Geraldine Brooks is a rare writer who is able to employ both gorgeous prose and spellbinding storytelling. Though some scenes in THE SECRET CHORD moveGeraldine Brooks is a rare writer who is able to employ both gorgeous prose and spellbinding storytelling. Though some scenes in THE SECRET CHORD moved me to revulsion, or even tears, I could not look away. Many passages in my copy of the book are underlined for their potency and elegance. Brooks writes most lyrically when she describes David’s musical talent–arguably his most redeeming quality.
“It’s a kind of sorcery, a possession of body and spirit. Yet a wholesome one. And there is one chord, one perfect assembly of notes that no other hand can play. The sound of it–pure, rinsing sound, void, so that your spirit seems to rush in to fill the space between the notes.”
In THE SECRET CHORD, King David’s story is told through a reliable narrator, which allows the reader to see a legendary ruler in all his unvarnished capacities. If we had heard David through his own voice, there may have been excuses, justifications, or omissions from his brutal history. Seeing David through a servant or advisor gives the entire picture, and that portrait–for all its beauty and glory–is blood-stained, torn, and decaying, even as the King makes his ascent.
Fans of WOLF HALL will be enthralled by this unflinching depiction of biblical royalty. The loyal and humble narrator, who helps the reader understand a time that feels both far removed and close to home, enchants. I give THE SECRET CHORD my highest recommendation....more
With its lush settings, high-stakes suspense, and novel-within-a-novel, 300 DAYS OF SUN delivers a labyrinth of complex relationships the reader is boWith its lush settings, high-stakes suspense, and novel-within-a-novel, 300 DAYS OF SUN delivers a labyrinth of complex relationships the reader is both breathless to solve and eager to return to upon completion. I lost sleep reading this fabulous, haunting novel....more
Please refrain from throwing pencils at me, but I despise Little Women. I think it is silly, saccharine drivel. Because of this, I was reluctant to piPlease refrain from throwing pencils at me, but I despise Little Women. I think it is silly, saccharine drivel. Because of this, I was reluctant to pick up LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE, but I’m so glad I did. Atkins delivers a marvelous reimagining of the very human story behind one of America’s most beloved novels.
Artists are often jealous by nature. They wish heartily for one another’s success when they’re struggling, and then covet it when another achieves a certain level of status. Equal parts self-doubt and ego, artists experience an incessant war within the psyche. Atkins fully animates these competitions and struggles, giving an unflinching glimpse into the tensions of a being a woman in the nineteenth century, in a working class family, in a nation at war. LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE portrays these conflicts of sister and world with just the right touch–never burdening the reader with too much hopelessness, while creating intrigue and bringing the well-known writers and thinkers of Concord, Massachusetts to vivid life.
Throughout the reading of the novel I was often tempted to look online for May’s full life story, but I’m happy that I waited until I finished. LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE is the Little Women I have always wanted, and for those who enjoy literature of this time period, and complicated female protagonists, I highly recommend it....more
1) The Toni Morrison Blurb: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me afThree things prompted me to pick up this book:
1) The Toni Morrison Blurb: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates….This is required reading.” 2) This book was written as a letter to an adolescent son. I have three sons (of English-Irish-Welsh-Russian Catholic descent), whom I am trying to raise in an environment that will prepare them for the world by encouraging intellectual, emotional, and spiritual exploration, to make them more empathetic human beings. I need to expand my worldview to expand theirs. 3) I have grown up 30 minutes outside of Baltimore my entire life, and after the Freddie Gray riots, I realized a) I might as well live on another planet, and b) I need a better understanding of the black men and women raised there.
This book was eye-opening, to say the least. I have new insight into what it means to grow up black in America, and I am deeply ashamed of the past of the country, disheartened by the current state of it, and admittedly hopeless about the capacity for large-scale future change. The problems are systemic–so much a part of our cells, our maps, our minds–and the root systems are too complex to fully eradicate. Not to mention that there must be a reckoning; society must reap what it sows.
However, I believe in God–a force Coates acknowledges he has no connection to, yet does not discount because of the strength faith has given so many–and with God, there is hope. While Coates does not provide a tidy solution, I’m inspired by a truth I found reinforced in his anecdotes, and in my conversations with others after reading the book. We are responsible for those around us, for the small square of land we inhabit.
