Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mailbox Monday, Oct 1

My Mailbox Monday this week is made up of some interesting indies and more 2013 releases.  Quite excited about the mix of styles, themes, and pretty covers!  To learn more about any book, click on a cover and the link will automatically open in a new tab/window.

What did you get?

For Review


A recommendation from my boss when I gushed to her about Beautiful Lies.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Reads and rainy days

It is my favorite kind of weekend -- allegedly quiet, possibly rainy -- so my reading queue is quite ambitious!

My girlfriends and I decided to have a bookish dinner together later this month, and after much discussion, we landed on Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal. My wife and our foodie friends are quite keen to replicate a 1940s, WWII, rationing-era dinner. Me, I'm just excited to dine by candlelight! So I'm starting this one over the weekend to get food ideas. I've also got Sarah Jio's Blackberry Winter -- my first time reading her but I know many, many folks loved her Violets of March. And finally, to shake things up, I'm also reading Ironskin by Tina Connolly (I love the cover!). What are you reading this weekend?

Thanks to all who weighed in last week on my blogging etiquette question.  My blogger friend decided to slightly alter her review: she mentioned that Author X is a pseudonym, but removed the author's identity -- and also added a note that she did so at the author's request.

Finally, one more request: I've heard that Feedburner is disappearing.  For folks that used Feedburner, what are you using instead?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Interview with Deborah Swift

Earlier this week I reviewed Deborah Swift's wonderfully visceral and delightfully dramatic Restoration-era historical novel The Gilded Lily. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Deborah Swift, so read on to learn more about her and her writing, and be sure to check out the international giveaway at the end!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

It was a macabre romantic novel written when I was a teenager about a farm girl that fell in love with a boy from a travelling fun-fair and left home to follow him around the country. It was pretty awful stuff, culminating in a fatal accident on the Waltzers! I kept it for ages under the bed gathering dust but finally threw it away when I realized how bad it was!

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I write every morning whilst my mind is uncluttered with other jobs. Although I have a laptop I like to write on my big old clunky computer. I always start the day with a large mug of tea. Always by me is a good supply of sharp pencils even though I hardly ever use them, and I mostly type. But I think I must be a stationary-aholic as I also have little notepads, paperclips, index markers, post-its and highlighters which I hardly ever use either!

Was The Gilded Lily the original title of your book?

The working title was The Eye of The Beholder when it was in a very early draft. One of the themes in the book is beauty, and what makes a person beautiful, and how we recognize beauty when we see it. Later on The Gilded Lily seemed a good name for the beauty business where Ella works, and in the novel I play with the idea that this might have been how the phrase became common in our language from the Shakespeare - that it was made famous by the establishment in my book. Of course it also refers to Ella, who is the gilded lily of the title. The name The Gilded Lily also keeps the flower theme, as my previous book The Lady’s Slipper was also the name of a flower. Now I can’t imagine it being called anything else.

As you were writing The Gilded Lily, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

A few of the scenes with Jay Whitgift surprised me. He is a person that keeps himself tightly guarded. But I’m not going to tell you anything about him because I hope he’ll surprise the reader too! I enjoyed writing the relationship between Jay, the young blood about town, and his father who is from a different era and does not realize how much the world has moved on.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I do quite a few physical things as they are a good antidote to sitting at a desk and writing. I enjoy walks in the country, Tai chi, Yoga. One of my more unusual hobbies is Taiko Drumming which is bashing away on very big Japanese drums. I’m in a Taiko performing group and it keeps me fit and it’s a great stress-reliever to put my ear plugs in and hammer away.

Read any good books recently?

