Tag Archives: bookmagnet’s best books of April 2013

Book Review: Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian

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

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           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

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Book Review: Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 336 pages; $24).

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots

Fourteen year old Lorca listens intently to a conversation between her mother, Nancy, and her Aunt Lou.  “What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten?” her aunt asks.  “Masgouf,” Nancy answers, “from an Iraqi restaurant that’s closed now.”  Nancy proclaims masgouf, the national dish of Iraq, “heaven.”

In Jessica Soffer’s lush, flavorful debut, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, food evokes memories of what is lost and of what can never be again. Like masgouf, for instance, or “carp, typically from the Euphrates or Tigris, pulled out of the water, grilled on the banks and prepared with lemon and tamarind and tomatoes.”  However, Islamic leaders placed a fatwah on the fish because of all the dead bodies in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  As Soffer laments, “Baghdad is not what it once was. All the Jews are gone. Their experience of eating masgouf as they once did is very much over.”

In Soffer’s skilled hands, recipes and food become symbols in Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.  Lorca, starved for her mother’s affection, calls her mother a “cold war” and an “enigma, fickle, unknowable, like a giant fish.”  Nancy is not like most mothers; instead, she only loves Lorca in “fits and spurts,” “warm in flickers and then very cold.”

Only one thing makes Nancy, a chef, happy, and that is food.  Lorca prepares a myriad of dishes in hopes of garnering her mother’s attention.  Nothing works.  When Lorca was 6, she burned her hands while making a birthday cake for her mother.  Lorca imagines “that if my mother had just taken out the ice pack, tucked it into a towel, and held me on her lap, rocking me, whispering in my hair, cooling my fingers, things would have been different.”  But Nancy did none of those things.

Lorca’s yearning for her mother is only lessened through acts of self-harm.  So she does them again and again and again.  Her urge to injure herself is “constant…like a band of moths stuck between the screen and the window” but in her “chest instead.”  Lorca welcomes the sweet agony of pain.  Caught in a dangerous downward spiral, Lorca has been suspended from school for self-cutting when Soffer opens the story.

The masgouf gives Lorca renewed hope.  If she can learn how to prepare masgouf, then perhaps the dish will bring her and her mother closer together.  “Bukra fil mish mish,” (“Tomorrow, apricots may bloom”) she hopes.  Her mother’s wistful recollection of the masgouf compels Lorca to seek out the husband and wife who once owned the Iraqi restaurant.

It is here that Soffer introduces her other main character, Victoria.  Like Lorca, Victoria is hungry for companionship.  She is a widowed Jew from Iraq, whose husband, Joseph, recently passed away.  Joseph’s death left a hole in Victoria’s heart; she grieves for him and also for the daughter they gave up for adoption many years ago.  Victoria agrees to teach Lorca, an almost-orphan, cooking lessons.  Before long, recipes and food bridge the gap between their different generations and different cultures.  Both characters strongly believe that they share a deeper connection.

Soffer tells her tale in the alternating voices of Lorca and Victoria, incredibly well-drawn and vivid narrators.  But Soffer knows the best dishes come from a mix of ingredients so she changes it up a bit by incorporating Joseph’s point of view.  Joseph’s voice provides a new and unexpected window into the story and into the characters.  Soffer further amazes by creating interesting minor characters and subplots that further enhance the novel.  One of the strengths of Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is the way Soffer effectively puts us into the heads of her main characters.

Food is supposed to provide sustenance and sometimes comfort.  But the body craves things other than nutrients.  We all need love, attention, and companionship.  There is such longing within the pages of Soffer’s story—longing for affection, for the past, for a different present, and for a future that can never be again.  Like food, life can be sweet and sometimes life can be sour.  Sometimes you burn the meatloaf or the shakrlama and sometimes it comes out perfect.  Sometimes we have to make do with the ingredients at hand.

Writing is part of Soffer’s family history. Her grandfather was a scribe in Baghdad, her father was a sculptor and painter, and Soffer is a novelist.  Interestingly, “Soffer,” means “scribe” in Arabic.  Soffer is a born and gifted storyteller whose debut is good enough to eat.

Jessica Soffer

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Book Review: The Third Son by Julie Wu

The Third Son by Julie Wu (Algonquin Books; 320 pages; $24.95).

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Rocky Balboa had an anthem, and so did Daniel LaRusso.  Saburo, the irresistible protagonist in Julie Wu’s dazzling first novel, The Third Son, does not have an anthem, nor does he have a championship title, trophy, or belt.  But Saburo is just as much an unlikely and humble hero as Rocky and the Karate Kid are.  With a strong will, a big heart, and an indefatigable spirit, Saburo fights to survive and thrive in the midst of a family that deems him unimportant and a country drowning in violence, tumult, and autocracy.

A rich and evocative epic, The Third Son centers on Saburo, a tender and good-hearted underdog who drives Wu’s commanding historical novel.  Wu introduces Saburo when he is eight years old, in 1943, weeks before the Japanese begin bombing Taiwan.  As Saburo recalls in his own distinctive voice, “We all understood Japanese.  Taiwan had been a Japanese colony since 1895.”  The official language of Taiwan is Japanese, and even his family’s last name, Togo, is Japanese.  “But in our heads and in our home,” Saburo explains, “we spoke and were Taiwanese, descendants of the Mainland Chinese….”

Saburo’s life, like Taiwan itself, is complex.  He is the third son, “different, somehow,” from his elder brothers Kazuo and Jiro.  Saburo does not have a mind for his studies or sports.  Instead, it is ” far more interesting” for Saburo, “despite the real and everpresent threat of being struck by” his teacher, “to study the sky outside.”  The third son of the Togo family loves “the sky, its boundless, lovely blue, the translucent ruffled pattern of clouds stretching across it.”

Because his face is forever turned toward the skies, he spots the Japanese planes on the horizon before the air raid sirens sound.  While fleeing Japanese bombers, Saburo meets a young girl, Yoshiko, and is instantly smitten.  After their initial encounter, she suddenly vanishes; her disappearance breaks his young, tender heart.

Wu creates a pattern with the loss of Yoshiko.  Nothing comes easily to Saburo; life, for him, is a struggle.  Throughout The Third Son, Saburo must fight.  He must fight for food, because the majority of food in his household goes to his brothers and not to him.  He must fight to live when sickness threatens to overcome him.  Saburo must even fight to learn and so cherishes reading The Earth, a book his cousin gives him.

Saburo is “fed as much” from his “growing knowledge of the stratosphere, the ionosphere, and the aurora borealis as from the berries and mushrooms and silvery fish” that he collects from the land around him.   “Reading the book” is a “balm” for Saburo, as he witnesses “all the changes in the world outside.”  But even that is taken from him.

As the third son, Saburo must also fight for an education.  His older brothers are given instruction, but not Saburo.  He learns English on his own and studies to be an electrician.  His world is shaken, though, when he sees Yoshiko, after years of trying to find her, in the company of his oldest brother.  If he wants her in his life, then Saburo must fight for love.

As the years pass, and Saburo wrangles for position in his family and in his country, he comes to see that his future is not in Taiwan.  “Saburo,” his cousin tells him, “you have only have one life.  Fight for it.”  This is all the impetus Saburo needs to try to find a place in America, yet he must also fight to study and work in the United States.  That could be the biggest challenge of all.

As Saburo battles his naysayers and fights for a better life, we cannot help but cheer on this beloved underdog.  He maintains a great deal of persistence and perseverance despite the obstacles Wu throws in his path.  Because we watch him grow to be a good and just man, we develop a strong bond with Saburo; he becomes important to us.  Wu forces us to connect emotionally with this character, and the link lasts well beyond finishing the story.

The Third Son is a rich debut featuring a character who I came to see as family.  Saburo is a very special narrator, one who resonates and one who will steal your heart.  Wu’s story is perfect for fans of Samuel Park, Jamie Ford, Janice Y.K. Lee, and Lisa See.  Saburo has so much to teach us about life and about living.

Debut novelist Julie Wu

Debut novelist Julie Wu

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Interview with Jessica Soffer, Author of Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots

Jessica Soffer

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Jessica, for letting me interview you.  I love Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots for its profound message, its well-drawn characters, its rich recipes, and, perhaps, most of all, for your phenomenal writing.  How did you come up with Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots?

Jessica Soffer: During graduate school, I wrote a story called “Pain.” It was the chronicling of a woman’s entire life of self-harm from childhood to womanhood. It was an unsuccessful piece in a lot of ways—most of all, I think, because it was so sad. And there was no break from that.

Lorca was the protagonist, though, and she was the upshot. I loved her. Love her. She’s so sad, and yet in Apricots, she finds a way out of that: through food, through friendship, through a kind of persistent optimism that she never got around to in the short story.

JB: Please describe Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots using ten words or less.

JS: A(1) debut(2) novel(3) you(4) simply(5) cannot (6) live(7) or(8) breathe(9) without(10).

Or.

Food(1), friendship(2), NYC(3), growing(4) up(5), growing(6) old(7), sadness(8) and(9) hope(10).

JB: “Soffer” means “scribe” in Arabic.  Your father was a sculptor and painter, your grandfather was a scribe, and you are a writer and storyteller.  It’s as if writing is in your DNA.  As a child, did you want to be a writer?

JS: I’ve always been obsessed with books and words and rhythm. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started to consider a career in writing, what that might look like. And it was very much because of my parents that I wasn’t afraid, because they dedicated their lives to the pursuit of creativity—of living in it, for it, because of it—that I felt I could too. And I had some idea of how to begin.

JB: Food is a symbol in Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, substituting for love, affection, and companionship.  What prompted you to use food in such a way?

JS: Food is certainly a symbol for all those things in Apricots. But as much as that, I’d say that food is a source of real sadness, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricotsreminding the characters of what once was, what can no longer be, what can never be. I’m deeply interested in the things that bring us—in equal measure—joy and sorrow. And the notion that it is often those very things that can be most useful. For Lorca and Victoria, the novel’s protagonists, food is a way to communicate happiness and loss. It’s a way to engage with the world: with emotions, memories, each other.

