Category Archives: beach books

The Best of August Reads

It’s the beginning of a new month, and that means Bookmagnet selects the best works of fiction for the month.  As far as the book world goes, it looks like August will be a wonderful month!

To Pick Up Now

July 30 from Ballantine Books

night of the cometFrom the acclaimed author of Letter to My Daughter comes an engrossing coming-of-age tale that deftly conveys the hopes and heartaches of adolescence and the unfulfilled dreams that divide a family, played out against the backdrop of a small southern town in 1973.
For his fourteenth birthday, Alan Broussard, Jr., receives a telescope from his father, a science teacher at the local high school who’s eagerly awaiting what he promises will be the astronomical event of the century: the coming of Comet Kohoutek. For Alan Broussard, Sr.—frustrated in his job, remote from his family—the comet is a connection to his past and a bridge to his son, with whom he’s eager to share his love for the stars.
But the only heavenly body Junior has any interest in is his captivating new neighbor and classmate, Gabriella Martello, whose bedroom sits within eyeshot of his telescope’s lens. Meanwhile, his mother, Lydia, sees the comet—and her husband’s obsession with it—as one more thing that keeps her from the bigger, brighter life she once imagined for herself far from the swampy environs of Terrebonne, Louisiana. With Kohoutek drawing ever closer, the family begins to crumble under the weight of expectations, until a startling turn of events will leave both father and son much less certain about the laws that govern their universe.  Illuminating and unforgettable, The Night of the Comet is a novel about the perils of growing up, the longing for connection, and the idea that love and redemption can be found among the stars.

August 1 from Riverhead Books

Juan Gabriel Vásquez has been hailed not only as one of South America’s greatest literary stars, but also as one of the most the soundacclaimed writers of his generation. In this gorgeously wrought, award-winning novel, Vásquez confronts the history of his home country, Colombia. In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar’s Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above. Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend’s murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend’s family have been shaped by his country’s recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare. Vásquez is “one of the most original new voices of Latin American literature,” according to Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, and The Sound of Things Falling is his most personal, most contemporary novel to date, a masterpiece that takes his writing—and will take his literary star—even higher.

Coming Soon

August 5 from W.W. Norton & Company

brewster

The year is 1968, a year after the summer of love and the peak of the Vietnam War. The world is changing, and sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher is determined to change with it. Racked by guilt over his older brother’s childhood death, Jon turns his rage into victories running track. When he meets Ray Cappicciano, a local legend in the making, a rebel as gifted with his fists as Jon is with his feet, he recognizes a friendship with the potential to save him. Realizing that Ray needs saving too, Jon sets off on the race of his life–a race to redeem his past and save them both. Reverberating with compassion, heartache, and grace, Brewster is sure to remind readers of Andre Dubus III and Richard Russo.

August 6 from Simon & Schuster

Sisters Natalie and Alice Kessler were close, until adolescence wrenched them apart. Natalie is headstrong, manipulative—and gravity of birdsbeautiful; Alice is a dreamer who loves books and birds. During their family’s summer holiday at the lake, Alice falls under the thrall of a struggling young painter, Thomas Bayber, in whom she finds a kindred spirit. Natalie, however, remains strangely unmoved, sitting for a family portrait with surprising indifference. But by the end of the summer, three lives are shattered.  Decades later, Bayber, now a reclusive, world-renowned artist, unveils a never-before-seen work, Kessler Sisters—a provocative painting depicting the young Thomas, Natalie, and Alice. Bayber asks Dennis Finch, an art history professor, and Stephen Jameson, an eccentric young art authenticator, to sell the painting for him. That task becomes more complicated when the artist requires that they first locate Natalie and Alice, who seem to have vanished. And Finch finds himself wondering why Thomas is suddenly so intent on resurrecting the past.  In The Gravity of Birds histories and memories refuse to stay buried; in the end only the excavation of the past will enable its survivors to love again.

August 6 from Bloomsbury USA

heliumOn November 1st 1984, a day after the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a nineteen-year-old student travels back from a class trip with his mentor and chemistry teacher, Professor Singh. As the group disembark at Delhi station a mob surrounds the professor, throws a tire over him, douses him in gasoline and sets him alight.


Years later the student, Raj, is compelled to find his professor’s widow, the beautiful Nelly. As the two walk through the misty mountains of Shimla, Nelly comes up against a nation in denial, Raj faces the truth about his father’s role in the Sikh massacre and they both find the path leads back to the train station. Jaspreet Singh crafts an affecting and important story of a largely untouched moment in Indian memory.

August 6 from Simon & Schuster

The most authoritative account ever written of how an ordinary juvenile delinquent named Charles Manson became the notorious mansonmurderer whose crimes still shock and horrify us today.  More than forty years ago Charles Manson and his mostly female commune killed nine people, among them the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. It was the culmination of a criminal career that author Jeff Guinn traces back to Manson’s childhood. Guinn interviewed Manson’s sister and cousin, neither of whom had ever previously cooperated with an author. Childhood friends, cellmates, and even some members of the Manson Family have provided new information about Manson’s life. Guinn has made discoveries about the night of the Tate murders, answering unresolved questions, such as why one person on the property where the murders occurred was spared.  Manson puts the killer in the context of his times, the turbulent late sixties, an era of race riots and street protests when authority in all its forms was under siege. Guinn shows us how Manson created and refined his message to fit the times, persuading confused young women (and a few men) that he had the solutions to their problems. At the same time he used them to pursue his long-standing musical ambitions, relocating to Los Angeles in search of a recording contract. His frustrated ambitions, combined with his bizarre race-war obsession, would have lethal consequences as he convinced his followers to commit heinous murders on successive nights.  In addition to stunning revelations about Charles Manson, the book contains family photographs never before published.

