Tag Archives: mystery

The Cairo Codex by Linda Lambert

Book Review: The Cairo Codex by Linda Lambert (West Hills Press; 324 pages; $15.95).

cairo codexWhen 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.

In The Cairo Codex, Linda Lambert, former state department envoy to Egypt and author of several books on leadership, plunges the reader into pre-revolutionary Egypt and allows us to witness a nation on the brink of a social uprising.  This is a subject Lambert knows well, and her expertise makes The Cairo Codex utterly gripping.  She could have easily set her tale in Iraq or Israel, but the effect would not be as great.  Writers are frequently told to write what they know best.  Lambert does just that, and it works beautifully.

Lambert combines history, mystery, and archaeology with romance, politics, and religion.  Almost a decade ago, novels like these were abundant.  Biblical thrillers were once all the rage most likely due to the success of Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code.  Within the past few years, however, they have largely disappeared from shelves.  Why, I have no clue.  Perhaps the public grew tired of them, and their popularity waned.  For me, at least, Lambert’s story was welcome.  I always enjoyed reading these historical mysteries.

It always helps to have a strong protagonist, especially if it’s an independent and clever woman.  Lambert’s main character, Justinelinda lambert Jenner, can be both tough and tender.  She has her flaws just like we all do, leading us to cheer her on her successes and lament her failures.

Lambert also introduces a minor character of great interest, Omar Mostafa, as Director of the Supreme Ministry of Egyptian Antiquities.  Mostafa will surely remind readers of Zahi Hawass, former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs under former President Hosni Mubarak.

The codex that Justine discovers could shake the foundations of all the world’s religions.  I know what you’re thinking–so many thrillers that have anything to do with Christianity make similar claims and fall short.  Not The Cairo Codex. Interesting and exciting, Lambert’s novel delivers.

The Cairo Codex is the first novel in The Justine Trilogy, and I eagerly await the sequel.  

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The King’s Deception by Steve Berry Blog Tour

The King’s Deception by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books; 432 pages; $27).

Steve Berry

Steve Berry

Cotton Malone returns in Steve Berry’s newest novel The King’s Deception and the stakes have never been higher.  I am a huge Malone fan, and I must say that Berry’s eighth installment in the Malone series is his best and his most controversial yet.  The King’s Deception made my heart pound, my pulse race, and my eyes go wide.  I predict all Malone fans will have similar reactions.

The King’s Deception is actually a flashback.  Malone relives an experience he had two years previously in a conversation with his ex-wife, Pam.

Not only does Berry focus on Malone, his main character, but he also provides us perspectives from a wide-range of narrators, adeptly and easily juggling a large cast.  The insight we gain from these multiple viewpoints enhances the tale and makes us aware of many things that Malone himself is heedless of.

It all begins when Malone and his son Gary travel to Europe.  Recent revelations have stunned the father-son duo and they need quality time together to talk.  In other words, their luggage is not the only baggage they carry with them on their trip.

Malone has also agreed to do a favor for his former boss at the Justice Department, Stephanie Nelle.  Accompanying Malone and Gary is Ian, a fugitive teen from England.

If you expect a smooth ride, then you’ve never read one of Berry’s Cotton Malone novels.  Nothing is ever as Malone expects it to be.  A simple favor leads to a showdown that evolves into an international incident.  At the heart of which is the terrorist convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103, who the Scottish government has agreed to release for humanitarian purposes: the bomber is dying of cancer.  Malone finds himself in the middle of a politically-charged environment, an area in which he usually shines and this is no exception.

It’s a formula that continues to work for Berry, who modeled his protagonist partly on himself when he first created his personality for The Templar Legacy.  Berry says he and Malone share a lot of attributes: “The love of rare books.  He doesn’t like enclosed spaces, I don’t either.  He doesn’t drink alcohol.  He has finicky eating habits, so do I.   I, of course, don’t jump out of planes and shoot guns at bad guys, so I live that through him.”  Berry is just as talented at creating his antagonists, such as CIA operative Blake Antrim, who shares a rather unexpected connection with Gary.

If the above were not enough, Berry goes one step further, introducing a mind-boggling but intriguing historical mystery involving Queen Elizabeth I.  The King’s Deception claims that Elizabeth was really a man in disguise.  And not just any man, but the son of King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son.  The real Elizabeth, according to Berry’s fascinating tale, died as a child and an imposter was put in her place.  The truth was kept a secret, especially from the king.

Bunk, you say?  Well, the story is tantalizing but not wholly implausible.  Berry thinks the myth is “both possible and fascinating.”  “The most wonderful fiction,” he explains, “always has a ring of truth to it.  Here, everything centers around the Bisley Boy legend.  Three years ago, Elizabeth [his wife] and I were north of London doing some publicity work for my British publisher when our guide told me about a local legend.   In the village of Bisley, for many centuries on a [certain] day, the locals would dress a young boy in female Elizabethan costume and parade him through the streets.  How odd.  I then discovered that Bram Stoker [author of Dracula], in the early part of the 20thcentury, also heard the tale and wrote about it in a book called Famous Imposters, which I read.   I then kings deceptionbegan to read about Elizabeth I and learned of many odd things associated with her.”  A story idea was thus born.

If this conspiracy theory were true, the implications would be vast.  Berry plays devil’s advocate here: “What does it matter if this thing happened in history?   How is that still relevant today? So what if Queen Elizabeth I was an imposter?”  “Actually it would matter a great deal,” Berry elucidates.  “Great Britain itself would dramatically change, and not without violence.  This possible ‘so what’ was such a threat that my British publisher asked me to tone things down a bit so we don’t provide folks with any ideas.”  Conspiracy theory or not, Berry offers readers something to ponder and even investigate for themselves.

With fast-paced action, fully realized and complex characters, and a brilliant mystery at its heart, The King’s Deception is an explosive and pulsing historical thrill ride—one I wanted to get on all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt (Penguin; 304 pages; $26.95).

you are one of themWhen two school-age girls have a falling out, the clash can seem like the outbreak of world war.  Both sides have many friends, allies who declare war simply because of loyalty to one party.  Think of them as NATO versus the Warsaw Pact.  There is no détente, and things can quickly get ugly.  Each girl deploys secret agents to spy and gather intelligence on the opposing foe.  Undercover surveillance reveals the weaknesses of each adolescent, failings that must be exploited at any cost.  Mutually assured destruction is a given.  If one of the girls tells a deep, dark secret on the other, retaliation will be swift and massive.    In this electrically charged, DEF-CON 1 environment, nuclear war becomes a real possibility as the chances of disarmament plummet.  This terminology recalls the blackest, iciest days of the Cold War—the early 1980s—the setting of Elliott Holt’s smart and suspenseful debut You Are One Of Them.