JB: There are a lot of mouth-watering dishes in Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.  Do you like to cook? What is your favorite food?

JS: I love to cook and do often. I’d say that my favorite foods change seasonally: mushrooms in fall, bean soups in winter, greens in the spring, and watermelon in the summer. I don’t mind if it’s covered in sand and saltwater. In fact, I’d prefer it.

JB: What are the perils and pitfalls of incorporating food into a novel?  What are the rewards?

JS: I think that’s probably a question for the reader, and not me. I mean, maybe the self-harm and the food will turn people off. Maybe I’ve ruined French bistro food for anyone who has read the novel. Maybe some people like their food on a plate and not between the pages.

But I never thought about that while writing. You can’t, I don’t think. You write. You write. You write what you can write, what you feel you have to. Of course, everything is a choice and writing has little to do with fate. But I wrote the book I felt most compelled to write. I never thought about whether it was good or bad idea to write about food (and it would scare me to really consider those questions now)—it was, call me idiotic, simply what I wrote.

JB: I never sympathized with Lorca’s mother, Nancy, even when I discovered her history.  Is she a sympathetic character?

JS: I think that every character is a sympathetic character. And every person. Nancy shouldn’t have been a mother and her treatment of Lorca is unforgivable. But she is deeply unhappy, always has been, and cannot find her way out of it. That, for me, commands a whole lot of sympathy. Lorca will be OK. Nancy never will.

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

JS: On Iraqi Jews: I spoke with family members, read books, watched documentaries. On self-harmers: I went to cutters’ meetings, met with psychiatrists, psychologists, cutters too. At a certain point though, I had to put the research aside: let the good stuff sift in and let the rest vanish for a time. All the “facts” were pressing too hard on the work and it came through burdensome and clunky.

JB: You teach fiction at Connecticut College. Has teaching fiction made you a better author?

JS: I hope so. I guess that remains to be seen. But I have had to think about the fundamentals of writing again. All the stuff that I take for granted, that feels second nature, I’ve had to reanalyze and consider and articulate. Like, why it’s unfair to say, “And then she woke up.” Why and why not and what’s an appropriate alternative. Fiction feels fresh again. Like I’m seeing it with a new set of eyes. It’s wonderful. And my students are smart and eager and fantastic. Just fantastic.

banner soffer apricots_edited-1JB: You point out in your novel that the Jewish life is over in Baghdad and “masgouf will never be prepared as it once was again.”  Can you explain?

JS: Masgouf was carp, typically from the Euphrates or Tigris, pulled out of the water, grilled on the banks and prepared with lemon and tamarind and tomatoes. Because of all the dead bodies in those rivers, there was a fatwah declared on those fish. And Baghdad is not what it once was. All the Jews are gone. Their experience of eating masgouf as they once did is very much over.

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

JS: Virginia Woolf, Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabokov, Roberto Bolaño, Flannery O’Connor, James Salter.

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

JS: Read, of course. Walk the streets of New York City, the beaches of Eastern Long Island. Cook. Yoga. Read.

JB: What was your publication process like?

JS: I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve been blown away by my agent, editor, and publicist. I don’t think everyone gets a crew this dedicated and generous and lovely, really, and I’m hesitant to talk too much about it lest the magic dispels. But I worked hard and long with my agent, revised and revised. And then again with my editor. They were both tireless. The work needed it. I had to do big structural shifts but they could see past those, believed in the book despite its shortcomings, which is surprising to me now. They saw a better version of the book than me. And they led me to it.

JB: How different were earlier versions of Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots from the finished copy?

JS: It meandered much more. There was more Joseph. People kept calling it “literary,” and not in a good way. I think “obtuse” would have been a better word, though less a sensitive one. It required a stronger plot, more forward momentum, more of Lorca and Victoria together. And that’s what it got in the end.

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

JS: This part. The letting go. The having faith that it will find a place in the world, its place. Faith is so hard and so crucial. In a lot of ways, there’s a sadness to the whole thing. That what I love the most—writing—has been bastardized (I know that’s a very strong word and maybe not the right one) for my career. It’s no longer just joy, which is obvious and should have been for the last five or six years. But it’s only just dawning on me. And I’m so sensitive. The thick skin must grow. It will.

JB: What did you learn about yourself while in the midst of writing and editing?

JS: That I love to write. That I can’t wait to write another, better novel with its own set of issues—different ones, I hope. That I can’t imagine a different career, a more engaged way to spend my days. That if I was on a deserted island and could only take one item with me it would be my computer so I could write. And a charger and a very, very long extension cord. I wouldn’t need the Internet, but my handwriting is atrocious. So a computer, yes.

JB: Please give us a peek into a typical day in your life when you are writing.