I’m reading The Postmistress by Sarah Blake which I‘m loving. Before that I read Barbara Erskine’s Time’s Legacy, which is a time-slip novel set in Glastonbury that goes back to early Celtic Britain and the coming of the Romans – also an excellent read. Next on my list is A Gentleman of Fortune, a Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie mystery by Miss Anna Dean. I read the first one in the series and really liked its dry humour so I’m going back for more.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer one copy of The Gilded Lily to a lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 10/12.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fires of London by Janice Law

Title: Fires of London
Author: Janice Law

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / 1940s/ London / Historical Figure Fictionalized / LGBT / Murder Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Mysterious / Open Road Integrated Media (9/4/2012)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Loved!
Did I finish?: I raced through this one!
One-sentence summary: Painter Francis Bacon becomes a snitch for police during World War II when he's tangled in a series of crimes, from illegal gambling to murder.
Reading Challenges: E-books, Historical Fiction, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: I don't have strong feelings either way -- the sort of charcoal-y sketchiness of it is kind of evocative of an artist's quick rendition.

I'm reminded of...: Nicola Upson

First line: "Got a light?" I asked the bulky man silhouetted against the gray night sky and the faint glimmer of the Serpentine.

Do... I love the article the author wrote about why she wrote this novel?: YES. She answers, in her own words, " a reserved, virtually teetotaling old lady from rural Connecticut, who, incidentally, just celebrated her fiftieth wedding anniversary, came to write about that gay, promiscuous, thoroughly urban, alcoholic genius, Francis Bacon." YUM!

Did... I spend a bunch of time researching Francis Bacon's art while reading?: YES. And I was reminded of why he's not on the top of my list of favorite artists -- his stuff is creeeeepy!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is an unusual angle for a WWII novel, so I think that will appeal -- and I love the combination of LGBT fiction and murder mystery.

Why did I get this book?: I was intrigued by this unusual spin on the WWII murder mystery.

Review: Thankfully, I don't mind when historical figures are wrangled into improbable fictions, and in this case, I loved watching Francis Bacon slum it and fight crime in World War II London.

Bacon, a crazy surrealist modernist painter who totally creepies me out (warning: painting is wicked disturbing!), is the narrator of this quick, dirty, exciting murder mystery set in the 1940s. An asthmatic, Bacon was unfit for service and instead worked for the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), doing rounds in London during the Blitz, ensuring blackout conditions were observed. Those dark nights, when his duties were completed, he would indulge in a quick pickup at a local park with an anonymous man. Living with his beloved nanny -- near blind, but sharp as a tack -- Bacon was kept in painting supplies thanks to his married lover, a local alderman, with whom he ran an illegal roulette parlor now and then for extra cash. 

Naturally inclined toward trouble with a strong disinterest in police, Bacon nonetheless finds himself forced to work with a local cop when he continues to stumble upon murdered men in his neighborhood.  With the Blitz killing many indiscriminately, the pointed murders provoke additional fear in Bacon and his circle of acquaintances.

I don't know much about Bacon other than having a passing awareness of his art, so I can't say whether Law's articulation of him is accurate or irreverent. I loved him -- he was wry and self-deprecating, quick and clever and kind of sketchy, bold and dirty and observant -- and he was a fascinating narrator for a World War II/London Blitz murder mystery. Through Bacon, Law's writing is pretty and poignant, artistic without feeling contrived. I had something like ten pages of bookmarks for a 179-page story -- I couldn't stop noting lines I loved, like this one, from about midway, when Bacon helps a crew of men dig rubble off someone after one of the nightly bombings.

The dog dived toward the cavity newly opened in the mess of brick and timber before raising an eerie howl. Strange how effortlessly expressive animals are, while we hairless beasts must struggle over canvass and paints and the English language. (p73-74)

For those who care, there's lots of implied gay sex but nothing overt; still, I felt deliciously seedy while reading. I raced through this one and would have loved it if it were twice or three times the length; hell, I'd love it if this became a series. I so liked Bacon, that rascal, dapper and damaged. Whether 'accurate' to the historical figure or not, Law's Bacon is a character I already miss.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Fires of London to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 10/12.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift

Title: The Gilded Lily
Author: Deborah Swift

Genre: Fiction (Historical / UK / 17th Century / London / Sibling Relationships / Criminal Activity / Intrigue / Social Climbing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Pan Macmillan (9/13/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked to love!
Did I finish?: I did -- raced through this one in two nights!
One-sentence summary: Two sisters in Restoration London struggle to avoid arrest, freezing to death, and other challenges in this evocative historical novel.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- I don't hate it but it's just sort of ambigu-historical.

