Category: Friday Reads

Thoughts on The Vanishing Half

Often when I begin to read the book that everyone is talking about I find myself dealing with expectations that are just too high.  The annoying result of having expectations that are too lofty is failing to enjoy the book as much as I probably would have if I had heard nothing about it. It’s happened more than once, sadly. Maybe this has happened to you, too?

That is not the case with THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett. I finished it last night when the house was asleep (anyone else dealing with pandemic insomnia?!) and hated to see it end. The characters are that richly drawn and the writing is that good.

The premise alone is at once intriguing. Just now as I tried to think of words to describe it, the right words failed me, so I am cheating here and giving you the publisher’s excellent description.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.

I was spellbound by Ms. Bennett’s quiet and yet compelling storytelling. Hers is the kind of writing I want every novel I read to sound like. Every novel I write to sound like. It’s beautiful without being pretentious or melodramatic or stilted. And her pacing and timing is perfect.

One bookseller said this about it: “A page-turner—yes. Lyrical—yes. A sharp depiction of the brutal effects of racism and colorism on families and communities, an exploration of what it means to choose—or refuse—an identity, and a delicate, nuanced, fierce prose that probes at the bond between twins and the cascade of events that pour through their separate lives after one twin vanishes from the other—yes, yes, and yes. Bennett’s writing is clear and swift, and I could live in it forever.”

I couldn’t have said it better. If you’re on Facebook and want to hear Brit Bennett in conversation with some very good author friends of mine, hop on to the Friends and Fiction group page and get connected there so that you watch the Nov 4 Wednesday night show with Ms. Bennett as the special guest. And as an aside, Friends and Fiction is a great place to hang out every Wednesday night, actually. I’ve enjoyed all the interviews. (If you want to hear one of my favorites, check out the one with Elizabeth Berg!)

I would love to hear your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it! Have a lovely weekend, friends…

Three books for you!

Today as a special treat I have a three-book giveaway! (Read all the way to the end to see how to get in on the draw). Two of these books I had the pleasure to read in early form to provide cover quotes – always a delightful perk of being an author – and one is a brand new release from a friend of mine who sent me a copy specifically for this sweet purpose, to give away on my blog.

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND BRAVE

I had the immense pleasure of meeting Hazel Gaynor in person after being friends from a far (she lives in Ireland) at the 2019 Historical Novel Society’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. last summer. How wonderful it was to finally see each other IRL, as they say! Hazel is a stunning writer, and the The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home. This new novel is set in China during WWII, and inspired by true events surrounding the Japanese Army’s internment of teachers and children from a British-run missionary school. I loved it.  Here’s a bit more about the book:

Hazel Gaynor

When Japan declares war on Britain and America, Japanese forces take control of the school and its young students who are separated from their parents. Faced with the relentless challenges of oppression, the school community must rely on their courage, faith and friendships as they pray for liberation – but then they are sent to a distant internment camp where even greater uncertainty and danger awaits.

Inspired by true events, When We Were Young and Brave is an unforgettable novel about impossible choices and unimaginable hardship, and the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher in a remote corner of a terrible war.

Here’s what I said in my endorsement:

“A compelling story of innocents caught up in the machine of global conflict, so wonderfully written and soul-stirring. Gaynor beautifully explores the heart’s brave struggle to make sense of the upside-down world that is war.  Well done!”

Lisa Wingate said it’s “A story of courage and strength that will make you believe in the heroic spirit in each of us.”

You’re gonna love this one. (side note: Hazel also writes with my Tall Poppy pal, Heather Webb. Their newest collab is Meet me in Monaco…)

MILLICENT GLENN’S LAST WISH

Tori Whitaker’s debut just hit bookstore shelves on Tuesday! I had the lovely treat of reading an early copy for endorsement, and also meeting Tori in person during a book tour (oh, remember travel??) when I was in the Atlanta area.

I love what she says about this first book and the way we look at our family histories: “My dream of writing a book first took root in my twenties, and some forty years later, I’ve seen that dream come true. Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish (part historical fiction and part contemporary family drama) is my debut novel. I love stories that shift between the past and present. Maybe that is because my family had five living generations upon my birth, and when my own grandchildren came along, my family had five living generations again. This experience has also given me a sense of what we observe in those who’ve come before us … and what we pass down from one generation to the next.”

Here’s what the book is about in a nutshell:

Millicent Glenn is self-sufficient and contentedly alone in the Cincinnati suburbs. As she nears her ninety-first birthday, her daughter Jane, with whom she’s weathered a shaky relationship, suddenly moves back home. Then Millie’s granddaughter shares the thrilling surprise that she’s pregnant. But for Millie, the news stirs heartbreaking memories of a past she’s kept hidden. Millie’s last wish? For Jane to forgive her.

Sixty years earlier Millie had a husband she adored, a job, a precious baby girl, and another child on the way. She had the perfect family and the perfect life. All it took was one shattering moment to reshape Millie’s life and the lives of generations to come.

Tori Whitaker

As Millie’s old wounds are exposed, so are the secrets she’s kept for so long. Finally revealing them to her daughter might be the greatest risk a mother could take in the name of love.

And here’s what I said about it:

“Tori Whitaker explores the depths of mother-love with insight, care, and heart-wrenching honesty in this post-WW2 story brimming with exceptional historical detail. A moving and emotionally-charged debut by a writer to watch.”

Jenna Blum calls Millicent Glenn “a heroine to cheer for.”

I bet we are going to be seeing more from Tori!

THE GOOD LUCK STONE

Heather Bell Adams and I have only been able to be online friends but I’ve no doubt someday our paths will cross. Her new book, The Good Luck Stone, I didn’t read in early form but when it was released not too long ago I wanted to celebrate with her by giving away a copy on my blog and also give it some spotlight time.

Heather’s newest is a story about friendships and secrets kept and secrets revealed. Here’s a bit more about it:

At ninety, Audrey Thorpe still lives in a historic mansion on palm-tree-lined Victory Drive, determined to retain her independence. But when her health begins to decline, the family hires a part-time caretaker. The two women seem to bond—until Audrey disappears. The caretaker doesn’t know that Audrey has harbored a secret for seven decades, since her time as a nurse in the South Pacific during World War II.

As the story moves between the verdant jungles of the war-torn Philippines and the glitter of modern-day Savannah, friendships new and old are tested. Along the way, Audrey grapples with one of life’s heart-wrenching truths: You can only outrun your secrets for so long.

My dear friend Julie Cantrell says Heather’s new book is “a plot-perfect page turner…Adams has hit the sweet spot, mastering a literary tone with commercial pacing…a screen-worthy winner and a book club bullseye.”

Heather Bell Adams

And isn’t that cover beautiful!?

Heather Bell Adams’ first novel, Maranatha Road, won the gold medal for the Southeast region in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and was selected for Deep South Magazine’s Fall/Winter Reading List. The Good Luck Stone appeared on Summer Reading Lists for Deep South Magazine, Writer’s Bone, The Big Other and Buzz Feed. Originally from Hendersonville, NC, Heather lives in Raleigh with her husband and son, Davis, where she’s also a lawyer.

Congrats on the new book, Heather!

So there you have it friends! Just comment below with any kind of hello and your name is in the hat for the giveaway. If you comment here and on the Facebook post, you get your name in twice! I will have random.org draw a winner on Weds, Oct 7 at noon Pacific. One winner will receive all three books!

Good luck and happy reading!

Thoughts on This Tender Land

Last year when I read ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger, a book club pick by a good friend, I knew I had stumbled upon an author whose writing would perpetually resonate with me; just as Kate Morton does, and Geraldine Brooks and Diane Setterfield, and Khaled Hosseini. WKK’s storytelling skills are mad with talent, his prose delicious and evocative and his characters unforgettable. So when THIS TENDER LAND came out this year, I knew I would be snapping it up.

It’s funny, though that I waited to read it until just recently. I guess it’s because I knew I was going to relish and cherish it, so it was as if I was saving it, something I don’t usually do with a book I’ve been waiting for.

This newest by him does not disappoint. It’s surprising to me that I so easily fell into this book when it’s narrated by an adolescent boy; so very different from the adult female voiced novels that I usually read.

I suppose it’s because the story is about children who are having to make adult choices that they should not have to make. Stories of children in harm’s way always seem to grab at me; it’s why I think I loved ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline so much, and THE GOLDFINCH and SARAH’S KEY and DEAR EDWARD. In our hearts we know children should get to be children when they are children – if you know what I mean – and when they are put into situations that could so easily break their spirit we ache to see that somehow they will find a way to survive and thrive. We want to believe that despite the worst that a messed-up adult world can foist onto a child, he or she will find a way to rise above it.

