Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Q&A with J.B. Chicoine author of Blind Stitches

I was offered the chance to post a Q&A from J.B. Chicoine and I was extremely excited and accepted immediately. I hope you all enjoy the Q&A and keep an eye out for a review of her novel Blind Stitches coming up soon!

About the Book:

Talented young seamstress Juliet Glitch has been putting the finishing touches on a wedding dress for socialite, Nadia Solvay. When Nadia’s father dies unexpectedly two weeks before the wedding, mother of the bride, Olga Solvay, a former prima ballerina and Russian expatriate, asks Juliet to hem her son Nikolai’s trousers for the funeral. He has just returned to America from England, where he has been attending a “school for the blind.”

Juliet’s life in the small but elite community of Historia, New Hampshire, is complicated. Her nineteen-year-old brother, Rome, has Asperger’s, and their aunt, with whom they live, raises chickens and hoards junk. After meeting Nikolai, Juliet finds herself drawn to the intense and serious
young man who is not what she expected. As Nikolai and Juliet spend time together, they embark on
a psychological and emotional journey into family dysfunction and repressed memories surrounding
his mother’s defection from the Soviet Union twenty years earlier. Set against the backdrop of autumn 1989, during the Glasnost era, Nikolai’s family secrets crash alongside the crumbling Berlin Wall.

Written in Chicoine’s trademark lyrical style, Blind Stitches provides a compelling study in
family delusion and secrets, along with a touching love story that contains heartbreaking revelations
of its own.

Q&A with J.B. Chicoine:
1. What was your inspiration for the characters and storyline in this novel?

Have you ever noticed how when a relatively sane person lives with crazy people, they can get drawn into the dysfunction of someone else’s even crazier family drama without realizing how nuts it all actually is? It becomes almost absurd, and I love absurdity! I’m also fascinated with mental quirks if not full-blown mental illnesses, which is probably why I love movies like Lars and the Real Girl, Benny and Joon, and Harold and Maude (generally lighthearted presentations of mental illness—an otherwise dark and depressing subject). I wanted to write about an absurd manifestation of Delusional Disorder, and while I was at it, I threw in a few other disorders, such as Narcissistic, Dissociative, a mild case of Hording, and a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome. I have known a lot of people with ‘mental quirks’ and I find them interesting and often highly intelligent—great characters. From there, it’s a matter of coming up with plausible reasons for their mental anomalies and building a story around it. That said, having dealt with my own depression and anxiety over the years, and even having to admit a close friend to a facility for treatment of a severe mental illness, I do not mean to trivialize the subject.

2. The story takes place during the Glasnost era, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Why did you choose to set the events of the novel during this historical time period?

I took the circuitous route to that time period. When I determined that the delusional mother was a Russian expatriate—a former ballerina in the Kirov—and since I rather like symbolism and metaphors in my writing, it just seemed like a perfect time frame. I also like writing stories during times in which there wasn’t a lot of technology, like cell phones and such. And I remember when the Berlin Wall fell. It made me realize how little I knew of the Russian people and how much of my knowledge had been tainted by Cold War propaganda and Hollywood—I mean, Russians were always portrayed as spies! In fact, when I started researching Russian history, it brought me to tears. Not that I shed new light on Russians—and I might have employed a few stereotypes, but I’ve come away with a greater appreciation for a truly noble people.

3. Juliet and Rome’s Aunt Anita is a lively character. What was the inspiration for Anita’s hoarding and her chicken farming?

The hording came about because I needed to put the lead female character, Juliet, in a socially unacceptable environment amidst an upper-class, conservative New England town. I know it’s gross, but I had the smell of the place in mind first, and it was pungent like cat spray. But cat ladies are so cliché. And then I got talking to a friend who grew up on a farm with chickens. He shared a few hilariously disturbing stories with me, and I knew I needed to incorporate that into the story. So, instead of a crazy cat lady, I went with crazy chicken lady!

4. Nikolai’s blindness and his mother’s delusions about it create the psychological backdrop for the story. How does the concept of blindness tie in with the themes explored in the novel?

This is where the story veers away from absurd and strikes a chord of reality. I think we all tend to have blinders on when it comes to some relationships—where we may have difficulty “seeing” an individual for who they truly are. For various reasons, I think we sometimes hold on to the fantasy of who we wish someone was, or we can’t bring ourselves to admit that someone who claims to love us may not have our best interest at heart, or even that we may be alienated from someone due to the way another individual has twisted or manipulated our “view.” Blind Stitches deals with each of these scenarios. Fortunately for Nikolai, his “sight” improves by the end of the story, but some of us never fully come out of that “blindness.” And if we do, it can create tremendous upheaval, the kind of conflict we like to read about in novels but don’t want to experience firsthand.

5. Your other four novels also include themes of romance, delusion, and family secrets. Would you say that these are the trademarks of your work as an author?

I guess they are. For better or worse, I am fascinated with how badly the mind can go wrong, and how that manifests itself in a person’s life, especially within the family. I have always been interested in psychology, and interpersonal relationships. I’m especially intrigued by how some people manage to rise above their torments, while others struggle and even wallow in them. And yeah, it’s true, I like a good love story!

6. Do you have plans for a sixth novel and, if so, what can you tell us about it?

To be honest, I don’t have anything on the burner at this time, although, since I’ve had a few requests, I have been considering writing a third story in my Portrait series—but how much more can I put poor Leila through? (A dangerous question for a novelist!)

About the Author:

J. B. Chicoine was born on Long Island, New York, and grew up in Amityville during the 1960s and 70s. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, but found that rural life in New Hampshire better suited her disposition. She has also lived in Kansas City and Michigan, although her favorite setting for novels is New England. She has been writing stories since she was a girl and has completed five novels: Uncharted: Story for a Shipwright, Spilled Coffee, Portrait of a Girl Running, and its sequel, Portrait of a Protégé, and the newly released Blind Stitches. When she's
not writing or painting, she enjoys designing book covers and binding novels, doing volunteer work, baking crusty breads, and working on various projects with her husband.

J.B. Chicoine's Website

Friday, July 18, 2014

An Ancient Gift and Other Stories by Jeanne Grunert

22435248An Ancient Gift and Other Stories by Jeanne Grunert
Series: N/A
Publisher: Grunert Family Holdings, Inc.
Format: Paperback
Pages: 55
Source: Author for review.

An Ancient Gift and Other Stories is a collection of three “light” horror stories. These tales of the paranormal are akin to old-fashioned campfire stories - stories that offer a sense of the uncanny without the gore.

“The Glove” offers the chilling tale of a woman recounting how her grandfather’s prejudices - and gift for sorcery - terrorized a neighborhood boy. Is her son at risk, too?

“Friday Night Visitor” features the old trope of a deal with the devil. But unlike fiddle contests of old, Rita, our heroine, must guess a riddle to unveil the identity of the visitor and save the guy she loves.

“An Ancient Gift”, the title tale, offers glimpse at a reluctant psychic. Anna and her sister Amy are charged with clearing out her grandmother’s house for the real estate agents when they uncover an unusually wrapped package in her father’s childhood closet, a deck of antique tarot cards. Did their father have the ancient gift of divination, and does one of the sisters have it, too?
Don't let my two star rating fool you, I did enjoy the three short stories within this book quite a bit. However, I truly went into it thinking they were going to be creepier than they were. However, this is not necessarily a deal breaker because they were creepy in their own way, just not to the point where I was terrified.
Honestly I think the three stories would be good for middle grade readers who like creepy stories but aren't necessarily allowed to read all of the extremely scary ones out there.
I enjoyed the last story, also the one the book is named after, the most. An Ancient Gift delivered what I was hoping for with these stories. It was creepy and I was really looking forward to finding out what happened to the two sisters. The first story The Glove was strange, I didn't know what to expect and the ending definitely made me want to know more about the characters and what happened. Friday Night Visitor was my second favorite, the whole mystery surrounding what was going on and how everything turned out definitely kept me entertained.
The major issue I had with this book was the grammar and spelling mistakes. It took a little while for me to deal with the mistakes and accept them but it didn't make the book less enjoyable overall. With a little more editing I think this book would be good to go.
The three stories that make up this book are quick reads and they are definitely mysterious. If you want something that you will fly through that will have you curious as to what is going to happen in the end I would recommend you check this out. You may end up loving it more than I did.

**Copy provided via the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.**