Interview with Local Author Joanne Guidoccio

ASeasonForKillingBlondesGuelph author Joanne Guidoccio’s newest novel, A Season for Killing Blondes, has everything a mystery lover could want: a heroine in distress, an old flame from her past, vexing villains and, of course, a series of gristly murders.

The books is lighter in tone but for me avoided the cutesy feel of the cozy subgenre. Our main character Gilda Greco is embarking on a new phase of her life with a new counseling practice, but hours before her first client arrives she discovers a dead body!

I had the opportunity to interview Joanne about her writing after a workshop she presented on mystery writing at the Guelph Public Library alongside three other local authors.

GPL: Your first book Between Land and Sea is quite original. What inspired you to write about a mermaid? What was the response to the story from your readers?

croppedjoanneJG: On a whim, I took a series of workshops offered by dark fantasy and horror writer Sarah Totton and toyed with the idea of writing fantasy for boomer women. Not wanting to feature witches, werewolves, zombies or other dark creatures, I thought back to my childhood and recalled my favourite fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. I began by asking myself a series of “what ifs.” What if the mermaid wasn’t so young or so beautiful? What if the man abandoned her? What if she had to reinvent herself? Then I put pen to paper and wrote the first draft. I was very pleased with the response from Canadian, American, and British readers. One of my favourite reviews comes from Colleen McConnell: “The novel is a classic wisdom tale with a twist and is reminiscent of Jane Austen.”

GPL: I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Guelph Public Library was a part of your publishing history. What was it like working on the local Memoirs project with other members of the community?

JG: I was inspired by co-facilitators Karen Cafarella and Deb Quaile and the other six participants in the project. We met for eight Wednesday afternoons over a four month period and shared our experiences from locations all over the world, including China, England, Lebanon, Brazil, Northern Ontario, and the former Yugoslavia.

GPL: What would you say to someone who struggles to find the time to write?

JG: While teaching, I struggled to find time each day to write. In retirement, I have more flexible time but still need to follow a daily regimen. I would advise aspiring writers to carve out an hour each day for planning and writing. If you’re wondering where to find the time, cut back on activities such as television viewing and social media.

between land and seaGPL: Working with small publishing presses these days can be tricky. What has been your experience with them? Do you have any thoughts on self-publishing?

JG: From the start, I wanted to be traditionally published. I feel more comfortable knowing that experienced professionals will select the best cover and ensure that editing and formatting are properly done. While I admire and respect writers who choose to self-publish, I have neither the time nor inclination to mount that steep learning curve.

GPL: Who were some of your favourite authors growing up and who do you find yourself reading now? What draws you to these writers? Do you have a specific book that you’re dying to recommend?

JG: I have eclectic tastes and enjoy reading contemporary women’s fiction, cozy mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, self-help, and memoirs. While the storylines vary, reinvention is a common theme throughout many of the books I read. Also, the protagonists are usually boomer women. In short, I enjoy reading and writing boomer lit. I highly recommend The Japanese Lover by best-selling author Isabel Allende. This well-crafted love story set against the backdrops of Poland and San Francisco sweeps from World War II to the present day.

GPL: Tell me about your contribution to We’d Rather Be Writing: 88 Authors Share Timesaving Dinner Recipes and Other Tips. And what is No Kid Hungry?

JG: I was very excited when USA Today Bestselling Author Lois Winston invited me to be part of this extraordinary venture. I contributed a recipe–Quick ‘n’ Easy Halibut–and a time-saving tip. A portion of proceeds will be given to No Kid Hungry. Millions of kids in America face the school day on an empty stomach because there isn’t enough food at home. But hungry kids can’t learn. No Kid Hungry adds one million kids to the school breakfast program.

Joanne’s blog is entitled “On The Road to Reinvention” and can be followed at joanneguidoccio.com.

