Category Archives: She Reads

Interview with Rita Leganski, Author of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

Interview with Rita Leganski, Author of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

Rita Leganski

Rita Leganski

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Rita, for letting me interview you.  I have to tell you how much I loved your magical story.  Through his silence, Bonaventure Arrow spoke to me, and I heard him loudly and clearly.  I’m very pleased that She Reads chose it as the March Book Club Selection.  Did you always want to be a writer?

Rita Leganski: I’ve always enjoyed writing, whether it was a school assignment or just as a pastime. At times in my life when I’ve felt unsettled, story writing helped me through. When I decided to return to school as an adult, I deliberately chose to study writing.

JB: Reading this very Southern story, I was surprised to learn you grew up in Wisconsin.  You began reading Southern writers at a very young age.  How old were you?  Who were your favorite authors?

RL: I suppose I was in middle school when I was transported to 1930s Maycomb, Alabama, by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Huckleberry Finn did his part as well in luring my imagination southward.  As my tastes and abilities grew more sophisticated, I added Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner to my list of favorites.

JB: How have these beloved Southern authors influenced your writing?

RL: I think their greatest influence on me has been their artistry with voice and tone, as well as feeling at liberty to bring in supernatural influences and just downright crazy folks. Those writers taught me to let the setting actually be one of the characters.

JB: Prior to beginning this story, had you ever visited New Orleans or Louisiana?

RL: I had never been anywhere in Louisiana before going there to do research for Bonaventure Arrow. One doesn’t merely go to New Orleans; one experiences it. Everybody should try it at least once. If for no other reason, go for the beignets – fried doughnuts covered in confectioner’s sugar!

JB: One of my favorite things about New Orleans!  The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow began as a short story when you were in graduate school.  When did you begin working on the story? And how did you come up with Bonaventure Arrow?

RL: I began the short story in May of 2009 and completed it in June. It was my very last assignment before graduating with a Master’s in Writing. The professor had pleaded with us to give him something different, so I decided to try my hand at magical realism. I can’t honestly tell you how I came up with Bonaventure Arrow; he was just always there.  In the original thirteen-page short story, he is nine years old (not seven) and William has been killed in Korea. As I recall, the only characters in it were Bonaventure, Dancy, Grandma Roman, and Trinidad Prefontaine. That story did make its way into the novel, but well into it. It comprises the scene in the kitchen with the Blue Bottle fly and the scene in which Grandma Roman takes Bonaventure to Bixie’s.

JB: Bayou Cymbaline, though fictional, feels so real.  How did you come up with this “magical, haunted, and lovely place steeped in faith and superstition—the ideal home for a gifted little boy who could hear fantastic sounds”?

RL: I needed to locate the story in a unique place, one that was near enough to New Orleans to be under its influence, but not overshadowed by it. I have referred to my fictional town as a metaphorical house of God because it was home to so many different types. I named it Bayou Cymbaline because of associations and semantic characteristics of those nouns.  Bayou sets it geographically and Cymbaline was borrowed from Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Cymbeline (I changed just one letter to make it my own). Like that Shakespearean play, THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW deals with innocence and jealousy.

JB: Your use of magical realism is close to the divine.  I’d put your name right beside Isabel Allende and Yann Martel.  How did characters like Bonaventure and Trinidad and others and even your setting allow you to use this literary tool to your advantage?

RL: Wow! What a compliment! Thank you very much!  Magical realism sets writers free. It invites the fantastic, the unbelievable; the downright bizarre to come into reality and both change it and leave it alone. After all, it’s reality that acts as a measuring stick for the magic. Bonaventure and Trinidad move through the same reality as everyone around them, yet they are set apart by their otherworldly gifts. New Orleans is kind of the same way; it’s a place of commerce and residences, but there’s also this ever-present vibe that’s not quite namable. Joy dances with sorrow in New Orleans. This duality of natures worked to my advantage because it gave me leeway to let the supernatural in.

JB: Who is your favorite character in the story?

RL: Coleman Tate. He was an interesting character to write.

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

RL: The toughest thing was to keep the flow going while trying to tell backstory. Preserving some sense of chronology was difficult; it seemed I had to constantly move whole sections to do it. Probably my most interesting difficulty was to bring in an element of suspense AFTER the novel had been completed. Believe it or not, The Wanderer was not part of the original version.

JB: How fascinating!  I can’t even think of the story without him.  What kind of research did you do?  Find anything you’d like to use in a future story?

RL: Even though THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW is a work of fiction I wanted to get it right, especially when it came to Catholicism and New Orleans. To that end, I adhered to only credible sources. I spoke to historians, archivists, and folks in New Orleans during the time I spent there doing research. I also consulted various digital collections and online libraries as well as consulting with people in Catholic ministries.

I save all my research. No doubt, I’ll reach into it for some future story.

JB: So many early readers love Bonaventure.  Has the advance praise surprised you at all or did you always expect Bonaventure to pull at the heartstrings of readers?

