Category Archives: books

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

Book Review: May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes (Penguin Books; 496 pages; $16).

17707741If your family is anything like the Silvers in A.M. Homes’ black comedy May We Be Forgiven, you’re glad the holidays are over.  Homes is fierce and fearless in her depiction of a Twenty-First century family in crisis.  She knows just how to blend satire with realism, just how to mix tragedy with comedy, and just how to make her pages sizzle.

Homes’ characters are deeply flawed people, yet they are nothing but real.  Harold Silver, the novel’s main character, cannot help but be jealous of his little brother, George.  While Harold is a Richard Nixon scholar and historian, his brother is a powerful and wealthy television executive with a beautiful wife, two children, and a gorgeous home.   What Harold doesn’t envy about George is his violent temper.

The dominoes fall one by one when George gets into a car accident, killing a mother and father and injuring and orphaning their young son.  If that were not enough for one week, George snaps when he comes home to find his wife in bed with Harold.  He grabs the bedside lamp and hits her over the head with it.  These are not spoilers.  They happen within the novel’s first fifteen pages.

The story is not about these events anyway: rather, May We Be Forgiven is about how Harold seeks atonement for his part in the tragedy.  He blames himself.  If he had not been having an affair with his sister-in-law, then perhaps he could have averted catastrophe.  Harold becomes the guardian of his brother’s children, Nate and Ashley.  He also feels responsible for the orphaned boy.  As Harold assumes a new life so different from the one he had before, he seeks absolution.

Although Homes’ characters are completely unlikeable and unrelatable, they are strangely fascinating.  Harold is Homes’ most well-developed character.  When he is asked to edit a series of fictional stories written by Nixon, Harold jumps at this opportunity.  He sees Nixon as a father figure.  As Harold tries to atone for his own misdeeds, he seeks to assuage history’s view of the president.  It makes for compelling reading.

In fact, I challenge you to stop reading this story.  Once you start, you cannot stop.  Homes’ pacing is quick.  Her punches are like those of a boxer’s.  Surprises permeate on every page.

Sometimes, though, it is just too much.  It is as if Homes tries to one-up herself on every page, producing an over-abundance of shocking scenes with little or no segue between them.  Reading Homes’ novel can be like running a marathon, leaving you gasping for breath.  Homes, in certain instances, goes too far, most notably when Harold instructs his niece on how to use a tampon.  Shock value is a tool that should not be overused, even when writing a black comedy.  A little can go a long way.

Homes is unapologetically irreverent in May We Be Forgiven.  That’s why this is not a book for everyone.  If you enjoy dark comedies, you will love this story.  If you are not a fan of black comedy, stay far away.

I reviewed this novel last year and it’s now available in paperback.  I absolutely love the new cover!

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In His Own Words: Chad Gayle, Author of Let It Be

let it be

Let It Be by Chad Gayle (Bracket Books; 220 pages; $12.95).

Today, I am very pleased and proud to feature an exciting new voice

in literature on my blog–Chad Gayle, author of Let It Be.

LET IT BE is a touching tale of loss, longing, and forgiveness that chronicles the breakup of a marriage, the destruction of a family, and the struggle to come together in the aftermath of what remains.  Searching for the love and happiness she feels she deserves, Michelle Jansen leaves her abusive, overbearing husband behind and takes her two kids to Amarillo, Texas, where she begins to learn how to stand on her own two feet, supporting herself and her children with the money she earns from a low-paying job as she becomes increasingly involved with a coworker who is an even bigger fan of the Beatles than she is.  But Michelle doesn’t realize that her ex-husband is willing to do whatever he can to destroy her new life. When Michelle is betrayed by her very own son, this already fractured family will be damaged in an almost unimaginable way. Can they find forgiveness in the midst of so much sorrow and guilt, or will love give them the strength that they need to let it be?  Part family saga, part coming of age tale, LET IT BE is a story intimately linked to the music of the Beatles, a debut novel filled with true-to-life characters who want nothing more than a second chance.

Chad Gayle is a photographer and writer who has written for literary journals, trade publications, and newspapers. Previously, Chad worked for Poetry Magazine in Chicago and taught English at several colleges including Texas A&M University. Born in Texas, Chad lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two children; Let It Be is his debut novel.

Here’s Chad, in his own words.