I'm reminded of...: Lynn Cullen, Sandra Gulland

First line: Anyone else would probably scream -- woken in the night like that, with a hand clamped over the mouth in the pitch black.

Do... I love that the author offers writer retreats at her house in a historical village in Lancaster, UK?: YES. It makes me wish I had a novel in the works and the funds to escape!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy!

Why did I get this book?: I'd heard nothing but raves about Swift's first novel, The Lady's Slipper.

Review: Set in the 1660s, the story follows Ella and Sadie Appleby, girls from rural England who flee to London after a tragedy with Ella's employer, and there they find themselves struggling to survive. Restoration London for these two is dark, dank, dirty, and exhausting, and Swift's writing made the grime, fog, and muck all too real. (I wanted to shower every time I put the book down!)

Ella -- beautiful and bold -- gets a job as a sales girl at an unusual ladies boutique called The Gilded Lily. Sadie, marked with a noticeable birthmark on her face, remains cloistered in their rented room as relatives of Ella's dead employer search London for them. Ella becomes enamored of her new employer and her increasing status as a London icon, while Sadie bristles at being trapped -- literally, as Ella locks her away to keep her sister from being tempted out into public, risking capture.

I was immediately grabbed by this book -- the novel opens with a bang -- and Ella and Sadie are fascinating characters. Swift shows their complicated relationship -- selfish Ella, shy Sadie -- and I liked both of them a good deal (even Ella, who did some rather despicable things!). There's intrigue and scandal -- this is Restoration England -- but instead of royal mistresses, The Gilded Lily features common women scrabbling for fame and fortune, safety, some measure of comfort.

One of the things I loved about this book was Swift's use of dialogue. She used what I presume were historical phrases and slang -- at times a little surprising, but I was able to guess the meaning through context -- and I appreciated that never once did the story, or the characters, sound anachronistic. (Or worse, my pet peeve, overly Shakespearean or classical.) I should note I'm reading the UK edition of this book; I don't know if the dialogue will be 'Americanized' for the US edition (I hope not.).

I also appreciated the focus on sisters - sibling relationships in historical fiction is always fun -- and the seedy focus of the story. (It is, however, pretty low on the risque factor, to my surprise.) I was initially apprehensive when I heard this was a follow up to Swift's first novel, The Lady's Slipper, as I hadn't read it, but from the author's note at the end of the book, it seems the main character of that book is a peripheral figure in this one.

At more than 460 pages, this is a chunky historical that raced, with enough intrigue and distinctive characters to keep me glued to the pages. A fun read especially if royal romances aren't your kind of historical.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer one copy of The Gilded Lily to a lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 10/12. For another chance to enter, be sure to check out my interview with Deborah Swift.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara

Title: Cascade
Author: Maryanne O'Hara

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / 1940s / New England / Berkshires / Marriages / Domestic Fiction / Artistic Ambitions / Love Triangle / WWII / Great Depression / Small Town Life)
Publisher/Publication Date: Viking (8/16/2012)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did -- but I lingered. No rushing through this one!
One-sentence summary: During WWII, a married artist in a small Massachusetts town finds herself struggling to keep her identity as her town faces possible destruction.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z, E-books, Historical Fiction, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover. It is stunning. Go ahead, click for the hi-res version. Stunning.

I'm reminded of...: Karin Altenberg, April Bernard, Rosalind Brackenbury

First line: During his final days, William Hart was haunted by drowning dreams.

Do... I love the author's playlist for the novel?: YES. Wonderfully vintage-y, moody, and all linked up on Spotify!

