Hello Friends!!! I am excited to share with you all a spoiler free Q & A with Anna Bruno author of Ordinary Hazards. Recently I have been focused on those expected gender roles of men and women and their likability in fiction. I have come to want more from the characters when it comes to those expected gender roles. Anna has done just that. She has created a strong female character here with Emma who spends a night at a bar reflecting on the breakup of her marriage with Lucas and her past and present. The women she used to be and the women she is. Emma is a character you will either like or dislike. She drinks too much and is judgmental, ambitious, nasty at times and acts out because of her pain. She is also insightful as she questions and reflects on the roles of women and mothers, privilege, class and her success. She is not easy to connect to because she is challenges that tunnel vision we sometimes as readers have with characters in fiction. However as the story develops we start to see just how relatable she is with those ordinary hazards of life that are universal to us all.

Brenda: What inspired you to write Ordinary Hazards? What came first for you the idea of the story, Emma’s character or the setting to the story?

Anna: From the first word, I knew the story would take place in a bar over a single night. When I’m in a public place, especially an intimate one, I am aware that the people who surround me all have stories. People are always falling in love or out of love. They may be in immense pain, or simply stuck in the doldrums of everyday life. They are constantly making the small decisions that propel their lives forward. I wanted to give the reader an opportunity to be a fly on the wall—to learn the gritty details about a woman who would otherwise just be another person at the bar.

Brenda: The story takes place over one night and each chapter is an hour starting at 5:00 pm. Why did you decide to write the story this way?

Anna: The decision to limit the present story line to one night at the bar focused the plot on a singular chain of events. Of course, when a constraint is imposed, something is always lost or impossible. Lucas, for example, is not at the bar because he can’t be. As the night slowly spirals out of control, Emma’s memories allow for limitless exploration of the people in her life, their intertwined histories, as well as her feelings of complicity and guilt.

Brenda: I love the setting here with The Final, Final bar and it took on a character in itself and it brought some tension to the story with the regulars in the bar. You stayed away from stereotypes and gave them depth that added to the tension of the story.

How important was the setting to you and how did you go about creating the setting and the regulars in the bar? Were any based on real-life people you know or met?

Anna: Before we had two babies, my husband and I used to hang around the bar with general contractors and electricians. We have a good friend who works for a family drywall business, one who works at a diner, and another who owns a storied pizza joint down the block.

In my writing, an essential aspect is an exploration of what each character does for work. I’ve always wanted to read books about people with jobs that are more representative of what people actually do. Even minor characters like the random guy who buys Emma a drink, have jobs. Emma recalls that he delivers medical equipment in New York and New Jersey.

The bar itself is based on a few spots. I really wanted to capture the intimacy of a small-town bar (as opposed to big-city bars, which seem more anonymous). Here, in Iowa City, we had a little townie bar called IC Ugly’s (now defunct). It was populated almost exclusively by regulars, a handful of mostly middle-aged men. University students rarely crossed the threshold. It was an oasis.

Brenda: I have been focusing on those expected gender roles of men and women and unlikeability in characters. I thought Emma was a good representation of both. She questions gender roles, likeability in men and women, class privilege, her success.

“It’s a man’s prerogative to be liked. Women are sometimes respected, sometimes admired, sometimes adored, but they aren’t liked, not really”

How did you go about creating that side of Emma and why was important to you to create a character like Emma? Did you think about her likability while you were writing her character or the other characters?

Anna: I love this question. Female likeability is absolutely something writers and readers should talk about. I recently discussed it with Maria Kuznetsova for Guernica Magazine: https://www.guernicamag.com/anna-brun….

I set out to write a female character who is strong and ambitious. Between Emma and Lucas, she is the breadwinner and he takes on much of the domestic responsibility. I consider myself a feminist, and for me, that means living in a world where the roles men and women take on are more fluid and better tied to their skills and ambition

Brenda: Emma reflects on her past and the regulars in the bar and you weave the past with the present and as the story progresses we learn why Emma sits at the bar and drinks. Emma says

“There are two of me: the woman I am and the woman I used to be.”

Did you know or plot who the two women Emma was before you started writing the story? How did you go about weaving in the past with the present? Did you know and plot her past or present first and then weave it in the story or did you create the story as you were writing it?

Anna: When I set out to write this novel over the course of a single night at the bar, the chief question became: “Why is Emma here?” To answer that question, I had to explore her history. I discovered more and more about her layered life–her childhood, her relationship with her father, her love for Lucas–through the writing process.

Once I knew Emma, the writing challenge became about piecing the narrative together. This happened mostly in revision. The transitions between past and present, which culminate in a climax where the storylines dovetail, were largely the product of many late drafts. I hope the reader experiences these transitions as seamless, or maybe doesn’t notice them at all.

Brenda: I have also been questioning if authors are able to write the stories they want to write or if they are writing stories publisher think will sell or what readers expect. Often that comes down to the characters and what readers expect from them. In our groups, we often talk about connecting to the characters and relating to them. That is different for many readers.

Did you have any struggles with writing the story and characters you wanted to write? Do you feel you wrote the story you wanted to write or what you thought readers would like?

Anna: Maybe this is the reason debut novels are so exciting…I wrote Ordinary Hazards without a deep understanding of the publication process, and my chief concern was the story I wanted to write (needed to write). There is a certain authenticity or even purity in writing a book from the heart without concern for the marketplace.

I have to admit, the experience of writing my next novel is quite different. Now I’ve seen how agents, publishers, booksellers, the media, and readers respond. I can’t stop thinking about all of these constituents. I think the end result will be a less contemplative book but one with more mystery. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. We shall see.

Brenda: I love the title and how that plays into the story. How did you come up with the title?

Anna: The title was pulled from a line in the book (p. 195). It’s a central theme in the book–the idea that you can worry all you want but you’ll never predict the thing that will destroy you. I love the pleasure of reading a novel and coming across the title, buried somewhere deep. It always gives me a chance to stop and consider what the book is all about.

Brenda: What would you like readers to get out of your book? Is there anything else you would like us to know?

Anna: I hope readers give Emma a chance, even if they don’t immediately love her. It’s an intimate novel, told in the first person, and it offers the opportunity to really get lost in someone else’s life. Regarding what messages someone might take away–that’s entirely up to individual readers.

Brenda: Are you working on anything you can share with us

Anna: I’m working on a novel about four friends. After experiencing a tragedy at their Catholic prep school, they go to college and move away, but never fully move on. The novel explores the mystery of the tragic event while confronting what it means to be raised Catholic and whether their parents’ faith is still a possibility for a group of kids raised in the eighties and nineties.

Meatless Monday: Sweet Potato, chickpea, vegetable coconut curry

November 9, 2020


I am back with another Meatless Monday meal idea.  It seems like food has been on my mind more lately than reviewing books.  I am not in a book slump but in a review writing slump.  On a normal basis, I struggle with writing reviews and it takes me a couple of days to pull together a review but lately, I have been really struggling with finding the words I am looking for.  Lindsay has been struggling with writing reviews as well.  So maybe the Traveling Sisters need a little break till we get our groove back.

Is anyone else struggling with writing reviews lately?  

Todays Meatless meal idea is Sweet Potato, chickpea, vegetable coconut curry.  It’s a little more work than my easy suggestions so far but it’s still easy to pull together and gives you a very satisfying feeling when it gets to the table.  Often I do get frustrated when cooking takes away from my reading time so this is when I put on my Airpods and listen to an audiobook.  

When I used to make meals with meat I would always start with the meat first and then prepare the meal around the meat.  I think that is one of the hardest things about vegetarian cooking is finding other ingredients to build your meal around. So for this one I started with the sweet potatoes and vegetables and than decided to make a curry using them. With stews or soups finding a protein is a little easier as chickpeas or lentils are easy to add.  In this curry I used chickpeas and they go so well in curries.  For choosing vegetables I usually think about color and use vegetables with different colors and it really adds to the look of the dish with different colors. Often I don’t use the same vegetables so use what whatever different colors of vegetables you have on hand.

Ingredients

1 tbsp butter

1 onion 

1 pepper (I used red)

Salt

Garlic seasoning

2 tbsp of Thai red curry paste 

1 sweet potato 

Green beans 

Carrots

water

1 can of coconut milk

1 can chickpeas

1 can of tomatoes 

1tbsp of soy sauce

1 ½ tsp coconut sugar

2 tsp of lime juice 

½ tsp ginger

Kale

fresh basil

1 tsp of sriracha sauce or more 

Add onions, peppers to the butter and cook for 5 mins.  I then slide them to the side of the pan and add some oil to the pan and stir the Thai red curry paste in the oil for about 2 mins before stirring it into the onions and peppers. 

