I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan

Title - I Almost Forgot About You
I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan (Crown)

This was my first time reading Terry McMillan, and I so wanted to enjoy Georgia and her motley assortment of zany daughters, parents, neighbors, best friends, co-workers, and former lovers. Alas, it was not to be. Disappointingly, many of Mcmillan’s innumerable characters were never fully realized enough for me to get a grip on who they were and what they wanted.

The premise of I Almost Forgot About You is appealing and relatable, just never satisfyingly executed. Georgia, an established optometrist and twice divorced mother of two adult daughters, hears about the death of a former flame with whom she’s never shared her true feelings. She loved him but never told him. Learning of this death prompts her to take stock of her life and happiness, and leads to a slew of introspection and plans for self-reinvention. These include selling her share in the optometry practice, taking a big trip, selling her house, moving, and reaching out to former lovers and sharing the impact they had on her life (while hopefully receiving the same feedback from them).

There are places where Macmillan’s settings and characters are infused with an engaging warmth and humor that had me eager to hear more about Georgia’s exploits and adventures; but the plot never gelled into a consistent story, and the details of her friendships, relationships, and goals were oddly contradictory. I’d read the valid reasons of why  a former relationship didn’t work out (drugs, lying, no job, no common interests other than sex), and later on that same relationship would be defined as one where she was afraid of losing herself in a love that was too deep for her to handle. Huh? Also, her friends. Attending the same college wasn’t enough to explain the bafflingly close relationship she purportedly had with Violet (selfish, shady, with questionable morals & ethics), and Wanda’s cure-all advice seemed to be for Georgia to just get laid. Apparently it (SEX!), is the answer to all life’s problems. The conversations throughout the novel were stilted, and the long blocks of dialogue without a hint of notation of who was speaking pulled me out of the story. Don’t even get me started on the insta-love that pops up in the last pages of the novel.

Continue Reading

Out Of Twenty: Elena Mauli Shapiro, Author of In The Red, Answers Seven Questions

Elena Mauli Shapiro

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Elena Mauli Shapiro is the author of  In The Red. Here is what Elena had to say about reading, writing, and her obsession with memory.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

Hello.  My name is Elena and I am a novelist.  Sometimes I write short stories, but they either turn into novels or are eaten by a novel which then incorporates pieces of the story within itself.  Basically, everything my brain does is in the service of eventually producing a novel.  It’s a chronic condition.  I have been writing stories as long as I remember.  It just took a long time before I got good enough that somebody decided to pay me.

I’ve published two novels so far.  The first, 13 rue Thérèse, is sort of a historical romance set in 1928 Paris.  The second, In the Red, is a brooding Eastern European gangster thing.  I am sometimes told that my stories are different enough that they feel as if they have been written by separate people.  While I really enjoy expanding my range as a storyteller, I can tell you that every book I write will always feature sex in some form, and that my texts will always be obsessed with memory—be it the workings of individual memory or collective memory in the forms of history and myth.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you throughout the writing process?

I have been really into cake lately.  I love how combining four cheap, pedestrian ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, eggs) in the right way can make magic in your mouth.  It’s a miracle!  It’s a little bit like writing a book in that it involves careful layering of ingredients to produce a satisfying whole, but it’s way more awesome than a book in that, with cake, you can have yumminess within a couple of hours.  Since it often takes years for a book to take shape, it’s psychologically helpful to produce something delicious in a manageable amount of time!  I just made a Crème de Cassis cake when a friend came to visit yesterday.  Basically, find a good basic white cake recipe and add some tasty booze to the batter and you can’t go wrong.  A cake that will make you cry it is so good is this Baileys Irish Cream cake.  Strap in for some awesome.

Continue Reading

Out of Twenty: Brian Payton, The Author of The Wind Is Not A River, Answers Seven Questions

Brian Payton

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Brian Payton is the author of  The Wind Is Not  River. Here is what Brian had to say about reading, writing, and the relevance of historical fiction.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I’m a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. My latest book, The Wind Is Not A River, is both a survival story and a love story set in the wilderness of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands leading up to the only battle of WWII fought on American soil. My previous books, The Ice Passage and Shadow of the Bear: Travels in Vanishing Wilderness are narrative nonfiction books dealing with history and conservation respectively. My first novel, drawn from events in my own life, was Hail Mary Corner. I live in Vancouver with my wife and our two daughters. I’ve been writing since my late teens.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you through the writing process?