In a nutshell THIS TENDER LAND is about three young people on a journey to safety and the odds are against them. It’s during the Great Depression, they don’t have the security of a normal home to shelter them and they face hurdles that would stymie the strongest of adults. But William Kent Krueger escorts the reader on a beautiful ride nonetheless. Every chapter is golden. The ending is exquisite.

The construction, which you can miss if you’re not looking for it, is reminiscent of Ulysses on his epic Odyssey – so clever and so masterfully done.

The Denver Post says this book is “rich with graceful writing and endearing characters…a book for the ages.” I would agree.

I’ve started to shed books from my house that I’ve already read, to trim the bulging shelves, live a simpler life, and give books I loved but won’t read again (because THERE ARE SO MANY BOOKS) another shot at pleasing another reader. But some I am keeping. Some I will read again.

This is one of them.

Loving The Book of Lost Friends

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a difficult time reading for pleasure lately. I’m okay to read for research for the book I’m writing and I’m happy to read stories to my grandchildren, but at the end of the day when I curl up in bed to read for me, I’ve been struggling to lose myself in the pages of a novel. It’s a strange and terrible feeling. I don’t recognize it and I don’t like it. There is some comfort in knowing other people feel this way too. These are very strange times we’re living in, and we’re being affected by this virus-that-shall-not-be-named in ways we would not have expected. I saw a meme on Facebook today that defines our current situation as the Coronacoaster: “One day you’re loving your bubble, doing workouts, baking banana bread, and going for long walks and the next you’re crying, drinking gin for breakfast, and missing people you don’t even like.” Kinda funny and kinda not, right?

Thankfully though, I’ve come upon some books during these last few months that have been able to transport me into the world the storyteller has created, and out of ours! Yay! Lisa Wingate’s newest, THE BOOK OF LOST FRIENDS, is that kind of book.

Lisa is a not only a good friend and one of the kindest people I know, she is a masterful weaver of stories. This new book of hers has her signature style all over it. It is a dual time-periods tale about a formerly enslaved young woman named Hannie ten years after the end of the Civil War and a young schoolteacher named Benedetta needing to discover her own self-worth and purpose, and who happens be living in a cottage on the same expanse of land that had been the Louisiana plantation Hannie had been taken to after being ripped from her mother’s arms when just a child. In alternating chapters, Lisa takes us from the dangerous post-war journey Hannie is on in 1875 to Bennie’s complex world in 1987.  The two women, separated by a century, never meet physically but their paths cross in other ways.

The story is inspired by actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, when newly emancipated men and women began to search for loved ones they’d long been parted from. The excerpts from the actual newspapers are the most haunting and emotionally-gripping detail of the book.  It’s gut-wrenching to imagine mothers and fathers being separated from their young children and each other, and those children then being separated from their siblings.

I hadn’t heard of the Lost Friends project prior to reading Lisa’s book, and I was glad she offered some resources in the end pages for future study. One of those is https://www.hnoc.org/database/lost-friends/index.html, which is a searchable database of more than 2,500 Lost Friends advertisements that appeared in the Southern Christian Advocate between November 1879 and December 1900.

Lisa writes about difficult subjects but she always finds a way to leave you feeling hopeful at the end of her books. I appreciate that about her novels as it’s something I strive to do in mine.

I highly recommend this one friends. And I would love to hear what you’ve been reading and loving, despite the pan-well, you know what I mean….

This ‘n’ That book news…

I don’t know about you but Covid-19 and its stay-at-home orders, the monotony of every day feeling like we’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, the specter of empty parking lots, the police tape around playground equipment, the spider webs lacing the hubcabs on my car, has me a little brain-fogged. I know I owe you a blog post but I’ve noticed it’s hard to concentrate on things that aren’t a big part of this NEW ROUTINE, this blog being one of them. But I am here today – confetti toss to me – and I am dropping in with some fun stuff that I’ve been collecting, albeit quite by accident. Here, in no particular order is a bunch of fun stuff.

My good friend and fellow Berkley sister, Chanel Cleeton, has a new book coming out next month – pandemic or no pandemic – and to help pave the way for the release of THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST, Berkley is having a super fun giveaway sweepstakes that includes two additional (and wonderful) books by Chanel, plus a pretty special edition tote bag. As you can see from the photo above, I loved her newest, but they are all great books! Truly. This giveaway is open to U.S. entries only (sorry about that!). You can enter for a chance to win here: https://sweeps.penguinrandomhouse.com/enter/last-train-and-tote-bag-sweeps.