Sgt. Pepper’s, the Bee Gees, and the Making of an Unlikely Fan

let it be gayle    “There was magic packed into that twelve-inch disc, an uncanny, otherworldly kind of joy that revealed itself at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute. I was ten years old when I heard it for the first time, and there was something miraculous in the fact that I could sit down and listen to it at all, this album that had been recorded by The Beatles, the rock and roll band that had disbanded the year I was born, because I was the child of tone-deaf parents who were only interested in the kind of vinyl that covered couch cushions and dining room chairs.

We lived on fallow farmland that was miles away from the nearest town, in a part of Texas that was sandy and saturated with country and western songs and accents weighed down by a heavy Southern twang, at a time when movies, magazines, and TV shows were our only links to the world that lay beyond the dirt road that ran in front of our house. In that place, and at that age, I was cut off not only from parts of the present but from large swaths of the past as well, so that anything that had happened even a decade before seemed like ancient history, a black and white version of what was real that had the dense grain of a photo preserved in a faded newspaper.

My parents didn’t care about the Top 40, but I craved music, and I swore allegiance early on to both Soul Train and American Bandstand. With a transistor radio that I’d inherited from my grandfather clipped to my belt, I sang along with the pop idols I’d already become attached to (Elton John; David Bowie), waited anxiously for one of my one-hit-wonders to get some airplay, and grooved along to R&B and rock and roll tunes whose lyrics were obscured by the tinny eight-ohm speaker they had to squeeze through. I listened to anything and everything, and there was only one kind of music I didn’t dig—Disco, that vapid, empty collection of cloned beats that seemed pointless to a kid like me—but it was Disco, tangentially, that would determine my lifelong musical affiliation, because it was Disco that drove that hirsute trio, the Bee Gees, to the top of the charts in the late Seventies and almost made them movie stars.

In 1978, fresh from their success with Saturday Night Fever, the Bee Gees co-starred with Peter Frampton in the world’s worst jukebox musical, MGM’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which borrowed songs from The Beatles’ albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road to tell the absurd story of a not-so-fabulous band’s rise to fame. Filled with cheesy, cheap special effects, amateurish acting, and renditions of classic songs that were either startlingly good (Aerosmith’s version of “Come Together,” for example) and gut-wrenchingly awful (Steve Martin’s interpretation of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”), it was a film which appeared, even to a child, to be a joke that had gone all wrong. To say that it was just another one of Hollywood’s box office bombs was to give it credit it didn’t deserve: it was a gross error in judgment that should have stained the conscience of the movie mogul who had cobbled its crooked script together from song titles and lyrics that were never meant to be connected in any way.

My parents wouldn’t have paid to see it in a theater even if it had won a bevy of Oscars, but I happened to see it on television at my grandparents’ house the year after it was released. At that point in my life, I didn’t know anything about The Beatles; I barely knew who The Beatles were, and the songs in the movie seemed to come at me from out of nowhere, like comets that had suddenly appeared in the night sky. In spite of the fact that I rolled my eyes with everyone else at the scenes that made no sense, I realized, almost immediately, how inexplicably special the soundtrack was, and I wanted to watch the movie again when it was over, although I was almost too embarrassed by the pull the music had had on me to admit this out loud.

Luckily, I had an aunt who had lived briefly in Ohio and who had willingly—some people in our family would say defiantly—identified herself as a hippie in the Sixties. My aunt explained where the songs in the movie had come from, and she also tried to help me understand why The Beatles had been such a big deal before they broke up; when we began to talk about the songs in the movie that we liked (“Here Comes the Sun” was one of her favorites;  “With a Little Help from My Friends” was one of mine), she asked me whether I would like to hear these songs as they were meant to be heard, and she told me that she had a few of her original Beatles’ albums that I could borrow, if I wanted to.

This was the beginning of my musical education, and it started with Revolver, the bridge between softhearted ditties like “Love Me Do” and those psychedelic masterpieces, like “Strawberry Fields,” that would come later. For me, it was love at first listen, and I consumed that album, devouring it the same way that I’d devoured the sci-fi paperbacks by Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov that I’d discovered at age nine. Although the context that had helped to build the record had been stripped away by the intervening years, I felt as if the melodies inscribed on it were meant for me, even if some of the lyrics were puzzling, occasionally so cryptic that they seemed to be written in a different language. This might explain why a song like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which was unlike anything I’d ever heard in my short life, was a little less appealing to me than “Got to Get You Into My Life,” as I tended to bond more easily with the McCartney-leaning lyrics (I’d already been exposed to the major hits of Wings, after all). Nonetheless, I was hooked, and I needed to hear more; my aunt was kind enough to oblige me by letting me borrow a compilation that covered the early part of The Beatles career, and after I made a copy of that record on cassette tape, I listened to it until I was singing those tunes in my sleep.