August 6 from Bloomsbury USA

crooked maidVienna, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of de-Nazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.  Anna Beer returns to the city she fled nine years earlier after discovering her husband’s infidelity. She has come back to find him and, perhaps, to forgive him. Traveling on the same train from Switzerland is 18-year-old Robert Seidel, a schoolboy summoned home to his stepfather’s sickbed and the secrets of his family’s past.  As Anna and Robert navigate an unrecognizable city, they cross paths with a war-widowed American journalist, a hunchbacked young servant girl, and a former POW whose primary purpose is to survive by any means and to forget. Meanwhile, in the shells of burned-out houses and beneath the bombed-out ruins, a ghost of a man, his head wrapped in a red scarf, battles demons from his past and hides from a future deeply uncertain for all.  In The Crooked Maid, Dan Vyleta returns to the shadows of war-darkened Vienna, proving himself once again “a magical storyteller, master of the macabre.”

August 6 from William Morrow Books

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of ghost brideMalacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.  Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.  After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy–including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets–and the truth about her own family–before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

August 6 from Doubleday

rathbonesA literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark’s gothic debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty.  Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving member: a young girl, left to live in the broken-down ancestral mansion that at one time had glowed golden with the spoils of the hunt.  Mercy, fifteen years old, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbone clan. Her father, the last in the dynasty of New England whalers, has been lost at sea for seven years-ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy’s memories of her father and of the time before he left grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive Uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and navigation through his collection of moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night on the widow’s walk, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the house and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family.  Inspired by The Odyssey and infused with beautifully detailed descriptions of the realities of coastal and ship life reminiscent of Moby Dick, Janice Clark’s magnificent debut is a spellbinding literary adventure.

August 6 from Simon & Schuster

“Behind every subtle gesture, this novel shimmers with a deep and complex history. Snow Hunters is a beautiful and moving meditation on a solitary life.”  –Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto

In this elegant, haunting, and highly anticipated debut novel from 5 Under 35 National Book Foundation honoree Paul Yoon, a snow huntersNorth Korean war refugee confronts the wreckage of his past. With spare, evocative prose, Snow Hunters traces the extraordinary journey of Yohan, who defects from his country at the end of the war, leaving his friends and family behind to seek a new life in a port town on the coast of Brazil.  Though he is a stranger in a strange land, throughout the years in this town, four people slip in and out of Yohan’s life: Kiyoshi, the Japanese tailor for whom he works, and who has his own secrets and a past he does not speak of; Peixe, the groundskeeper at the town church; and two vagrant children named Santi and Bia, a boy and a girl, who spend their days in the alleyways and the streets of the town. Yohan longs to connect with these people, but to do so he must sift through his traumatic past so he might let go and move on.  In Snow Hunters, Yoon proves that love can dissolve loneliness; that hope can wipe away despair; and that a man who has lost a country can find a new home. This is a heartrending story of second chances, told with unerring elegance and absolute tenderness.

August 13 from Doubleday

color masterThe bestselling author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake returns with a wondrous collection of dreamy, strange, and magical stories.  In this collection, Bender’s unique talents sparkle brilliantly in stories about people searching for connection through love, sex, and family—while navigating the often painful realities of their lives. A traumatic event unfolds when a girl with flowing hair of golden wheat appears in an apple orchard, where a group of people await her. A woman plays out a prostitution fantasy with her husband and finds she cannot go back to her old sex life. An ugly woman marries an ogre and struggles to decide if she should stay with him after he mistakenly eats their children. Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds.  In these deeply resonant stories—evocative, funny, beautiful, and sad—we see ourselves reflected as if in a funhouse mirror. Aimee Bender has once again proven herself to be among the most imaginative, exciting, and intelligent writers of our time.

August 13 from Doubleday

Readers of exciting, challenging and visionary literary fiction-including admirers of Norman Rush’s Mating, Ann Patchett’s State people in the treesof Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and Peter Matthiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord-will be drawn to this astonishingly gripping and accomplished first novel. A decade in the writing, this is an anthropological adventure story that combines the visceral allure of a thriller with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide. It is a book that instantly catapults Hanya Yanagihara into the company of young novelists who really, really matter.  In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub “The Dreamers,” who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences.