Add sweet potatoes and carrots and cook for 5-10 mins depending on how time you have.  The longer you cook them now the less time it will take in the next step.  I add a little water in the pan to help cook the vegetables.  Then add the coconut milk, can tomatoes, chickpeas, green beans, soy sauce, lime juice and ginger. cover and cook till the vegetables are tender.  About 20 to 30 mins. Then add cauliflower and cook for a few more minutes.  Add sriracha sauce, kale and basil just before serving over rice.

Ok so I know what all my reading friends are thinking!! What are you listening too, Brenda? Right? lol Well I just started Hollywood Park! I love listening to memoirs and hearing the author tell me their story. I also like to read a bit of the book as well and often my mind wonders away so I like to go back to the book and pick up anything I might of missed.

Before I go I want to talk about the book sleeve and bookmarker. I choose the fabric to feature as my pick for a book sleeve in their Etsy shop and this is the fabric I chose. It will be available soon to purchase so if you love it, keep an eye out here or their store for when it’s available. Use SISTERS20 at the checkout for 20% off.

Put on your lounge pants and coziest socks, grab your favourite beverage, give yourself some time and get cozy while you get to know these characters. They are not what you might expect!!

Brenda’s review

Hot diggity dang!! Now that’s what I been talking about! A well-done domestic, suspense thriller that focuses on fresh, unique unlikeable characters while staying away from those behaviours, roles and characters we come to expect in thrillers.

Lisa Jewell just keeps on getting better and she is an author who is moving forward in suspense thrillers by boldly challenging that tunnel vision in fiction and brilliantly delivers us fresh, not what you expect page-turner!!

Not all page-turners are fast-paced stories and things start off slower here as we start to form some thoughts on the characters and question their actions and behaviour. While keeping things fresh and different here Lisa Jewell does not create the suspense around the mystery here or focuses on it. It all about the characters here and the suspense is brilliantly tied into the characters. They are not the kind of characters that are easy to connect or relate to. They are the kind of people we think we know and who are invisible to the world because of preconceptions we have of them and dismiss them because of it. Lisa Jewell plays on that and shows us how we see the world and others can make us blind to what is really going on. She brilliantly shows us this through the three POV of the characters. At first, the characters seem like what you might expect and I started to form some assumptions about the characters and worried I might be right however Jewell had some surprises for me and the story takes an exciting turn and I loved the way the story came together in the end.

I highly recommend especially to readers who are tired of those tired overdone characters that are written for popularity and are more interested in seeing those invisible people we are blind to in the real world.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley

Book, IPad, Kindle sleeves and book markers can be found in Norma and our Mom’s  Etsy shop use SISTERS20 at the checkout for 20% off.

Lindsay’s review

Ruth is a successful psychotherapist who specializes in trauma patients. She is the director of a well known and highly respected therapy centre. This story provides an intimate look into her work life with her patients and staff as well as her personal life with the tragic loss of her son who is missing. Ruth is confident, hard working and determined at the office but holds much pain and suffering for her family life inside her heart. Lines begin to get blurred when she takes on a new patient who resembles her missing son.

I loved this book! It was such a unique, raw and honest storyline with endearing and vulnerable characters. I thought it was so very well written – it had me hanging on every word. The pace and flow were perfect – I was invested and curious right to the very end.

Ruth was an extremely intriguing character. The book explores motherhood so deeply. There were several sentences and paragraphs that held such power that I found myself pausing to appreciate what I just read. There are several heavy topics covered within these pages — childhood trauma, suicide, depression, loss of a child, self harm, ending of a marriage — a lot to think about and contemplate.

This book was a pleasant surprise that I highly recommend! Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my review copy!

Cookbook Review: Oh She Glows for Dinner: Nourishing Plant-Based Meals to Keep You Glowing

October 29, 2020


Angela Liddon starts off her cookbook by quoting this quote she read. “Who knew the most taxing part of being an adult is figuring out what to cook for dinner every single night of the rest of your life.” I think figuring out what to cook is the most challenging thing about preparing meals. I use cookbooks mostly to help me figure out what’s for dinner and use them more as meal ideas. No matter how determined I am to follow a recipe, I never do. Angela Liddon makes figuring out what for dinner easier here with her nourishing plant-based meals.

