Faith & Fiction Roundtable: What Good is God, by Philip Yancey

I read What Good is God for a discussion with the Faith and Fiction Roundtable, though this work is non-fiction. This was my first experience reading this type of book, organized as a series of background articles on different issues like the shootings at Virginia Tech, missionaries in China, and the harrowing results of prostitution. Each article was followed by prepared remarks delivered by Yancy in front of an affected community. I loved the background Yancy provided, but I wasn’t all that impressed with his remarks. I was disappointed to find that they were mostly a collection of older speeches, and I didn’t think they sufficiently addressed the question that he sought to answer. After reading the first four sections fully, I skipped around more and read what interested me and kept my attention.

One of the arguments that I was taken with was included with the section on missionaries and the growing number of ministries that are popping up in China and the growing conversion rate of the Chinese. Through anecdotal evidence, Yancy seems comfortable implying that Christianity causes people to be better people – citing lower crime rates and greater responsibility in areas that have embraced the religion. I read the rest of that section with raised eyebrows. Having been raised in a Protestant religion, my main issues are usually not with the idea of faith, but with it (mis) application in terms of structure, indoctrination,  evangelism, and inflexibility. I think that people can be and do good without religion as well as be led astray within it. Yancy’s remarks prompted a long discussion with my mother on morality and values. For me, values can be apart of morality but they can also stand on their own in guiding behavior. My mother and I both agree that I got the values, but most of the religious indoctrination and ideas on morality, didn’t seem to stick.

When I think terms of fiction, the books where I have had the strongest negative reactions were morality tales, where the main point was to espouse one idea on and way of achieving goodness, or peace of mind, or whatever there is to be gained for doing the right thing. There are many reasons that people and communities exhibit certain traits and behaviors. No doubt, religious beliefs or lack thereof are a factor in that behavior, but to credit it entirely seems a little self-serving whether in religious texts or in the novels that I read.

For more discussions on What Good is God from the Faith and Fiction Roundtable, check out:

Semicolon | My Friend Amy | Book Addiction | Books and Movies | My Random Thoughts | Book Journey | The 3R’s Blog | Tina’s Book Reviews | Word Lily

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty: Brunonia Barry, Author of The Map of True Places, Answers Sixteen Questions

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Out of Twenty: Brunonia Barry, Author of The Map of True Places, Answers Sixteen Questions

In the Linus’s Blanket version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose which questions and how many questions they want to answer. Brunonia Barry, who wrote the novel The Map of True Places, played along and answered sixteen questions.  Here is what Brunonia had to say about reading, writing and asking the big questions.

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?

Though I’ve never wanted to do anything else, my path to full time writing has been a circuitous one. I started out in PR and marketing, with a stint in Hollywood, an optioned screenplay that was never produced, and a job as a script reader. After moving back to Salem, MA, and seeing it with new eyes, I decided to write a novel about it, a contemporary story with imbedded history. The Lace Reader took me seven years to write and was initially published by a small press started by my husband and myself. It received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was purchased rather quickly by William Morrow then later published in 30 languages. My second book, The Map of True Places, just came out in paperback. Both are stories about contemporary Salem, and both have imbedded (though very different) histories. I feel compelled to write about psychological and philosophical issues, in particular the distinction between perception and reality. I want to ask difficult questions that get people talking about the things we usually don’t discuss openly: mental illness, isolation, transcendence. My latest novel is about finding our way home when all the life maps we’ve been given fail. How do we create new maps for ourselves in a rapidly changing world?

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?

I truly believe that a writer’s job is to ask the big questions. Though our characters must arc and our plots resolve, I don’t think that we should necessarily answer those questions. Toward that end, I keep the following quote from Rainer Maria Rilke posted on my bulletin board where I can see it every morning before I start writing:

Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

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?

The world is changing so quickly. The maps we follow for our individual lives have always been subject to unexpected twists of fate, but lately our modern world has shifted in ways we never expected: economic collapse, global terrorism, environmental disasters. The recent earthquake in Japan literally rocked the world on its axis.

So how do we navigate our lives when our old maps have become obsolete? The answer, I think, lies in finding our own true places: safe havens that are homes to us. Sometimes these places are real. Sometimes they exist only in memory and imagination. Almost always, they are connected to people we love.