I’d started this journey at the end of the summer, but there was a pause of several months when I had to be content with scanning what is now known as an Oldies station for the opportunity to pluck “Yesterday,” “And I Love Her,” or another Beatles-era ballad from the ether. Then, over the Thanksgiving holiday, I took the great leap that would make me a Beatles fan for life. We were visiting my grandparents when my aunt arrived with her own precious cargo: a copy of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

“It’s my favorite,” she said. “Don’t scratch it.”Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

I wasn’t allowed to take it home with me, so I listened to it for the first time by myself, while the rest of my family was watching a raucous game of football on the living room TV. I slipped the disc onto the turntable that was in the den and lowered the needle, letting it rest in the record’s outermost groove.

When Sgt. Pepper’s was finished playing, I had the feeling that it was like nothing I’d ever heard and everything I’d ever heard. It was an album that stood on its own, apart from all others, even though it was connected, in some significant way, to every rock and roll song that had come after it, as if it was a kind of blueprint for what great rock and roll should be. It was stunning, the whole of it, because its thirteen songs fit together perfectly, forming something greater than the sum of its parts.

I listened to it several times that day, and I knew, by the time I took it off the turntable and slipped it into its sleeve, that it was an album I would always be in love with, even though I realized, with a certain amount of confusion, that I couldn’t explain why this was so. Was I drawn to the sweeping arc of its production, the way its pieces fit together like bits of a jigsaw puzzle? Or had I fallen in love with its incredible melodies, those harmonies that complemented and mirrored each other like the movements of an intricate symphony? Maybe the characters who lived in Sgt. Pepper’s lyrics—the lonely singer Billy Shears; Rita, the unattainable meter maid; or Lucy, the album’s psychedelic muse—were exerting an inexorable hold over me, or perhaps I’d been exposed to it at the ideal time, having been primed, already, with the songs from that terrible film that shared its name. I wasn’t sure whether it was one of these things or all of them that made it seem so important, so special; I only knew that I had to get a copy of my own, as soon as possible, because I wanted to be able to listen to it over and over again.

Three more years would pass before I would get my wish. While I waited, I did listen to other kinds of music and was briefly infatuated with other rock and roll bands, but I was also scouring the airwaves on the weekends, ready to slap any Beatles song I could find onto a reel of used cassette tape, and I did get introduced to The Beatles’ White album and Abbey Road after a musical dry spell that spanned an entire school semester. By the time I was a teenager, I’d sampled most of the records The Beatles had released, and when I was finally able to listen to a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s that was mine and mine alone, I decided that their music was the only music I wanted to listen to, and I tortured my parents and the rest of my family by playing those thirteen songs on an endless loop spanning morning, noon, and night.

Why was I so obsessed with these sounds that had been produced decades before? It wasn’t that I identified with what The Beatles had stood for in the Sixties, although I occasionally pretended to be a “peace and love” acolyte in order to frighten my father, who was deeply conservative; part of it may have been a need that I had to be different, to set myself apart from the teens I knew who so desperately wanted to look like each other, and part of it was the simple pleasure that I took from listening to The Beatles, who seemed to represent the best of what music could be. But I think I was also fascinated, at a certain level, with what made their songs special, in the same way that I was fascinated with understanding how particular novels and short stories were put together—why one was successful when another one wasn’t—and I believed that I could figure out, intuitively, what made the Fab Four so fabulous by listening to their music and nothing else.

I did temper my fanaticism as I got older. It helped that the music that was being made in the present was improving; the age of the “hair bands” was coming to its inevitable end, and rock and roll wonders like U2 were now at the top of the charts, so there were some meaningful musical alternatives getting airplay on the radio and MTV. When I got to college, I was suddenly surrounded by people whose tastes in music were wildly different than mine, which helped to broaden my interests, but I also experienced a kind of letdown after I saw The Who and the Rolling Stones in concert, because I realized, viscerally, that The Beatles’ canon was as static as it could be—there was nothing new to add; there were no new discoveries to be made; and even the release of something like The Beatles Anthology would turn out to be a profound disappointment to someone like me, since I’d already been exposed to so many bootlegs and alternate versions of tracks like “Strawberry Fields.” I even went through a post-graduate period when I deliberately avoided listening to The Beatles because I was worried that I was wearing out their music, that I was turning their albums into background music, a kind of Muzak for my daily routine, and I wondered, during this time, whether I might have outgrown The Beatles, since most of my music budget was devoted by then to Indie Rock bands that I was finding through Pitchfork, NME, and alternative stations on the radio.

