her butt when she doesn't take the life change seriously enough. Considering the diet is supposed to help her lose weight, it's funny that she pretty much just shed 170 pounds of husband in one day. Congrats Abigail on the huge loss. Now to enjoy the journey that is ahead of you.

I loved following Abby through her daily thoughts beginning with the day everything changed to when she finally realizes she doesn't need to pine away for her former life - the one filled with luxury. Over the course of about 30 days, you see her going from sounding dependent on Thad for the life she wanted to realizing the life she had wasn't all it was cracked up to be and figuring out that she wants more for her baby, Rosie.

It also might help to point out that Abby loves to cook. And she loves to cook with expensive foods from remote places in foreign countries. It's almost as though she became a food snob in her previous life. But with the help of this life journey, she realizes you can still be an amazing cook, enjoy food and be a more likable person. Throughout the book you read about the amazing dishes that Abigail creates and at the end of the book some of the recipes are listed for the reader to try out. 

During this life journey, you tend to go from cheering her on to yelling at her for being so insanely petty about things and then back to cheering her on. It's a big transformation for Abby and overall I think it's the best thing that could have ever happened to her - the Divorce Diet was just what the doctor ordered.

And if that doesn't get you to pick up a copy - I just have to let you know that I dogeared pages in my copy. Seriously, the queen of post its, sticky tabs and bookmarks, actually dogeared multiple pages to remember certain quotes and passages that made me really enjoy this book. What are you waiting for? Don't you want to see how Abby's life turns out? I only told you about the first 30 days, but there is so much more that happens in this life journey of hers.

About the Author: 
Ellen Hawley has published two previous novels, Open Line (Coffee House Press, 2008) and Trip Sheets (Milkweed Editions, 1998). She has worked as an editor and copy editor, a creative writing teacher, a talk show host, a cab driver, a waitress, an assembler, a janitor, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours a receptionist. She lived in Minnesota for forty years and now lives in Cornwall, where she feeds a blog—as well as two cats, one dog, one partner, and any friends who stop by. Awards include a Writer’s Voice Capricorn Award, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, and a Loft-McKnight Award.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Making Life Easier

So this year I decided needs to be about getting organized. So what is the best way to get organized? With a planner and a plan of course. I spent a long time looking at planners and printable planners. And after weighing all of the pros and cons, I finally picked one from Staples.

It's oh so pretty and can lay flat due to it hardcover and spiral binding. So now I'm trying to dedicate time each day to update my planner. And it helps to have pretty things to organize things and keep it fun. 

Pretty pens, cute clips, washi tape, highlighters, post its and flags. I could live in the stationery store surrounded by all of those lovely and colourful items.


And after looking at my agenda and getting myself organized, I realized that I am going to stop using NetGalley for a while. I tend to get over excited with all of the books available and then run out of time to read and review the titles I was so excited about. It's almost overwhelming to be on the site, because I want to READ ALL THE BOOKS and it's just not possible. I'm going to keep my account open and try to tackle the ones I can still read as well as my TBR pile on my shelves and the few review books for tours I've accepted. Hopefully this will help with my feeling of being overwhelmed and then not reading due to those feelings. Don't get me wrong, NetGalley is amazing, but I can't limit myself to one or two titles and I feel like I'm letting everyone down, including myself, when I can't get through them. It makes me feel incredibly guilty and I think it adds to my reading slumps.

Over the holidays I did read a little more than I had been which was super exciting. Now I just need to write the reviews and keep this momentum going. 

Next up, working on my budget and adding that to the planner. And setting goals for DIY projects and household projects. Also adding in some health tracking as well (treadmill use, water intake, vitamins). I can't wait to share some of the awesome things that I have planned for this year. So stay tuned. You should see more posts happening over the next few months as I get the momentum going to blog more often.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reading Jar DIY

During the weekend Winter Bloggiesta, I planned to make my Reading Jar finally. And it turned out great! The idea originally came from a post over at The Book Vixen and I knew that I had to make a version of it for myself. I kept the concept the same, but changed up what I wrote on the slips of paper. 

Instead of listing the titles of the books on my shelf or in my TBR (to be read pile), I wrote out fun, quirky ideas of books to read: a book with a red cover, a book with a one-word title, a book by fave author Kathy Reichs, a book from the library, a book with title starting with M, etc. I did the whole alphabet, the rainbow of covers, fave authors, genres and so on. I'm not sure how many different slips are in the jar, but it's full. It's mini mason jar, so I'm sure I could have made an even bigger one with many more ideas, but this one suits me fine. I liked this idea as I'm a mood reader and don't like to be tied down to just one specific book - this was I get to pick something that fits the idea from the jar.

I know a few readers were mentioning making their own when they saw it on my Bloggiesta list, I'd love to see how yours turned out. Or if you like this idea, share yours with myself and Brianna at The Book Vixen (since it was her idea to begin with). 

Happy Reading!

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