Tag Archives: summer books

Book Review: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (Putnam Adult; 368 pages; $26.95).

a-hundred-summers2.jpgIf you prefer your summer reads served up with a side of a nostalgic New England coastal setting, old money, and old rivalries, then A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams should satisfy your literary cravings.  Williams’ second novel (her first was Overseas) is the perfect propulsive beach read.   Plot-driven, A Hundred Summers culminates in an explosive confrontation just as a powerful hurricane barrels down on an idyllic seafront community.  You will not be able to tear yourself away from these pages.

Williams skillfully alternates between present and past story arcs, creating and building suspense.  In 1938, the wealthy Lily Dane and her family summer at Seaview, Rhode Island, just as they have every summer for generations.  This season will not be as happy and restful as the others have been, though, as Budgie and Nick Greenwald have decided to make the island their summer home.  In tow is New York Yankees pitcher and ladies’ man Graham Pendleton.

Secrets and lies are about as plentiful in A Hundred Summers as salt water, sand, and cocktails.  In Williams’ 1931 story arc, she paints quite a different picture of these characters.  Lily and Budgie were the very best of friends, a united front.  Lily and Nick were in love and planned on getting married, while Budgie and Graham were hot and heavy.

In a flash, everything changes for Williams’ characters and we must unravel  truths from lies as we desperately search for what really happened.  Wholly engaging and entertaining, A Hundred Summers recalls the nostalgic aspects of Liza Klaussmann’s Tigers in Red Weather , where “summer” is a verb and green is the color of both money and of envy.

Both narratives lead to a stunning climax, compelling the reader forward through the murky and deep depths of this richly-imagined novel.  Williams’ love for the coast is on full display in A Hundred Summers as she navigates both the culture of moneyed islanders

Beatriz Williams

Beatriz Williams

and the history behind her tale.

The hurricane that comes roaring ashore and destroys the fictional community of Seaview is based on the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.  Williams explains the storm “thundered ashore without warning in the afternoon of September 21 [1938], killing over seven hundred people and felling over two billion trees.”  Incredibly, the forecast for the 21st called for sunshine and only a bit of wind in the afternoon.  The hurricane has always fascinated Williams, who tells me, “Nobody even knew a hurricane was on its way…What they got was a minimum Category 3 surge forcing a 15-20 foot surge that came in like a tsunami.”

Entertaining, intriguing, and well written, A Hundred Summers is this summer’s perfect beach or poolside accessory.  You will fall in love with these characters and never forget them.

You will wish you had an Aunt Julie, a flamboyant minor character and aunt to Lily who steals just about every scene she’s in.

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

Interview with Beatriz Williams, Author of A Hundred Summers

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (Putnam; 368 pages; $26.95)

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Beatriz, for letting me ask you these questions.  I devoured A Hundred Summers; it’s the perfect, propulsive summer read.  I read that you hid your “early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons.”  What were your early attempts like?  And how did you overcome that hurdle of wanting to hide them?  What finally made you take that chance?

 

Beatriz Williams

Beatriz Williams

Beatriz Williams: Well, they weren’t very good! I was always able to put sentences together pretty well, but I really had no idea how to tell a story. So I’d think of some scenario, or a couple of characters, and I’d plunge right in without any kind of engine to thrust the story along.  

 

Finally it hit me: I needed to put the story first, to put interesting characters in real jeopardy, and then it all started clicking together. Once I had something I felt people might actually want to read, I forced myself to crawl out from under my rock at last!

 

JB: How would you describe A Hundred Summers in ten words or less?

 

BW: High Society meets A Perfect Storm.

 

JB: What was your inspiration for A Hundred Summers?

 

BW: My in-laws live in southeastern Connecticut, close to where the great New England hurricane crashed ashore, so the storm has fascinated me for a long time. Nobody even knew a hurricane was on its way; the forecast that day called for sunny skies in the morning and a bit of bluster in the afternoon. What they got was a minimum Category 3 surge forcing a 15-20 foot surge that came in like a tsunami.

Watch Hill 1

 

Whole beach communities were washed away, the old New England kind, and I thought about the nature of those towns and beach clubs, how insular and full of family secrets that simmer under the surface, and the story just started taking shape in my head.