Do... I love that the author's signed bookplates are styled to resemble postcards?: YES! The heroine's leap to fame is due to her series of postcards from Cascade.

Do... I love the photos the author uploaded on GoodReads that relate to this novel?: YES. From real life inspiration to background on the book's trailer, it's a wonderfully evocative collection.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- I finished this nearly a month ago and can't shake it.

Why did I get this book?: The cover -- oh, the cover.

Review: It is 1934 in Cascade, Massachusetts, a small town in the western part of the state. Picturesque, bucolic, it was once a thriving summer vacation spot, with a gorgeous Shakespearean theater managed by the big-hearted, passionate William Hart. Then the crash happened, the Depression hit, and like everywhere in the U.S., Cascade started going through hard times.

For Desdemona Hart Spaulding, talented daughter of William, her sacrifice to survive came in exchange for her happiness. An artist who trained in Boston and New York City, she married Cascade-native Asa Spaulding, a mild pharmacist who wanted nothing more than to settle down and have many babies. Dez, afraid for her ailing father and his now-shuttered theater, married in hopes of saving what she could -- her remaining family -- only to lose that two months later. Against that bitter loss came additional heartbreak: that Cascade was in competition with another small town to be leveled for a reservoir. Just when things couldn't possibly make Dez's life more agonizing, she meets Jacob Solomon, a Jewish artist who evokes in her deep passion and reminds her of the life she once thought she'd live.

This is the novel's opening -- we learn all this in the first few chapters. This gutting, beautiful, emotional setting spills into a story far more complicated and rich than I initially thought. I anticipated a historical novel with a love triangle; and there is that, the history, and the triangle, but there's more, too. There's the conflict of obligation to one's self, one's family, one's reputation, one's hometown; the very real march of progress and of war. In small town Cascade, one's reputation is a major currency, and Dez, Asa, and Jacob all feel the brunt of their town's changing and shifting opinion of them.

There's tragedy and betrayal and romance on a Shakespearean scale, and Dez is a complicated, maddening, honorable, childish, and beautiful heroine. I liked her and felt angry with her in equal part, but O'Hara wrote Dez so well that even when I wanted to shake her, I still wanted to hug her. I appreciated where her choices came from; I felt like I really knew her.

This is a historical novel of place -- a small-town during the Depression, a beloved landmark in danger of destruction -- and a romance -- star-crossed lovers -- as well as a snapshot of wartime America in the '30s and '40s -- national prejudices, fears, patriotism, the New Deal. O'Hara's writing is beautiful -- simple and sparse, but not thin -- and I lingered over this novel because I was so unwilling for it to end. This is O'Hara's first novel and it has ensured I am going to be a slavish fangirl of hers.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mailbox Monday, Sept 24

This week's (early) Mailbox Monday (hosted in September at BookNAround) is a diverse and interesting collection of arrivals. The 2013 releases are starting to come in -- kind of crazy to think that the new year is approaching!

To learn more about any book, click on a cover and the link will automatically open in a new tab/window.

What did you get?

For Review


Won from Austen Authors

Thanks to Nancy at 2012 - The Year in Books

Saturday, September 22, 2012


I totally and completely forgot to draw winners for the giveaways that ended last week, so here's a big ole winner post.

The winner of Summer of the Dancing Bear is ... Anna of Diary of an Eccentric!

The winner of Blood Eye is ... J.L. S.!

The winner of The Mirrored World is ... Heather of The Maiden's Court!

The winner of Lucky Bastard is ... Christina of A Reader of Fictions!

Congrats to the winners!  Everyone has been emailed and I'll redraw if I don't hear back from folks in about 48 hours or so (or whenever I remember).  If you didn't win, be sure to check out my current giveaways -- and as always, I have plenty more coming!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Reads and blogging etiquette

Happy Friday!  It's like November here all of a sudden, all grey and rainy, which makes me want strong tea and thick books, and I'm a bit sad I'm at work.  Le sigh.  I plan to hole up all weekend though.  I'm reading a lot of historical fiction: The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift (1660s, girls run away to London!) and The Map of Lost Memories: A Novel by Kim Fay (1920s treasure hunters!).  What are you reading this weekend?