JS: It changes radically. There are days when I do not get out of my pajamas. When I cannot pull myself from the computer screen. There are days of staring into space. Days of erasing. Days when I know I won’t be productive and so I try to find alternative ways of contributing to the work: reading, looking at art, doing yoga until it hurts, considering something new and writing notes until I scrap them and revert back to what I’d been toiling away on previously. The good stuff tends to rise to the top. I worked full-time until I started working with my editor so those days looked very different than the days when I taught undergrads—and different still from the days when I had no real “job” but the writing itself.

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots?jessica_soffer_web._V371310385_

JS: I can only hope that it moves them as writing has moved me my whole life. That the characters linger, the sadness, the hope, the sense of nostalgia. Not that readers learn anything—I don’t have anything to teach really—but that there is a certain feeling that comes across and it doesn’t vanish. Good books have done that for me for so long: moved me in a fundamental, physical way, as much as an emotional one. That’s lofty, I know. But here’s to hoping.

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

JS: I have an idea for a novel but I haven’t really gotten down to it yet. I’ve been working on lots of non-fiction for newspapers and magazines as the book stuff is happening. But I’m eager to get back into fiction. It’s what I love the most and what requires the most—space, time, energy. Of course, it’s what rewards the most, too.

JB: Thanks, Jessica, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

 

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Interview with Julie Wu, Author of The Third Son

Debut novelist Julie Wu

Debut novelist Julie Wu

Jaime Boler: Julie, thank you for allowing me to ask you these questions.  The Third Son utterly captivated me from the first page and transported me to 1940s Taiwan.  Once I started reading your story, I couldn’t stop!  I know readers are going to love The Third Son just as much as I do.

Julie Wu: It makes me so happy to hear that—thank you, and thanks for having me!

JB: You are a physician.  How did you get into writing?

JW: The writing actually came first.  I always loved fiction, and actually my undergraduate degree was in Literature.  I started writing soon after college, when I was in graduate school, studying opera at Indiana University.  I realized then that writing would be my ultimate occupation, but I also realized that my sheltered life experience limited my writing.  I wanted to see and experience all I could of life, and meet all kinds of people.

I’d previously been thinking of pursuing medicine, and I thought that a medical career would not only be personally rewarding but would also enrich my point of view as a writer.  So instead of MFA programs, I applied to medical schools.

JB: I did some searching and saw where The Third Son is your father’s story or loosely based on his experience growing up.  Can you explain?

JW: I would describe The Third Son as “inspired by” my father’s story.  The emotional journey is very close to his, but the actual scenes and events of the story, large and small, are essentially fictional.

JB: I also discovered you began working on this novel in 2001.  What has the journey been like?

JW: Long.  A learning experience.  Torture.  A joy.  I have learned a lot about myself, about writing, about the writing industry, and about Facebook.

JB: Your first agent suggested you write The Third Son as a memoir.  Why did you want to tell your story in novel form?

JW: I enjoy the immersive, emotional aspect of fiction.  Writing a non-fiction book was not going to give me that, especially since my father does not recall a lot of sensory detail or actual dialogue.  And I did not want to write a story about myself and my relationship with my father because I have had a pretty good, privileged life and a pretty good relationship with my parents.  How boring is that?

JB: How many revisions did the story undergo?  And how different was it then compared to the final, printed book?  Was all the revising and rewriting worth it?

JW: I lost track of the number of revisions.  I didn’t even print them all out, but I have drawers, trunks, and filing cabinets filled with drafts.  Someday I’ll have a big bonfire.

The book is about 98% different from the first draft.  The first draft, I’d say, was a somewhat tentative family chronicle.  At some point I committed wholeheartedly to fiction, and the finished book is a real, dimensional, and hopefully satisfying novel.  I think it’s the best book I could have written, so yes, it was worth it.

JB: How does it feel to finally see it in print?

JW: Awesome!  I’ll admit I didn’t jump up and down hyperventilating when I first saw my galley, but I do hold it and flip through it a lot.  I think seeing the hardcover with all the blurbs on it, in bookstores, will be very exciting.

 

JB: All the early reviews about The Third Son are positive; some are positively glowing.  How do you feel about the wonderful early praise your book is getting?

thirdJW: It feels great.  One of the reasons I wrote the book was to shed light on the modern political history of Taiwan, which is so little known in the West.   The more successful my book is, the more people will be learning a bit more about Taiwan and the Taiwanese people, which is wonderful.

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

JW: I interviewed my parents extensively.  For the Taiwan sections, I read as many books and articles as I could find on Taiwan before, during, and after that period.  I was able to use the internet to find photographs.  I had traveled to Taiwan in 1990 with the intention of writing a (different) book set in Taiwan, so I also had extensive notes from that time.

For the sections in America, I consulted books and magazines from and on the fifties and sixties, watched some old movies, and read a lot about the International Geophysical Year.   I also visited MIT’s Haystack Observatory to speak with a slightly puzzled atmospheric scientist.

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

JW: I knew the story had the potential to be big.  My job was to realize that potential.

JB: My favorite characters in the story are Saburo and Toru.  Do you have a favorite?

JW: Oh, that’s like choosing among your children.  I really do love them all.   One of the things I’ve learned over the course of revising this book is that even your minor characters must have richness and purpose.  I’ll say I’m particularly fond of my mathematician-gardener, Professor Chen, in part because he did not exist until my latest revisions and now he’s not only kind of fabulous, but also a core part of the book.

JB: Your story is so emotional, especially when Saburo is mistreated and/or abused.  Yet, this is based on your own father.  Did you ever get emotional while writing it, so choked up to had to stop and leave it for a while?

JW: Interestingly, I did not.  I really thought of Saburo as his own character.  While writing I was imagining what this person Saburo would feel, think, and do.

JB: What do your parents think of the novel?

JW: It’s difficult for them to read it with any objectivity, of course.  They are on some level disappointed that the novel isn’t their true story.  At the same time they recognize that the story I’ve written is much more page turning and appealing to the general reader than one that would have stuck to the facts.  And my father still finds reading the book to be a very emotional experience.

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

JW: Gosh, lots of things.  I like to sing, read, garden, snuggle with the kids.  When the kids are older I’d like to get back to painting and playing the violin.

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

JW: Tolstoy.  I’d love to pick his brain.  I’d also love to tell him how many former Taiwanese political prisoners I’ve spoken to have listed him as one of their favorite authors.

JB: What book is on your nightstand right now?

JW: My nightstand is covered in piles of books—novels, biographies, writing craft books, children’s books, and parenting books.  I can’t even see the clock anymore.

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

JW: Keen.

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

JW: Yes.  I’m still waiting to hear where I’m going.

the third sonJB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Third Son?

JW: I’m hoping readers will feel moved and empowered.  I’m also hoping they’ll have learned a bit about Taiwan and the Taiwanese people.

JB: Are you working on anything new?

JW: I am working on a book inspired by the former political prisoners I interviewed in Taiwan this past October.  It will cover the same approximate time period as The Third Son, but will be about people more directly involved in the February 28 Incident, the subsequent massacres, and the White Terror.  The book will take place partly on Green Island, a wind-swept volcanic island off Taiwan’s coast, where political prisoners—mostly apolitical university students—were kept for years, forced to build their own prison and grow their own food.  In the early years the prisoners interacted with the island’s poor inhabitants, teaching them in schools and in the fields, and providing medical care.  These people were, and are, amazing.

JB: This story, so grim, is full of hope.  I felt as if I were reading a Jamie Ford or Janice Y.K. Lee novel and not a debut novel.  You are so amazingly talented, and I thank you for agreeing to chat with me about The Third Son. Good luck with the book, Julie!

JW: Thanks so much, Jaime!  This interview was a pleasure.

 

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Interview with Amy Brill, Author of The Movement of Stars

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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?

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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

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

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

 

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rhonda’s Tour Stops

Monday, April 22nd: Bookmagnet’s Blog

Tuesday, April 23rd: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, April 24th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, April 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Monday, April 29th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, May 6th: A Night’s Dream of Books

Tuesday, May 7th: Giraffe Days

Thursday, May 9th: Book Snob

Thursday, May 9th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf

Tuesday, May 14th: Bibliophiliac

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I am giving away a brand new copy of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.  Giveaway ends Friday, April 26, at 5 pm ET.  I will use random.org to choose a winner.  Good luck!   

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

Interview with Rhonda Riley, Author of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

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I am very excited to be part of my very first blog tour!  Today, I am the first stop on TLC Book Tours’ The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope blog tour.  Up first is my interview with wonderful debut novelist Rhonda Riley.  I will also be reviewing this tale today and giving away a copy of the book.  Thanks to Rhonda, TLC Book Tours, and  Trish Collins.

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Rhonda, for letting me ask you these questions!  I see extraordinary things for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope and am quite excited to be part of TLC Book Tour’s blog tour.  You are a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Florida.  Did you always want to be a novelist?

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley: Thank you for your enthusiasm for Adam Hope. I’m happy to be here. As a very young woman, I wanted to be a variety of things (political activist, lawyer, child psychologist),  but [being a] writer didn’t occur to me until I was in my 20s and then my focus was poetry and creative nonfiction.

Novels seemed daunting.  And I thought in poems then. I couldn’t imagine how writers got their arms around something [as] big as a novel.  All those pages!  I was in my 40s before I ever thought of writing a novel.  And Adam Hope is the first and only novel I’ve written.

JB: How many publishers were chomping at the bit for your debut?  How did it feel to sell your debut novel at auction?

RR: To tell you the truth, I don’t quite remember.  There were four or five publishers very interested and the serious bidding came down to three, I think.  The process was thrilling and surreal, and I do not use the word “surreal” lightly. Everything seemed to happen exactly the way it was supposed to, and, at the same time, it was so unexpected.  I feel very fortunate.

JB: Please describe The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope in ten words or less.

RR: Ten words!  Okay, here goes: A woman finds a unique stranger who changes her world.

JB: How did you come up with the idea for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope?

RR: I was writing nonfiction and poems trying to tell a few truths about my family.  After several attempts, I gave up [on] truth and decided to make up stuff.  That kicked the door wide open.  Then, one day, I got an image of two hands touching in the mud, and I knew their contact involved some kind of transformation or transmission between two people.  From there, I followed that single image. I didn’t imagine the whole book or even the entirety of Adam’s character in one swoop.  It came about in increments.

JB: Many writers say they hear the voices of characters in their heads before a story takes shape.  Was this true for you?  If so, I’m curious as to whose voice you heard first: Addie, Adam, or Evelyn?

RR: I definitely heard Evelyn’s voice first. In fact, it was Evelyn’s voice and her character, not Adam’s, that drove me to write the story. Hers was the voice that obsessed me.  I knew she was the teller of the story. Adam’s/Addie’s voice, in all its uniqueness, evolved.

I first got the idea for his voice from something that happened to a friend of mine.  She was awakened one morning by a beautiful, mysterious sound that seemed to come through her body, an experience that left her euphoric.

Then, years later, I was once sitting on the toilet in the ladies room in one of the old bathrooms at UF (you take your inspiration where you can get it). The stall walls were marble and I discovered, quite by accident, that if I leaned forward while singing the second note of the Gloria chorus, my voice and the thin marble resonated in a lovely way.  My head and chest vibrated.  And I thought how wonderful it would be if we could do that to each other.

Thus, Adam’s voice. The first time I heard Tibetan singing bowls was a turning point in creating a description of his vocal abilities.

JB: I read that the original title for the novel was Adam Hope: A Geography.  Why was the title changed?

RR: My editor and agent both thought it was a cool title, but potentially confusing rather than intriguing.  Confusing enough that it might put some readers off.  A work of fiction that announces itself as a geography probably would lead to some pretty frustrating search results. Personally, I like titles that immediately make me ask questions like:  “A geography of a person, what would that be?”  But others prefer titles that answer the question: “What’s in this book?” I decided to trust the opinion of my editor and agent.  They have much more experience in getting people take a book off the shelf.  My job is to keep people reading once they open the book.

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JB: One of the myriad things I love about your novel is that it crosses genres (supernatural, mystery, love story, historical fiction, debut fiction, literary fiction) and will attract many different readers.  How important was it to you to appeal across genres?

RR: Actually, it was a little scary when I began to realize where I was taking the story.  I was afraid it would keep me from finding a publisher.  But I made a decision early on to write the story I wanted and needed to write, to write it the best I could, and then think about genres and publication later.  I didn’t set out to cross genre boundaries, but I do like the fact that it worked out that way, and it certainly makes sense for a book that features someone like Adam who crosses genres of self.  As a reader, I am very comfortable with books that don’t fit neatly into one category.  The transgression of boundaries can be fun.

JB: Adam Hope is such an unconventional character, one literally made in the image of others.  How did you dream him up?

RR: I think Adam appears unconventional because he is in a conventional context and he is narrated by a pretty conventional person, but characters with special abilities have been popping up in stories for a very long time. He is sort of the reverse of the zombies and vampires so popular now.

I built him gradually, one characteristic at time.  One clear memory I have of consciously making a decision about him was when I chose his occupation.  I wanted him to be connected to the natural world and animals.  I wanted him to be associated with a large, powerful animal, one capable of being domestic and wild. Horses seemed such a perfect fit for him.

For me the center of the story of Evelyn and Adam is its play on differences and similarities, intimacy and strangeness, the other and the self. Androgyny also seemed a natural fit for Adam in that it bridges two opposites.

JB: You have your very own Adam and Eve (Evelyn) in this story, your very own Genesis.  How difficult was it to fashion these characters?

RR: Evelyn was easy, I just recalled my mother’s voice and that seemed to lead very naturally to a defined character. I think of Evelyn as being made up of two of my favorite women, my mother and my great aunt, Lil.  Adam was more difficult—a lot more pondering and experimentation on my part.

JB: What kind of research did you do for The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope?

RR: I did a good deal of research about farm life and textile mills of the Carolinas in the 1940s.  Very little of it actually shows up in the novel.  In the end, I relied mostly on the stories my mother had told me. But I think the research, especially reading newspapers from the period, helped me more fully imagine the world I wanted to create.

I had to do some research on horses, since I was not familiar with them. And I had horse-loving friends who helped me there.

The most challenging research was finding photos of the genitalia of infant hermaphrodites so that I could describe Gracie’s birth.  Luckily, I live near a university medical library and didn’t have to rely on the internet for that research.

JB: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope has been compared to The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, huge bestsellers and brilliant novels (well-deserved praise, in my opinion).  How do such comparisons make you feel?

RR: I am honored to be compared to them. Lauren Groff also wrote me a great blurb comparing the book to the work of Alice Munro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez– that actually made me blush when I first read it. I think The Time Traveler’s Wife is a particularly apt comparison since Adam Hope is also a realistic, contemporary treatment of a surreal situation.  That was the comparison I used to get my agent’s attention.

JB: Did you know how big this novel could be while you were writing it?

RR: I was hoping for publication and some degree of success, of course.  But no, I can’t think about that while I am writing. And I have to ignore those wild fluctuations in my own psyche.  One day it looks like a the greatest story I every wrote; the next day, all of it looks like crap.

While I was trying to find an agent, I stumbled on a very humorous new word on one agent’s blog: casturbation.  It is the act of imagining, before you finish your novel, who will play the lead in the movie based on it.  There are some fun and tempting fantasies in the process, but while I am writing, I really have to think only about the story.

JB: Who did you envision playing your leading characters?

RR: For Adam, some combination of Johnny Depp (prior to his piracy days) and John Goodman (in his younger, Barton Fink days).  One because of his pretty face and ability to be a little offbeat and the other for his ability to be physically imposing and ordinary.   For Evelyn, Tilda Swinton.   All these actors are now too old to play these parts. Guess that must say something about me.  Or about how long I took to write the story.

JB: Hey, I love Johnny Depp!  He never goes out of style.  Neither do John Goodman and Tilda Swinton.  Great actors, all.  How many drafts did The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope go through?  How different were the earlier drafts from the final version?

RR: I don’t really know. I lost track. I’d say six or seven drafts, including the final ones with my editor.  But some of the last drafts were partial revisions where we were working only on the final chapters.   The first three or four drafts were very different from the final one.

The whole novel was once a series of letters Evelyn wrote to her daughters and it included a lot of information about her life as an old woman. Lots of italics to indicate the time changes!  And I included Evelyn’s daughters’ emails to each other about her. I really loved writing about Evelyn as old woman. But, after getting feedback from friends and a couple of agents who liked my writing but not the format, I changed the entire novel.

I got about 80 pages into a third-person version, but I couldn’t make that feel right, so I switched to a straight first-person narration without letters.

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

RR: It varies wildly, I am not a disciplined person, but when I am on [a writing kick], it is four to five hours a day. I meet a couple times a week with some other writers.  We all meet at one woman’s house and we just write.  We don’t talk, our phones are off and there is no internet.  Group self-discipline.  It’s great!

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

RR: I love the stories of Alice Munro.  They always seem so seamless. She makes writing appear effortless. I like Robert Olen Butler’s Tabloid Dreams. I am on a Louise Erdrich kick now, trying to decipher what I like so much about the narration of The Master Butchers Singing Club. Whatever it is, I want to be able to do it as well as she does. But my favorite book is Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. Beautiful language.  So seductive.  And a pretty fantastic story, too. I can’t get over it.

JB: What are you currently reading?

RR: I am currently reading Laura Lee Smith’s debut novel Heart of Palm.  I just met her and she lives about an hour from me, in St. Augustine, Florida, We’re thinking of doing a little mini-Florida tour together.  I just finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.  Those two are very different books and good in very different ways.  I’m also reading Generation Zombie (an academic take on the zombie phenomena) by Wylie Lenz and Stephanie Boluk.  I’m one chapter into The Righteous Mind, and on the last pages of Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God. And every month I read Discover magazine.  I read a lot of nonfiction.

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

RR: Dawdle and travel.  Dawdling and traveling might seem to be contradictory activities but the best travel must involve some dawdling. After a long session writing, I like to do anything that involves not sitting down. One of the hardest parts of writing is all the desk time. I used to have hobbies, but I’ve gotten lazy.  Friends, pets, a backyard and writing can take up a lot of time if you do them right.

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope?

RR: I would hope they find mysteries–the small ones as well as the big ones– easier to accept and listen to. I’d be pleased if, after meeting Adam, they found the strangeness of the stranger more interesting than alien.

JB: Are there any plans to turn the novel into a movie?

RR: Nothing now, but I have an agent and a film rights agent.  I know some folks involved in the film industry have read the book. But there are no plans at this point. I would love to see how someone would do Adam’s voice in a movie.

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

RR: I’m very curious about how Adam Hope will be received.  I’ve been inviting readers to come up with their own ideas and illustrations of where Adam is now and to share those speculations. He/She could be anyone anywhere, you know.  Meanwhile, I am working on a new, completely unrelated novel about sin and innocence.   I also have lots of notes and an outline for a sequel to Adam Hope.

 

JB: OOH, I can’t wait for that!  Thank you so much, Rhonda, for a wonderful interview.  I know readers are going to love the book just as much as I do.  Good luck!

RR: I’ve enjoyed it!    Thank you for your interest in my work.

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Other stops on blog tour:

Rhonda’s Tour Stops

tlc logoMonday, April 22nd: Bookmagnet’s Blog

Tuesday, April 23rd: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, April 24th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, April 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Monday, April 29th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, May 6th: A Night’s Dream of Books

Tuesday, May 7th: Giraffe Days

Thursday, May 9th: Book Snob

Thursday, May 9th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf

Tuesday, May 14th: Bibliophiliac

I am giving away a brand new copy of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.  Please fill out the brief form below.  Giveaway ends Friday, April 26, at 5 pm ET.  I will use random.org to choose a winner.

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Book Review: The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill

The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill (Riverhead Books; 400 pages; $27.95).

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For when I cannot observe, it is as if the great beauty and order and Truth of the Heavens does dissolve and I sense only my own wretchedly small place,” Hannah Gardner Price, the intrepid and unforgettable heroine of The Movement of Stars, Amy Brill’s magnificent debut, writes.  Hannah is constrained by both her Quaker faith and by her sex in 1840s Nantucket, an era and a locale that come to vivid life in Brill’s hands.  More than anything else in the world, the young Quaker woman yearns to discover a comet.

Maria Mitchell, the first female astronomer in America, inspired Brill to write The Movement of Stars.  For Brill, this novel is a fifteen-year odyssey and one that is close to her heart.  Although Brill started out hoping to write a biography of Mitchell, the astronomer grew to become “a leaping-off place for the journey of a character” of Brill’s own creation: Hannah Gardner Price.  Hannah and Mitchell may share many things, but Hannah is an invention of Brill’s imagination and the driving force behind The Movement of Stars.

As Brill illustrates, Hannah loves living on the island on Nantucket.  “Her sand and shallows, salt and sawgrass, were as much a part of her as the tribal tattoos that marked the whalers from South Pacific islands far distant.  Whenever she was off-island, Hannah felt diminished, invisible as stars veiled by the bright clamor of the city.”

Hannah’s feet may be firmly planted on Nantucket soil, where she is bound by religion and gender, but she is a wanderer at heart, whose face is forever turned towards the heavens.  And it is easy to understand why.  Her father “would decide her future, because it was his right.”  She may as well, she thinks, “be a servant.”

“Rooted in place,” Hannah thinks she can “feel the Earth spinning on its axis, while she remained stuck in place, pinned to its surface by the invisible, unseen force of gravity itself.”  The rigid rules of the Quakers suffocate Brill’s unconventional protagonist, triggering Hannah’s feelings of powerlessness when it comes to charting the course of her own future.

In contrast to Hannah and her position, the stars are immense, significant, and commanding, which is part of their allure.  Since nothing changes in her own life, she looks for variations in the night sky.  Her future is set; her place in society and in Nantucket itself appears static, while the stars keep moving.  How Hannah envies them.

The heavens allow Hannah to transcend the smallness of her existence and may be a way to navigate the path of her own life.

If only she can discover a comet, that is.  With the detection come prestige and a gold medal from the king of Denmark.  No woman has ever found a comet before, and Hannah longs to be the first.

When a series of revelations and catastrophes rock Hannah’s world, she must decide who she is and what she wants.   It is a dark-skinned sailor from the Azores who truly helps her find her true North.  Isaac Martin’s character works as an effective catalyst to force Hannah to question and challenge everything that is known and comfortable to her.  Without him, she may never have sought a new orbit.  Hannah may be Isaac’s teacher, but he teaches her, as well.  He is much more than just a love interest in Brill’s novel.

Especially when he illuminates something that is astonishing to Hannah.  They are alike—he is limited by his race just as her world is compressed by her faith and womanhood.  “We are not so different,” Hannah thinks of Isaac and herself.  “Neither one of us is welcome here [in Nantucket].

In addition to producing richly drawn and fully realized characters, Brill’s Nantucket setting makes the years fall away as she transports readers to the picturesque island.  I have never been to Nantucket but I could see the conflagration that threatened the town; I could smell the salty air; I could hear the sounds of bells; I could taste the gravy Hannah mopped up with her biscuit.  That’s why fans of historical fiction will love this expertly-researched story just as I do.

Brill writes her debut with precision, lyricism, and clarity.  The Movement of Stars is a gorgeous and moving story amplified by the author’s handsome prose and stunning use of metaphor.  Brill describes Isaac in this way: “Grease stains shaped like continents mapped his hands and his forearms.”  Isaac says his body is “like an old ship now…cracking and creaking.”  When Hannah looks out over a bluff, she feels “like a surveyor at the boundary of the New World.”  Passages such as these make The Movement of Stars engaging and utterly absorbing.

Hannah Gardner Price is unafraid to reach for the stars.  Brill triumphs when she gives us a character to root for and to applaud, a heroine who, in her extraordinary courage, defies the standards of her day, a fiery woman who radiates with willpower and intelligence.  Like the comet she discovers, Hannah is a trail-blazer, one who readers will never forget.

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Spotlight on The Third Son by Julie Wu

I read The Third Son by Julie Wu back in January, but this story remains with me still.
the third son

 

 

About the Book:

It’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.

About the Author:

Julie Wu

Julie Wu

After graduating from Harvard with a BA in literature, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Julie Wu received an MD at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.  She has received a writing grant from the Vermont Studio Center and is the recipient of a 2012 Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship.

 

The Third Son is a rich debut featuring a character who I came to see as family.  Saburo is a very special character, one who will steal your heart.  Wu’s story is perfect for fans of Samuel Park, Jamie Ford, Janice Y.K. Lee, and Lisa See.

The Third Son comes out April 30 from Algonquin Books.  Pre-order The Third Son here.

Check back on April 30, when I’ll be interviewing the author and look for my book review coming soon.

 

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Filed under books, fiction, historical fiction, history, literary fiction