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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wonderful Win: Willing Spirits

Willing Spirits by Phyllis Schieber

Publisher: Penguin

I won this book from Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelf. She was lucky enough to get to go to the BEA and has some great updates posted about the trip!

About the book: Both teachers in their forties, Jane Hoffman and Gwen Baker have a friendship that has helped them endure. It was Jane who looked after Gwen when her husband left her with two young sons to raise. And when Jane comes home one day unexpectedly and finds her husband in a shameless act of betrayal, she turns to Gwen for support.

Now, tested by additional personal crises, Jane and Gwen face new challenges as mothers, as daughters, as women. And in the process, they will learn unexpected truths about their friendship and themselves.

About the author: The first great irony of Phyllis Schieber’s life was that she was born in a Catholic hospital. Her parents, survivors of the Holocaust, had settled in the South Bronx among other new immigrants. The new mother was apparently so nervous she barely slept the entire time she was in the hospital, fearing her fair-skinned, blue-eyed newborn would be switched with another baby.

When Phyllis’s paternal grandfather, an observant Jew, came to see his newest granddaughter in the hospital, he was so uncertain of how to behave around the kindly nuns that he tipped his yarmulke to them each time one passed. It was in this haze of paranoia and neuroses, as well as black humor, that the makings of a writer were launched.

In the mid-Fifties, the Schieber family moved to Washington Heights, an Upper West Side enclave for German Jews, known as “Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson.” The area offered scenic views of the Hudson River and the Palisades, as well as access to Fort Tryon Park and to the cool and serene corridors of the Cloisters. Phyllis graduated from George Washington High School. Among its famous graduates was Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State (her grandmother played cards with his mother at the YMWHA on Nagle Avenue). By the Sixties, it was also the school where an undercover reporter was sent in to see how long it would take to buy drugs. The reporter succeeded the first day.

Phyllis graduated from high school at sixteen, went on to Bronx Community College, transferred to and graduated from Herbert H. Lehman College with a B.A. in English and a New York State license to teach English. She earned her M.A. in Literature from New York University and later her M.S. as a developmental specialist from Yeshiva University. She has worked as a high school English teacher and a special education teacher. She taught freshman composition at Iona College in New Rochelle and was a learning disabilities specialist at Seton College in Yonkers and Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.

Reading was always easy for her, both as an indulgence and as an escape. “I’m reading,” was an excuse her parents never challenged. Learning was paramount in their home. There were weekly trips to the library, and the greatly anticipated Friday afternoon story hour. Everything about words was at once mysterious and reasonable to Phyllis. She could make sense of the world if she put it on paper. She could even make the world better; people could become smarter and more attractive, and she could make them laugh and cry at her will. Writing was powerful. She thought in stories, answered questions in her head and added, “she said” at the end of the sentence. She still does.

Her first novel, Strictly Personal, for young adults, was published by Fawcett-Juniper. Willing Spirits was published by William Morrow. Her most recent novel, The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, will be published by Berkley Putnam on July 1, 2008. Shortly thereafter, Berkley Putnam will issue the first paperback publication of Willing Spirits.

Married and a mother, Phyllis Schieber lives in Hastings-on Hudson, New York. She works privately with students, teaching writing, and is currently working on a new novel. (author's information is from her website)

Willing Spirits
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin, March 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0-425-22585-1
292 pages

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