I've got a blogging etiquette question to bounce off all of you.  A blogger friend posed this query to me, and she and I came up with one solution, but we both realized we don't know what prevailing attitudes might be, so...what do you think? 

Blogging friend reviewed a book by Author A, and upon going to Author A's website, noticed the author picture on the website was the same picture for Author X.  Blogger realized that Author A is a pseudonym for Author X, and said so in her review.  Author A/X emailed the blogger to say that it isn't public info that she's writing under a pseudonym, and would blogger remove that tidbit?  My thinking is that if the author is using the same photo of herself for both author names, it isn't that much of a secret -- but as blogger friend and I agreed, we wouldn't necessarily want to alienate the author or publisher by being bratty.  What would you recommend?  Capitulate and remove mention of discovering the pseudonym?  Refuse?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark

Title: Beautiful Lies
Author: Clare Clark

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1880s / UK / Marriage / Domestic Fiction / Skeletons in the Closet / Victoriana / Political Thriller / London / Socialism / Photography)
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (9/18/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooooooved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The exotic wife of a radical MP has to keep quiet the secrets of her past while honoring her desire for artistic exploration and recognition.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Victorian

Do I like the cover?: I luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurve it. I want a print of it. Might be my most favorite cover of the year so far.

I'm reminded of...: Jane Harris, Sadie Jones, Ami McKay

First line: The room was dark.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I think this is going to be a 'buy' -- it's big, and chunky and needs to be savored, and I suspect might even be a reread for some! (It will be for me!)

Why did I get this book?: Because despite being a hist fic fan, I've somehow never read Clark yet!

Review: Words always fail when I'm really in love with a novel; a problem made worse when the novel in question is written in lush, lovely, dense, tangled, photographic, poetic prose. How do I compete?? Here's my try:

Set in the late 1880s, the novel follows Maribel Campbell Lowe, a stunning foreign beauty who smokes too much (in an era when only 'loose women' smoked!), is married to a radical Member of Parliament who supports socialism and reform, who yearns for the passion and inspiration that comes from an artistic life while performing her social obligations as an MP's wife.

Inspired by a real life couple, Robert Cunninghame Graham (who was the first socialist MP) and his wife Gabriela Cunninghame Graham, Clark's novel is hefty and rich, loaded with historical details about a Victorian London I'm unfamiliar with. Buffalo Bill Cody and his entourage are visiting, loaded with tons of gravel and rocks to replicate the Rocky Mountains in their performances. Queen Victoria's Jubilee is underway. The government and public are wrestling with suffrage, the right to assemble, the values they wish to embody -- and legalize -- while remaining safe.

Initially, I had a hard time getting into the book -- the novel opens with a game of charades, with our heroine and other side characters -- but within forty pages or so, I was hooked. Maribel has a secret, and I wanted to know what it was.

Clark's writing style is ... amazing. I'm prone to hyperbole, I know, and I'm pretty gushy in most of my reviews, so what do I mean by 'amazing'? The narrative is meaty, with flavor -- wry, sarcastic, dry, historical, detailed, emotional -- and the characters confusingly human. There's so much loaded into every sentence, but I wasn't aware of reading.

I was reminded of An Ideal Husband -- especially the lovely 1999 film version with Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett (those dresses and hairstyles, the clever repartee and layers of secrets!) -- and I admit it: I want this to be a BBC miniseries stat. Maribel moves in Wilde's circle, so the connection was likely intentional, and I'm sure there's numerous nods to literary and artistic influences of the era that I missed but others might see.