Have you noticed that World War II books just keep coming our way and no one seems to be tiring of them? I’ve only come across a couple people who say they’re ready to move on to another historical fiction backdrop; the rest of us just can’t seem to get enough of them. I know I am not tired of WW2 books. Not tired reading them and not tired writing them. There are still untold, undiscovered stories of WW2 and the time to tell them and find them is now, while we still have some of its living witnesses here with us. To align two of my older titles with THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR, which is my most recent WW2 novel, my publisher has redesigned the covers of SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN – both of which are WW2 tales – so that they will easily be recognizable as from that era. And there’s better symmetry between the covers.

This may last just for now or for a long while. I still love the original covers (remember those beautiful dresses and the women wearing them with just part of their face showing?) We will see what people are drawn to? What do you think? I am happy to gain new readers who might not have picked up the two books before, but now will. Fingers crossed anyway!

These will show up mainly on ebook readers but also at some retailers. Let me know if you spot either one in physical form. Extra love from me if you nab a photo!

In more WW2 book news, I just finished Ariel Lawhon’s  CODE NAME HELENE, which I loved, and which I will share about next Friday. So do come back for that!

And now for some fun stuff just because. I loved this video, shot by a UK sports commentator who is obviously not commenting on any sports, because COVID. So he’s been finding little things in pandemic life to comment on in sports-commentator-like fashion. This is one is the absolute best to date:

And last for now, this just floors me. I am amazed by the amazing music coming out of the quarantined world, by yes, talented people, but recorded in their homes via their smart phone and laptops, all while in separate places!! Not in sound studios. This one just makes you want to dance a little:

So there you go! Happy Friday, friends. Hopefully I won’t let you down next Friday and I will be here with more FUN STUFF!

 

How to bring more joy to your life!

Hello, reading friends. I hope you are able to find a place of tranquility on this Friday afternoon but if you’re feeling stretched in too many directions while at the same time feeling isolated and kerfuffled, I have an interview here for you – and a book – that might help. My dear friend Anne Bogel, who you might also know as the amazing Modern Mrs. Darcy, has a brand new book out – and yes, it released into a weary world in the middle of this pandemic – and it is so timely. DON’T OVERTHINK IT is Anne’s third book and in its pages, she wants to help you not only overcome negative thought patterns that rob you of joy and peace but replace them with positive ones. More than a book about good decision-making, the back cover says, DON’T OVERTHINK IT “offers you a framework for making choices you’ll be comfortable with, allowing you to use an appropriate amount of energy and freeing you to focus on all the other stuff that matters in life.”

Anne, aka MODERN MRS. DARCY, is the author of READING PEOPLE and I’D RATHER BE READING and creator of the excellent podcast WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT? She makes her home with her family in Louisville, Kentucky and is a pure joy to know. Read on to see how to get in on a drawing for a copy of her book and to check out her terrific Stay-at-Home-Book-Tour videos for both her book (all your many questions are answered!) and one for mine, THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR, which released in paperback into this strange, new world on Tuesday.  But first, let’s chat with Anne:

SUSAN: Tell us about your new book. Did you ever dream you were writing a book that people might need in the midst of a pandemic?

ANNE: I certainly didn’t! The new book is about making easier decisions, stopping second-guessing, and bringing more joy to your life. Studies show nearly all of us engage in overthinking—that means repetitive, unhealthy, unhelpful thoughts. Overthinking is exhausting, and it makes us miserable. But with new strategies and some practice, we can learn to stop thinking our way out of happiness and think our way into it instead.

For many people, overthinking is a deeply entrenched habit, so overcoming it requires new strategies and plenty of practice. I imagine that’s why people are finding the book so helpful right now: we’re all dealing with circumstances we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Our routines have been disrupted, and we’re having to make lots of decisions we never anticipated. Not only that, the news is a major overthinking trigger. People need resources; they need help.

SUSAN: So true. Was there anything in the writing and research for this book that surprised you?

ANNE: Before I began this project, I was oblivious to the connection between overthinking and perfectionism. I’m a recovering perfectionist, and those tendencies still trip me up sometimes. Once I understood how much of my own overthinking was driven by perfectionism it became much easier to overcome those particular negative thought patterns.