 

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

 

BW: No! I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately drawn someone from real life, though occasionally I’ll find myself using certain speech patterns and mannerisms and minor biographical details, because that’s all part of the stew inside my brain.

 

I did have an “aha” moment when I read about the Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who majored in architecture, and how this training––or, more accurately, the way his architect brain was wired––made him look at the playing field in a completely different way. So that’s how Nick became an architect!

 

 

JB: How did you envision the fictional seaside town of Seaview Neck?

 

BW: Like most fictional creations, it’s a composite. Geographically, of course, it’s a representation of Napatree Point, a sandy spit of land off Watch Hill, Rhode Island, that was originally home to forty-odd shingled  summer homes that were wiped away by the 1938 hurricane.

 

But I had my own story to tell, and my own experience with the old East Coast beach club, so socially and architecturally that’s all mixed in. So Seaview is not a re-creation of Napatree; it’s got its own personality and history and cast of characters.

 

JB: Your love of the coast is very apparent in this novel.  From where does your love stem?

 

BW: You know, I grew up near Seattle, which isn’t exactly a beach mecca, and we never did beachy trips when I was growing up.

 

It was only when I met and married my husband, who’s a native New Englander, and whose family has held the same bathhouse key to a beautiful vintage beach club along the New Jersey shore since 1931, that I began to absorb the rhythms of that summer life.

 

I was fascinated by the way these people had known each other, had summered together every year since they were children. The way they dressed, the drinks they drank––it’s such a culture.

For whatever reason, my generation hadn’t taken up in our parents’ houses in Seaview, as had every generation past, filling the narrow lanes and tennis courts with screaming young children and moody teenagers, with sailboats racing across the cove and Fourth of July floats festooned in contraband impatiens.  I could understand why.  The things that attracted me back to Seaview every summer–its old-fashionedness, its never-changingness, its wicker furniture and the smell of salt water soaked into its upholstery–were the very things that turned away everyone else.  You couldn’t satisfy your craving for slickness and glamour and high living here at the Seaview Club.  During Prohibition, the liquor had been replaced by lemonade, and now that the gin and tonic were back in their rightful places, the young people had moved on.

Except me.

 

That being said, I don’t have much patience for sitting around on a beach for hours on end! I need a book or a story idea to keep my mind busy.

 

JB: How were earlier versions of A Hundred Summers different from the final copy?

 

BW: Actually, I pretty much drafted it the way it appears now––both my agent and editor loved it right away, so luckily there were only a few changes, apart from the usual copyediting.

 

I wrote the 1931 episodes first, and then built the 1938 summer around it; I needed to be certain about what happened to Nick and Lily in the past so I could tell the later story the right way.

 

But I had the overall arc in my head when I started, and I could picture the key scenes, like the evening in the roadhouse and the meeting of Nick and Lily in New York near the end. That’s how I know I’m ready to sit down and write!

 

JB: Do you have a favorite character in A Hundred Summers?  If so, who?

 

BW: Oh, it’s so hard to pick favorites! Because of course I’m in love with Nick and Lily––I think you have to love your main characters––and Budgie was such a compelling character to write, such a mystery unveiling herself, layer by layer.

 

But the most fun was definitely Lily’s Aunt Julie. She’s based on a great-aunt of my husband’s, who was a party girl in the 1920s. She actually did date Ty Cobb for a bit!

aHundredSummers

 

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing A Hundred Summers?

 

BW: Anytime you write alternating storylines, you have to put the puzzle together carefully, so that each episode interlocks with the one before. So that was the greatest challenge, constructing the plot. Once you have that, the writing just flows. 

 

JB: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

 

BW: I haven’t had a lot of non-writing days lately, so when I do, I love to catch up with my long-suffering family! I have four kids, so that’s a lot of soccer games and ballet recitals, but we also try to mix it up with weekend trips and days in the city. We went off TV a year or two ago, which is fantastic for productivity, and I would much rather pick up a book or go have dinner with friends anyway!

 

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

 

BW: It’s appallingly regimented! We see the older kids off on their various school buses by eight, and we drop my four-year-old at preschool at nine. I have three hours to write, and I always go to Starbucks or the diner, where I don’t have all the distractions of unfinished housework waiting to suck me in whenever I get stuck.