When I dug my Sgt. Pepper’s CD out of the stack of discs that had held it down during this long hiatus, I was afraid of what I might find—that my love for it might have been lost; that the album might have seemed so overarchingly important because I’d burned its thirteen tracks into my brain by listening to it a thousand times or more—but then the opening notes, those discordant sounds of an orchestra tuning up and getting ready to play, began to reverberate in my ears, and I felt that unbridled joy that I’d felt when I was ten. There was a difference, of course, because I was different, because there were so many seasons of my life that were linked to this record, so that when that final chord faded, leaving behind a silence that was vacuous, a sonic hole, my eyes suddenly filled with tears. I felt as if I’d just had a marvelous, unexpected reunion with a long lost friend, a reunion which demonstrated that the bond of friendship was more powerful than the distance that had come between us.

Today I can say, unabashedly, that I am still in love with the music The Beatles made. As strange as it is that a boy who was let_it_be_book_spine_tilt_3born to musically indifferent parents, who grew up in the scruffy backwoods of east Texas, who was cut off, in many respects, from the pop culture of the present and the past should become a lifelong fan of The Beatles because of the Bee Gees, the man that the boy became is thankful for that absurd twist in his life. His days have been brighter because of it, and he was lucky enough, twenty-five years after he’d discovered Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to sow the songs he’d grown up with into something new, completing a novel that follows a family of four that’s fallen apart, a book that was inspired by the breakup of The Beatles and the final record they released. That novel, Let It Be, was finally published in 2013.

Sgt. Pepper’s remains my favorite album, in spite of the fact that I am constantly discovering new music that knocks me off my feet.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

And neither would we.  Thanks, Chad, and good luck with the book!

Author Website

Photography by Chad Gayle

Excerpt from Let It Be

Blog

Follow Chad on Twitter

Buy the Audiobook

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Spotlight on The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

rosie project

I’m so excited about this novel and hope to begin reading it this weekend, after I finish Burial Rites. Unfortunately, I don’t get as much time to read and write as I used to now that I work full-time.  The Rosie Project is calling me, and I am so eager to get lost in this story.

About the Book:

Coming October 1 from Simon & Schuster

An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

About the Author:

graemesimsion-post

Graeme Simsion, PhDwas the owner of a successful consulting business, who decided, at fifty, that he would become a writer.  The Rosie Project is his first book.

 

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The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Book Review: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Riverhead Books; 432 pages; $27.95).

Throughout history and fiction, women have disguised themselves as men; it is quite uncommon, though, for a boy to disguise good-lord-bird1.jpghimself as a girl and continue the charade for decades.  However, that is just what Little Onion does in James McBride’s brilliant and exhilarating novel The Good Lord Bird.  McBride re-imagines the life of John Brown and his followers while simultaneously fashioning a remarkable and amusing character in the form of Little Onion.  Through Little Onion’s eyes, McBride recreates Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, one of the most crucial chapters in American history and one that helped spark the Civil War.

History has shown us just how charismatic Brown could be, but the magnetic Little Onion steals the spotlight from Brown time and again.  Born in Kansas Territory, young Henry Shackleford is a slave when pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions make the state a battleground, hence the term “Bleeding Kansas.”  Brown arrives and gets involved in an argument in a local barber shop.  The ensuing act of violence forces Brown to flee—with Henry in tow.  The kicker is that Brown thinks Henry is a girl named Henrietta.  Henry does not tell Brown the truth about his gender.

“Truth is,” McBride writes, “lying come natural to all Negroes during slave time, for no man or woman in bondage ever prospered stating their true thoughts to the boss.  Much of colored life was an act, and the Negroes that sawed wood and said nothing lived the longest.  So I weren’t going to tell him nothing about me being a boy.”

If that does not make you laugh or at least smile, consider this: Henry is skilled at the art of zinging one-liners and entertains even in the gravest of situations.  When Brown goes off on tangents, Henry admits, “I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, but, being he was a lunatic, I nodded my head yes.”

The young slave “girl” makes a big impression on Brown when “she” eats his good-luck charm—an onion.  From that moment on, Brown calls Henry “Little Onion.”  McBride’s two main characters play well off each other and make for humorous reading.

