Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe, and Susan Rieger|Reading Round Up

One of the key things about having less time for one of my great loves (reading!) is that I am much more ruthless about reading what I find to be really enjoyable and/or rewarding. Gone is the time when I can meander through a book with vague feelings of boredom and/or annoyance with a plot. These days if I pick a book up and don’t feel a compelling desire to come back to it, I don’t. The last few weeks have offered up an eclectic mix of reads, but for the most part, I have been happy with my choices.

Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe & Susan Rieger

The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine:  Yesterday, I posted my interview with Jessica Levine, and I was fascinated with her discussion of the psychological nature of her books, women having male muses, and the different types or literature and reading that have spurred the creation of her characters and novels.

I have high praise for The Geometry of Love. The novel’s protagonist, Julia, is in a safe, though creatively stifling relationship with her college sweetheart when she has a chance run-in with their old roommate, Michael (a creative soul mate with whom she once shared a steamy kiss). While both men offer an essential element to Julia’s well-being, her attempts to resurrect their damaged relationships, establish agency in her creative life, and determine her path in life, unfolds in surprising ways and brings all involved all but to the brink of ruin. Levine’s characters are thoughtfully rendered and contain a level of nuance that holds the reader hostage in their messy lives. Julia in particular reminded me of that friend whose life is a mess, and though you’ve heard way too much about her problems, too many times, there is something that keeps you from turning away.

Living in Style: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Glamour by Rachel Zoe: I’m a pretty recent convert to The Zoe Report (Rachel Zoe’s daily beauty, style and fashion newsletter) but I do love a pretty dress, and her astute style curation caught my eye. Though a new devotee, I was fairly excited to find out that she has a new book out. Right off the bat I am favorably disposed to enjoy a coffee table book like Living in Style. There are beautiful photographs of style icons, sneak peeks behind the scenes – at fashion soirees, and practical suggestions for formulating a sense of style, work life maintenance routine and balance. The book is written in a conversational style, and Zoe shares tips from her beauty care routine, and stories about her early days and establishing her career. If you want a more substantive guide for for fashion, make up an style choices, I would subscribe to her newsletter as this is mostly breezy and fun.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger: Susan Rieger’s debut novel is instantly memorable to me, if only because I had so much fun  reading it. I loved escaping into Sophie Diehl’s world of long catch-up emails with her best friend, detailed and informative work briefs, and intriguingly accurate representations of divorce documents. The fact that Sophie is a criminal lawyer who has has no interest in dealing with people adds to the comic elements of the novel, which doesn’t lose its poignancy among the humor. Rieger artfully weaves Sophie’s troubled relationship history, tenuous parental bonds, and deep ambivalence about marriage in to the secondary story of divorce negotiations between a privileged heiress (the fabulously charming, intelligent and empathetic Mia Meiklejohn) and and her prominent physician husband. My only complaint is that it felt a tad long in spots, but having the option to skip around in the legal documents remedied any restlessness that I had.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Out of Twenty: Jessica Levine, Author of The Geometry of Love, Answers Nine Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Jessica Levine is the author of  The Geometry of Love, a fantastic novel about one woman’s search for her identity as an artist, the relationships with the men in her life, and how they fuel and inhibit her passions in different ways.  Here is what Jessica had to say about reading, writing, and reversing the stereotypical gender roles of artistic muses. 

Jessica Levine, Author - The Geometry of Love

Photo Credit: Nan Phelps

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?

Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. I’m writing in Berkeley, California, where I live with my husband and two teenage daughters. In my life I’ve been a jack-of-all-trades, working as an English teacher, a translator (from Italian and French into English), and currently a hypnotherapist. However, “writer” has always been my core identity. My fiction is psychological in nature, the product of my fascination with human contradictoriness and unpredictability. The plots I create grow out of inner conflicts that propel my characters in new directions.

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 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’m a morning writer. I jumpstart my brain with a lot of black tea and some dark chocolate. I really believe that the intense pleasure provided by chocolate stimulates the creative part of the brain! I get physically restless when I write, so I take frequent breaks to stretch and move. I usually stop at lunch time. If I have ideas later in the day, I jot them down in a black Moleskine notebook. I don’t need to “force myself” to work because writing actually makes my brain feel good, as though the sentences were giving the inside of my head a massage.