This is historical fiction for anyone who hates romantic historical novels -- there's a strong current of love here, but it's not a bodice ripper -- and those who enjoy savoring strong women, strong writing, strong setting will be very, very happy to dig in.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Beautiful Lies to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only (sorry!). Ends 10/5. For another entry, check out my interview with Clare Clark.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Bookie’s Son by Andrew Goldstein

Title: The Bookie’s Son
Author: Andrew Goldstein

Genre: Fiction (New York City / Bronx / 1960s / Jewish-American / Family Saga / Coming-of-Age / Criminal Underworld / Family Conflict / Parental Conflict / First Sexual Encounter)
Publisher/Publication Date: (sixoneseven) books (5/1/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: In the summer of 1960, Bronx-native Ricky Davis confronts his father's involvement with the criminal underworld when he tries to earn enough money to pay of their family's debt.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it was designed by the author's son and is quite evocative of the novel's mood, setting, and family focus.

First line: The day started uneventfully.

Am... I in swoons over discovering a new publisher?: YES -- especially because this is, I presume, a local press. 617 is the area code for Boston and I'm tickled by their name!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like NYC as a character, strong family narratives, coming-of-age stories, and conflict over family and loyalty.

Why did I get this book?: I love coming-of-age stories

Review: This is a devastating novel of a place, and an era -- the Bronx, 1960s -- and a young man's coming-of-age among horrifying violence. Ricky Davis, facing his Bar Mitzvah, has a crush on a Catholic girl in his building. His father, a dress cutter and part-time bookie, owes money to a local mobster, and one mistake after another leads to the family spiraling into real danger.

Ricky wants, of course, to make things better. He loves -- and fears -- his passionate, beautiful parents, a striking couple meant for better things, perhaps, but caught by real life. He tries to figure out how to make enough money to pay off his family's debt to the mobster so his parents can be happy again. He's encouraged by his rabbi to meditate on what it is to become a man, but Ricky faces challenges most adults don't have to grapple with.

Goldstein's writing is brisk, evocative; I raced through this book -- cringing, at times, because of the violence featured or sexual experiences of young Ricky (neither of which are gratuitous, and feel appropriate to the story) -- because I wanted to know how the Davis' would survive. At the heart of this book is family, and despite their dysfunction, Goldstein made me love them.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Bookie’s Son to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 10/5.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Enchantment by Thaisa Frank Short Story Discussion

In 2010, Thaisa Frank's historical novel, Heidegger's Glasses, made my top ten favorite reads for that year. When Serena of Savvy Verse and Wit invited me to participate in a readalong of Frank's new short story collection, I had to say yes. (Been dying for Frank's next work!)

We're discussing one of Frank's stories today, "The Mapmaker", if you'd like to pop by; I'll be reviewing this volume later this month. (So far, I'm in love.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Love, in Theory by E. J. Levy

Title: Love, in Theory
Author: E. J. Levy

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Relationships / Midwest / Single Women / Divorces / LGBT / Weddings / University Life)
Publisher/Publication Date: University of Georgia Press (9/15/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved, in reality, not theory.
Did I finish?: I did, and I reread about half the stories!
One-sentence summary: Ten short stories on love, loss, and everything in between.

Do I like the cover?: I looooove the cover -- it's kind of like a mock flow chart identifying the various themes

I'm reminded of...: Aislinn Hunter, Tara L. Masih,

First line: It's not like we believed that they were the sons of God or anything, but for a while (before Dr. Davidson and all the publicity, before it became a story, when we were still just folks caught up in the mystery of the thing), we felt kind of special -- chosen, you might say -- to be host to the three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota., from 'The Three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is marvelously crafted fiction, tight and emotional, pretty and captivating.

Why did I get this book?: The title -- I love it so -- and Levy was award the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction which seemed very promising!

Review: You know how when you meet someone, and you immediately decide they're a total snob and you hate their guts, and then you spend more time with them and you realize you were totally wrong and this person is actually wildly cool, and now you've got to backpedal to all your friends about how that person is actually not as awful as you originally said...? Well, that's exactly my experience with this book.

