Monthly Archives: May 2013

Book Buzz: Debut Fiction

The BEA is just around the corner, and although I won’t be there in person, my email box has been filling up with book buzz centered around this extraordinary event. I love debut fiction and two books which will be featured prominently at the BEA have caught my attention.

PeopleInTheTreesPeople in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday, August 2013) promises to appeal to readers who have loved Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. It took Yanagihara ten years to complete this novel which is an “anthropological adventure story that combines the visceral allure of a thriller with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide.” Set in 1950, the book centers around a young doctor called Norton Perina who signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. When they discover the tribe, they also find a group of forest dwellers they dub “The Dreamers,” who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences.

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (Little, Brown and Company, September 2013) looks like fascinating historical fiction inspired by a true story of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. When Agnes is charged with the brutal murder of her former master, she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. At first the family who is tasked with housing her, avoids Agnes. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard. Described as “riveting and rich with lyricism,” Burial Rites promises to “evoke a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and ask the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?” This debut novel is getting glowing early reviews which describe it as gripping, original, and haunting.

Have you heard anything about these books? Do they appeal to you? Are there debut novels YOU’RE looking forward to this year?

 

Winner of IN THE GARDEN OF STONE

GardenOfStone

In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve

Paperback
260 pages
Publication Date: May-2013 Hub City Press

Many thanks to those who entered to win a copy of Susan Tekulve’s lovely novel! Today I used Random.org to choose a winner and that person is:

Kirsten from Austin, Texas

Congratulations, Kirsten! I’ve sent you an email to confirm your mailing address.

For those of you who did not win a copy of the book, I hope you’ll considering purchasing this book.

 

The Burgess Boys – Book Review

BurgessBoysHaweeya said, “In America, it is about the individual. Self-realization. Go to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, open any magazine, and it is self, self, self. But in my culture it is about community and family.” – from The Burgess Boys –

The Burgess family has had its struggles. Jim, Bob and Susan lost their father to a tragic accident when they were just young children living in Shirley Falls, Maine. For years, Bob has lived with the guilt that it was all his fault. Now, since the death of their mother, both Jim and Bob have moved to New York City where Jim is a well-known and wealthy lawyer for a big firm, and Bob works as a Legal Aid attorney. Their relationship is almost one of bullying – with Jim often making degrading comments to Bob, and Bob feeling “less than” his older brother. Susan has remained in Shirley Falls, raising her son Zach alone after her husband left the marriage.

When Zach makes a bad decision, his actions will not only have deep repercussions within his own family, but will mobilize a divided community because Shirley Falls has become home to a group of Somali Muslims. This isolated group has sparked racism, misunderstanding and a kind of righteous indignation among certain townspeople. When Zach’s singular act occurs, Shirley Falls splits into two groups – those who see the Somalis as outsiders, and those who see Zach’s actions as a form of hate crime. As Jim and Bob rally around their family, returning once again to Maine, the deep fissures in their own pasts rise to the surface.

It saddened him, but it seemed far away. But he knew very soon it would not feel far away; the murkiness of Susan and Zachary and Shirley Falls would seep into his apartment the way the emptiness below waited to remind him that his neighbors were no more, that nothing lasts forever, there is nothing to be counted on. – from The Burgess Boys –

Elizabeth Strout’s newest novel is a bit of a psychological study of the cracks that develop within families and communities and the often difficult road to healing and forgiveness after loss and misunderstanding. As with all her work, the characters in The Burgess Boys are exceptionally well developed. She introduces multiple characters and delves below the surface of them all to help the reader gain understanding of their fears, hopes, and disappointments.

Bob becomes the central character in a story about sibling rivalry, family secrets and searching for connection with others. Bob’s divorce from his wife, Pam, haunts him. Even years after their split, he misses her chatter, laughter, and “sharp opinions.” But he largely suffers in silence, portraying himself as the easy going, likeable guy he wants to be. Beneath the surface, however, Bob harbors another loss which he has never really come to terms with – that of his father. For decades he has accepted responsibility for his father’s death and tolerates his older brother’s cruel verbal abuse. By the end of the novel, Bob will be the character who grows the most.