RL: I can honestly say it has surprised me. It’s such a different sort of story that I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I only knew how much I loved Bonaventure.

JB: Ever thought of moving to the South, but especially to New Orleans?

RL: Not really, my family is in the north. But I’ll definitely return to the South for vacations.

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

RL: I love to read, knit, and crochet. I also love to renovate – give me a paint brush and some wood flooring and I’ll be happy for a long, long time. I’m an exercise freak, too. My husband and I enjoy travelling, hiking, and snowshoeing. He loves to cook, but I need a map to find the kitchen.

JB: If a reader asked you to give her a list of five Southern writers that you consider required reading, who would be on your list and why?

RL: Carson McCullers – She’s best known for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but The Member of the Wedding is actually my favorite McCullers work. I also love her very long short story The Ballad of the Sad Café. Her characters are works of art. She finds the extraordinary under layers of human weakness.

Harper Lee – There are no words to adequately praise To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout Finch may very well be the best reminiscent narrator ever.

Flannery O’Connor – Though she wrote a few novels, O’Conner is best known as a master of the short story. She had a gift for exploiting the peculiar and bringing about endings that manage to be both fascinating and macabre as they blindside you. If I had to pick a favorite work of hers it would be a tie between “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The River”.

Tennessee Williams – He had a gift for bringing charm to the gritty. His titles are some of the best: “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” are a couple that pull you right in.

William Faulkner – If you want to learn how to write quirky characters, read Faulkner.

JB: An amazing list!  Which book or books are you currently reading?

RL: I just finished THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce. I loved it.

I’m currently reading THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

JB: Those are actually two of my favorite novels.  Will you go on a book tour?  If so, which cities are you visiting?

RL: Yes, I will tour. It’s in the planning stages at HarperCollins.

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow?

RL: That when it comes to forgiveness, accepting it is just as important as offering it. Also, I would hope that readers would become in tune with the miraculous that is all around us all the time.

JB: Are you working on anything new?

RL: I’ve actually begun three different projects. I’m hoping that sooner or later one of them overpowers the other two.

JB: Thank you, Rita, for a wonderful interview!  May you venture forth into bestseller land.

RL: Thanks for inviting me!

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silence.jpg The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is the She Reads March Book Club Selection.  For reviews, a chance to win a copy of the book, and discussion, visit She Reads.  I am also giving away a brand new copy of the story.  Please fill out the brief form below.  I will choose a winner using random.org on Friday at 3 pm ET.  Good luck!

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Filed under author interviews, book giveaway, books, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, She Reads, Southern fiction

Interview with Julie Kibler, Author of Calling Me Home

Interview with Julie Kibler, Author of Calling Me Home

Julie Kibler

Julie Kibler

Jaime Boler: Julie, thank you for allowing me to ask you these questions.  We over at She Reads love your book Calling Me Home, the February Book Club Selection.  Many of us, in fact, have said it’s our favorite book thus far!  There is a story behind your story.  How did you come up with the idea for Calling Me Home?

 

Julie Kibler: Five or six years ago (I’m struggling to remember the exact time frame these days!), my dad shared that when my grandmother was a young woman, she had fallen in love with a black man, and that their families had torn them apart. This really opened my eyes. My grandma hadn’t been an especially happy or warm person, at least when I knew her, though we shared some special moments in time. But learning this convinced me she had lost her “one true love”–and that her life had never been exactly as she dreamed it might be as a result. The idea for writing a novel with this concept at the crux took hold and wouldn’t let go. It took me a few years to gather the courage to write it, but I finally did. I am thankful I did, and I think she would like it. I hope she would like it. 

 

JB: Readers are really connecting with your main characters, Isabelle and Dorrie.  How do you feel about the wonderful early praise your book is getting?

 

JK: It is exhilarating and terrifying at once. I’m thrilled most of the reviews I’ve seen have been positive. Yet, I think every writer really takes to heart the ones that aren’t quite so good. We hyper focus on the things we worry might be true. Of course, we can’t please everyone, and the hope is that your book will find the right readers in the right timing. I am, of course, absolutely thrilled readers are connecting with Isabelle and Dorrie. I tried to make these two women as authentic as I could, and it wasn’t always easy.

 

JB: In Calling Me Home, the residents of Shalerville erected a sign warning any African-Americans to get out of town before darkness fell.  On your website, I read where your father’s hometown actually had such a sign.  Was it difficult to write about such an ugly time in our history?

 

JK: It was difficult at times, partly because I did not live during that era. I did not experience it myself. I knew I’d never truly comprehend what it must have been like, from either side of the sign. I believe my father was brave to share this when I asked him to describe his hometown as I was creating my setting. I didn’t know about sundown towns, and he had never, ever mentioned this before. I think it was both freeing and a little frightening for him to say the words that were on the sign in his hometown out loud—which were even uglier than those I used in Calling Me Home. I used a phrase more commonly documented in discussions about sundown towns. My dad was one of my earliest readers, and he seems pleased with the story and the setting I created based on a conglomeration of details I learned about the whole region of Northern Kentucky—not on one single town.