 

Writing is all about discipline, about making yourself put words on the page until everything starts to flow. Then I pick up my preschooler and do all my errands with her, because once the older ones are home, it’s all taxi duty until dinnertime! If I have any energy left, or I’m on deadline, I try to get a couple more hours done before bedtime.

 

JB: Will you go on a book tour?  If so, which cities will you visit?

BW: I’ll be visiting Westerly, Rhode Island; New York; various locations in Connecticut; Peterborough, New Hampshire; Westhampton, New York; Tampa.

 

It’s all on my website and on the Events tab on my Facebook page. I’ve got some great material about the 1938 storm and other aspects of the book, and I’ll be inviting audience members to share their family stories and firsthand accounts. I’m really looking forward to meeting people! 

 

JB: Do you have any advice for those working on a first novel?

 

BW: Develop a good writing discipline and the humility to understand that you can always make your writing better, you can always improve your craft. Learn what makes a story good, and how to tell it well. And read widely, not just in the genre you’re writing! The best books transcend genre definitions.

 

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading A Hundred Summers?a-hundred-summers2.jpg

 

BW: In the first place, I hope they have a wonderful time! I love books that immerse me in a particular world, and that’s what I tried to do with A Hundred Summers.

 

But the book is really about all the things that take place beneath the surface of a persona and a community, and the social and sexual turmoil that was turning everything upside-down in the years after the First World War. That’s the real storm taking place at Seaview and Western culture generally, and I think the book rewards a close attention to the details.

 

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

 

BW: I’ve just finished my next novel, to be released in 2014, which adopts another branch of the Schuyler family and alternates between 1964 Manhattan and 1914 Berlin, with more secrets and love affairs and family upheavals, and cameo appearances from Aunt Julie and Nick and Lily!

 

JB: Ooh, I can’t wait for that! Thanks, Beatriz, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

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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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Filed under book review, books, fiction, author interviews, Southern writers, Southern fiction, history, beach books, women's lit, mystery, literary fiction, ELLE Magazine, Oprah's Book Club 2.0, historical fiction, thriller, contemporary fiction, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, coming of age

Book Giveaway: The After Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer

I am hosting a book giveaway of The After Wife by the incomparable Gigi Levangie Grazer.

About the book:

“Gigi Levangie Grazer, the New York Times bestselling author of The Starter Wife, returns with a hilarious and spirited tale of love—both lost and found.

L.A. is no place for widows. This is what forty-four-year-old Hannah Bernal quickly discovers after the tragic death of her handsome and loving husband, John. Misery and red-rimmed eyes are little tolerated in the land of the beautiful. But life stumbles on: Hannah’s sweet three-year-old daughter, Ellie, needs to be dropped off at her overpriced preschool, while Hannah herself must get back to work in order to pay the bills on “Casa Sugar,” the charming Spanish-styled bungalow they call home.

Fortunately, Hannah has her “Grief Team” for emotional support: earth mother and fanatical animal lover Chloe, who finds a potential blog post in every moment; aspiring actress Aimee, who has her cosmetic surgeon on speed dial; and Jay, Hannah’s TV producing partner, who has a penchant for Mr. Wrong. But after a series of mishaps and bizarre occurrences, one of which finds Hannah in a posh Santa Monica jail cell, her friends start to fear for her sanity. To make matters worse, John left their financial affairs in a disastrous state. And when Hannah is dramatically fired from her latest producing gig, she finds herself in danger of losing her house, her daughter, and her mind.

One night, standing in her backyard under a majestic avocado tree, in the throes of grief, Hannah breaks down and asks, “Why?” The answer that comes back—Why not?—begins an astounding journey of discovery and transformation that leads Hannah to her own truly extraordinary life after death.”

About the author:

“Gigi Levangie Grazer has written numerous screenplays, among them the movie Step-mom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. Her first novel, Rescue Me , was published by Simon and Schuster in June 2000. Her next novel, Maneater, was published by Simon and Schuster in June 2003. The Starter Wife, her third novel, was published in June 2005. Her fourth novel, Queen Takes King, was published in June 2009.

Her fifth novel, The After Wife, will be released July 10, 2012 from Random House.”

About the giveaway:

Giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.  Your book will come directly from the publisher.  To enter, simply provide your name and current email address.  I will email you privately for your mailing address.  One winner will be chosen at random on Friday, July 13, at 3 PM ET.

