Tag Archives: debuts

Q&A with Katherine Hill, Author of The Violet Hour

The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill (Scribner; 368 pages; $26).

Katherine Hill begins her intimate and utterly beguiling first novel, The Violet Hour, on a boat.  This leisure cruise ultimately charts the course of Hill’s novel.

Katherine Hill

Katherine Hill

Thank you, Katherine, for letting me ask you these questions. The Violet Hour is one of my favorite novels so far of 2013. How did you come up with the story?

Thanks so much for having me, Jaime. As is probably the case with many long projects, the roots of this book go way back. In college, I took a literature seminar called “Doomed Love in the Western World.” The course title was delicious and the reading list was even better: Troilus and Criseyde, Antony and Cleopatra, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The House of Mirth, The Satanic Verses. We talked a lot about ideals of love, and about the social forces that aim to disrupt or control it. For a long time after, everything else I read seemed to extend the conversation of that class. So when I set out to write my own novel, I had a tradition in mind. I wanted to know what doomed love might look like in contemporary America, a free society that still bears so many invisible chains.

Which character did you see or hear first? And in what way?

The novel began for me as it begins for every reader, with the very first scene. I had a vision of a family on a boat, struck by a disaster of their own making—sort of a metaphorical shipwreck like the kind that opens The Tempest, one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. I liked the idea of starting with an extreme moment, really an almost impossible situation, and then working my way out of the wreckage. What kind of people would get into a marriage-ending fight in front of their eighteen-year-old daughter? What kind of people would they then become? Abe, Cassandra, and Elizabeth Green were born from that scene and those questions.

Your novel features a large cast of characters, and I love the different windows they provide into the story. Howthe-violet-hour.jpg difficult was it to juggle everyone? Do you have a favorite?

I loved juggling all those perspectives. Just when I thought Abe had nailed some essential truth, Cassandra would sidle up and offer a completely valid counterpoint, which Elizabeth would then revolve once more. They made it pretty impossible to choose a favorite! But I like it that way. Writing from multiple perspectives is simply the best exercise in sympathy. It’s a reminder that so many truths are flexible, and that right and wrong—especially among members of a family—are rarely as simple as we’d like to think.

Cassandra grew up over her father’s funeral home, and her father dies on his birthday. Did you want to illustrate how death is always a part of life?

I see The Violet Hour as a novel of desire. The book is full of it: desire for love, for success, for freedom, for equanimity. Death is, in many ways, the great counterpoint to desire, which is rooted in the body and which propels us forward in so many ways throughout our lives. But what happens when we leave the body? This is a particular quandary for secular Americans like Abe, Cassandra, and Elizabeth, who feel the preciousness of life but a deep uncertainty as to how to live it. The funeral home setting gave me so much to work with.

The death of Cassandra’s father takes place just as Hurricane Katrina ravages the Gulf Coast.  You draw such effective parallels. As Cassandra and her family are forever changed by his passing, a nation is forever altered by a mammoth storm and its aftermath. I cannot imagine this story without Katrina, even though this family is far from Katrina’s impact. What led you to put Katrina in your story? Do you think The Violet Hour would have less impact without including the hurricane?

You know, I think there is a strong temptation, when writing fiction, to thrust characters into the center of dramatic, historical events. Certainly, many great writers have done it beautifully: Thackeray took us to Waterloo, Claire Messud and Lynne Sharon Schwartz took us to New York City on 9/11. But in this novel I was interested in the ways in which distant witnesses are already thrust into historic events through the news. A catastrophe is understood to be national when it greets us in the morning paper (or these days, on Twitter), and reading about it implicates us all—especially those of us who are fortunate to live in relative comfort and privilege. The situation in this novel gave me an opportunity to explore the experience of loss and guilt on multiple levels: Abe, Cassandra, and Elizabeth are working through a series of acute private griefs at the very moment that the Gulf Coast and the nation are working through a massive public grief. At times their own pains seem small in comparison to the gross injustice of Katrina; at times it’s Katrina that seems small. I think it’s part of fiction’s job to explore this volatility between the personal and the social—the lovely echoes as well as the deeply troubling ones.