I am resolutely non-superstitious so I have no writing rituals. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I approach it much the same way: I treat it not like “a job” but as a vocation and a call to action. With fiction, once I have an idea, I chain my ass to a chair for a few weeks to see if a character and story begin to show signs of life. I do not wait for the muse; I follow my interests and get to work.

Write the question you would most like to be asked and answer it.

Your latest book is historical fiction. What makes this story relevant today?

Great survival stories can tell us something elemental about what it means to be alive. This story is primarily a story of survival and devotion set against a history that has been lost in the popular culture—a history I hope to help reclaim. Great love stories can tell us something about the human experience, what it means to live with, without, and for one another… who we are in the presence or absence of love.

With this book, my goal is to transport readers to a stark, beautiful, and unforgiving landscape, then challenge them to ask themselves: How far would you go in search of the truth, or to honor a lost loved one? What are we willing to do to survive, or risk for the sake of love?

Continue Reading

A Walk Among Tombstones by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block - A Walk Tombstones

Sometimes it takes a book being turned into a movie to spur me into reading a writer’s work, or in this case, get back to it. With A Walk Among Tombstones, Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens are providing the impetus to return to the writing of Lawrence Block in anticipation of seeing the movie. I was introduced to Block back in 2011, when I read his most recent entry in the Matthew Scudder series entitled A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I loved the hard-boiled feel of the book and the intricacy of the detective work as that novel examined an early case in Scudder’s career. However, I didn’t get a sense of Scudder’s history. It also seemed that he spent an inordinate amount of time attending AA meetings and contemplating his life and sobriety. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by his character and had always planned to the earlier books.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff  follows Scudder as he’s first embracing his sobriety and AA. I remember wondering whether he would be less intense, even happier as he became more comfortable in his new life. Reading this novel both confirmed and disproved my thoughts on Scudder. Walk Among Tombstones begins with Scudder narrating the last hours in the life of Francine Koury, the wife of a modest heroin distributor. In the midst of buying groceries, she is abducted by two men who escort her into the back of a blue van and drive off with her. Scudder juxtaposes her movements and abduction against his own; he spends time with his girlfriend and contemplates a trip to Ireland to visit a wayward friend who is having problems returning to the country. His plans change when he receives a call from Kenan Koury and his brother Peter (whom Scudder knows from AA meetings) for help dealing with Francine’s abductors.

While Scudder had no love for drug dealers, neither does he have any qualms about tracking and handing over a pair of ruthless kidnappers to vigilante justice. And so the tale begins. A Walk Among Tombstones is a dark, gritty novel exploring a brutal and senseless crime, but I enjoyed reading it for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the character development and the portrayal of the interpersonal relationships- they strengthen what could easily have been a plot driven novel. While the number of AA meeting he attends hasn’t changed, Scudder is at a different place in his life, more balanced as he develops his relationship with Elaine, whose straightforward support and street smarts make her an engaging lover and confidante. He also deepens his relationship with TJ, a street kid with the smarts and connection to help Scudder track down the bad guys, while developing a firm rapport with Peter and Kenan.

Continue Reading

E.B. Moore, Author of An Unseemly Wife, Answers Ten Questions

An Unseemly Wife by E.B. Moore

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. E.B. Moore is the author of  An Unseemly Wife. Here is what E.B. had to say about reading, writing, and how family stories inspired her writing.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I came to writing by accident.  After college and art school, I worked as a sculptor hammering and welding large bronze sheets, but the body can only put up with so much, before it gives out.  Mine did, and returning to college, (at the same time as my youngest daughter), I stumbled into another creative outlet— poetry, always with narrative, mostly with a farm theme mirroring how I grew up.

Finishing Line Press published my twenty-six page chapbook, New Eden, A Legacy, the chronicle of my Amish great grandmother’s catastrophic trek west in a covered wagon. Readers wanted more of “Ruth’s” story, and much to my horror, a novel seemed the only answer. After years more sweat and schooling at Grub Street Writers, I finished An Unseemly Wife.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Stoking the furnace is an important part of writing.  You’ve got to eat.  The biggest problem is limiting the time spent surfing the frig.  I’ve been known to rationalize eating as research.  Pickled pigs’ feet appear in my book, so to get the exact flavor and the feel of its gelatinous substrate housing the meat, I needed a sample.  Hard to find unless you’re in Amish country. I went to Lancaster PA, and more appealing things beckoned: sour cherry pie, pecan, shoofly, custard, whoopee pies, not a pie at all.

Reading is actually more useful, serving as inspiration when I get bogged down.  I keep special books on a handy shelf so I can read snippets.  Sometimes just a paragraph or two is enough.  These are at the top of my pile: March, by Geraldine Brooks, Grapes of Wrath, Lord of the Flies.

My day starts early.  4:00am is the sweet spot; I’m sharpest then, and it limits interruptions.  The only problem:  when my friends go out to dinner, I’m ready for bed.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

When I was a kid, my mother told me her family’s story often.  One was how Aaron bundled his pregnant wife Ruth and their four littles into a covered wagon, and against their Amish faith, joined the dreaded English heading for free land in Idaho. On the trek, they faced Indian attacks, pestilence, and prejudice leading to betrayal, and they were left alone on the trailside fighting for their lives.

Mother wanted to write this story, but a brain tumor took her memory before she wrote more than a cryptic list of incidents.  Living with me after her operation, she’d ask over and over to hear about Ruth.  My kids would cover their ears and run from the room. “No, no, not the wagon of death again.”

In the end, the characters nattered at me until I wrote them down. And yes, my life has changed.  I’m now a slave to new characters who intrude whenever it suits them.

Continue Reading

Out of Twenty: Martha Woodroof, Author of Small Blessings, Answers 6 Questions

Martha Woodroof

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Martha Woodroof is the author of  Small Blessings. Here is what Martha had to say about reading, writing, and making a bucket list helped her publish her novel.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I got my first rejection letter at the age of twelve from the poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly. As it was a personal letter asking me to send in more stuff, I took that as encouragement. I’m both a college dropout (Mount Holyoke) and a grad school dropout (the University of Virginia). My first real job was as a teacher’s aide in a pilot Head Start program in Greensboro, North Carolina. Since the turn of the century, I’ve been attached to WMRA, the Little Public Radio Station that Can, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and actively freelanced for the NPR Culture Desk and for npr.org.

Before that – among a lot of other things, I co-owned restaurants, did a bit of acting, was fired as a magazine editor, hosted local TV talk shows and anchored the news, wrote a book called How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to a Real Life and a Pretty Good Time, cooked for an artist’s colony, was a country music disc jockey and a psychiatric occupational therapy aide, taught preschool, published a bunch of essays, was a morning drive-time personality on a tiny AM radio station, ran a college bookstore coffee shop, directed a college’s co-curricular programming, and failed to sell cars.

I finished an early draft of Small Blessings a couple of years ago and then put it away to work on some radio and non-fiction projects.
I’ve never been all that frightened of failing (which is lucky, as I have failed a lot). It seems to me we are each responsible for living our own lives kindly, productively and well; figuring out what we need and want to do with our time and our talents, and then going after those things full-tilt. With this in mind, when I hit my early sixties, I made a bucket list. As I’ve done (and failed to do) a lot of very different things, my bucket list had one item on it: Publish Small Blessings! I’d recently reread the novel, re-fallen in love with its people, and the one thing I really wanted was to land them a better gig than life in a cardboard box in my home office.

How Small Blessings came to St. Martin’s is a long, funny story involving some more major non-shyness on my part and (as any first novelist will tell you) a giant helping hand from the serendipity gods. One auction later, Small Blessings and I had fetched up at St. Martin’s, which is publishing heaven as far as I’m concerned.

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof - JacketAs to the stories I want to tell: I want to explore the lives of ordinary people who have ordinary problems and somehow things happen that bring out the best in them. I am, and have always been, an optimist!

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you through the writing process?

My process is not very mysterious; it’s what I think of as the Just Do It school of writing. I get up every morning and write for a couple of hours before I do anything other than give my email a cursory look. As soon as I start to interact with the outside world, the inside of my head turns a pinball machine and I lose my ability to hang out in my imaginary worlds.

As to rituals and food: Coffee. Brought to me in continuous supply by my husband, Charlie, who is bucking for sainthood.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Q: Is writing fiction fun?
A: Yes!

Continue Reading

Weekend E-Reading: Americanah & The Vacationers

office-272813_1280

While I am a big fan of reading books and turning pages, I read in fits and starts on my Nook and tablet. Books act as great physical reminders to me of their actual existence. I find that I forget about the books that I have downloaded. This weekend is all about making an active push to take a look at what I have going there and to finish some of the books I forgot I had.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I last mentioned Americanah back in April, when I anticipated reading it in order to attend a friend’s book club. Plans were changed but it is showing up in the book club docket again. That must say something about its effectiveness as a book club pick. Adiche’s writing is gorgeous, and at 74 pages in, her observations of Nigerian and American culture are astute, thought-provoking and sometimes humorous. Ifemelu and Obinze are characters with intriguing depth and complex lives. I’m convinced our discussion will be a lively one.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub: Summer was officially over at the midpoint of The Vacationers by Emma Straubthe week, but I don’t have to let it go completely. The beautiful weekend weather and Straub’s tale of family drama coming to a boil while on vacation in lovely Mallorca, will help me pretend for a little while longer. This one landed on my list after hearing so much about Straub’s debut novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures (which I have yet to read). Also, nothing screams summer or beach read like the cover of this novel. I look at it and am immediately transported to warm weather relaxation.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator) Audiobook Review

 

Continue Reading

Out of Twenty: Thrity Umrigar, Author of The Story Hour, Answers 12 Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own Thrity Umrigarinterview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Thrity Umrigar is the author of  The Story Hour.  Here is what Thrity had to say about reading, writing, and whether talking solves problems.

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

Honestly, it’s been the kindness of readers.  People who make the time to come to my readings.  Or write to me on my fan page on Facebook.  Or write me long, detailed emails that sometimes break my heart but always remind me that words matter, that literature matters.  That there is a good reason to spend months at a time lost in writing a book, neglecting friends, family, house, pets.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

Honestly, I have loved writing all my characters.  Each one is different, each one carries his or her own history, and I’m intrigued by them all.  I love trying to figure out why they behave the way they do, what in their past tugs at their present.  I have to confess that Lakshmi was probably the most challenging one to write because of her ungrammatical, idiosyncratic English and the way she would turn a phrase.  In many ways, Lakshmi was a stranger to me—she grew up in the Indian countryside, she was the daughter of peasants, she had an eighth-grade education.  She had very little in common with me.  And she insisted in speaking in this very non-standard English.  So I had to get to know her in the course of writing this novel.

Continue Reading

Tatiana de Rosnay, Mhairi McFarlane, Emma Healey| Reading Roundup

The Other Story - Looking At You - Elizabeth Missing

The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay: I’ve been trying to read a novel by de Rosnay since the success of Sarah’s Key (I still haven’t read it). The premise of this novel appealed to me more than the execution, and I think that’s mostly a result of the jacket copy promising “a journey to uncover the truth that took him from the Basque coast to St. Petersburg”. They get to that journey, but not very quickly. The novel begins in the aftermath of Nick’s success as a writer, as he is struggling to begin the process of writing his second novel. Nick, in the aftermath of his fame and fortune, exhibits a complete lack of charm or appreciation for life that makes him  insufferable. I’m usually okay with characters I don’t like, but even Rosnay’s beautiful writing couldn’t make Nick more palatable or interesting.

Here’s Looking at You by Mhairi McFarland: Loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, this novel was funny and engaging at times but stylistically was not my cup of tea. There was a lot of dialogue in this book–pages and pages of it. I don’t love that, but I did enjoy the interactions between the main characters. I suspect I would have liked this a lot more had it been shorter.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey: I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did. However,  I was completely absorbed in Maude’s struggles with her deteriorating mental state, her race against time and her own memory to solve  the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth, and another mysterious disappearance from her past. Healey’s skillful depiction of elderly Maude’s limitations and confused musings set a deliberately slow and thorough pace for the reader. While some may find it frustrating to be lost in the myopia of Maude’s mind, I reveled in the depth of perspective Healey provides a character with Alzheimer’s. I loved the atmosphere of the novel and its engaging depiction of present and World War II Britain.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator) Audiobook Review

Continue Reading

Literary Movie News: Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper in the Movie Adaptation of Ron Rash’s Serena

Serena by Ron Rash


Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are reuniting to star in Ron Rash’s Serena, and the only thing I am worried about is that I haven’t read the book yet. The trailer makes it look all kinds of angsty and dramatic, it’s also period piece to boost, ya’ll. The goal will be to read it before I see the movie, and my motivation to do this is doubled by the fact that I’ve read some of  Nothing Gold Can StayRash’s powerful and moving collection of short stories.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

Continue Reading