Near the beginning of Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip, there is a delightful moment in which Mr. Watts tells his students that they will soon be meeting Mr. Charles Dickens of London, England. The students rarely see a white man in their isolated village in Papua New Guinea so they come back the next day with great expectations. Initially disappointed to learn the author has been dead for over a century, they quickly become enthralled as Mr. Watts starts reading Dickens’s last novel aloud.
1/7/14 – STONER: IT’S TIME YOU READ THIS BOOK
A few months ago, the New Yorker reviewed Stoner under the headline, “The Greatest American Novel You’ve Never Heard Of.” It was a clever line, but after Britain’s Waterstones named it the Book of the Year for 2013—and with U.S. sales finally topping 100,000—it may no longer be true. Admittedly, it’s taken 48 years to get to this point and the novel is still far from a popular favorite, but it’s clearly beginning to get the attention it deserves.
12/7/13 — THE LETTERS OF EDITH WHARTON
When I was having trouble with the first chapter of a novel I was writing, a good friend and writing mentor suggested I take another look at Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Its first chapter is a classic; it not only draws you into the story but it also lays the groundwork and foreshadows everything that is to follow.
In fact, the opening was so good I couldn’t stop and quickly reread Wharton’s wonderful classic. But as I put it back on my shelf, my eye caught the volume next to it: The Letters of Edith Wharton, edited by her Pulitzer prize-winning biographer R.W.B. Lewis and his wife, Nancy Lewis. And what a marvelous treasure that turned out to be.
11/10/13 BOOK REVIEW: THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS BY ANTON DiSCLAFANI
I like a good mystery, especially a mystery embedded in a mainstream novel. So I was hooked when Anton DiSclafani started dropping hints of an unnamed “trouble” at home in the first chapter of her debut novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. The “trouble” is the reason fifteen-year-old Thea Atwell’s parents have sent her away from home in Florida to a boarding school where wealthy young women learn to be accomplished equestriennes in the mountains of North Carolina.
10/26/2013 – Along the Watchtower by David Litwack – a review
David Litwack says, “Nothing inspires his writing like the beautiful scenery of Cape Cod.” The chilled crash of the shore and the craggy trees of the Cape are starkly evident in the pages of Litwack’s Along the Watchtower. The atmosphere he creates by means of the Cape is just one of the many successful aspects of this novel.
Fredrick Williams is an Army Lieutenant leading his squad on a patrol in Iraq when he is gravely wounded. A man obsessed with the video game, World of Warcraft, Fredrick believes his distraction with the game is what diverted his attention and led to his injuries and the death of his closest friend, the man he calls archangel.
10/23/13, Review of The Preservationist by Justin Kramon.
Justin Kramon’s book is just out. He says it’s “a psychological thriller, written as a tribute to some of the classic thrillers I love, from Hitchcock to Ruth Rendell to Stephen King to Patricia Highsmith to Henning Mankell.”
10/20/13 “Purple Jesus is so perfectly written, it’s exhilarating to read,” wrote Eric Miles Williamson in The Washington Post. “The publication of Purple Jesus is a literary event of the first magnitude.”
Ron Cooper’s Purple Jesus is the heartbreaking tale of a hapless, not always well-intentioned young man—Purvis—being led around by his penis and his penchant for fantasy by a young woman determined to escape the backwoods rural poverty that asthmatic Purvis lacks the self-esteem to ever really imagine himself escaping. The book is also the best explanation—illumination—I’ve seen of how some modern-life tragedies come into being, the kinds of fatal tragedies that leave all of us gawking at the TV news and saying, “Why would anyone do that? What was he thinking?”
First, let’s get this out the way: Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson. There, I have evoked his name so no one can say I overlooked him.
Mr. Larsson’s successful works notwithstanding, everyone loves a good mystery and I’m no exception. Humans are hard-wired to try to solve puzzles and problems, a survival skill basic to understanding one another and trying to get along so we don’t kill each other.
The Ice Woman Assignment by Austin S. Camacho has all the excitement and tension a reader of thrillers could want. Morgan Stark, a black, well-muscled former mercenary, is a partner in a security business with red-haired former jewel thief Felicity O’Brien. Their cunning opponent is Anaconda,
9/20/13 – BOOK REVIEW OF ROB ROSS’s FANTASY NOVEL, JUGGLER’S BLADE
I usually don’t read fantasy but watched for Juggler’s Blade to be published because I knew it had won the fantasy silver prize in the Maryland Writers’ Association novel contest. Not only does the book jump off fast, but the beginning is worthy of literary fiction. The plight of Ian, the young protagonist, brings to mind Oliver Twist, Dickens’ lad born into a life of crime.
9/7/13 – BOOK REVIEW: WASHED IN THE WATER BY NANCY HARTNEY
Nancy Hartney doesn’t just create a sense of place in her stories; she actually takes you there, lifting you out of your reading chair and virtually transporting you to the South as it was fifty years ago. In Washed in the Water, her debut collection of short stories, Hartney writes with such authority and realism about the white underbelly of the region during that era that she immediately establishes herself as an important new voice of the South, with a style and tone reminiscent of Carson McCullers, Erskine Caldwell, or Flannery O’Connor. You certainly don’t need to read the book jacket to know where Hartney comes from.
9/1/13 – THE BOOKS I MISSED READING LAST YEAR
I’ve been so submerged in the process of writing a new novel that I’ve missed pretty much every one of my monthly book club meetings over the past year—and, alas, many of the books that went with them. When I finally came up for air, I found myself gasping for fresh reading material, and I figured the ladies of my longstanding book club could rescue me.
9/1/13 – THE REMAINING – A REVIEW
I don’t wear combat boots anymore, but in my heart, I’m still a soldier. Perhaps that’s why I’m forever drawn to stories about ordinary people who, through heroic efforts, overcome impossible odds.
That’s exactly the kind of story I found in D. J. Molles’ series, The Remaining. I haven’t been this enthralled, this transported by a series of books since…EVER. I dare anyone, especially anyone who ever served in uniform, to read these books and not be affected by them.
9/1/13 – FINDING HONOR IN THE LOST SAINTS OF TENNESSEE
Aptly named, The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis is a story about loss—both the losses that are unavoidable and the ones we inflict on ourselves. But despite their losses, and there are many, the characters in this novel have a ragged nobility that comes from trying to do the right thing, even when the consequences turn out all wrong. That may not be enough to qualify for sainthood, but it was enough to keep me involved with these characters from start to finish. I enjoyed this book as much as any I’ve read in a long time.