 

During my research, I also learned that my grandmother and her family had lived in more than one sundown town—and not just in Kentucky. These towns existed all over the country in various forms, as I learned on a website created by James W. Loewen. I also realized my mother’s side of the family had lived in sundown towns, too, here in Texas—in fact, one entire county. It blew me away. My parents are some of the most open, least racist people I have ever known. Somehow they made a break with this attitude and taught my siblings and me differently. Thank goodness.

 

JB: What kind of research did you do for your story?

 

JK: To be honest, there wasn’t any true system to my research. I am the kind of writer who gets an idea and takes off, researching as I go along. That doesn’t mean I didn’t fall down the rabbit hole of research on many occasions—for hours or days or sometimes weeks, I would hyper focus on certain details, trying to ensure I got them completely right. Interestingly, one detail that seems almost insignificant in relationship to many others, I got wrong. I discovered it after the galleys were printed and out. I corrected it for the final copy. Nobody has noticed or pointed it out in the galleys (a very small detail relating to the work Isabelle did working with photographic slides), but I know it’s there, and that bothers me. So, while I may not do my research in a completely orthodox or linear fashion, I am a perfectionist when it comes to getting things right.

 

JB: When you were writing the story, did you have any sense how big it could be?

 

JK: This is a weird question. Not because you asked it, but because of the answer. I have to say that I had a gut feeling it could be. I was so obsessed with writing it, I knew I had finally found the “right story” (it wasn’t my first manuscript). The reaction of those I told about it as I was writing and of my critique partners as they read it, one by one, also gave me an inkling it could be. I was also somewhat systematic in trying to make it a “big” story. I found Donald Maass’ books Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction especially helpful in ensuring the story hit on all cylinders. I didn’t want to blow it; I really wanted to tell this story.

 

JB: My favorite character in the story is Isabelle.  Do you have a favorite?  Or is that like asking you to choose your favorite child?

 

JK: I must admit I was often impatient with Isabelle. Some reviewers have noted they thought she was naïve at certain points. My reaction is a strong YES. She was 16. She was sheltered. She was in love. I was frustrated with her at times, even though I was writing her. I thought she was melodramatic and self-involved and, frankly, quite dumb on more than one occasion. Then I would step back and say, Yeah, she was. I have two teenage girls—one who was exactly Isabelle’s age as I began writing the novel. I pictured her in this situation 75 years ago, and how her level of maturity might have directed her actions. Some days 16-year-old girls are really wise. Some days, it’s obvious their frontal lobes aren’t completely connected to the rest of their brains yet.   

 

On the other hand, Dorrie was pretty easy for me to write, and I loved her. I loved how she made me laugh or cry. I relate to her for several reasons. First, I was a single mom for several years and I know what it’s like, though my situation was unlike hers in many ways. Also, and this is one of the few places I’ve mentioned it, but my personal hairstylist of 12 years is a lot like Dorrie. She recently moved away, and I still text or call her to whine, because I miss her. Not just because she did such a good job on my hair, but because over that twelve years, we became friends. She knows my character Dorrie was modeled after her personality to a certain extent. But in many ways, they are very different. Dorrie thought and did things my friend never would have done, and vice versa. The book is dedicated to Fannie in the acknowledgments, because she is one of the strongest single moms I’ve ever known. I’m hoping she’ll show up at one of my book events. If I could convince her to read from my book, I would, but she told me it would take alcohol to make that happen.

 

But as far as favorites? I’ll just say this: In real life, I have three kids. They are each my favorite. 

 

JB: I pictured Dorrie as Queen Latifah.  Are there any plans to make the book into a movie?

 

JK: My film agent understands my vision for the possibility of turning Calling Me Home into a movie. Hearing the news that someone or some studio was interested in making a film from this story would be mind boggling, but very exciting! We’ll see.

 

JB: You hear so much today about the United States being a “post-racial society,” but as Isabelle and Dorrie travel together, glares, stage whispers, and meanness follow in their wake.  Do you think we’ve come far as a nation in term of race relations?  Do we still have far to go?

 

JK: I think these are immeasurable distances. I believe there will always be marginalized groups—probably for reasons we couldn’t even comprehend today. We’re a constant work-in-progress. The United States has made inroads, certainly, but there are still miles to travel. It’s said we all have prejudices to varying degrees and for varying reasons. I know this is true in my own heart if I’m honest. I make assumptions. I stereotype. I try not to, but sometimes I do anyway. 

 

I see extremes where I live. My neighborhood and city is about as diverse as you can find anywhere. On my block, there are Asian, black, Hispanic, white, and Middle Eastern families. I feel exhilarated sometimes to see the rainbow of faces in our local restaurants. My kids have never been particular about the race of their friends.

 

On the other hand, sometimes you still hear ugly whispers about who belongs where, when, and how. School districting tends to be a hot button in many communities, and it’s often an unspoken battle about racial diversity. Sadly, this behavior seems modeled by the adults and passed down from generation to generation. If only we could follow the example of our children more often.

 

JB: I have to say this story made me cry.  Did you ever cry while writing it?  Did you ever have to get up, leave what you were doing, and get away from it for a while?

 

JK: I cried over certain chapters when I wrote them, and I cry again every time I read them. I cry every time I read the last page. I think this means these characters were like the Velveteen Rabbit—they became real to me. I rejoiced with them and I grieved with them. I don’t remember having to get away from them. Writing that made me the most emotional was the kind I wanted to dwell in forever. I wanted to jump in that stream and swim as long as I could. Unfortunately, that kind of writing session is something you can’t predict or replicate. It happens a different way each time. 

 

JB: What would your grandmother have made of this story?

 

JK: I asked my dad this after I sold the book. He said she was probably laughing in her grave and saying, “Ohhhhh, SH##!” Pardon her language, but I think he’s right. I can picture it. But I also believe she would be happy. Calling Me Home is not her story as much as it is the essence of it. She was probably poor. She wasn’t a doctor’s daughter. I don’t really know much at all. What I do know is I felt her sitting at my shoulder, whispering to me of what it felt like to be a young girl hopelessly in love in an impossible situation. 

 

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

 

JK: I’m a rabid movie fan—especially independent films. My husband and I attend movies nearly every weekend, and then talk about them over dinner. I’m a little worried about the book release as I know we won’t have as many chances to get our movie fix. I fear withdrawal.

 

We’re also big fans of food. We love finding new restaurants and trying new things, as well as going to our favorites and wallowing in our comfort foods. I say “we” because I’m lucky enough to have a husband who has similar taste in cuisine. We figured out if we share, we can get an appetizer, entree, and dessert without overeating too much. Well. Sometimes.

 

I love to travel, and my favorite thing is going off the beaten path. I was once put off a train in England because of a bomb scare. I landed in a little suburb of Liverpool where I might have been the first American tourist to ever show up. It was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had, wandering around and talking with the locals. They were shocked when I ordered a baked potato—a “jacket potato”—with chili AND cheese. I assured them this is done regularly in Texas. 

 

JB: If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

 

JK: Probably Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’d say her writing affected me as a child more than any other, and was instrumental in making me both a reader and a writer. There are few books I’ve read over and over—the Little House books are the exception.

 

JB: What book is on your nightstand right now?

 

JK: About 15 or so, in a precarious pile. Not kidding, though I’m reading J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy on my Nook for a book club meeting. I never read a single Harry Potter book (I know!), and I’m liking this quite a bit. I had no preconceived notions of what a Rowling book should be. I’m also reading a manuscript for a blurb, which is a new and surreal experience. And I’m reading a book as research for my current project. I often have three or four books going these days, which means I read each one very, very slowly.

 

JB: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

 

JK: Evolving.

 

JB: Are you going on an author tour?  If so, which cities will you visit?

 

JK: I’m doing a launch event in Arlington, Texas. At this point, I’m also doing events in Austin, Houston, and Waco, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Spokane, Washington. There are a few other things in the works. My events page on my website and Facebook author page should be current.

 

JB: You are also a book blogger.  How important are bloggers to the publishing industry and to authors?

 

JK: I think book blogging is a relatively new and developing phenomenon, so it’s hard to say. Book bloggers feel very important to me, and publishers obviously put a lot of stock in them to send so many books for review each year. I’m eager to see how this evolves over time, and how it affects publishing. Will blogger reviews become more important than industry reviews? It’s so hard to say. It’s a form of word-of-mouth marketing, though, and we all know word-of-mouth is instrumental in selling almost anything.

 

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading Calling Me Home?

 

JK: In my acknowledgments, I charge the reader with an unoriginal (something similar is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi), yet important challenge: It’s up to you to be the change. It’s the thing I truly want readers to think about as they close the cover.

 

JB: Are you working on anything new?

 

JK: Yes, but I can’t talk about it just yet! It might lose its magic. Suffice it to say it’s another story involving marginalized groups, family issues, and a nostalgic setting closer to my current home in Texas.

 

JB: This story really has so much to teach us about life, about our fellow man, and about ourselves.  It bridges generations and races, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk with you about Calling Me Home. Good luck with the book, Julie!

 

JK: This has truly been my pleasure, and your questions were thoughtful and fun to answer. Thank you so much for your kind words and for hosting me today.

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Spotlight on The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

silence

I totally fell in love with The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski.  Leganski grew up in Wisconsin, but, you’d swear she was Southern.  Bonaventure Arrow cannot speak, yet he speaks loudly and clearly within Leganski’s pages.

This is a haunting, atmospheric story, uniquely Southern, replete with lyricism and magical realism.

A lyrical debut novel set in historic New Orleans that follows a mute boy whose gift of magical hearing reveals family secrets and forgotten voodoo lore, and exposes a murder that threatens the souls of those who love him.

Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead.  But he was only listening, placing sound inside quiet and gaining his bearings.  By the time he is five, he can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature trumpets that rage inside raindrops.  He also hears the voice of his dead father, William Arrow, mysteriously murdered before Bonaventure was born by a man known only as the Wanderer.

One day, Bonaventure’s world is shaken by anguished voices he’s never heard before–voices that trace back to a note written by his mother, Dancy, to a particular relic owned by his Grand-mere Letice: objects kept by each as a constant reminder of the guilt she believes she deserves.  When Bonaventure removes the note and the relic from where they’ve been hidden, he opens two doors to the past and finds the key to a web of secrets that both holds his family together and threatens to tear them apart.  With the help of his kindred spirit, Trinidad Prefontaine, Bonaventure sets out to calm these secrets and to release his family from a painful legacy.

Rita-Leganski

Rita Leganski holds an MA in writing and publishing and a BA in literary studies and creative writing from DePaul University.  She teaches a writing workshop at DePaul’s School for New Learning and was a recipient of the Arthur Weinberg Memorial Prize for a work of historical fiction.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow will be released February 26.  Look for my interview with Leganski on March 4 (and a possible giveaway) and a book review on March 5.  She Reads has chosen this book for its March Book Club Selection.

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Book Review: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler (St. Martin’s Press; 336 pages; $24.99).

calling-me-home.jpg

            William Shakespeare wrote that the course of true love never did run smooth, and nowhere is that truer than in Julie Kibler’s sobering, yet heartening debut Calling Me Home.  Kibler drew inspiration for her tale after learning her grandmother had fallen in love with an African American when she was a young woman.  At the time, though, any romantic connection between the two was unfeasible.  A story idea was thus born.

Employing a dual narrative format, Kibler sets Calling Me Home in both present-day Texas and in pre-World War II Kentucky, introducing us to two extraordinary women: eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister, an elderly white lady and thirty-something Dorrie Curtis, a single black mother of two.

Isabelle has a huge favor to ask of Dorrie, something so big she cannot ask anyone else.  She has to go to a funeral in Cincinnati, Ohio, and she has to leave tomorrow.  Isabelle wants Dorrie to drive her there.

Why does Isabelle ask Dorrie?  What kind of connection can an elderly white woman and a young black female have?  It’s simple, really.  Dorrie is Isabelle’s hairdresser.

If you are a woman, then you immediately understand the intimate relationship between a woman and her beautician.  There is a connection between the two women that belies age and race.  Isabelle and Dorrie have bonded over hair and have become friends.  But there are things both women have chosen not to tell the other.

Dorrie agrees to drive Isabelle to the funeral, although Isabelle refuses to say who died or how she is connected to the deceased.  For Dorrie, it’s a bit of a mystery.  But she does not pry.  She knows instinctively that Isabelle will reveal everything when she is good and ready.

When the two women set off, Kibler begins her second story arc.  Isabelle confides to Dorrie that she fell in love with Robert Prewitt when she was a teenager (Isabelle is only loosely based on Kibler’s own grandmother).  Robert wanted to be a doctor; he was the son of her family’s housekeeper and was African American.

Because this is 1939 Kentucky, the reader knows this is a doomed romance.  Especially in a “sundown” town like Shalerville where blacks were not allowed after dark.  Such places really existed.  It was quite alright for African-American maids, chauffeurs, and workers to be in Shalerville during the day, but, come sundown, they had to vacate the area or face the consequences.

Kibler’s decision to set part of the story in this sundown town has a sobering effect on the reader, or at least it did on me.  I worried for Robert and for Isabelle, but especially for Robert’s safety in such a dark, chilling and painful place.

As Isabelle narrates her part of the story, Kibler illustrates the sheer ugliness of the world in which Isabelle lives.  It’s full of small minds and discrimination so common at the time.  Robert and Isabelle know how difficult life will be for them but they are in love and determined.  They run away together, but the course of true love never does go smoothly, does it?  And Robert and Isabelle are no exception.

As Isabelle conveys her story to Dorrie, the young black mother begins confiding to Isabelle.  Dorrie likes Teague, a handsome, successful black man, but he just seems too perfect—something she is not.  After her divorce, Dorrie is hesitant about bringing a new man into her life and into the lives of her children: a sweet young daughter and a son who is a senior in high school.  Her son and his future constantly worry Dorrie, who is uncertain if she needs the added concern of a new relationship.  Listening to Isabelle’s story, though, Dorrie learns something profound about life and about love.

A bond that first formed over hair expands further.  For Isabelle and Dorrie, age and color matter not; they are insignificant things.

Calling Me Home is a courageous tale because Kibler holds nothing back.  Just a few weeks into President Barack Obama’s second term in office, you hear so often how we live in a “post-racial” society.  But is that actually true?  When Dorrie and Isabelle stop to eat at a restaurant on their trip, a white man and woman look curiously at them.  The man soon turns rude and openly stares at them.  In a stage whisper, he wonders why a white lady is with a black woman.

If the romance between Isabelle and Robert highlights race in the American past, then this scene is an eye-opening look at race in the American present.  Kibler shows us how far we’ve come in this country; however, she also shows us how far we still have to go.

Calling Me Home is both a solemn and stirringly emotional novel that takes us deep into a woman’s heart and backward into one country’s harsh past.  Kibler’s story of love, loss, family, faith, and friendship hearken to the stuff of life.  In the end, Calling Me Home is a surprising novel.  Because Kibler is always patient and easy on the foreshadowing, the conclusion is an ending that will surely amaze readers, just as it did me.

We should never dwell on our differences and focus instead on the ways we are the same.  That’s what I learned from Calling Me Home.  Kibler will break your heart in this tale, but she will also put it back together again.

julie kibler

Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home is the She Reads February Book Club Selection.  You can discuss the book and enter to win one of ten copies and read the fabulous reviews of members.  The book comes out February 12.  Check back here on my blog February 12 for my interview with Kibler.  It’s going to be amazing!

 

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How about a new book for your Valentine?

They say February is for lovers; I say it’s for lots of new books.  There is sure to be something for everyone this month.

Available January 31 is Dina Nayeri’s A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea.

teaspoon

Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her mother and sister disappear, leaving Saba and her father alone in Iran, Saba is certain that they have moved to America without her. But her parents have taught her that “all fate is written in the blood,” and that twins will live the same life, even if separated by land and sea. As she grows up in the warmth and community of her local village, falls in and out of love, and struggles with the limited possibilities in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba envisions that there is another way for her story to unfold. Somewhere, it must be that her sister is living the Western version of this life. And where Saba’s world has all the grit and brutality of real life under the new Islamic regime, her sister’s experience gives her a freedom and control that Saba can only dream of.

Filled with a colorful cast of characters and presented in a bewitching voice that mingles the rhythms of Eastern storytelling with modern Western prose, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a tale about memory and the importance of controlling one’s own fate.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day is All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani, which will be released February 5.

all this talk

It’s been fifty years since Antonio Grasso married Maddalena and brought her to America. That was the last time she would ever see her parents, her sisters and brothers—everything she knew and loved in the village of Santa Cecilia, Italy. She locked those memories away, as if Santa Cecilia stopped existing the very day she left. Now, with children and grandchildren of her own, a successful family-run restaurant, and enough daily drama at home, Maddalena sees no need to open the door to the past and let the emotional baggage and unmended rifts of another life spill out. 

But Prima, Antonio and Maddalena’s American-born daughter, was raised on the lore of the Old Country. And as she sees her parents aging, she hatches the idea to take the entire family back to Italy—hoping to reunite Maddalena with her estranged sister and let her parents see their homeland one last time. It is an idea that threatens to tear the Grasso family apart, until fate deals them some unwelcome surprises and their journey home becomes a necessary voyage.

Writing with warmth and grace, Chris Castellani delivers a seductive feast for readers. Beautiful Country is an incandescent novel about sacrifice and hope, loss and love, myth and memory.

Soho will publish a rather intriguing story on February 5.  It’s Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell.

man

Say you’re a time traveler and you’ve already toured the entirety of human history. After a while, the outside world might lose a little of its luster. That’s why this time traveler celebrates his birthday partying with himself. Every year, he travels to an abandoned hotel in New York City in 2071, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and drinks twelve-year-old Scotch (lots of it) with all the other versions of who he has been and who he will be. Sure, the party is the same year after year, but at least it’s one party where he can really, well, be himself.

The year he turns 39, though, the party takes a stressful turn for the worse. Before he even makes it into the grand ballroom for a drink he encounters the body of his forty-year-old self, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. As the older versions of himself at the party point out, the onus is on him to figure out what went wrong–he has one year to stop himself from being murdered, or they’re all goners. As he follows clues that he may or may not have willingly left for himself, he discovers rampant paranoia and suspicion among his younger selves, and a frightening conspiracy among the Elders. Most complicated of all is a haunting woman possibly named Lily who turns up at the party this year, the first person besides himself he’s ever seen at the party. For the first time, he has something to lose. Here’s hoping he can save some version of his own life.

The author of one of my favorite books, Ron Currie Jr., has a new novel out on February 7.  It is called Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles and sounds as charmingly quirky as Everything Matters!

flimsy

In this tour de force of imagination, Ron Currie asks why literal veracity means more to us than deeper truths, creating yet again a genre-bending novel that will at once dazzle, move, and provoke.

The protagonist of Ron Currie, Jr.’s new novel has a problem­—or rather, several of them. He’s a writer whose latest book was destroyed in a fire. He’s mourning the death of his father, and has been in love with the same woman since grade school, a woman whose beauty and allure is matched only by her talent for eluding him. Worst of all, he’s not even his own man, but rather an amalgam of fact and fiction from Ron Currie’s own life. When Currie the character exiles himself to a small Caribbean island to write a new book about the woman he loves, he eventually decides to fake his death, which turns out to be the best career move he’s ever made. But fame and fortune come with a price, and Currie learns that in a time of twenty-four-hour news cycles, reality TV, and celebrity Twitter feeds, the one thing the world will not forgive is having been told a deeply satisfying lie.

What kind of distinction could, or should, be drawn between Currie the author and Currie the character?  Or between the book you hold in your hands and the novel embedded in it? Whatever the answers, Currie, an inventive writer always eager to test the boundaries of storytelling in provocative ways, has essential things to impart along the way about heartbreak, reality, grief, deceit, human frailty, and blinding love.

Did your book club ooh and ahh over Kathryn Stockett’s The Help?  Boy, do I have the newest book club darling for you then.  Tara Conklin’s The House Girl will be released February 12.  Conklin’s debut is going to be a major bestseller.  I have read the novel and absolutely loved it, so much that I sought out the author for an interview.  Look for my Q&A with Conklin on February 12.  Please see my spotlight post on the book and check back for the interview and my review.

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Julie Kibler’s amazing debut, Calling Me Home, the She Reads February Book Club Selection, also comes out February 12.  This was another story that stole my heart.  I was lucky enough to get to chat with Kibler, and the interview will be posted February 12.  Read more about the story in my spotlight post and check back for the interview and review.

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Also coming February 12 is the much-anticipated second short story collection of Karen Russell called Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Russell is the author of the incredible coming of age tale, Swamplandia!, and her first collection of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  I found she shows such depth and maturity with her newest book.

vampires   A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.

Karen Russell is one of today’s most celebrated and vital writers—honored in The New Yorker’s list of the twenty best writers under the age of forty, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and the National Book Foundation’s five best writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her wondrous new work displays a young writer of superlative originality and invention coming into the full range and scale of her powers.

Julianna Baggott’s second novel in her Pure trilogy, Fuse, will be published by Grand Central on February 19 and is sure to set the YA world on fire.

fuse

When the world ended, those who dwelled within the Dome were safe. Inside their glass world the Pures live on unscarred, while those outside—the Wretches—struggle to survive amidst the smoke and ash.

Believing his mother was living among the Wretches, Partridge escaped from the Dome to find her. Determined to regain control over his son, Willux, the leader of the Pures, unleashes a violent new attack on the Wretches. It’s up to Pressia Belze, a young woman with her own mysterious past, to decode a set of cryptic clues from the past to set the Wretches free. 

An epic quest that sweeps readers into a world of beautiful brutality, Fuse continues the story of two people fighting to save their futures—and change the fate of the world.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski comes out February 26.  She Reads chose this for their March Book Club Selection and what a great choice it is!  Leganski may have been born in Wisconsin, but she’s Southern at heart.  Read her debut and you’ll see what I mean.

A lyrical debut novel set in historic New Orleans that follows a mute boy whose gift of magical hearing reveals family secrets and forgotten voodoo lore, and exposes a murder that threatens the souls of those who love him.

silence

February 26 also marks the publication date for Mimi by Lucy Ellmann.

mimi

It’s Christmas Eve in Manhattan. Harrison Hanafan, noted plastic surgeon, falls on his ass. ‘Ya can’t sit there all day, buddy, looking up people’s skirts!’ chides a weird gal in a coat like a duvet. She then kindly conjures the miracle of a taxi. While recuperating with Franz Schubert, Bette Davis, and a foundling cat, Harrison adds items to his life’s work, a List of Melancholy Things (puppetry, shrimp-eating contests, Walmart…) before going back to rhinoplasties, liposuction, and the peccadilloes of his obnoxious colleagues. Then Harrison collides once more with the strangely helpful woman, Mimi, who bursts into his life with all her curves and chaos. They soon fall emphatically in love. And, as their love-making reaches a whole new kind of climax, the sweet smell of revolution is in the air. By turns celebratory and scathing, romantic and dyspeptic, Mimi is a story of music, New York, sculpture, martinis, public speaking, quilt-stealing, eggnog and, most of all, love. A vibrant call-to-arms, this is Lucy Ellmann’s most extraordinary book to date.

Alex George’s brilliant debut A Good American will be available in paperback on February 5.  I highly recommend George’s story of immigration, love, and family.  You can read my review here.

a good american

Chocolate?  Who needs chocolate?  Open up a new book and have a taste you can truly savor.  The best part?  You don’t have to worry about the book ending up on your hips tomorrow.

I guess February really is for lovers–book lovers, that is.

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Filed under books, fiction, literary fiction, mystery, She Reads, short story collection, Southern fiction, Southern writers, women's lit, young adult

Spotlight on Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

She Reads has chosen a wonderful debut novel for its February Book Club Selection.  It’s Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home.

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julie kibler

 

 

Once you start reading Kibler’s story, you won’t be able to stop.  Look for my review soon and also an interview with the author.

For now, here’s a summary.  Calling Me Home will be released February 12.  If you miss it, you will feel so left out because everyone, and I mean everyone, will be talking about it!

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler is a soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship

Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper—in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

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Book Review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (Algonquin Books; 384 pages; $14.95).

art forger

                We’re all a little guilty, aren’t we?  We’ve all told a little white lie… or ten.  “Yes, I absolutely love your new haircut.”  “This new recipe tastes yummy”(quick, spit it out in your napkin while no one’s looking).  “I read all of War and Peace last year for my book club.”  There are white lies that do not matter in the scheme of life, but then there are big lies and even bigger deceptions that matter a great deal.

In B.A. Shapiro’s taut and intriguing novel The Art Forger, Clair Roth knows all about lies and deceptions.

Scandal has tarnished the reputation of this once-promising young artist.  When her married lover, Isaac Cullion, experienced a creative rough patch, Clair offered to be his muse.  Clair did more than just help Isaac, though, she painted a masterpiece that went on to earn great acclaim.  But it was Isaac’s name on the piece, not Clair’s.   After their breakup, Clair went public; few believed her, especially after the painting underwent testing to determine its authenticity.  The so-called experts declared it Isaac’s work, casting Clair as the jealous, untalented, and crazy ex.

Barbara Shapiro

Barbara Shapiro

Dejected but strapped with bills, Clair is forced to take a job at reproductions.com as a professional art forger who specializes in the work of Edgar Degas.  She is very good at what she does, maybe even too good.  Yet her own talent goes unnoticed.  Still, she continues to paint her own pieces and hopes to get the recognition she deserves.  Meanwhile, art lovers clamor for her Degas copies, even asking for Clair by name.

One day, the very dashing, debonair, and filthy rich gallery owner, Aidan Markel stops by Clair’s studio.  The two strike a Faustian bargain: Clair agrees to forge a Degas for Markel and he will give her a one-woman show in his gallery.  For Clair, it sounds too good to be true.  Sure enough, it is.  Markel’s Degas was stolen AND he intends to sell the forgery as the real thing AND then he wants to return the original.

Aidan knows just how to convince Clair: “The seller gets his money, and the collector gets what he believes is a Degas, at least until he finds out the truth in the press, and then it will be too late.  You and I get to feel really good about ourselves.  Not to mention, your own work gets the exposure it deserves.”  Just in case Claire is wavering, Aidan goes in for the kill: “This is the opportunity of a lifetime for you….”

Standing in front of the painting, Clair cannot take her eyes from the painting; the Degas captivates and obsesses her.  She agrees.

For Clair, forging a real Degas is a challenge.  Initially, morality is not an issue for Clair; instead, she wonders if she is really good enough to pull off this art caper.  In an interesting twist, Clair convinces herself she and Aiden are actually saving the painting.  She will do it, although her conscience nags at her.  “What is illegal and what is illegal?” she asks herself.

In her efforts to recreate the stolen Degas, Clair stumbles onto a mystery.  Is the painting an authentic Degas?  Or is it a forgery?

Clair peels away layer upon layer of lies and deceptions in the same way she strips a canvas, layer by layer, bare.  The Art Forger is a voyage of self-discovery for Clair, as it allows her to recapture her own authenticity.  She forges a new path and is no longer herself a forgery.

Part mystery, part art history, and part morality tale, The Art Forger is plot-driven and tense.  Shapiro merges fact with fiction so well that it is sometimes difficult to separate the author’s imagination from the historical record.

Shapiro conducted meticulous and extensive research for The Art Forger and it shows.  The heist described in the story actually happened in 1990, when several valuable works of art were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Degas painting, After the Bath, does not exist; it is a figment of Shapiro’s imagination.  Isabella Stewart Gardner, the owner of the fictional painting and founder of the museum where the real robbery occurred, is real.  Through a series of fictional letters, Shapiro effectively brings Gardner, who traveled through Europe extensively collecting paintings, to life.  Although no evidence exists that Gardner ever met Degas, Shapiro concedes the two traveled the same circles.  Their relationship is fabricated but makes for interesting reading.

Isabella Stewart Gardner

Isabella Stewart Gardner

If you love art history or even appreciate a good mystery, then The Art Forger belongs on your nightstand.  Perhaps the biggest thing I took away from the story, though, was not the who-done-it but what Shapiro can teach us about our own authenticity and originality.  The Art Forger definitely begs discussion.

You’re sure to love the novel every bit as much as I did, and that’s no lie.

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Filed under books, fiction, history, literary fiction, mystery, She Reads, women's lit