Writing the book definitely changed my perception of how I define home and family. By writing the story, I was able to discover the true places in my own life.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

Right now, I am reading The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paulo Giordano. I love contemporary American writers, but I’m trying to expand my horizons to include more international titles. I’m also a big fan of the classics, particularly the American Dark Romantic writers. And then there’s James Joyce. When I was twenty, I moved to Dublin for a year to study Ulysses. I was obsessed.

I think my writing has made me more aware of technique. I love to see how other writers handle dialogue and structure.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?

I do read when I’m writing, but my reading is often part of my research. For my latest book, I reread Hawthorne, particularly The House of the Seven Gables which is where my story was set. I reread Moby Dick as well. I also read biographies of Hawthorne and Melville, and several volumes of Yeats’ poetry. Salem’s navigational history plays a big part in the story, so I read everything I could find on that as well as several ships’ journals. Two books on celestial navigation helped me to define my novel’s image system. I read several medical journals and every book I could find on bipolar disorder.

I am a member of a book club that meets monthly, so I read their selections as well. I am also sent many books to blurb, which I love to do. I read as many of those as time allows.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

Maureen, the mother in my latest novel, was a tragic figure, a writer who committed suicide when her daughter was thirteen. She both read and wrote fairy tales about “the great love,” but the stories she wrote were decidedly more Brothers Grimm than Hans Christian Anderson or Disney. She was also very fond of Yeats. His poetry spoke to her soul.

As a psychologist, my protagonist, Zee, read a great deal of Jung. She would have read all the classics because her father, Finch, was a professor. One book she read many times was Jane Eyre, because Mr. Rochester’s first wife reminded her a bit of her mother, Maureen. She both loved and hated this book.

Finch, the father in the story is a Hawthorne scholar and teaches courses on America’s dark romantic writers. He would do well, I think, to read a bit of modern literature, though I doubt he would agree to such a thing.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

I usually do a bit of writing at 3AM, because I always seem to wake up then. For me, it’s a good time to create. For and hour or two, my mind is free of the chores and obligations of daily living. Then I go back to sleep. Sometimes what I have written makes sense the next morning, sometimes it is just a jumble of stream of conscious musings, but it is always useful on some level. I start my real writing day in the morning as soon as I get out of bed, and I do all my original drafting then, working within the structure of a chapter outline, but otherwise free to experiment. I don’t drink coffee while I’m creating original material, I find that caffeine sharpens my mind too much. I prefer a dreamlike state. In the afternoons, I edit. I do appreciate caffeine for that task. I write for a full day, then answer emails and try to catch up on my to do list. These days, I have a deadline, and I’m quite disciplined about it. Though it can be difficult to summon creativity at will, the idea that I am able to write for a living is the fulfillment of a long held dream.

If you could make everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

Ulysses
Moby Dick
The Great Gatsby
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Age of Innocence

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were you in choosing the name of the book?

I am always very involved in choosing the title. With The Lace Reader, I started out with the title and wrote the book from there. With The Map of True Places, I didn’t have the title until about half way through the first draft. I knew it was a story about finding your true place in the world, and that I wanted a title that was a quote from Hawthorne, Melville, or Yeats. I kept pouring over their quotes, but I wasn’t seeing what was right in front of me. One morning my husband woke up and showed me Melville’s quote from Moby Dick: “It is not down in any map, true places never are,” and wrote down the title on a piece of paper which he handed to me: The Map of True Places.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

I started out writing screenplays. As a result, I think my first novel was a bit dialogue heavy. That changed a bit with this new one. I find I’m much more comfortable with a longer form than with trying to adhere to a strict structure that dictates the number of pages you must write. I’m learning to love internal monologue. There’s definitely an evolution occurring. When I finish the next book, I may see it more clearly.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I read many books growing up, basically anything I could get my hands on. I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird under the covers by flashlight. That book changed me forever. The idea of using a child’s point of view to bring up such important issues was brilliant, I think.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time?

Only one. I do a bit of blogging, but even that pulls me out of the world of my story, which is where I like to live when I’m writing.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

I love Paul Harding’s writing. I adored Tinkers. I also like Andre Dubus. I think his latest book, Townie, is terrific. I like anything that Lisa Genova writes. I like Katherine Howe and Kathleen Kent, both of whom have also written about Salem. I also like Elyssa East. One of my favorite books of the year was Father of the Rain by Lily King. Julia Glass is a wonderful writer. I read everything of hers. There’s also a new book called The Night Circus (which I just blurbed) that comes out in September by a local writer named Erin Morgenstern. It’s already one of my all time favorites.

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

My favorite character in my latest book was nicknamed Melville, because he spent a great deal of his life at sea. He is Finch’s life partner and most likely caused the end of Finch’s marriage and maybe the death of his ex-wife as well, so he has a lot to live with, which makes him interesting to write. He has a number of conflicting emotions. Everyone in the novel has an ethical decision to make, and Melville’s is one of the most difficult. Even though I’ve finished the novel, Melville has stayed with me.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

Research plays a huge part in my writing. I tend to do the research first, reading and taking notes on everything I think I’ll need before I start to write. This generally takes a few months. Invariably, as the story reveals its layers, I have to do more research, which always lends some great texture to the novel.

What’s next?

I will be breaking away from Salem for my next novel, heading to Ireland, Italy, and New Orleans before returning to Boston. More than that I cannot say.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Uncoupling: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer   Book Review

About Brunonia: Born and raised in Massachusetts, Brunonia Barry studied literature and creative writing at Green Mountain college in Vermont and at the University of New Hampshire and was one of the founding members of the Portland Stage Company. While still an undergraduate at UNH, Barry spent a year living in Dublin and auditing Trinity College classes on James Joyce’s Ulysses. In recent years, she has written books for the Beacon Street Girls, a fictional series for ‘tweens. Happily married, Barry lives with her husband and her only child that just happens to be a 12-year-old Golden Retriever named Byzantium. The Lace Reader was her first original novel.

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Literary Feasts: Enclave, by Ann Aguirre/ Or Why There Are No Feasts In a Dystopian Society

Literary Feast Banquet Image @ Linus's Blanket

Food in books is not always plentiful or yummy, especially when you live in a dystopian society where the goal of food may be primarily for sustenance and nutrition, and not personal taste or pleasure. In Enclave by Ann Aguirre food is such a function of survival that it isn’t even named. It’s exactly what it is, meat. In the enclave where Deuce lives they basically have about three dishes. Portion size and and the order of eating among the community groups are used to distinguish rank and assign prestige. It’s one of the reasons Deuce is so psyched to be a huntress. I guess in that society, and with her choices, I would be too.

As I approached the kitchen area, the smoke stung my eyes. Copper was roasting something on a spit, and the grease hissed as it dropped into the fire. She got out the dagger and cut me a hunk of meat. It burned my fingers as I took it and gobbled it down. I’d never eaten breakfast first; only Hunters did that. Pride blazed in me.

Remember how I said they only had three dishes? This is one of them.

I opened my bag and pulled out a hunk of dried meat. We didn’t have a lot of variety even in the enclave: fresh meat, dried meat and mushrooms. Occasionally, someone found a tin and once we pried it open, the contents smelled fine and enticing, but that was the exception, not the rule.

That’s dried yak meat, by the way.

The enclave doesn’t seem to be a place that encourages pets. Look at what they do with “four-legged furry creatures.” My cats just got up and hid.

By comparison the rest of our patrol passed with relative ease. Half the traps yielded meat. A number of animals lived here with us; four-legged furry creatures we called food. I killed a wounded one, where the snare hadn’t broken its neck clean, and that bothered me more than killing the freak. I held its warm body in my hands and bowed my head over it. Wordless, Fade took it from me and dropped it in the sack with the others. We had brats to feed.

(Not pictured.)

So, I lied. There is indeed a fourth dish.

“Sounds good,” he said. “I’ll see what there is to eat.”

“Let me guess. Meat and mushrooms.”

“Might be fish.”

Yeah, they did cook fish every now and then to keep us from getting sick . The elders put a lot of thought into what we ate and how much. Without their careful planning our enclave would have died out long ago.


Every now and again they would all celebrate. Three of the four dishes were served and they could actually have more food if they wanted it. They know how to party.

“Let the celebration start.”

An answering roar went through the crowd. Pipes and drums echoed through the enclave. The torches smoked; people whirred and stomped while brats ran around underfoot. Roasting meat and mushrooms smelled unbelievably good, and there was fish too. For once, they didn’t limit us and I took seconds of each dish. Brats immediately snatched my plate, running off to lick it clean and then wash it up so someone else, someone less honored, could use it.

So my advice for a good meal…stay out of dystopian societies. The food is terrible.

There are more yummy posts about food, cookbooks, recipes and novels featuring food over at Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Check it out!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Atlas Shrugged Part 1   Movie Trailer

Photo Credits: Flickr: Meat- jigglemequick | Dried Meat – lastmodified | Fish – .mushi_king | Beef & Mushrooms – Ned Rag
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Out of Twenty: Deborah Bedford, Author of His Other Wife, Answers Thirteen Questions

In the Linus’s Blanket version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose which questions and how many questions they want to answer. It’s basically a choose your own interview type deal.  Deborah Bedford, author of His Other Wife, played along and answered thirteen questions.  Here is what Deborah had to say about reading, writing and snickerdoodles!

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? Hey, it’s great getting to be here and having the chance to meet your readers. Let’s see, in fifty words or less, who I am…I like living in the mountains and in a small town, where everyone DOES keep up with everyone elses’ business. We have a golden retriever who sleeps on the floor and a dachshund who sleeps between us in the bed. And I love baseball. As I’m writing this, it is April and still snowing, but we have robins hoping in the snow and calling for mates in the evening so, even though winter hangs on a long time here, I know that spring will eventually win! I’m a proud mom who is both amazed and nodding my head, «I told you so,» as I watch my kids literally exploring the world. My husband and I love the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. And I’m getting into nursing, recently returned from a medical mission to Papua New Guinea. Writing has always been my escape. I got in trouble in middle school for writing stories in class instead of listening to my teachers. I started out writing romances, then switched to mainstream novels, then moved along to the inspirational novels I write now.

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?

Ah, hot tea, any flavor of black tea with honey, sometimes with crème, sometimes straight up. Chocolate covered almonds, which I’ll put in a pile beside my notes and only let myself eat one every 50 words or so. There’s celery spread with low-fat peanut butter, dotted with dried cranberries. I light candles in my office. I love real living light. Walking by the Snake River with the dogs is always good. I’m addicted to tea, Constant Comment and Good Earth Decaf. I have two favorite cafes where I go to sit and watch people and listen to conversation. Jackson is a hard place to pick up good conversation, though, because most of them are tourists and they’re discussing travel plans. Instead of jotting down notes about what they’re saying, I end up giving advice. I love giving advice. Just ask my kids. I’ve been on a Snickerdoodle kick these last few months. I made these for our St. Patrick’s Day party and then sent a lovely box of them to my daughter in college. The recipe comes from the Real Simple website. These are so good!

What are you reading now?

Maeve Binchy, Minding Frankie

What are some of your favorite books and authors?

I love The Help. It brings back my own childhood. Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love is the book that made me understand the exquisite good that a Christian book could do for a reader. As far as authors go, I like Jodi Piccoult, Elizabeth Berg, Anita Schreve and Maeve Binchey.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?

I’m constantly reading when I’m working, but I have to be careful. If a voice is so strong or different that takes me away from the voice that’s trying to tell my own story, I’ll have to set the book aside. I’ll spend hours looking for the right thing. But I need to be reading. It’s one of my best inspirations.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

I don’t unless I absolutely have to. By the time each book is out, I honestly never want to see it again. During the past few years, I’ve had several re-releases, chances to revisit a book that’s already been released in the general market and edit it slightly so it fits into the inspirational genre. I won’t do this unless I have an editor who’s willing to collaborate with me and point out places that lend themselves to addition or editing. I know myself too well. I’ll start on page 1 and try to rewrite the whole thing. It’s this bizarre mixture of, ‘Oh, that’s kind of nice. Did I write that?’ to ‘Why did anyone ever let me do this? Why did I think I could write?’ So I’ve learned that it’s less painful just not to look.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

I honestly started writing when I was ten years old. I read Little Women, was sorry Jo didn’t end up with Laurie at the end, and started dreaming up ways I would have done it differently. I literally remember where I was sitting in the side yard when I finished the last page and laid it down in the grass and started thinking.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time?