Little Onion’s masquerade also has a serious side and allows McBride to portray Henry as a trickster.  Henry’s charade is a variation of the traditional African trickster tale.  These stories, which originated in Africa and were part of the oral history of African American slaves, served as thinly-disguised social protest against white masters and featured animals as the main characters instead of real people.  In these parables, small, weak, seemingly powerless animals used their cunning to outwit larger, powerful creatures.  A rabbit might represent the weaker animal while a wolf stood for the larger one as is the case with the Briar Rabbit tales.  Whites saw such stories as fables, nothing more.  For slaves, the tales were altogether different and meaningful.  The allegories symbolically assaulted the powerful, who worked to ensnare slaves but who became themselves ensnared.  Trickster tales sought to upset traditional social roles and served as a vehicle allowing slaves to ridicule whites and get away with it.  By fooling John Brown, Henry sees himself as one-upping the white man.  His ruse works well, and that is a credit to McBride’s ingenuity.

James_McBrideMcBride cleverly juxtaposes drama and history with comedy and humor.  Uproarious laughs pepper Little Onion’s encounters with historical figures.  The funniest of these occurs when he meets Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), reformer, abolitionist, and former slave.  Upon their first meeting, Little Onion says, “Morning, Fred.”  Douglass is livid: “Don’t you know you are not addressing a pork chop, but rather a fairly considerable and incorrigible piece of the American Negro diaspora?”  A few pages later, an inebriated Douglass makes a pass at Henrietta and mistakenly calls her “Harlot” before finally saying “Don’t marry two women at once…Colored or white, it’ll whip you scandalous” (In The Good Lord Bird, Douglass commits bigamy as he is married to Anna Murray-Douglass and Ottilie Assing, a German journalist.  In actuality, Douglass never married Assing, but McBride’s vision makes for interesting reading).

Henry Shackleford may be a figment of McBride’s imagination but as you read this novel you forget that it’s fiction. McBride brings his characters to life like you’ve never seen them before.  A multi-faceted and marvelous story, The Good Lord Bird explores identity, home, place, survival, slave life, and how far a man will go for a cause.  Little Onion’s voice resonates with authenticity and humor.  In re-telling one of the most important events in American history, McBride creates a rousing romp of a story.

Breaking News–The Good Lord Bird has been longlisted for a 2013 National Book Award in fiction.  It’s my pick because I absolutely love it!

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2013 National Book Award in Fiction Longlist

Don’t you just love this time of year?  Awards time!  No, not the Emmys or any of that, but the National Book Awards, of course!

The 2013 National Book Award in Fiction longlist was recently announced.

Here are the novels in contention for America’s top literary prize:

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f_saunders_tenth

f_pynchon_bleeding

f_mcdermott_someone

f_mcbride_good

f_marra_constellation

f_lahiri_lowland

f_kushner_flamethrowers

f_graver_end

f_drury_pacific

Which of these have you read?  Any surprises??  Any book and author who you believe should have been but was not?

Which do you think will take home the title?  Do you have a favorite among these contenders?

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The Rathbones by Janice Clark

Book Review: The Rathbones by Janice Clark (Doubleday; 384 pages; $26.95)

As summer slowly fades into fall, we sometimes yearn for something more in a novel, a story that invades our hearts and our souls, a rathbones1.jpgtale that leaves us astounded. I always find myself turning to the sea this time of year.  September is also the month in which I first read favorites like Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund and Galore by Michael Crummey, books with premises devoted wholly to the briny depths.  Longing for cooler weather after a long, hot Southern summer may play a huge role in this inclination of mine, but I think it has more to do with the storyteller.

In her riveting and magical debut The Rathbones, Janice Clark stunningly intertwines Greek myth, Gothic elements, Moby Dick, coming of age, and maritime adventure to tell the epic saga of a once proud Connecticut whaling dynasty.  The Rathbones is populated by unforgettable and powerful characters, none of whom dazzle more than Mercy, who, at fifteen years of age, sets off on a quest to find her missing father.  Verity, Mercy’s mother, has spent seven years waiting for her husband, Benadam Gale, lost at sea.  Clark draws parallels to Homer’s Odyssey in which Penelope faithfully awaited the return of her husband Odysseus; however, Mercy knows her mother’s true amorous, treacherous nature.  This unwelcome knowledge spurs Mercy to seek out her father, if she can find him.  Mercy’s quest soon evolves into a voyage of discovery and identity.

Accompanied by her strange and frail uncle Mordecai, Mercy uncovers a dark and murky family history.  Moses, the patriarch of the Rathbones, enjoyed the gift of second sight.  As Clark writes, Moses “knew the beat of the sea, its quick pulse along the shore and the slow swing of the tides.”  If he hunted in the woods or “walked too far away” from the water, “his breath went short and his limbs stiffened, and the sea pulled him back.”  Moses was one with the water and with the whales he could sense swimming beneath the surface.  He lacked only one thing, but it was crucial: a crew.