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Combining the tragic and the comic: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All MyMy book club recently had an engaging and lively discussion about the fiction novel, All My Puny Sorrows.  The novel’s plot revolves around a family confronting the potential loss of a beloved member through suicide.  Elfrieda (Elf), despite her fame as a world-renowned pianist and a loving husband at home, has suffered from depression and a “weariness of life” for many years.  Her suicide attempts take a toll on her loving sister, Yolandi (Yoli), and their Mennonite mother.  This plot line may not seem enticing because of its unsettling nature, but this character-driven book is actually a joy to read as the dialogue is realistic and funny, the characters (particularly Yoli, and her mother) are unique, witty and compassionate.

Yoli is relentlessly self-deprecating.  Her funny and loving letters to Elf are filled with delightful accounts of her not-so-perfect life as a struggling writer of children’s books, an imperfect parent and a poor judge of men: “Seriously, who wants a mother who buys flavoured condoms from the machine at the Rivoli.”  Yoli and Elf’s mother is a delightful, forward-thinking, optimistic and cheerful Mennonite woman who is “comfortable in her XXL pink cotton shorts and the T-shirt she won at a Scrabble tournament in Rhode Island.”  She is a survivor who makes friends easily, has no trouble talking to strangers, and rarely worries about what people think about her. Her optimism is a bright light that shines for the reader and is an example of a life that is well-lived and appreciated.

An article in the Vancouver Sun reveals that this fiction book is the author’s most autobiographical and personal book.  Miriam Toews (pronounced “Taves”) was grappling with the psychological effects of her own sister’s suicide in 2010.  When her sister lay in the hospital prior to her death, she had asked Miriam to help end her life…a request that is thoughtfully recreated in All My Puny Sorrows. We feel the author’s anger, confusion, and sadness through the character of Yoli. As reader, I was forced to confront my own attitude and that of society towards individuals who chose to take their own life (to kill yourself does not mean you are crazy) and to determine whether assisted suicide should be considered for those who suffer from mental anguish, not just unbearable physical pain.

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Left to right: Joan Thomas, Cary Fagan, Miriam Toews, Ken Babstock, Susan Musgrave, and Tyler Keevil. (Photo by Tom Sandler.)

All My Puny Sorrows was the winner of the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  Despite the awards, I did not expect to like the book All My Puny Sorrows, as I was definitely not a fan of Toews’s previous dark and convoluted book, Irma Voth.  Fortunately, I have returned to the cheering section for Miriam Toews.  Ultimately, this story is a reminder of the incredible intimacy of family, the importance of compassion, and that there is humour in even the darkest of situations.

Members of my book club recommended some extra reading/viewing on a similar theme:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace:

A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America set in an addicts’ halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, Infinite Jest explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human – and one of those rare books that renew the idea of what a novel can do.  Publisher’s Summary

Darkness Visible: A Memoir Of Madness by William Styron:

A work of great personal courage and a literary tour de force, this bestseller is Styron‘s true account of his descent into a crippling and almost suicidal depression. Styron is perhaps the first writer to convey the full terror of depression’s psychic landscape, as well as the illuminating path to recovery. Publisher’s Summary

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

Sometimes what’s in your head isn’t as crazy as you think … that’s certainly true for Craig, a stressed-out teenager who checks himself into a mental health clinic for some time out. What he finds instead is an unlikely mentor, a potential new romance and an opportunity to begin anew. Charming, witty and smart, its a coming-of-age story that’s kind of a funny story.

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“London Triptych” by Jonathan Kemp

LondonTriptych_CoverJonathan Kemp’s London Triptych is Jonathan Kemp’s first novel. First published in the UK, it won the Authors’ Club’s Best First Novel Award in 2010 and Kemp has since written two other books, one collection of short fiction and one non-fiction book about the history of male sexuality.

The story follows the lives of three gay men in three different time periods in London, England. Jack Rose is an irreverent and unapologetic male prostitute in the 1890’s who eventually encounters and establishes a relationship with one of history’s greatest writers. Colin is a tortured artist in the 1950s who wrestles with his feelings about his new young model. David dances on the line between love and lust amid the grunge scene of the 1980s.

Kemp has a knack for creating endearing characters. From the first chapter I found myself wondering what would happen next to each of these fellows. A few of my friends who read the book at the same time found the constant switching between time periods frustrating, but for me it had the desired effect. It felt a bit like those dark days before on-demand video streaming when one might try watching three equally good television programs at the same time. Of course I wasn’t entirely pleased with how life turned out for each of those characters, but such is life –and literature.

One of my friends thought it was nightmarish, another perceived passages of it as erotica. There may have been something to this perception, Kemp’s next book, Twentysix (2011), is exactly that. Sorry, not available at the GPL… yet. A third friend made comment about how much the characters developed and changed over the course of the story. I didn’t feel like the characters were given opportunity to change and grow enough; one storyline in particular I felt was cut off just as the character started getting interesting. All this is to say, I was much more confident about how to review this book before I asked the options of others.

Bottom line: three interesting characters in three distinct historical periods whose lives interweave in surprising ways. And not a long read to find out if you like it or not. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

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Rediscovering An Old Favorite: The Enduring Appeal Of John Grisham’s Legal Thrillers

Ever since I watched the movie The Paper Chase, I have been obsessed with the law. It was no surprise to me that after a few years at university I found myself a student at Western Law. After a few months in law school it was clear to me that I was better suited for a career as a law-librarian than a lawyer. Ultimately I found a job as a librarian at a public library, clearly destined to recommend legal thrillers in reader’s advisory sessions. GrayI recently checked out the bestselling  Gray Mountain by John Grisham, opting to listen to the Book on CD in my car. I was so engrossed in the book, that I was finding excuses to drive my vehicle (good thing the gas prices are so low)!

What makes Gray Mountain so appealing?  The characters are adeptly fleshed out, with clear motives so the reader knows who to root for…(yes, we’re really cheering for the lawyers). John Grisham presents us with a young, naïve lawyer, Samantha Kofer, a third-year associate who focused on building projects at a huge Wall Street law firm. When the recession hits and Lehman Brothers collapses, Samantha long work hours come to an abrupt end as she is furloughed and led out of the building.  Offered an opportunity to volunteer at a legal aid clinic for one year, Samantha is thrust from city life to country life in Brady, Virginia (in the heart of Appalachia). Self-confidence destroyed, she must learn to help real people with big problems and to adjust to small-town life.

Her new job introduces her to an unlikely mentor, Donovan Gray, a lawyer dedicated to fighting Big Coal companies and the hazards associated with strip mining.  In Gray Mountain coal mining companies are synonymous with corruption, as laws are broken, regulations flouted, health and safety rules violated, and contracts with locals are not honored. Donovan is prepared to fight dirty and assume risk to achieve his goals. Will Samantha be drawn into the fight, sacrifice some professionals ethics for the greater good, and risk her life in the process?

strip mining

Strip Mining

I was both fascinated and appalled by the descriptions of strip mines in the Appalachian mountains, which are being reduced to rubble, leaving toxic water and a land stripped of animal life and forests.  It certainly made me want to connect the dots, research the current state of Appalachian mining, and discover for myself whether this story is really a call to action.

A natural storyteller, Grisham tantalizes with the promise of possible romance between lawyers, the ethical lines crossed by lawyers in search of justice for their clients, and an intriguing premise.  Place a hold on a library copy of Gray Mountain today!

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If you like John Grisham, we invite you to try other legal thrillers by:

David Baldacci

William Bernhardt

Dudley W. Buffa

Michael Connelly

David Ellis

Stephen W. Frey

James Grippando

Greg Iles

William Lashner

John T. Lescroart

Phillip Margolin

Steve Martini

Brad Meltzer

Perri O’Shaughnessy

Richard N. Patterson

Nancy T. Rosenberg

Lisa Scottoline

Robert Tanenbaum

William Tapply

Nancy Thayer

Scott Turow

Stephen W. White

Robert Whitlow

Kate Wilhelm

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“Tipping the Velvet” by Sarah Waters — LGBTQ Book Club Review

TippingTheVelvet_CoverThe latest book for our LGBTQ Book Club to review is Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet. This award-winner was called one of the most important debut books of the 1900s and subsequently became a wildly successful BBC mini-series (also available from your GPL). Waters has since penned five additional best-sellers; her latest, The Paying Guests was published in 2014. Tipping the Velvet is set a full century before it’s date of publication and takes the form of a memoir by Nan Astley of Whitstable, an oyster farming community on the Kentish cost of England.

One day Nan encounters a performer by the name of Kitty Butler, a male impersonator who visits a local theatre. Nan is instantly enchanted by Kitty and quickly goes from being her biggest fan, to her dresser and best friend, and eventually her co-star and lover after the pair move to London together. Exit Nan Astley, enter Nan King.

Sarah Waters, author of Tipping the Velvet and other bestsellers.

Initially the two women find great success, even a bit of fame, as their act becomes the rage of London’s posh West End. But is all this real or just illusion?

“Tipping the Velvet” is a fascinating historical novel, a tender coming-of-age story, a poignant glimpse into performances and prejudices in the “gaslight” era of theatre, and simply a splendidly written book. As the first lesbian narrative of our book club, I was eager to hear the reactions of our eclectic book club assembly.

There were five of us at this month’s meeting, three gents and two ladies. Everyone around the table loved Sarah Waters’ writing and loved Nan as a narrator, even when she lies or acts questionably.

A couple of people at the meeting really appreciated the attention given to the theatrical details in the book –the cut of the costumes, the smell and feel of the make-up, and so on.

I was a bit surprised to hear that others at the table though Waters was “holding back” when it came to writing sex scenes. I expected people to be shocked at how descriptive they were, but when I thought back I realized their assessment was right. Waters clearly did not want her story to be too perceived as too sexual, even though sexuality is the central theme.

lastexittobrooklynI was also pleasantly surprised at how much I identified with Nan, particularly when she first begins to explore her sexuality. In my youth, I can remember being fascinated by a soap opera actor in the same way Nan was fascinated by Kitty. I found myself talking about him all the time and wanting my family to see him on television. I could understand why Nan was so excited when her family wanted to see Kitty’s act for the first time. When I shared this memory with the group I was delighted to discover that most of them could remember a similar experience of infatuation in their youth. After much prodding they even got me to name the aforementioned soap opera actor. Here, however, he shall remain anonymous. Sorry.

Our next book is Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr, a tale a decadence and violence set in 1950s New York City. Anyone is welcome to participate in the book club. Copies are available now at the Main Branch of the Guelph Public Library at 100 Norfolk St. in Downtown Guelph. For details, email bookclub@guelphpl.ca, call the main branch at 519-824-2660, or visit www.guelphpl.ca.

Poster

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How To Live A Meaningful Life: The Road To Character by David Brooks

Mead-David-Brooks-Search-for-Meaning-789

If you are a contemplative individual, and are prepared to critically examine all your beliefs and cultural assumptions, you will find much to admire in David Brooks’s original book, The Road To Character. The book is really an account of the author’s effort to cultivate character and to avoid a life of smug superficiality and shallow punditry (as his role as political and cultural commentator for the New York Times invites him to volley his opinions at others). In order to determine what the road to character looks like, Brooks examines the lives of some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders including Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day (who the Pope mentioned in a recent speech to the U.S. Congress), A. Philip Randolph (yes, a lot of Americans made the list), George Eliot, Samuel Johnson, and Saint Augustine. It was through their internal struggles and a sense of their own limitations that they built a strong inner character.

After reviewing these biographies, Brooks is able to present the reader with a Humility Code to help us build a rich inner life marked by humility and moral depth.

Truth be told, I slowly worked my way through this book…one chapter at a time.  The human stories are richly detailed and easily accessible but I occasionally felt like I was reading a commencement speech  or a homily. Brooks’s message was thought-provoking, but I would have liked to see more personal revelation.  How did his own process of character building develop?  I wondered about the author’s own religious or spiritual beliefs.

My library book club members had a positive reaction to the book, praising its lucidity, insightful writing, and original content.

From the mini-biographies, I was intrigued by the chapters on George Eliot and Samuel Johnson, as I enjoyed studying the backgrounds of authors I had read in the past.  The most thought-provoking part of the book were the chapters focusing on the 1950s to the present, and the change in society to a culture promoting the “Big Me.” whitey-clipart-me-me-me-hiAs a parent, the book made me question what I am teaching and promoting to my own children.  Am I really wrong to encourage resume virtues and to praise their accomplishments?

As our society continues to celebrate the individual with countless selfies, and self-branding on social media, it is important to take a step back (preferably in a quiet and peaceful environment) and evaluate the type of life we are leading and what values are most significant – resume virtues or eulogy virtues (humility, kindness, bravery, honesty, and faithfulness).

As of the date of this blog posting, there was no official set of discussion questions for this book available online. I invite your book club to utilize the list Guelph Public Library staff formulated:

Who was the most interesting choice of Brooks’s selections of greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders?

Do you believe the shift from the Little Me to the Big Me culture went too far?  Why did we shift?

Is Brooks having a strictly secular conversation about morals or is there a religious component?

What do you think about the Humility Code?

Are parents and schools wrong to nurture self-esteem and value self-expression?

Do you believe that character is innate, or can it be taught, or is it best acquired through experience?

Can you be wealthy and still be humble and belong to the Little Me culture?

Do you feel social media is a bad thing that promotes only the Big Me?

Do you feel that people today are more fuzzy about how character is built?

Would you have liked to know more about how the author fared in his struggle for character?

What is Brooks most important message, in your opinion?

From where or whom do you get your morality, or moral center?

What resonated with you in this book and the author’s arguments about Adam 1 and Adam 2, resume virtues and eulogy virtues?

Discuss this passage from the book: Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering. (Critical events that form people are usually ordeals)

What does Brooks mean by moral realism and by the Crooked Timber tradition?

Why would you – or wouldn’t you – recommend this book to a friend?

What do you know about the author?

 

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What’s with the hype?: The Girl on the Train

trainBefore I even begin this post, let me acknowledge that I am quite behind in reading what’s new and popular since I just got around to reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins last month. So my apologies for the less than timely review; however at this point, most fiction fans have already read it, so I hopefully won’t be ruining anything for anyone.

My mother always taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say it at all, but I am still scratching my head trying to figure out why so many people liked this book and why it became such a huge hit. Sure, I love me a good fast-paced, page-turning psychological fiction just as much as the next person, but I was mostly bored in all honesty. And to prevent boring you blog readers, I won’t get into the plot in any detail, except to mention the central voice in the book is that of Rachel; poor drunk, alone and pathetic Rachel. Accompanied by two other female characters Anna (whom is now married to Rachel’s ex husband, living in their old home) and Megan (the missing woman with whom Rachel becomes obsessed in solving her disappearance due to an alcohol induced black-out that has left her wonder about her involvement). To round out our cast of dysfunctional characters, we have Tom (Rachel’s ex who isn’t as he seems) and Scott (the distraught but potentially creepy husband to Megan). All in all, I didn’t find any of the characters overly interesting, but I felt a strong sense of annoyance reading Rachel’s narrative. I like to consider myself an empathetic person, but I remember thinking at one point, “what is wrong with this woman?” I also wasn’t all that interested in the plot or its twists; it felt mostly contrived and I actually thought the ending was rather weak.

Okay, now that I’ve said my scathing two-cents, I wouldn’t be a decent librarian if I didn’t conclude by suggesting some alternative titles in the same general genre that may be more worth the read…

still sleep silent good girl

 

 

 

 

burning

bloodbefore

dark dark

 

 

 

 

And of course, if you have a differing opinion about The Girl on the Train, I’d love to hear from you!  

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