SUSAN: That is so interesting. I think I might be a wannabe perfectionist! That’s either not quite as bad or far worse! What are some tips from the book that all of us can use in these uncertain times?

ANNE: First, when you take care of your body, you take care of your brain, so focusing on the basics is crucial to set yourself up for success in this area: don’t forget to eat breakfast, get some exercise, drink your water, get enough sleep.

We all have moments where we catch ourselves stuck on the overthinking treadmill, and when that happens it’s good to have some strategies handy so we can pull ourselves out of that thought spiral. Try scheduling time to overthink each day: this may sound counterintuitive, but if you tell yourself you’ll indulge that overthinking at the designated hour, it’s easier to put those thoughts aside for the rest of the day. Try distracting yourself: this works because the brain can only focus on so many things at once. Give your mind something else to occupy it: read a book, pay a bill, play a game of Tetris, follow a new recipe. Finally, when your brain is stuck, move your body: take a walk, go for a run, do a set of plans or some jumping jacks. When you move your body, you move your mind.

Susan here again. Such good words. Anne spoke more about this book and answered questions from a packed Zoom room where a virtual book stop took place. A great listen if you want to hear more from Anne. Mine is also available to watch on this same replay page.

You can get a copy of Anne’s book and at the same time support local independent bookstores by shopping for it right here.

If you’d like to get in on a drawing for a copy of Anne’s book, just drop a comment below and tell us one way you are coping with the difficult circumstances we are all presently bound up in. It can be a fun way, serious way, easy or complex. We want to hear them all. A winner (and it can be an international winner if bookdepository is still shipping to your country) will be randomly drawn at noon Pacific on Monday. Happy Easter weekend all!

Thoughts on The Dutch House

Since reading Bel Canto years ago, I have said I will read anything Ann Patchett writes. I missed a few of hers pre-Bel Canto and while I haven’t yet gotten to them, it comforts me to know that they’re waiting for me for when life slows down (I’ve heard that happens; one day you wake up and you’re older and retired and you can read all the time). When I heard The Dutch House was coming out and saw its distinctive cover (Who IS that girl? I wondered) I put it on my TBDWIR (To Be Devoured When It Releases) list pronto.

And then it released and people were talking about it, and it was popping up on bestsellers lists all over the place and audio book lovers were swooning over this tale being read to them by the venerable Tom Hanks. I hurried through the other required reading I was working on, and made space in my life to enjoy The Dutch House. I had already bought it, it was just there on my cluttered nightstand awaiting me.

I hadn’t read much about the novel, which is my usual thing. I don’t read the back copy of books I know I am going to want to read. Sometimes there are mini spoilers there. So I didn’t know what The Dutch House was or who lived in it or what it meant to them. I didn’t know what the evocative painting on the front meant and I certainly couldn’t know how I would be affected when Patchett revealed the significance of that painting, and this at a time in the story when I had already fallen in love with these perfectly drawn characters. It was the kind of book that I couldn’t wait to get back to, not because I just had to know what happened next, but because I just had to know what happened to these characters next.  Here is just one of the beautifully composed thoughts penned in its pages.

“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”

I was going to use the back cover copy to tell you what the book is about but I’m not going to. I will just say it’s a book about a brother and sister, and their childhood home, and everything that the word “home” might and should conjure up in your mind when you hear that word spoken.  I loved it so much I am going to use one of my Audible credits and have Tom Hanks read it to me. I hardly ever read books twice because, you know, so many books, so little time. So you know it’s a good one when I tell you I’ll be “reading” this one again. Soon.

Highly recommend.

 

Coming in 2020!

I have mentioned this before, but one of the sweetest things about having the novel-writing gig is the opportunity to read advance review copies of novels-to-come with an eye to providing an endorsement. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read two ARCs that I just loved and I know you will too; both are headed your way in mid 2020.

So here on this last Friday of 2019 I will tell you about both. These two novels will be coming your way from my own publishing house, Berkley, but I would’ve loved them no matter whose imprint is on the spine. Truly.

First up, THE PRISONER’S WIFE by Maggie Brookes. It’s a debut novel and inspired by a true events that are simply amazing. It’s a tale about a secret marriage between a British soldier in occupied Czechoslovakia and a Czech farm girl. On the run after their elopement, the soldier evades capture for as long as he can but Nazi soldiers eventually find him – and his new wife. But the farm girl, Izabel, has disguised herself as a young British soldier made mute by shell shock. The couple are believed to be two escaped British soldiers and are sent to a men’s POW camp. The rest of the story is about Bill and Izzy’s bravery, cunning, and care for the other POWs in their block (and their care for her), and of course the remarkable resiliency of the human spirit which so often shows up in World War 2 novels. But this is a story you have not heard before and the way in which it is told will have you thinking you are there, facing every obstacle large and small that Izzy and the others face. Devastatingly rich in sensorial detail, it is described by Berkley as a story of “love and survival against the darkest odds.” The fact that the premise is based on a real woman who disguised herself as a man to not only be with her husband but to escape the executioner – as such was the punishment for aiding a POW in an escape – makes it a compelling read to the last page. Look for this one in May 2020. (Note: There’s currently a giveaway of 100 ARCs on Goodreads! Enter before Jan 9)

Maggie Brookes is a British ex-journalist and BBC television producer turned poet and novelist. The Prisoner’s Wife is based on an extraordinary true story of love and courage,  that was told to her by an ex-WW2 prisoner of war. Maggie visited the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany during the research for the book, where she learned largely forgotten aspects of the war. I hope our IRL paths cross someday soon.

Secondly, I was so glad to be invited to read my good friend Chanel Cleeton’s upcoming THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST, after loving WHEN WE LEFT CUBA and NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA. I knew Chanel would be taking the reader on a different journey with a trio of unrelated POV characters and I couldn’t wait to see how the separate stories of these three different women would collide. I was thoroughly satisfied with the weave of three story threads!  As a backdrop, Chanel chose Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad and one of the worst hurricanes in history which pummeled the Keys on Labor Day weekend in 1935. Helen is a Key West native trapped in an abusive marriage; Elizabeth, who is engaged to marry a man she does not love, is looking for her emotionally wounded WW1 veteran brother hiding out somewhere on the Keys; and Mirta, a newlywed in an arranged, post-Cuban-revolution marriage to benefit her Havana family, is on Key West for her honeymoon. The three female characters are compelling figures, each in her own way, and the setting details are engrossing to say the least. The impact on humanity from this 1935 hurricane is astounding, and it’s always fitting for a great story to be told to remember a time such as this. Chanel does it masterfully. Her new book will be in bookstores in June 2020. (There’s a Goodreads ARC giveaway for this one right now, too!)

Besides being a sweet friend and Berkley chum, Chanel is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick! (Next Year in Havana) Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the Cuban Revolution. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. On top of all that, she is a fabulous writer.

I know it seems like a long way off, but you know how quickly time passes, my friend. Put these on your WANT TO READ Goodreads list and before you know it, the warmer months will be here and you’ll be able to read them!

Have a lovely weekend, full of relaxed reading…

 

What I’ve been reading…

I’ve been very remiss in feeding the blog of late. Sorry about that. I have a good excuse, one that I hope you will approve of; it’s because I’ve been writing a new book and closing in on the finish line and have been a bit distracted. I’ll be sharing more about that in the weeks to come!

I thought I’d pop in today and recap some of the books that I’ve been reading since the last time I was here. I have in fact been reading a lot of great books, just not reporting back to you (again, sorry!). So here in no particular order are five books I read in the last few months.

I bought Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward in an airport bookstore because I was traveling for book-related stuff and ran out of reading material – which is a nightmare to those of us who look forward to uninterrupted hours in an airplane as THE BEST READING TIME in the world. I had seen this novel on some lists and knew that it had been critically acclaimed and so I bought it on a whim and quickly became engrossed in the tale. The protagonist is a young teenage boy who is a member of a particularly interesting but nevertheless flawed family. He’s been forced to grow up too soon, taking on responsibility for absent and/or negligent parents. The writing is beautiful and evocative and there are hints of magic realism that really do make the book sing. If you don’t like magic realism at all, this might not be the book for you but I loved it.

I picked up The House of Broken Angels at the San Diego Festival of Books in August after hearing its author, Luis Alberto Urrea, speak the night before the Festival began. I was entranced with his story and storytelling ability. The book is set primarily in San Diego, where I was born and raised and have come back home to. It’s based on Urrea’s own life experience about growing up in a family living on the US | Mexico border.  It begins on the eve of the patriarch’s birthday celebration. Here’s just a snippet from the back cover: “Across two bittersweet days in their San Diego neighborhood, the revelers mingle among the palm trees and cacti, celebrating the lives of Big Angel and his mother, and recounting the many inspiring tales that have passed into family lore, the acts both ordinary and heroic that brought these citizens to a fraught and sublime country and allowed them to flourish in the land they have come to call home.” It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and beautifully written. I highly recommend.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is another book that I bought in an airport when I had run out of reading material – this seems to be a common thing with me – because it had been on the New York Times bestseller list for a year and I figured it was there for a reason. I did not know it was based on a true story, and of course once I did and once I had fallen into the pages I was completely captivated by it. Stories of the Holocaust are never easy reads but they are necessary ones if we are going to properly remember and honor the humanity of its victims. I was spellbound by this book. When I found out there was a new book by its author about one of the other characters in this book, Cilka, I put it on pre-order straight away. It’s now on my bedside table on my teetering TBR pile and I can’t wait to get to it.

The Gown by Jennifer Robson had been on my TBR stack since picking it up at the Tucson Book Festival in the spring and I’d been wanting to get to it since then. I loved the miniseries The Crown and have pretty much been a UK royalty-watcher since the early days of Princess Diana. (Side note: When we lived in England in the late 80s/early 90s I used to imagine that I’d be in London some afternoon and that I’d spy poor Di being hunted down by paparazzi and I would come to her aid and sneak her into my car and take her back to my house in Oxfordshire for a respite – like Hugh Grant does for Julia Roberts in Notting Hill – and we’d would laugh over American fig newtons I’d gotten at the commissary that we’d been able to dodge the wolves. That never happened of course). Jennifer’s book is so lovely, so well-researched and the writing is beautiful and oh, that cover! It’s a story about the wedding gown of Queen Elizabeth of course but it’s really a story about the women who embroidered it.  A great book.

Lastly I read Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict – an early copy of it for endorsement, it’s coming in January – and was so enlightened and surprised by what I learned about Winston Churchill‘s wife. I’ve always known that behind a great man is usually a great woman, whether it be a wife, sister or mother or friend, and I loved hearing about the role Clementine played in Winston‘s life, especially at the most challenging moments, when the world was at war and Britain on the brink of occupation. If you like historical fiction that is based on biographical truth you will love this book as well.

So there you have it friends, a nice little recap long overdue and I hope to be able to return next week and regale you with more book recommendations for you. Have a wonderful weekend!

Once Upon A River…

In March, a new book of mine was released into the wild and I set off to introduce it to book lovers by traveling a bit, and then I returned home to the new book I’m writing and the unruly task of having to unwrite about 25,000 words of it (which I had discovered through the insightful eyes of my agent and editor had to go). So while I’ve been neglecting the blog, and while there have been no posts on Friday where I share what I have been reading, I have in fact been reading in between book travels and travails. And I’ve been looking forward to creating some margin in my week where I can at last get back to the conversation here. I apologize for the long hiatus, and I think I remember how to do this…

I finished Diane Setterfield’s latest, an amazing book entitled ONCE UPON A RIVER, while on book tour and have been looking at its spine on my To-Be-Talked-About pile for weeks now. It was such a good book; everything that I loved about Diane’s seminal work for me, THE THIRTEENTH TALE, I found in this book. What a delight it was to rediscover why I love her writing so.

ONCE UPON A RIVER is a story of love between parent and child, and the agony of loss and the absolute delight of hope and how we navigate our journeys through both. It is set in England and the river in the title refers to the Thames; that long winding rope of water that is more than just a frame for London postcard pictures of Parliament and Westminster Abby. Setterfield’s voice comes through rich and true in the prose; it is absolutely delicious. I fell in love with that voice with THE THIRTEENTH TALE, so much so that I read that book two more times, which I never do (because so many books, so little time). I continue to mention it as among my favorite reads all these years later. For whatever reason, I did not bond with Setterfield‘s novel that followed TTT – Bellman and Black – and I had been so looking forward to it too (probably too much) – but I know that not all books are going to impact us the same way, and not all writers will either, each time we read them. I love what M. L. Stedman, the author of THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS said about Setterfield’s newest: “Setterfield‘s masterful storytelling draws you in to a beguiling tale, full of twists and turns like the river at its heart, and just as rich and intriguing. It lowers you into its steps and carries you along in its vividly evoked world.“

Here’s the inside scoop from the publisher: “A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science? Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.”

Reading a Diane Setterfield book makes me want to be a better writer, makes me want to spend more time on every page I write. Highly recommend, folks, and I promise I’ll be back more often…