Moses developed a rather novel way to procure men: he would sire them.  Like Greek gods who captured mortal women, the Rathbone men stole females of child-bearing age to produce sons to man the whale boats.  Instead of “normal” names such as Benjamin, George, or Robert, Moses bestowed upon his sons appellations denoting their future duties like Harpooner, Bow-Oar, and First-Oar.  Moses’s peculiar methods worked, and the family thrived; Moses “reigned for three decades, the undisputed monarch of his maritime realm.”  His senses served Moses well, as he “knew before anyone else when the whales were coming, long before spouts showed on the horizon.”  Clark writes the Rathbone men “lived on land as they did at sea, their native skills honed by ceaseless practice, working as one organism.”  No other whaling family came close.

But it did not last.  Later generations lost the link they shared with both the sea and the whale.  The Rathbones became like stilt birds who lost their ability to fly once their basic needs were met on land.  In chronicling the ups and downs of this mesmerizing family, Clark highlights the rise and fall of the nineteenth-century whaling era.

janice clarkIn The Rathbones, Clark may channel Edgar Allen Poe, Homer, and Herman Melville, but she puts her own unique and indelible spin on this truly remarkable novel.  Clark offsets the Rathbone men and their whales with the Rathbone women, who are equally as formidable—women like the “Golden Wives,” sisters who were sold by their father, and Limpet, who Mercy and Mordecai find living in a cave.  And then there is Verity, deeply flawed, seemingly mad, and keeper of secrets—easily one of Clark’s most complex characters.

The Rathbones is like one of those sea sirens of yore.  Once you begin reading this enchanting story, you’re a goner.  You won’t be able to resist the pull of Clark’s enticingly rich characters or her magnificent setting.  With a novel like this, who’d even want to resist?  Go ahead and jump in.

 

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Spotlight on Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford’s debut Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet ranks in my top 10 favorite novels of all time.  I was so excited to get my hands on his newest work of fiction, Songs of Willow Frost, out today from Ballantine.

About the Book:

songs of willow frost

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.
Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.

About The Author:

My name is James. Yes, I’m a dude.

I’m also the New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet—which was, in no particular order, an IndieBound NEXT List Selection, a Borders Original Voices Selection, a Barnes & Noble Book Club Selection, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller. It was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.

In addition, Hotel has been translated into 34 languages. I’m still holding out for Klingon (that’s when you know you’ve made it).

I’m an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp.

My next novel, SONGS OF WILLOW FROST, should be hitting shelves September 10, 2013! And I’m also working on a YA (Young Adult) series that even my agent doesn’t know about…yet.

Bookmagnet Says:

Four words: Wow.  My God.  Wow.  I guess that’s technically three, but you’ll probably share my sentiment once you read Ford’s story.

This book has everything.  It’s steeped in rich history, placed during a time of great suffering yet also a period in which modern cinema was born.  The characters leap off the page right into your heart.  The well-paced plot means you will not be able to put Songs of Willow Frost down until you finish the book.    A quest for identity, for forgiveness, for understanding, for reunion, Songs of Willow Frost proves you sometimes have to suffer to recognize and seize true happiness.  I loved Songs of Willow Frost every bit as much as Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Jamie Ford is no one-hit wonder.  No one writes a boy’s coming-of-age like he can.  

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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn Books; 416 pages; $25.95)

husband secretIt’s every widow’s worst nightmare.  You are going through your deceased husband’s desk to find an envelope, addressed to you, with the foreboding words: “To be opened only in the event of my death.”  But imagine if you were still a wife– not yet a widow, with a husband very much alive–a devoted mother, and a fixture of the community.  Imagine if your life was just about perfect.  This is exactly what happens to Cecilia Fitzpatrick, the main character in Liane Moriarty’s engaging and, above all, human fifth novel aptly titled The Husband’s Secret.

What would you do?  Do you open it?  Do you risk everything?  Do you really, truly want to know the possible deep, dark secrets held within?  And once you know—what then?  Once the secret is out, it can never be taken back.  Can’t you just see the story in the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” section of one of your mom’s old Ladies’ Home Journal Magazines?

Cecilia has already discovered the letter when Moriarty opens her narrative.  It’s not until page 144 that Cecilia finally opens the missive to read the secrets held within.  I think she showed incredible restraint.  Moriarty tends to ramble as she shows us Cecilia’s inner struggles—to open the letter or not to open the letter.  The author’s tactic is purposeful and full of meaning.  Cecilia’s once orderly and careful world changes rapidly, literally within seconds.  She has gone from the woman who had everything together to a directionless, unsettled person.  After all she has been through, who wouldn’t be all jumbled?

Moriarty superbly compares Cecilia’s opening the letter to Pandora opening the jar from which “all those dreadful ills would go whooshing out to plague mankind forevermore.” Willpower loses out to natural curiosity in most instances.  In this way, The Husband’s Secret is very real and relatable.  We’re all human, and Moriarty puts both a human and humane spin on this tale.

So many different scenarios spun through my head as I wondered exactly what the husband’s secret would be.  I admit I have a very active imagination.  Okay, here we go.  He’s got to be a terrorist, and he decides he will only confess after his death.  Or this: He’s planning on assassinating the president.  I mean—come on, he does have three names after all—classic future president killer.  Or yet: He has to be in the witness protection program.  He’s hiding from the Mafia.  Or still: He is leading a double life, with another wife and family.  For me, the latter seemed to be the most common scenario, and I cheered when none of the above came to fruition.  Moriarty manages to keep her premise fresh and different, and she succeeds in engaging the reader and keeping her guessing.

The Husband’s Secret a pure joy to read.  Moriarty creates an honest rendering of a marriage, of a life, and of a family.  So many moriartyemotions permeate these pages, and Moriarty captures each and every one of them perfectly.  We’re all imperfect and heavily flawed.  We’re all human.  We just cannot resist letters or even jars, despite what they might contain.  And that’s all part of the fun of life.  The Husband’s Secret will surely be a hit with book clubs as the story will resonate with women of all ages.  I suspect many women will take the discussion from the book club back home to the bedroom.

 The Husband’s Secret is the September Book Club Selection of She Reads.

For other reviews of the novel, fun giveaways, discussions, and more, visit She Reads!

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Following in the Footsteps of The Cairo Codex: 72 Hours in Cairo–Day 3

linda lambertThis is part 3 in a 3-part series in which Linda Lambert, author of The Cairo Codex, takes us to Cairo as we follow in the footsteps of Dr. Justine Jenner

Can you believe our time in Cairo is almost over?  Let’s begin Day 3!

Day 3: Meet your driver—who is now your long lost brother—for a trip to the Camel Market in Birqash. Birqash-Camel-MarketNearly 40 miles out of town, into the Delta, the views along the way are fascinating and the Camel Market is not to be missed. Traders from the Sudan in flowing robes hold hands until a deal can be struck. Brace yourself for the rather cruel treatment of these awkward creatures. Here also is one of the Community Schools for Girls that collapsed during the earthquake.

800px-The_Masalla-_MatarayyiahAs you return, you will drive through Bulouc and Shoubra, two of the poorest areas of Cairo, arriving at “a secret garden,” Mataria, where the Holy Family rested on their way into Babylon (as Old Cairo was then known). A sacred child is buried under the ancient sycamore. Justine experiences the holy ground,

“…Inside the enclosure, natural spring water bubbled through an ancient stone fountain and down into the collection pool below. An elderly woman dressed in a green kaftan and white hijab held out her gnarled hand, catching and sipping the holy waters. Justine rested her exhausted body on a stone ledge facing the vista and ancient sycamore alongside, its tired, twisted branches held stable by hefty wooden props. Bare limbs with giant clusters of leaves were smothered at the top by the unrelenting smog. Jasmine and honeysuckle sprang boldly in irregular patches from the sacred ground…”

By early evening, you may need another rest and shower. Dress up for your last evening in Cairo (perhaps you should also pack photo_3603before you go out). You can walk to the Taboula Restaurant at 1 Latin America Street in Garden City (2792-5261) near the American and Canadian Embassies, where the team that would unravel The Cairo Codex first met. The restaurant might have been a stage set for One Thousand and One Nights: carved Arabesque brass tables, lounging seats with red recessed lamps, ancient Oriental artifacts, cozy corners, and ornate pipes giving an air of timeless mystery. If you might be hosting four people, order a full mezza, tabullah, kofta, and labna. When you finish dining, it will be quite dark, and since the sidewalks are uneven and treacherous then, ask a staff member to call a taxi to take you to The Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Corniche, where Justine’s romance with Amir began, a romance that blossoms through the entire Justine Trilogy. It’s an easy walk back to the Shepheard. Fall into bed for you have an early flight—and much to think about:

Were these stories about the Holy Family true? Could they be?

Why such tensions among the three religions of the book when they

all originate with Abraham?

What did I observe about the Egyptian people, their economy, and

history?