Hostile young girls are not that much different from warring nations.  Best friends Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones write letters to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov in 1982.  Incredibly, the president replies, but only to Jenny’s missive, not to Sarah’s.  Andropov invites Jenny and her family to the USSR on a good-will tour.  Jenny becomes a celebrity practically overnight but never mentions Sarah’s letter or the fact that it was all Sarah’s idea.  Say good-bye to that friendship.  A new cold war between former best friends thus commences.

Then, in 1985, Jenny and her family die in a plane crash.  The news devastates Sarah, sending her into a tail-spin.  Because Sarah thinks she is defective since those closest to her end up leaving or dying (her sister, her father, her best friend), defectors from the Soviet Union like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Vitaly Yurchenko, and Oleg Gordievsky fascinate her.   After college, Sarah decides to visit Russia for the first time.  She hopes to find a position in journalism in Moscow.

Sarah, though, has another reason to visit Moscow.  She receives a strange letter from a woman who spent time with Jenny during her tour of the Soviet Union and alludes to the possibility that Jenny did not actually die in the crash.  Here’s where the story turns exciting and interesting, especially when Sarah comes face to face with a woman who may or may not be Jenny.

Holt’s ending is intentionally ambiguous.  However, I preferred the vague ending to a clearer conclusion in this instance.  I liked not knowing.  I liked closing the book and wondering how one can navigate a course for truth when secrets and lies cloud the way.   Of course, the novel’s indefinite finale may frustrate some readers, but I appreciated the enigmatic mystery.

The character of Jenny is loosely based on Samantha Smith.  In December of 1982, Smith, a ten-year-old girl from Manchester, Maine, wrote a letter to Andropov.  Smith asked the Soviet premier if he planned to mount a nuclear war against America.  He replied to her, and, at his invitation, Smith toured the Soviet Union the next year.  Her picture was everywhere, and she even became a television actress.  This little girl was America’s youngest ambassador, but her life was cruelly cut short in 1985 when she and her parents were killed in a plane crash.

Set in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s when Star Wars was on the minds of moviegoers and presidents alike and in Moscow during the

Elliott Holt

Elliott Holt

1990s when the world map was constantly being drawn and redrawn, You Are One of them is fast-paced to reflect that fast-moving world.  Because the author lived in Moscow from 1997 to 1999, her writing radiates with intricate ease as Sarah navigates Moscow.  Holt is thus able to transport us to a strange, new, and uncertain Russia—a country that was once just as perplexing as the mystery that is at the heart of You Are One of Them.

Holt excavates the familiar terrain of friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and deception in You Are One of Them, but her penetrating gaze and knowing voice propel her tale far past other novels.   You Are One of Them shares the feel of The Americans and is just as addictive.  I was glued to every page of Holt’s novel.  I would have endured a nuclear winter to spend more time with these striking and well-illustrated characters…well, maybe.

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Spotlight on Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann

One of my favorite novels of 2010 was Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann.

I bit every one of my fingernails to the quick while reading Brackmann’s book–it was just that good and that compelling.

And now she’s back for another go with Hour of the Rat, coming June 18 from Soho.

hour-of-the-rat.jpgEllie McEnroe returns in the sequel to the critically acclaimed New York Times and USA Today best-seller, ROCK PAPER TIGER.

Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang’s mysterious disappearance of over a year ago has her in the sights of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving. But when her mom takes up with “that nice Mr. Zhou next door,” Ellie decides that it’s time to get out of town—given her mother’s past bad choices of men, no good can come of this.

An old Army buddy, Dog Turner, gives her the perfect excuse. His unstable brother Jason has disappeared in picturesque Yangshuo, a famous tourist destination, and though Ellie knows it’s a long shot, she agrees to try to find him. At worst, she figures she’ll have a few days of fun in some gorgeous scenery.

But her plans for a relaxing vacation are immediately complicated when her mother and the new boyfriend tag along. And as soon as she starts asking questions about the missing Jason, Ellie realizes that she’s stumbled into a dangerous conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire and lots of cats—one that will take her on a wild chase through some of China’s most beautiful—and most surreal—places.

About Lisa:

Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and

Lisa Brackmann

Lisa Brackmann

was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. Yes, she will do karaoke, and she’s looking to buy a bass ukulele. Her debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, GETAWAY, won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award.

Hour of the Rat is clever and taut and every bit as good as Rock Paper Tiger.  I love how flawed Brackmann’s protagonist is.  Her imperfections make Ellie real and relatable.  It is that authenticity together with an atmospheric setting and a spectacular plot that make Hour of the Rat such a stimulating and fascinating read.

Check back next week for my interview with Lisa Brackmann.  Yes, there will be a third book in the series!

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Interview with Mary Vensel White, Author of The Qualities of Wood

Jaime Boler: Thank you so much, Mary, for letting me interview you.  I loved your haunting and atmospheric debut.  Did you always want to be a writer?

Mary Vensel White

Mary Vensel White

Mary Vensel White: Thank you, both for reading and enjoying the novel, and for inviting me to your lovely blog! The writing sort of evolved around my decision to study literature.

I was attending a tiny junior college in Stockton, California, taking classes towards becoming a paralegal. I chose the field because I loved legal thrillers (my Grisham phase), the wordiness and drama of a good courtroom scene. In an entry level English class, we read D.H. Lawrence and Kerouac, neither of whom I really love but it was enough to ignite something. Also, the teacher encouraged me and pointed me in the right direction, something I’ll never forget. So I enrolled as an English major and assumed I’d teach. But I started writing on the side, too—short stories, bad prose poems.

By the time I’d finished school, I realized teaching would take too much mental energy away from writing, which is what I’d rather be doing. (Side note—my husband’s an attorney so I’m in a unique position now to realize what a preposterous idea it was for me to go into law!)

JB: How would you describe The Qualities of Wood in ten words or less?

MVW: Atmospheric and gripping, a mystery within a mystery.

JB: You were born and raised in California, yet The Qualities of Wood and your next novel are set in the Midwest.  What captivates you about that part of the country?

