The Thirteenth Tale

March 24th. 2010

It’s been a while since I read this novel, but when I was dusting the bookshelves (what I need to be doing is some serious spring cleaning, but for now I’ll just run a Swiffer over the book tops and call it done) and saw this cover ,I remembered that I’d always wanted to blog about The Thirteenth Tale. I’m not usually drawn to Gothic, Victorian-esque mysteries, but this debut novel by Diane Setterfield scattered all my objections like bone meal in the wind–how’s that for my own bit of Gothic imagery?? This novel tells the story of a famous eccentric, Vida Winter as her saga unfolds to biographer, Margaret Lea. Both women are not what they seem, actually all the characters between these pages are so original that none of them are what they seem. This oh, so clever “ghost” story is chocked full of lies, secrets, abandoned babies and the like, but its so well-plotted that you get sucked into the roller coaster road of discovery right along with Margaret. Others have said Ms. Setterfield is on equal par with the Bronte sisters, albeit a modern version, but I saw a lot of Daphne Du Maurier in the colors, storms and shadows of the various tales Ms. Winters spins. You’ll have to find this book and read it for yourself. It’s a keeper.

Brava, Valentine

March 21st. 2010

For those of you who love the crazy emotional hangups of Adrianna Trigianni’s Italian families, globe-trotting adventures, tense romantic conflicts and inter-personal dramas, you’ll love this second story in Valentine’s saga toward maturity and love, maybe mutually exclusive elements. I’m eating the pages up like popcorn, even though I’m not finished. Speaking of popcorn, I’ve spent this bizarre snow day (yes, its March 21st) curled up on the sofa alternating between staring into the fire, staring into the HDTV screen to watch Johnny Depp work his magic as Captain Jack Sparrow, and burrowing into the pages of Brava, Valentine. Did I mention there have been teenagers running through the front door all day too?

I’ll be honest, I’m grieving from my corner of the sofa. My malaise is not due to snow. I like the white, fluffy stuff because in these parts it doesn’t come often and doesn’t do a lot of damage. It’s like the lace on a vintage greeting cards. Pretty, harmless and such a surprise that with everyone I meet, it is the central topic of conversation. We’re Southerners, talking about the weather is right up there with asking about Aunt Annie’s gall bladder surgery or Joey’s new baby. Strange as this may seem, I adore winter. The minute the Christmas decorations go down and I strip my house to its bare winter self, is one of the best days of the year for me. I hibernate. I go deep under the covers. I write for hours on end. I cook pasta with cream sauce. I lay on the floor and dream in Technicolor. And I avoid thinking about spring. You know those people who on January 1st invoke a  resolution to move into the gym? I see that light and I turn left, with a cup of hot tea and Bischoff cookie in hand. I spend enough months running, walking, yoga and all the million of other meetings, projects and activities that clutter a life, that come January I dig my heels into the hard, cold soil and I don’t budge. And you know what? I’m happy–in a reclusive sort of way.  Maybe too much, which is why spring is my least favorite season on the calendar. Like you, I have parties, events, school programs, trips, company, clients and this year my son’s high school graduation all staring at me with a double-circled ink blot on my schedule. Spring is inevitable. Like the hyacinths in my yard, I will be forced out of the ground. **sigh** So, for a few more hours, I’ll go back to Brava, Valentine and walk the streets of Buenos Aries and smell the bagels in New York before I pick up my car pool keys in the morning and face a beautiful week of seventy degree weather. Oh, the despair.

Velva Jean Learns to Drive

March 14th. 2010

Velva Jean Learns to Drive is blueberry experience. Hot summer sun will beat down on you, you will go through thorns and you’ll come out with chiggers, but when those blueberries melt on your tongue-heaven has come down. That’s the way it was reading Jennifer Niven’s novel. A hot, summer blueberry. She told a “coming of age” story of Velva Jean Hart that could easily resonate with any person from the South. As one who spent summer camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains this story not only resonated, it evoked some of the “bone memory” that people say come from your ancestor’s experiences. Though this book takes place in the 1930s-40s, its as real today for the humanity of the characters. Cheering for Velva Jean is just as close as crying for her. I loved this novel and hope you’ll reach for that blueberry too.

The Swiss Courier

March 12th. 2010

The Swiss Courier is a great story well told. But before I oohh and ahhh over the intelligence of the plot and the believable characters, let me tell you some back story. I’ve been working for several years on a novel set in Bayreuth, Germany –specifically related to the famed opera house and Wagner’s opera series. One day–on face book– I noticed that a fellow writer  was discussing a book she was writing set in Bayreuth and the opera house. After my shock (I’d been told  my story would never sell because of the setting and the simple fact that no one wants to read a book set around an opera festival) I messaged Tricia Goyer and told her we had probably done similar research. And since I’d actually lived in Bayreuth, Germany for a few years and had attended the opera festival and I did have  leg-up on the research–although, that was my only leg-up. (She’s a research wunderkind.) We then arranged to talk on the phone (crammed a week’s worth of conversation into about thirty minutes) at which point I could see where her novel was going to fly off bookstore shelves. In part because hers was part of a WW II series and she already had an audience. But also, it sounded like a great plot. Of which I can take credit for one teensiest bit of character motivation. 🙂 She told me so. With their weirdest of sighs, I wished her well.

As a thank-you for the help on the Bayreuth story, she sent me a copy of her hot off the press release, The Swiss Courier, a novel she wrote with Mike Yorkey. I do love a good spy novel. This story, set on the heels of an assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler (remember the movie, Valkyrie?) spins fast. Hitler is after anyone of even the remotest Jewish ancestry and the focus become zeroed in on a scientist with an affinity for constructing an atom bomb. Meanwhile, a covert group of undercover spies in Switzerland go to work protecting and transporting people across enemy lines. There were a lot of characters (I’m not going to lie–it got confusing) and a lot of settings (I’m not going to lie–it got confusing) but it was so well-researched and the characters were so believable and that it became more of a page-turner than anything else. There were a few surprises at the end, always a treat. And issues of faith and trust were linch pins to this story.  A great read!! Look for the rest of her WW II stories for your summer pleasure.

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

March 10th. 2010

A debut novel by Jaime Ford, this story retells the conflicts of a Chinese man during WWII as his best friend,and love of his life, Keiko, is caught in the anti-Japanese hysteria of the war climate. Told in alternating real time (on the recent occasion of his wife’s passing) and flash back, Henry’s own life mirrors many of the bigger conflicts. I have to say, having very little personal experience with Chinese and Japanese cultures, I found this interior glimpse interesting, but not terribly original. We could have been reading about Meads and Persians for all the individuality. But several key things resonated with me and kept me turning the pages. The tender Keiko is a jewel. You root for her from the first acquaintance–she’s a second generation American, she insists. I loved the symbolism of the ume tree Henry plants when his son is born and I loved that Henry got caught up in the jazz clubs and speakeasies of that time, finding real friendship with Sheldon, a black saxophone player. “At least we’re together” Sheldon tells Henry in the crux of their friendship that spans the years of the War through the end of their lives. Music is a tangible thread between these two unlikely people. BUT, a beautiful part of the story for me was the Panama Hotel. The building becomes a character when, prior to its destruction, Japanese family heirlooms are discovered in the basement. This becomes the vehicle that leads Henry down memory lane, but I love what is says about living, breathing memories hidden in  buildings decomposed by time. The theme of living somewhere between the bitter and the sweet in life is poignant, and defines Henry’s choices.  And just in case Nicholas Sparks ever looks to retire, there’s another man who loves to write about love waiting in the wings.  Read the rest of this entry »