I love how you emphasize the might of water. For Abe, taking his boat on the bay was his greatest pleasure. Then, you contrast that with the destruction Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters caused in New Orleans. What made you write this juxtaposition? Was it intentional?

Absolutely, water is both alluring and dangerous: an attractive environment for a hobbyist, and a terrible environment for a fight; a source of prosperity for a city, and a force that can bring a city to its knees. I loved playing with that duality in every aspect of The Violet Hour. The very same things we love and need can so often be the things that destroy us.

What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Violet Hour?

Well, of course I hope (perhaps foolishly) that readers will love these imperfect characters as I do. I also hope they’ll finish the book in a spirit of reflection and maybe even reassessment, which was definitely part of my experience in writing it, and also a huge part of my own pleasure in reading. My favorite novels—by writers like Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, Aleksandar Hemon, Lorrie Moore, and Zadie Smith—have all urged me to look at myself and the world anew. It would so gratifying to inspire that experience in others.

What’s next for you, Katherine? Are you working on anything new?

I am! I’m now in the exhilarating, very early stages of a new novel about an American football player. I’m a huge football fan, simultaneously elated and horrified by the sport, so the research has already been tons of fun.

UK edition (Viking/Penguin, February 2014)

UK edition (Viking/Penguin, February 2014)

 

Katherine Hill is the author of The Violet Hour, a novel first published by Scribner in July 2013.  

hill

 

Her short fiction has been published by AGNIColorado ReviewThe Commonn+1Philadelphia Stories, and Word Riot, and has been honored with the Nelligan Prize, the Marguerite McGlinn Prize, and fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The Believer, Bookforum, The Paris Review Daily, Philadelphia City Paper, Poets & Writers, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Currently an assistant editor at Barrelhouse, she is a former speechwriter at the University of Pennsylvania, and has taught writing at Philadelphia University, Mighty Writers in South Philadelphia, and the PEN Prison Writing Program in New England. She holds a BA from Yale and an MFA from Bennington College. 

Katherine’s Website

Katherine’s Blog

Follow Katherine on Twitter

Thanks for the interview, Katherine, and best of luck with the book!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under author interviews, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, Debut Novels, fiction, literary fiction, Summer Reading

Spotlight on The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn

I am reading a spectacular debut by an exciting new literary talent.  It’s Matthew Guinn’s The Resurrectionist, coming July 8 from W.WNorton & Company.

“Sleepers, awake!”

Resurecctionist n. (a). Hist. A body-snatcher; a resurrection man; (bgen. a person who resurrects something (lit. & fig.); (c) a believer in resurrection

About The Book:

resurrectionistA young doctor wrestles with the legacy of a slave “resurrectionist” owned by his South Carolina medical school.

Nemo Johnston was one of many Civil War–era “resurrectionists” responsible for procuring human corpses for doctors’ anatomy training. More than a century later, Dr. Jacob Thacker, a young medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse and assigned to work public relations for his medical school’s dean, finds himself facing a moral dilemma when a campus renovation unearths the bones of dissected African American slaves—a potential PR disaster for the school. Will Jacob, still a stranger to his own history, continue to be complicit in the dean’s cover-up or will he risk his entire career to force the school to face its dark past?

First-time novelist Matthew Guinn deftly weaves historical and fictional truth, salted with contemporary social satire, and traditional Southern Gothic into a tale of shocking crimes and exquisite revenge—and a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining moral parable of the South.

 

 

 

 

About The Author:

A native of Atlanta, Matthew Guinn earned a BA in English from the University of Georgia. He continued graduate school at the Matthew_GuinnUniversity of Mississippi, where he met his wife Kristen and completed a master’s degree. At the University of South Carolina, where he earned a Ph.D. in English, he was personal assistant to the late James Dickey. In addition to the Universities of Mississippi and South Carolina, he has taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at Tulane University’s School of Continuing Studies in Madison, Mississippi.

Matthew and Kristen live in Jackson, Mississippi, with their two children, Braiden and Phoebe.

 

 

Perspective-2-photo

“Dog days and the fresh bodies are arriving once again.”

Historical Note: (from the book)

The events of The Resurrectionist are drawn from actual medical practice in the southern United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth.