Despite the extraordinary character development, The Burgess Boys fell a little flat for me. All of the characters are living lives of disappointment and unrealized self-actualization. Marriages are unhealthy and sad. Children are isolated and awkward. Friendships are superficial. Siblings struggle to find something to like about each other. Half way through this book, I began to feel the weight of all this despair. I began to long for something, anything, to brighten the pages and insert hope into the story.

In fairness, Strout does, eventually, deliver redemption for her characters and allows for some hope to surface. But for me, that redemption came a little too late in the story. I turned the final page and sighed, thankful that I could leave these characters and their muddled lives behind.

I found the inclusion of the Somali community in this novel interesting. Strout uses it as a catalyst to spark the conflict in her novel – and she makes an effort to tie the conflict to the contemporary themes of racism and fear which have pervaded American society since 9-11. Strout’s efforts in this area were only partially successful for me. In some ways, the inclusion of the Somali struggle felt contrived – an easy way to create conflict in a novel which is really about familial conflict and misunderstanding. But, some readers may find that expanding the horizons of the story adds depth and power to the novel.

Readers who enjoy character driven stories and who have liked Strout’s novels in the past may want to give this one a try.

3hstars

librarythingFTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through the Library Thing Early Reviewer Program.

Medallion Quilts…and a Special “Round Robin” With Friends

RoundNRound.CenterBlock20001Have you ever heard of a medallion quilt? Here is a definition:

Medallion quilts are defined as quilts with a center area of interest surrounded by a series of borders. The center can be a pieced or appliqued block, or a wholecloth panel. The borders can be wholecloth, pieced, or appliqued. – from Liberated Medallion Quilts, by Gwen Marston –

Check out the Pinterest board I started to showcase these amazing quilts.

RoundNRoundBUTTONI love the look of medallion quilts and so I was very excited when I was invited to become part of a group on Threadbias to do a “round robin” for this type of quilt. Angela from All Patched Up is our courageous leader and organizer for the Round N’ Round group (read more about our group here).

Here is how a round robin works:

Everyone in the group creates a center block (my block is right up there in the left hand corner of this post) and establishes a color scheme and/or theme. Then those blocks start to travel. They move from one quilter to the next with each person adding a border to the quilt. Eventually, the quilt returns to the original “owner” of that quilt…with all the gorgeous borders which have been added. The result is a collaborative quilt that celebrates the personality of each person in the group.

Angela had a great idea which was to include a journal with our center block – a place where we could indicate color choices, theme, likes/dislikes, etc… Each quilter will add an entry to the journal before passing the quilt in progress onto the next person. We are also going to include bits of fabric as we go to provide some continuity for future rounds.

As my quilt begins its travels, I will try to keep you updated as to its progress.

In the meantime, if you are interested in starting your own group, or just want to make a medallion quilt on your own, here are some great resources for inspiration:

LiberatedMedallion LibertyLove

Liberated Medallion Quilts by Gwen Marston (AQS Publishing)

Liberty Love by Alexia Marcelle Abegg (C&T Publishing / Stash Books)

The gorgeous medallion quilt in Abegg’s book can also be found in the Spring 2013 edition of Love Quilting and Patchwork, which is a UK publication. Although the paper edition is now sold out, you can still purchase the digital issue.

CYZ20.cover.indd

Have you even made one of these fantastic quilts? If so, please give me a link to a photo of it in the comments so I can add it to my Pinterest Board!!

 

Mailbox Monday – May 20, 2013

MailboxSpringWelcome to this week’s Mailbox Monday and which is hosted by Abi at For the Love of Books this month. Visit the dedicated blog for the meme to see the complete tour schedule in the right sidebar.

This week I received one unsolicited book from Simon & Schuster:

StepOfFaithA Step of Faith by Richard Paul Evans (May 2013) is the fourth book by this author in his bestselling Walk series. The book picks up where The Road to Grace left off, with Alan in a St. Louis hospital. Ten months earlier, after losing his wife in a tragic accident, Alan had decided to walk across the country to find healing. But now, after traumatic brain surgery, Alan has woken in a dark and unfamiliar hospital. His father and the two women he loves are by his side.  The novel is described as an “engrossing and moving tale that demonstrates the importance of accepting love from wherever it may come from.

Richard Paul Evans is the #1 bestselling author of The Christmas Box. He has written more than twenty novels. He has received the American Mothers Book Award, the Romantic Times Best Women’s Novel of the Year Award, the Washington Times Humanitarian of the Century Award, and the Volunteers of America National Empathy Award, among others. He lives in Salt Lake city with his wife and children. Learn more about Evans by visiting the author’s website.

Did any good books arrive at YOUR house this week?

 

Sunday Salon – May 19, 2013

Sunday Salon

May 19, 2013

Good morning and welcome to this week’s edition of The Sunday Salon. Visit the Facebook Page for links to other bloggers’ posts.

I hope you all had a great week of reading. I had a fall at work last week (on Wednesday) when my ankle rolled and a took a header off a curb. Luckily I did not break any bones, although I abraded my knee, tore the costo-cartilage of one of my ribs and wrenched my arm so that I was pretty bruised and sore and unable to work either Thursday or Friday. With several days of rest, I’m feeling better (although not 100%) and because I can’t do much else, I’ve been reading a lot the last couple of days.

GardenOfStoneI’ve posted my review of In The Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve which is a quiet novel about several generations of immigrant Italians living in Virginia and West Virginia. I’m giving away a copy of this book to one US reader and that contest ends on Tuesday at 5:00 pm so you still have time to enter. I enjoyed the lovely descriptions of place in this book and it reminded me of a collection of linked short stories. If you like character-driven stories, you might want to give this one a try.

WheredYouGoI also finished Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple which I absolutely loved (read my review)! This is such an original novel and Semple is great at writing satire. I found the characters memorable and the format witty and fun. This book made the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and I am a little surprised only because it seems less literary than their usual picks. But it is smart, women’s fiction and it is great to see this kind of book getting recognized by one of the big names in awards.

Later this month, I’m meeting with my newly formed face-to-face book club to discuss Semple’s novel and I think it will be a fun book for our book club.

BurgessBoysI am less than 50 pages from finishing The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. This novel is set in Maine and centers around the Burgess family which includes brothers Jim and Bob, and their sister, Susan…along with their nephew, Zach. Strout does an amazing job with characterization – but I have to say, my feelings about this book are luke warm. Perhaps it is my mood and not the book – but it feels so bleak to me. No one seems happy. I’ll have to think about this one a bit more before writing any kind of review.

othertypistMy next read will be one that has been getting some positive buzz in blogland. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell is a debut novel published by the very popular Amy Einhorn Books. Set in 1923 the novel is about a New York City Police Department typist. Have you heard about this one? Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

Today is a beautiful, cool, sunshiney day in the Northern California mountains. I wish I could go for a bike ride. But, my poor body needs a bit more healing before climbing aboard a bicycle…so instead, I think I’ll find a comfy chair on the porch and finish my book. How about you? What are you doing this fine Sunday in May? Whatever it is, I hope at some point you find some time to turn some pages in a fantastic book!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Book Review

WheredYouGoMom disappears into thin air two days before Christmas without telling me? Of course it’s complicated. Just because it’s complicated, just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, it doesn’t mean you can’t try. It doesn’t mean I can’t try. – from Where’d You Go, Bernadette –

Fifteen year old Bee is wise beyond her years and when she scores exceptional grades in school, her parents promise her a trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette, Bee’s mom, is far from your average mother. Once a famous architect in Los Angeles, she now struggles to fit in with the super mothers in the elite Seattle, Washington area. When she disappears only days before Christmas, she leaves behind a guilty husband and a questioning daughter who will go to any extreme to find out what happened to Bernadette. Bee begins to piece together school memos, email messages, newspaper interviews and bits of “evidence” in the days leading up to Bernadette’s disappearance. The result?  A wildly entertaining, sometimes poignant, and often hilarious story about parenting in the 21st century, religion, American culture and finding oneself in the process.

Maria Semple is very funny. Her novel is often bitingly sarcastic as she skewers the superficiality of elitism. Semple has written for the television series Mad About You and also Ellen…and her ability to write satire is unparalleled. I found myself literally laughing out loud at the situations in which Semple’s characters find themselves. The book pokes fun at the green movement, private school parents (and the administrators of those schools), and corporate America, while delivering a tale about the relationship between mother and daughter.

One of the themes of the novel is identity – specifically Bernadette’s identity of artist which becomes lost amid her role as wife and mother. One character from Bernadette’s past observes:

If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.

That observation is prophetic and it is this idea of being true to oneself which ultimately drives the narrative in this delightful book.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette delivers on many levels: great characters, an original plot, and a witty format. Short listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, it also demonstrates that smart women’s fiction has found its way into the literary circles.

Readers who are looking for humor, great writing, originality and ultimately characters who touch their hearts, need look no further.

Highly recommended.

5stars

Winner Announced – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Constellation

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Publisher: Hogarth (May 7, 2013)
Hardcover: 400 pages

Thanks to all who entered to win a copy of this fabulous book…but there can only be one winner and I used Random.org to choose them. Congratulations to:

SERENA @ Savvy Verse and Wit

I’m sending you an email, Serena, to confirm your mailing address.

For those of you who did not win a copy, I do hope you’ll still find a copy of the novel somewhere – it is such a great book that I want everyone to read it!

In The Garden of Stone – Book Review and Giveaway

GardenOfStone“When you got something, someone always wants it,” he said. “You don’t show off what you got, not even your happiness. If you are happy, you go into your room and lock the door. You jump up and down where nobody gonna see your happiness. If you hide all your shiny things, ain’t nobody gonna take them away.” – from In The Garden of Stone, page 49 –

The year is 1924 and sixteen year old Emma wakes one night in War, West Virginia with coal dust in the air. A train has overturned and spilled coal over the porch of her home. Caleb Sypher, a railroad man who is many years older than Emma, helps to dig her and her family out. A week later Emma marries Caleb who takes her far from her childhood home to the mountains of Virginia and 46 acres of pristine wilderness. Over the next several decades, Emma and Caleb’s family live their lives against the backdrop of stunning scenery. They have babies, and struggle against poverty and unimaginable losses. They despair over unfaithfulness and mourn when illness strikes. And they find the simple joy in the freedom of wild horses, the leaping of trout from a cold mountain river, and the breathtaking beauty of colorful wildflowers. Sometimes they leave, but they always return, anchored to the land which they call home.

In The Garden of Stone is a multi-generational novel about the power of family and what it means to be a part of the land on which one lives. Susan Tekulve has had many short stories published, and her first novel feels a bit like short stories woven together. The book is a very literary novel where the characters drive the narrative. Each chapter moves the story forward through the years, introducing successive generations of the Sypher family. When Caleb dies, Emma grieves so deeply that her son Dean briefly returns to the poverty stricken coal town of War, West Virigina where he is raised by his grandmother and aunt. Eventually he returns to the family homestead and begins his own family. The reader comes to understand Dean and his wife, Sadie, and gets to watch their daughter grow up to adulthood. There are also other minor characters including a disturbed tramp who lives off the land, a friendly (albeit alcoholic) veterinarian, and a neighbor whose wife leaves him after the suspicious death of their son.

An important aspect of In The Garden of Stone is that of the Italian immigrants who came to the United States to stake their roots, raise their families and find work in and around Virginia. Tekulve captures not only the challenges these immigrants faced, but the culture which they brought with them from Italy. Early in the book, Caleb brings home rocks to create an Italian inspired garden for him and Emma. He finds joy in creating this oasis as a reminder of what his family left behind.

Tekulve’s writing has a dreamlike quality and she writes with authority about the Virginia mountains and the depressed coal towns of West Virginia. Perhaps the strongest aspect of her novel are the descriptions of the landscape. There were times as I was reading where I could feel the warm breeze, smell the sweetness of wild roses, and hear the gurgle of water as it rushed around river rocks.

In The Garden of Stone is a quiet book. The plot is not exciting or fast paced, instead the novel celebrates the lives of its characters – their growth, their struggles, their dreams and disappointments. There were times I wished to stay longer with certain characters but Tekulve left them behind to pursue the stories of the next generation. I kept returning to the feeling I had from the beginning – that this was a series of linked stories, any one of which could have stood on their own, but were made stronger by being connected to each other.

Some readers may find the pace of this book too slow, but I enjoyed the leisurely journey through the lives of the characters. Those who like character-driven stories with a deeply rooted sense of place will find In The Garden of Stone a satisfying summer read.

3hstars

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review as part of a TLC Book Tour.

Read other reviews of this book by visiting the TLC Book Tour page for the book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tekulve-300x216Susan Tekulve’s nonfiction, short stories and essays have appeared in journals such as Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, The Georgia Review, Connecticut Review, and Shenandoah. Her story collection, My Mother’s War Stories, received the 2004 Winnow Press fiction prize. Author of Savage Pilgrims, a story collection (Serving House Books, 2009), she has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholarship and teaches writing at Converse College. Her debut novel, In the Garden of Stone, won the South Carolina First Novel Prize.

WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK

  • Contest open from May 14 through May 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm PST.
  • Contest open ONLY for U.S. mailing addresses.
  • I will randomly choose a winner using Random.Org and announce their name here on my blog by May 22, 2013. The winner will also receive a confirmation email.
  • To Enter: Click here to take survey

tlclogo

Mailbox Monday – May 13, 2013

StaciMailboxWelcome to this week’s Mailbox Monday and which is hosted by Abi at For the Love of Books this month. Visit the dedicated blog for the meme to see the complete tour schedule in the right sidebar.

This week I got some really wonderful books:

MyFathersGhostAlfred A. Knopf sent me a finished copy of My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron and translated from the Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem (May 2013). This is the author’s American debut (although his shorter works have been featured in American journals), and it focuses on Argentina and its more troubling history. The novel is about a son who goes to visit his dying father. As the story unspools, the reader learns about a dark mystery, buried secrets and corruption. A cache of documents is uncovered which exposes Argentina’s dark political past and long-hidden memories of a family’s underground resistance against an oppressive military regime.

Read an interview with the author on Publisher’s Weekly.

Patricio Pron was born in Argentina in 1975 and earned a degree in Social Communication from the Universidad Nacional de Rosario in Argentina. He later went on to earn his PhD in Romance Philology from the Georgia August University of Gottingen, Germany. He is the author of three story collections and four previous novels and also works as a translator and critic. His short fiction has appeared in Granta, Zoetrope, and The Paris Review and has received numerous literary prizes. He was recently named one of Granta‘s Best Young Spanish-language Novelists. He lives in Madrid.

MendingTheMoonMending the Moon by Susan Palwick arrived from Tor Forge (May 2013). Some readers may be familiar with this author’s writing in the fantasy genre, but in this latest novel she brings her talent to mainstream fiction in a book about grief and recovery. The book opens with the murder of sixty-four-year-old Melinda Soto who is killed while vacationing in Mexico. Melinda is survived by her nineteen year old adopted son, Jeremy and a tight knit group of friends. Within days, Melinda’s murderer is identified as a young American tourist named Percy who flies home to Seattle and commits suicide, leaving behind his distraught parents. When Percy’s mother, Anna, decides to connect with Melinda’s loved ones, the novel turns to the resilience of the human spirit and the process of healing after loss.

Susan Palwick’s debut novel, Flying in Place, won the Crawford Award for best fantasy debut. Her second novel, The Necessary Beggar, won the American Library Association’s Alex Award. She lives with her husband in Reno, Nevada.

BillyAndMeBilly and Me by Giovanna Fletcher (May 2013) arrived from Penguin UK. This novel is described as a “semi-autobiographical” book and is being compared to work by Jojo Moyes and Jenny Colgan. When Sophie May meets the gorgeous Billy, an actor with huge ambition, she is unprepared to fall in love. She leaves her tiny village and is whisked away into Billy’s glamorous and ruthless world. After years of shying away from attention, can Sophie now handle the scrutiny that comes from being Billy’s girl?

Giovanna Fletcher is an actress and freelance journalist and is married to Tom Fletcher from McFly. She grew up in Essex. Billy and Me is her first novel. Learn more about Fletcher and her work by visiting her blog or follow her on Twitter.

Did any wonderful books arrive at YOUR home this week?