Three. One that’s being edited, one that’s being created and one that’s percolating on the back burner. Sort of like you need three towels in your linen closet. One that you’ve just pitched in the laundry, one that you’re using and one that’s clean and ready to come off the shelf in an emergency.

How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

A good idea is one that keeps generating energy no matter how hard you try to stuff it back in the box. Plenty of possibilities can cross your mind, but the one that keeps presenting itself, the one that shows a new angle you haven’t thought of, the one that wakes you up at night with a question. That’s the next book.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

I’ve heard it said that there are more writers per capita in Jackson Hole than in New York City. So, yes, more than writers I admire, there are writers here who I love and hang out with. Tim Sandlin, author and screenwriter, is one of my best friends. Tina Welling, author of Crybaby Ranch, is an amazing writer.  Christian Burch, author of The Manny Files, is here. Alexandra Fuller Ross (we call her Bo) wrote Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight. Carolyn Lampman, another of my best friends, author of A Window In Time, Meadowlark and Murphy’s Rainbow, lives across the hill in Riverton. Jeremy Schmidt writes books as well poetic travel articles for National Geographic. Broughton Coburn is a mountain adventure writer. Ted Kerasote writes about his dog. We’re all lucky to have each other. It’s pretty cool.

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

I loved writing Jenny Blake who was the heroine of The Penny, one of the books I wrote with Joyce Meyer. She is a young girl who is being abused by her father and finding God at the same time. Jenny was innocent, pure and strong all at the same time. Her voice was Joyce’s girlhood voice, historical St. Louis, mixed with a little of my Southern drawl. Both Joyce and I loved Jenny.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

I start writing first then, whenever I run into something I don’t know enough about, I’ll plunge into research. That may not be the best use of time because sometimes I’ll have to backtrack and rewrite. Which is usually the thing that propels me forward. Then I’ll compose again until I’ve written myself into a corner again and I have to research again. So it happens in fits and starts.

What’s next?

I’m delivering my next manuscript to my editor in three weeks. It’s called Bittersweet. And that’s all I’ll say. Writing is like singing. Each scene is like a note you hang onto as long as you can, rounding the vowel, until you finish with a sharp, fast consonant.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Geraldine Brooks Calebs Crossing   Q&A + Galley Giveaway

About Deborah: Deborah Bedford is a career fiction writer who began her professional life as a journalist in a Colorado mountain town. Deborah and her husband, Jack, have two children and live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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The Bayou Trilogy – Under The Bright Lights, by Daniel Woodrell – Book Review

A few years ago now, I read and reviewed Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone and loved it for its grim, gritty reality and plucky teenage heroine, Ree Dolly. I can’t say that I was too surprised to see that the novel went on to become the basis of a successful and award-winning independent film of the same name, after all, the elements were firmly in place, and this wasn’t the first time that one of Woodrell’s novels had been made into film. His 1987 novel Woe to Live On became the Ang Lee directed film Ride with Devil. The Bayou Trilogy is Woodrell’s début release on Little, Brown’s new mystery/suspense/thriller imprint Mulholland Books. Woodrell’s trilogy of crime novels, Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do, chronicling the misadventures of Louisiana detective Renée Shade are collected into a single volume.

So far I have read the first book in the series, and of Woodrell’s writing career, Under The Bright Lights. While naturally a little less polished than his later novels, Woodrell proves to have already been a talented writer, capable of submerging readers into an alternate world where the deeds of the police and politicians are as nefarious as those of the criminals. Woodrell does such a good job of ensconcing the reader into that world that it was really like being in an unfamiliar place, and I found it pretty uncomfortable at the start.

The language was different,  tougher, and sometimes hard to decode. I had no idea what people were talking about and what was going on. They lived by rules with which I could barely grasp, and the morass of cultures and racial tension in the close neighborhoods of St. Bruno, Louisiana made it a scary place to contemplate. When a black businessman is killed Detective Rene Shade is ordered to find that it is the result of a burglary/homicide, rather than chance racial unrest in the city, but even Shade’s own ambiguous sense of morality won’t let him do anything less than solve the case.