Guinn is indebted to Abraham Flexner and Robert L. Blakely.

Abraham Flexner was a crusader for medical college reform in the early twentieth century; his report for the Carnegie resurrectionman02Foundation, entitled Medical Education in the United States and Canada, was published in 1910.  Flexner’s expose of the schools of his era–many of them rife with charlatanry, operated without regulation for pure profit–ushered in a new era of medical reform.  For sheer revelatory content, his report rivals any novelistic invention.

In 1989, the archaeologist Robert Blakely was called to the Medical College of Georgia when human remains were discovered in the earthen cellar of the campus’s oldest building during renovations.  His work, aided by the cooperation of MCG authorities, culminated in the publication of Bones in the Basement: Postmortem Racism in Nineteenth-Century Medical Training (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1997).  

Although Guinn changes names and locations, the character of Nemo Johnson is drawn from the enigmatic biography that Bones resurrectionman03in the Basement sketches of Grandison Harris, a slave purchased by the MCG faculty prior to the Civil War.  Harris functioned as the school’s janitor, butler, and body snatcher–or resurrectionist, in the parlance of the day.  With the faculty’s silent endorsement and support, Harris routinely pillaged Augusta’s African American cemetery, Cedar Grove, until his retirement in 1905.  Harris died in 1911, having never divulged his activities and without facing official censure for carrying out his nocturnal duties.  To date, the location of Grandison Harris’s remains in Cedar Grove is unknown.

Bookmagnet Says:

Prepare to be fascinated!

Here are some great websites to learn more:

Grandison Harris

My Georgia History

The legend

Purchase A Signed Copy From Lemuria Books

7 Comments

Filed under Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, Debut Novels, fiction, historical fiction, history, Lemuria Books, literary fiction, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Spotlight Books, Summer Reading

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

Spotlight on Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian

dear lucy

 

I go down the stairs quiet like I am something without any weight. I open the door in the dark and the cold sucks my skin towards it. It is the morning but there is no sun yet, just white light around the edges. It is the time to get the eggs. Time for my best thing. The eggs they shine with their white and I do not need the light to find them. The foxes need no light either. I am a little like the fox, he is a little like me.

I’m currently reading two books, but I am eager to start Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian.  Isn’t the cover adorable?

About the Book:

Lucy is a young woman with an uncommon voice and an unusual way of looking at the world. She doesn’t understand why her mother has sent her to live with old Mister and Missus on their farm, but she knows she must never leave or her mother won’t be able to find her again.

Also living at the farm is a pregnant teenager named Samantha who tells conflicting stories about her past and quickly becomes Lucy’s only friend. When Samantha gives birth and her baby disappears, Lucy arms herself with Samantha’s diary—as well as a pet chicken named Jennifer—and embarks on a dangerous and exhilarating journey to reunite mother and child. With Dear Lucy, Julie Sarkissian has created an unforgettable new heroine of contemporary fiction whose original voice, exuberance, and bravery linger long after the final page.

About the Author:

JULIE SARKISSIAN is a graduate of Princeton University, where she won the Francis Leon Paige Award for creative writing, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.

She is an instructor at The Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

julie-about

 

I am trying to get an interview with the author.  Fingers crossed!

7 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, literary fiction

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

tlc tour host

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

 

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tlc logo

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

cropped-enchanted1.jpg

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!   

13 Comments

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

Spotlight on Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots author Jessica Soffer is a born and gifted storyteller whose debut is good enough to eat.

Just look at this beautiful cover.

tomorow there will be apricots

 

From the book:

This 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.

According to her website, jessicasoffer.com, Jessica “earned her MFA at Hunter College. Her work has appeared in GrantaThe New York Times, and Vogue, among other publications. She teaches fiction at Connecticut College and lives in New York City.”

jessica

Rife with symbolism and meaning, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is tender, lush, and full-bodied.  Don’t miss this splendid debut by a bright, new talent.

Jessica Soffer.  "Soffer" means "scribe" in Arabic.

Jessica Soffer. “Soffer” means “scribe” in Arabic.

Check back soon for my review and an interview with the author.  Order Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots here.

Thanks to Leila Meglio for my copy.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under books, fiction, literary fiction

Book Review: The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard

The Pink Hotel comes out April 23 from Picador.

The Pink Hotel comes out April 23 from Picador.

            In Anna Stothard’s candidly unflinching, evocative, and razor-sharp debut novel The Pink Hotel, the female protagonist is interested in creation stories and myths.  The Epic of Gilgamesh, Noah’s flood, and the Aztec legend of “Coatlique” fascinate the astute and precocious 17-year-old British girl.  And there’s a reason for her curiosity: her mother, Lily, left when she was only three.  The girl desperately wants to know her own creation story, and her dad has never been forthcoming about the tale.

Stothard does not give her protagonist a name.  Since Stothard tells the tale from the girl’s first-person perspective, perhaps Stothard did not feel the need to name the main character.  It is a rather curious move.  Naming and identity are so closely intertwined; because the narrator has no name, I never connect with her, I do not feel like I ever truly know her.  For me, she is unknown, unknowable, and rather unlikeable.  That is not to say that Stothard does not do a good job of fleshing out this individual—she does.  But not giving the novel’s main personality a name bothered me immensely.

Yet I appreciated the main character’s mindset.  Yearning for one’s mother is a universal concept that everyone can understand.  The Pink Hotel begins when the girl gets news that her mother, who lived in Los Angeles, has been killed in a motorcycle accident.  Stothard’s main character does not think of the consequences; she is 17, after all, and frantic over the prospect that she will never know her mother now that she is dead.

As she explains, “Presumably most people can conjure an image of their mother from childhood, but my memories are either from photographs or they’re physical.  I can’t imagine what she used to look like, but remember fragments of her holding my hand too tight in a supermarket, the texture of her legs when I grabbed them….” So she decides to travel to Los Angeles, where her mother owned “The Pink Hotel” in Venice Beach with her second husband.

For the young girl, her journey is really a pilgrimage.  When she arrives at the hotel for her mother’s wake, she sneaks into her bedroom and steals a red suitcase.  She stuffs it full of her mother’s clothes, letters, and pictures.  The girl flees the hotel after encountering her mother’s current husband.  With a stolen credit card and little money, the main character sets out finding the people her mother knew in hopes of learning more about the woman who left all those years ago.

In an effort to get closer to her mother, the protagonist seems to take on the role of her mother.  “I’m not Lily” she says, while wearing her mother’s “tight black dress and her red stilettos.”  “Are you as good at lying as you are at storytelling” a character asks her.  And she is quite adept at telling falsehoods, but not to the reader, only to others.  You would think this quality would endear her to the reader; alas, it does not.

The Pink Hotel is peopled by a quirky cast of characters.  Some of my absolute favorites are the Armenian women she meets.  “How did you come to America?” the girl asks one of them.  “My twin sister and I,” the woman replies, “weren’t interested in marrying men named Noah, you know?”

Stothard chooses the perfect setting for her characters and for the story.  In fact, it is setting that drives The Pink Hotel and its characters.  The author perfectly captures the essence of Southern California to create an atmospheric tale that would not have worked anywhere else.  With lines like “If the Atlantic was a foaming, snapping Rottweiler, the Pacific was a sleepy gecko in the sunlight,” Stothard grabs you and puts you in the middle of the story.

Sense of place is so important in The Pink Hotel.  In fact, the setting is what saved this story for me when I did not connect to the narrator.  Stothard writes, “Los Angeles isn’t built for the rain, and everyone panics.  The air gets saturated with ambulance sirens as oil rises up through the suddenly soaked tarmac highways, causing crashes.”  “The heatwave had finally ignited, and LA had a halo of fire over it.”

Descriptions such as these make The Pink Hotel compelling and worth reading.

Stothard is a master at using lyrical prose.  But I think The Pink Hotel would make a better movie than it does a book.  Perhaps the actress who played the main character could make her more knowable and more likeable.  A good actress could make moviegoers relate to the narrator and identify more with her, which was sadly missing here.

—-Bookmagnet

The author

The author

pink hotel original

Original 2011 cover

German cover

German cover

4 Comments

Filed under beach books, book review, books, fiction, literary fiction