Tuesday, December 03, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013

I have read more this year than any other year of my life. However, most of what I have been reading are my editing clients' unpublished works-in-progress. While I absolutely love this work, it leaves little time for pleasure reading. I did manage to read a few books with 2013 pub dates (as well as several books from previous years). Here are my favorites from 2013 -- in no particular order:

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

MargotEleanor & Park
Heart Like Mine Schroder

Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward: A Review

Men We Reaped: A MemoirMen We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous, difficult, heart-breaking memoir by the author of SALVAGE THE BONES. MEN WE REAPED is the account of five tragic deaths in five year's time in Ward's life, but it reads both like an investigation and like an elegy. It took me nearly a month to read this book...it is to be read in carefully calibrated does. It is that potent.

Ward has earned a life-long reader and fan.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Home, Again

I just got back from five weeks away from home, and suddenly I find myself in utter chaos. Plus it's hot here. Really, freaking hot.

The summer was fabulous...I was able to take a break from editing and read for pleasure, for one. I read a whole bunch of books while I was on vacation, my favorite being Looking for Alaska by John Green. John Green, where were you when I was in high school? Seriously, there is so much great fiction out there for the YA crowd now. I remember a literary vacuum when I was in high school. Man. Teenaged me would have loved that book. Grown-up me certainly did. I also read The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, How to Love (another YA book I picked up at the Readerlink trade show in Chicago), The Autobiography of Us, and The Silver Star

The Camp at Newark Pond, Vermont 2013

I also did some writing...a little side project that I am excited about...but for the most part took a vacation from writing. 

Mostly though, I thought about writing. I really spent a lot of time thinking about both the book I am working on and what will come next. What I have realized over the last several years, is that summer is my time to get excited about writing, without actually doing any of the hard work. That way, when I get home and fall descends, I am ready to go. I have four ideas percolating right now...two of which came to me this summer. I am chomping at the bit.

And fall has descended. Kicky started middle school (entering into preteendom with all the requisite rage and bliss). Esmee is in fourth grade and doesn't need me anymore except when she does. I have editing jobs lined up. I am back to teaching. My dog wants to walk. Food needs to get cooked. And the other day my dishwasher broke. 

Oh! And Bodies of Water comes out 9/24. 

And so it's back to real life now -- good thing I've got some stuff to be excited about. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

A Chance to Win an Advance Copy of BODIES OF WATER

Heather Fowler, Bonnie ZoBell, and I are having a reading at the Bamboo Lounge on July 18th. And in honor of that event, we're hosting a giveaway of our books. I am offering up an advance copy of Bodies of Water.

AND, the great news is, you don't even need to attend the event to win!

Just visit this page and leave a comment to enter.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne: A Review

Hand Me DownHand Me Down by Melanie Thorne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up after listening to an interview with Melanie Thorne on the Other People with Brad Listi podcast. So glad I did. This story is heart-breaking, particularly knowing it was inspired by Thorne's own life.

Elizabeth's mother is married to a convicted sex offender. Her father is a drunk. And when forced to choose between her husband and her daughters, she chooses him.

The girls are separated. Jaime goes to live with their father, leaving Elizabeth in a constant state of fear over her sister's well-being. And Liz is sent to Utah to live with her aunt who shows her a world she has never had access to before. I fell in love with her aunt Tammy. (For once, a wonderful character named Tammy!) And I ached for Liz as she struggled between the opportunity this new life offered and her sense of obligation and loyalty to her sister and mother.

Elizabeth is a fabulous narrator: precocious, smart, protective, but still a child. This book reminded me of all the wonderful books I love about broken childhoods: White Oleander, Bastard Out of Carolina, The Glass Castle.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow: A Review

IndiscretionIndiscretion by Charles Dubow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars.

I've been reading a lot of books about rich people lately. And I must admit that rich people's problems, around which this story revolves, simultaneously fascinate and infuriate me. With that out of the way, there was much about this book that I did enjoy.

This is the story of an affair and its devastating effects on a marriage and on a friendship. When Harry and Maddy Winslow meet young, vibrant Claire, they are both captivated. But only Harry cannot stop there. The two are soon engaged in a love affair which ultimately, and inevitably, has repercussions neither could imagine.

My primary gripe is with the narrator. The entire novel is narrated by Maddy's childhood friend, Walter, a lonely bachelor who has pined away for Maddy his entire life. I think Dubow's going for Nick Carroway feeling here, but while Nick provides a somewhat removed (even unbiased) perspective on Gatsby and Daisy, by the end of this novel, Walter comes off as a voyeur of sorts, obsessive to the point of creepy. I also had a difficult time with what felt like a device as Walter narrates the intimate scenes between Claire and Harry. I know, I know, he explains how he has access to this information via Harry himself and his writing (Harry is a National Book Award winning novelist). However, it felt (at times) contrived.