Which of my original assumptions about Egypt have been overturned?

What stories will I tell back home?

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cairo codexRead before you go: The Cairo Codex by Linda Lambert (but, of course); Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell; Midaq Alley, a short story by Naguib Mafouz.

If you have more time: Alexandria (Metropole Hotel), Luxor and the Valley of the Kings (The Presidente Hotel), Aswan (Old Cataract Hotel) and Abu Simbel (return to Aswan for the night), a cruise down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. Yes, north is “down” in this case.

 

It’s time to return home, but we’ll always have Cairo.

Thank so much to Linda Lambert.  Visit Linda’s blog here.  Buy The Cairo Codex here!

 

 

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Following in the Footsteps of The Cairo Codex: 72 Hours in Cairo–Day 2

linda lambertThis is the second of a three-day post in which Linda Lambert, author of The Cairo Codex, guides us in the footsteps of Dr. Justine Jenner.

When an earthquake nearly buries anthropologist Justine Jenner in an ancient crypt, she finds what appears to be an ancient codex which, if real, could radically threaten the world’s great religions.

The Cairo Codex is a riveting novel of two women, two millennia apart, set in the exotic cultures of ancient and present-day Egypt. Dr. Justine Jenner has come to Cairo to forge her own path from the legacies of her parents, an Egyptian beauty and an American archaeologist. After an earthquake nearly buries her alive in an underground crypt, she discovers an ancient codex, written by a woman whose secrets threaten the foundations of both Christian and Muslim beliefs. As political instability rocks the region and the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to steal the Egyptian Revolution, Justine is thrust into a world where even those she trusts may betray her in order to control the codex’s revelations.

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Chop, chop, everyone!  Time to get out of bed and take in the sights and sounds of Cairo. Don’t forget to wear some comfy shoes and grab a bag to store some great souvenirs.  We don’t have much time so let’s get going on our journey.  Here’s Linda!

Tahrir-SquareDay 2: On your second morning in Cairo, walk to Tahrir Square, the center of revolutionary foment (ignoring any “helpful” persons along the way, especially if they claim to be a doctor).  Take the underground to the Mars Girgius Station in Old Cairo, stroll past the Roman fortress and into the Hanging Church suspended over the fort and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Wind through the narrow pathways to Saint Sergius Church, the actual home of the Holy Family in 2 BCE where Justine discovered The Cairo 2271106524_e34ec5e109_zCodex during a major earthquake. Don’t worry, earthquakes are infrequent in Egypt. Walk to the front and through the nave of 4th century St. Sergius, into the backroom to the left, and take the stairs down into the crypt where the Virgin Mary’s diary tumbled from the wall. Warning: it could be still flooded with ground water from the earthquake. The docent will explain.

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Take the underground back to Tahrir Square and walk east into the heart of Cairo’s fashionable shopping area (carrying a map at all times during your trip), stopping to eat lunch at one of the sidewalk shawarma (towers of sizzling beef spinning on a metal stake over a fire) shops along the south side of Talaat Harb Street. As you approach Midan Talaat Harb Square and the looming statue of the founder of the National Bank, you’ll find Mr. Harb in his towering tarboosh. Groppi’s blue mosaic façade can be spied on the left corner. This historic bakery and teashop was once a gathering place for writers, adventurers, self-appointed celebrities and pashas. It is the setting for two crucial scenes in The Cairo Codex and is a great place for a relaxing cup of tea and a couple of desirable dainty chocolate frosted cookies before returning to the hotel. You may not be able to resist buying a pair of flamboyant shoes at one of the many shops along the way. Return by way of The American University of Cairo.

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sphinx-front-wa-2001It is now early evening of your second full day in Cairo. Employ your personal driver from the hotel to take you to the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. Ask him to wait as you explore on foot (leaving a clean blouse or shirt and alternative shoes in the car).  Change clothes and shoes, modestly, and ask the driver to take you to the elegant Mena House Oberoi, nearby, for Darjeeling tea in the lounge overlooking the pyramids and dinner in the exotic Moghul Room. This “Palace of the Pyramids” was built for Sheikh Isma’il Pasha as his hunting lodge. Winston Churchhill, Agatha Christie, Queen Mary, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were frequent visitors. You may dismiss your driver as you enter the hotel since the staff will arrange for transport back to the Shepheard (he can take your dusty shoes and clothes back to the hotel to be left in your room).

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I don’t know about you, but I’m having a fabulous time in Cairo.  Do we have to go back home??  Come back tomorrow for Day 3.

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