Here’s your chance to win a copy of Gigi’s wonderful new book!

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Book Review: Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller

Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 272 pages; $25).

“My name is Logan Pyle.  My father is dead, my wife is indifferent, and my son is strange.  I’m thirty-six years old.  My life is nothing like I thought it would be.”  Thus begins Emily Jeanne Miller’s fast-paced and deeply heartfelt debut Brand New Human Being.

Miller has worn many hats in her life.  At Princeton University, from which she graduated, she studied comparative religions.  She holds an MS in environmental studies from the University of Montana and an MFA in fiction from the University of Florida in Gainesville.  Formerly a journalist, Miller covered a wide range of environmental topics, such as Indian casinos, nuclear bomb testing, rock climbing, and grizzly bears.  We should be lucky she turned to fiction writing, as her first novel overflows with humor, tenderness, and humanity.

Initially, however, I did not like Logan.  I thought Logan’s biggest problem by far was Logan.  That is partially true, but he managed to win me over.  All the credit goes to Miller.

Logan’s father, Gus, died four months ago.  The son deeply mourns the loss of his father, perhaps more so because it was marked by a lot of distance.  By distance, I do not mean miles.  I refer to the distance of the heart.

Logan’s mother died when he was a child and Gus was a single-parent.  When Logan was in his late teens, Gus remarried a woman only five years older than his son.  Logan still has issues with Bennie, his father’s young widow.

When Miller’s story begins, Logan is husband to Julie, a lawyer, and stay-at-home dad to four-year-old son Owen.  Former grad student, Logan’s status is ABD (all but dissertation).  Home life is far from ideal.

An important case involving workers at a vermiculite mine preoccupies Julie.  When she is with Logan and Owen, her mind seems elsewhere; and it is.  Husband and wife once loved each other fiercely, but her time is short.  Both Logan and Owen miss her.

Owen cries out for attention.  He seems to know instinctively that things are not right in his household.  He just senses something is off.  As a consequence, Owen is “regressing,” sucking his thumb, and wanting to be a baby.  Logan is often short with him and with his wife.

Then, there is the outdoor-equipment store called The Gold Mine that Gus left Logan.  His friend, Bill, helps him run the business.  An unidentified buyer made an enormous offer on the store and the land it occupies.  Bill wants to take it and pushes Logan to accept.

If all those things are too much for one man to deal with, it only gets worse.  Julie’s boss wants to dig up Gus, who once worked in the mines himself.  His body may help their case.  Logan just cannot agree to exhume his father’s body, at least not right now.

For Logan, the final straw comes when he catches Julie kissing another man at a birthday party.  Something in him snaps.  He packs up Owen and his most prized possession, a 1920s Louisville Slugger, and gets into his truck and leaves Julie and his troubles behind.

Or so he thinks.  Bad luck follows Logan, and misadventures seem to follow.  After he gets revenge on the man he saw Julie with, he ends up at his father’s old cabin and finds something unexpected and welcome there, something or someone that could really jeopardize his marriage to Julie.  It is here that Logan discovers his choices–past, present, and future–matter.

By the end of the book, Logan is a different man.  Since his father died, Logan has been fixated on his own mortality and grief-stricken.  Like a lot of men, Logan does not know how to cope with his grief.  But that is no longer an issue for him.  “Somebody did die,” Logan says.  “I guess I just took a while to understand that it wasn’t me.”  When Owen was born, Logan marveled at his son, a “brand new human being.”  Now Logan is a “brand new human being” himself and everyone around him is better for it.

Miller’s story explores marriage, family, death, love, betrayal, and forgiveness.  What stands out most to me, though, is the bond between father and son.  Logan may be sharp with Owen at times and he may want him to act like a big kid, yet it is clear that Logan loves his son and would do anything in the world for him.  Written with humor and poignancy, Brand New Human Being shows us no one is perfect.  No one is without faults.  The secret to life is learning how to accept the deficiencies in others and, most importantly, the ones in ourselves.

Truth be told, if Miller had not chosen to write this novel in Logan’s first person perspective, I do not think he would have ever won me over.  I am thankful she decided to tell the story like she did.  Logan is not perfect, but none of us are.  This novel will compel you to do your best to be a better human being.  Who knows?  You just may be a “brand new human being” too.

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