Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Another Piece of My Heart & Giveaway

Summary: Andi has spent much of her adult life looking for the perfect man, and at thirty-seven, she's finally found him.  Ethan--divorced with two daughters, Emily and Sophia--is a devoted father and even better husband.  Always hoping one day she would be a mother, Andi embraces the girls like they were her own. But in Emily’s eyes, Andi is an obstacle to her father’s love, and Emily will do whatever it takes to break her down. When the dynamics between the two escalate, they threaten everything Andi believes about love, family, and motherhood—leaving both women standing at a crossroad in their lives…and in their hearts. 

ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART is a novel that illuminates the nuances and truths about relationships and is Jane Green at her absolute best. -- St. Martin's Press

Over the past decade or so, I've become a huge Jane Green fan. Of course, there are some books that I liked more than others, but I think I've read just about everything she's ever written; and for the most part, I'm never disappointed. So when the opportunity came to read her latest novel ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART, naturally I jumped at the chance!

ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART deals with a relatively common situation in today's society -- a blended family; however, in the case of this novel, the events surrounding this family are pretty unique. I would love to share with you some of these events, but I think that might spoil your potential reading experience because there are quite a few surprises in this story. I'll get give you a very general summary of the novel and tell you that the rest is best to discover on your own:

Andi finally gets married at 37 to a seemingly perfect guy and she desperately wants a baby... like yesterday. While Andi isn't able to conceive, she isn't totally childless. She has a ready-made family with two stepdaughters. One is very sweet and the other is bit more challenging, but Andi desperately wants to be a good mother to both girls. Emily, the teenager is extremely angst-ridden and resentful of Andi's relationship with her father; and she does her best to make life difficult for Andi. The two have a love/hate relationship, and it's beginning to take its toll on Andi. When Emily's actions begin to spin out of control, Andi is forced to reassess her marriage and everything she thought she wanted out of her life.

I really enjoyed ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART. It was definitely a page-turner for me and I did find myself caught up in both Andi's and Emily's story. As I mentioned earlier, there were quite a few surprises in this story (some were more predictable than others), and there was a lot of drama. But it all made for an interesting story and a very good read.

Fortunately, I'm not part of a blended family, but I do know many people who are; and I don't think it's easy for anyone involved. I think many women with stepchildren will relate to Andi, but I have to warn you that Andi's story is a nightmare scenario. I can't imagine dealing with a stepchild like Emily and I'm pretty sure that this book is an extreme example of blended family difficulties; however, I do think many of the day-to-day examples in this book will resonate with some readers.

One of the best things that I can say about ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART is that it made me think. When I began this novel, I was pretty sure that I'd be able to relate to Andi. And while I did at times, it wasn't as obvious as I had first thought. Andi was a complex character and far from perfect, and I found myself getting frustrated with her for some of her actions. In addition, I was pretty sure that I was going to hate Emily for the entire book. She was horrible to Andi and the rest of the family, and I never really liked her, but I did begin to understand her a bit. (I think that was in a large part due to Ms. Green writing Emily's chapter in first person.)

Another fantastic thing about this novel was the character development. I think (or hope!) the events in this novel are a very extreme case of what can go wrong with blended families, but I do think many elements of both Andi and Emily's characters were very real. In addition, I think Ethan's reaction to try to keep the peace between the two was probably very realistic. Furthermore, I appreciated seeing how all of these characters changed throughout the novel, and I also thought it was interesting in how they remained the same.

I definitely recommend ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART for book clubs. Because so many of us are either part of a blended family or know someone close to us who is, this book has plenty of issues to discuss. In addition, Andi and Emily are both extremely interesting characters and I'm assuming that it would be fun to dissect their personalities and actions. There is a reading guide available with not only discussion questions, but also an interview with the author, some statistics on blended families and even some recommended reading. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, parenting styles, infertility, marriage problems, guilt, the role of a mother, and happiness.

I thoroughly enjoyed ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART and I highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction.

And now for my exciting news... I was fortunate enough a few weeks ago to participate with some fellow bloggers in a webinar with Jane Green. It was a huge honor because I adore Ms. Green, and as a result, I was extremely nervous. You'll see how much so when you read part of transcript from the question I asked Ms. Green:

Ms. Julie Peterson: I've read--I don't know if I've read all your books, but I think I've read almost all of your books, and I'm a huge fan, so this is an honor.

I just finished Another Piece of My Heart a few days ago, and you wrote Andi's chapters in third person, and then you wrote Emily's in first person. And I enjoyed it and I appreciate it, but I wonder as an author how you came about deciding to do it that way.

Ms. Jane Green: Actually, it wasn’t my decision at all. I'd reached a point in the book where I think Emily was just so deeply irritating and Andi was a bit whiny. I was meeting y editor, and I felt that I hadn't adequately expressed Emily because I knew she had this other side and that she wasn't understood.

And my editor said, I want to hear from her. I want you to write as Emily. I want to hear what this is like from Emily's point of view.

I was a little bit nervous because I didn't think of myself as somebody who can write teenagers well. The dialogue, everything is different.

And I have a lot of friends who write YA. It's something that I couldn’t even contemplate. I can't imagine writing anything that a 16 or 17 year old would actually want to read.

But, as soon as I started writing from Emily's point of view, I just felt that I knew her. I absolutely knew who she was and what she was about. And I felt enormous amounts of empathy for her.

Ms. Julie Peterson: I agree that if Emily hadn't been portrayed first person, I don't know that I would have had any compassion for her because she was a hard one to like and see past that shell. By making her first person, it humanized her for the readers.

Ms. Jane Green: I hadn't written first person in years, and I started off writing first person and loved it, and hadn't done it for a while. I don't know that I would necessarily want to go back to writing an entire novel in the first person, but I loved writing one character.

And here's another one:

Ms. Julie Peterson: I also started reading Jemima J. That was the first book I read. And there are some scenes I still laugh at. I can still vividly remember certain scenes in that book, and it brings a smile to my face.

But, I wondered, through the years--and I don’t know how many years that has been since that was published--but, how do you feel you have changed as an author or as a writer? Do you approach your books differently? I'm sure you've evolved in some way.

Ms. Jane Green: Jemima J feels like it was written 100 lifetimes ago. And I think that on a personal level, I've changed enormously.

I would never use that language nor have anything explicit as the mother of four.
I think I'm much softer, as well. I think that Jemima, despite it being an updated take on Cinderella, it was pretty edgy. It has that sort of British slightly sarcastic edge, which I think has sadly left me completely. I think that I've softened enormously through motherhood.

And I think it's a good thing, not necessarily for my writing, but certainly, it makes it much easier for others to live with me.

In growing softer and perhaps more vulnerable and probably more sentimental, my writing has reflected that.

I do write differently. Jemima is a perfect example of a book that was very heavily plotted. I had actually flown out to Santa Monica to write. And then my computer broke. It went into the shop, and it wouldn’t be out for two weeks or so.

I didn't know what to do. I used to go to this diner and sit there every day with this huge notepad, and I plotted each chapter of Jemima J. And it was like writing by numbers when I came to write it because I had it all. It was all there. All I had to do was fill in the blanks.

After that, for a long time, I would plot the book in thirds. I came up with a message and a theme. And then I'd start writing my characters.

I always knew at the beginning what the middle held. And by the end of the middle, I'd know how to get to the end.

I always knew the story arc. Even with Another Piece of My Heart, I did know what was going to happen. I've just finished a book, though, where I really didn't know what was going to happen. I had absolutely no idea. I was really struggling, and I found it very, very difficult to write.

I kept getting very caught up with the plot. But, I couldn't figure out how to work it out.

In the end, I gave the handful of pages that I'd written to my wonderful editor who did Another Piece of My Heart. And she looked at me and said, I know where you're going wrong. Some people are plot-driven and they need to know the plot before they start writing. But you are all about character, and you're getting too caught up in the plot. You need to forget about the plot and pick one of these women and fall in love with her, get to know her, write about her. We'll worry about the plot later.

I have always let my characters tell their stories and take the story in a different direction. But I've always known where the story is going to end up.
I really didn't know this time. And it was a very different experience. I just wrote about these women.

We'll see what happens next. But it is making me realize how much I enjoy just getting to know one or two characters really well and then just letting them take the story where they will.

Ms. Julie Peterson: That's very interesting, because I'm very type A. To me, that's like jumping out of a plane and hoping the parachute goes off. And I think it's very interesting because I just spoke with an author yesterday who does the same thing. She gets a character, and she just starts writing. And this character eventually tells a story, you know? And I just think that is so amazing because it's so different from how I think almost, you know?

Ms. Jane Green: I'm completely type A as well. My characters do tell their own stories to an extent, but I've never actually taken that plunge and allowed them to tell the whole story for exactly that reason. It terrifies me.

This time, I did it. And it's okay. I could also do it because I have an editor that I really, really trust. And I knew that even if I ended up having written an entire book with no plot whatsoever, she would come in and say, okay, great characters, and now we have to put the plot in.

I feel lucky that the characters did actually develop the story and the plot. And I think what enabled me to do it was that I knew there was somebody else who was going to help me if I couldn't do it by myself.

And one last one...

Ms. Julie Peterson: Your last question led me into this one. I was wondering if you read much because, given that you're a mom of four and writing, I don't know if you have much time. And if so, what are some of your favorite authors or favorite books?

Ms. Jane Green: I go through phases. I either read voraciously or I don't read at all. When I'm reading, I'm devouring books.
And favorite authors well, I have no memory - middle age -so I really struggle to remember anything.

Certainly recent books that I've loved have been Room by Emma Donahue.
And what was that wonderful book about the family that came apart, the teen boy sexting? Does anyone remember what that was called?

I'm going to have have to look on my Kindle now. It was really brilliant because it was about a family like all of ours and just how a family can go so wrong, how it can all change on a dime. 

(Note: Ms. Green eventually remembered that it was THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE by Helen Schulman.)

I also love Jonathan Tropper. I think he is a wonderful author. And he's one of the few where I know that I'm going to love pretty much anything and everything he writes.

Thanks to Big Honcho Media for providing this wonderful opportunity.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of ANOTHER PIECE OF MY HEART and a Make-a-Wish Heart Bracelet for one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, March 27th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S addresses only. Good luck!


Dolly said...

What a fantastic interview - thanks so much!

Serena said...

Sounds like an excellent book, and what a great interview.

bermudaonion said...

I thought the book was fantastic too!

Wow, you got to ask her a lot of questions! What a great interview!

Karen B said...

Great review AND interview!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

What fun that you got to participate in that webinar. I love the questions and answers. It's always fun to find out what an author is thinking!

Beth F said...

What a great opportunity and what great questions you ask. I need to get to this book!

Anita said...

What a great review and I loved the questions you asked. I hope I win!!

Beth Hoffman said...

Terrific interview, Julie. And I loved your review too!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

What a wonderful interview! The character and plot business really resonated with me.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I think it makes a big difference when you have an unlikeable character but a first person POV. It's that whole lesson about walking in a person's shoes, and it gives insight to bad behavior and actually helps me deal with certain situations in real life. And I'm actually mad at the lot of take the blogging world by storm, all of you review the same book and make it impossible not to STOP WHAT I AM DOING and chase these books down! Argh!

Meg said...

I have an audio of this one waiting for me, and your review has me even more excited to read it! I've read quite a few books by Green, too, and tend to either love or dislike them . . . I have a feeling this one will be a love, though!