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 recently discovered Jim Harrison and am reading his Brown Dog, which collects several novellas about a half-Indian character by that name. The first tale in the book offers brilliant lessons about paragraph-making and plotting. My tastes are broad, ranging from Anita Shreve to Michael Chabon. When I read fiction that’s very different from what I write, I’m motivated to push myself in new directions and experiment. When I read works that are similar, I feel validated in my current path of inquiry.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on your own book(s)?

Sometimes I’m reading books connected to a writing project. Last year I read a lot of Italian history in preparation for a novel that will take place during the period of Italian independence and unification in the mid-nineteenth century. Sometimes I read books my daughters are reading for school. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed John Green’s Looking for Alaska and, more recently, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Excellent writing of all kinds inspires me.

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 remember first wanting to be a writer at the age of six. Probably I got the idea from my parents, who were both frustrated artists. They were also avid readers and always pulling classics off the shelves of our home library for me to read. E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Thomas Hardy became reliable friends. I also had the enrichment of attending a French school in New York, which led to my discovering the masterworks of Balzac, Flaubert, Stendhal, and Zola in the original. Much of what I read was beyond my level of maturity, but literature provided me with an escape during a difficult adolescence, transporting me to other times and places.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

Usually I have a current project, a project that is firmly next in line, and a couple of book ideas that I’m playing with. The Geometry of Love features a protagonist named Julia and her two female cousins, and is the first of a planned trilogy of novels, one about each of these three women. I’m currently working on the manuscript of the second book in the series and taking mental notes for a story about the third cousin. If a project refuses to take shape, it usually metamorphoses into something else, so I rarely scrap a work, you might say I recycle it instead.

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

I had a blast creating Michael, Julia’s object of desire in The Geometry of Love.  I wanted to play with reversing a couple of stereotypes about men and women, the first being that women are usually muses for male artists, and the second that women are usually more emotional. In this dyad, Michael, a composer, functions as Julia’s muse because his emotional range is so broad. He can be very light-hearted but he also has a dark, depressive side. His capacity for deep feeling and his ability to express those feelings musically validate Julia’s own creative quest as a poet. In creating this character I gave birth to a psychological entity that could function as an inner muse for my own writing.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

I’m fortunate enough to have a very quiet and comfortable home office where I love to work. Outside my window is a maple tree and a patch of bamboo; in the distance, San Francisco and the reflective surface of the Bay. I have my favorite books on hand if I need inspiration, I have my journals and notebooks, my desk is set up ergonomically, there’s tea upstairs. If I take a break and go for a walk in the neighborhood, I sometimes see hawks flying overhead or deer. The conditions for writing are perfect¾at least when my kids are in school. I don’t get much done in the summer.

What’s next?

My novel about Julia’s cousin Anna, provisionally titled The Dream of Another Life, is another love story that switches back and forth between present time in northern California and past events in Rome, Italy. Working on it has been a wonderful ride, as it has allowed me to relive a splendid time I spent living and working in Rome in my early twenties. Writing, I travel back in time to a city I remember as sensual and warm with its ochre buildings and fountain-filled courtyards … and then I look up and out my window at the Golden Gate Bridge. Life is good.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

About Jessica Levine: Jessica was born in New York City. She earned her M.A. at Teachers College, Columbia University, and her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of California at Berkeley. She has worked as a writing instructor and a teacher of English as a second language. Additionally, she has translated several books about architecture and design from French and Italian into English. Most recently, she became certified as a hypnotherapist in 2005 and now has a therapy practice in Albany, California.

Since publishing Delicate Pursuit: Discretion in Henry James and Edith Wharton in 2002, Jessica has been devoting herself to creative writing, publishing stories, essays, and poetry. The themes she addresses in her work include the evanescence of intimacy, the nature of inspiration, parenthood, the language of the body, and loss. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, two daughters, and cat, a.k.a. “the King.”

Public Notes to Myself: A Mid April Reading List

Sometimes I need a written reminder for what it is I have committed to reading for the month, and this is one of those times. How is April getting away so quickly? It is the middle of April already, people! I have book club books to read and Bloggers Recommend Picks to pick. I have to get on it! Let’s take a peek at what I’ve got.

Frog Music, The Fever & AmericanahSo this month I have three book club picks in the works.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue –  I am late to the game with Donoghue, having missed the much acclaimed Room and her follow up of historically based short stories, Astray. Frog Music is promising to be a rich historical novel via 1876, the smallpox epidemic and an unsolved murder. All things that tickle my reading fancy. I’ll be starting on this (hopefully tonight!) to discuss the first few sections with my Twitter Book Club, The Hashtags, on Friday.

The Fever by Megan Abbot – If my Twitter book club is called The Hashtags, then my regular IRL book club should be called The Publicists, since its members comprise my favorite people scattered at Bloomsbury, Little Brown, Viking, Random House and Riverhead. This month we are reading Megan Abbott’s The Fever, and I have started it and I love it. I have no idea what the hell is going on, but I am totally intrigued. This is my third Abbott and she never fails to bring an almost uncomfortably realistic depth to the inner, troubled, lives of teen-aged girls.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - As if I didn’t have enough book clubs of my own, I am guesting at a friend’s book club this month. She has been trying to get me to join, and I have been resisting because, you know, all the things and all the books. However, this month they are reading Americanah, and I adored Half of A Yellow Sun. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read and discuss it with a group. I also suspect that I will have hard time resisting going back, especially if they keep selecting books that are right up my alley.

A Life Apart and When the Cypress Whispers

My mother has had a lot more time to read this year, so we have been trying to read a book together each month. Way back when, at the beginning of the year, we started with Walter Walker’s Crime of Privilege, but neither of us could really get into. It was strangely light on details despite being a really long book. We went on to Defending Jacob, which we both really enjoyed, me more so than my mom –  she didn’t like the ending. Our favorite joint read has been Rhidian Brook’s The Aftermath.

Two books that we are reading together are:

A Life Apart by L.Y. Marlow - I am looking forward reading Marlow’s latest novel about a navy man whose life is saved during the attacks on Pearl Harbor by a black sailor, who dies in his attempt. He develops a relationship with the sailor’s sister when he travels to visit her, in his own hometown of Boston, pay his respects. My mother has already read it and she thinks that is just fabulous. I read the first chapter and I can attest that it is captivating and has and immediacy that make you want to sink into the story. She made lots of notes during her reading, so I am really looking forward to see where the discussion goes.

When The Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon – Corporon’s novel falls into the “woman returns home to find herself” category. It’s a much used plot device, so while I usually enjoy these types of books, I tend to read them with great care in the choosing. I gravitate toward ones that have an element of surprise for me. In this novel, the heroine does her soul searching while on a rare trip home to visit relative in Greece. That heightened the appeal for me. I also love reading beautiful books – the cover and the luxury of deckle-edge pages is very enticing.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Happy Spring! And. A book list.

And hopefully to a better spring. With more posting. I did a double take to realized that I have posted a whopping 2x in the last three months. Time does fly when you are having fun. So what have I been up to? Busy job, busy life. I have made headway with quite a few books, though you couldn’t tell that AT ALL from around here. I took a look at the list of books I have read so far and thought I would share it here. 

What I’ve Read

Fog of Dead Souls  by Jill Kelly
The subject matter on this one is disturbing, but I loved that the characters were firmly in their 6os, and still vibrant and complex human beings, with the accompanying expertise in their careers, consideration for their sex lives, and a long list of completed goals and lingering aspirations. Though this is a essentially a whodunnit, the bulk of the narrative examines how Ellie deals with the crimes committed against her, and subsequent attempts to put her life together.

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie

I just discovered Deborah Crombie with No Mark Upon Her, and I adore her smart detectives and equally smart writing style. If time allowed, I would read all of her books in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. If you can start at the beginning, I would highly recommend doing just that.

