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Spotlight on Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

burial ritesA brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

 

Hannah Kent won the 2011 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award for her manuscript, Burial Rites, and is currently mentored by Geraldine Brooks. She is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and teaches Creative Writing and English at Flinders University, where she is also completing her PhD.

 

I am currently reading Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and it is unbelievably good.  No, it’s more than that.  In a word–amazing.  I love the varied perspectives and how Kent manages to completely immerse us in her setting.  This is an environment alien to me, yet Kent makes it recognizable and beautiful.  She also has a powerfully poetic way with language.  Very highly recommended.

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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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Spotlight on A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik

Coming July 30 from Alfred A. Knopf

markerA hypnotic, spellbinding novel set in Greece and Africa, where a young Liberian woman reckons with a haunted past.  

On a remote island in the Aegean, Jacqueline is living alone in a cave accessible only at low tide. With nothing to protect her from the elements, and with the fabric between herself and the world around her increasingly frayed, she is permeated by sensory experiences of remarkable intensity: the need for shade in the relentless heat of the sun-baked island; hunger and the occasional bliss of release from it; the exquisite pleasure of diving into the sea. The pressing physical realities of the moment provide a deeper relief: the euphoric obliteration of memory and, with it, the unspeakable violence she has seen and from which she has miraculously escaped.

Slowly, irrepressibly, images from a life before this violence begin to resurface: the view across lush gardens to a different sea; a gold Rolex glinting on her father’s wrist; a glass of gin in her mother’s best crystal; an adoring younger sister; a family, in the moment before their fortunes were irrevocably changed. Jacqueline must find the strength to contend with what she has survived or tip forward into full-blown madness.
Visceral and gripping, extraordinary in its depiction of physical and spiritual hungers, Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift is a novel about ruin and faith, barbarism and love, and the devastating memories that contain the power both to destroy us and to redeem us. 

 

Alexander Maksik is the author of the novels, You Deserve Nothing (Europa, 2011) and A Marker to Measure Drift (Knopf, 2013). A Alexander Maksik by Beowulf Sheehangraduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his writing has appeared in Harper’s, Tin House, Harvard Review, The New York Times Magazine, Salon and Narrative Magazine, among others and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

He lives in New York.

 

A Marker To Measure Drift will leave an indelible mark on its readers.  I can tell you it had a very profound effect on me.  With lucid, beautiful prose, A Marker To Measure Drift is deceiving, something you only fully realize as you tear through the very last of Maksik’s pages.  He will make you shudder and gasp aloud as you absorb the brutal reality of  Jacqueline’s past and her uncertain future.  Fans of Chris Cleave’s 2009 stunner Little Bee will surely appreciate Maksik’s equally striking and impressive narrative.

Don’t miss A Marker To Measure Drift!  Check back soon for a book review.

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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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Spotlight on In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

I am reading a truly fabled and mythical novel so rich in language and place that I’m reading it slowly, so as to savor every word.

in the house

Coming June 18 from Soho

 

About the Book:

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.

About the Author:

matt bell

My debut novel IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS will be published by Soho Press in Spring 2013. I am also the author of CATACLYSM BABY, a novella, and HOW THEY WERE FOUND, a collection of fiction, as well as three chapbooks, WOLF PARTS, THE COLLECTORS, and HOW THE BROKEN LEAD THE BLIND. My fiction has appeared in many magazines, including CONJUNCTIONS, HAYDEN’S FERRY REVIEW, GULF COAST, WILLOW SPRINGS, UNSAID, and AMERICAN SHORT FICTION, and has been selected for inclusion in anthologies such as BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES and BEST AMERICAN FANTASY. I teach creative writing at Northern Michigan University, and previously taught at the University of Michigan. I am the senior editor at Dzanc Books, where I also run the literary magazine THE COLLAGIST.     –from Matt Bell’s website

If you are a fan of Karen Russell and/or Aimee Bender, then it’s time you discovered Matt Bell.  His debut has already been selected as the June Book Club Selections for Powell’s Indiespensable and the Nervous Breakdown.  IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS also has the distinct honor of being chosen as an Indie Next pick for July.

When you open IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS, you leave your world and enter a new dark and forbidding landscape.  And you will be so glad you did.

 

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Spotlight on The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom

I just finished reading a masterful debut by a very promising new novelist.

the blood of heaven

 

About the Book:

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 any 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.

About the Author:

Kent_Wascom

Kent Wascom was born in New Orleans in 1986, attended Louisiana State University and received his MFA from Florida State University. He was awarded the 2012 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for Fiction. The Blood of Heaven is his first novel. 

 

 

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Spotlight on A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

I’m about to begin reading what many consider to be THE book of the month.  Some even say this is THE NOVEL of the year.  I don’t know about that yet, but we’ll see.

constellation

About the Book:

A resilient doctor risks everything to save the life of a hunted child, in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that 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.

About the Author:

MarraA

 

Anthony Marra grew up in Washington, DC, and has lived and studied in Russia. His story “Chechnya” won First Place in Narrative’s Spring 2009 Story Contest and received both a Pushcart Prize and the Narrative Prize in 2010. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, and in 2013 Marra received the prestigious Whiting Writers’ Award. His debut novel is entitled A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Random House, 2013). Marra is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

There is no doubt that the war-torn country of Chechnya has been in the news of late and I think that might mean even more readers for Marra.  Readers are comparing A Constellation of Vital Phenomena to two of my favorite novels: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife.  I am excited about Marra’s debut.