August 13 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

all the landA strange and powerful landscape summons strange and powerful happenings.  Rick Bass brings a lyrical lushness to the harsh backdrop of West Texas in his masterfully crafted fourth novel. All the Land to Hold Us is a sweeping tale of those who live on the desert’s edge, where riches—precious artifacts, oil, water, love—can all be found and lost again in an instant.  Roaming across the salt flats and skirting the salt lake, Richard, a geologist working for an oil company, hunts for fossils under the spell of Clarissa, the local beauty who plans to use her share of their plunder to get out of small, dusty Midland for good. A generation earlier, a Depression-era couple, Max and Marie Omo, numbly mines for salt along the banks of the briny lake until the emotional terrain of their marriage is suddenly and irrevocably altered. The strange, surreal arrival of a runaway circus elephant, careening across the sand, sets in motion Marie’s final break from Max and heralds the beginning of her second chance. Consequences reverberate through the years and the dunes when Marie becomes indelibly linked to Richard’s own second act.  With a cast of characters rounded out by a one-legged-treasure-hunter, a renegade teacher, and an unforgettable elephant trainer, All the Land to Hold Us is a vivid portrait of a fierce place and the inimitable characters that possess the capacity to adapt to and also despoil it. The novel boasts all the hallmarks of Bass’s most enduring work—human longing and greed, nature endangered, and the possibility for redemption are all writ large on his desert canvas.

August 20 from Atria Books

From the acclaimed author of Schindler’s List, the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters from Australia, both trained nurses, daughters of marswhose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the first World War. In 1915, two spirited Australian sisters join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their father’s farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Used to tending the sick as they are, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front.  Yet amid the carnage, Naomi and Sally Durance become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger, as well as the hostility they encounter from some on their own side. There is great bravery, humor, and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the remarkable women they serve alongside. In France, where Naomi nurses in a hospital set up by the eccentric Lady Tarlton while Sally works in a casualty clearing station, each meets an exceptional man: the kind of men for whom they might give up some of their precious independence—if only they all survive.  At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars brings World War I to vivid, concrete life from an unusual perspective. A searing and profoundly moving tale, it pays tribute to men and women of extraordinary moral resilience, even in the face of the incomprehensible horrors of modern war.

August 20 from Riverhead Books

good lord birdFrom the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive.  Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.  Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.  An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

August 20 from St. Martin’s Press

“Lookaway, Lookaway is a wild romp through the South, and therefore the history of our nation, written by an absolute ringmaster of fiction.” —Alice Sebold, New York Times bestselling author of The Lovely Bones

Jerene Jarvis Johnston and her husband Duke are exemplars of Charlotte, North Carolina’s high society, where old Southern moneylookaway—and older Southern secrets—meet the new wealth of bankers, boom-era speculators, and carpetbagging social climbers. Steely and implacable, Jerene presides over her family’s legacy of paintings at the Mint Museum; Duke, the one-time college golden boy and descendant of a Confederate general, whose promising political career was mysteriously short-circuited, has settled into a comfortable semi-senescence as a Civil War re-enactor.  Jerene’s brother Gaston is an infamously dissolute bestselling historical novelist who has never managed to begin his long-dreamed-of literary masterpiece, while their sister Dillard is a prisoner of unfortunate life decisions that have made her a near-recluse.  As the four Johnston children wander perpetually toward scandal and mishap. Annie, the smart but matrimonially reckless real estate maven; Bo, a minister at war with his congregation; Joshua, prone to a series of gay misadventures, and Jerilyn, damaged but dutiful to her expected role as debutante and eventual society bride. Jerene must prove tireless in preserving the family’s legacy, Duke’s fragile honor, and what’s left of the dwindling family fortune. She will stop at nothing to keep what she has—but is it too much to ask for one ounce of cooperation from her heedless family?  In Lookaway, Lookaway, Wilton Barnhardt has written a headlong, hilarious narrative of a family coming apart, a society changing beyond recognition, and an unforgettable woman striving to pull it all together.

August 27 from Alfred A. Knopf

claireFrom the best-selling author of Brother, I’m Dying and The Dew Breaker:a stunning new work of fiction that brings us deep into the intertwined lives of a small seaside town where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing.  Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light—is an enchanting child born into love and tragedy in Ville Rose, Haiti. Claire’s mother died in childbirth, and on each of her birthdays Claire is taken by her father, Nozias, to visit her mother’s grave. Nozias wonders if he should give away his young daughter to a local shopkeeper, who lost a child of her own, so that Claire can have a better life.  But on the night of Claire’s seventh birthday, when at last he makes the wrenching decision to do so, she disappears. As Nozias and others look for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire, to her parents, and to the town itself. Told with piercing lyricism and the economy of a fable, Claire of the Sea Light is a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores what it means to be a parent, child, neighbor, lover, and friend, while revealing the mysterious bonds we share with the natural world and with one another. Embracing the magic and heartbreak of ordinary life, it is Edwidge Danticat’s most spellbinding, astonishing book yet.

August 27 from Ballantine Books

A brilliant and moving coming-of-age story in the tradition ofWonder by R. J. Palacio and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the ostrichNight-Time by Mark Haddon—this debut novel is written with tremendous humor and charm.  This is Alex’s story. But he doesn’t know exactly what it’s about yet, so you probably shouldn’t either.  Instead, here are some things that it’s sort of about (but not really):  It’s sort of (but not really) about brain surgery.  It’s sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2).  It’s sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex’s parents.  It’s sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can’t fly so they often feel left out)).  It’s sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.  And it’s also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.

Well, you’ve read my picks for August books to watch.  I want to hear from you.  What are you hoping to read in August?  Which novels are you excited about reading?

6 Comments

Filed under beach books, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, coming of age, contemporary fiction, Debut Novels, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, non-fiction, short story collection, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Summer Reading, thriller, women's fiction

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel (Harper Collins; 320 pages; $25.99).