On Friday I blogged about how I was kind of on the fence about this book because there's adultery and a lesbian who falls for a married man, and I definitely had my eyeballs rolling as I opened the first page. Ooops.

I loved this collection. (Not in theory, either, but for real.)

Every story was like, I don't know, something delectable and redolent. Be it a piece of chocolate or a slice of cake or a gorgeous aria -- Levy's writing sucked me in from the first line and I wanted to savor her stories, linger with them.

The characters felt real, immediately, their emotional state familiar and resonant, and their challenges and conflicts achingly, uncomfortably articulated. In the much feared 'Theory of Dramatic Action', with the lesbian and married man, I found a character I could relate to and understand, and a poignant situation that made me tear up a little. The volume's opening story, 'The Best Way Not to Freeze', about a woman's first real love, was so good I read it twice, then read it to my wife, then to a friend. After that, when I started reading 'The Three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota' to my wife, she just took the volume from my hands to inhale on her own. (I raced through this book in one night, then reread almost all the stories over the following two days.)

I have to stop saying I dislike short fiction because clearly, I do like it. These snapshots of relationships, of people, of emotional landscapes are as satisfying as a chunky novel. Maybe more so -- they're like the first bite of a fabulous meal. You want the taste to linger, but it disappears. The next story, the next bite, is just as intriguing. The only perk is, after glutting myself on Levy's book, I still wanted more.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Reads and it's short

Oddly enough, this is like my Short Fiction Weekend -- my Friday/weekend reads this week are two short story collections.  The first is Love, in Theory: Ten Stories by E.J. Levy, which, I'll be honest, I'm a bit nervous about because one of the themes is adultery, and we know what a baby I am about that. The other collection is Enchantment: New and Selected Stories by Thaisa Frank which I'm very excited about -- I adored Frank's novel, Heidegger's Glasses, and I'm participating in a group read/discussion of stories from Enchantment, hosted by Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit.

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

As It Is On Earth by Peter M. Wheelwright

Title: As It Is On Earth
Author: Peter M. Wheelwright

Genre: Fiction ( 1990s / 2000s / Academia / Family Saga / New England / University Life / Coming-of-Age )
Publisher/Publication Date: Fornite Books (9/13/2012)
Source: Author

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: In the last months of 1999, a 30-something New England professor

Do I like the cover?: I do -- nature and the New England landscape feature heavily in this novel.

I'm reminded of...: Cass Dalglish, Hans Koning, Sena Jeter Naslund

First line: There is an old story that a Bible was found in a wall cavity at a former Dominican Nunnery in San Cristobal de las Casas, State of Chiapas, Mexico.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like poetic, mystical family fiction, a strong sense of place, philosophical ruminations and mundane concerns twisted together.

Why did I get this book?: The setting -- New England -- and the focus on family, legacy, love, and identity was too tempting to resist!

Review: Set in the fall of 1999, the novel is narrated by Taylor Thatcher. Maine-born, Mayflower-descended, Taylor is 30, a professor at a university in Hartford, Connecticut. In the last months of 1999, Taylor's mundane life is oriented around academia -- a conference he's organizing, classes he's teaching -- while his emotional life dances back-and-forth between ignoring and embracing his family's history, familial secrets, emotional scars, and unacknowledged desires.

The danger of such narrow, selfish focus is that if our hero is unappealing, the hundreds of pages spent with him can be agony. In this case, thankfully, Taylor Thatcher is an interesting, sympathetic, maddening figure. I can't say I liked him necessarily but I didn't dislike him; I found his love and hate of place and family resonant, real, inviting, and off-putting.

There's good reason for Taylor's confused, complicated introspection. Taylor's younger brother, Bingham, shares his birthday, and a tangled connection -- Bin is technically his half-brother, and half-cousin, too. Taylor's mother and Bin's mother were sisters. Taylor's father, small town doctor and deacon at the local church, was a scion of the community, an alcoholic, perhaps a swinging adulterer as well. Taylor's ex-girlfriend has just returned to Hartford, pregnant and engaged, and a grad student Taylor hoped would date his brother is a woman he himself is intrigued by. A historian, Taylor's interest in the philosophical developments that shaped the study of science is reflected in his meditations on New England religiosity, the things we inherit from family, and the wounds from childhood that never heal.

It takes a little bit of time to sort everyone out. It isn't that they're indistinct but with Wheelwright's prose -- Thatcher's reticence to name things -- it can be unclear what we've just learned. Wait - is she transgender? Are they sleeping together? Echoing Thatcher's own intentional obfuscation and confusion, perhaps; and once I allowed myself to just wait for the reveal, I didn't mind constantly being surprised by the revelations shared.

In terms of plot, not much happens, technically, but it's Taylor's rich inner world and Wheelwright's poetic merging of grim family skeletons and philosophical ruminations that made this so delicious. Often, I thought I knew where a thread was going only to be surprised by the deft way Wheelwright knotted things up.  (See my Teaser Tuesday for a lovely example of Wheelwright's writing style.) I described this to a friend as a kind of coming-of-age novel -- even though Taylor is 30, he's finally growing up, facing some hard truths, learning to let go of old hurts and secrets -- and I was surprised to find that, upon finishing this book, I missed Taylor and his family.

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I'm thrilled to offer a signed copy of As It Is On Earth to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 10/5.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with S.G. Browne

Earlier in the month I read S.G. Browne's hilarious and zippy Lucky Bastard, a wry and breakneck novel about a man who can literally steal a person's luck. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Browne, so read on to learn more about him and his book, and be sure to enter my giveaway for a copy of Lucky Bastard!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

The first short story I wrote for my creative writing class in college was about a college student who is halfway through writing a short story for his creative writing class that’s due the next day when his computer crashes, taking his story with it. (This was back in 1988, when hardly anyone owned a computer and there were no flash drives and everything was saved on 5 ¼ inch floppies.) So the main character borrows a typewriter and tries to recreate his story but grows frustrated and ends up making the fatal proclamation that he’d do anything to get his computer working again. Naturally he turns on the TV, comes across a commercial for computer repair, and ends up signing a contract with the repairman, whose name is Bill Zebub. (Yes, my computer died while I was working on my short story that was due the next day, so I ended up typing up the aforementioned story on an electric typewriter I borrowed from a friend.)

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I used to have a routine but now I like to mix things up. Sometimes I’ll work at home on my desktop, other times I’ll sit on my couch with my laptop or take my laptop to my local cafĂ©. In an ideal world I’ll write from 8-11am and then take a break for some exercise and lunch then come back and write for another 2-3 hours, but for the most part I just try to get 4-6 hours a day.

Was Lucky Bastard the original title of your book?

My first two novels are titled Breathers and Fated, so I originally planned on sticking with the single word titles and calling it Lucky. But then my agent asked me what I thought about Lucky Bastard and I realized two words were better than one.

As you were writing Lucky Bastard, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I have to be a bit vague so I don’t give away any spoilers, but I was surprised by the scene where Nick Monday first enters the Starlight Room atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and meets the woman in the bar. I don’t plot out my stories but discover them as I write, so when she introduces herself at the end of the chapter, I realized my story was getting a little more complicated.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I’m a fan of books and movies but don’t get to spend much time indulging in either when I’m working on a project, so I’ll dive into a good book or go on a movie binge. I also enjoy getting out on my bicycle and spending as much time at the beach as I can manage.

Read any good books recently?

SacrĂ© Bleu by Christopher Moore. I’m a fan of Moore and loved his latest, but it ruined the next two books I attempted to read because they couldn’t measure up.

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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Lucky Bastard to one lucky (ha!) reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 9/21.