My other complaint has to do with a chapter near the end of the book. I don't want to spoil anything...but in case you're sensitive to that, STOP HERE. But it has that Freshman English "and it was all a dream" quality that I just can't tolerate. I actually both anticipated it and then grimaced when it happened. I get what he was trying to do...but blah.

My last complaint is not about the book per se, but rather about Harry himself. I hated Harry. I just did. He had everything and still wanted more. I know this is the point of the story, but I feel like he got his just desserts. And because I didn't care much for Maddy either, I wasn't sure where my sympathies should lie? With Walter? Maybe with Claire.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fresh Start Summer

Some of you may know that I do a little moonlighting as a freelance editor. It's a terrific side gig for me -- a job that I really enjoy (and one I can do in my PJs as well). But what I love most about editing (besides getting to read a lot of fabulous manuscripts and help ready them for publication) is the wide variety of enthusiastic and talented writers I get to work with.

I have recently had the pleasure of working with Beverly Nault, and so I am happy to help her promote the audio version of her novel, Fresh Start Summer, narrated by actress, Connie Ventress.

Here's the scoop!

From the award winning novel, now in audio! Set in small town Cherryvale, where "neighbors care, gardeners share, and God allows do-overs," you'll fall in love with the folks who live around the CherryPath.

 FSS audio cover                    

From an Amazon review of the book, "Novel Rocket and I recommend it as a thoroughly good read." Ane Mulligan

DW Garden pathMore about FRESH START SUMMER: With a smattering of humor, a touch of mystery, and a summer filled with fun, FRESH START SUMMER is perfect for those road trips, walking the dogs, or working in the garden. The entire family can listen in as Hollywood arrives in small town Cherryvale. After the two worlds collide, fires break out, and a townie most vocal about their intrusion goes missing. Are the new arrivals the culprits, or will they be the cure to helping mend a friendship in need of repair? With themes of prejudice, forgiveness, and fresh starts, the fun abounds with colorful characters, adorable pets, and a delightful small town setting where folks meet life head on, and rely on their faith to face life together. Selected as one of realsimple.com's Great Summer Reads of 2011 and recipient of the San Diego Christian Writer's Guild Excellence in Writing award, and narrated by the talented Hollywood actress, Connie Ventress, FRESH START SUMMER is now available for download on audible.com and Amazon.  

Bev HS 1About the Author:   Beverly Nault lives in Southern California with her high school sweetheart, Gary, where they take turns spoiling their two granddogs for practice. Besides writing The Seasons of Cherryvale series, she's the co-author of the best selling LESSONS FROM THE MOUNTAIN, WHAT I LEARNED FROM ERIN WALTON, with Mary McDonough, about the actress's life growing up on the classic television series. Find her at www.beverlynault.com, on Facebook, twitter @BevNault and Pinterest. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: A Review

Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 1/2 stars.

I really loved this book which follows a young secretary in 1930's New York as she and her roommate befriend the elusive and wealthy Tinker Grey. The mood is evocative of the jazz age, and everything in this novel (even the dialogue) sparkles. I was captivated by the setting and the characters. I just wanted to crawl inside of this world and stay there.

I read this book for my book club, on the heels of The Great Gatsby, a fact which certainly colors this review. My only criticism is that sometimes there is a fine line between homage and imitation, and this line is very blurry here. I couldn't tell whether some of the imagery and similarities in theme and character were simply cheeky nods to Gatsby or an outright assimilation.

No matter, it's a great read either way. Even if (especially if?) you love Gatsby.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Room of One's Own

I loved my office in Maryland. It was green and pretty and looked out over our backyard. It had hard wood floors and bookcases and light. But then we moved (though losing that office was a small price to pay to be back in San Diego).

Now we've been back for three years, and I realized I hadn't taken the time to personalize the space where I spend most of my days. White walls and clutter definitely don't speak to creativity. My office was actually stressing me out.

And so with the new book in my editor's hands and some time on my own, I decided to create my little corner of the world...a room of my own.

One important thing to me was a work table for other creative projects (painting, sewing, etc...)

A chalkboard wall next to my desk will be the place to dream about my next book.

The closet and books are organized now. It's a miracle.
(I'll put up a curtain eventually.)

I wanted to put up some of the larger prints of my photography here as well.

Work table and photo of Esmee to remind me that creativity requires this kind of childlike abandon.

My collection of corks -- one for each novel (published and unpublished) I've written.
And my great-grandfather built that little bookcase where I now keep all my crafty junk.

An old soda bottle crate for paints.

My writing space.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Books of Summer

It's Memorial Day weekend, which even here in sunny southern California, signals the advent of summer. And so I begin compiling my list of summer reads. And what better books to complement the season than novels set at summer camps?
Here are some I can't wait to read and re-read (blurbs are from goodreads.com):

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns"The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, from the best-selling author of Apologize, Apologize!, introduces Riddle James Camperdown, the twelve-year-old daughter of the idealistic Camp and his manicured, razor-sharp wife, Greer. It's 1972, and Riddle's father is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Between Camp's desire to toughen her up and Greer's demand for glamour, Riddle has her hands full juggling her eccentric parents. When she accidentally witnesses a crime close to home, her confusion and fear keep her silent. As the summer unfolds, the consequences of her silence multiply. Another mysterious and powerful family, the Devlins, slowly emerges as the keepers of astonishing secrets that could shatter the Camperdowns. As an old love triangle, bitter war wounds, and the struggle for status spiral out of control, Riddle can only watch, hoping for the courage to reveal the truth. The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is poised to become the summer's uproarious and dramatic must-read."

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A Novel"It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer."

The Inverted Forest
"Late on a warm summer night in rural Missouri, an elderly camp director hears a squeal of joyous female laughter and goes to investigate. At the camp swimming pool he comes upon a bewildering scene: his counselors stripped naked and engaged in a provocative celebration. The first camp session is set to start in just two days. He fires them all. As a result, new counselors must be quickly hired and brought to the Kindermann Forest Summer Camp.

One of them is Wyatt Huddy, a genetically disfigured young man who has been living in a Salvation Army facility. Gentle and diligent, large and imposing, Wyatt suffers a deep anxiety that his intelligence might be subnormal. All his life he’s been misjudged because of his irregular features. But while Wyatt is not worldly, he is also not an innocent. He has escaped a punishing home life with a reclusive and violent older sister.

Along with the other new counselors, Wyatt arrives expecting to care for children. To their astonishment, they learn that for the first two weeks of the camping season they will be responsible for 104 severely developmentally disabled adults, all of them wards of the state. For Wyatt it is a dilemma that turns his world inside out. Physically, he is indistinguishable from the state hospital campers he cares for. Inwardly, he would like to believe he is not of their tribe. Fortunately for Wyatt, there is a young woman on staff who understands his predicament better than he might have hoped.

At once the new counselors and disabled campers begin to reveal themselves. Most are well-intentioned; others unprepared. Some harbor dangerous inclinations. Among the campers is a perplexing array of ailments and appearances and behavior both tender and disturbing. To encounter them is to be reminded just how wide the possibilities are when one is describing human beings.

Soon Wyatt is called upon to prevent a terrible tragedy. In doing so, he commits an act whose repercussions will alter his own life and the lives of the other Kindermann Forest staff members for years to come.

Written with scrupulous fidelity to the strong passions running beneath the surface of camp life, The Inverted Forest is filled with yearning, desire, lust, banked hope, and unexpected devotion. This remarkable and audacious novel amply underscores Heaven Lake’s wide acclaim and confirms John Dalton’s rising prominence as a major American novelist."

Shelter: A Novel

"In a West Virginia forest in 1963, a group of children at summer camp enter a foreboding Eden and experience an unexpected rite of passage. Shelter is an astonishing portrayal of an American loss of innocence as witnessed by a mysterious drifter named Parson, two young sisters, Lenny and Alma, and a feral boy called Buddy. Together they come to understand bravery and the importance of compassion. 

Phillips unearths a dangerous beauty in this primeval terrain and in the hearts of her characters. Lies, secrets, erotic initiations, and the bonds of love between friends, families, and generations are transformed in a leafy wilderness undiminished by societal rules and dilemmas. Cast in Phillips’ stunning prose, with an unpredictable cast of characters and a shadowy, suspenseful narrative, Shelter is a an enduring achievement from one of the finest writers of our time."

The Interestings"The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life." 


Camp"Every secret has a price.

For most girls, sleepaway camp is great fun. But for Amy Becker, it's a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent to Camp Takawanda for Girls for the first time as a teenager. Although Amy swears she hates her German-immigrant mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy's autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled about going to camp. At Takawanda she is subjected to a humiliating "initiation" and relentless bullying by the ringleader of the senior campers. As she struggles to stop the mean girls from tormenting her, Amy becomes more confident. Then a cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy's mother's past, which sets in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

Camp is a compelling coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets. It will resonate with a wide teenage readership. Camp will be a strong addition to school recommended reading and summer reading lists, and it is appropriate for anti-bullying programs. Mostly, though, Camp is a mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters to share."


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On These Violent Reminders

Sometimes the world is just too much. Too beautiful, too big, too brutal, too small.

After the massacre at Newtown, I tried to think that this was just the world's nudge to remember to slow down. (To those of us who were lucky enough to watch the tragedy unfold at a distance anyway.) It was a reminder to pay attention. To appreciate, to love. But now, just a few months later, that nudge feels like a shove. Like something violent. Like a message. (Did you know that the last mile of yesterday's marathon was dedicated to the Newtown families? God. It feels like a stampede of tragedies, one upon another upon another.)