Description:

sea creaturesWhen Georgia returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler son and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake: Graham’s sleep disorder has cost him his tenure at Northwestern; Georgia’s college advising business has gone belly up; and three-year old Frankie is no longer speaking. Miami feels emptier without Georgia’s mother, who died five years earlier, but her father and stepmother offer a warm welcome-as well as a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. And a position studying extreme weather patterns at a prestigious marine research facility offers Graham a professional second chance.

When Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for an artist who lives alone in the middle of Biscayne Bay, she’s surprised to find her life changes dramatically. Time spent with the intense hermit at his isolated home might help Frankie gain the courage to speak, it seems. And it might help Georgia reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.

But when Graham leaves to work on a ship in Hurricane Alley and the truth behind Frankie’s mutism is uncovered, the family’s challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.

My Thoughts

Graham, Georgia, and their son Frankie moved to South Florida to escape their many troubles in Susanna Daniel’s new novel Sea Creatures, but their problems had a way of tagging along.  Georgia, Daniel’s main character and sole narrator, was a protagonist I not only liked but with whom I sympathized and empathized.  I put myself in her place and understood the great weight she carried on her thin shoulders.  I absolutely hated Graham, Georgia’s husband, who suffered from parasomnia, a condition in which he experienced erratic sleep patterns.  He sometimes sleepwalked.  “Sleep was the yardstick by which all other fears were measured, and everything else dwarfed.  It’s the stuff of horror films, sleep terror, but the sleep goblins of film are imaginary.  Graham’s problems were real, and all the more alarming for their unpredictability.”

SeaCreatures_3DBookshot

Despite having parasomnia, Graham scoffed at his son Frankie’s selective mutism.  This, I must confess, was the ultimate of his transgressions for me.  Graham seemed to want Frankie to be “normal,” when Graham himself had medical problems.

Daniel expertly underscored how parenthood can change a marriage.  Georgia just could not understand her husband’s mindset, “Sometimes I thought that in becoming a parent, I’d morphed into an entirely different person, while he’d remained exactly the same person he’d always been.”  As Daniel’s tale progressed, husband and wife only withdrew farther and farther away from each other.

Georgia and Frankie, though, grew even closer.  Frankie stole my heart time and again in this novel.  “Just as he’d started to speak words, he’d stopped…[The doctors] quizzed me about my marriage and about Graham and his parasomnia, which led me to understand that children in difficult homes sometimes go mute….”  Frankie finally found his voice thanks to Charlie the hermit.

I loved the transformation in which Charlie’s character underwent.  Like Frankie, he discovered a part of himself that had been closed off for years.  Sea Creatures came to dazzling and vivid life whenever Georgia and Frankie visited Charlie in Stiltsville.  Those passages just hummed with energy.

683af41910938771f187ff55921f44d6I could not help but hope that Georgia and Charlie would develop a lasting romance.  Of course, I also hoped she would give Graham the boot.   Everything comes to a shuddering climax as Hurricane Andrew approaches South Florida, lending a threatening, uncertain atmosphere to the story: “The course of a life will shift—really shift—many times over the years.  But rarely will there be a shift that you can feel gathering in the distance like a storm, rarely will you notice the pressure drop before the skies open.”  Indeed, the hurricane heralded a new chapter for Daniel’s characters.  For them, everything changed.  Just as residents of South Florida cleaned up after the storm, the people in Daniel’s novel must pick up the pieces of their tattered and torn lives.

Thus, Daniel adeptly weaved together various conflicts throughout her narrative, cleverly moving from man against man to man against himself to man against nature.  The plot of Sea Creatures expertly revolved around these struggles.

All in all, Daniel’s second book was an absorbing, lyrical journey.  Sea Creatures left me spellbound, sleepless, speechless, and completely oblivious to the rest of the world.

He said, “Some people go to sea, and they drown.”

9 Comments

Filed under beach books, book review, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, literary fiction, Southern fiction, Summer Reading, women's fiction, women's lit

Q&A with Susan Rebecca White, Author of A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White (Touchstone; 336 pages; $25).

a place at the tableA rich, beautiful novel about three unlikely, complex characters who meet in a chic Manhattan café and realize they must sacrifice everything they ever knew or cared about to find authenticity, fulfillment, and love.

A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced characters whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café: Bobby, a gay Southern boy who has been ostracized by his family; Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman whose life is upended when a family secret finally comes to light; and Alice, an African-American chef whose heritage is the basis of a famous cookbook but whose past is a mystery to those who know her.

As it sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to the Manhattan of the deadly AIDs epidemic of the 1980s to today’s wealthy suburbs, A Place at the Table celebrates the healing power of food and the magic of New York as three seekers come together in the understanding that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole.

 

If you are a fan of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, you will absolutely devour Susan Rebecca White’s newest creation, A Place at the Table.  Thanks to the wonderful Alison Law, I was able to ask Susan three questions and here are her answers.

Do you have several story ideas in your head at one time? How do you know when you can run with an idea and

Photo Credit: Dorothy O'Connor

Photo Credit: Dorothy O’Connor

when you need to shelf it for later and when you should just discard it?

