TLC Book Tours: The Story of a Happy Marriage

This-is-the-Story-of-a-Happy-Marriage-198x300Long before Ann Patchett’s imaginative novels (Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, State of Wonder) were bestsellers, she was making a living as a writer – but as a writer of nonfiction for magazines.  Patchett cut her writing teeth as a journalist/essayist in the 1970’s, beginning with a book review for Seventeen magazine (for which she was paid $250). She spent eight years writing almost exclusively for Seventeen, until she herself was thirty years old when she moved on to “grown up” publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and Gourmet.

While she was writing freelance articles, Patchett was honing her craft as a fiction writer, with short stories and eventually novels. She credits her training in journalism – the intense editing, the research, the deadlines – with teaching her the kind of skills and endurance necessary to persevere as a novelist. “All those years of writing articles…made me a workhouse, and that in turn was a skill I brought back to my novels.”

And while Patchett started writing nonfiction as a way to literally support her fiction writing (“The tricky thing about being a writer or any kind of artist is that in addition to marking art you also have to make a living”) she was surprised to find her work as a journalist supporting her fiction in other ways as well. When she was working on Bel Canto, her novel about an opera singer, the editors at Gourmet magazine sent her to Italy on assignment to write an article about famous opera houses. Later, they fronted a trip into the Peruvian jungle while she was working on State of Wonder, her book about scientists in the Amazon. In fact, there have been so many benefits to this “day job” of nonfiction writing that even when her novels were successful enough to provide a living wage, Patchett has continued to write nonfiction, just more selectively than when it was the mainstay of her livelihood.

This is the Story of  Happy Marriage collects a variety of Patchett’s essays and articles into one volume. It’s an interesting look at her life through essays that are well written and evocative of the writers time, place, and personality. We learn about her childhood, her love for her grandmother, her first marriage and divorce. We meet her dog Rosy as a puppy and then, 16 years later, as Patchett says goodbye to this beloved pet. We cheer her on when she writes about the success of her new bookstore in Nashville.

And we hear The Story of a Happy Marriage, with her husband Karl. “I  can tell you how I came to have a happy marriage,” Patchett writes in the title essay, “but I’m not so sure my results can be reproduced. I continue to think back to (my friend) Edra, standing in that swimming pool on a bright day in summer. ‘Does he make you a better person?’ was what she asked me, and I want to tell her, Yes, with the full force of his life, with the example of his kindness and vigilance, his good sense and equanimity, me makes me a better person. And that is what I aspire to be, better, and no, it really isn’t more complicated than that.”

This collection is an irresistible blend of memoir and journalism – the kind of writing I really love, probably because it’s the kind of writing toward which I have aspirations of my own. Whether you’re a fan of Patchett’s novels or not, these pieces form a portrait of a real life, lived with thoughtfulness, compassion, and love.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

TLC Tours: The Supreme Macaroni Company

supreme macaroni companyI’ve read nearly all of Adriana Trigiani’s books, and I love her down-to-earth characters, love the small towns they live in, love their histories (which are much like her own, growing up in New York, with her mother’s love of cooking, her grandparent’s shoe making and clothing design instilled in her very blood).

The Supreme Macaroni Company opens on Christmas Eve and continues the story begun in Very Valentine and Brava, Valentine, the story of Valentine Angelini, a shoe designer, and her fiancé Gianluca.  It’s a story of love, of family, of legacy.  It’s a heart-breaking and heart-warming tale of real life and real people. I raced through it and enjoyed it immensely.

When I said that I had “read” most of Trigiani’s books, I should have said I “heard” them, because I’ve listened to them on audio. Of all of them, I’ve most enjoyed those read by the author. What a surprise to hear her voice – deep and mellifluous, a mixture of Southern drawl and New York speak. But since hearing it, I can’t imagine her stories told in any other voice. Trigiani writes great dialogue (no surprise she’s also a screenwriter and playwright), and is now in production for a TV movie based on her Big Stone Gap series.

I highly recommend The Supreme Macaroni Company, and all of Trigiani’s books. When I read them, I feel like I’m immersed in the big families that characterize each one, wrapped in the embrace of their joy of living. And that’s always a good feeling.

Thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

 

 

TLC Book Tours: The Round House

I’d thought she was the same mother only with a hollow face, jutting elbows, spiky legs. But I was beginning to notice that she was someone different from the before-mother. The one I thought of as my real mother. I had believed that my mother would emerge at some point. I would get my before mom back. But now it entered my head that this might not happen. Some warm part of her had gone and might not return. This new formidable woman would take getting to know, and I was thirteen, I didn’t have the time.  from The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

the round houseI’ve always been a little bit afraid of Louise Erdrich’s books. I don’t have any good reason for that, and I’m happy to state that reading The Round House has completely cured me of any fear.

Other than the fact that she’s a damn formidable writer.

This National Book Award winning novel, published in 2012, has been compared to a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird, and I think that’s apt. It’s the story of a 13-year old boy who lives with his family on an reservation in North Dakota. Joe Coutts’ mother Geraldine is brutally attacked one spring day in 1988. She is too traumatized to discuss the event or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband Bazil (a tribal judge).  Joe tries to help his mother, but she refuses to leave her bed. So he finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world of intrigue, long-held grudges, avarice, and tribal injustice.

In short, 13 year old Joe Coutts has to become an adult before he’s quite ready.

With remarkable maturity,  insight and courage, Joe and his friends set out find his mother’s attacker. Their quest takes them to The Round House, a sacred place of worship for the Ojibwe. It is here that the attack took place, and the four boys eventually uncover an entire realm of secrets that lead them to exact a very personal justice.

As coming-of-age stories go, The Round House should be considered at the top of a list. It’s marvelously written, and displays amazing insight into the mind and heart of this young man. I loved the interplay and relationship between Joe and his father and mother. It felt so familiar to me as an only child – Joe’s heightened sensitivity and sense of responsibility.

The portrayal of life on the reservation with it’s many injustices was enlightening, if maddening.  There is so much work yet to be done to create an equality of life style for our Native Americans, and it shames me.

The Round House was a fabulous introduction to Erdrich’s work. Since I finished it, I’ve already picked up two more of her novels, and look forward to reading them with eager anticipation.

Thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read this novel.

TLC Book Tours: Stargazey Point

stargazey pointEroded beaches, a non-existent tourist trade, and skyrocketing property taxes…this is what Abbie Sinclair stumbles into when she goes to Stargazey Point to recover from a traumatic event. Devastated by her own personal tragedy, Abbie thinks she has nothing left to give, but is slowly drawn into the lives of the people of Stargazey Point – the three elderly Crispin siblings and their struggle to stay in their historic beachfront home; the young, handsome architect, Cab Reynolds, who left behind a successful  career to refurbish his uncle’s antique carousel; and a motley crew of children who touch Abbie’s heart in a variety of ways.

Before she knows it, Abbie is helping the people of Stargazey Point revitalize their dreams. In doing so, she’s surprised to find her own dreams for life rekindled and even more surprised to find a place she might call home.

Author Shelly Noble’s novel is an insightful, hopeful look at the way we can recover from what seems insurmountable tragedy.  I’m always impressed by the human spirit at work, and the way an ordinary group of people can achieve extraordinary things when they come together for a common goal, whatever it may be. Stargazey Point is a novel about just this kind of effort, and I was immediately drawn into the story and interested to see what would become of each character.

Stargazey Point is another perfect summer read…so grab a copy and enjoy it while there’s still some summer left.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

TLC Book Tours: City of Hope

City-of-Hope-198x300The decade of the 1930’s was difficult for everyone, but especially for young Ellie Hogan, whose beloved husband dies suddenly. She decides to leave Ireland and return to New York City, a place that holds happy memories for her. But although the Depression has changed the city she once loved, Ellie is determined to create a new life for herself. She plunges all her energy into creating a home and refuge for some of the cities many homeless people. In return, she receives more love and friendship than she ever thought possible, and begins to feel the first faint stirrings of hope and happiness once more.

And then someone from the past appears, someone she thought she would never see again – and pieces of Ellie’s past that she thought were long gone suddenly resurface, threatening her newfound hope for the future.