As a writer, I feel like I am constantly trying to contain the world with my words, to control it. In my photography, I am simply trying to capture it. To slow it down. To savor it in gorgeous delicate increments. It seems I have made a career of this impulse to just hold on. I am consumed by it. But sometimes the world is too much and too loud with its reminders that no matter what I do, I can't contain it, control it. I can't protect the people I love (no matter how hard I try), and worse, I can never ever, ever appreciate it enough.

I don't know what the remedy is for this feeling. It's daunting. And awful. I feel sometimes as though I am always anticipating the next tragedy. Expecting it. Imagined grief haunting so many moments.

I can only imagine what the families, all those families so similar to my own yet now so profoundly different, must feel. Wishing they had slowed down, paid closer attention, loved more. As if there is some magic spell that might have kept them safe if they did.

The responsibility of holding onto something as ephemeral as life, of cherishing each fleeting moment, is too big. If this is, indeed the message to be taken by those of us who, once again are the lucky ones, then how on earth are we supposed to heed it?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch: A Review

The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars?

I'm beginning to think I am just a sucker for an unreliable narrator. This book, like SCHRODER (Amity Gage) and DEFENDING JACOB (William Landay), unfolds via a first person narrator who first establishes our sympathy and then systematically undoes every bit of this trust.

The premise is clever (though, perhaps, a bit too clever): two couples, both parents of a fifteen year old boy, meet for dinner at an upscale Amsterdam restaurant. The two men are brothers, and one of the brothers (not the narrator), is in the running to become the next Prime Minister. However, they have come together this night to discuss something their two boys have done. I won't spoil this by going into detail, but rather leave the grisly discovery to you.

I loved the way the mystery unfolded, and all the little twists and turns along the way. I do think there were some significant plausibility problems: would someone of Serge Lohman's stature choose such a public venue for this discussion? Would Claire really, really do this? What is this mysterious mental illness that can be detected via amniocentesis? And had no one but Paul really discovered that youtube video??

Regardless, I found it really riveting. It is flawed, but worth the read.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne: A Review

The Love Song of Jonny ValentineThe Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 1/2 stars. What a smart and topical book.

THE LOVE SONG OF JONNY VALENTINE about an eleven year old pop-star (a la Bieber) is actually (underneath the biting cultural commentary) a tender story about a boy in search of his father. We follow Jonny on his cross-country mega-tour and on his quest to reconnect with his dad.

The first-person voice is pitch-perfect (sorry)...Jonny is simultaneously media savvy, jaded, and somehow still wonderfully naive. At times, this incongruity is positively heart-breaking. I think the characters were exquisitely drawn as well.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany: A Review

Heart Like MineHeart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It seems like every time I pick up one of Amy's books, I am reluctant to put it down without finishing, and there are few books I can say this about. I think this is due to a magical combination of readability (though certainly not sacrificing complexity of character) and Amy's tremendous empathy for the people who live within her pages.

Grace has never wanted children. But when she meets Victor (who has two children of his own), she reluctantly accepts the position of part-time step-mother. However, when Victor's ex dies suddenly and mysteriously, she is thrust into the very role she never wanted to fill.

The novel is told in alternating chapters between Grace, Ava (Victor's 13 year old daughter), and Kelli (the ex). There's a nice mystery at the heart of the story which keeps the pages turning. I found myself sympathetic to all three characters due to the sensitivity with which they were treated by their author.

Really looking forward to her next one as well (there's a sneak peek at the back of this book).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hold Still by Nina LaCour: A Review

Hold StillHold Still by Nina LaCour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a story about a particular kind of grief, set in the aftermath of a suicide. Pretty grim subject matter, I know. But LaCour's handling of it is deft. The novel is wonderfully raw and authentic, without ever becoming maudlin.

After Ingrid kills herself, her best friend, Caitlin, is left with a few precious (and dangerous) artifacts: a diary, and the photos that Ingrid, an aspiring photographer, left behind. And by studying these entries and images, Caitlin comes to understand everything she didn't know (and perhaps couldn't know) about her friend when she was alive. Over the course of the following year, Caitlin struggles to make sense of what has happened and to redefine herself in Ingrid's absence. The other characters in the book are complex, and their responses to Caitlin (and her nearly debilitating grief) are credible and heart-breaking.

There is both photography and a tree house, which is pretty much all it takes for me to love a book, but this is a good one. And I would recommend it to both teens and adults alike, particularly to anyone who has lost someone to suicide.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Schroder by Amity Gaige: A Review

SchroderSchroder by Amity Gaige
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel opens in a familiar way, "What follows is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance." For anyone who has read Lolita, the parallels (between this "confession," between these characters -- Humbert Humbert and Erik Schroder, between the two kidnappings) are obvious. However, Schroder is not a pedophile, but a desperate father who has abducted his own daughter. He is also a liar. His entire life a fiction. The novel, written in the epistolary form to his ex-wife, Laura, slowly unravels the elaborate construct of his life.

There was so much I loved about this novel. I think that Gaige has done an incredible job with the unreliable narrator. I found myself both captivated and disturbed by him. I longed to trust him, only to have that trust undermined. The writing is gorgeous, and the scenes vivid.

Shroder's "research" on pausology (or the power and nature of pauses and silence) was interesting, but I wonder if it might have resonated more near the end of the novel. (I kept waiting for his research to somehow come to fruition...but it didn't, for me anyway.)

As a native Vermonter, I would be remiss if I didn't point out a couple of glitches. 1. There are no billboards in Vermont. 2. The depiction of the "public academy" in St. Johnsbury (and the image of the bedraggled parents waiting to pick up their children) rang false. St. Johnsbury Academy is a private high school, with a huge population of dorm students, and I couldn't understand why a) parents of teens would be picking them up from school, this presumes the parents are not working b) there were so many "visibly pregnant" mothers...really? Women with teenage kids? Anyway...probably only fellow Vermonters would take issue with this.

I also wonder (and hoping someone might chime in here) about the shift from the epistolary form of the novel to a second person near the end (where Schroder appears to be speaking to himself)...and then the several pages of what seems to be an apology (I let you down.) Because of the earlier shift in who "you" is, I didn't know whether to read this as directed toward Laura or toward himself...or perhaps, this is intentional. Regardless, it was the only moment (other than the two moments mentioned above) where I felt pulled away from the fictional dream.

I definitely recommend this book. I really, really enjoyed it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander: A Review

Goblin SecretsGoblin Secrets by William Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this to my daughter's 3rd grade class, selecting it because of its NBA win. Though while the story was an interesting one (a child searching for his lost brother becomes involved with a troupe of performing goblins), I found it to be, in some ways inaccessible to the nine year old set (and sometimes, even to me). I never felt I had a full grasp on the rules of this world. It seemed I was always trying to process some new and strange detail about the fictional Zombay and its inhabitants (creatures made of gears, masks that replicate rivers and cities, pigeons inhabited by the cruel matriarch from whom Rownie has escaped). This took away from the genuine thrill of Rownie's search for his brother.

I don't typically read fantasy novels, so please take these comments with that in mind. This might prove to be just magical to some readers. (And certainly, some children in the class to seemed to enjoy it more than others.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: A Review

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eleanor & Park is a love story. Eleanor, a misfit girl from a ravaged family (with a dangerous step-dad, a broken mom, and too many siblings to count), and Park (half Asian and not quite popular) meet on the school bus when they are forced to sit together. And over the course of the school year, they fall desperately and wildly in love.

What a sweet, sweet book. Vivid, authentic characters. Heart-pounding, sweaty palms style teenage romance. Plus, it's set in the 80s, which allowed this not-so-young adult to feel right at home.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Y by Marjorie Celona: A Review

YY by Marjorie Celona
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is gorgeously written. It is told from the point of view of Shannon who, as an infant, is abandoned by her birth mother on the steps of a YMCA. But the narrative also explores the incidents leading up to this moment. It's a heart-breaking, aching sort of story in so many ways, but it also forces the reader to examine what makes a family and what defines "home." The final passages of the novel just about blew me away with their cruelty, honesty, and beauty.

The only complaint I have is that I felt a distance from Shannon. Despite the intimate first person voice which narrates both her own story and the story of her mother, she somehow remained elusive, which may very well have been intentional on Celona's part. Shannon is an unknowable creature...but I just wanted her to let me in...if even for only a moment.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Bodies of Water Cover Reveal!

Somehow getting the cover art for a novel makes it feel really, really real.


Coming September 24, 2013.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth: A Review

The Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a brilliant book. It's the kind of book that kids should be reading. The kind of book that might just make a huge difference in a teenager's life. That might even save a life.

This expansive novel follows Cameron Post, a gay teenage girl, on a long journey of self-discovery after the death of her parents. Raised in Montana by her grandmother and her well-meaning evangelical aunt Ruth, her sexuality is a dangerous secret. It is also something that her family seems to think can be remedied.

Exiled to a school which promises to "bring her back to God" (by "curing" her of her deviance), Cameron struggles with her identity, with her place in her family and community, and with the loss of her parents.

The ending chapter is simply gorgeous. It made me weep. A beautiful, important book.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Day Off

I just realized last night that for the past four months I have not taken a single day off from writing. Not on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Not even when I had the flu. I have a tendency to get a little compulsive...which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. But I didn't expect that taking a day away from my work would be this difficult.

Patrick is in Arizona, and the girls are at a sleepover, and so I had no obligations this morning. You'd think that would be enough to make me snooze like a baby. But, creature of habit, I woke up at 5 a.m. brain buzzing and humming. I forced myself to stay in bed until the sun came up (!) and then made my coffee and sat down at the computer.

Normally, I locate my work-in-progress and pick up exactly where I left off. I have been revising my novel for almost two months now. I know exactly where to find its weak spots (those fragile fissures and fault lines). I know those paragraphs that need to be shifted around. I know where I have to build up the one character who remains just a tad bit shadowy. I've read and re-read it so many times, it feels almost like some sort of prayer.

But today: Email. Facebook. New York Times Sunday Book Review. Add books from the NYT to Goodreads.

It's agony not opening that document. And it's not that I love revising. I really don't. But it's a habit. It's something my body wants to do, needs to do. I feel a bit lost.

And so I opened a new document. And wrote 104 words. And suddenly I feel better.

So I cheated. But just a little.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Quitting

Two years ago today I quit drinking.

I quit without much fanfare. No last hurrah. I simply decided I needed a break, that my body needed a break, that, maybe, it was time to just give it up.

I love drinking. I have loved drinking since the first time, when we all snuck peach schnapps from my friend's parents' liquor cabinet the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I love the warm happiness it offers, the confidence, the way it eases the buzzing of an overactive mind.

And I love the social aspect of drinking. Sharing a bottle of wine and stories and gossip with friends over a nice dinner. Or going out for a few drinks at a bar. I love bars. I met my husband in a bar.

I love the ritual of it: a cold beer at the end of a long day, in the middle of a hot summer day, to celebrate a good day or to make a bad day not so bad. It was a part of my life the way anything is.

When I was pregnant, I didn't drink, and after I had my daughters I stopped drinking the way I did (and could) when I was in my twenties. But motherhood brought on new reasons to partake. More than ever, I appreciated the palliative qualities of a drink, or two, or three.

So why quit? Because as much as I love a pretty cocktail or a Corona with a sour wedge of lime, there are many, many things I don't love about drinking. I didn't love the way, at 41, it made my body feel wrecked. The way it interrupted my sleep. The self-loathing I felt each time I thought of something I'd said that I might never have said without a little buzz, my tongue loosened by a few too many. The guilt I felt when my daughters asked if I needed a beer whenever they got up to go to the fridge.

So I quit. I just stopped. I wasn't a heavy drinker, a problem drinker, but a regular drinker. A habitual and happy drinker. But I am also an all-or-nothing kind of girl (for both good things and bad), and so I quit.

The hardest part was explaining my new abstinence to friends. It wasn't until I stopped drinking that I realized what an enormous role it plays in so many adult social gatherings. People seemed baffled by my decision. Respectful, but bewildered. Why on earth would anybody who wasn't pregnant or an alcoholic give it up? I came up with a variety of answers until people just stopped offering me drinks and pointed me to the sparkling water instead.

And two years later, I don't miss it. Not much anyway. And there are certainly perks to being a non-drinker. For one, I never get hangovers. Secondly, I am always available to drive anyone home safely. Third, instead of going to bed with a fuzzy brain and fuzzy tongue at night, I go to bed with a book. I have read twice as much in the last two years than I would have before. And lastly, I feel no shame around my daughters who are still young but are also very smart and very observant. I want to set a good example; that matters. I also want to be present for them. Fully present. I feel like a better person without drinking, like I might if I did yoga or ran or did anything else that's good for me. Two years. I'm kind of proud.

Now I just need to figure out how to quit sugar...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk by Ben Fountain: A Review

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 1/2 - 4 stars. This book has gotten so much buzz, I decided to select it for my book club. We haven't met yet to discuss, and already there's been a lot of complaining. However, in general I liked it. I think the premise is interesting (a US soldier comes home with his platoon after a successful battle in Iraq and they are paraded around in a tour of the country to drum up support for the war...the entire novel takes place during a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys game during which they are to appear alongside Destiny's Child during the half-time show). The writing is wonderful, hypnotic even. The main character, Billy Lynn, is a likeable 19 year old kid. And it is an illuminating commentary on "patriotism" and commercialism (there is a producer at their side vying for the film deal) and even on war. But, as my book club friends have complained, it kind of drags. I have tremendous patience when it comes to slow-moving books, but I found myself fine with setting this one down each night. I also found most of the characters, besides, Billy to be somewhat flat, more caricature than character. Still a worthwhile read. The writing is lovely.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Dispatches from Revisionland: A Progress Report

For the last month, I have been mired in the revisions of my newest book. This part of the process for me is both the most agonizing and the most rewarding. But mostly agonizing. Here's what I am up against:

1. I have no title. I just don't. And so every single time I open the document, I am staring at a blank page before I scroll down to the beginning of the remaining 320 pages. This is doing something to me psychologically. I am tempted to give it a placeholder name just so I don't get that sinking feeling in my gut every time I open the manuscript. It's like a nameless baby.

Any suggestions? (Maybe something about a bridge?)

2. Today I realized the timeline was screwed up. Not irrevocably, but enough to cause me a significant amount of grief. The novel takes place over the week leading up to Hurricane Irene's landfall in Vermont. Well, all this time I thought the rains came on Saturday. Guess what? It was Sunday. Sunday was the day. So now I have to create an entire day's worth of events to make it work. And no, I can't just push the whole book forward a day...because one of my damn characters has swimming lessons on Friday. She couldn't possibly have them on Saturday because the pool is closed. Alas.

3. I am still figuring out how and when to offer the big twist/reveal. There's this horrible thing about knowing more than your reader does. It's like keeping a secret about a surprise party and worrying that whoever you are trying to surprise has already figured it out. I'm crouched down in the dark waiting to jump up, but worried that somebody's going to say, "Don't bother. I see you."

4. Sorrow. There's a lot of sorrow here. And there are dead animals and bad moms and mean friends. It's hard to go into this book and not come out feeling a little bit helpless. Of course, the plan is that things will get better...but not at page 220. That doesn't happen for another 100 pages.

5. Self-doubt. Every single day I second guess every single sentence. I don't trust my instincts. I think it sucks.

6. The Vacuum-Effect. I am the only person in the world who has read even one word of this book. These characters exist only in my head and in this document. Nobody in the world cares about them yet except for me. This is scary.

7. Other more interesting things. I am not sure why this happens, but when I am at this stage of the novel-writing process, I have a million ideas for new books (better books). Well, maybe not a million. But three. All I want to do is buy a fresh notebook and start writing the next story. But I can't. Not yet. 

Anyway, my plan is to complete a good draft by the end of this month. I know I am close. I think I am close anyway. That means 20 pages a day until next week, and then 25 pages a day until the 28th. Until then you can find me here. At the computer. Blogging when I should be revising.

Friday, February 01, 2013

On Rejection

Fifteen years ago I had just written my first novel, and it had been universally rejected by every major and minor publishing company in the industry. It had lost contests. It had been spurned by agents. Fed up, I wrote my own rejection letter in response to one particularly patronizing editor.

I just found it.

Thankfully, I never sent it. But boy, did it feel good to write. I'm slightly mortified now, but it's a good reminder to me that I am a fighter when it comes to my writing. I always have been. I am also reminded that tenacity, a sense of humor, and hard freaking work are all necessary if you want to survive as an artist of any kind.

Dear ___________,

Thank you for submitting your rejection for my perusal and consideration. Regretfully, your work has not advanced to the final round: "Having a Significant Impact on My Writing Endeavors."

I know that this letter brings disappointing news, but please don't be discouraged. All the rejections received are very worthwhile projects and deserve to be further developed. Because I have such a high volume of rejections submitted in response to this manuscript, I cannot pass along to you an individual evaluation. What I can do, however, is give you an idea of why your rejection did not advance.

Rejections that stayed at the semi-finalist round ("Minimal Impact on My Ego and Sense of Self-as-Writer) had problems in the following areas:

1. Dialogue - None. Most rejections lack this altogether. Diatribe and dialogue are not the same thing which brings me to...

2. Point of View - The point of view is unclear here. Is it truly the voice of _________ or some other greater entity? One does not get a sense of who the narrator is here. What are her motives, desires, fears?

3. The Establishment of Plot - There is no hook here. What compels the reader to read on? From the second sentence, the reader knows that rejection is inevitable. Perhaps a little mystery might render this rejection more interesting.

My suggestion to you, in order to achieve your rejecting goals, is to continue to read as much as you can, paying close attention to the craft and then finding ways to decimate it. Also, if you don't have one, please locate a classic novel and tear it to shreds. (Like the ones you read in high school or college.) You can look at thrift stores, garage sales, or used bookstores. Study these relics and learn ways to articulate your critical sentiments in the nastiest of ways.

I know this sounds a bother, but when I see new critics follow this advice, the overall improvement in their criticism is quite noticeable and their chances for success increase and, in time, success is attained.

As always, I applaud you and all of your fellow critics for rejecting me. Successful rejection takes time, courage, dedication, and discipline. Soon you will have a significant impact on the egos and drives and passions of many a young writer.

Please know that I recognize your efforts and offer you encouragement to keep moving forward.

T. Greenwood

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I haven't been sleeping well. Correction: I have been sleeping well until about four or five a.m. and then waking with a feeling that I can only describe as marrow-sucking. It's as though every little problem and big problem in my waking life take on the same epic proportions just before dawn...so the need to find Kicky's leotard is on the same level as how we're going to pay for her to go to college seven years from now. I have no explanation for this sleep-killing anxiety, but I'm about done with it. I've been trying to use this time to write in my head...as though solving the problems of my fictional world will somehow distract from those in my real world. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. I think it mostly feels like I'm running out of time. There are so many things I haven't gotten to yet, and time is like a fire tearing through a warehouse filled with newspapers. I feel like I'm running from it, the heat all around me and flames licking at my bare feet. So that's where my head is at. In case you were wondering.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where You Are by J. H. Trumble: A Review

Where You AreWhere You Are by J.H. Trumble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel alternates between the points of view of Robert, a high school student whose father is dying, and Robert's math teacher, Andrew, a 24 year old gay man who is recently divorced from his best friend and mother of his three year old daughter.

I found myself feeling tremendously sympathetic toward both characters as they navigate the murky waters of their relationship. Robert is searching desperately for the love his father never gave him, and Andrew is really still finding and defining who is as a gay man. (I did need to remind myself that Andrew is only 24, which made some of his behaviors -- which I would have found reprehensible in an older man -- understandable.)

It's a coming of age story (for both characters) as well as a story of forbidden love. The narrative suspense is just under the surface, but grows in intensity in the last fifty pages or so.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann: A Review

Let the Great World SpinLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars. If I were rating this novel exclusively on its prose, I would give it five stars. the language is hypnotic at times, evocative of the city whose stories it tells. However, I found myself frustrated a bit with some of the novel's larger elements.

The novel opens with a glimpse of the streets below as a tight-rope walker traverses a line stretched between the Twin Towers. It is 1974. The novel then offers chapters dedicated to a myriad of characters who all, in some way, had a connection to the city during this momentous event.

While I thought McCann did a marvelous job capturing the voices of each of these characters, I did not find myself connecting in any significant way with any of them. (As soon as I began to feel a connection with a character, another character was introduced.) I understand that this episodic set-up is likely designed to give us glimpses into many lives. If so, I think a collection of short stories would have been more satisfying.

As soon as the connections between the characters started to be made, I was simultaneously relieved and irritated. I was relieved, because suddenly there was structure where it seemed there was none. But I was irritated because some of these ties were simply too coincidental; it felt contrived. (I am thinking primarily of Gloria and Claire...and the judge and Tillie.)

McCann writes, "It had never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected." Here is the secret of this story...the metaphor that McCann is striving for...exemplified by the tightrope walker.

I wanted to love this book, but ultimately appreciated the author's efforts more than the story itself.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Next Best Thing

Last month, my friend, Judy Reeves, tagged me for The Next Best Thing project, in which writers answer the following questions about their latest projects, and then tag a few more writers who do the same, and so on.

Here you can see Judy's answers, and I have tagged my dear writer friends, Ilie Ruby, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, and Jillian Cantor who will answer the questions about their Next Best Things. Enjoy!  

What is the working title of your book?
The novel is called Bodies of Water, a title which was a gift from my friend, Miranda. I was struggling to come up with a title (as I always do), and she kindly offered me one of hers (which came from an essay she wrote). My first novel was titled Breathing Water. And while this is not a sequel by any stretch of the imagination, it does return to some of my old fictional haunts (Lake Gormlaith, Quimby, etc...) with cameos by some of the characters in Breathing Water (Gussy, Effie, Devin).  

Where did the idea come from for the book?
In the summer of 2011, Hurricane Irene devastated much of my home state of Vermont. The deluge carried away old barns, homes, and bridges. We had just left our summer camp on Newark Pond in the Northeast Kingdom where we spend every August, and were staying with family on our way home. Because I was driving, and because of the storm that was pummeling the entire east coast, our hosts graciously asked us to stay another night. And something about the storm, something about being trapped inside, hunkered down together for one more night, seemed to open all of us up, and, because I come from a family of storytellers, we started to share stories. But it was this story, this beautiful love story, that kept me awake all night long. As the rain and wind pounded against the windows, I could almost feel the ribbons in my fingers as I slowly began to unwrap this gift.  

What genre does your book fall under?
This novel is a love story, but it would fall under the literary fiction umbrella.  

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I have a Pinterest board where I collect images that both inspire and are inspired by the story. Here I pinned a number of photos of a very young Brigitte Bardot (pre-bombshell) as Eva. Sadly, the young Bardot is not available...and so if I had to pick a contemporary actress, I might pick Rachel Weisz. My narrator, Billie, I could see being played by Jessica Chastain.  

The men are harder.  I could see Liev Schrieber as Ted and Giovanni Rabisi as Frankie.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
 I'm terrible at this. And so I'm going to cheat and use a few sentences:  

Billie Valentine is eighty years old, living out her last days in a small southern California beach community, when she receives a call from her past. John Wilson, her best friend's son, wants to talk to her about his mother and a long ago tragedy that shattered his family. This call catapults Billie back in time, to relive a long ago affair and its aftermath. BODIES OF WATER is a story of friendship and forbidden love set against the backdrop of the early 1960s.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Some books are easy. Others are excruciating. This was one of the magical easy ones. I started it as a NaNoWriMo project on November 1st, and completed it at the end of December. Of course, there were many, many revisions made, but the first draft came quickly in a glorious rush.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? 
This novel is absolutely fiction, but the seed of truth planted that stormy night, nurtured by all that wild rain, was where it began.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I don't want to give too much away about the book, but I will say that it is not what many readers will expect...but my hope is that it will both delight and devastate.