I work on several story lines at once. While writing A Place at the Table I would work on Bobby’s section for a little bit; then hit a wall. Then I’d turn to Amelia and work on her section for a bit; then hit a wall. Then I’d turn to Alice. That’s probably why I keep returning to the multiple narrator form. I can pick up a different piece of the storyline when I exhaust myself with another.

I am not entirely sure how it is that I ultimately decide which storylines stay in the final novel and which are jettisoned. I write a lot more than is ever actually published. I probably wrote 1000 pages of text when putting together A Place at the Table, but only 300 + made it to the final draft. I am a big believer in spilling material and then tidying it up during the editorial process. Often I think of writing as excavation. The story is in there, but I have to dig it out of me. And I dig it out by writing.

In your opinion what is good fiction?               

Good fiction disrupts the tidy narratives that we create about our lives and exposes something deeper, darker, and ultimately more authentic. Good fiction excavates if not The Truth then deeper truths about who we are. Ultimately good fiction connects us to each other. There’s an adage “the more specific, the more universal.” By paying exquisite attention to specific characters on the page, seeing who they really are beneath the well-rehearsed stories they tell of their lives, we begin to question our own tidy narratives, our own delusions. Good fiction makes you acutely aware of being alive when you are reading it, even though you are reading about someone else’s story. And in that regard good fiction does what we ask of religion: It takes us outside of ourselves. It helps us transcend our own limited perspectives. Good fiction also grabs us, makes us want to know what happens next, makes us want to turn the page.

How would you respond to those who claim women writers do not write “serious” fiction?

Hmm. Well, first I would want to give that person the middle finger, but being a nice southern woman I’d probably refrain. I guess I respond by giving a big eye roll, shaking my head at ignorance, rolling up my sleeves, and getting back to work.

 

Learn More about Susan:

susanrebeccawhiteauthorphotoBorn and raised in Atlanta, Susan Rebecca White earned a BA in English from Brown University, then moved to San Francisco, where she taught and waited tables for several years, before moving to Virginia to earn her MFA in creative writing from Hollins University. At Hollins, she was a teaching fellow and the recipient of the James Purdy prize for outstanding fiction.

Susan’s debut novel, Bound South, received wide critical acclaim and was shortlisted for theTownsend Prize. Bound South was followed by A Soft Place to Land, also critically acclaimed and a Target “Club Pick.” Susan’s third novel, A Place at the Table, is receiving early praise and is on the American Booksellers Association “Indie Next List” for June of 2013. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) selected A Place at the Table as a 2013 Summer “Okra Pick.

Susan has been invited to festivals and book events around the country and has been a speaker at numerous academic and cultural institutions, including SCAD Atlanta, the Carter Center, the Margaret Mitchell house, and Birmingham’s Hoover library. Susan appeared in the February 2011 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, in a photograph and accompanying essay celebrating women authors living in Atlanta. During the summer of 2011, Susan lived in Manhattan to gain on-the-ground knowledge of the city and research in greater depth the history of Café Nicholson, the real-life restaurant that inspired Café Andres in A Place at the Table.

Susan currently lives in Atlanta, where she teaches creative writing at Emory University. During the winter of 2011 she was the writer-in-residence at SCAD Atlanta. She is married to Sam Redburn Reid, also an Atlanta native, meaning she and Sam both grew up eating Varsity hamburgers and riding the pink pig at the Rich’s downtown.

Did you know?

Susan and Lauren Myracle are sisters.  Myracle, a New York Times bestselling author, writes books for tweens and teens.

Susan Rebecca White’s Website

logo_fb-150x150

Like Susan on FaceBook

 

 

 

 

Follow Susan on Twitter

Follow Susan on Twitter

4 Comments

Filed under author interviews, beach books, contemporary fiction, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Summer Reading, women's fiction, women's lit

Q&A with Suzanne Rindell, Author of The Other Typist

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; 368 pages; $25.95).

If Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was THE mystery of 2012, then Suzanne Rindell’s The Other Typist is THE mystery of 2013.  Suzanne kindly answered some questions I posed to her via email.  I’m very excited to share her Q&A with you today.

“They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell writes in her dark and arresting debut The Other Typist.

Author-Photo-239x300

Thanks, Suzanne, for letting me ask you some questions about your riveting and suspenseful psychological thriller The Other Typist.  How did you get the idea for the book?

I was a grad student, specializing in 1920s literature and culture, when I came across the obituary of a woman who had worked as a typist in a police precinct during the Prohibition era.  I became sort of obsessed with imagining what her life might’ve been like; what sorts of things she might’ve seen at the precinct and what sorts of reports she might’ve typed up, etc.  I found myself wondering what would’ve happened if she ever deviated from the truth in the course of doing her job, and the plot for my novel was born.

Which character did you visualize or hear first? And in what way?

Definitely Rose.  She was my narrator and I started hearing her voice telling a story in my head.  I was only a page or so into things when I realized she wasn’t telling a straight story, and she might be somewhat emotionally damaged and unreliable.

What about an unreliable narrator appeals to you?

I have no idea.  I’ve always admired the great unreliable narrators — like Humbert Humbert in Lolita — but I didn’t know I was writing one until Rose got going and I realized that even I didn’t totally take her at her word.  It’s quite strange, to tell the truth.