More and more, when I’m tempted to take rants to Twitter or Facebook, pile onto the masses, tear out my hair over the terrible state of the world, I pull inward. I look at the many and varied faces of the people around me. I see the living they do–the good in my community, my church, our schools. I see the rifts in my family and know that until I reach out and mend those torn places, trying to impose change on society is futile. I realize I can make simple gestures: hold a door for young black man and walk in after him, look a person in the eye when I’m speaking with him, raise my sons not to fall into the traps of categorizing people based on “race,” give the book to the family member who insists on proclaiming her ignorance when confronted with Black Lives Matter by retorting All Lives Matter to read, instead of hitting her over the head with it.
The responsibility lies in my hands, my actions.
I don’t know if Coates wanted someone like me to read his book, and I don’t know if this is what he wanted me to take away from it. All I do know is that I cannot stop thinking about it, and this thinking has silenced me. Acknowledging the crisis of the past and present, and watching, listening, and responding to the needs of others is what I can do in my home and in my community to start change, and I intend to do it.
In this stunning sequel to WOLF HALL, the reader should be familiar with Mantel’s unusual stylistic choices–sometimes addressing the reader through thIn this stunning sequel to WOLF HALL, the reader should be familiar with Mantel’s unusual stylistic choices–sometimes addressing the reader through the second person point of view, lines of great meaning and gravity embedded within the narrative the way gems are sewn into royal gowns, ambiguous pronouns (that Mantel makes great pains to illustrate clearly, almost rudely, in this novel)–and can sink immediately into the story that hums with the tension leading up to the death of Anne Boleyn and her unfortunate admirers.
The book is deeply cynical; there might not be an honorable character in the bunch, but all are starkly human, larger than life. Mantel takes a story that has been told, and told, and told, and somehow makes it new. Starting the book is like mounting a runaway horse approaching a cliff, knowing full well the horse will not stop, but going along anyway for the sheer terror and adventure of the ride.
In all honesty, this is a hard recommendation for me. It’s difficult for me to separate the work from the artist, but ultimately, there is no need. BRING UP THE BODIES is well served by its author, because its protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, is quite antagonistic....more
I had the pleasure of seeing Jacqueline Woodson deliver the Keynote Address at last week’s Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. Rarely does onI had the pleasure of seeing Jacqueline Woodson deliver the Keynote Address at last week’s Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. Rarely does one come across a speech that inspires, humbles, makes one laugh and cry, and ends all too soon. Ms. Woodson’s talk did just that. She enchanted the room with her warmth, humor, and intelligence, and when she concluded, the crowd of hundreds gave her a standing ovation.
I read Woodson’s memoir BROWN GIRL DREAMING on the train home. I could hear her voice in my ear, telling me in verse who she was from the roots up, creating such vivid pictures with her words that I could have been watching a film. From Ohio in the sixties to the Jim Crow south, to New York in the seventies, each time and place are encapsulated vividly in the references to songs, shows, dress, and food, and provide the context for a girl learning who she is from the adults around her. The memoir has won the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, and the Coretta Scott King Award, and all are well deserved.
In Ms. Woodson’s speech, she said, “Going deeply into the emotional truth of the work makes the specific universal.” Because BROWN GIRL DREAMING does just this, it is every child’s story, coming of age in complicated families and cities. It is the kind of book everyone in this country should read right now, because it makes us aware of our shared humanity, and our obligation to give our children a better world than the one in which we currently exist. I give BROWN GIRL DREAMING my highest recommendation....more
O'Connor's reflections on the duty of the writer (in particularly the Catholic writer) are fascinating and thought-provoking. She also brought up theO'Connor's reflections on the duty of the writer (in particularly the Catholic writer) are fascinating and thought-provoking. She also brought up the challenges facing the writer of a given faith in a secular society where relativism is the god. There was much I intuited before reading this, but she named it for me. ...more
If I hadn’t loved McLain’s THE PARIS WIFE, I still would have picked up CIRCLING THE SUN based on the cover alone: so warm it glows with the heat of tIf I hadn’t loved McLain’s THE PARIS WIFE, I still would have picked up CIRCLING THE SUN based on the cover alone: so warm it glows with the heat of the African sun, moody with the distant silhouette of the acacia tree, and the brooding woman with bobbed hair wearing slacks and riding boots when women didn’t typically wear slacks. The cover could enfold a Hemingway story–something Kilamanjaro-esque–and my high expectations were met in every way.
Set in Kenya in the 1920s, CIRCLING THE SUN represents the best in historical fiction. It tells the tale of a little known corner of history in beautiful, vivid prose that not only enlivens the period, but will send the reader searching for more information on the people and places depicted in its pages.
Like Hadley Hemingway in THE PARIS WIFE, the protagonist of CIRCLING THE SUN, Beryl Markham, is a complicated woman. Unlike Hadley, however, Beryl takes bold charge of her own destiny. Her decisions are sometimes selfish, often honorable, and occasionally deplorable, but Beryl’s strength of spirit, honesty, and courage redeem her.
Fans of period fiction, family drama, and tragic love stories will be mesmerized by CIRCLING THE SUN. I give it my highest recommendation....more
I met Robert Wheeler at New Hampshire’s River Run Bookstore where he attended a book talk for my novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. He and his wife, Katherine,I met Robert Wheeler at New Hampshire’s River Run Bookstore where he attended a book talk for my novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. He and his wife, Katherine, warmly welcomed me to the city, and we spent the evening discussing our mutual appreciation for the work of Ernest Hemingway. It was during dinner that Robert revealed a series of stunning black and white photographs he had taken in Paris from “Hemingway’s perspective.” As he passed the pictures to me and described–with great passion and exuberance–the meaning of the photos and their connections to Hemingway’s work, I was overcome by his unique exploration in understanding Hemingway.
It gives me tremendous joy these years later to hold HEMINGWAY’S PARIS, a photo journal of Wheeler’s images and reflections on the famous writer and his beloved city. As clean as the prose of Hemingway himself, the nearly one hundred photographs progress like the sketches of Hemingway’s A MOVEABLE FEAST. HEMINGWAY’S PARIS has inspired me to reread the classic, and has deepened my desire to visit Paris.
Whether you are a lover of Hemingway, Paris, photography, or art, you will find great inspiration on the pages of HEMINGWAY’S PARIS. It would make an excellent gift, display book, or artistic companion, and I will be sure to pack it on my first trip to Paris so I might walk the routes of Ernest Hemingway. ...more
Full disclosure: I first bought VANESSA AND HER SISTER for my ereader, but after forty pages, I was confused by the characters and their nicknames, anFull disclosure: I first bought VANESSA AND HER SISTER for my ereader, but after forty pages, I was confused by the characters and their nicknames, and could not sink into the very specific rhythm of the story that I sensed was there. Books have a funny way of whispering in my ear, however, so after a few weeks, I purchased the hardcover. Within ten pages I was spellbound by the gorgeous prose, the unique structure, and the very real women and men peopling the story.
Assembled as a series of letters, diary entries, and telegrams, Parmar's writing is literary, witty, visceral, and captivating. I struggled to find just the right quote to include in this post because I underlined, starred, and dogeared at least a third of the book. (Another plug for paper: one cannot vandalize an ebook in such a satisfying way!) Whether one pauses in a sitting to savor the language, or grows full from devouring large portions of text, either case will leave the reader satisfied and eager for more.
If you do not know anything about Virginia Woolf's family (as I did not), do not seek out information. Allow this book to begin your education on the fascinating Stephens siblings; allow it to surprise, thrill, anger, and move you as the novel unfolds. If you do have knowledge of the family and the artists of the Bloomsbury Group, enter their space as you never have before to gain new understanding of their movement.
At one point in VANESSA AND HER SISTER, a character says this about art: "Yes, the public are disconcerted, but that is how art must happen. It cannot be a comfortable, smooth transition from one aesthetic to another. It must bump and jostle and disrupt and shake the ground until the ground gives way...The old does not politely move over to make way for the new; it must be roughly shouldered aside." Priya Parmar does just this through her experimental style. She disrupts the common form of the novel and presents us with a telling of such intimacy and immediacy, it is as if the characters are whispering in our ears, conspiring with us. I did not want this book to end, and when it did, I went back to the beginning and started re-reading it. I will keep VANESSA AND HER SISTER close at hand, revisiting the story often for enjoyment and for craft study.
I shudder to think that format almost kept me from enjoying one of my new, all-time favorite novels. If you are a fan of historical fiction, of literary fiction, or of being moved by spectacular writing, I highly recommend VANESSA AND HER SISTER.
**(I do love my ereader; don't see this as an indictment of the format. It is just that some books are meant to be read on paper, and this is one of them.)** ...more
With her meticulous attention to historical detail and powerfully entertaining storytelling skills, Allison Pataki is a force in historical fiction. SWith her meticulous attention to historical detail and powerfully entertaining storytelling skills, Allison Pataki is a force in historical fiction. Set amid the grand landscapes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the wilds of the human heart, THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS is an epic tale of honor, power, and love. Breathtaking!” ...more