Category Archives: book giveaway

Blog Tour: From the Kitchen of Half Truth Giveaway

Today I am the very last stop in the blog tour for From the Kitchen of Half Truth by Maria Goodin.  I’ve got lots of things planned today-a giveaway, a mini-interview with Goodin, a topic we can all discuss (even if you have not read the book), and a review.
from the kitchen of half truth

About the Book:

Infused with the delicious warmth of Chocolat and captivating feeling of School of Essential Ingredients, FROM THE KITCHEN OF HALF TRUTH is the warm, tender story of Meg, who can’t convince her cooking-obsessed, fairy-tale loving mother to reveal a thing about their past, even as sickness threatens to hide those secrets forever. Driven to spend one last summer with her mother, Meg must face a choice between what’s real and what we make real, exploring the power of the stories we tell ourselves in order to create the lives we want.

About the Author: 

Maria Goodin

Maria Goodin

Maria Goodin was born in the South-East of England. Her first novel, ‘Nutmeg’, was published in the UK in 2012, and was based on an award-winning short story of the same title. The novel was published later that year in Australia under the title of ‘The Storyteller’s Daughter’, and was released in the US under the title ‘From the Kitchen of Half Truth’. Book deals have also been secured in Italy, Germany, Spain and Sweden. Following a varied career which included administration, teaching and massage therapy, Maria trained to be a counselor, and her novel was inspired by her interest in psychological defenses. She lives and writes in Hertfordshire.


April 1 – Luxury Reading

April 2 – Laura’s Reviews

April 4 – A Bookish Affair

April 5 – Mrs. Condit Reads Books

April 6 – Adventures of an Intrepid Reader

April 8 – Cocktails and Books

April 9 – Library of Clean Reads

April 10  – Broken Teepee

April 11 – Dew on the Kudzu

April 12 – Raging Bibliomania

April 15 – Daystarz

April 16 – Chick Lit Plus

April 17 – Peeking Between the Pages

April 22 – Books and Needlepoint

April 23 – Write Meg

April 26 – Bookmagnet

I’m giving away a copy of From the Kitchen of Half Truth today to US and Canada residents only so enter now.  Please fill out the brief form below by 5 pm ET today.  I will choose a winner at random using  Good luck! 

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Filed under blog tour, book giveaway, books, contemporary fiction, fiction

Blog Tour: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley

tlc tour host

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley (Ecco Books; 432 pages; $15.99).


Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley

“My husband was not one of us,” Evelyn Hope reluctantly reveals.  “He remains, after decades, a mystery to me.  Inexplicable.  Yet, in many ways, and on most days, he was an ordinary man.”  So begins Rhonda Riley’s unusual, unique, and nuanced debut, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.  Riley immediately arouses the curiosity of readers and also hooks them.  For a few hours, nothing else matters.

Or that is how it was for me, at least.  I still cannot get Adam and Evelyn Hope out of my head, and that is a testament to Riley’s epic love story.  Riley fuses historical fiction with elements of mystery and the supernatural in The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope to create a story that crosses genres and beguiles until the very last page.

The tale is actually one big flashback.  After years and years of keeping the truth close to her chest, an elderly Evelyn finally opens up about her husband.  She can no longer keep silent after seeing a photo of her youngest daughter, Sarah, whose formerly Caucasian features have metamorphosed into Asian characteristics.  Evelyn knows the photo has not been altered; Sarah is Adam’s daughter, after all.

This is Adam’s story (the novel was originally titled Adam Hope: A Geography), but it is also Evelyn’s, for she is “the one left to do the telling.”  In her sage and sure voice, Evelyn attempts to explain the unexplained.

At 17, Evelyn is sent to work on her deceased aunt and uncle’s farm in North Carolina, where the soil consists of deep and hard red clay.  In the days just after World War II, Evelyn labors from sun-up to sundown but senses a change coming, though she has no idea how profound the change will be or in what guise the transformation will take.

One rainy day, Evelyn comes upon a puddle, which she thinks is full of nothing but water and mud.  She is beyond surprised to discover the body of a man there, a man who is very much alive, though strange and slightly misshapen.  Mud and scars cover the man’s body.  He must be a solider, she thinks, but far from the battlefield.  After she takes the man inside and cares for him, miraculously, he heals.  The kicker is that he also changes form.  To Evelyn’s disbelief, the man grows to strongly resemble her; the two could be twins, in fact.

Evelyn does not question.  To her, “Addie” is a gift.  “To have her come up literally from the land I loved seemed natural, a fit to my heart’s logic.  The land’s response to my love.  So when fate gave me Addie, I let her be given.”

We know Addie is special, and she continues to astound us, especially when Evelyn decides she is ready for marriage and children.  Addie changes form once again to become “Adam Hope.”  Riley creates a character, unlike all others, who literally takes on the image of others.  When Riley delves into the unknown, she takes us with her.

Riley also imagines a very tangible sense of fear.  Instinctively, Evelyn knows there are those who would not understand Adam adam-hope1.jpgin the way she does.  No one can know who or what Adam is or where he truly comes from.  The situation has the potential to become volatile, and both Evelyn and Adam know this.  Yet Adam counters:  “Do you know who you are, Evelyn?  Who all of you are?  Where do you come from?  You don’t know any more than I do.”

Clearly, Adam is from the land and of the land: he can be molded like clay.  Riley uses this unconventional character to give us a geography of a body and of love, land, and family.  Adam and Evelyn begin an idyllic life together; everything seems perfect and no one challenges who or what Adam is.  He communes with horses, people, and nature in a way that is reminiscent of how Edgar Sawtelle communicates with dogs.

Adam Hope pulls you in like a magnet and entices you to stay a while.  Before long, you are entranced by his beautiful music, his way with all creatures, and, above all, by Riley’s captivating and clear language.

Uncertainty, fear, and calamity soon mar the landscape of the couple’s happy home and force them to flee.  I could not help but draw comparisons to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden.  Yet, Adam and Evelyn get lucky and find a new kind of Eden and a new home, at least until tragedy strikes their family again.

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope explores the notion of the self versus the other; the familiar versus the strange; intimacy versus distance; and the known versus the unknown.  Riley takes us to places we have never been before in her animated and charismatic debut perfect for fans of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

This novel was sold at auction, with several publishers placing bids to nab Riley’s story.  It’s easy to understand why.  The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is a beautifully and ingeniously told tale.  Adam Hope is an understated yet formidable character, a man who is otherworldly but never alien, astonishing and ethereal but never inconceivable. Riley gently reminds us that unconditional love and acceptance matter more than difference. enchanted

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Rhonda’s Tour Stops

Monday, 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.  Giveaway ends Friday, April 26, at 5 pm ET.  I will use to choose a winner.  Good luck!   


Filed under blog tour, book giveaway, book review, books, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, Southern fiction, Southern writers, supernatural, TLC Book Tours

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.


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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 to choose a winner.


Filed under author interviews, blog tour, book giveaway, books, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, Southern fiction, Southern writers

The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman: Spotlight and Giveaway

The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman (Ballantine Books; 272 pages; $15).

paradise guest house

From Ellen Sussman, the bestselling author of French Lessons, comes a riveting and poignant novel of one woman’s journey across the world in search of love, renewal, and a place to call home.

“And you?” the man asks.  “What takes you to Bali”

The plane breaks through the cloud and there it is–an island full of dense jungles, terraced rice paddies, and glorious beaches.  Jamie flinches as if someone’s laid a fist into her heart.

“Vacation?” her seatmate asks when she doesn’t answer.

“Yes,” she lies.  “Vacation.”

He’s already told her about his silent meditation retreat, how he can’t wait, how he needs to unwind, and she thinks: Start now.  She curses herself for talking to him in the first place.  It was the second scotch that loosened her tongue and made her break her rule: no chats on airplanes.  You can’t escape.

“All by yourself?” he asks.

Jamie turns toward him.  “There’s an event,” she says.  “I was invited to attend.”  She absentmindedly runs her finger against the long, thin scar at the side of her face and then buries her hand in her lap.

“A wedding?” he asks eagerly.  He’s already told her about his wonderful Australian fiancee who will meet him at the retreat in Ubud.

“No,” Jamie says.  Her mind’s a muddle of thoughts now.  There’s no reason to tell him anything.  And yet she’s been telling the world: I’m going back to Bali.

It starts as a trip to paradise.  Sent on assignment to Bali, Jamie, an American adventure guide, imagines spending weeks exploring the island’s lush jungles and pristine white sand beaches.  Yet three days after her arrival, she is caught in Bali’s infamous nightclub bombings, which irreparably change her life and leave her with many unanswered questions.

One year later, haunted by memories, Jamie returns to Bali seeking a sense of closure.  Most of all, she hopes to find Gabe, the man who saved her from the attacks.  She hasn’t been able to forget his kindness–or the spark between them as he helped her heal.  Checking into a cozy guest house for her stay, Jamie meets the gracious owner, who is coping with a painful past of his own, and a young boy who improbably becomes crucial to her search.  Jamie has never shied away from a challenge, but a second chance with Gabe presents her with the biggest dilemma of all: whether she’s ready to open her heart.

Ellen Sussman

Ellen Sussman

Ellen Sussman is the author of three national bestselling novels: The Paradise Guest House, French Lessons and On a Night Like This.  All three books have been translated into many languages and French Lessons has been optioned by Unique Features to be made into a movie. Ellen is also theeditor of two critically acclaimed anthologies, Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia Of Sex and Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave. She was named a San Francisco Library Laureate in 2004 and in 2009. Ellen has been awarded fellowships from The Sewanee Writers Conference, The Napoule Art Foundation, Brush Creek, Ledig House, Ucross, Ragdale Foundation, Writers at Work, Wesleyan Writers Conference and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has taught at Pepperdine, UCLA and Rutgers University. Ellen now teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes out of her home. She has two daughters and lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ellen was born in Trenton, NJ and has lived in Boston, Philly, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Paris and Northern California. She has worked lots of jobs including tennis instructor, restaurant manager, and college teacher but through all the transmutations of her life she has been writing, since the age of six, stubbornly, persistently, with great cockiness and wild insecurity, through praise and piles of rejection letters. She has given up her writing career many times, but only for a day or two, and her family has now learned to ignore her new career choices. She is a writer, an almost daily writer, a writer who actually loves to write.

Jamie is one of the most courageous and inspiring characters who I have ever come across.  Setting may drive Sussman’s deeply affecting story, but Jamie is an unforgettable narrator.  In the midst of reading The Paradise Guest House, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Such a horrific act reminded me of the Bali nightclub bombings.  Although Sussman’s tale is fictional, the novel shows us that, even in the midst of tragedy and heartache, there is still life to live and love to share.  This lush, atmospheric novel is perfect for fans of Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love.

I am offering a very special giveaway: a brand new, signed copy of The Paradise Guest House.  Giveaway ends Friday, April 19, at 5 pm ET.  Open to US residents only.  Please fill out the brief form below.


Filed under book giveaway, book review, books, fiction, literary fiction, Uncategorized, women's lit

Interview with Dennis Mahoney, Author of Fellow Mortals

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney

Jaime Boler: Thanks, Dennis, for letting me ask you these questions!  I’m so excited about your highly-charged debut, Fellow Mortals.  Did you always want to be a writer?

Dennis Mahoney: No. I came to it late, at the tail end of high school. I was creative at an early age but it was more in the line of drawing and imaginative play. I zonked out in middle school and just acted like a regular boy, listening to hair metal and playing Commodore 64 videos games. But eventually my insecurities and general unhappiness led me to reading and writing, which boosted my confidence and gave me something to do.

JB: How would you describe Fellow Mortals in ten words or less?

DM: A tragic fire heightens relationships, for better and worse.

JB: How did you come up with the idea behind Fellow Mortals?

DM: The hero, Henry Cooper, was based on a minor character in a failed novel I’d written. I loved that character and wanted to put such a man—lively, big-hearted, simple—into the spotlight and test him with a horrible crisis, something that would thrust him into close proximity with different kinds of people. He’s someone who gets a strong reaction out of everyone who meets him, of bringing out their truest selves. That seemed like a great seed for a novel.

JB: I love the title.  Really, we are all human, we all make mistakes.  Did you have the story first and then the title or the title first and then the story?  How did you choose the title?

DM: Titles are a nightmare for me. I don’t know why. I’ve written books where every chapter had a title, and I had no problem with that. When it comes to naming a whole book, I struggle every time. My editor and I went round and round with Fellow Mortals, convinced we could think of something better. And then one day we thought, “You know, it kind of works. Let’s keep it.” My current novel-in-progress has a title, and I like it, and that often helps me stay focused. Whether or not that title will stick around for publication is anyone’s guess.

JB: Reading your story, I kept repeating the famous Alexander Pope quote: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  Did you have it in mind while writing Fellow Mortals?

DM: The sentiment, yes, if not the exact quote. But I rarely dwell on theme when I’m writing a story. There’s a vibe or trajectory, and my own beliefs and preoccupations are coming through, whether I’m aware of them or not. It is significant that I chose Henry as the central character; I must have found his value system the most intriguing, especially given the problems he was facing.

JB: Arcadia can mean a harmonious and unspoiled wilderness, yet a fire changes everything on Arcadia Street so it is no longer harmonious nor is it unspoiled.  Is that why you set part of your story on a street named Arcadia?

DM: Early drafts of Fellow Mortals had loads of references to Greek mythology, which helped me tap into certain primal aspects of the story, like mortality and transformation, but made the book feel pretentious and overwrought. Arcadia was named as a reference to that region in Greece, which was known for peace and contentedness. I didn’t mean to be heavy-handed about it. The name just fit so I kept it. You can still see the mythological influence in Sam’s sculptures, however. Most of them are recognizable: Tantalus, Prometheus, Arachne, Persephone. But it worked better not to make it explicit… to let the sculptures work on a gut level, as evocations of natural forces.

JB: Would you call Fellow Mortals a cautionary tale?  How so?

DM: I wouldn’t, really. I suppose lessons could be learned by watching how various characters’ choices play out over the course of the story, but I think novels work best when they simply portray people honestly, and the readers can draw their own conclusions, just as they would if they heard a compelling story in life.

JB: Do you have a favorite character in your story?  If so, who?  Sam’s character captivated me.

DM: Henry. I’ve known a few men like this and they’re so full of life, it’s contagious. You’re better for knowing them. I have a bit of Henry in me, too, in that I’m a goofy optimist when I probably ought to know better. I loved all the characters to some degree. Even Billy Kane, who’s pretty unlovable. With Billy I had this broken, repellant man and needed to understand him and motivate him. In discovering what made him tick, I started to pity him. I’d have a much harder time loving such a man if he were my actual neighbor, but again, this is something novels can do, for both the reader and the writer; they show us people in ways we might not ordinarily see them.

JB: Do you have a favorite line and/or scene?  Please share.

DM: I don’t focus on writing standout lines. I do my best to disappear as a writer and let the characters steal the show. I do have favorite scenes, but wow—this is a tough question. I love the very last scene. It’s has the spirit I wanted to end with, and I love any scene that includes the dog Wingnut.

JB: I adored Henry.  He isn’t the sort of man you could hold a vendetta against.  And I think Sam and the Finn sisters come to this same conclusion.  But not so Peg or Billy.  Why can’t they forgive Henry?

DM: Sam struggles with it for a very long time, and has the greatest reason to resent Henry, who accidentally killed Sam’s wife. It is interesting, in retrospect, that Henry gets the most grief from the two people who lost the least. Peg and Billy suffer damage to their houses, but they don’t lose everything the way Sam and the Finns do. You can see in the opening pages that Peg and Billy have a connection in being dissatisfied to begin with, regardless of the fire, but even their mutual anger at Henry isn’t enough to make them like each other. So it’s understandable that they wouldn’t respond well to Henry—a bright-side guy—in any scenario. Their response to the fire comes from their response to life.

JB: One of the characters in Fellow Mortals is Wingnut, a dog.  How hard was it getting into Wing’s head?  Did you read any books or articles on dog behavior?

DM: Haha, it was weirdly easy. I didn’t plan it. I just suddenly wanted to know what Wingnut was feeling in that early bedroom scene and went with it. I grew up with dogs. We had a cat when I was writing Fellow Mortals, and we’ve since adopted a rescue dog who, coincidentally, is a lovable, goofball mutt exactly like Wingnut. As for how I imagined Wing’s inner life at the time, I’d say that he’s a close mirror of Henry. They have the same personality. And since I myself relate to Henry on certain levels, I guess I have some Wingnut in me, too.

JB: Did you conduct any research concerning the postal service?

DM: A little, yes. Just enough to get the details right and make it believable. I spoke to a wonderful postal employee named Barbara who filled me in the repercussions of a mailman starting a fatal fire with a cigar. But since that particular scenario, as far as we know, is without real-world precedent, I went with how it probably would have played out. I got very lucky in that the USPS, being a government agency, would handle all legal aspects of the case, including civil suits against Henry. That allowed me to get Henry completely off the hook, legally speaking, so I could focus on his conscience, which is so much more interesting.

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing this story?

DM: Trying to infuse hope and life, in a very genuine way, despite the story being, at face value, something of a downer. I didn’t want a Capital-H happy ending. There’s no resurrecting Sam’s dead wife, for instance. But, being an optimist like Henry, I believe people can make terrible situations better if they try. Life itself, at face value, can be a downer. We want things we can’t have, get sick, get depressed, lose loved-ones, suffer injustice, and eventually die. What do we do about that? Commit suicide or make the most of things? Conveying that spirited defiance of loss and mortality was a tricky thing to do without sounding cheap or sentimental.

JB: What was your publication process like?

DM: Once I had a book deal, it was a dream. My editor, Emily Bell, and FSG did everything right. They’ve supported me ever since. Prior to the book deal, I had dozens of agent rejections, an awesome agent who took me on but retired in the middle of submitting to editors, and lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth. The usual road to publication, in other words.

JB: What advice would you give to anyone working on a debut novel?

DM: My top three: (1) Find a way to love the daily work or it isn’t worth doing (2) Ignore the chatter about “the state of the publishing industry” and how to get published, because it won’t help you write the best possible book (3) Again: love it.

JB: What is your writing process like?  Do you write during certain times of the day?  Do you have a desk where you write?  Do you listen to Baroque music?

DM: Lately I’m up at 5AM and get about 250 words written before driving our son to school. I aim for 750 words a day, 5-7 days a week. I write longhand on a couch in a library/reading room I built a few years ago. (See here: I key the pages into the computer every couple of chapters. And yes, the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels made me a Baroque music addict. This works especially well lately, since my next book is set in the 18th-century.

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

DM: It’s always busy with a family. Lots of action around here. I read, watch movies, play with our son and dog, hang out with my wife, exercise some, do a little carpentry, and follow boxing. I used to grow pumpkins in the yard. I could use a new summer hobby this year.

JB: What are some of your favorite books and who are some of your favorite authors?

DM: Patrick O’Brian’s novels, already mentioned, came at just the right time and made my life better in significant ways. I’ve never known characters who felt more like actual friends. I’m going to snob out and say I’m on a Shakespeare kick this year. That guy could write. I’m praying that Susanna Clarke publishes a follow-up to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

JB: Who has influenced your writing the most?

DM: I honestly have no idea. Most of my favorite writers aren’t people I imitate. It’s possible I love them because I’m able to read them like a regular reader, instead of constantly thinking, “Hey, maybe I could try writing like that!”

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading Fellow Mortals?

DM: A touch of Henry’s spirit. Also a strong desire to read my next novel.

JB: Barnes and Noble chose Fellow Mortals as a Discover Great New Writers selection.  Congratulations!  How did you react upon hearing the news?

DM: Thanks! I was thrilled. I found out months before publication, so it removed some of the fear of the publication date, when you aren’t sure if anyone will like the book.

JB: Your writing has been compared to that of Stewart O’Nan and Richard Russo.  How do such comparisons make you feel?

DM: Honored, since I’m a big fan of both, and somewhat confused, as I don’t entirely see myself that way. I don’t mean that negatively or positively. I just don’t know who I’d compare myself to because I don’t really think that way. Take a parenting analogy: I try to raise a happy, well-adjusted son, but wouldn’t it be strange to compare my parenting style to that of more famous parents. “Mahoney’s fatherly lectures are reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt Sr.’s inspirational words to young Teddy…”

JB: I have to ask if any of your neighbors have read Fellow Mortals and what their reactions to the book have been?

DM: Haha, good question. None of our neighbors are anything like the characters, so I’m probably OK. I’m a stay-at-home Dad, which looked a little odd once our son began attending school full-time. I think the neighbors are just relieved to finally know what I do all day.

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

DM: Most debut authors aren’t sent on tours anymore, because nobody shows up for unknowns. If I’d written a surefire bestseller, that’d be different, but Fellow Mortals is more of a quiet, word-of-mouth novel. I’m doing local signings, but travelling to far-off cities doesn’t make sense. I’d have to sell a ton of copies just to cover the hotel room.

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

DM: I’m writing a big mystery-adventure. It’s about a young woman who sails for a new life in a strange colonial America, where she has to survive supernatural weather, forest thieves who steal people’s limbs, and a violent past that threatens to turn everyone against her. My heroine’s name is Molly and she’s an irrepressible optimist, like Henry in Fellow Mortals.

JB: Ooh, that sounds so intriguing and unusual.  Thank you so much, Dennis, for a wonderful interview.  It’s been a pleasure.  Good luck with the book!

DM: Thank you, Jaime!



Dennis Mahoney’s Website

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux kindly gave me three copies of Fellow Mortals to give away.  One is left.  Please fill out the brief form below.  I will choose a winner on Friday, March 29, at 5 pm ET.


Filed under author interviews, book giveaway, books, fiction, literary fiction

Family Pictures by Jane Green: Spotlight + Giveaway

March 19 is the publication date for Jane Green’s newest novel, Family Pictures.

About the Book:

family pictures

New York Times bestseller Jane Green delivers a riveting novel about two women whose lives intersect when a shocking secret is revealed.

From the author of Another Piece of My Heart comes the gripping story of two women who live on opposite coasts but whose lives are connected in ways they never could have imagined. Both women are wives and mothers to children who are about to leave the nest for school. They’re both in their forties and have husbands who travel more than either of them would like. They are both feeling an emptiness neither had expected. But when a shocking secret is exposed, their lives are blown apart. As dark truths from the past reveal themselves, will these two women be able to learn to forgive, for the sake of their children, if not for themselves?

About the Author:


British import Jane Green is the author of twelve bestselling novels, dealing with real women, real life, and all the things life throws at them, with her trademark wisdom, wit and warmth.

A former feature writer for the Daily Express in the UK, Green took a leap in faith when she left, in 1996, to freelance and work on a novel. Seven months later, there was a bidding war for her first book, Straight Talking, the saga of a single career girl looking for the right man. The novel was a hit in England, and Green was an overnight success.

The success got even sweeter when her second novel, Jemima J, became an international bestseller. Cosmopolitan called this cheerful, updated Cinderella story “the kind of novel you’ll gobble up in a single sitting.”

Now in her early forties, Green has graduated to more complex, character-driven novels that explore the concerns of real women’s lives, from marriage (The Other Woman) to motherhood (Babyville) to midlife crises (Second Chance). The Beach House and Second Chance spent months on the New York Times Bestseller list.

As well as writing a daily blog:, she contributes to various publications, both online and print, including Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Wowowow, and Self.

A foodie and passionate cook, Green filled her latest book, Promises to Keep, with recipes culled from her own collection. She says she only cooks food that is “incredibly easy, but has to look as if you have slaved over a hot stove for hours.” This is because she has six children, and has realised that “when you have six children, nobody ever invites you anywhere.”

Most weekends see her cooking for a minimum of twenty people in her home in Westport, Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and their blended family. When she is not writing, cooking, filling her house with friends and looking after their animals, she is usually thanking the Lord for caffeine-filled energy drinks.

I am giving away a brand new ARC of Family Pictures.  Please fill out the brief form below.  Giveaway ends on Friday, March 15, at 5 pm ET.  I will use to determine the winner.  Good luck!


Filed under book giveaway, books, fiction, literary fiction, women's lit

Book Review: Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood

Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood (Europa Editions; 264 pages; $16).


Kate Southwood’s grim, gruesome, raw, and intimate novel Falling to Earth is a story about conflict: man against nature, man against man, and man against himself.  Southwood’s spare and measured prose attests to the fragility of life and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.  However, there is a darker side to this story—one where fear, jealousy, and suspicion wreak havoc on a man and his family.  Falling to Earth is also a timely novel in a year, make that a decade, of extreme weather phenomena.

Southwood sets her tale in Marah, Illinois, in 1925.  Not only does she adequately depict life in a Midwestern small town full of proud, hardscrabble people, but she also brings a real event to vivid and terrifying life: the historic Tri-State tornado that devastated the town of Marah and then tore a destructive swath through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.  At the time, it was the deadliest tornado in American history, killing 695 people and injuring 2, 027.

The tornado hit on March 18, 1925, and Falling to Earth begins moments before the tornado strikes.  “The cloud is black, shot through with red and orange and purple, a vein of gold at its crest,” Southwood writes.  The tornado is “a mile wide end to end.”  The “people in the town scatter; some find shelter.  The men and women running through the streets are mothers and fathers, desperate to reach their children at the schools.  There is no time; the cloud is rolling over them.”  Many scream, but the wind “screams louder” as the “school, the town hall, the shops at the rail yard fold in on themselves and the people inside.”  Once “the cloud passes, the fires begin, lapping at the broken town.”

This electrifying opening sets the stage for what is to come.  Southwood never lets up but takes readers on a swiftly-paced ride to a shocking conclusion, illustrating the brutal and arbitrary state of nature and, sometimes, of people.

Paul Graves, Southwood’s central character, counts himself and his family lucky.  While his friends and neighbors lose loved ones, businesses, and homes, Paul survives the tornado unscathed.  He and his family are not even injured, and Paul’s home and his business are undamaged.  As the shaken and shattered townspeople of Marah come together to rebuild their lives and their community (without social media to aid them, I might add), they cannot help but look for someone to blame.

The citizens of Marah feel jealous of Paul.  He has everything while their whole world is crumbling.  They have nothing.  Paul experiences overwhelming guilt over his survival, and that sensation only magnifies as his business prospers during the town’s resurgence.   Soon, though, the townspeople come to resent Paul and his good fortune and grow hostile toward him and his family.  The consequences are tragic.

Southwood’s themes are universal ones: love, family, loss, death, mourning, guilt, and distrust.  Falling to Earth is an elegiac tale, yet pockets of hope exist in this story and in Marah, just as they do everywhere, even in times of utter destruction.  Humans have mastered so much in this world of ours, yet we still have not bested nature.  Mother Nature still reigns over us and perhaps always will.

Sometimes our true selves are only revealed in times of crises, and that is certainly the case in Falling to Earth.  Southwood’s characters are in such pain that it moves us and twists our hearts, but in no way does their grief excuse their actions.  Falling to Earth forces us to take a good look at ourselves and how we would react in a similar situation.  When Southwood injects the most human of emotions—jealousy and suspicion—into her story, she makes it all the more gritty, weighty, and real.

Falling to Earth is a powerfully moving and affective debut, and that is why Barnes and Noble chose it as a Discover Great New Writers selection for spring.  Certain passages describing the dead are difficult to read, but a little discomfort is well worth it, for Southwood is a bright new literary talent.


I am giving away a brand new copy of Falling to Earth.  Giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on Monday, March 11 at 3 pm ET.  Please fill out the brief form below.  Good luck!




Filed under book giveaway, book review, books, fiction, historical fiction, history, literary fiction