Why did you choose to set your story in 1920s New York City?other-typist1.jpg

I find New York very inspirational.  It’s a character in its own right, evidenced by many more books, shows, plays, and movies than my novel.  The 1920s was a natural fit for me because I was immersed in research on the era for my dissertation.  I wanted to live in Fitzgerald’s New York, if only temporarily and in my imagination.

How different were earlier versions of TheOther Typist compared to the final, published version?

Some of the middle stuff shifted during editing.  But the beginning point — Rose’s voice that drives that first chapter — and the final scene (which I won’t describe for fear of plot spoilers) were always the same.  It was a question of arriving from one point to the next properly.

How did you manage to hold back so effectively, revealing the truth only subtly and slowly?

Unlike other mysteries, this is a story that hints at its conclusion from the start.  I wasn’t out to surprise people with the plot twists as much as I was out to surprise them with the moral evolution of one particular narrator.  I think you know very early on how messed up Rose is, and what a predicament she’s gotten herself into… the big reveal is why and how.  As I wrote I felt a sense of gravity developing in Rose’s life.  Her end was inevitable.

When you were writing this story, did you have any idea the effect it would have on readers?  Did you have any notion at all how big this story was going to be?

Not truly.  I think when you write you have a sense of being alone.  You live in your imagination and if you like the story you’re telling — no matter how dark — you enjoy going there.  The process of writing this book was really an escape for me.

Congratulations are in order!  Keira Knightley is to star and take a producer’s role in a film version of your novel.  Your readers are so excited.  When and how did you first hear the news?  What will it be like to see your story on the big screen?  What do you think Knightley will bring to the character she plays?  Do you know who she will play?

I’m very excited about this.  I heard the news from my agent and from my film agent at CAA.  Ms. Knightley has opted for some very impressive projects in the past and I’m honored she is interested in The Other Typist. The rest — how long things will take, which character she will play, etc — is in the hands of Hollywood, which is mysterious to me but which I will watch for with relish.

What’s next for you, Suzanne? Are you working on anything new?

I’m finishing up a second novel!  It’s set in 1950s New York, and has to do with the publishing scene and the Greenwich Village beatniks of that era.  I guess it’s a kind of second love-letter to New York.  I’m having fun with it.

Thanks for a wonderful interview, Suzanne, and good luck!

 

Suzanne Rindell is a doctoral student in American modernist literature at Rice University. The Other Typist is her first novel. She lives in New York City and is currently working on a second novel.

Suzanne’s Website

2 Comments

Filed under author interviews, beach books, books, Debut Novels, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, Summer Reading, thriller

In Her Own Words: Shelley Noble, Author of Stargazey Point

Today I am introducing something brand new to the blog: guest posts of writers in their own words.  The first feature in this series is by Shelley Noble, women’s fiction author.  Shelley’s newest novel is Stargazey Point.

Stargazey 2

Devastated by tragedy during her last project, documentarist Abbie Sinclair seeks refuge with three octogenarian siblings, Millie, Marnie and Beau Crispin, who live in a looming plantation house at the edge of the world—Stargazey Point.

Once a popular South Carolina family beach resort, the Point’s beaches have eroded, businesses have closed, and skyrocketing taxes are driving the locals away. Stargazey Point, like Abbie, is fighting to survive.

Abbie thinks she has nothing left to give, but slowly she’s drawn into the lives of the people around her: the Crispin siblings, with their own secret fears, Cabot Reynolds, who left his work as an industrial architect to refurbish his uncle’s antique carousel in hopes of breathing new life into his childhood sanctuary. Ervina, an old Gullah wise woman, who can guide Abbie to a new life and her true self, if only she’ll let her. And a motley crew of children whom Abbie can’t ignore.

She came for a safe haven but receives much more.  Stargazey Point is magic place—a place for dreamers.  It is also a place that can lead you home.

I’m proud to have Shelley here today.  Without further ado, here she is.

The Beginning of an Idea

Shelley Noble

Shelley Noble

Readers often ask writers where we get our ideas for a story.  Writers talk to each other about how they come up with ideas. Is it a character whose story you want to explore?  Is it a place that has caught your imagination? An event? An issue close to your heart?

Some of my colleagues say they always start with the characters, or with an issue or with a situation. I’ve never been one of those authors. In fact I’m not always sure where or when my story actually begins. And that’s what happened with Stargazey Point.

Does that sound crazy?

Well, maybe it is, just a little.

Certain elements appear in most of my stories.  I like writing about small towns, where everyone knows everybody’s business.  Where arguments may extend for generations. Where best friends and worst enemies come face to face daily. And where individuals find strength in community.

I also like to write about life at the shore, explore different life styles and include characters of different ages.

But even knowing that, the beginning of an idea is nebulous.  I might be driving along and an image just comes into my head.  I might see a girl walking a dog, a interesting house, two old men arguing at a bus stop.  Any of these have the potential to be apart of a story. Most of the time I don’t know which comes first. Maybe several aspects appear at once. But as soon as I recognize them, the elements begin to intertwine and grow together like one of those DNA helixes

The first two things I remember specifically about the beginning of Stargazey Point, was that I wanted to have a carousel. I love carousels, not only are they fun, and hold great childhood memories, but to me they’re a symbol of joy and hope.

But where to put it.  I live in New Jersey and we have great carousels. But the Jersey shore is crowded. My carousel would be neglected in a town once filled with tourists but was now virtually forgotten.

