Thursday, October 23, 2014

Summer Books I Loved

An account of Hurricane Katrina at one New Orleans hospital. Like watching a train wreck in slow motion: an avalanche of weather, weak infrastructure, poor planning, and traumatized decision-making.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know how I adore the Throne of Glass series--epic fantasy with a fierce and damaged YA heroine. This book comprises several novellas set prior to Caelena's introduction in The Throne of Glass, showing her rise and fall as Adarlan's star assassin.

One of my favorite mystery series right now is this one featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. This story weaves together a possible Victorian murderess whose bones may have been unearthed with the contemporary death and abduction of local children. The title comes from an Anglican service held yearly in London in memory of those buried in mass paupers' graves.

Another favorite series is Bolton's featuring Lacey Flint. Now working with the River Police rather than homicide, Lacey is drawn back into murder when she finds a body in the Thames. Was it left for her to find? How is it connected to the cases of young foreign women being smuggled into England? And could undercover detective Mark Joesbury be a suspect?

A slim but powerful YA novel about loss and friendship and first love. Cadence spends every summer on the Sinclair family's private island with her cousins and, eventually, a friend who might become more. As the three adult daughters quarrel with and over their aging father and his estate, the teens draw tightly together. Except for one summer--one that Cadence cannot remember. After two years of debilitating pain and migraines, Cadence returns to the island to piece together what happened.

NEVER LET ME GO/Kazuo Ishiguro
Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were raised at Hailsham, a somewhat idyllic childhood at a beautiful school in the English countryside. From the beginning, Ishiguro lets the reader know not all is right with the children or their lives now--I would call this a literary dystopian novel. As Kathy moves between her life today and remembering Hailsham, the reader falls into a seductive story of what it means to be human.

The story of the Jonestown massacre, beginning with Jim Jones's meteoric rise in Indiana to the beginnings of his paranoia and brutal control in California. Scheere tells many smaller stories of the individuals and families caught in the web of Jonestown and, though a reader knows how it all ends, it's still a tense experience akin to watching a horror film and wanting to scream, "Look behind you!"

On my bookshelf for over a year--now I'm wondering why I waited so long. This is the story of Bernadette, once a noted architect, who disappears from her Seattle home leaving her husband and daughter to wonder what happened. Fifteen-year-old Bea tries to find her mother by piecing together emails, old articles, official documents and secret correspondence between her mother and a virtual assistant in India. Wonderfully comic and moving story of one girl's search to understand the secrets adults keep.

The subtitle says it all: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World. Cahill writes the Hinges of History series, of which this is the latest, exploring those periods in time which changed the course of the world as we know it. Particularly apt for me as I am writing my new trilogy set in the 1580s, as the Renaissance and Reformation began to reap their rewards.

I am obsessed with Dorothy Dunnet's historical sagas. I started the House of Niccolo series a little diffidently, confident that it could never replace The Lymond Chronicles in my heart. Well, it doesn't replace it--but it wonderfully, magically, stands beside it. In books 5 and 6, Nicolas's plots in 1470's Europe reach their apogee as he schemes against his vengeful wife and sets Scotland on a collision course with history. I am now halfway through the 8th and final book in the series . . . and find myself reading slowly because I don't want it to end. I suspect when I finish I will pick up The Game of Kings and read The Lymond Chronicles once more too sooth my broken heart.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Childhood Cancer Awareness

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Unless, of course, you're a family touched by childhood cancer, in which case every month, every week, every day is shaped by a level of awareness no one wants but yet manages to provide significant blessings along the way. For those who do not live with that awareness, I'm posting something I wrote in late September 2008, just as Jake came off treatment. 

And Then . . .

There was me trying to decide what to write next.

It's been two weeks since his last chemo. He's had his blood draws for that period and his counts are good. On Monday the 27th he has a CT scan and MRI and we'll go to clinic the next day to meet with Dr. Afify for the final time. But not really--because, of course, we don't get to just walk out and pretend this all never happened. There will be scans and exams and probably worrisome moments aplenty over the next five years until Jake is officially declared cured. And I don't think I'm quite ready for all that. I'm still contemplating switching into that gear and wondering what life will look like then.

In the meantime, I've had a copy of Newsweek in my inbox for several weeks waiting for me to do this post. It's the September 15 issue and it has a story entitled WE FOUGHT CANCER . . . AND CANCER WON.

In 1971 (two years after I was born), Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act which was supposed to make cancer curable. Instead, almost forty years later, cancer is poised to overtake cardiovascular disease as America's number one killer.

There has been, as Newsweek put it, "a lot of elegant science . . . [but] studies of the mechanisms leading to cancer and efforts to control cancer often seemed to inhabit separate worlds . . . Indeed, it is possible (and common) for cancer researchers to achieve extraordinary acclaim and success . . . without ever helping a single patient gain a single extra day of life."

Why? On the NCI website, one can read that "the biology of the more than 100 types of cancers has proven far more complex than imagined [in 1971]." Cancer is smart. Send a drug up against it, and the cancer cells will develop around it. Like bacteria, cancer cells are constantly learning and mutating.

Metastasis is the greatest enemy. Metastatic cells, those that break off from the original tumor and grow elsewhere in the body, are responsible for 90 percent of cancer deaths. You want to know the really scary thing? There's no way to be certain that you're not leaving metastatic cells behind after treatment. Radiation killed the tumor in Jake's sinus. Forty-two weeks of chemotherapy have killed off any microscopic cells left behind. We hope. But the truth is, there's no way to tell.

The overall mortality rate from cancer has fallen 7.5 percent since 1971. In 1991, 215 out of every 100,000 Americans died of cancer. In 2005, it was 184 out of 100,00. Progress, but slow. Consider that deaths from cardiovascular disease have fallen by 70 percent in the same time period.

However, there's a brighter statistic. Fifty years ago, pediatric cancer was an almost certain death sentence (children with leukemia in the 1940s rarely lived longer than 3 months). Today, 80 percent of pediatric cancer patients live to be adults.

80 percent.

Why? Because pediatric oncologists banded together. With fewer patients, they reached out across the country for advice and help. The Children's Oncology Group (COG) has standardized treatment plans for pediatric patients. At times, 80 percent of children with a particular cancer are enrolled in the same clinical trial (Jake is part of a clinical trial)--it's long been less than 1 percent for adults. Rather than focus on new biological pathways, pediatric oncologists took the weapons they had and learned how to use them in new ways. And along the way, they saved the lives of countless children.

Only they're not countless to their parents.

Bravo. And thank you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In Memoriam

Dee Floyd Andersen

April 9, 1931--June 27, 2014

 Dee and Frances Wedding Day
January 1951

Andersen Family 1987 (the year after I met the youngest, Chris)

With Chris's Family on our wedding day
April 1992

Andersen Family 1992

Thanksgiving at Golden Corral
(what happens when you have more than 50 people for Thanksgiving!)

Andersen Family 2005
(minus eldest son, Allen--you get left out when you live in Hong Kong!)

Dee and Frances 2006
(the remains of the family farm where Frances grew up)

Dad, Allen (oldest), and Chris (youngest)

Dancing with Spencer

Thanksgiving Gardens with Emma

With cancer-buddy Jake 

Matthew's graduation

"Please go away!" 
Alaska Cruise 2011

We are richer for loving you.
The world is poorer for losing you. 
We'll do you proud :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

April & May Books I Loved

A YA historical inspired by Romeo and Juliet, the titular Prince is Benvolio who finds himself in deep when his cousin falls for the wrong girl and Benvolio himself meets Rosalind. A wonderful, in-depth world with a touch of paranormal and the ability to make you weep for almost every single character. Highly recommended.

I REMEMBER YOU/Yrsa Sigurdordottir
I'm a sucker for haunted house stories, and this Icelandic one is a gem. In an isolated village (naturally) three friends set to work renovating a house. With little experience and not enough preparation, things soon go badly. And that's before the haunting begins . . . Meanwhile, across the fjord, a doctor discovers a recently-deceased woman was obsessed with his own missing son. The two strands eventually come together for a chillingly good story.

SO MUCH FOR THAT/Lionel Shriver
Shriver is not an easy writer. For the first three-quarters of this book, I was convinced I hated it. And yet, I kept reading. And the last quarter fully rewarded me. Shep Knacker has finally accumulated the money needed for his lifelong dream of retiring to a small and simple life. But then his wife is diagnosed with cancer. As she deteriorates and their money vanishes into health care, Shep's friend, Jackson, is spiraling into his own circle of debt and depression trying to keep his severely-disabled daughter alive. Shriver is always provocative and in-your-face, but the elegy of Glynis dying at the end was so beautiful and poignant that I suppose I'll never be able to decide if I loved or hated this book.

THE BRONTES/Juliet Barker
A biography of the most famous siblings of the 19th century, Barker goes in-depth to not only each child's talents, but how their relationships in and outside their family shaped and twisted them. The outlines of the tale are familiar--Charlotte the only survivor of six children (losing Branwell, Emily, and Anne within less than a year), marrying in her late thirties, and dying likely as a consequence of a complicated pregnancy. If you're a fan, this is a great biography, especially in adding depth to the sometimes-villain of the classic tale, their father, Patrick.

ALIAS GRACE/Margaret Atwood
A re-read for me of one my favorite Atwood novels. Fifteen years after Grace Marks was convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper, Simon Jordan has come to study the famous prisoner in order to jump start his medical career in what will become the field of psychology. The two of them often seem to be at cross-purposes, but eventually Grace tells her story. The twist to this novel is that Grace Marks was a real woman, 16 years old when she was convicted and spent almost thirty years in prison before having her sentence commuted and vanishing from the record. Atwood weaves an  entirely plausible and moving story that, even in the end, leaves the reader undecided about the depth of Grace's involvement in the murders.

The first title is a novella featuring Walt Longmire, featuring a wild winter-rescue in an ancient plane and an injured girl whose life depends on them. Like everything Johnson writes, almost elegaic in its beauty and emotion. ANY OTHER NAME is the newest novel in the Longmire series, in which Walt is asked by old friend Lucian to investigate the suicide of a neighboring county's detective. Walt is soon mired in the cold cases of three missing women that the detective was investigating and someone wants him off the trail. Add in the time pressure of his first grandchild about to be born in Philadelphia, not to mention Wyoming blizzards, and Walt has his hands full. Always a winner.

Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Jonson's novel of North Korea deserves every accolade it's won. Pak Jun Do is raised an orphan and then plucked into digging tunnels. Having survived that, he is selected to become a professional kidnapper, and then to sail with North Korean fishing boats as an intelligence officer. In love from afar with a legendary actress, Jun Do eventually takes on the most dangerous role of all trying to preserve beauty and love from a regime that wants only to crush everything. Absolutely recommended.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Brothers

All my words are being sucked up by revisions/copy edits on the new book. but I cannot overlook the two critical events of this past week. On June 23, Jake started college. And on June 25, Matt turned twenty-one. 

"How have you come to this . . . to such a place as this?" (That would sound better if Hugh Jackman were singing it."

So here you go--my first two boys through the years :)

Matthew in a rare shot from his first year without casts. (He was born with club feet, for those who didn't know him then.)

Jake in possibly my favorite picture of myself ever :) 

With Matt on our favorite beach park in Seattle. 

Jake in all his bald, chubby glory :)

First Christmas as brothers (1996)

Matt was always so responsible (1996)

Shortly before Emma joined the brothers' club (1998)

At Disney World (2001)

Near Buckingham Palace (2004)

Masai Mara visit in Kenya (2006)

Matthew Nicholas

Jacob Bentley

What a wonderful life we've had with these two! Happy birthday, happy college, and we can't wait until you come home for a visit :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Romantic Times Award Ceremony

(Subtitled: In Which I Did Not Trip or Cry, so I'm Calling it a Win)

After the drama of cancelled flights yesterday, my husband made it to New Orleans with half an hour to spare before the Awards Ceremony. Thank goodness, because I'm pretty sure I couldn't have physically made myself walk into that ballroom without him next to me. I was starstruck from the word go. Eloisa James, Mary Robinette Kowal, Tess Gerritsen, Lee Child . . . how on earth did my odd debut novel land me in such company? We shouldn't even be breathing the same air!

What a wonderful, generous group of writers and fans. I love the mystery community, but I have to say that the romance community has an energy and warmth that is unique. I will definitely be returning to an RT convention in future--hopefully with friends in tow so my anxious, introverted self has some help in letting go :)

For those interested, you can read my brief speech below.

And thank you. Yes, you. Every single one of you is part of this magical life of mine and I'm so grateful. Kisses and beads for everyone!!

In 2005, I attended my first conference, eager to pitch my new manuscript The Boleyn King. My enthusiasm was slightly dampened by the agent who declined to meet with me because, she said, "Your book is not historical fiction." 

In 2008, my second son was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eleven, touching off a year of chemo, radiation, hospitals, and a bone-deep fear. 

Today I get to celebrate twice. 

First, because today Romantic Times assures me that The Boleyn King is indeed historical fiction. 

And second, because today is my now healthy son's eighteenth birthday. 

I thank Romantic Times Book Reviews--the editors, staff, and especially reviewers--for their kindness. 

The readers who seem to like my alternate version of historical fiction. 

My agent, Tamar Rydzinski, who is my still center in the chaos of publishing. 

My editor, Kate Miciak, who claims I am the recipient of the strangest editorial email she has ever sent. 

My husband, with whom I have been in love since I was seventeen years old. 

And if there is anyone here in need of hope in writing or in life, I offer the phrase that pulled me through countless times of trouble in the past years. The words of St. Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." 

Thank you. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Orleans, Spring, and Titles

Hello, New Orleans!

It's my first visit to the city, and my first Romantic Times Convention. It's also the first time since 2005 that I've attended a conference by myself. Left Coast Crimes, Bouchercon . . . always I have my best friend/soul sister Katie at my side. Making wisecracks, drinking Diet Coke, and generally lessening my anxiety that I will make a massive fool of myself. (Because if I do, she's right there with me and humiliation shared is humiliation lessened.)

Honestly, I'm 45 years old! I thought I'd be over this kind of fear by now. I'm not, but I've learned how to fake it. To remind myself of my husband's wise words: "People are thinking about you a lot less than you think they are." To make myself smile and look outward. To squash my fears with a genuine interest in those around me.

So that's what I'll do. First thing tomorrow. Tonight is put-on-pajamas, write-a-blog-post, answer-emails while snacking alone in a hotel room kind of night.

I think it's also a list-as-blog-post kind of night. Here's my list of Spring 2014 Favorites:

1. Finishing Book One of the new trilogy. Signed, sealed, and delivered to agent and editor. Now awaiting revision notes and mightily relieved that the bones of the story have received approval.

2. Snow melt. Finally I can see my front lawn. Honestly, I thought that ten foot snowdrift in my driveway would never melt.

3. Seeing friends and family. I took the three kids still at home to Utah for spring break, primarily to visit Grandma and Grandpa Andersen. It was a lovely visit, full of laughter and some tears, and included a soul-healing night with my dearest writing friend, Ginger Churchill. I love you, Ginger! (You should check out her picture books--Carmen's Sticky Scab and Wild Rose's Weaving. Now she's working on a novel that has me all a-flutter!) Although we adore Boston and have no desire to leave, we spent thirteen years in Utah raising young kids and those kinds of memories leave a mark.

4. Second child accepted to college! Jake, who graduates June 1, waded through seven acceptances to decide on BYU for his undergrad work. He's starting summer term, so we're down to just a handful of weeks before he leaves home. (That is not on my favorites list.)

5. My parents are coming to Boston :) They'll spend ten days visiting for Jake's graduation--which actually falls on their 49th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, the younger kids will still be in school, but I have plans for their entertainment.

6. New-ish activities. After reading an article about how writers benefit from having a hobby or activity that does not involve words, I returned to two things I haven't done for a while: sewing and playing the piano. I've played the piano since I was eight years old and one of my prized possessions is the Yamaha grand piano my parents let me have when we bought our first house. I studied for ten years and have always continued to play, but in the last couple months I've tried to make it a daily break. Sewing is something I did for fun--I have lots of family costumes made over the years but it had been some time since I'd done anything other than mend hems. But since late March I've made my daughter an Easter skirt, curtains for my son's room, and have assembled patterns and fabrics for a bunch of new projects. Playing music is an instant release; sewing is a wordless creation that instantly shows itself as either working or not.

7. I suppose I should end with Titles, since I teased it in the subject :) Once the new book was turned in, Tamar and Kate and I had a fast and furious email conversation over several days debating titles. It was my first experience with this, since The Boleyn King was the title under which I sold my first book and the subsequent titles were my first suggestions. This was a more lively discussion and intriguing looking on it from the inside. I'm very excited with the new title and promise to share it as soon as I have the go-ahead.

And there you go :) Spring 2014--it just barely arrived in Boston, and already summer is looming. A summer which will see our household reduced to half our kids, a summer in which I need to write book two in the new trilogy, and a summer of perhaps bittersweet family moments.

I'm. So. Unbelievably. Lucky.