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 Tour: The Fountain of St. James Court or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman

The Fountain of St. James CourtLooooong title, but it makes sense because this is actually two books for the price of one, two completely different novels taking turns with one another, but intertwined rather neatly into one thematic structure.

The book (or books) weave together the lives of two women, about 69 year old Kathryn Morgan, a contemporary writer who has just completed an historic novel about Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun, a renowned portrait painter of the late 18th century France.  Morgan, who lives in St. James Court in historic Louisville, Kentucky, uses the fountain sculpture located in that district as a focal point and title-piece for the contemporary novel (Fountain), which is told in alternating sections with the historical novel (Portrait) she has supposedly just completed.

I’ll be honest – I initially had some doubts. The first chapters, particularly the Fountain portion, seemed almost too sprawling, too musing, too stream of consciousness. And then I realized I needed to read this as if I were reading Virginia Woolf, as if I were looking inside the characters mind as her thoughts tumbled about freely, read it noticing the really exquisite descriptions of place and person, read it not for plot or action, but for thought and sensation.

Once I made that tiny shift in perspective, I was in love.

I started to love this very personal glimpse into Kathryn’s life, loved the way she thought about life and art, loved the way she paid attention to her beautiful home, her friends, loved the way she examined her own past as she reflected on the artist’s life in her historical novel. And the story of Vigee-Le Brun was captivating from the beginning, as it traced this artist’s life from her earliest childhood until almost the moment of her death as an old woman.

Sena Jeter Naslund

Sena Naslund Jeter has written a very emotionally evocative look at an artist’s lifetime, using these two women from completely different times in history, but with very similar gifts and burdens. Both take great pride in their artistic expression and both have an unwavering love for their children. Both are willing to sacrifice much to complete their art.  Both are intriguing and sympathetic characters, whose reflections on a lifetime of artistic achievements make for compelling reading.

Sena Jeter Naslund has written eight previous works of fiction, and since I’ve not read any of them, I will definitely be looking up her backlist. She teaches at the University of Lousiville, and resides in St. James Court – with her own view of The Fountain.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the introduction to this author and the opportunity to read this lovely novel.

Connect with the author on Facebook.

Other stops on the TLC Tour.

Buy the book at Amazon.

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 Tours: The Tale of Lucia Grandi

lucia grandeWhen an old woman is asked to recount the story of her life, she tells an intense and poignant tale about growing up in and surviving a warring suburban family during the 1950s and 60s.

​Written as a memoir, each chapter describes a particular incident in Lucia’s life which shows the constant struggle between her parents and the perverse effect it has on her and the family. From her complicated and unwanted birth, to her witnessing a suicide at age 3, to her stint as a runaway at age 14, the story progresses to the final crisis where as a young woman, she is turned out of her house and banished from her family forever.

Told in breathtakingly beautiful prose, this is a powerful and timeless story of a dying woman’s courageous attempt to come to terms with her past and the troubled family that dominated it.

This is exactly the kind of book I love to read – a woman’s personal life story, one that explores legacy and interwoven with family history. Set in the period of time I myself grew up in, it has all the elements to make it fascinating reading. Author Susan Speranza uses the device of a fictional memoir to tale her tale of Lucia Grande, and she writes beautifully, setting the scenes and describing the emotions evocatively.

But as I read,  I wished desperately for some happiness for Lucia. Her life and relationships are so filled with emotional pain, and there never seems to be a relief from it. I could not fathom so much cruelty in this family, and, sadly, found myself needing to set the book aside from time to time because the relentless unhappiness too intense.

Susan Speranza is an excellent writer, and while I’m sure there are family situations as intensely miserable as Lucida Grande’s, I wish she could have found a way to balance the pain in this story with some positive outcome.

Thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read 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.

TLC Tours: an Extraordinary Theory of Objects

timthumb.php_What an extraordinary little book this was. Subtitled “A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris,” it is a series of illustrated essays that depict author Stephanie Lacava’s passage through her rather dark and disturbed adolescence, one marked by anxiety and deep depression. The story  begins when the family moves to Paris during the author’s early teens, and her already perilous sense of self seems to fragment even more as she struggles to find her footing in a foreign country. The reader sometimes feels lost right along with her, as she wanders the streets of Paris in her little slip dresses and cardigan sweaters, looking for her own particular set of wonders.

Reading the book was something like viewing Lavaca’s world through a stereopticon¹. Each essay is a scene in her ongoing saga of isolation and the obsession with objects which seems to ease her anxiety.   It is through her extraordinary collection of objects – from a fascination with Jean Seberg and poison arrow tree frogs to a box of glass eyeballs – that she orders and makes sense of a world in which she feels alienated.

The book becomes as much a field guide² as it does a memoir, because the objects that attract Lacava’s attention are described in detailed footnotes, as well as illustrated in exquisite pen and ink drawings by Matthew Nelson.   The book is designed beautifully, measuring only 5 x7 inches, with the kind of cloth cover and beveled pages rarely seen in mass market hardcovers.

An intriguing, brutally honest trek through the world of an outsider, and how this very extraordinary young woman learned to cope.

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

 ¹A stereopticon is something like a slide projector which has two lenses, usually one above stereothe other. These devices date back to the mid 19th century and were a popular form of entertainment and education. Americans William and Frederick Langenheim introduced stereopticon slide technology—slide shows of projected photographs on glass—in 1850. For a fee of ten cents, people could view realistic photographs with nature, history, and science themes. At first, the shows used random images, but over time, lanternists began to place the slides in logical order, creating a narrative. This “visual storytelling” directly preceded the development of the first moving pictures. Before long, nearly every parlor in America had a stereopticon with a series of popular slides often featuring natural wonders of the world.

²images-20field guide is a book designed to help the reader identify wildlife, plants, animals, or other objects of natural occurrence. It is generally designed to be brought into the ‘field’ or local area where such objects exist to help distinguish between similar objects.  It will typically include a description of the objects covered, together with paintings or photographs and an index. More serious and scientific field identification books, including those intended for students, will probably include identification keys to assist with identification, but the publicly accessible field guide is more often a browsable picture guide organized by family, color, shape, location or other descriptors. The most popular early field guides in the United States were published in the late 1800’s, and were guides to plants and birds.

TLC Book Tours: Flight Behavior

I’ve been engrossed in Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, Flight Behavior. It’s one of those books that sets your mind whirling in all different directions. There are many hearts to this book, many core stories, and one of the most interesting is the story of the monarch butterfly and it’s migratory pattern. (Yes, this really is a novel, but she manages to sneaks a lot of science in there too, rather like the way your mother used to camoflauge vegetables with cheese sauce or buttered bread crumbs.)

The way I understand it is that the monarch butterfly migrates north from a warm climate (like Mexico) and then back again, but because a monarch’s lifespan is only about six weeks,  the complete journey is played out over three generations. The mating occurs in Mexico, and the birth of new butterflies a bit farther north, perhaps Texas. These newborns then fly even farther north to avoid extreme summer heat.  But then, if all goes according to plan, come autumn these brand new butterflies make their way back to Mexico.

Where they’ve never, ever been before.

Something in their DNA – remember, this is the DNA of a butterfly we’re talking about here – tells them when to make this journey and where to fly to get back to the warm Mexican forests where their “family” came from.

Today I’ve been thinking about and marveling over the inner signals in that tiny insect. The impulses that set it on its journey, the integrity of a miniscule GPS system that guides it on it’s way. The compulsion it must feel to fly at just the right time.

And the way it honors that compulsion without thinking.

If an insect can be so firmly guided by it’s genetics, I think, then how much more are we, without even being aware of it, guided by the genetic soup that sloshes in our large and cumbersome bodies. How many of our own impulses, behaviors, desires, are governed by the mysterious and ancient forces of DNA?

I suspect many more than we like to believe.

But unlike the insect – or birds or fish or other mammals – humans so often ignore the signals our inner spirit sends out. We persist in doing things that go against our grain, whether it’s work, or relationships, or ways of dealing with people. When life doesn’t feel just right, we tell ourselves to buck up and get over it.

When instead we should heed those prickling thoughts and allow them guide us to where we should be.

But so often we’re afraid.

For a long time before we moved, I had those prickling thoughts. That the place I was living wasn’t where I was supposed to be anymore. For an even longer time, I had been ignoring them, afraid to migrate, to make a dangerous journey away from everything I knew. Now that I’ve made the trip, I realize the decision was right. I feel peaceful, as if I’m where I belong.

The monarch butterflies in Kingsolver’s story have taken a wrong turn in their migration, things have happened which set them off course and changed the natural progression of their lives. This is mirrored in the book by the circumstances of its heroine, Dellarobia Turnbow, an intelligent young woman who was ready to fly from the foothills of rural Appalachia and onto college when she was derailed by her parents’ deaths and an unplanned pregnancy. She has been at odds with her world ever since, though she has done her best to buck up and get on with it. Something inside her has never felt quite right, and until the butterflies arrived on her mountain, she didn’t know what it was.

Those tiny butterflies live without fear and follow the compulsion that sends them forth, even though in this case it could mean complete extinction. I haven’t finished the book, so I don’t know if Dellarobia will heed their example, or how her story will end if she does.

Change is never without price, movement from one place to another is always fraught with a certain amount of danger. But if you can connect with your inner nature, with the primal forces that make you healthy and whole and alive, I have to believe you’re more likely to migrate successfully.

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

 

Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver