Tag Archives: April Fiction

Book Review: Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian

Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian (Simon & Schuster; 352 pages; $25).

dear-lucy.jpg

           I have never felt fiercely protective of a character before, but the urge to shield Lucy, the main speaker in Julie Sarkissian’s quirky, unique, and weirdly beautiful debut, Dear Lucy, overtook me. And there’s a good reason why: Lucy is developmentally delayed and has issues with behavior and language yet she is filled with determination and love. Lucy is limited, yes, but she looks at the world with wonder and sees it as full of possibility. Lucy is extraordinary and she certainly becomes special to us as her eyes are open to the beauty around her.

“It is time to get the eggs. Time for my best thing,” Lucy says. “I get the eggs for our breakfast. They are alive. When you eat something that is alive you take the life for yourself. You can’t think of it as taking life from another thing, you think of it as giving life to yourself.” This sentiment comes from Lucy’s friend, Samantha. “Samantha knows” because “there is something growing inside of her too.” Samantha, a pregnant teenager, is also one of the narrators in Dear Lucy. She does not want her baby; instead, she plans on giving the child up for adoption.

Sarkissian sets Dear Lucy on an isolated and rather mysterious farm. The setting makes the story dark and desolate and allows a sense of menace to loom over the entire novel. Mister and Missus, owners of the farm, only add to the story’s doom-and-gloom environment. Missus functions as Sarkissian’s third and final narrator.

The author could have told her tale solely from Lucy’s perspective, but then we would not have so many different windows and perceptions of the story, making Dear Lucy richer and more satisfying. Sarkissian writes each narrator in Dear Lucy with vulnerability, though some characters are more defenseless than others. Weakness is sometimes overt, like with Lucy and Samantha; other times, helplessness can be hidden, as it is with Missus, who feels inadequate for not giving her husband a son.

Dear Lucy gives up its secrets slowly yet pleasingly, building mystery and suspense. Especially when Sarkissian reveals the reason why Lucy is on the farm. Lucy gets a thought into her head and cannot let it go. Because she is so single-minded, she can be willful and even prone to violence. Her impulses rule her, leading me to wonder if perhaps her hypothalamus is to blame for her behavior. Lucy’s mother could not handle her daughter any longer and put her in the care of Mister and Missus.

Lucy believes her stay on the farm is temporary and believes her Mum mum will return for her, as she promised. She must listen to Mister and Missus always so they will allow her to stay on the farm, where “Mum mum will know where to find” her. Lucy takes this literally and is loath to even get in a car or go on foot off the farm. She longs for her mother and yearns to be called “Dear Lucy” as Mum mum wraps Lucy in her arms protectively and lovingly.

The farm becomes a haven of sorts for Lucy as she waits for Mum mum. She develops an attachment to Samantha and to the chickens from whom she collects the eggs. Lucy is so happy when Samantha gives birth and decides to keep the son she delivers, but her world comes crashing down when Samantha’s baby is taken from her. Samantha begs Lucy for help.

Lucy then sets out on an adventure like no other, a journey that takes her farther away from the farm than she has ever been. She worries Mum mum will not be able to find her again, but Lucy presses on. She is not alone on her mission. Jennifer, a talking chicken, accompanies her and tells Lucy what to do. Jennifer is everything that Lucy is not: tough, smart, mature, and wise. For me, the chicken was a part of Lucy’s psyche that appeared right when she needed it the most.

Dear Lucy is told in three distinctive and gorgeous voices. Sarkissian’s imagination, originality, and amazing talent captivated me and would not let me go. Eerie and atmospheric, Dear Lucy reads like southern gothic, unsettling and intriguing and at the same time urging the reader and Lucy onward.

julie sarkissian

.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under book review, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, literary fiction, mystery

Interview with Julie Sarkissian, Author of Dear Lucy

Julie Sarkissian, author of Dear Lucy

Julie Sarkissian, author of Dear Lucy

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Julie, for letting me interview you.  When Julia Fierro, founder and director of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, has this to say about a novel, I take notice: “Dear Lucy will be one of your favorite reads of 2013. I promise.”  That’s high praise.  How do the wonderful reviews make you feel?

 Julie Sarkissian: First off, thank you for having me on your blog!

The experience of being reviewed brings to mind the nursery rhyme, “When she was good she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid.” When you hear something nice about your book, such as Julia’s generous and kind words, it feels very, very good. When you hear something not so nice about your book, it feels horrid. Being reviewed puts the author in a very vulnerable position, so every emotion is very heightened.

JB: Did you always want to be a writer?

JS: Like many of us in the publishing industry – writers, booksellers, editors – one of my first great loves as a child was reading. I grew up without a television and books were the main source of entertainment in our family. I was also a very serious student from an early age. Throughout elementary school writing was a strong suite of mine, it came easily to me and I enjoyed it and took pride in it. But it wasn’t until about the age of thirteen that I became afflicted with a true and overwhelming passion for writing. I started hearing voices in my head and was compelled to write them down. I started writing on a daily basis. I was very private about my work. It was as if I was carrying on an intense, secret affair with my writing at night, and was the same straight-A, type-A, peppy student I was known for being. But something had been awakened inside of me that fundamentally change who I was, and never went away.

 

JB: You became an instructor last year at The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop.  How do you like teaching writing?

 

JS: I absolutely love it. Though I’m a writer and ipso facto have to work alone for much of the time, I am very extroverted. So gathering in a group to discuss writing and craft and literature is such a blissed-out state for me. Teaching is so humbling and rewarding. And inspiring! Of course, my situation is rather comfortable: teaching intelligent, driven adults from my home. My mother teaches high school English and has over forty kids in each class, so I probably wouldn’t have quite a rosy attitude about teaching if that were my situation.

 

JB: How has being a writing teacher made you a better author?

 

JS: That’s a good question. I’m not sure if teaching has made my actual writing better, but it has given me a better appreciation of the artistic community, and my students’ drive and ambition are very inspiring. And teaching is intellectually rewarding, and I’m sure that has to help sharpen my mind.

 

JB: Please describe Dear Lucy in ten words or less.

 

JS: Disabled girl, pregnant teenager and talking chicken vs. the world.

 

JB: What inspired you to write Dear Lucy? Which character’s voice came to you first?  And in what way?

 

JS: The inspiration for Dear Lucy was Lucy’s voice, narrating her gathering of the eggs. Her voice was so strong I just felt compelled to follow it, wherever it lead me. Her voice was the initial inspiration and the guiding force for the whole project.

 

JB: Lucy is truly an unforgettable and beautifully quirky character.  How did her creation come about?

 

JS: Thank you so much! She presented herself to me as a voice, and from there I had to ascertain where she came from, what her past was like, what her mother was like.

 

JB: What exactly is wrong with Lucy?

 

JS: I made a choice not to label Lucy or give her a diagnosis. So the most accurate answer to that question is that there is no real answer. But to be general, I think she has some behavioral issues, I think she has some language processing problems, she is developmentally delayed.

 

JB: In Dear Lucy, you shift points of view from Lucy to Missus to Samantha.  What prompted you to change perspective and give the reader different perceptions?

 

JS: The decision to have multiple narrators stemmed from my desire to get the reader information that would have been lost or at best incredibly convoluted through Lucy’s point of view. I wanted there to be tension between what the reader knew about Lucy’s situation, her safety and well-being, and Lucy’s experience. It seemed like a great opportunity to raise the drama stakes for Lucy.

 

JB: Do you have a favorite character in the story?  If so, who?  And why?

 

JS: Lucy is my favorite, because she gave me her voice so generously and inspired the whole book. But I always felt very protective over Samantha, even though technically Lucy was more limited and more susceptible to danger than Samantha. Unlike Lucy, Samantha is her own worst enemy, and I felt a sense of responsibility for creating a character like that.

 

JB: Sense of place is intensely strong in Dear Lucy.  Why did you want to set your story on a farm?  How does the setting allow Lucy to develop strong friendships and come to the aid of a friend?

 

JS: Setting the novel on the farm was an organic, unconscious part of the process. When Lucy introduced herself to me gathering the eggs, it seemed only natural that she was gathering eggs on a farm. I think the setting is emotionally meaningful because the isolation of the farm highlights and juxtaposes Lucy’s ability to make connections in any environment, even one as desolate and dark as the farm.

 

JB: Dear Lucy has been compared to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Emma Donoghue’s Room.  How do such comparisons make you feel?

 

JS: They make me feel very validated for the type of book I was trying to create. I think both these books are character voice driven literary fiction, and so it is very flattering to be compared to them because in terms of genre that is just what I was hoping to achieve. I wrote about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for the critical portion of my master’s thesis, so it has long been a book that helped me navigate the creation of a full story with a limited protagonist. When I first read Room I was much farther along in the publication process of Dear Lucy, but I was really struck by the similarities in voice between Jack and Lucy. A few of the lines are eerily similar. Jack and Lucy are no doubt kindred literary spirits.

 

JB: What was your publication process like?

 

JS: Dear Lucy was my master’s thesis at The New School. Ann Hood was my thesis advisor and she was incredibly encouraging and supportive. After grad school finished a full draft of a manuscript and found my wonderful agent, Judy Heiblum, through a friend of a friend at the restaurant where I wait tables. My agent and I edited the book for well over a year. That was a very challenging time in the life of the book. Getting the book in sellable shape felt like trial by fire, but eventually we did get a polished manuscript ready. Someone upstairs must have been looking out for me because the book ended up being acquired by Sarah Knight at Simon and Schuster, and she is absolutely the editor who was meant to work on Dear Lucy.

 

JB: How did you react upon seeing a finished copy for the first time?dear-lucy.jpg

 

JS: It was a few seconds of pure elation, trying to take in the enormity of how six years of work, essentially my sole focus of my life for six years, had led to this tangible object in my hand. It was very significant, very existential moment.

 

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

 

JS: Faulkner has long been a huge influence on my work. Other favorite authors and major influences are Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Flannery O’ Connor. I buy a lot of books at Housing Works – a thrift store near my house- so I often stumble across critically acclaimed books that were published some years ago but are new to me. Some in that camp are: Mating by Norman Rush, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton, Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. Shopping in thrift stories is treasure hunting, and discovering brilliant books like these is the ultimate thrill.

 

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

 

JS: I’m from Southern California, and am a Californian at heart, so naturally I love the beach. My fiancé and I rent a beach house in Montauk every summer and I cherish those summer months. I’m big into yoga and baking. I love having dinner parties and BBQing on our deck when the weather is nice. I grew up without a television and now am unabashedly addicted to it, especially crime dramas. I’ve watched every episode of Law and Order, Perry Mason and Murder She Wrote.

 

JB: What is a typical day of writing like for you?  Do you have a favorite place where you write?  Do you prefer quiet or must you have noise?

 

JS: Like any rational human being I start the day with coffee. I’m not a morning person and my brain takes a while to start functioning. But once it does, I sit down to write either on the couch, though I am trying to wean myself off of that habit, or my desk. I get my best work done in the mornings into early afternoon. I break for yoga and lunch, and try to work a few more hours in the afternoon. I prefer quiet when I write early drafts, but listening to music while editing can be inspiring and help keep the work feel fresh.

 

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing Dear Lucy?

 

JS: Personally the hardest thing was not to get discouraged that the process took so long. Creatively the hardest thing was structuring the novel. My editor was instrumental in helping me get structure the novel in the way that best served all the character’s storylines.

 

JB: Did you learn anything new about yourself while in the midst of this tale?

 

JS: I used to be incredibly private about my work and it was very painful for me to show it to anybody. I never shared any details about my creative process or the host emotions that come with it. But through the publication process I started opening up to my fellow artist friends about the experience of creating the book, the deep tenderness I had for my characters, the mental and creative challenges of editing, the sense of anticipation and the fear of criticism. Being able to share what I was going through was very grounding and galvanizing and helped foster a sense of community and support.

 

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

 

JS: Remind yourself feeling passionate about something is a real blessing. Ignore self-doubt and feel proud that you’re trying! Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s; there are as many ways to write as book as there are books to write.

 

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading Dear Lucy?

 

JS: I hope readers take away the sense that the world is renewing itself every day, and that our sensory perceptions have the inherent ability to experience profound beauty. That seeing the world through another’s eyes, or hearing it from another’s ears, feeling it through another’s fingertips alerts the mind and the heart to the beauty that is around us all the time.

 

JB: I’m sure you have attended many book launches, but BookCourt was the site of your book launch on April 23.  What was it like?

 

JS: It was a blast! My friends- Heather Robb of the band The Spring Standards and Peter Lalish of the band Lucius- played live music – all booked themed songs, including Paperback Writer by the Beatles and Everyday I Write The Book by Elvis Costello. I cried during my thank yous and started uncontrollably coughing while reading– my friend had to take over the reading for me! It was a great turnout; BookCourt sold out of books, there were lots of cupcakes, lots of wine and lots of love!

julie sarkissian

 

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

 

JS: I am working on a new book. It’s about a carnival on an old pirate ship that travels the East Coast prophesizing that to succumb to your most primal desires is the only way to have a true experience of life. When the ship docks in a sleepy New England town, the lives of three women will never be the same.

 

JB: Thank you very much, Julie.  Good luck with the book!

1 Comment

Filed under author interviews, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, literary fiction

Interview with Amy Brill, Author of The Movement of Stars

about-amy-200x300

Amy Brill, Author of The Movement of Stars

Jaime Boler: Thank you so much, Amy, for letting me ask you these questions.  The Movement of Stars is such a gorgeous novel, and I know readers of all ages will embrace your protagonist, Hannah Gardner Price.  You are a writer and producer and you previously worked for PBS and MTV.  Did you always want to be a writer?

Amy Brill: I did. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I was a voracious reader from a very early age. For my 5th grade book-and-author luncheon I was Louisa May Alcott, so I guess I had a latent thing for the 19th century even then.

JB: Your Twitter profile says: “Turned 40, sold book, had baby in car!”  Please tell me more!

AB: Oh, well. You know. Second baby. Things just went faster than expected! If you’re really curious, I wrote about the birth-in-the-car for Redbook recently. You can read it here.  Or did you want to hear more about 40? It’s the new 30. I just cling to that.

JB: For those who do not know, The Movement of Stars is loosely based on the life of Maria Mitchell.  Who was Maria Mitchell?

AB: She was the first professional female astronomer in America. She was born on Nantucket in 1818 into a large Quaker family, and was taught astronomy by her father, who calibrated the chronometers for the Nantucket whaling fleet. She had only a high school education, but she went on to discover a comet and become the founding professor of astronomy at Vassar College.

maria mitchell

JB: You first learned about Ms. Mitchell on a trip to Nantucket in 1996.  What about her captivated you so much that you wanted to write about her?

AB: I was taken by the idea of this young girl who was so dedicated to her passion that she spent night after night up on her roof, in every kind of weather, searching for something as elusive as a comet. I felt compelled to learn more, and more, and more, until I was so immersed in her life and times that I had to keep going.

JB: What prompted you to write about her?

AB: I didn’t want to write a straight biography, I wanted to write a novelized version of her life. It took many years of research and many dry, epistolary drafts before I understood that the story I really wanted to tell existed only in my head, and that Miss Mitchell and the “facts” of her life were only a leaping-off place, not a destination.

JB: How is Hannah Gardner Price different from Maria Mitchell?

AB: There’s certainly no indication that Maria Mitchell had any kind of relationship with a black whaler from the Azores, to begin with. Also, their family situations were entirely different. Hannah lives alone with her father, her twin brother being away on a whaleship. Maria Mitchell had a large family around her. And all of the secondary characters are invented, except the Bonds, the father-and-son team who ran the Harvard Observatory. They were real people and were friends with Maria and her father, though my version of those relationships is invented.

JB: What kind of research did you do for The Movement of Stars?

AB: I don’t think there’s any kind I didn’t do, short of navigating an actual whaleship across the Atlantic.

I think I read everything there is to read about 19th century astronomy, New England women and self-fashioning, Nantucket culture, Quakers, and whaling. I was assisted by the many archives and libraries I visited, from the Kendall Library of the New Bedford Whaling Museum to the Maria Mitchell Association archives to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA, where I was a visiting artist fellow in 2005.

JB: Hannah’s world is so small and fixed in place when the story begins.  She’s bound by her gender and her religion.  Everything changes for Hannah by the end of the book, and her world enlarges in so many different ways.  If Hannah were to spend one day in 2013, what would she say about women’s roles?  How far would she say we still have to go in the Twenty-First Century?

AB: She was hardcore in her beliefs and outspoken about equality for women. So I think she would be be thrilled that women now go to college, work in any field they like, and vote. But I think she’d be aghast that more women aren’t running for office to redress the issues that force families to shoulder the tremendous burden of incompatible work-life policy in the workplace, and to fight for adequate, subsidized childcare and family leave to enable women to actually achieve parity without sacrificing quality of family life. Wow, that was a mouthful.

JB: You set your story in Nantucket in the 1840s, an era and a locale that come to vivid life in The Movement of Stars.  How did you capture the sense of place so well?

AB: I spent a little time there, but mostly through careful research and deep enchantment with the place itself. In so many ways Nantucket today and Nantucket 200 years ago aren’t all that different.

JB: How difficult was it to get inside the Quaker mentality?  Was it hard to write using all those “thees” and “thous”?

AB: I can’t say I was inside the Quaker mentality; that particular, rigid moment in that Meeting was just an isolated sliver of what Quakerism was and is. As for thee and thou and thy and thus… well let’s just say there was a lot more of that in earlier drafts, and we can all be happy that most of them landed in the circular file, i.e. the wastebasket.

JB: What does the character of Isaac Martin do for Hannah?  And what does he add to the story?  How different would Hannah have been if he had not shown up at her door?  Would Hannah have accomplished all the things she did without Isaac?

AB: Isaac is fundamental to Hannah’s growth as a holistic human being, one who understands her own heart as well as her mind. She might have found her comet—she might not have—but she certainly wouldn’t have come to know her own desires, or found her own convictions along the way.

JB: Did you learn anything new about yourself while writing this story?

AB: So many things. I mean, I grew up alongside Hannah. When I started, I was 25, single, clueless. When I finished, I was 40, married, with a child (now two!). So I found my way to the same twin engines that fuel Hannah’s journey—love and discipline—right alongside her.

JB: Do you have a favorite character in The Movement of Stars?

AB: That’s like asking me to name my favorite child. Can’t do it.

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

AB: I like to be outside, in the sun, preferably at the shore, making sand castles with my kids and throwing a Frisbee with my husband. Not at the same time, obviously.

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

AB: I love Andrea Barrett, Ann Patchett, Shirley Hazzard. Of my contemporaries, Megan Mayhew Bergman and Elissa Schappell and Claire Vaye Watkins’ recent story collections all blew me away. I see a very female theme emerging here! Sorry, boys. I’ll shout you all out next time.

JB: What is your favorite book?

AB: I love [Ann Patchett’s] Bel Canto. Me and everyone else on earth. It wove a powerful spell.

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

cvr-the-movement-of-stars

AB: My World Domination New England Tour will kick off right after Mother’s Day! I’ll be in Mystic, CT, Worcester, MA, Wellesley, MA, Portsmouth NH, Falmouth, MA, and Sandwich, MA, in May, and then Cohasset, MA, and Providence RI, in early June. Then in Concord, MA, and at the Nantucket Book Festival later in June! I’m probably forgetting some places, but it’s all on my website at http://www.amybrill.com/news-and-events/.

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Movement of Stars?

AB: Lots of Kleenex. And a deeper understanding of the nature of human desire, in all its manifestations.

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

AB: Always working. Articles, essays, a few short stories, and gnawing on ideas for another novel.

JB: Thanks, Amy, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with The Movement of Stars!

AB: Thanks so much for having me here. My pleasure.

Oprah.com has selected The Movement of Stars as part of its “5 Dreamy Historical Novels” for spring reading!

“These stories take you back to the age of calling cards, carriages and the occasional complex, believable “attachment” also known as love.”

Read more: http://www.oprah.com/book/The-Movement-of-Stars-by-Amy-Brill#ixzz2RPSGROku

Author website

Follow Amy on Twitter

Like Amy’s Author Page on Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under author interviews, books, fiction, historical fiction, history, literary fiction, Oprah's Book Club 2.0

Book Review: And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry (St. Martin’s Press; 272 pages; $24.99).

cover_and_then_i_found_you

For Katie Vaughn, the first day of spring was always a day of firsts: the day she experienced her first kiss, the day she fell in love, the day she ran a marathon, the day she opened her boutique, and the day she vowed to love Jack Adams forever.  It was also the day she gave up her newborn for adoption in Patti Callahan Henry’s tender, sincere, and deeply poignant novel And Then I Found You, the April Book Club Selection for She Reads.

For Kate, the first day of spring held more than blooming daffodils.  It was still a day of firsts.  Kate had a ritual, a sacred ritual.  She made sure that she did something she’d never done before, something that would count as new on the first day of spring.  Six years ago she’d opened her boutique.  The year before that she ran a marathon with her sister.  Of course there was that trip to California with Norah.  Then four years ago the midnight swim in the darkest water with Rowan, the first time he’d visited her in South Carolina.  It didn’t matter what she did or said or saw as long as it hadn’t been done, or said, or seen before.

The plot of And Then I Found You is as swiftly-paced as the current of Katie’s beloved South Carolina River.  Katie is successful and in a loving relationship with her boyfriend, Rowan.  When she accidentally stumbles upon an engagement ring he bought for her, Katie comes to a crossroads of sorts.  She thought she loved Rowan, but now she finds herself unsure.  The problem is Jack, her first love and the father of Luna, the baby she gave away all those years ago.

To go on with her life, Katie feels like she has to see Jack and talk to him.  Maybe then she can have the closure she needs.  But once Katie travels to Birmingham, Jack’s home, old feelings resurface for them both.

Henry tells the story from the very different perspectives of 35-year-old Katie and 13-year-old Emily Jackson, Katie’s biological daughter.  I truly admired how Henry managed to realistically capture both points of view.  In And Then I Found You, Henry also takes us back and forth through time to provide windows into Katie’s past, crucial moments we must know to better understand her and the narrative. 

And Then I Found You is told with such honesty and heart because, for Henry, it is very personal.  Life often imitates art, but sometimes art can imitate life.

In the story, Katie has two younger sisters.  One, Tara, is a writer.  When Emily begins an online search for her biological mother, links to Tara come up over and over.  Emily contacts Tara through Facebook; this social media connection leads to a reunion.

As Henry explains in her letter to readers at the front of her novel, And Then I Found You is loosely based on a true story.  Henry’s sister placed her baby up for adoption over 21 years ago.  “It was the most heartrending, courageous and difficult decision she had ever made, and we all wept with her when she handed her baby girl to an anonymous, yet hand-chosen family,” Henry writes.  Then, one day, two years ago, Henry received “a Facebook friend request from a young girl with the same birthday as my adopted niece.  It was too much to hope for, almost too miraculous to believe.  But it was true: My sister’s daughter, my niece, found us on Facebook.”  Henry emphasizes the awesome power of social media in her story, and simultaneously inspires and moves us, yes, to tears.

Henry drew me in from the very first page, and I read this novel in one sitting, as I could not tear myself away; I had to find out what would happen.  I was surprised to enjoy this novel as much as I did.  Initially, I worried it would be too sappy and too romantic for my tastes, but my concerns were for naught.

Passionate, stirring, and full of sentiment, this is a story about first love, family, mistakes, forgiveness, and second chances.  I predict readers will fall in love with And Then I Found You, a perfect read for book clubs because it’s so easy to like Henry’s characters.  And Then I Found You is destined to become one of the summer’s hottest beach reads.  Throw this title in your beach bag but don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses!

For more reviews, discussions, and giveaways, visit She Reads.

Patti Callahan Henry

Patti Callahan Henry

4 Comments

Filed under beach books, book review, books, fiction, She Reads, Southern fiction, Southern writers, women's lit

April Fiction

There are so many great books coming out in April that I didn’t know where to start.  I had such a difficult time narrowing down my best of the month to ten titles, but I managed.  Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Book Selections for April 2013.

The Death of Fidel Perez by Elizabeth Huergo is available now from Unbridled Books.

fidelOn July 26, 2003, the 50th anniversary of the Moncada Army Barracks raid in Santiago de Cuba, something unexpected happens. When Fidel Pérez and his brother accidentally tumble to their deaths from their Havana balcony, the neighbors’ outcry, “Fidel has fallen,” is misinterpreted by those who hear it. The misinformation quickly ripples outward, and it reawakens the city. Three Cubans in particular are affected by the news—an elderly vagrant Saturnina, Professor Pedro Valle, and his student Camilo—all haunted by the past and now forced to confront a new future, perhaps another revolution. Their stories are beautifully intertwined as they converge in the frantic crowd that gathers in La Plaza de la Revolución.

By turns humorous and deeply poignant, The Death of Fidel Pérez reflects on the broken promises of the Cuban Revolution and reveals the heart of a people with a long collective memory.

Coming April 2 from Reagan Arthur Books is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

life after lifeWildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

Grove Press will release Laura Lee Smith’s debut novel Heart of Palm on April 2.

Utina, Florida, is a small, down-at-heels southern town. Once enlivened by the trade in Palm Sunday palms and moonshine, Utina hasn’t seen economic growth in decades, and no family is more emblematic of the local reality than the Bravos. Deserted by the patriarch years ago, the Bravos are held together in equal measure by love, unspoken blame, and tenuously brokered truces.

heart of palmThe story opens on a sweltering July day, as Frank Bravo, dutiful middle son, is awakened by a distress call. Frank dreams of escaping to cool mountain rivers, but he’s only made it ten minutes from the family restaurant he manages every day and the decrepit, Spanish-moss-draped house he was raised in, and where his strong-willed mother and spitfire sister—both towering redheads, equally matched in stubbornness—are fighting another battle royale. Little do any of them know that Utina is about to meet the tide of development that has already engulfed the rest of Northeast Florida. When opportunity knocks, tempers ignite, secrets are unearthed, and each of the Bravos is forced to confront the tragedies of their shared past.

Reminiscent of Kaye Gibbons, Lee Smith, Anne Tyler, and Fannie Flagg,Heart of Palm introduces Laura Lee Smith as a captivating new voice in American fiction.

Jennifer McVeigh’s The Fever Tree comes out April 4 from Amy Einhorn Books.

Having drawn comparisons to Gone with the Wind and Out of Africa, The Fever Tree is a page-turner of the very first order.  In London she was caged by society.  In South Africa, she is dangerously free. 

Frances Irvine, left destitute in the wake of her father’s sudden death, has been forced to fever treeabandon her life of wealth and privilege in London and emigrate to the Southern Cape of Africa. 1880 South Africa is a country torn apart by greed. In this remote and inhospitable land she becomes entangled with two very different men—one driven by ambition, the other by his ideals. Only when the rumor of a smallpox epidemic takes her into the dark heart of the diamond mines does she see her path to happiness.   But this is a ruthless world of avarice and exploitation, where the spoils of the rich come at a terrible human cost and powerful men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Removed from civilization and disillusioned by her isolation, Frances must choose between passion and integrity, a decision that has devastating consequences.   The Fever Tree is a compelling portrait of colonial South Africa, its raw beauty and deprivation alive in equal measure. But above all it is a love story about how—just when we need it most—fear can blind us to the truth.

April 9 is the publication date for a new novel from one of my favorite authors.  The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer comes out on that day from Riverhead Books.

From bestselling author Meg Wolitzer a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships.

interestingsThe summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

 

Coming April 16 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer.

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

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

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

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

Amy Brill’s beautiful debut The Movement of Stars comes out April 18 from Riverhead Books.

A love story set in 1845 Nantucket, between a female astronomer and the unusual man who understands her dreams.

It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twenty-four years of her life movementaccording to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different—and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.

And then she meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. but when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah’s standing in the community begins to unravel, challenging her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changing the course of her life forever.

Inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America, The Movement of Stars is a richly drawn portrait of desire and ambition in the face of adversity.

The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard will be released April 23.  Picador is the publisher.

A seventeen-year-old London girl flies to Los Angeles for the funeral of her mother Lily, pink hotelfrom whom she had been separated in her childhood. After stealing a suitcase of letters, clothes and photographs from her mum’s bedroom at the top of a hotel on Venice Beach, the girl spends her summer travelling around Los Angeles returning love letters and photographs to the men who had known her mother. As she discovers more about Mandy’s past and tries to re-enact her life, she comes to question the foundations of her own personality.

The Pink Hotel was longlisted for the Orange Prize.  True Blood star Anna Paquin praised this novel: This book moved and provoked me in ways I can’t fully articulate….Extraordinary.”

Rhonda Riley’s debut novel The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope hits shelves on April 23.  This title is from Ecco.  I am very excited to be part of the blog tour for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.  Look for my review April 22.

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is an unconventional and passionately romantic love story that is as breathtaking and wondrous as The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

enchantedDuring WWII, teenager Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds what she takes to be a badly burned soldier on their property. She rescues him, and it quickly becomes clear he is not a man…and not one of us. The rescued body recovers at an unnatural speed, and just as fast, Evelyn and Adam fall deeply in love. In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Rhonda Riley reveals the exhilarating, terrifying mystery inherent in all relationships: No matter how deeply we love someone, and no matter how much we will sacrifice for them, we can only know them so well.

 

On April 30, Algonguin Books will release Julie Wu’s gorgeous novel, The Third Son.  Look for my interview with the author on that date.

third sonIt’s 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored son of a Taiwanese
politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival. Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history—as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both.

In Saburo, author Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character, a gentle soul forced to fight for everything he’s ever wanted: food, an education, and his first love, Yoshiko. A sparkling, evocative debut, it will have readers cheering for this young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America’s space program.

Well, there you have it!  These are the titles I’m most excited about for April.  Which of these have you read?  Which do you plan to read?

Now go outside–and read a book.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, literary fiction