MVW: There was a certain sleepy feel to the countryside; small towns with miles to go before the next. I thought about the ways a small town can be isolated and self-directing, almost like a character itself with its own history and habits. I really don’t like when people stereotype the people of another place and yet, another thing about the Midwest—everyone really IS friendly! Also, I was interested in the differences between urban and rural spaces, and how someone might feel coming from the city, with its rushed and crowded feel, and being dropped into one of these slow-paced, sensory-rich small towns.

JB: Do you think you’ll ever set a story in California?

 

MVW: Yes! I’m currently working on a short story collection set in southern California. Projects often start with setting for me and California offers its own unique feel—the labyrinth of freeways, the endless sunshine, cities bleeding into each other. You feel a wealth of possibilities living here, and maybe the overarching presence of chance. You seldom meet someone with a shared history. And yet, people everywhere have the same hopes, fears and needs.

JB: How did you come up with The Qualities of Wood?

MVW: I wanted to play around with the mystery genre a bit, write something that may, on the surface, appear to be a traditional qualities-of-wood-200mystery but really was about character. And there was the urban/rural theme I wanted to explore—how someone may feel differently in each of these settings. I like the thought of perception and every man or woman creating his own reality.

How much can we truly know someone, how can we be certain “history” is true, how do we bring our own luggage into any encounter or relationship we have? These were the motivators for the story and of course, it’s always good to have a dead body to rile everyone up.

JB: In the novel, Mr. Stokes tells Vivian: “The minute something happens…that moment is lost forever.  There’s no truth.  Just stories.  Just rumors.”  What do you mean here?

MVW: In college, I had a minor in history, so this is another love of mine. When I’m asked about influences, I’ll usually mention a history book, Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson. The book introduced to me the notion that until people could imagine nations, nations did not exist.

And I thought this was so powerful, that identity (and history itself) could be determined by the collective conscious. Basically, that people could decide what was true. I started thinking about a small town, that insular setting, and how its inhabitants could cling to some version of history and in some ways, make that the true history.

Napoleon is quoted as saying: “History is a set of lies agreed upon.”  On a more immediate level, anyone who grew up with siblings can relate to the idea that no one sees an event in the same way. Even moments after something happens, we all start processing and changing. If you live long enough, you can watch this process over time, people telling stories while you think: “That’s not what happened!”

JB: Who are some of your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books?

MVW: Favorite authors: Per Petterson, Kent Haruf, Marilynne Robinson. I’ve read everything they’ve written and will rush to buy anything new. Some authors whose work I’ve just begun to read but could possibly become favorites: Michael Chabon, Jess Walter. Leif Enger has only written two novels but both are wonderful. Love Elizabeth Strout. Have an undying and devout love for the Southerners: Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers.

Favorite books: Lolita, Anna Karenina and recently inducted as #3 after a re-read: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

JB: What was your publication process like?

MVW: Fits and starts, highs and lows, and lots and lots of waiting. And it’s ongoing!

My particular process has been a little different than most. The book was released as an ebook in January of last year, so I spent a good part of the year promoting it. And now I’m gearing up for the print version, which will come out later this summer.

All in all, it’s been very gratifying and I especially enjoy talking to book clubs (plug: available to phone or Skype!), and meeting other writers at conferences.

JB: How were earlier versions of The Qualities of Wood different from the final published version?

MVW: This novel has been edited a zillion times over the past almost-twenty years! But I’m happy to say that the main essence of it, both in story, style and character, has remained the same. Probably the biggest change through the editorial process was the ending. I always felt the ending was flawed but couldn’t figure out what to do. And I can’t say anything more without ruining it for those who haven’t read it. But I will tell you secretly if you’re interested!

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing The Qualities of Wood?

MVW: I wrote this novel before I had children, while I had a cushy receptionist gig in a Chicago high rise. The first draft probably took six months, start to finish.

These days, time is an ongoing struggle. People talk about writer’s block but I always have many more ideas than I have time to work out on paper (or computer). So I can’t really think of anything that was difficult in the writing process back then. I had lots of quiet, uninterrupted time and it went very smoothly!

JB: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

MVW: Well, I have those children I mentioned, four of them. They keep my husband and I pretty busy—sports, lessons, school.

I read, all the time. I’m in a book club that’s been together for ten years.

Our family watches a lot of movies, and we’re pretty active. I exercise (yoga, aerobics, stuff like that) and do a bit of running. Sometimes we’ll compete in races, preferably ones with beer at the finish line!

Also, I’m sort of a general arts enthusiast, especially dance. Broadway, plays, concerts—I’m happiest when several tickets to upcoming events are hanging on my bulletin board.

I like to travel too. I just returned from a Memorial Day weekend trip to Illinois and Wisconsin with my daughter. I’d been back to Chicago but hadn’t been out to the country for a long time. Everything rushed back—all the sensory influences for The Qualities of Wood.

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Qualities of Wood?

MVW: I hope it touches them on a personal level, engages something within. And I hope it leaves them with things to ponder and a strong urge to buy anything else I may write in the future!

JB: I know you are working on a second novel and a collection of interrelated short stories.  What can you tell us about these books?

MVW: Sure! The novel is called Fortress for One. It’s about Gina, a middle-aged woman living a routine, unremarkable existence. Until the weekend when everything changes and she’s forced out of her rut. The book is set in the Midwest again, in Chicago and its suburbs but also Korea.

The story collection is the one I mentioned, set in greater Los Angeles and following the interlocking paths of three families. It’s about archetypal human stories and how they can be upended in modern times. The element of chance and how maybe life is just about responding to it.

JB: They both sound fascinating and I can’t wait to read them.  Thanks, Mary, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

When Vivian and her husband Nowell are enlisted to prepare his late grandmother’s country home for sale, they decide to take a break from city life. Nowell leaves before his wife to begin work on his second mystery novel and by the time Vivian joins him, a real mystery has begun.

A local girl has died in the woods behind the house. The tall line of trees separating the old white house from the thickets and wildlife beyond attracts Vivian, seems to beckon her within. Details begin to emerge about the victim and Vivian becomes enmeshed in the secrets of the girl’s life and final moments.

Nowell’s temperamental brother arrives with his new wife and the house gets crowded. A woman who befriends Vivian relays local gossip, including the questionable legacy of the town’s founder, while a neighbor, a striking man with a buried past of his own, keeps appearing at strange moments. Meanwhile, Vivian’s marriage is unraveling as Nowell loses himself in his work and Vivian seeks purpose, and ultimately, truth.

Buy the book here

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Interview with Aric Davis, Author of The Fort

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Aric, for letting me ask you these questions.  The Fort is an electrifying coming-of-age thriller that grabbed me from the first page.  You are a professional body piercer and novelist.  How did you get into writing?

