Monday, February 16, 2015

Interview with Katherine Reay & Giveaway!

I am so excited to introduce Katherine Reay to A Library of My Own's readers.  I absolutely adored her two novels Dear Mr. Knightley and Lizzy & Jane and am eagerly awaiting her next novel -- more about that at the end of the interview!

So grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy!

Welcome to A Library of My Own. I am so excited to have the opportunity to interview you because I recently read and loved both of your books Dear Mr Knightly and Lizzy & Jane.  

I love books that incorporate different senses into the writing and Lizzy & Jane is definitely one of those books. I actually tabbed some of Elizabeth's recipes to try later - like the Greek chicken salad she made Nick. How did you do your research to write through Elizabeth's foody perspective?

That was the best research project ever – enlightening and yummy. It took a three-prong approach to capture all I wanted to learn. I dug into literature, looking at all the references I could find in Austen, Hemingway and other writers for ways food was used as reflection of character and relationship. Simultaneously I scoured cookbooks for healthy eating ideas and tips for people struggling with cancer, compromised immune systems, allergies and other heath-related concerns. My daughter has some dietary issues and my husband and I run a lot, so that was familiar reading. And finally I picked through some of my favorite cookbooks and family recipes, playing on familiar and comfortable themes. We love to cook in our house and everything Lizzy made is a variant of a family favorite. I must remember that for future books – make your research tasty.

One of my favorite passages in Lizzy & Jane is when you wrote "Great writers and my mom never used food as an object. Instead it was a medium, a catalyst to mend hearts, to break down barriers, to build relationships." I noticed your love of literature, not just Jane Austen, all through the book. Ernest Hemingway, Cold Comfort FarmA Year in ProvenceThe Wind in the Willows.  It reminded me of how I love the smells and tastes in Sarah Addison Allen's books or Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients.  Do you have other favorite food or sensory books? 

Great question… Food books: Recently Christa Parrish’s Stones for Bread had me pulling French loaves apart and Hillary Manton Lodge’s A Table for Two compelled me to bake cakes. I also love Dickens’s breakfasts; the stark cold feeling from the sparse fare laid out in Wuthering Heights; the opulent culinary texture Peter Mayle gives us in every book; the full sensory experience emanating from The Life of Pi; the rich flowers that permeate the air when reading The Language of Flowers; the sights and smells suggestive of 1940s Seattle in The Hotel at The Corner of Bitter and Sweet and even the acrid, dead scents captured in Dracula, which kept me awake a few nights last month.

As writer, I haven’t mastered this area; but as a reader, it’s important to me to feel absorbed within a story on multiple levels. And such absorption in sight, smell and texture, fit Lizzy’s character so I worked to keep her close to all her senses.

One of the main reasons I picked up Lizzy & Jane is because I love books about sisters.  I have an older sister and it's such an important relationship. Obviously even Jane Austen thought so too. Do you have a sister and what was your inspiration for writing about this relationship?

I do have a sister. She is eight and a half years younger (same distance between L & J.) and her name is Elizabeth. Now before you think Lizzy & Jane is in any way autobiographical, I need to assure you it’s not. Like L & J, however, our age difference meant that Elizabeth and I were not terribly close as children. Unlike L & J, my sister is now my beloved confident, first reader and closest friend.

Perhaps our relationship was part of the inspiration for Lizzy & Jane, but not entirely – Sibling relationships are always fascinating. One can look at a sister or a brother and in a single heartbeat feel love, annoyance, jealously, bitterness, betrayal and a fierce loyalty – and that’s in one moment. I wanted to play upon that depth of emotion and explore it and felt sisters gave me the greatest latitude in both pulling and pushing a relationship.

Lizzy & Jane really resonated with me because like Elizabeth, I lost my father to cancer when I was 17 years old. I empathized with her age and also the fact that no matter what, losing a member of the family is tough on everyone and leaves such a scar. But I also loved that while you wrote about such a serious topic the book is filled with optimism and hope. What made you decide to use cancer as the center of conflict between Elizabeth and Jane?

I’m so sorry you experienced that. Thank you for letting me know that Lizzy’s experience and perspective wasn’t too off-the-mark. It breaks my heart that cancer is such a reality in our lives and in our families, but it is. As I began to think about using cancer as a canvas for Lizzy and Jane’s struggle, I asked others about their experiences. I didn’t find a single person who hadn’t traveled the road either personally or beside a family member or friend. These conversations definitely revealed the pain that cancer and life can bring, but they also revealed how much hope and strength and beauty exists within our families and our faith during such times.

As I think back to the very beginning, I’m not sure I can separate Lizzy’s character from her journey with cancer. It was simply part of her story and make-up from the first moment she and I met.