Ellie Hogan is a female character I refer to as the “teabag type” – she doesn’t realize her own strength until she gets into hot water. I love stories about women who reach into their deepest selves and find their true mettle, and City of Hope is just such a story. Author Kate Kerrigan has created a admirable, inspiring character in her Ellie Hogan, a woman ahead of her time in terms of ambition and ideas – added to that is her beautiful rendering of the historical period and a likable cast of characters.

City of Hope was a fabulous addition to my historical novel library, and I’m eager to read Kerrigan’s first novel Ellis Island. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this novel.

TLC Book Tours: The Virgin Cure

The Virgin CureBeing a huge fan of historical novels, I was eager to read The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay, a new-to-me Canadian author whose first novel (The Birth House) was a number one best seller in that country. I’m not surprised, because McKay’s writing and story telling skills are epic.

The Virgin Cure is set in Lower Manhattan circa 1871. It’s the story of Moth, a young girl growing up alone on some very mean streets filled with orphaned children and desperate women trying to eke out some kind of living. Moth’s father is long gone, and her mother is a Gypsy fortune teller who sells her 12 year old daughter into servitude with a cruel, abusive society matron. Moth eventually escapes and spends some months on the streets before she is taken in by the charming Miss Everett, a Madam who runs something called an Infant School, which is really a brothel catering to gentlemen willing to pay a premium for desirable young virgins like Moth. In fact, some of them are seeking the fabled “Virgin Cure” – the belief that having intercourse with a virgin will cure them of syphilis. Moth’s friendship with Dr. Sadie, a female physician who works among the indigent population, gives her the courage she needs to see a better life for herself.

Moth is a totally engaging character, and I longed to reach back in time and scoop her up for myself, bring her home with me and give her a good life. McKay creates such breathtaking word pictures that reading the novel is almost frightening at times, the reader feels so involved in the time and place.

And what a time and place! We talk a lot today about the poor situations children find themselves in – gangs and single parent families, hunger and lack of education. We tend to forget the history of maltreatment of children in this country. In an author’s Ami McKaynote, McKay writes that over 30,000 children lived on the streets of New York city in 1870. Even more of them wandered in and out of tenements as their families struggled to find food and shelter. Most of these children were illiterate and would end up as thieves and prostitutes, dead before they ever reached adulthood. McKay’s interest in this time period was sparked when she learned about her own great-great grandmother, the original Dr. Sadie, who worked the streets of New York along with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician, caring for the women and children of the city.

The Virgin Cure is a fascinating look at this time and place in our history. But it’s also a story of perseverance and hope. Because Moth does find good people among the bad, people who care about her and are willing to help her, people who step up to make a difference, one child at a time.

Sometimes, for a moment, everything is just as you need it to be. The memories of such moments live in the heart, waiting for the time you need to think on them, if only to remind yourself that for a short while, everything had been fine, and might be so again. I didn’t have many memories like that…No matter what might happen or what fate Miss Everett had in store for me, I now had the image of Miss Suzie Lowe to place alongside them. She would remind me that I was a girl who longed for things, a girl who wanted to become something more than she was seen to be.

If you enjoy historical novels, I highly recommend this book.

Connect with Ami McKay here:

WebsiteFacebook pageTwitter account,  Pinterest board.

TLC Book Tours: A Dual Inheritance

Dual_Inheritance_SMMy favorite novels explore the legacy of families across generations, and how a family history is played out from one generation to the next. Joanna Herson’s new novel, A Dual Inheritance, does all this and more. Beginning in 1963, when two young men first become acquainted during their senior year at Harvard, and throughout the intervening decades until the present, their paths and lives cross in interesting and sometimes heartbreaking ways.

The book centers on the somewhat surprising friendship between Ed, a Jewish kid on scholarship who is unapologetically ambitious and girl-crazy, and Hugh, a Boston Brahmin who seems ambivalent about everything except Helen, his first and only love. Their friendship burns brightly and intensely, until one night when something happens which causes it to end just as abruptly. The two men diverge into different paths, but remain connected through and current of relationships unbeknowst to them.

Hershon’s engaging story deftly examines the contrasting worlds of a rich Boston WASP, and a scrabbling Jewish boy eager to make a name for himself. Her characters are complex and interesting, and provide some rich insight into human relationships and class differences.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this very engrossing novel.

Buy A Dual Inheritance from Amazon.

 

 

TLC Book Tour: The New Republic

There’s no doubt that Lionel Shriver can write.

I enjoyed her clever wit and acerbic humor in The Post Birthday World. I was riveted to the painfully dramatic and timely saga of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

But while I appreciated Shriver’s writerly talent in The New Republic –  a part parody, part social satire featuring an attorney who re-creates himself as an investigative journalist – I wasn’t completely sold on the premise or plot of this novel.

The novel takes on mythic proportions when Edgar Kellogg, a disgruntled corporate attorney with a larger than life chip on his shoulder, tosses in his lucrative law career and agrees to a suspect foreign assignment in which he will replace the enigmatic but hugely popular journalist Barrington Saddler who has mysteriously disappeared.  Edgar finds himself in a (fictional) Portugese backwater, awash with other journalists trying to make a name for themselves, but mostly living the high life and seeking excitement wherever they can find it. He gets quickly caught up in the spirit of the adventure as he investigates the turn of events surrounding Saddler’s disappearance and how it’s related to the terrorist activities of the so-called Sons of Barba.

The New Republic was written in 1998 (but published in 2012), and so the satiric, almost playful portrait of a terrorist culture seems almost unseemly in light of 21st century events. Shriver’s coverage of current events, i.e., the topic of school shootings in We Need to Talk About Kevin, was highly personal but thoughtfully and carefully scripted.  What interested me most in The New Republic was Edgar Kellogg himself. Ostracized as a child because of his weight, Edgar’s one goal has been social popularity.

Edgar had verified in childhood what the New Testament only hints at…Edgar’s personal Apocrypha: that people will exonerate sadists, braggarts, liars, and even slack-jawed morons before they’ll pardon eyesores. If you’re attractive, people need a reason to dislike you; if you’re ugly, people need a reason to like you. They don’t usually find one. In his tubby school days, Edgar had learned the hard way that every vulgar slob on the block was an aesthete.

So, Edgar has attached himself to popular people throughout his life, becoming the perennial sidekick for the “rich and famous” among the cliques that threaten to ignore him. And he’s madder than hell about that. But now, finally slim but still smarting from years of rejection, Edgar has the opportunity to literally replace the “absentee paragon,” Barrington Saddler, about whom “no one from New York to Cinziero can stop talking for more than ten minutes using a stopwatch.” As he channels Saddler’s persona, he is forced to reevaluate his desires for promotion from sidekick to leader.

And how does that work out for him? What’s better – to be the admired or the admirer?

Shriver takes the reader on a long and meandering path before Edgar comes to this final conclusion.

Edgar considered his life long position of second-in-command. Sure, constitutionally Edgar was a sidekick. But there was nothing disgraceful about lieutenancy should your captain be splendid. … As Edgar reviewed the short list of his idols…he concluded that in every case he himself may have got the better end of the deal. It was probably more interesting to adore than be adored, more transporting, more engrossing, and in any event much less creepy. What the hell, given a choice, Edgar might rather revere a hero than be one.

The New Republic is an interesting look at two very large personalities and invites the reader to consider what it is that make people popular.  It’s exploration of international terrorism was less successful for this reader, but some with a more political bent might find it of keener interest.

Thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

The author’s Facebook page.

TLC Book Tour: The Orchardist

The OrchardistThe Orchardist is such a rare and beautiful specimen of a book, I barely know where to begin in my praise of it.

Should I write about the sweeping breadth of the Washington landscape that becomes as important as another character?

Should I tell you of the achingly beautiful prose that describes every event in the most perfectly chosen details?

Should I warn you that there are moments so painful your breath will catch, so haunting your eyes will not close in sleep?

Perhaps I should write of Talmadge, the quiet and introspective Orchardist for whom the book is named, and the way he cares with such deep intensity for his land, his product, and the people he loves. The way he sees so clearly into the soul of everything and everyone – except perhaps himself.

Or maybe you’d like to know about Jane and Della, two frightened young girls, heavy with child, who appear at the outskirts of Talmdige’s orchard, fleeing an unspeakable evil,  and work their way bit by bit into his heart, stirring within him every ounce of protectiveness he can muster.

And I must not forget Angelene, Jane’s daughter, whom Talmadge raises and instills with a feminine version of his unique quiet intelligence and intensity.

The Orchardist is stunning, almost Biblical in the epic span of its story about determination and loneliness and loyalty and hope. It takes the reader into a far-away place – the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century – a time when a man’s land governed his life and his choices, when people worked hard from dawn until dark because their very living depended on it. A time when distractions were less, and simple pleasures enjoyed more.

But still there was darkness…there was evil and loss and destruction. Talmadge is no stranger to it, even before Jane and Della with their heavy baby-laden bellies, arrive. His father has died in a mining accident, his mother has died a few years later, leaving he and his younger sister- neither of them barely more than children -alone to run the orchard. And then his sister Elspeth disappeared one Amanda Coplinday, goes out to gather herbs and never returns. Talmadge is nearly crushed by this loss. Forty years later, it fuels his obsession with Jane and Della, and his desire to protect them from the evil they have fled.

Readers and writers alike will savor The Orchardist, for its story, its characters, its maturity of style and prose. A novel eight years in the writing, begun when its young author was only 24 years old, The Orchardist is an amazing tour de force and should become part of the canon of modern American literature.

Link to the author’s website and Facebook page.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the privilege of reading this book.

TLC Book Tours: The Comfort Of Lies

Three women, three mothers, all connected  in various ways to one five year old girl.

Sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

The Comfort of LiesIt is trouble, with a capital T, and Randy Susan Myers  deftly handles all the emotional ramifications of this interesting situation in her new novel The Comfort of Lies.

Told in alternating points of view, The Comfort of Lies reveals the darkest and most private thoughts of Tia, the child’s birth mother; Caroline, her adopted mother; and Juliette, wife of the birth father. In one year their lives collide, and they all must confront the choices they’ve made, the truths about themselves and their relationships, and how they feel about the responsibility of motherhood.

Tia was too young when she got pregnant, the result of an affair with her professor, a “happily” married man with two sons of his own. Nathan gave Tia the kind of love and affection she needed so desperately, but when he found out she was pregnant he urged her only to “take care of it,” before ending their relationship and returning to his wife, Juliette. To his credit, he came clean about the affair and the couple spent the next five years working out their relationship. Things seem to be on an even keel until Juliette accidentally uncovers a piece of information Nathan neglected to tell her – that a child resulted from his union with Tia. Juliette, stunned, finds herself unexpectedly sympathetic toward the little girl, and feels that they must somehow acknowledge her existence and make her part of their family.

Meanwhile, the child’s adoptive parents have issues of their own. Caroline is a dedicated workaholic pathologist, and she’s always harbored some ambivalence about motherhood. Her husband, however, adores family life and being a father – she agreed to adopt baby Savannah mostly to please him, and now five years later, she finds herself wondering whether she was really cut out for motherhood and domestic life after all.

The book asks the reader to ponder some big questions about adoption and the importance of family, about the true nature of motherhood and the sometimes ambivalent feelings it can engender in even the most loving of women. It also asks us to look at the lies we tell in an misguided attempt to “protect” the ones we love from a more hurtful truth.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, although I can’t say I liked ANY of these women. Tia is whiny and immature, Juliette bossy and controlling, and Caroline just plain aggravating with her self-centered musings about the boredom of childcare. I found myself wanting to slap all of them at one time or another.

Still, the great writing and fast pace of the book kept me enthralled.  I always enjoy a well written book that explores the dynamics of Randy Susan Meyersfamily life and relationships gone awry, especially when it comes to a satisfying conclusion. The Comfort of Lies delivered that in a big way, and has me eager to read anything else Randy Susan Myers dishes out.

Get Social with author Randy Susan Myers: Randy’s websiteFacebook pageTwitter accounther articles on The Huffington Post, and her Pinterest pinboards.

Thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read this novel.