Now here’s an example of how ideas can come from unexpected sources.  I was running my carousel idea past a friend and colleague and she said, “I read about a carousel down south somewhere that had been stored in a shed to protect it from a hurricane and had been forgotten for years until someone discovered it by accident.”

That tidbit was just too good to let pass. After that my story took off. A town ravaged by years of hurricanes, the beaches swept away, homes destroyed.  I wrote this a full year before Sandy hit New Jersey and taught us first hand the devastation that a hurricane can bring.

The people are poor, the town is dying. I still didn’t have a main character or a plot exactly, but I did have a secondary character, Cab Reynolds. Cab spent every summer as a child in Stargazey Point with his uncle Ned. When Ned leaves him a derelict carousel, Cab gives up a lucrative career in architecture and life in the fast lane to return to a place of sanctuary filled with the memories of safety and love.

There would be three octogenarian siblings, Millie, Marnie, and Beau Crispin, members of an old southern family, who have also descended into poverty but are still treated with respect.

Now what?

Slowly my protagonist appeared, not clearly, but vaguely, like a ghost. Not a real ghost, but . . . Abbie Sinclair would be pale with light, almost white, blonde hair, ephemeral looking, but strong.  Though she doesn’t realize how strong until Stargazey Point begins to work its magic.

At this point everything began to twist and turn and it’s hard to say just how it developed.  It came in snatches of ideas written down on anything handy from iPhone to newspaper margin.  A plot line began to weave itself into a story, even though I wasn’t sure how Abbie got to the Point or why.

E-novella prequel to Stargazey Point

E-novella prequel to Stargazey Point

Gradually she grew into her character.  The youngest daughter of a family of do-gooders who became a documentarist and whose last project ended in tragedy.  At this point I wasn’t sure what the tragedy was, but I knew she was broken, like the carousel.

Okay, got it.  Sort of.

I tinkered with the elements, weaving and rejecting, adding and thinking.  Then one night just as I was dropping off to sleep, a new character appeared in my half-waking state.  This has never happened to me before.  But there she was, Ervina, an old Gullah woman, wise, tough, half conjurer, half full of beans.  She was surrounded by a group of young children.  Of course, a carousel needs children.  And the story took off.

Over the next three or four months I lived with these people twenty four-seven, wrote and rewrote, took a false turn and returned to the path. And ended up with four hundred pages of story.  Warts and all.  And the rewriting began—but that is another story.

 Shelley is also the author of Stargazey Nights and Beach Colors.  She has published two mystery novels under the name Shelley Freydont: Foul Play at the Fair and Holidays at Crescent Cove.beach colorscover 59copy

Visit Shelley’s Website

Follow Shelley on Twitter

Like Shelley on FaceBook

Read Shelley’s Blog

Buy Stargazey Point

Thank you, Shelley, for being a guest on my blog today!  Good luck with the book.

Leave a comment

Filed under beach books, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, guest post, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Summer Reading, women's fiction, women's lit, writers in their own words

Spotlight on The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill

Releasing July 16 from Scribner

the violet hourA pitch-perfect, emotionally riveting debut novel about the fracturing of a marriage and a family – from an award-winning young writer with superb storytelling instincts.  Life hasn’t always been perfect for Abe and Cassandra Green, but an afternoon on the San Francisco Bay might be as good as it gets. Abe is a rheumatologist, piloting his coveted new boat. Cassandra is a sculptor, finally gaining modest attention for her art. Their beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, is heading to Harvard in the fall. Somehow, they’ve made things work. But then, out of nowhere, they plunge into a terrible fight. Cassandra has been unfaithful. In a fit of fury, Abe throws himself off the boat.  A love story that begins with the end of a marriage, The Violet Hourfollows a modern family through past and present, from the funeral home in the Washington suburbs where Cassandra and her siblings grow up to the San Francisco public health clinic where Abe and Cassandra first meet. As the Greens navigate the passage of time—the expectations of youth, the concessions of middle age, the headiness of desire, the bitterness of loss—they must come to terms with the fragility of their intimacy, the strange legacies they inherit from their parents, and the kind of people they want to be. Exquisitely written, The Violet Hour is the deeply moving story of a family suddenly ripped apart, but then just possibly reborn.

Bookmagnet Says: Told from multiple and very distinctive viewpoints, The Violet Hour knocked me over with its intimate portrayal of a family’s past and present.  Hill knows how to keep readers turning pages.  Utterly beguiling.

O, The Oprah Magazine loved it, too.  They chose it as one of “Ten Titles To Pick Up Now” in the August issue:

A bittersweet tale of breakup and forgiveness, this debut novel begins at the end of a marriage and journeys back through time to explore why the relationship frayed.

I will be reviewing The Violet Hour next week, so stay tuned!

 

2 Comments

Filed under beach books, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, Debut Novels, fiction, literary fiction, Summer Reading

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

I reviewed this book back in July of 2012 but it’s now out in paperback and deserves a second look.

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann (Back Bay Books; 384 pages; $15).