 

the fortAric Davis: Thanks for having me! I got into writing because of my lifelong love of reading. Being published was a dream, and it was wonderful to be able to see it through to fruition. I had a small kernel of hope that I might one day leave my day job behind to be able to write full time, and last year I was finally able to put the piercing needle down for good.

 

JB: How would you describe The Fort in ten words or less?

 

AD: A coming of age novel with realistic characters.

 

JB: What was different about writing The Fort, your third novel, than writing your first book, A Good and Useful Hurt?

 

AD: The Fort and Hurt share a few similar themes. They both allow entry into the mind of a delusional and dangerous killer, both have some very bittersweet moments, and both have a couple moments of stomach-churning violence. What makes The Fort different are the character perspectives of the children involved in the story. Their voices were a riot to bring to life, and it was a fun reminder of just how entertaining being young was.

 

JB: What inspired you to write The Fort?

 

AD: Much like Tim’s dad in the book, several years ago I installed a patio, and just like Tim, my daughter was lucky enough to get a fort from the leftover lumber. Staring at that day in and day out inspired the idea, and while I initially borrowed the idea to Will Daniels, the lead in Rough Men, I had to take it back.

 

JB: Whose character’s voice did you hear first?

 

AD: Tim, Luke, and Scott were the first characters brought to life in the first draft of The Fort, and they were the ones that led the charge. That said, Dick Van Endel, the cop in The Fort, is a character who has found his way into several books that I have written, most recently in Hurt, Rough Men, and in the Kindle Serial, Breaking Point. Van Endel has been featured in a few unpublished works as well, and hopefully I’ll be able to have more of my stories with him as a costar in the future.

 

JB: What prompted you to set the story in 1987?

 

AD: Some of my favorite books are the coming of age novels written by Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen King, both of whom have placed novels in the 1950’s. In that same way, I wanted the era that I grew up in to shine in The Fort. In pains me to say that the 1980’s are the same distance from today that the 1950’s were then, but somehow it happened.

 

JB: Are any of your characters based on real people?

 

AD: My neighbors have three sons that are finally on their way out of teenager-dom, and listening to them cussing at one another and bludgeoning their way through life was a wonderful reminder when writing younger male characters.

 

JB: Do you have a favorite character in your story?  If so, please share.

 

AD: I really enjoy Tracy, the wise-cracking and foul-mouthed medical examiner. He’s a riot to write, even if he’s only used sparingly.

 

JB: How were earlier versions of the story different from the final copy?

 

AD: They were actually very similar. The Fort went through the same number of edits as anything else that I’ve had published, but they were far and away the easiest edits that I’ve ever had to work with. That said, even the more daunting edits typically go pretty easily. My editors Terry and David are never short of good ideas, and I am typically not so stupid as to resist their thoughts.

 

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing The Fort?

 

AD: The hardest part of the book came about three quarters of the way through. My good friend and first reader Greg had a suggestion at that juncture, and all of a sudden the end of the book became clear. I may or may not still owe him a beer for that.

 

JB: Critics have compared The Fort to Stephen King’s Stand By Meand Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone.  How do such comparisons make you feel?

 

AD: As those are two of my all-time favorite authors, I couldn’t be much more complimented.  It’s a hell of a thing to have my name mentioned in the same breath as writers like that, and it’s incredible to me to think that I could achieve anywhere near to what they have with writing.

 

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Fort?

 

AD: Ideally a sense of longing for the story, in that way that any loved book grabs at the reader. As I certainly can’t hope for that from everyone, I’ll be a little more down to earth and say that I hope that readers don’t feel that they wasted their money and time by buying and reading my story.

 

JB: What’s next for you?  Are you working on anything new?

 

AD: What comes next remains a mystery, but I am always working on something new. I’m a prolific weirdo, and right now I’m workingaric_davis_200 on my fifth manuscript since completing work on The Fort last summer. Hopefully one of these goes through to publication; I’ve certainly had fun writing them.

 

JB: Thank you, Aric, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

Aric Davis’ novel The Fort is available now on Amazon.com. At turns heartbreaking and breathtakingly thrilling, The Fort perfectly renders a coming-of-age story in the 1980s, in those final days of childhood independence, discovery, and paradise lost.

 

 

 

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It’s a June Books Boon

Ah, June.  So good to see you again.  What’s that you have there, June?  Oh, you’ve brought some wondrous works of fiction.  Why thank you!

Let me tell you, dear readers–so many great novels are being released this month.  So we better get started now so we can have time to read them all!

Titles To Pick Up Now:

A resilient doctor risks everything to save the life of a hunted child, in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties constellationthat bind us together.  In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.  For the talented, tough-minded Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

we need new names

 

 

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.  But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her–from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee–while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

 

 

A novel about fear of the future—and the future of fear.  New York City, the near future: Mitchell Zukor, a gifted young mathematician, is hired by a mysterious new financial consulting firm, FutureWorld. The business operates out of an empty office in the Empire State Building; Mitchell is employee number two. He is asked to calculate worst-case scenarios in the most intricate detail, and his schemes are sold to corporations to indemnify them against any future disasters. This is the cutting edge of corporateodds irresponsibility, and business is booming.  As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe—ecological collapse, war games, natural disasters—he becomes obsessed by a culture’s fears. Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine. Then, just as Mitchell’s predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost?  At once an all-too-plausible literary thriller, an unexpected love story, and a philosophically searching inquiry into the nature of fear, Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow poses the ultimate questions of imagination and civilization. The future is not quite what it used to be.

 

 

 

and the mountains echoed

 

An unforgettable novel about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else.  Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.   In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. 
Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

 

One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in anythe blood of heaven novelist, no matter their age.  The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.  The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.

Coming Soon:

May 30 from Putnam Adult. 

Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her 

a hundred summers

after heartbreak.   That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.  Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily’s friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction…and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.   Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever.

 

June 3 from Liveright

last summer

Set on Cape Cod during one tumultuous summer, Elizabeth Kelly’s gothic family story will delight readers of The Family Fang and The Giant’s House.  The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, from the best-selling author ofApologize, Apologize!, introduces Riddle James Camperdown, the twelve-year-old daughter of the idealistic Camp and his manicured, razor-sharp wife, Greer. It’s 1972, and Riddle’s father is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Between Camp’s desire to toughen her up and Greer’s demand for glamour, Riddle has her hands full juggling her eccentric parents. When she accidentally witnesses a crime close to home, her confusion and fear keep her silent. As the summer unfolds, the consequences of her silence multiply. Another mysterious and powerful family, the Devlins, slowly emerges as the keepers of astonishing secrets that could shatter the Camperdowns. As an old love triangle, bitter war wounds, and the struggle for status spiral out of control, Riddle can only watch, hoping for the courage to reveal the truth. The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is poised to become the summer’s uproarious and dramatic must-read.

June 4 from Riverhead

yonahlosseeA lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls’-school rituals, set in the 1930s South.  It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.  Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.

June 11 from Thomas & Mercer

 

Booklist “Top 10″ author Aric Davis returns with The Fort, a brutal coming-of-age tale forged with the lost innocence of Stephen King’s Stand by Me and the rich atmosphere of Dennis Lahane’s Gone Baby Gone.  In the waning summer days of 1987, Vietnam vet Matt Hooper abducts and kills nameless young women from the streets, replaying violent wargames he can’t escape.  In a twisted turn of events, he picks up sixteen-year-old neighborhood kid Molly Peterson and she goes missing–but this time, there are the fortwitnesses.  For high up in their makeshift fort, local boys Tim, Luke, and Scott spy a strange man in the woods with a gun to Molly’s back, and for the first time in their lives, experience evil lurking in their suburban backyards.  The boys seek help from Detective Richard Van Endel, but their story is taken as foolish make-believe, and their only choice is to shed their adolescence and track down Molly and the killer.  These aren’t childhood games anymore; they can never go back to the long days of summer.  The author of A Good and Useful Hurt and Nickel Plated, Aric Davis returns us to the days of his youth, when the ever present shadow of a violent war gave way to paradise lost.

 

 

 

 

June 11 from Knopf

engagements

From the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine comes a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage—about those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.  Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own.   As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.  A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.

June 18 from Soho Press

in the house

 

In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.  This novel, from one of our most exciting young writers, is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.

 

June 18 from Doubleday

A spectacularly original, vibrant, and spirited debut narrated by a shy, sensitive college student who, in her search for love and lovebirdfamily, must flee everything she knows.    Margie Fitzgerald has always had a soft spot for helpless creatures. Her warm heart breaks, her left ovary twinges, and Margie finds herself smitten with sympathy. This is how Margie falls in love with her Latin professor, a lonely widower and single father who trembles visibly in class. This is how Margie joins a band of ragtag student activists called H.E.A.R.T. (Humans Encouraging Animal Rights Today) in liberating lovebirds from their pet-store cages. And this is how Margie becomes involved in a plan so dangerous, so reckless, and so illegal, that she must flee her California college town, cut off contact with her dear old dad, and start fresh in a place unlike anywhere she has ever been. Introducing one of the most unforgettable heroines in recent fiction, The Lovebird is a novel about a girl who can’t abandon a lost cause, who loves animals, and who must travel to the loneliest place on earth to figure out where she really belongs.

 

 

June 18 from Soho Crime

Sequel to ROCK PAPER TIGER

Sequel to ROCK PAPER TIGER

Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang’s mysterious disappearance of over a year ago has her in the sights of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving. But when her mom takes up with “that nice Mr. Zhou next door,” Ellie decides that it’s time to get out of town—given her mother’s past bad choices of men, no good can come of this.  An old Army buddy, Dog Turner, gives her the perfect excuse. His unstable brother Jason has disappeared in picturesque Yangshuo, a famous tourist destination, and though Ellie knows it’s a long shot, she agrees to try to find him. At worst, she figures she’ll have a few days of fun in some gorgeous scenery.  But her plans for a relaxing vacation are immediately complicated when her mother and the new boyfriend tag along. And as soon as she starts asking questions about the missing Jason, Ellie realizes that she’s stumbled into a dangerous conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire and lots of cats—one that will take her on a wild chase through some of China’s most beautiful—and most surreal—places.

 

June 25 from Redhook

universe

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.   But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.   So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

Paperback Releases

June 4 from Simon & Schuster

banyan

In her debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, fiction eerily mirrors Ratner’s reality, as she tells the visceral and achingly heartbreaking story of 7-year-old Raami, a member of the royal family and a child who should never have had to see the things she witnessed.  Raami’s story is loosely based on Ratner’s life.

Like Ratner, Raami holds on to her innocence as only a very young child can.  Raami transports herself away from the ugliness and violence around her by turning inward.  For a time, she does not speak.  She is in a world of her own making.  Ratner employs magical realism, and this literary device works well when one is telling a story from the point of view of a 7-year-old, especially one who has seen such horror.  –From my book review

Read my interview with Vaddey Ratner here.

 

June 18 from Simon & Schuster

green shoreIn a nod to her father’s birthplace, Natalie sets her story mostly in Greece and focuses on a dark period of the country’s history, one that is virtually unknown to most: the 1967 to 1974 military dictatorship.  This period in Greek history, quite honestly, was Greek to this reviewer.  Natalie Bakopoulos, though, takes this event and personalizes it.  In her novel, the political becomes personal, and the personal becomes political…Since Bakopoulos is part Greek, she is intimately aware of Greek history and tradition.  Her knowledge and familiarity with Greece make this story all the more authentic.  Early on in the novel, Eleni and the rest of the family celebrate Easter.  Each takes a dyed-red egg.  Bakopoulos writes, “As was tradition, they would each take a hard-boiled, bright red egg and hit it together with the adjacent person’s, first the pointed end and then the round.  The last one with an intact egg was destined to have good fortune for the rest of the year.”  Reading this description, I could not help but wonder if the family itself would be cracked and broken by novel’s end.  Bakopoulos’s use of this Greek tradition is clever foreshadowing.     –From my book review

June 18 from Back Bay Books

tigers

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.   –From my blurb in Elle, December 2012

Read my full review here

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What are you looking forward to reading in June?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Book Review: Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books; 384 pages; $14.95).

is this tomorrow

            Fear of communism and nuclear war permeated the psyches of millions of Americans in the 1950s.  Public and private concerns were heightened by Senator Joseph McCarthy when he proclaimed that hundreds of Communists had infiltrated the United States government.  Many writers and entertainers were accused of sympathizing with Communists and thus were blacklisted.  His accusations were later disproved, but that did not stop his fervor from spreading.

In her tenth and best novel, Is This Tomorrow, expert storyteller Caroline Leavitt capitalizes on these anxieties.  “You can’t trust these Communists,” one of Leavitt’s minor characters maintains.  “They couldn’t tell the truth if they wanted to….You kids think it’s funny, but any second a missile could come down on us,” he insists.  “And we wouldn’t even see it or be prepared.  One minute we’re here talking in this nice neighborhood, and two seconds later, boom, we’re ash.”  In his eyes, the Russians “hide explosives” and could be anywhere, even in his own neighborhood, “and we wouldn’t even know it.”

The era in which Leavitt sets her story is perfect for her setting.  Father Knows Best gently reminds American kids who is boss in the household.  Echoes of “just wait until your father gets home” are heard all across the United States as the mother keeps house and raises the children and the father brings home the bacon.  Doors are left unlocked.  Sunday is the Lord’s day.  The post-war economy is booming, and so is the birthrate.  Everything seems idyllic, but appearances often deceive, as we all know.

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union is at its frostiest with no signs of thaw.  Nuclear annihilation is a real and daily threat as school kids are taught to duck and cover and worried fathers build bomb shelters.  New phrases such as Red Scare and Yellow Menace become part of the everyday lexicon.  Americans view those who are different, who do not conform, who look different, who sound different, and who worship differently with contempt.  Anyone deemed not like everyone else was considered deviant.

Life seems peachy for Americans, but ugliness and fear lurk just under the surface.  This juxtaposition is at the heart of Leavitt’s taut, atmospheric, and humane tale.  Blending a coming-of-age saga with history and mystery, Leavitt creates a tense and suspenseful atmosphere when a neighborhood boy goes missing.

Is This Tomorrow is told from three different and varied perspectives: Ava, divorcee, working mother, and the head of the only Jewish family on the block; Lewis, her son; and Rose, her son’s best friend and sister to Jimmy, the youth who vanishes.  Although Jimmy is not a narrator, his disappearance looms over the novel; his presence and his absence are powerfully palpable.

Because Ava is different from the other neighborhood parents, she is suspect.  Ava locks her doors when all the other doors are unlocked; she works when the rest of the mothers do not have jobs outside the home.  She does not dress like the other mothers and she has had a string of boyfriends. The neighbors see her as a floozy.  These things do not necessarily damn her, though.  Other parents believe she may have had an inappropriate relationship with her son’s best friend.  Ava denies it but admits she knew Jimmy had a crush on her.  He was at Ava’s the day he went missing.

Jimmy’s disappearance profoundly changes the lives of all of Leavitt’s main characters.  Jimmy’s departure leaves Ava, Lewis, and Rose stuck and unable to go forward.  The calendar turns and they grow older, but they are still stuck in the moment Jimmy faded away forever.  They have too many loose ends in their lives, and the burning desire to know what happened drives them.

Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt

Rose, Jimmy’s sister, becomes a teacher but never forgets her family tragedy as she desperately pleads with the principal to put a fence around the playground so school kids will not wander off.  Lewis withdraws from his mother and searches for his father, who once wanted custody of Lewis but has since vanished himself.  Ava feels alone and bakes pies that she sells to a local restaurant but has never forgotten Jimmy and the day he seemed to evaporate into thin air.

Leavitt hooks you in the first chapter when young Jimmy goes missing and does not let you go until the very last page.  I was riveted.  Leavitt provides readers with timely and weighty issues such as missing children, difference, and paranoia.

With expert pacing, the author takes her time revealing secrets.  This master storyteller is meticulous and wise as she teases out every detail but still keeps you guessing.  Is This Tomorrow is atmospheric and taut and has everything you could ever want in a book: compelling, fully realized characters; an intense, dramatic, and compelling plot; and the perfect, evocative setting.  Everything comes together superbly in Leavitt’s skilled hands.

The title is taken from a propaganda comic book that came out in 1947 and warned of the dangers of a Communist takeover.  An estimated four million Americans purchased the educational comic, no doubt contributing to the fear and paranoia of the 1950s.  In Is This Tomorrow, Leavitt brings this era to life and illustrates how fear of the unknown and fear of difference transformed a country, a community, and a people.  Although her book is set primarily in a time very different from our own age, Is This Tomorrow is a cautionary tale for us in the Twenty-First Century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Rhonda Riley, Author of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

tlc tour host

I am very excited to be part of my very first blog tour!  Today, I am the first stop on TLC Book Tours’ The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope blog tour.  Up first is my interview with wonderful debut novelist Rhonda Riley.  I will also be reviewing this tale today and giving away a copy of the book.  Thanks to Rhonda, TLC Book Tours, and  Trish Collins.

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Rhonda, for letting me ask you these questions!  I see extraordinary things for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope and am quite excited to be part of TLC Book Tour’s blog tour.  You are a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Florida.  Did you always want to be a novelist?

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley: Thank you for your enthusiasm for Adam Hope. I’m happy to be here. As a very young woman, I wanted to be a variety of things (political activist, lawyer, child psychologist),  but [being a] writer didn’t occur to me until I was in my 20s and then my focus was poetry and creative nonfiction.

Novels seemed daunting.  And I thought in poems then. I couldn’t imagine how writers got their arms around something [as] big as a novel.  All those pages!  I was in my 40s before I ever thought of writing a novel.  And Adam Hope is the first and only novel I’ve written.

JB: How many publishers were chomping at the bit for your debut?  How did it feel to sell your debut novel at auction?

RR: To tell you the truth, I don’t quite remember.  There were four or five publishers very interested and the serious bidding came down to three, I think.  The process was thrilling and surreal, and I do not use the word “surreal” lightly. Everything seemed to happen exactly the way it was supposed to, and, at the same time, it was so unexpected.  I feel very fortunate.

JB: Please describe The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope in ten words or less.

RR: Ten words!  Okay, here goes: A woman finds a unique stranger who changes her world.

JB: How did you come up with the idea for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope?

RR: I was writing nonfiction and poems trying to tell a few truths about my family.  After several attempts, I gave up [on] truth and decided to make up stuff.  That kicked the door wide open.  Then, one day, I got an image of two hands touching in the mud, and I knew their contact involved some kind of transformation or transmission between two people.  From there, I followed that single image. I didn’t imagine the whole book or even the entirety of Adam’s character in one swoop.  It came about in increments.

JB: Many writers say they hear the voices of characters in their heads before a story takes shape.  Was this true for you?  If so, I’m curious as to whose voice you heard first: Addie, Adam, or Evelyn?

RR: I definitely heard Evelyn’s voice first. In fact, it was Evelyn’s voice and her character, not Adam’s, that drove me to write the story. Hers was the voice that obsessed me.  I knew she was the teller of the story. Adam’s/Addie’s voice, in all its uniqueness, evolved.

I first got the idea for his voice from something that happened to a friend of mine.  She was awakened one morning by a beautiful, mysterious sound that seemed to come through her body, an experience that left her euphoric.

Then, years later, I was once sitting on the toilet in the ladies room in one of the old bathrooms at UF (you take your inspiration where you can get it). The stall walls were marble and I discovered, quite by accident, that if I leaned forward while singing the second note of the Gloria chorus, my voice and the thin marble resonated in a lovely way.  My head and chest vibrated.  And I thought how wonderful it would be if we could do that to each other.

Thus, Adam’s voice. The first time I heard Tibetan singing bowls was a turning point in creating a description of his vocal abilities.

JB: I read that the original title for the novel was Adam Hope: A Geography.  Why was the title changed?

RR: My editor and agent both thought it was a cool title, but potentially confusing rather than intriguing.  Confusing enough that it might put some readers off.  A work of fiction that announces itself as a geography probably would lead to some pretty frustrating search results. Personally, I like titles that immediately make me ask questions like:  “A geography of a person, what would that be?”  But others prefer titles that answer the question: “What’s in this book?” I decided to trust the opinion of my editor and agent.  They have much more experience in getting people take a book off the shelf.  My job is to keep people reading once they open the book.

adam hope

JB: One of the myriad things I love about your novel is that it crosses genres (supernatural, mystery, love story, historical fiction, debut fiction, literary fiction) and will attract many different readers.  How important was it to you to appeal across genres?

RR: Actually, it was a little scary when I began to realize where I was taking the story.  I was afraid it would keep me from finding a publisher.  But I made a decision early on to write the story I wanted and needed to write, to write it the best I could, and then think about genres and publication later.  I didn’t set out to cross genre boundaries, but I do like the fact that it worked out that way, and it certainly makes sense for a book that features someone like Adam who crosses genres of self.  As a reader, I am very comfortable with books that don’t fit neatly into one category.  The transgression of boundaries can be fun.

JB: Adam Hope is such an unconventional character, one literally made in the image of others.  How did you dream him up?

RR: I think Adam appears unconventional because he is in a conventional context and he is narrated by a pretty conventional person, but characters with special abilities have been popping up in stories for a very long time. He is sort of the reverse of the zombies and vampires so popular now.

I built him gradually, one characteristic at time.  One clear memory I have of consciously making a decision about him was when I chose his occupation.  I wanted him to be connected to the natural world and animals.  I wanted him to be associated with a large, powerful animal, one capable of being domestic and wild. Horses seemed such a perfect fit for him.

For me the center of the story of Evelyn and Adam is its play on differences and similarities, intimacy and strangeness, the other and the self. Androgyny also seemed a natural fit for Adam in that it bridges two opposites.

JB: You have your very own Adam and Eve (Evelyn) in this story, your very own Genesis.  How difficult was it to fashion these characters?

RR: Evelyn was easy, I just recalled my mother’s voice and that seemed to lead very naturally to a defined character. I think of Evelyn as being made up of two of my favorite women, my mother and my great aunt, Lil.  Adam was more difficult—a lot more pondering and experimentation on my part.

JB: What kind of research did you do for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope?

RR: I did a good deal of research about farm life and textile mills of the Carolinas in the 1940s.  Very little of it actually shows up in the novel.  In the end, I relied mostly on the stories my mother had told me. But I think the research, especially reading newspapers from the period, helped me more fully imagine the world I wanted to create.

I had to do some research on horses, since I was not familiar with them. And I had horse-loving friends who helped me there.

The most challenging research was finding photos of the genitalia of infant hermaphrodites so that I could describe Gracie’s birth.  Luckily, I live near a university medical library and didn’t have to rely on the internet for that research.

JB: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope has been compared to The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, huge bestsellers and brilliant novels (well-deserved praise, in my opinion).  How do such comparisons make you feel?

RR: I am honored to be compared to them. Lauren Groff also wrote me a great blurb comparing the book to the work of Alice Munro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez– that actually made me blush when I first read it. I think The Time Traveler’s Wife is a particularly apt comparison since Adam Hope is also a realistic, contemporary treatment of a surreal situation.  That was the comparison I used to get my agent’s attention.

JB: Did you know how big this novel could be while you were writing it?

RR: I was hoping for publication and some degree of success, of course.  But no, I can’t think about that while I am writing. And I have to ignore those wild fluctuations in my own psyche.  One day it looks like a the greatest story I every wrote; the next day, all of it looks like crap.

While I was trying to find an agent, I stumbled on a very humorous new word on one agent’s blog: casturbation.  It is the act of imagining, before you finish your novel, who will play the lead in the movie based on it.  There are some fun and tempting fantasies in the process, but while I am writing, I really have to think only about the story.

JB: Who did you envision playing your leading characters?

RR: For Adam, some combination of Johnny Depp (prior to his piracy days) and John Goodman (in his younger, Barton Fink days).  One because of his pretty face and ability to be a little offbeat and the other for his ability to be physically imposing and ordinary.   For Evelyn, Tilda Swinton.   All these actors are now too old to play these parts. Guess that must say something about me.  Or about how long I took to write the story.

JB: Hey, I love Johnny Depp!  He never goes out of style.  Neither do John Goodman and Tilda Swinton.  Great actors, all.  How many drafts did The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope go through?  How different were the earlier drafts from the final version?

RR: I don’t really know. I lost track. I’d say six or seven drafts, including the final ones with my editor.  But some of the last drafts were partial revisions where we were working only on the final chapters.   The first three or four drafts were very different from the final one.

The whole novel was once a series of letters Evelyn wrote to her daughters and it included a lot of information about her life as an old woman. Lots of italics to indicate the time changes!  And I included Evelyn’s daughters’ emails to each other about her. I really loved writing about Evelyn as old woman. But, after getting feedback from friends and a couple of agents who liked my writing but not the format, I changed the entire novel.

I got about 80 pages into a third-person version, but I couldn’t make that feel right, so I switched to a straight first-person narration without letters.

JB: What is a typical day of writing like for you?

RR: It varies wildly, I am not a disciplined person, but when I am on [a writing kick], it is four to five hours a day. I meet a couple times a week with some other writers.  We all meet at one woman’s house and we just write.  We don’t talk, our phones are off and there is no internet.  Group self-discipline.  It’s great!

JB: Who are some of your favorite authors and/or what are some of your favorite books?

RR: I love the stories of Alice Munro.  They always seem so seamless. She makes writing appear effortless. I like Robert Olen Butler’s Tabloid Dreams. I am on a Louise Erdrich kick now, trying to decipher what I like so much about the narration of The Master Butchers Singing Club. Whatever it is, I want to be able to do it as well as she does. But my favorite book is Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. Beautiful language.  So seductive.  And a pretty fantastic story, too. I can’t get over it.

JB: What are you currently reading?

RR: I am currently reading Laura Lee Smith’s debut novel Heart of Palm.  I just met her and she lives about an hour from me, in St. Augustine, Florida, We’re thinking of doing a little mini-Florida tour together.  I just finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.  Those two are very different books and good in very different ways.  I’m also reading Generation Zombie (an academic take on the zombie phenomena) by Wylie Lenz and Stephanie Boluk.  I’m one chapter into The Righteous Mind, and on the last pages of Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God. And every month I read Discover magazine.  I read a lot of nonfiction.

JB: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

RR: Dawdle and travel.  Dawdling and traveling might seem to be contradictory activities but the best travel must involve some dawdling. After a long session writing, I like to do anything that involves not sitting down. One of the hardest parts of writing is all the desk time. I used to have hobbies, but I’ve gotten lazy.  Friends, pets, a backyard and writing can take up a lot of time if you do them right.

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope?

RR: I would hope they find mysteries–the small ones as well as the big ones– easier to accept and listen to. I’d be pleased if, after meeting Adam, they found the strangeness of the stranger more interesting than alien.

JB: Are there any plans to turn the novel into a movie?

RR: Nothing now, but I have an agent and a film rights agent.  I know some folks involved in the film industry have read the book. But there are no plans at this point. I would love to see how someone would do Adam’s voice in a movie.

JB: What’s next for you?  Are you working on anything new?

RR: I’m very curious about how Adam Hope will be received.  I’ve been inviting readers to come up with their own ideas and illustrations of where Adam is now and to share those speculations. He/She could be anyone anywhere, you know.  Meanwhile, I am working on a new, completely unrelated novel about sin and innocence.   I also have lots of notes and an outline for a sequel to Adam Hope.

 

JB: OOH, I can’t wait for that!  Thank you so much, Rhonda, for a wonderful interview.  I know readers are going to love the book just as much as I do.  Good luck!

RR: I’ve enjoyed it!    Thank you for your interest in my work.

enchanted

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Other stops on blog tour:

Rhonda’s Tour Stops

tlc logoMonday, April 22nd: Bookmagnet’s Blog

Tuesday, April 23rd: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, April 24th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, April 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Monday, April 29th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, May 6th: A Night’s Dream of Books

Tuesday, May 7th: Giraffe Days

Thursday, May 9th: Book Snob

Thursday, May 9th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf

Tuesday, May 14th: Bibliophiliac

I am giving away a brand new copy of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.  Please fill out the brief form below.  Giveaway ends Friday, April 26, at 5 pm ET.  I will use random.org to choose a winner.

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Spotlight on The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

I am reading The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper.  This mystery/thriller is compelling and engaging enough that you can read it in a sitting.  Once you begin reading, you just cannot stop and have to get to the end or else.

the demonologist

About the Book

Fans of The Historian won’t be able to put down this spellbinding literary horror story in which a Columbia professor must use his knowledge of demonic mythology to rescue his daughter from the Underworld.Professor David Ullman’s expertise in the literature of the demonic—notably Milton’s Paradise Lost—has won him wide acclaim. But David is not a believer.

One afternoon he receives a visitor at his campus office, a strikingly thin woman who offers him an invitation: travel to Venice, Italy, witness a “phenomenon,” and offer his professional opinion, in return for an extravagant sum of money. Needing a fresh start, David accepts and heads to Italy with his beloved twelve-year-old daughter Tess.

What happens in Venice will send David on an unimaginable journey from skeptic to true believer, as he opens himself up to the possibility that demons really do exist. In a terrifying quest guided by symbols and riddles from the pages of Paradise Lost, David attempts to rescue his daughter from the Unnamed—a demonic entity that has chosen him as its messenger.

About the Author

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Andrew Pyper was born in Stratford, Ontario, in 1968. He received a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from McGill University, as well as a law degree from the University of Toronto. Although called to the bar in 1996, he has never practiced.

His new novel, The Demonologist, will be published in Canada and the US by Simon & Schuster in March, 2013, and by Orion in the UK and Australia in April 2013.  Film rights have been sold to Universal Pictures with Robert Zemeckis’ company, ImageMovers, producing.  Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Robert Schenkkan, is adapting.

The Guardians, Andrew’s fifth novel, was published in Canada (Doubleday Canada) in January 2011, the U.K. (Orion) in February 2011, and following this internationally in various territories.  It was selected a Globe and Mail 100 Best Books of the Year.

The Killing Circle, Andrew’s fourth novel, was a national  bestseller in Canada, and has been published in the U.K. (HarperCollins) and U.S. (St. Martin’s/Minotaur).  Translation rights have been sold in Holland, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Japan.

Kiss Me, a collection of short stories, was published to acclaim in 1996. Following its publication, Mr. Pyper acted as Writer-in-Residence at Berton House, Dawson City, Yukon, as well as at Champlain College, Trent University.His first novel, Lost Girls, was a national bestseller in Canada and a Globe and Mail Notable Book selection in 1999 as well as a Notable Book selection in the New York Times Book Review (2000) and the London Evening Standard (2000). The novel won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and is an Otto Penzler pick on Amazon.comLost Girls has been published in the U.S. (Delacorte Press) and U.K. (Macmillan) in 2000, and has also been translated into Italian, Dutch, German and Japanese. Andrew is attached as screenwriter for a feature film adaptation of Lost Girls, working with producer Steven Hoban(Ginger Snaps, Oscar-winner Ryan, Splice).

Andrew’s second novel, The Trade Mission, was published in Canada, the U.K., U.S., the Netherlands and Germany. It was selected by The Toronto Star as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year.Andrew’s third novel, The Wildfire Season,was a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and has been published to acclaim in the U.K., Canada, U.S. and Holland. The Wildfire Season is currently in development for feature film with L.A.-based producer Chris Moore (Good Will Hunting, American Pie).

He lives in Toronto.

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The Demonologist is a tale to be devoured.  Open your mouth really wide like one of Pyper’s demons and swallow it whole.

 

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