Friday, November 18, 2011

On The Grille -- Book Review House of Diamonds

On Today's Menu -- Karen Jones Gowan & HOUSE OF DIAMONDS











I recently finished Karen's book HOUSE OF DIAMONDS, the follow-up to her UNCUT DIAMONDS. I probably should have read the first book first. I sort of kind of knew H of D was a sequel, but didn't really think about it until I got into it and realized I was missing part of the story.

As the book opens, Marci (the main character) is facing a sort of mid-life crisis: inasmuch as she is the mother of seven (yes 7!) children, her husband is away on business (yet when he's home, he's also a high ranking member of their church and therefore not around very much), her passion about her writing is forcing her to make choices about her life she's not quite comfortable with, and her house seems to be falling apart around her ears.

I felt for Marci. As a non-practicing member of any faith, I was struck by how much Marci relied on God to provide the answers to her questions. (She's a Mormon.) And when her sister's child is diagnosed with a brain tumor, that faith is sorely tested. (This part of the book made my heart bleed. As a mother, I felt the pain and anguish poor Cindy had to go through with Baby Jordan.)

Marci tells a tale of hardship, but also incredible hope that one day she will be able to work on her dream -- of becoming a writer. With 7 kids, and an almost non-existent husband, I felt her pain. As a woman, I could so understand her need for "me" time. As a writer, I could definitely feel her frustration that there was simply just not enough time in the day. Add to that, a memorable conversation in K-mart at Christmas with a snobby college professor (who I so wanted to smack upside the head), and poor Marcie's passion for writing is subsequently squashed. I felt so bad for her.

And let me just say, that not having read the first book, I was uncertain of why she picked HOUSE OF DIAMONDS for her title. I didn't get it, and looked for some measure of metaphor throughout. Not until the very last page did the title come into play and I thought it was very apt.

I liked this book. I could relate to Marci and her struggles. It almost felt autobiographical at times and that lent it an endearing quality. This book also gave a lot of insight in what it means to be a Mormon, (something I had absolutely no idea about, other than the fact they can't drink coffee) and how in times of great stress people of faith seek comfort.

I have a few questions for Karen --

Is this book autobiographical? In some aspects it must be, you seem to draw from personal experiences.

Both Uncut Diamonds and House of Diamonds are highly autobiographical, although details of certain instances have been tweaked for narrative flow and fictional purposes. During all those years of me (like Marcie) wanting so desperately to write and being unable to find the time, guess what I wrote? Pages and pages in my journals, and these are what I drew from in writing the two Diamond novels. If I wanted, I could continue the saga of the McGills as they pull up roots in central Illinois and move to San Jose, CA, and then to Utah where the children have come of age. Because it's all there in my head, my heart and my journals.

Is the story about Baby Jordan true? This really ripped my heart out.

This story is very much the truth, and my sister who Cindy is based on was good enough to send me copies of the journals she kept during this time. Descriptions of what the doctors were doing and even things that were said to her are taken directly from her journals. It was such an intense story on its own it required very little fictionalization.

And what about the "professor" and his cutting Marcie down in K-mart - that she would never be a real writer? Had someone said those awful things to you? (This read so "real" to me, I couldn't help feeling upset at his insensitivity.) And if so, how did you manage to put those feelings aside and write a book?

This did not actually happen, although there was an arrogant college professor who was a member of JAW, my writing group. The scene where Marcie presents her ideas about Stephen King and the professor's subsequent scoffing really did happen. I just exaggerated and made him even more of a jerk than he already was, because that is just oh so satisfying! But let me say that House of Diamonds is set in the 1980's and the entire writing/publishing world was much different back then. It was difficult for a woman to break in, especially one from a little Midwestern town. Back then women went to New York to be writers, because they often had to work in the industry, or know someone in the industry to get a book published. So even though he didn't say those words to me, it's the kind of sentiment that was often expressed about a wife and mother wanting to write, even a decade after the women's liberation movement.

Thanks so much, Karen for allowing me the privilege of reading HOUSE OF DIAMONDS.

You can find Karen's books here at Amazon
and here at B&N

Also, House of Diamonds is available at the new online bookstore CeleryTree.com in all formats.

And there's a 2 for 1 sale! Preorder print book House of Diamonds from the publisher's website and get Uncut Diamonds for free!

23 comments:

Linda G. said...

Great interview! Karen, I love that picture of you. You look like a gorgeous, happy woman, at peace with herself. :)

Your books sound like real jewels. (Er, pardon the pun. I couldn't resist.)

KarenG said...

Anne, thank you for this lovely review and interview! And I'm giggling now at Linda G's comment :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You'll have to read the first book now, Anne! And glad no one yelled at you in K-Mart, Karen. Really, what sadder place to take a verbal lashing than K-Mart?

Liza said...

This strikes me as a poignant and truthful book. Thanks for the review Anne. Karen, I'm glad you had the strength to persevere in spite of all of the challenges, including writing group college professor, aka K-Mart jerk.

KarenG said...

And I'm so glad that Anne didn't put ME on the grill today :)

Anne Gallagher said...

Karen -- I would never do that. Not with a book like this.

Amie Borst said...

this was a really informative review. i liked how you were able to ask karen questions about the story (how many times do i wish i could ask an author questions about their books! Carrie Ryan, where are you???) and as a practicing mormon, i was glad that you were able to learn about my faith through this book!

Domey Malasarn said...

This was really interesting. Thanks for writing the review, Anne! The Mormon faith is something that intrigues me, and I always want to learn more about it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm amazed how much reality is in this book.

Amy Saia said...

This is a really nice review and interview. Like the person above said, it's amazing how honest Karen is with her writing. I read the first book, and I definitely need to read the second.

Lydia Kang said...

Wonderful review. I love that title, it really captures a particular feeling.

Old Kitty said...

Hello lovely KarenG and lovley Ann! Thank you for the interview and review of House of Diamonds. I never knew to such an extent how autobiographical the books are! I love how journal writing and keeping helped in fleshing out Uncut Diamond and House of Diamonds!

Take care
x

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Thanks for highlighting Karen's book. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Sarah Pearson said...

I really like the sound of this. I think I'll read the first one before this one though :-)

Helen Ginger said...

Great interview. It's so interesting to know how much a fiction book was based on real life. It sounds like a great read.

Talei said...

A lovely review and interview. It sounds fab, although I'm thinking 7 children?! * faints* ;-) Also love the titles of Karens books - quite catchy!

Pk Hrezo said...

Wow, I could totally relate to Marci too. Even tho I only have 2 kids. It sounds like a book any mom can relate to.. how we give up so much of our own dreams in order to sustain a family. It's sad, but often unavoidable.
Wonderful review!

Talli Roland said...

Thank you, ladies. I've read House of Diamonds, and I really enjoyed it. It's interesting to learn more about the story behind it.

Ann said...

Great review and wonderful interview ladies. I have read Uncut Diamonds and look forward to reading House of Diamonds!

Ann Best said...

This is a great review, Anne, and a fascinating interview with our friend Karen!
Ann Best, Memoir Author

Rebecca Bradley said...

A great an honest interview. Thank you both for sharing.

Marguerite said...

Great review and interview! It's always interesting to learn more about the author's intentions, and I am looking forward to reading it!

Anne Gallagher said...

Thank you all so much for stopping by.