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Spotlight on Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

I am reading an absorbing, charged debut novel called Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley.

amity and sorrow

Two sisters sit, side by side, in the backseat of an old car.  Amity and Sorrow.

Their hands are hot and close together.  A strip of white fabric loops between them, tying them together, wrist to wrist.

Their mother, Amaranth, drives them.  The car pushes forward, endlessly forward, but her eyes are always watching in the rearview mirror, scanning the road behind them for cars.

Amity watches through her window, glass dotted by chin, nose, forehead, and calls out all she can to see Sorrow: brown fields and green fields, gas stations and grain elevators.  She calls out the empty cross of the power pole.  She is watching for the end of the world.  Father told them it would come and, surely, it will.  They will see its signs, even far from him.  Even here.

Sorrow has her head down and her back curled over so she cannot watch.  She cups her belly and groans.

“Carsick,” says Mother.

Homesick, thinks Amity.

Their mother is taking them from their home and all they know, and they have no idea how they will ever get her to turn around and take them back.

About the Book:

A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go–her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, AMITY & SORROW is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.

About the Author:

Peggy Riley is a writer and playwright, originally from Los Angeles and now living in Britain on the North Kent coast.  She has been a bookseller, festival producer, and writer in residence at a young-offender prison.  Amity & Sorrow is her first novel.

Peggy Riley

Peggy Riley

Follow Peggy on Twitter

Author Website

Bookmagnet Says: Riley’s opening is gripping and literally forces you to keep reading.  You feel tethered to the sisters yourself, already, even on the first page.

 

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Spotlight on Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian

dear lucy

 

I go down the stairs quiet like I am something without any weight. I open the door in the dark and the cold sucks my skin towards it. It is the morning but there is no sun yet, just white light around the edges. It is the time to get the eggs. Time for my best thing. The eggs they shine with their white and I do not need the light to find them. The foxes need no light either. I am a little like the fox, he is a little like me.

I’m currently reading two books, but I am eager to start Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian.  Isn’t the cover adorable?

About the Book:

Lucy is a young woman with an uncommon voice and an unusual way of looking at the world. She doesn’t understand why her mother has sent her to live with old Mister and Missus on their farm, but she knows she must never leave or her mother won’t be able to find her again.

Also living at the farm is a pregnant teenager named Samantha who tells conflicting stories about her past and quickly becomes Lucy’s only friend. When Samantha gives birth and her baby disappears, Lucy arms herself with Samantha’s diary—as well as a pet chicken named Jennifer—and embarks on a dangerous and exhilarating journey to reunite mother and child. With Dear Lucy, Julie Sarkissian has created an unforgettable new heroine of contemporary fiction whose original voice, exuberance, and bravery linger long after the final page.

About the Author:

JULIE SARKISSIAN is a graduate of Princeton University, where she won the Francis Leon Paige Award for creative writing, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.

She is an instructor at The Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

julie-about

 

I am trying to get an interview with the author.  Fingers crossed!

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Spotlight on Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots author Jessica Soffer is a born and gifted storyteller whose debut is good enough to eat.

Just look at this beautiful cover.

tomorow there will be apricots

 

From the book:

This is a story about accepting the people we love—the people we have to love and the people we choose to love, the families we’re given and the families we make. It’s the story of two women adrift in New York, a widow and an almost-orphan, each searching for someone she’s lost. It’s the story of how, even in moments of grief and darkness, there are joys waiting nearby.

Lorca spends her life poring over cookbooks, making croissants and chocolat chaud, seeking out rare ingredients, all to earn the love of her distracted chef of a mother, who is now packing her off to boarding school. In one last effort to prove herself indispensable, Lorca resolves to track down the recipe for her mother’s ideal meal, an obscure Middle Eastern dish called masgouf.

Victoria, grappling with her husband’s death, has been dreaming of the daughter they gave up forty years ago. An Iraqi Jewish immigrant who used to run a restaurant, she starts teaching cooking lessons; Lorca signs up.

Together, they make cardamom pistachio cookies, baklava, kubba with squash. They also begin to suspect they are connected by more than their love of food. Soon, though, they must reckon with the past, the future, and the truth—whatever it might be. Bukra fil mish mish, the Arabic saying goes. Tomorrow, apricots may bloom.

According to her website, jessicasoffer.com, Jessica “earned her MFA at Hunter College. Her work has appeared in GrantaThe New York Times, and Vogue, among other publications. She teaches fiction at Connecticut College and lives in New York City.”

jessica

Rife with symbolism and meaning, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is tender, lush, and full-bodied.  Don’t miss this splendid debut by a bright, new talent.

Jessica Soffer.  "Soffer" means "scribe" in Arabic.

Jessica Soffer. “Soffer” means “scribe” in Arabic.

Check back soon for my review and an interview with the author.  Order Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots here.

Thanks to Leila Meglio for my copy.

 

 

 

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