Klaussmann channels F. Scott Fitzgerald in her decades-spanning tale, which suspensefully and chillingly allows us to witness events as five different people see them, showing how much point of view matters in storytelling.” –Jaime Boler, Laurel, MS

tigers in red weatherWhen I discovered that Liza Klaussmann was the great-great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville, my heart sank.  What debut novelist can live up to such a pedigree?  If Ancestry.com announced that Stephen King was the great-great-great-nephew of Edgar Allen Poe, I would nod and think what great sense that made.   The same would be true if a genealogist found a link between National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward and Zora Neale Hurston.  But these are established authors.  Their previous work stands alone; nepotism played no role in their success.

 

I will admit that it was with great reluctance that I picked up Klaussmann’s debutTigers in Red Weather.  My expectations were high; however, Klaussmann surpassed all of my hopes for the novel and then some.  I think Herman would have been proud.

 

If you are looking for traces of Melville within Klaussmann’s work, though, you will not find him.  Instead, Tigers in Red Weather opens with smidgens of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It is September 1945.  World War II has just ended.  Cousins Nick and Helena endure a hot summer night on Martha’s Vineyard at an old family estate called Tiger House.  The cousins are “wearing their slips and drinking gin neat out of old jelly jars.”  On the record player, “Louis Armstrong was stuck repeating that he had a right to sing the blues.”  It feels like the 1920s rather than the 1940s.  Nick would have been right at home in that earlier era.  She is a reckless free spirit, much like Zelda Fitzgerald.  Nick wants to “stuff the whole world into her mouth and bite down.”

 

With the war over, the cousins eagerly begin their lives.  Nick and her husband, a veteran, settle in Miami.  Helena and her husband settle in Los Angeles.  Nick gives birth to Daisy; Helena to Ed.  Nick puts up a front as she is unhappy in her present circumstances.   Martha’s Vineyard feels far away, and Nick longs for home.  Hughes is not the man that Nick believed him to be.  In her eyes, Hughes had become “something rationed,” ordinary, and “asleep.”

 

In 1959, the cousins and their families reunite for the summer at Tiger House.  For them, the estate reminds them of a more idyllic time, when the world was full of promise and so were they, a time when they could do anything and be anything, but that time has long passed.  Nick especially misses her youth on Martha’s Vineyard: “We could do exactly as we pleased and no one expected anything of us.  I even miss those horrible ration books.  I wish it could be like that now, for me and Hughes.  Not all stuffy and respectable.”  Sometimes, Nick confesses, “I want to rip my clothes off and go running down the street stark naked and screaming my head off.  Just for a…change of pace.”  Nick longs to recapture that moment when she wanted to stuff the world in her mouth and bite down.  Since she cannot, Tiger House becomes her refuge.  There, she is like a general.

 

All that changes on a beautiful summer day when Daisy and Ed make a gruesome and shocking discovery.  They find the dead body of a Portuguese maid.  As Klaussmann writes, “Half of the girl’s face looked like it had collapsed or something, with the Man of War swimming out from her dark curly hair.  The eyes were open and bulging like a frog’s, the fat tongue running between her teeth.”  Just like that, the idyll is over.  Tiger House loses its innocence; the real world creeps in and will not let the family go.

 

Klaussmann expertly tells this story from five different perspectives, which is not an easy thing to accomplish.  Each voice is distinctive and compelling.  As she carries us back and forth through time, Klaussmann allows us to witness the same scene as different people experienced it.  She changes the lens to show how point of view matters in a story and can enhance the storytelling.  Klaussmann manages to keep her plot suspenseful, especially with all of her time and character shifts.  This is what makes Tigers in Red Weather so readable and enjoyable.

 

The events of the summer of 1959 leave a mark on Klaussmann’s characters.  We see this clearly.  The author would be remiss if she did not emphasize this alteration.  Helena retreats deeper and deeper into her world of prescription drugs and alcohol.  In fact, Helena’s narrative is jumbled and broken in parts to show her state of mind.  She cannot cope with reality.  Meanwhile, Ed is in his own little world.  Finding the dead girl fascinated him.  Perhaps he is not the boyscout his mother thinks he is.  For Daisy, the discovery shakes her to the core.  Hughes must confront his past and the secrets he is keeping.

 

cn_image.size.liza-klaussmannNick, though, is Klaussmann’s most interesting and most central character.  Nick is the protagonist of the story.  Yet many of Klaussmann’s characters also view her as their antagonist.  That is no easy feat either, yet Klaussmann pulls it off without a hitch.  She has such a hold over a young Daisy that Klaussmann intersperses her mother’s voice throughout Daisy’s narrative.  Nick admonishes her daughter to do this and not do that.  “Only horses sweat,” Daisy hears her mother say in her head, “men perspire and women glow.”  Klaussmann peppers Daisy’s account with more echoes of Nick.  Nick’s shadow looms over the whole story really as the other characters alternatively envy, admire, resent, love, and loathe her.

 

In addition to Nick, Ed’s account also stands out, but for different reasons.  In contrast to Klaussmann’s other narratives, she writes that of Ed in the first person.  The change is gripping, intimate, and engrossing.  What we learn from Ed is shocking, but nothing Klaussman writes is implausible.  Her plot is always believable.  Tigers in Red Weather ends with a satisfying denouement, leaving readers to ponder the story well after they close the book.

 

Just as I was reluctant to begin Tigers in Red Weather, I was just as equally hesitant to finish the novel.  Upon closing the book, I said aloud, “Herman who?”

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under beach books, book review, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, Debut Novels, fiction, literary fiction, mystery, Summer Reading