Canadian Angela Liddon is the creator of her blog Oh She Glows and author of three plant-based cookbooks in her series Oh She Glows. Oh She Glows for Dinner is her third book and focuses on dinner meal planning, prep, and recipes.

The cookbook and photos are stunning and so beautiful and appealing to look at and read. The recipes are easy to read and follow with ingredients that are easy to find, with some, if not most, you might have in your kitchen. Often I find myself intimidated by plant-based recipes as sometimes I feel recipes are complicated by plant-based ingredients and methods however I thought the recipes here were simple and easy to follow.

Here are some recipes that I have tried to follow LOL and some I want to try

Go-To-Mains
Instant Pot Potato and Cauliflower Red Curry (with Stovetop Option)
Creamy Buffalo Cauli Tacos
Weeknight Tex-Mex Quinoa with Cashew Sour Cream
Crispy Potato Stacks with Boom! Broccoli Pesto
Sloppy Glows
Dreamy Peanut Butter Crunch Veggie Noodle Bowls

Meal-Worthy Salads
Summery Chimichurri Chickpea Pasta Salad
Glow-rious Greek Pasta with Oregano, Basi and Lemon Zest Parmesan
Cauliflower “Potato” Salad

Hearty Soups and Stews
Cold-Be-Gone Flavor Bomb Noodle Soup
Glowing Spiced Lentil Soup

So many more!!!

I download sample on Edelweiss thinking it was the full ARC for the book. I ended up buying the print cookbook to add to my collection of cookbooks.

Magic Lessons unveils the centuries-old curse that has followed the Owens family in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic. I started to read Practical Magic but didn’t get a chance to finish it before it disappeared from Overdrive. It is on it’s way to my mailbox now. What I did read, I thought it was more whimsical and magical then Magic Lessons. I read The Rules of Magic in our Traveling Sister Goodreads group, and all of us loved it. It created an exciting discussion, and I am sure Magic Lessons would as well and be an excellent choice for a group discussion.

Brenda’s review

The Owen family’s story starts with Maria Owens, and in Magic Lessons, we learn her story. It is a story of powerful and strong women at a time when women were powerless and were treated as less or evil, dangerous and needed to be grounded by men. The Owens women here are not grounded by the cruelty of men. At first, we see their vulnerabilities as they follow their hearts and through the lessons they learn and their drive to reach their goals and overcome their conflicts, we see them developed and grow into the women they become. Alice Hoffman creates some magic here with the lesson she provides us here in this unforgettable insightful story.

“Maria understood that a woman with her own beliefs who refuses to bow to those she believes to be wrong can be considered dangerous.”

I loved the magic and witchcraft here that Alice Hoffman blended so well with the history of the story. I loved the lessons learned here about love, life and kindness. I loved the love that flowed as easily as the words did in the story. It was entertaining, exciting, insight and thought-provoking while portraying women well. I highly recommend for better reading.

“Know that love is the only answer.” “Always love someone who will love you back.”

I received a copy from the publisher on NetGalley!

Brenda’s Traveling Sisters review for The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic is a spellbinding, heartfelt and heartbreaking, insightful, sad and beautiful story that was so full of emotion for all of us that read this in our Traveling Sisters Goodreads group.  The story started off a little rocky for some of us at first as we were getting to know the Owens siblings.  A lot was being told to us all at once but once we let that go and felt the magic within the storyline we were able to escape into this magical world of love, courage and a family curse. For the rest of the sisters they were enchanted right from the start with this magically written story.

Alice Hoffman does a fantastic job here creating unique, quirky characters each of them with some danger to them. The tension builds as each deals with their own personal conflict and we loved their bond and support they had for each other. We all loved the animals in this story that made such wonderful characters themselves with their bonded relationship with one of the siblings.

We all felt a strong message throughout this story of love more, not less in so many different ways and that brought out such a wonderful discussion amongst each other. We dug deep into Hoffman’s insightful words and shared with each other the messages we each got from the stories allowing us to look at it differently had we read it on our own.  We savored our discussion reading experience as we talked about the joy, love, loss, sorrow, acceptance, courage and support we felt within this wonderful story.  We will be thinking of this discussion and this story for awhile.  We highly recommend for group reads!

Book, IPad, Kindle sleeves and book markers can be found in Norma and our Mom’s  Etsy shop use SISTERS20 at the checkout for 20% off.

%d bloggers like this: