Q&A With Jojo Moyes, author of THE GIVER OF STARS

Still Me

Jojo Moyes

THE GIVER OF STARS is based on the true story of the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. How did you discover this piece of history?

“I was reading an edition of the Smithsonian Magazine and came across an extraordinary series of pictures of women on horseback. They were on rough, mountainous terrain, clutching parcels of books, gazing out proudly. I read the accompanying text, about the real-life horseback librarians of Kentucky, and knew immediately that I wanted to write a book about them.”

What was your research process like?

“Oh, I love research. I don’t believe you can write effectively about a place without immersing yourself in it. I need the sights and smells and stories. I visited Kentucky three times between 2017 and 2019 and stayed in a tiny cabin on the side of a mountain, rode horses along the trails the women would have ridden, and talked to a lot of people, to try and get not just the facts, but the rhythms of the language.”

Giver of Stars

Libraries play a key role in THE GIVER OF STARS,  and keen readers will notice you often include a library in your novels. Why are libraries so meaningful to you?

“I was built in a library. My parents didn’t have much  money when I was growing up so the weekly visit to the local library was a key part of my education, and my love of reading. Libraries are one of the few resources where people can be sheltered, educated and entertained without having to pay, and it pains me that they are under such threat.  Without knowledge, people have fewer opportunities to move upwards.”

The protagonist in THE GIVER OF STARS, Alice, is a British woman who moves to Kentucky after marrying an American man. Why did you choose to include a British character in this very American novel?

“Well, it felt pretty audacious to be writing about Appalachia, even with research. I felt that if much of it was seen through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with that world, it made everything a little more accessible. Given it was such a closed world, I also liked the tensions inherent in introducing someone “foreign” into it.”

What does the title THE GIVER OF STARS mean?

“The Giver of Stars is the title of a poem that forms a pivotal moment of the story. It’s a beautiful, tender, romantic poem that spells nothing out but leaves you a little breathless and it was written by a woman who couldn’t express what she really felt–a little like Alice and Frederick. “

What are the main themes of the book? What do you want people to take away from reading THE GIVER OF STARS?

“I wanted to write a book about women who had agency, and did worthwhile things, rather than simply existing in a romantic or domestic plotline. These women achieved epic things, and, more importantly, supported each other while doing it. I reject the constantly pushed narrative that says women must always be in competition with each other; in my experience other women have been my greatest friends and supports and i wanted to show that. Mostly, I want to entertain and transport the reader a little, to make them laugh and cry. I really hope readers enjoy reading THE GIVER OF STARS as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.”

This is a portion of a Q&A sent to me from Viking to post on my blog. I think it’s important because it gives the reader a good perspective of how and why this wonderful new novel came about. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I have!!

Happy Reading. Cheers!

A Conversation With Stewart O’nan

Steward O'nan

City of Secrets

Stewart O’nan is one of my favorite authors. He writes about real people, family situations we can all relate to in one form or another. This novel is unique in that it is more historical and actually is more of a moral thriller taking place just after World War 11 Jerusalem.

author Pittsburgh

Stewart O’Nan

I was sent this conversation by Viking, the publisher, and think you might enjoy more insight into the how and why of this story.

Q. How did you decide to center your new book on the bombing of the King David Hotel?

A. I’ve always wanted to know more about the bombing. Most Americans have never heard of it, which seems crazy, especially post 9/11, with our fixation on the uses and abuses of political violence. What kind of characters would consider bombing such a public place a desirable act–so desirable they would risk not only their own lives but those of the people around them to carry it off? In a way, it’s the same question Joseph Conrad tried to answer a hundred years ago in THE SECRET AGENT.  As usual, writing the book was a way of satisfying my curiosity.

Q. What made you choose to make Brand a Latvian Jew as opposed, to say, coming from a country with a larger Jewish population like Poland or Hungary?

A. A friend of mine from Lithuania wrote a novel about a family trying to get out in the late 30’s. Another friend came from Latvia after the Russians absorbed it, so I associate the Baltic States with complete upheaval. The combination of Russian and German persecution–the strange shift from Russian ( during the non-aggression pact) to German and then back to Russian control interested me. Bad enough you get caught up in one wave, but three–and then end up in Palestine under the British Mandate?

Q. The King David hotel bombing is often described as a pivotal act in the founding of the state of Israel and yet it is clearly an act of terrorism. How can we understand similar contemporary acts of terrorism now? Had the lens through which we view terrorist attacks shifted or have the nature of attacks themselves changed?

A. Certainly post 9-11, the lens through which we in the U.S. view political violence has changed, though it seems we also now recognize institutional political violence (apartheid, for example, or the Chinese occupation of Tibet, or the persecution of the Kurds and the Iraqi Shiite majority by the Baathist Sunnies). The question of what political violence-including war-is legitimate remains open, as do our ideas of what constitutes a soft or hard target, a notion which has become even more complicated with the advent of cyber attacks and cyber surveillance. From what root does an act of political violence come, and what ultimate effect does it have? The King David bombing, while widely decried, helped convince the British they should leave Palestine. It’s hard to imagine that response from a world power nowadays, and yet the U.S. recently pulled out of Iraq due, in part, to continued attacks by insurgents. If some of the elements have  changed, the frame of the problem remains essentially the same. In a world where there will always be contested territory, what constitutes a legitimate claim, what constitutes a legitimate protest, and is there hope of compromise?

As you can see O’nan is deeply into the history that surrounds his new novel, CITY OF SECRETS.  You can pick it up today. It’s a keeper!

A Conversation With Jane Green

A conversation with Jane Green New York Times bestselling author of


Summer Secrets

Jane Green

SUMMER SECRETS is set partly in London and partly in Nantucket.  Why did you choose these settings?

I can’t ever get too far from my London roots. It’s hard for me to write about it now, it has changed so much since I moved away fifteen years ago, but I grew up there, and I love that nostalgic jolt I get when I delve into my memories for my characters. And Nantucket is the most magical place on earth – if I could set every book there, I would.

In SUMMER SECRETS, Cat confronts a secret in her family’s past. Was this plotline inspired by any personal experiences?

My husband has a cousin who recently discovered, in his 50s, that the man he thought was his father wasn’t his father. Coincidentally, I have cousins who don’t know they are related to me — the result of an illicit affair one of my uncles had years ago. I am fascinated by the secrets people keep, and the impact those have on our lives.

SUMMER SECRETS is your 17th book. All of your novels have been bestsellers. Once you hit the New York Times bestseller list, is there more pressure on you to continue to write books that hit the list?

The pressure grows and grows…will you make the list, will you be higher than last time, is your career on the upswing or is this the moment it all comes crashing down and everyone realizes you’re actually a load of rubbish. I had tremendous, and instant, success with my early books, and later had a period when things were quieter. It was a humbling and valuable lesson. Now I tend to focus less on how well the book does, and more on creating the best possible book I can create. If I know I’ve done that, then I’m happy.

How and when do you write? Please describe your writing routine, rituals, and traditions. 

I write in the mornings, taking myself off to a small writer’s room in town where I sequester myself for three or four hours. I need frequent large cups of coffee and spare batteries for the huge noise-cancelling headphones I wear, listening to either classical or ambient music. I buy a new notebook dedicated to each new book Large, thin enough to slip into my computer case, the very first page always contains notes on the story, before moving on to characters. All my thoughts and notes go into the book, always in longhand, before being typed up on the computer. And it’s usually pink.

Before you became a women’s fiction favorite, you were a journalist.  Do you miss the 9-5 routine?

The only thing I miss is going to work every day with my best friends. I worked on the women’s desk of the Daily Express and we were such a tight knit group, going to work was actually my favorite part of the day.

This summer you launched a Kickstarter campaign for an exclusive cookbook GOOD TASTE.  Please give us all the delicious details.

On June 11, I announced plans to self-publish my first cookbook! I’m so excited! It will be supported directly by my fans via Kickstarter – the only place to buy the book ($25!) is through Kickstarter, until July 7th. http://kck.st/1B8BvGC. Drawing on stories from my life and the food that runs through these personal stories — from caring and cooking for a friend with breast cancer, to supporting my blended family with six kids and several animals, to my family’s recent move into an antique cottage on the water, the book is a combination of recipes, gorgeous photos and original writing.  And because I’m doing this cookbook through Kickstarter, it has my fingerprints on every inch. It feels as personal as it gets. I have loved the creative process and the freedom I have had to give my readers what feels like a piece of my heart. There will be a limited print-run and my fans can learn more and pre-order their copy by visiting http://kck.st/1B8BvGC, or my website.

How and when did you learn to cook? Have you had any professional training?

I learned in my mother’s kitchen, perched on a stool and helping out as she cooked, graduating to studying recipes as a teenager, and finally, a few years ago, doing the Part One of a professional chef’s training at the French Culinary Institute in New York. To go back to being a student again at this age, when I have children, and a whole other life, was an enormous privilege – it was exhilarating and huge fun.

What are some of your favorite dishes to cook, those that you return to again and again?

I’m a big fan of comfort food, so anything that can be slow-cooked in one pot is always going to be a win. I make braised lamb shanks and short ribs quite regularly, and an English Victorian breakfast dish called Kedgeree, which is curried rice, salmon and eggs, that we all adore.

What have you read lately that you’ve loved?

I was lucky enough to read I Take You by Eliza Kennedy as an advance copy, and it had me crying with laughter in a way I hadn’t since Bridget Jones’s Diary. Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin is another I was lucky enough to read early, and another I plan to revisit, savoring the stories of hoity toity women on the Upper East Side of New York.

Any other books you are looking forward to reading this summer?

Laura Dave is not only one of my favorite writers, but one of my favorite people. Her latest, Eight Hundred Grapes, is first on my list. Jamie Attenberg’s The Middlesteins was a wonderful, poignant book. So I can’t wait to dive into Saint Mazie. And what can I say? Who won’t be reading Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event this summer?

What can you tell us about the next Jane Green novel? And how long will we have to wait for it?

With any luck I’ll be finished in August of this year. It’s called The Hemlock Sisters (although that could change), and it’s about three estranged sisters who reunite when their mother announces she is ill.

Questions for Robin Oliveira, Author of I Always Loved You



Robin Oliveira

Q&A with Robin Oliveira

What was your inspiration for I Always Loved You?

I have always loved ballet and Edgar Degas’s paintings of the ballet. The inspiration for the book came when I learned that at the end of her life Mary Cassatt had not only burned all the letters that she had ever received from Edgar Degas, but that upon his death, she had retrieved from his studio all the letters that she had ever written to him and later burned them too. Because of this, the nature of their relationship has always been a puzzle to biographers and historians. Were they in love? What happened between them? Had they ever been lovers? This type of gap in the historical record is the entry point for historical fiction—at least it is to me.


How did you go about your research? Did you already know a lot about Paris in the Belle Epoque? After you have gathered your information, how do you know what to include in the novel and what to exclude?

I knew nothing about Paris in the Belle Epoque. Before I even began writing, I read a great deal of art history, art technique, exhibition catalogs, diaries, and biographies of the impressionists to educate myself. Fifty books, perhaps, in total. After I began writing, when I knew which paintings I needed to see in person, I visited many museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The National Gallery, the Phillips Collection, the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay. I spent some time in the library of the Musée d’Orsay in search of unpublished letters and documents of the artists, including exhibition catalogs of the Salon and the impressionists. I also read old French newspapers at the Library of Congress. At the Musée d’Orsay, I arranged to see all of the artifacts that they owned from Degas’s studio—which they keep in the basement and are not on view to the general public. I spent ten days in Paris hunting down the impressionists’ studios, apartments and haunts, trespassing in some cases (sorry) so that I could get a behind the scenes look in alleyways and courtyards. And I walked the streets of Paris to get a sense of the city itself, to understand distances and to absorb its flavor. Always, when composing historical fiction, I search for the unusual detail. For this story, these turned out to be Degas’s glasses and the mask that appears toward the end of the story, as well as everything I could learn about his extraordinary Little Dancer of Fourteen Years.

Robin Oliveira

I Always Loved You


Describe the difference between writing a fictional character and a real person as a protagonist. What challenges presented themselves? Do you prefer writing one over the other?

Writing real people as fictional characters presents many restrictions. As a writer, I feel obligated, as much as possible, not to violate what is known of their lives. There are the simple restrictions of place and timing, but I also feel an obligation to represent, as much as possible, their character. But I also have an obligation to the reader and to the story. And one can never know, unless one has access to a letter or diary, exactly what someone was thinking at any given moment. But we also know that even these supposed first person accounts can lie, because people lie to themselves all the time. A writer, or anyone trying to understand an historic figure, is also handicapped by the length of time that has intervened since a person’s death. People can become static in death, their reputation set. How they became that person is lost. This is where I feel I have license. I imagine my way into their lives, respectfully, in order to represent who and why they were.


A theme that runs through each of your books is a strong woman fighting for a place in a man’s world. Is this in any way related to your own life? What draws you to this theme?

Many people have asked me whether or not I have encountered prejudicial obstacles that have led me to this theme. I have not. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. I was raised with four sisters and no brother to compare us to, so I was always told that I could do anything I wanted. Certainly, in the sixties and seventies, no one was encouraging me to be a brain surgeon, but I always thought that if I wanted to be one, I could. (Though I would make a terrible brain surgeon. Trust me on this.) But women as a whole have always had to fight for a place among men. It is one of the unifying conflicts across cultures. It continues to astonish me how tenacious this prejudice remains worldwide. I like to showcase women who have successfully fought the good fight and shown us how it is done.


In this book, you write about the process of being and becoming an artist. Did you find a connection between writing and art? Do you paint?

I have painted and drawn as a hobby, but I am not an artist. In fact, my forays into that area were gently discouraged by an art teacher at the University of Washington Extension. But as I wrote this story, I did find a great deal of connection between the two disciplines. To be an artist is to be an artist, no matter the medium. All artists face either a blank page or a blank canvas or a block of stone or….it can go on and on, because art has many guises and many mediums. But the process and fears, to me, are the same. It was a relief, in many ways, to discuss the difficulties of producing art through the eyes of painters. I felt freer to explore what I perceive to be the truth about creative work.

Which is your favorite character in this book and why?

I have no favorite characters in this book. I love them all. Each was so difficult to understand that I became invested in each one. However, if I had the power to go back in time and follow one of them around, I’d choose Mary Cassatt, because she was the fish out of water, the American woman in Paris, the first American woman—and perhaps man—to show so many pictures in the city at one time. I consider her fortitude extraordinary and admirable, especially since she had to fight her father to achieve it.


What is your writing routine?  Is it hard to discipline yourself to write every day?

Do you ever get stuck, and if so, what do you do to move forward again?

I, like Degas and Cassatt, keep regular working hours. I write for at least six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how much my brain will tolerate. I can usually tell when my brain has turned off; I have found that trying to continue to write after that is a waste of time. Mostly, I write on a treadmill desk, which means I have an elevated desk with a treadmill underneath. I walk at about 1.1 miles per hour while I compose. However, depending on my task—rewriting or editing—I sometimes write lying in bed or sitting outside on the front terrace, but only when it’s not raining. I live in Seattle, after all. But I never really think about getting stuck. I find that if I have encountered a problem it generally tends to work itself out the next day. I think my brain works while I’m sleeping. Or I hop in the shower. That generally helps loosen things up.

Do you plan out the story as a whole in advance, or does the story unfold as you are writing it?

That differs depending on the story I’m telling. For My Name is Mary Sutter, I knew only that my character wanted to go to medical school and that she might or might not get what she wanted. I didn’t plan the story in advance; I allowed my research and my character to guide me. Writing I Always Loved You, I already knew many particulars of Edgar’s and Mary’s story. The challenge became how to make that story interesting. The why of it. I had to imagine their life together, especially since Cassatt burned all their correspondence.

Will you always write historical fiction? Will all your books have a woman named Mary as a female protagonist?

Never say always, but what draws me to historical fiction is the amount of research necessary to write a successful book steeped in the details, circumstances, and flavor of a specific historical time period. I love doing the research. I am never more at home than I am in a library; that was true of me as a child and is true of me as an adult. The Mary coincidence is just that: a coincidence. However, I am considering naming my next protagonist Mary, too, just to have a trilogy. (I’m only half joking.)

Q&A With Jojo Moyes

author English

Jojo Moyes

Questions and answers with Jojo Moyes, author of THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND. Coming out August 20.

 Q-THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND, though a love story, features the connections that can form between women? If Liv and Sophie had lived in the same time, do you think they would have been friends?

A-My female friendships are so important to me; I honestly don’t know how women survive without them. I get very bored of reading manufactured narratives that pit women against women; the working mums vs. stay at homes, old vs young, the ‘evil’ woman boss who is trying to keep younger women down- I don’t recognize these images-most women I know are actually pretty supportive of each other, even if their relationships are often complex and changing. To me that reflects real life.

And yes, I think that Sophie and Liv might have been friends- I think through her sister’s grief, Sophie might have understood Liv’s own. And both knew what it was like to utterly adore your husband.

Q-The reclamation of art taken during wartime is central to the plot. How did you first encounter this topic and what kind of research did you do to learn more about it?

A-I was briefly the arts correspondent for The Independent newspaper in London, so I knew a bit about the legal issues. But I read an amazing news story about a young woman reporter who had been asked to  mind a huge collection of stolen Nazi artwork, and was given a very valuable stolen Cranach as a ‘thank you.’ Many decades later when it came up for auction it was recognised and became the subject of a claim.

Q- It would seem the issue of returning stolen art is clear-cut, but Liv finds herself trying to keep a painting that may have been ill-gotten. Is there room for sympathy on both sides?

A- Without wanting to diminish in any way the suffering of those who lost their precious belongings, I think there is. The more time that goes by, the more complicated the issue becomes, as people buy and sell in good faith, not knowing the painting’s tainted past. These things are also complicated when great legal industries spring up around them, as seems to have happened in the case of stolen artwork.

Q- You create a vivid sense of French life under the German Occupation in WWI. Did you know much about this period prior to writing this novel?

A- No I didn’t, but the more research I did, the more fascinated I became by it. I knew about the terrible losses suffered in northern France during the first world war, but I knew little about life away from the Western Front, and the fact that in a great swathe of northern France, Belgium and French people had their homes and their belongings requisitioned in such a widespread and systematic way.

Q- Sophie and Liv exist a century apart, but their lives are strongly connected, making the past feel very much alive in your story. Do you feel a strong link to the past or a particular historic figure?

A- That’s an interesting question. I’m sure I do. I’m always amazed when people do past life regression and say they turned out to be Cleopatra or Florence Nightingale…I think I’d be the anonymous girl who ran the fruit stall near the river, or kept the accounts in the hat shop. But I do like to look at the lives of particularly brave women in history though, undercover women agents, in wartime or Amelia Earhart, say, and try to use their actions to make me braver in my everyday life, like standing up to a traffic warden…

Q-What do you hope readers will take away from THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND?

A- I hope they’ll be transported into a time and place they didn’t know about. And I hope that they will put themselves in the place of Sophie and Liv, and ask: what would I do in their shoes? I love writing strong, resourceful female characters, and Sophie was one of my favourites, so I hope some women might be a little bit inspired too. Mostly, I simply hope that they will feel glad they picked up the book and took the journey with me.

Check back tomorrow for my giveaway of THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jojo!

Q And A With Jennie Fields, Author Of The Age Of Desire

Jennie Fields

Jennie Field

The relationship between Edith and Anna is very complex. Did you always plan on making their troubled friendship central to the book, or did it grow out of your research?

J.F. It wasn’t until three months into the writing of the book that I decided to add a secondary protagonist, someone who could view Edith objectively. Anna Bahlmann seemed the perfect character as she was with Edith on and off since her days as Edith’s governess until the year Anna died in 1916. To have kept Anna with her so long, I assumed they must be very close, but biographers had hardly mentioned her.

Then after I’d already written many chapters of the book, a miracle occurred. Over 100 letters form Edith to Anna which has been moldering in an attic came up for auction at Christies! Everything I supposed about their relationship was true. They were loving and close since Edith’s childhood, and she trusted Anna with a great deal. I grew more and more intrigued with this shadowy figure.

Anna supports Edith’s writing as a typist, early reader, and -in a way-editor. Did Edith every include Anna in her Acknowledgements?

Though she never acknowledged Anna publicly as far as I know, in letters directly to Anna, she thanked her. In fact, in one letter early in Edith’s writing career, she sent Anna the check she received for a story saying, “The story is so associated in my mind with the hours that we spent in writing it out together, & I owe its opportune presentment & speedy acceptance largely to the fact that you were here to get it written out at a time when I could not have done so, that I have a peculiar feeling about your having just this special cheque & I no other as a souvenir of our work together.”

The book follows Edith’s sexual awakening. What was it like writing sex scenes for such a well-known writer?

Not many people know this, but when Edith died, among her effects, her literary executor found some pornography that she’d penned. There was nothing shy about this work. It was bold, shocking, and also, of course, exquisitely written. While I did not use any of the language of this piece ( named Beatrice Palmato, for those who are curious- and yes, it’s on the internet) it did instruct me as to how she viewed sex and passion, and gave me insight into what excited her.

Paris figures heavily into the book. What did the city mean to Edith? What’s your relationship to Paris and did it figure into the writing of the book?

Edith adored Paris. It was everything that New York wasn’t: culturally oriented, worldly, beautiful. She found New York society closed and stifling. She blossomed when she finally moved to France full-time, and her devotion to France is clear in how she helped the women of France during World War I with her workrooms and charities. (France awarded  her the Cross of the Legion of Honor for her work during the war.) She  had loved Paris as a child, and even more as an adult. And of course, she fell in love with Morton while in Paris. That would forever insure a place for Paris in her heart.

There was a period where I did not like Paris. I found it jostling and sad. But about the time I began the book, I also began a new relationship to Paris, and fell in love with it all over again.

What’s your writing regimen?

Generally, I walk in the mornings and do errands. I write in the afternoons. Usually I read starting at 1 or 2 p.mp. ( While I was working on THE AGE OF DESIRE I always read something by Edith). Then, with a strong cup of tea I get down to work by three. I write in my writing room, a large old sleeping porch with windows on three sides overlooking my backyard. I sit in a comfortable chair with an ottoman, my MacBook Pro on my lap. I rarely write more than three hours at a time, usually less. But it’s extraordinary what three dedicated hours can generate as far as pages. If I get five good pages a day, I’m thrilled. But not every day can be a successful day. I always take weekends off–perhaps a holdover from my years in advertising. My brain needs time to recharge!

Jennie Fields is working on a new biographical novel about a women who was world-famous in the 1890’s but that few people know about today. She was one of the richest women in the world.  And I sure am looking forward to reading it.

BBAW Interview Swap With Julie Of Read Handed

BBAW 2011

I signed up for an interview swap during Book Blogger’s Appreciation Week. My swap partner is Julie of Readhanded. Julie is pretty new at this blogging stuff, but just wait until you see her awesome writing. She’s a librarian living in Northern Florida. Let’s give Julie a big welcome. I asked Julie a few questions and we’re going to jump right in and begin now.

Read Handed


1- Reader’s would love to know why and how you became a book blogger?
I became a “book blogger” almost by accident! I’m a librarian and librarians love blogs and blogging, so I had been reading a lot of blogs and getting the itch to start one of my own. The only thing holding me back was a lack of anything to write about! My life is pretty tame, so I was sure no one would want to read about it. That’s when I realized that I don’t do many interesting things, but I sure do read a lot of interesting things. So I decided to start a blog where I would talk about the books that I read and hopefully start discussions about the topics and themes in those books. I read some advice online saying that new bloggers should read and comment on similar blogs to “advertise” or find readers, so I Googled “book blogs” and found this whole amazing community that I never even knew existed.
2- How do you choose the books you read? And, do you post a review of them all?
I don’t really have a particular method of choosing books to read. Typically, I wander through the stacks at the public library and pull books whose titles or covers seem interesting. I’ve read some very strange and random books that way (like On the Beach by Nevil Shute), but it’s given me an appreciation for a broad spectrum of genres. The last couple of years, I’ve gotten most of my books free from publishers at the ALA (American Library Association) conference each summer, so right now those are my focus. As for posting reviews, I have to say that I actually shy away from using the term “review” most of the time. While I do, invariably, give my opinion on the books I read, I’m really more interested in talking about the themes in the books, or what I’ve learned from them. But, yes, so far I have written at least one post about every book I’ve read since I started Read Handed in March.
3- We would love to know two of your all-time favorite books.
Two books that stand out in my mind as beloved and cherished, either for the literature itself or the memories I have surrounding them, are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (so cliche) and The Poetry of Robert Frost.
4- What are your plans for your blog in the future?
I know I should, but I don’t really have any future goals for my blog. I’d like to just keep steadily growing in readership and continue generating interesting conversations in my post comments. When I started my blog, I did buy the rights to the domain name readhanded.com, so I would like to eventually figure out how to migrate to my own domain. I think that would be a significant step for my little hobby.

Read Handed


Thank you sooo much Julie!

Meet Gayle Lemmon


Gayle Lemmon

We are so lucky to have Gayle Lemmon here to answer a few questions about her new memoir called” THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHANA.”  Gayle’s book is on sale this week, and is sure to be a huge hit with anyone interested in the plight of women around the world.

I recently finished reading your important book about women and Afghanistan. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy. It will be so informative and personal for my readers to meet you through this Q&A.  

How did you become aware of the pressing conditions and atrocities against women in Afghanistan?


The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

I became interested in writing about women entrepreneurs in war zones in 2005 because I thought it was an under-reported story. When  I met women in Afghanistan I realized the impression the world had of these victims shrouded in a burqa was not the reality – yes, women had struggled and been victims, but they were also leading families and communities through impossible times. I became driven to bring the story I saw to readers.
How did you meet Kamila Sidiqi, the young woman featured in your memoir? Are you still in contact with Kamila? 

Kamila Sidiqi

Kamila Sidiqi

I met Kamila during my first reporting trip to Kabul in 2005. I was looking for entrepreneurs for a Financial Times piece and realized immediately she was the real thing. When she told me she got her start in business under the Taliban, I became intrigued and eager to learn more. And the more I learned, the more I realized her story embodied so many others about these young women who became breadwinners during years in which they weren’t even supposed to be on the streets. I became determined to bring her story to readers. It has been a privilege to get to know Kamila and her family over the years, and I am still in touch with them today.
How has your journalism background helped you get the most out of this amazing story? And how many languages are you fluent in and what are they?

Journalism teaches you to get to facts and to sort through information quickly. It also forces you to never forget that people are at the center of your story. I think all of that helped me to bring this powerful story to readers. I am fluent in Spanish, German, and French and conversant in Dari, which is one of Afghanistan’s national languages — it is very close to Farsi.

Do you believe the affairs of women in Afghanistan have become better or worsened lately?
I believe women have been taking control of their own destiny and arguing for their own rights on their own behalf. Civil society has flourished in Afghanistan in the past nine years.  The situation overall, however, has become harder for women as many believe that in advance of talks with a segment of the Taliban, the Karzai government has grown increasingly accommodating to conservative elements in the country who do not believe in the equal opportunity clauses which are part of the Afghan Constitution. What is critical now, women leaders say,  is that women win a seat at whatever peace negotiations do occur.
Thank you so much Gayle!  We will watch Kamila and look forward to your next writing project.

Author Interview With Jean Kwok

GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok is one of my favorite novels this year!

Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation

Jean Kwok has written an amazing story full of dynamic characters that you will  fall in love with forever. I have been lucky enough to be in contact with Jean and she has very graciously granted me an interview. So, without further ado, here we go.


Jean Kwok

Photo of Jean Kwok by Mark Kohn

Your lovely novel came to me in the form of an ARC from Riverhead Books. Boy, was I lucky! Not only does it have a gorgeous cover, it has a wonderful, moving story and is written like a dream. Is it true it took you ten years to write? And if so, why?

Thank you for the kind words! I’d received recognition as a writer quite early on in my career, publishing a few stories in a prestigious literary journal and being taken out to lunch by agents and editors before I’d even graduated from the MFA program at Columbia but I hit a wall when I tried to write: a compelling, well-structured story that would carry the reader effortlessly from beginning to end. It took years to train myself and to find my own process.

Meanwhile, I’d moved to Holland for love and was adjusting to a new language and culture for the second time. I was enrolled at Leiden University as a full-time Dutch Studies student and I was teaching English at the university at the same time! Soon I was teaching at the Technical University of Delft as well, and working as a Dutch-English translator. I was extremely busy, but that was nothing compared to what happened when I got married and had two little  children! I would have a full day with the kids, then throw them into bed and

Jean Kwok with book

Jean with piles of books!

race to the university to teach several times a week. I wouldn’t get home until 11 PM and fall into an exhausted sleep at around midnight. The kids would wake us up all night long, then I’d get up at 6 AM the next day and do it all over again.

I barely slept for years so that I could complete this novel. You say that it is written like a dream-well, it was almost written IN a dream! I’m happy to report that I was about to give up my job at the university with the publication of GIRL IN TRANSLATION and now write full-time.

You were five years old when you moved to NYC with your family. What do you remember of Hong Kong? Have you ever returned for a visit?

For many years, I thought of Hong Kong as my true home, because it was the only place I had no awareness of being an outsider. However, I knew that that fantasy would be eradicated when I actually returned there and I delayed going back for that reason.

My husband and I finally went to Hong Kong as a part of our honeymoon and it was actually a really beautiful experience. Although it was immediately apparent to everyone there that I was a foreigner because of my clothing and demeanor, I still felt very much at home.

My other homes now are of course the United States and the Netherlands.

It amazes me how resilient children are. I understand you knew no English when you arrived from Hong Kong. And went on to attend school for gifted children. What would you attribute this to? Is there one particular teacher or person who was responsible?
When I first moved to NYC, I attended a public school in Queens. That teacher did not acknowledge the fact that I couldn’t speak a word of English in any way. There’s an episode in the novel where the teacher gives Kimberly, my heroine, a zero because Kimberly cannot understand the directions on the test. That had happened to me.

We moved to Brooklyn shortly after that and I was fortunate enough to attend another public elementary school where the teachers were far kinder to me. Like Kimberly, I was lucky enough to have a talent for school. The teachers there recognized my abilities immediately, despite my lack of English, and encouraged me in every way. In the novel, Kimberly’s principal makes sure that Kimberly gets tested by a good private high school. Mine did the same for me. I’d won full scholarships to several private schools but when I was accepted by the public high school for gifted children, I knew that that was where I wanted to go.

The more I read about your life and look back on Kimberly, the main character of GIRL IN TRANSLATION, the more similarities I see between you and her. Was it difficult to write about this trying time?

I think I am a writer who prefers to write when time and distance have given me more perspective. Our first years in the US were extremely difficult. My father picked me up after school each day to bring me to the clothing factory in Chinatown, and like the one in the book, our apartment was also unheated and we kept the oven door open day and night through the bitterly cold winters in order to have a bit of warmth.

I could never forget the cloying dust of the factory and the biting cold of the apartment. Worst of all for me were the roaches and rats that were constant companions!

I felt an urgency to write about these things, but it was hard too. Now that the novel has gone into the world (literally, since it’s coming out in 15 countries), I feel a sense of relief. I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to be given the chance to tell our story, and that of many other working immigrants.

You now live in Holland. That sounds so exotic. How did you come to move to Holland? Is it easier to write away from the topic of your story?

We fell in love right away but I had to go back to NYC to do my degree and he needed to finish his study at Leiden University in the Netherlands. We had a long distance relationship for three years until we both completed our degrees. Then it seemed logical for me to “temporarily”move to Holland since I wanted to be a writer and was therefore more flexible. Little did I know that I’d still be here years later!

It is nice to have a certain distance from the topics of my stories. I’m grateful for my international experiences because I think they provide me with a broader perspective when I try to create new worlds for my readers to inhabit. I do love living in Holland and now our family consists of us, our two little boys, a Balinese cat that we brought home from Bali, and a Siberian cat. We’ll be getting another Siberian kitten after Christmas!

SushiKwok kitty

Jean's kitty


Kwok cat tower

Cat Tower

You mentioned that your  mother speaks no English. Where does she live? Why do you think some immigrants choose not to learn English?

I don’t think that immigrants choose not to learn English. I think that they can’t learn it. You have to imagine that an older American person who may not have had much schooling is dropped in the middle of Tokyo. She is then expected to work day and night earning a living and learn Japanese fluently. It’s not easy and for some, like my mother, it was impossible.

I have heard that you are working on a new novel. Could you share a tidbit about it with us? I will so be looking forward to it!

Well, before I tell you about my next novel, let me tell you a bit about how I came to choose the topic. When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I made the decision to become a writer. Before that, I had been too afraid. I’d wanted to choose a more secure profession. After graduation, I needed a job that would still allow me to have the time to write. I hoped for something that wouldn’t consume my mental energy, something that would be more physical.

I saw an ad in the newspaper for a professional ballroom dancer at a major studio in midtown Manhattan. I’d always loved to dance and taken many lessons at Harvard. I applied and after a long audition process, I was hired. I worked as a professional ballroom dancer for three years: teaching, doing shows and competitions. I was lucky enough to see what the professional ballroom dance world is like behind closed curtains.

My next book is set in Chinatown and the professional ballroom dance world. I can’t say much more than that at this point but I am really enjoying it so far! I hope to give my readers an insider’s view of a new and fascinating world.

Thank you for being such a wonderful friend to my novel, Jean. Readers and bloggers like you are so important to the literary world.


And I do wish to thank you for sharing your kitties with us too. As you know, I am a huge cat lover. I have so enjoyed your photos of your beloved cats

I can’t thank Jean Kwok enough for being so generous, and sharing so much of her story and her life with us. Her life experiences breathe real life into her characters. We are waiting with baited breath for the next.!  Jean, you’ve  outdone yourself!

Teaser: Jean Kwok Coming Wednesday

Jean Kwok

Photo of Jean Kwok by Mark Kohn

I will be interviewing the lovely Jean Kwok here on my blog on Wednesday, December, 1. Jean is the amazing author of  GIRL IN TRANSLATION. This beautifully told story begins with a young Chinese girl coming to live in NYC with her mother and brother. They arrive with no English from Hong Kong.

You won’t want to miss this revealing and very personal interview with one of the best new novelists of our time! Jean will reveal what she’s working on right now.

Girl in Translation