Shade’s ability to perform his duties are helped and hindered by a sketchy cast of characters including a boss answering to politicians who really don’t want the case solved,  an abrasive and morally questionable partner, and equally shifty brothers, one a lawyer concerned with his own political career, and the other the owner of the local watering hole. Woodrell covers a multitude of perspectives, alternating between the investigation into various murder and mayhem breaking out all over the city, and the different criminals groups involved in perpetrating the crimes. While the point is for Shade to solve his case, the novel is just as much a sociological study of both the investigators and crime perpetrators – where they come from, how they live and their motivations. Most times, and as a complicating factor, Shade is dealing with people who he has known a long time just from growing up in the neighborhood. The relationships are complex because of the shared history in St. Bruno.

Under The Bright Lights is ultimately a complex and intriguing read, with thoroughly absorbing characters. This is by far the most hard-core crime novel that I have read, and I would recommend it to those who normally enjoy intense and immersive crime fiction. I will be following along to see what Shade get up to next, but not without a little breaks for some lighter fare. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: book’d out | Bookgasm

Other Links of Interest: Part I and Part II (interview with Daniel Woodrell on Shade) | First Chapter – Under the Bright Lights

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Galore: A Novel, by Michael Crummey   Book Review

Review Copy.

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Galore: A Novel, by Michael Crummey – Book Review

I first heard about Michael Crummey’s Galore last December when Other Press hosted a happy hour for bloggers and publishing industry professionals showcasing their current and upcoming catalog.  The folks there were very excited about Galore and I was very intrigued by the premise, a man being cut from the belly of a whale and his life impacting the inhabitants of a tiny fishing village in Newfoundland. The idea for BOOK CLUB had already been gathering steam in my head and after I roped Jen into the project we, as big fans of re-tellings of classic works, folktales and myth, chose Galore as one of the titles for BOOK CLUB.

As excited as I was to read Galore, I was nervous reading the first few pages, solely due to my own reading biases. Judah, formerly of the whale’s belly reeked of rotten fish, as in:

“An astonishing stink of dead fish rose from the man’s skin like smoke off a green fire, insinuating itself in every nook. Even with the windows left open to the freezing cold the smell kept the household awake.”

I have my quirks about things I will watch and read, dark places with ragged and stinky people and humanoid creatures are hard on me for some reason, and hard for me to ignore. I think that’s why I don’t read much medieval fiction. Anyway, Judah’s stench, apparently, does not go away (eww!), but  I was so involved in the excellent writing and complex, well-drawn characters that I got over Judah’s funk, and only occasionally wondered why they didn’t make him bathe in tomato juice.

More than anything Galore is a big story about families and family.  It’s the saga of the Devines and the Sellers, with their intricately intertwined histories, living in the adjacent towns of Paradise Deep and Gut. They hurt each other, curse each other, they feud and make tentative bargains with one another, and they love each other. For a book that only vaguely has a plot, I found Galore riveting. As I sat and read it, I felt as if I were in the town and running around with these people – suffering with them in their lean times and hardships, and thrilled when they build up in time of prosperity. Crummey has a wonderful way of imbuing the narrative with mystery when he introduces nameless characters to the reader. Characters whom you have met before, and think you know what’s going on with them, are introduced under a different guise and the story you thought you knew becomes something different and startlingly clear.

The plot is slow moving and broad, it’s mainly about…life, so this might not work for readers looking for more action based reading. If you love sweeping novels, spanning several years with characterizations not only deep, but fascinating, then I think you will very much enjoy Galore. Highly Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Devourer of Books | Picky Girl | House of the Seven Tails

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Impatient With Desire: A Novel, by Gabrielle Burton   Book Review

Review Copy.

For more on Galore, by Michael Crummey check out the discussion going on at Devourer of Books for  BOOK CLUB.

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Impatient With Desire: A Novel, by Gabrielle Burton – Book Review

Impatient With Desire: A Novel (subtitled The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner) by Gabrielle Burton is a historical fiction novel that recreates the story of the final days of the infamous Donner party (known chiefly for cannibalism after a failed attempt in 1847 to go west to California by wagon train) through the diary entries, lists, and remembrances of Tamsen Donner, the doomed wife of the elected party leader, George Donner.

For the most part, The Donner Party has been a footnote in the history that I grew up learning, tittered at because of the ignominious destiny befalling the would be pioneers. Human cannibalism has a way of stopping deep speculation into its mystique, preventing us from looking beyond the taboo nature of the act to the desperate circumstances that drive the ultimate final step of consuming the corpse of another human being.

Burton chose to present the story in non-linear fashion, begginning as the party is already stranded in the mountains and fearful of their fate. This was jarring for me initially, and it was hard to get past the jumpiness of the narrative which boasted a large cast of characters, similar names (a fair amount of those making the journey were related) lists accounting for the dead and seemingly nonsensical fragments of diaries, remembrances and unfinished letters.

I had to go back a lot to see who was being discussed at any given time. I wondered if it was an effective approach to take based on the confusion it caused, but as the story progresses and the lay of the land is established, it became easier to read. I appreciate really getting a sense of what Tamsen’s life was like, and how the new horrors and difficulties of her journey sparked memories of either better times or the precipitating incident which forced particular choices among the group. Impatient With Desire chiefly examines the way people come together and come apart in extreme situations. Handmaiden to death and despair were festering resentment, misplaced opportunity, selfishness, greed but also love, steadfastness and loyalty. I was touched by the decisions and sacrifices that some made for others, the efforts to sustain civilized ways in brutal surroundings and how mothers aimed to protect and then choose among their children for survival.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/NicoleBo/status/52036498958200832″]

Burton has done painstaking research into Tamsen and the Donner party and even though Tamsen’s diary was never found, Burton does an excellent job of amalgamating the available records and facts into an extremely plausible construction of Tamsen’s last few month with her family. There isn’t one thing that failed and put them all in the situation that they found themselves in, but many things – trusting the wrong information, choosing to travel with the elderly and many small children (slowed them down considerable), and attempting a trail that had yet to be fully vetted were carefully considered amongst the group. What they chose proved to be unlucky. Tamsen’ journal as presented by Burton wove these elements into a compelling novel. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At – Booking Mama | Caribou’s Mom |Books and Movies

Other Interesting Links – Gabrielle Burton on Book Club Exchange | Tamsen Donner Reincarnated?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Restorer, by Amanda Stevens   Book Trailer

Review Copy.

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The Restorer, by Amanda Stevens – Book Trailer

I have written before about not liking to watch book trailers unless I watch them after I have read the book. They can give away too much information about the book, or, maybe for me just as bad, put what the characters look like into my head. I like to do that for myself based on what I read in the book.  The trailer for The Restorer by Amanda Stevens is perfect for me. It grabs attention, piques interest and gives away nothing of importance to the plot (nor does it show what any characters look like). I hadn’t even heard of this book before seeing the trailer in Shelf Awareness last Friday. Now, I really want to read this book. It’s out now, fyi.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out Of Twenty: Alma Katsu, Author of The Taker, Answers Twelve Questions

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Water for Elephants – Movies Trailer & Algonquin Books

I am on a roll with the bookish movie trailers. I posted the trailer for The Help on tumblr, so I am going with the other big movie for my blog. Is anyone planning to see this, this weekend or at all? What I love about the trailer is that it is very much like what I imagined in my head. Few movies can do this.  Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden was probably the only other book where this happened for me with the movie. I wonder how closely the movie will follow that plot?

I read Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen with my book club before I started my blog, and before I knew a thing about who published what. Of course I know more now, and to look back at Algonquins backlist is to discover that they are in fact, bookrunners, and probably supply most book clubs in the United States with a good number of titles. They sure have supplied me and mine with quite a few.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Book Club Picks

Pictures of of You by Caroline Leavitt
Water For Elelphants by Sara Gruen
Between Here and April, by Deborah Copaken Kogan
Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons

Books I Bought

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan
A ReliableWife by Robert Goolrick
Gossip of the Starlings by Nina De Gramont
The Good Negress by A.J. Verdelle
Gap Creek by Robert Morgan

For Review

I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson (my review of I Thought You Were Dead)
When Tito Loved Clara by Jon Michaud (Interview w/ Jon Michaud, review out next week)

For Me, From Friends

Friend of the Family by Lauren Groff
Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Malloy

Impressive. And that’s to say nothing of all the fab books they have out right now and coming over the next few months.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out Of Twenty: Alma Katsu, Author of The Taker, Answers Twelve Questions
I’m always looking for more suggestions. Which Algonquin books did you either really love, or that you found provoked good discussion?

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Out of Twenty: Alma Katsu, Author of The Taker, Answers Twelve Questions

In the Linus’s Blanket version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose which questions and how many questions they want to answer. Alma Katsu, author of the highly anticipated novel The Taker, played along and answered twelve questions.  Here is what Alma had to say about reading, writing and Hannibal Lecter.

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?

My name is Alma Katsu, author of The Taker. Like many writers, I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book and lived at the public library. From there it was a short hop to writing stories for myself, then writing things that my friends wanted to read.  Now, I’m happy to be able to write the kind of books I like to read: a little dark, a little sexy and with complicated but (hopefully) unforgettable characters.

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?

The way I think about the process of writing a book-length work is probably a little differently than some writers and that’s because I’ve worked 30 years as an analyst. Because of that, the writing process is probably a little less mystical to me. I analyze everything: what worked, what didn’t work, how to fix it. Also, after decades of figuring out problems, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I write new material when I feel like write new material, I edit when I feel I’m not being creative enough – or have to get revisions in.  Also, I’m pretty disciplined in all things, a trait I also learned from work.

The Taker (US cover) out September 6, 2011.

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?

I think that usually, the story is actually about a key issue in the writer’s life, but an issue the writer hasn’t figured out. So, in writing the story, the writer struggles to understand the character’s arc, the source of the character’s problem and what the character must do to resolve it. I struggled for ten years to understand what was driving Lanny, the main character, to do the things she does, to understand why she can’t let go of Jonathan. I think one reason people find The Taker a satisfying read is that what the protagonist wants is not on the surface. It’s not easy to identify. It isn’t that she wants Jonathan; the question is why does she want Jonathan? The answer goes to the core of her being, and it’s a fear that’s common to many people; I might even say to almost everyone. While not everyone will go to the lengths she goes to, at some level Lanny’s fear will resonate with most people.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I’m reading A Visit from the Goon Squad and I recently finished Susan Henderson’s Up From the Blue which is an achingly beautiful read. I’m an eclectic reader. Of contemporary writers, I love David Mitchell, Tana French, John Banville, John Irving, Denise Mina, Sandor Marai—this doesn’t even scratch the surface and I’m surely forgetting a lot of favorites.

To become a writer you have to train yourself to analyze books as you read, which has destroyed a bit of the pleasure of reading.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?

I try to write every day, so I almost always read while I’m writing or else I’d never read. I read more for escape than for inspiration, something to settle me down before I fall asleep, and of course I try to keep up with the new releases everyone’s talking about.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book but ultimately decided not to include?

The Taker (UK cover).

I know more about Colonial American life than most people would ever want to know.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

For a long time, my day job involved doing crisis response for the government, which means long, draining days, so I became rather ruthless about efficiency in my daily life to cram everything in. I have embraced routine like a Benedictine monk. I usually get up before 6 am, go to the gym for an hour, work a full day, come home, walk dogs, answer writing business emails and such, make dinner, send husband off to a gig (he’s a working musician) and write for 3-4 hours. Sleep, get up and do it again.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

This book was impossible to name. I failed, my classmates at Hopkins failed, everyone failed for ten years. I even offered a reward, for a time, to the person who could come up with a title. I ended up slapping a rather generic title on it when I sent it to the agent, but shortly after to sold another book with the same title became very successful and we had to find a new title. My agent came up with The Taker.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

DC has so many writers, it’s hard to single anyone out but I have to mention Keith Donohue, who wrote The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction. He writes beautifully. I’m so looking forward to his new book, Centuries of June coming out in June.

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

Adair, because he just steals every scene. He’s like Hannibal Lecter; he takes over.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

I tend to research as I go.

What’s next?

I am lucky enough to have sold the next two books in the trilogy. The manuscript for the second book is with the editor now, and while I’m waiting on revision notes I’ve started the third book.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty   Luanne Rice, Author of The Silver Boat, Answers Thirteen Questions

About Alma: Alma Katsu is a writer living in the Washington, DC area with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. She graduated from Brandeis University, where she studied writing with novelist John Irving and children’s book author Margaret Rey, and received her MA in Fiction from the Johns Hopkins University. The Taker is her first novel and is published by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster.

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