I am a Christian and I loved how subtly you incorporated Elizabeth's faith into the story. For instance I love the passage "I knew I could no longer justify my existence. No work could accomplish that. And if it couldn't, then it meant that I was more. I could be more, live more, give more - live large and thankful and with no regrets."  Do you consider your novels to be Christian fiction? How do you balance your writing knowing more than just Christians will be reading your novels?

Ah… That’s an interesting question. Clearly my novels come from a Christian world-view. It’s my worldview. But it’s not my intention to let readers grasp that too easily. Rather, I believe I write best when I let the characters wrestle issues to the ground in their own fictional situations, even leaving some questions and concerns unanswered all together.

Whether one is a Christian or not, or one talks about such things aloud or not, we all struggle with the same big eternal issues: Who am I? What’s my purpose? Where do I belong? I love examining those and if a reader glimpses something true, beautiful and affirming in my story then I’m more than delighted.

Last question, I read a brief synopsis about your next book and think it sounds awesome. Could you tell my readers what it's all about? When do you think it will be published?

Okay, you’ve just hit upon a great weakness. I’m horrific at the Elevator Pitch – that elusive one sentence description that captures a story’s totality in a fresh and tantalizing way.

My next book doesn’t have a name yet. Left to me, I’d probably title it something dreadful like Two Women on an Exciting Journey through England. It involves a young computer hacker, an octogenarian former thief, lovely books, London, Yorkshire, interior design, great clothes and a huge diamond. And I love the story… And before it releases in October 2015, it will have a fabulous title and a pithy Elevator Pitch!   

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions and I'm looking forward to reading your next novel!

Amanda, Thank you very much. I so enjoyed your questions and loved being here today. All the best, KBR


Also super excited to let you all know that Katherine Reay recently unveiled the title of her next book via her Facebook page. I am so excited!

The Giveaway has ended, February 23rd - the winner is LEEANN!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lizzy & Jane - Katherine Reay

Title: Lizzy & Jane
Author: Katherine Reay
Paperback: 339 pages (my version ARC)
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: October 2014
FTC: Received ARC to review

When I got an email asking if I wanted to review Katherine Reay's novel Lizzy & Jane, I jumped at the chance. I had heard raves about her first novel Dear Mr. Knightley (my review) and I absolutely love this cover. When I read the synopsis I knew I'd like it.  I read Dear Mr. Knightley first, loved it, and then devoured this one.  When the publisher asked if I wanted to interview Ms. Reay I said YES!

This is going up there as one of my favorite novels. The writing is great but more importantly it really hit me - it's about sisters and cancer and figuring out who we are and where we belong. I am going to make my sister read this one too.

Big note:

Right now the Lizzy & Jane eBook is on sale at Amazon and Barnes & Noble for .99 cents so download it now!

Back of the book:

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She's lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she's losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns, Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister's side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to re-imagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned...and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

My thoughts:

There is just so much I loved about this novel. Just like Elizabeth in the story, my father passed away from cancer when I was 17.  She was 17 when her mother passed away from cancer and left a gapping hole in the family dynamic.  Her older sister left, her father engrossed himself in his work, and Lizzy took off to college and set up her life as far from Seattle as possible in New York City. In my life, my older sister and brother were off in college while I still had a year in high school and a gapping hole in our hearts and family.  To say the book resounded is an understatement.

Now you'd think a story about loss and cancer would be a sort of a downer of a book...but it wasn't. I loved how Katherine Reay wrote the whole story, full of hope, love, and eventually reconciliation. It was honest too. No one was completely right or wrong, the sisters didn't become best friends, and very often Elizabeth didn't make the best decisions. But that's what made it work and made it real.

I absolutely loved the literature in this book. Elizabeth and Jane's mother obviously was a fan of Jane Austen and Jane finds comfort in Austen's classics to escape the chemo reality. Elizabeth uses her culinary skills to incorporate the tastes and smells of Austen's time period and local to create home cooked foods that appeal to Jane despite the cancer treatments.  There were elements of literature from Dickens to Hemingway and I just absolutely loved that she mixed literature with food. I mean, how cool is that. It reminds me of how some book clubs incorporate cooking, baking, cocktails, etc with their book choice.  I loved this quote in Lizzy & Jane:

Great writers and my mom never used food as an object. Instead it was a medium, a catalyst to mend hearts, to break down barriers, to build relationships. Mom's cooking fed body and soul. She used to quip, "If the food is good, there's no need to talk about the weather." That was my mantra for years - food as meal and a conversations, a total experience.

Just like her first novel Dear Mr. Knightley, Elizabeth's story in Lizzy & Jane is a modern coming of age story where Lizzy has to learn to mend old wounds and face her past so she can face her future.  There is a bit of a love story between Elizabeth and an awesome neighbor and friend of Jane's but really the story is about Elizabeth discovering where she belongs. It is a beautiful novel.

And More!

I will be posting the interview and a giveaway on Valentine's Day. Check back!