Defending Jacob  by William Landay
I read this one with my mother and I can tell why book clubs have been so taken with this one. We debated throughout the book the culpability of parents in raising their children, when sullen teenage behavior should be taken as an indication of something more sinister, and what actions are appropriate to take in protecting your child from society or vice versa . Landay packs in the twists. If you can truly guess the end, you are a better person than I am.

Choice of Straws by E.R. Braithwaite

This was first published in the 60s, and was recently re-published by Open Road Media. What stands out most to me is the oddity of this haunting story. A twin loses his brother while they are in the midst of brutal attacks against black citizens in London, and then he starts to consider feelings for the sister of an unwitting victim. This was an emotionally charged read, and while I’m not sure I felt it was entirely plausible, it gave me a lot to think about.

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

I started reading this on the train for a visit to DC and I was enchanted. Let’s see, magic, dragon, and intense alliances and politics, side by side with a romance that by rights should fail. Loved every minute of it.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard – Movie/Book Club

Stack of books

Readers react with mixed emotion when they hear that a book they’ve read is being made into a movie, especially a favorite one. I confess that I’m no different. I try to judge by the attached director, approve or seethe over the casting choices, and find either affirmation or more trepidation upon viewing the first trailers and stills from the movie.  When I heard that a movie was being made of Labor Day, Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel about the unlikely romance between an escaped convict and the housewife he takes hostage (along with her son), I was intrigued because I remembered enjoying it when it was initially published.

My book club was fortunate enough to receive copies of the paperback movie tie-in version of the novel and passes for a screening of the film, which we plan to attend next month. I was really taken with Labor Day when I first read it back in 2009. The premise of the novel stretches credulity a bit in terms of whether a romance like this could have occurred, but the love story is a sumptuous one, and I loved these characters. They were rich and real and I loved seeing the way they developed in the aftermath of a weekend that proved a critical turning point in all their lives. I was really excited to hear what my book club would have to say about, and I am especially looking forward to the discussion after we have all seen the movie.

So far, the feedback upon reading the book has been mixed – with a slight majority enjoying the book. I’ve found that this is the sign of a great book club book. There has never been all that much discussion at my clubs over books that are universally adored. Usually with those books we say we loved it and then get on with the good work of drinking wine and eating great food.

Everyone was curious about the pie-making scene and thought it was a pivotal point in the book. So we are all waiting for that. One of the members had a hard time getting through the book but thought that the trailer makes the movies seem a lot more interesting  than the book.  Those of us who loved it were just as interested in the themes of trauma, empowerment and hope. One our member had this high praise for Labor Day: “This story is about coming ALIVE, re-birth; honesty; goodheartedness; going with the flow; following dreams.”

Labor Day opens in wide-release today. I’ll report back when we’ve seen the movie.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Oh, and Happy New Year. -p

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook – Book Review

The Aftermath by Rhidian BrookIn Rhidian Brook’s stunning post World War II novel, The Aftermath, English Colonel Lewis Morgan is tasked with reinvigorating Hamburg and the surrounding territory while also determining the degrees of guilt or innocent of the population and ensuring the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. While carrying out his duties, Lewis is reunited with his wife Rachael and son Edmund, who come to him after a separation of several years, with a brief exception for Lewis to attend the funeral of his eldest son. Allied officers are housed in the residences off the wealthy Germans, while they are re-homed in camps. Faced with evicting the family living in the mansion that has been chosen for him Lewis, without consulting his wife, decides that the two families will share the spacious home. Inevitably, tensions arise as the families try to cope with the new living situations and their own precarious relationships.

It’s easy to be wary of World War II novels. It’s a period that lends itself to dramatization, and it’s easy to feel as if you’ve read certain stories before. At this point, I am pretty selective about the ones I choose to read, but I am willing to take a chance on the novels that I think will offer up a different perspective. The Aftermath caught my attention for that reason. Brook writes eloquently about the devastation of the country, pride and livelihoods of the people, many of whom were near starving in camps. Edmund is befriended by a group of boys who have no one but each other, his German teacher arrives thin, hungry and worried that he will be convicted of crimes greater than the ones he has committed. Throughout the novel questions and degrees of guilt are explored with few satisfactory answers. How can you tell who is good just by appearances? Whom can you trust?

Brook weaves all of these issues seamlessly into this tapestry of family, homecomings, love, redemption and loss. Lewis and Rachael’s uncomfortable relationship and loss of each other, and their failed attempts at regaining a semblance of former intimacy form shape the novel, along with Herr Lubert’s mourning his wife, anger at his reduced circumstances, and lack of control over rebellious Freda. Brook masterfully build impalpable tension as the families struggle to achieve civility toward each other in the face of suspicion, stereotypes, and class tension. Lewis’s ability to have compassion for the community he serves, but being unable to extend that same thoughtfulness and courtesy to his family is thoughtfully explored over the course of the story. There were so many powder kegs that I expected to explode during the course of the novel, but each situation comes to a head in ways that were satisfying, and mostly, surprising. The Aftermath is a wonderful novel – rich in historical detail, impressive in its analysis of the subtle contradictions of human frailty and strength, and a fine example of engaging and compelling storytelling. Highly recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Out of Twenty: Suzanne Redfearn, Author of Hush Little Baby, Answers Questions Sixteen Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Suzanne Redfearn is the author of Hush Little Baby, a novel about a woman who risks her leaving an abusive relationship for the sake of her life and her children’s.  Here is what Suzanne had to say about reading, writing, and cringing at her early work.

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

Thank you for inviting me to do this interview.  Like my protagonist I am an architect who lives in Laguna Beach, California. I have two kids, and my husband and I own a restaurant called Lumberyard.  I am an “accidental author.” I didn’t set out to be a writer or go to school for it, I sat down one day with a story and started to write. Seven months later I had my first novel and I was hooked.  Hush Little Baby is my fifth novel, but the first one to get published.  It turned out that I love to tell stories. The stories I’m particularly drawn to are contemporary tales of morality. I love creating complex characters who I then pit against each other on either side of an issue.

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?

Write, write, write, and keep writing. I don’t worry about finishing or where it the story is going. I allow the story to develop at its own pace and its own organic way, but I always write. I keep notebooks everywhere and I don’t restrict myself to writing sequentially. I do a lot of my writing in my car. An idea will strike me and I’ll pull over and write a single line or a chapter. The best ideas come when I’m not thinking about the story. I keep a sticky note beside my computer that reads, “Drama is anticipation with uncertainty.” I go where the story leads me, having faith that it will take me somewhere unexpected and amazing.

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?

Hush Little Baby is relevant to our times. The story was inspired by a couple who were going through a horrible divorce. There was a lot of he said/she said, and it was impossible to know who was telling the truth. It made me realize the power one spouse has to destroy the other. The idea was originally about marital sabotage and evolved into one about domestic violence and how far a mother will go to protect her children. In order to write the story I needed to do extensive research on abusive relationships and gained a chilling understanding of the pathology behind domestic violence. It made me realize that every woman is susceptible to the fear and manipulation abusers use to control their victims. I became incredibly sympathetic and much more understanding of their plight.

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 just finished The Rosie Project and I absolutely loved it. Some of my favorite books are The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Writing has definitely changed the way I read. If I read something wonderful, I find myself envious of the author’s talent. If I read something not so wonderful, I find myself editing the book as I read which distracts me from enjoying it.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I do read when I’m writing. I try to avoid novels too similar to what I’m working on, but I find other author’s voices inspiring. I also do a lot of research, devouring anything and everything that pertains to the topic on which I’m writing.

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

Originally the novel had been titled Swing Low, and I had named it that because the hymn references Jillian’s Christian upbringing and hush little babyalludes to Jillian stooping to the level of Gordon in order to save her children.  A wonderful surprise came when I researched the song and discovered it was actually a song written by a black man who went to live with the Choctaw Native Americans after escaping slavery. The song is about him being separated from his family when he was sold as a young boy, and his hope to be reunited with them in heaven. He is praying to Jesus, asking if he will be forgiven for the bad things he’s done to survive – nearly the exact internal struggle Jillian deals with in the story. It was a wonderful discovery, but the title was changed, so the double-entendre was never realized.

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?

Jillian actually says in the novel that she loves dramatic literary novels by Anne Tyler and dark thrillers by Stephen King. I think she would also appreciate Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Read more »

Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson – Book Review

Lies You Wanted to Hear

Though it begins in 1990 with a woman named Lucy mourning the loss of her son on his birthday, James Whitfield Thomson’s Lies You Wanted to Hear is essentially the origin story of Lucy Thornhill and Matt Drobyshev’s troubled marriage, and what happens when a relationship built on a faulty foundation collides with an obstacle that cannot be overcome. When Matt and Lucy meet, he is a young police officer from a modest background and means while she is the dilettante daughter of a wealthy businessman. Lucy had recently been deeply involved with the irresponsible and unfaithful Griffin, in a passionate and draining on-again/off-again affair. They never seem able to let go completely, and Lucy feels as if she should be ready to move into a more stable and committed relationship. Matt, for his part, loves Lucy immediately. While he suspects that Lucy doesn’t return the depth of his feelings, he is willing to accept what she is able to offer in the hopes that they can build a strong and loving marriage. There are many lies they tell themselves, but chief among them is that they will be happy together in the long run.


Thomson takes pains to establish Matt and Lucy’s relationship, and after their initial meeting and romance the novel progresses almost too slowly, and in too much detail, about the ins and outs of their marriage. The character’s stories unfold in alternating first person narratives, so while it is very interesting to see how they each view the relationship and each other, it is just as easy to see that they are mistaken in thinking they can successfully build a life together. Thomson bogs down the middle of story unnecessarily, and doesn’t leave much room to develop the end, which is where the novel shines. I knew that something happened to separate Lucy from her children, but it was something I forgot to wonder about as I found myself lost as I was in the tedium of Matt and Lucy’s marital woes and increasing animosity toward each other.


Putting the novel down for awhile ultimately helped me to finish it. I picked it up again, and the final third of the book had me hooked. For my taste, Thomson took too long to get to the meat of the story, but by the time he got there I was well versed in Matt and Lucy. I could see the perspective of both parents in the sad aftermath of their marriage, but I did little wavering between the two – though I felt I should. If you enjoy marital dramas, “he said, she said,”  and don’t mind a little extra filling in the middle, Lies You Wanted to Hear will definitely warrant interest. Thomson clearly communicates how sympathy and righteousness can be granted either aggrieved party, but most readers will stay play favorites with the characters (it’s almost impossible not to), as most of us will think we are as justified in our opinions as do Matt and Lucy.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Check out this interview where James Whitfield Thomson answers several questions about his writing, what he’s reading and Lies You Wanted to Hear.

Out of Twenty: James Whitfield Thomson, Lies You Wanted to Hear, Answers Nine Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. James Whitfield Thomson is the author of Lies You Wanted to Heara novel about the far reaching consequences of a failed marriage.  Here is what James had to say about reading, writing, and his favorite character from his novel.

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

I guess I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a long time to get started.  As a young man I used come up with titles I thought Pulitzer-prize winners would have gladly killed for.  Unfortunately, there were no stories to go along with them.  Now I’m superstitious and don’t give a piece a title until I’ve completed the first draft.  I didn’t write my first short story until I was forty.  I sent it out to magazines, got a handful of rejections and didn’t write another story for three years.  What finally got me going was being in a workshop with the late Andre Dubus, Jr.  He was a terrific mentor, always pushing me to go deeper into my characters to find out what makes them tick.  Finally, at the age of 68, I’m a debut novelist, so it’s taken a long time for this dream to come true.

I tell people that I write literary fiction, by which I mean stories that they are more character-driven than plot-driven.  In a murder mystery what drives the story is whodunnit.  In a literary novel we’re more concerned about whydunnit — what could drive a person to do such a terrible thing?  That said, there’s no reason why a literary novel can’t be riveting.

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?

Once I got serious about writing I decided to treat it as a job, so I needed someplace to go to work every morning.  I tried to write in a separate room in my house, but I kept getting distracted and started going to the public library.  When I got home in the evening my workday was done, though my wife will tell you that there were plenty of dinners when I was looking right at her, pretending to have a conversation, but she could tell I was far away.  Sometimes a thought will come to me — it could be almost anywhere — and I immediately jot it down on a slip of paper.  Then there are times when I stay up half the night, working at the kitchen table because things seem to be clicking and I don’t want to stop.  Unfortunately, I can’t predict how usable that late night stuff will be in the long run.  What seems like brilliance at 3am is often detritus in the light of day.

The stuff I write at night is usually in longhand on a lined tablet, using one of my trusty uni-ball VISION elite pens with blue-black ink.  I’m a bit manic, trying to get as much down as possible, with milk and Oreos (which I’ve just discovered in the last week are as addictive as cocaine) to keep me going.  When I’m working on my laptop in the library, I make deals with myself not to check my email or read about the Red Sox on the Internet until I’ve finished thus and so.  I also turn off my cell phone, which drives my family slightly mad.

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

In one of your two epigraphs you quote the lyrics of a song called “Good Man Blue” by Johnny Joe Thibodeau.   Why can’t I find anything when I Google him?

LieYouWantedtoHear.inddBecause I made him up.  I waited for months to get permission to quote a Jackson Browne song, only to have the publisher turn me down.  At that point I didn’t have time to get permission for something else, so I had to scramble and try to find something in the public domain, but nothing seemed to fit.  Then I remembered that Fitzgerald made up the epigraph for The Great Gatsby and I decided to follow suit.  His is such a neat little poem by a writer named Thomas Parke D’InvilliersI was in the Navy when I read the book and I liked the quote so much I tried to find out more about D’Invilliers.  This was before the Internet, so it took me a while to discover the truth.  If an interviewer asks me this question, I get a chance to mention Fitzgerald and me in the same sentence, which always brings a smile to my face. Read more »

Shiny and New: Furious Cool, Empty Mansions, Men We Reaped, and Quiet Dell

I’m not sure whether I will be braving the crowds to do any shopping this weekend. I love having the extra time to read, eat and spend some quality time with my family. Speaking of which, there are a few books that I’ve got my eye on.  The publisher descriptions are included below but have been shortened (considerably in some cases) for possible spoilers, and in the interest of brevity. Book covers and titles will take you to full information.

Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him by David Henry Furious Cooland Joe Henry  Richard Pryor was arguably the single most influential performer of the second half of the twentieth century, and certainly he was the most successful black actor/comedian ever. Controversial and somewhat enigmatic in his lifetime, Pryor’s performances opened up a new world of possibilities, merging fantasy with angry reality in a way that wasn’t just new—it was heretofore unthinkable. His childhood in Peoria, Illinois, was spent just trying to survive. Yet the culture into which Richard Pryor was born—his mother was a prostitute; his grandmother ran the whorehouse—helped him evolve into one of the most  innovative and outspoken performers ever, a man who attracted admiration and anger in equal parts.

Empty Mansions by Bill DedmanEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune  by Bill Dedman  Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five youngMen We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity.

Quiet Dell CoverQuiet Dell by Jane Ann Phillips In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, mother of three, is lonely and despairing, pressed for money after the sudden death of her husband. She begins to receive seductive letters from a chivalrous, elegant man named Harry Powers, who promises to cherish and protect her, ultimately to marry her and to care for her and her children. Weeks later, all four Eichers are dead. Emily Thornhill, one of the few women journalists in the Chicago press, becomes deeply invested in understanding what happened to this beautiful family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination and sense of magic. Bold and intrepid, Emily allies herself with a banker who is wracked by guilt for not saving Asta. Emily goes to West Virginia to cover the murder trial and to investigate the story herself, accompanied by a charming and unconventional photographer who is equally drawn to the case. Driven by secrets of their own, the heroic characters in this magnificent tale will stop at nothing to ensure that Powers is convicted.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung