Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Sadness of Beautiful Things


A wise and deeply affecting collection of vividly told stories centers on the inner lives of ordinary people shaped by personal tragedy.

In The Sadness of Beautiful Things, British-born and Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Simon Van Booy offers eight short works that focus on a host of ordinary people who suffer devastating life losses, but find ways to go on--dramatically changed.

Each of these haunting, at times mystical, fictions are, at their core, love stories in every conceivable sense of the word. A daughter tells of her absent, volatile father and the lengths her long-suffering, yet forgiving mother ultimately goes to for their star-crossed relationship. Familial love takes center stage when the mental deficiencies of old age lead an unfeeling father into a labyrinthine depression, and his devoted wife and their daughter connect with an eye doctor in Chinatown who offers a remedy.

"Not Dying," the longest and most inventively told story in the collection, probes a father's love for his wife and daughter--and their lives' meaning and purpose--amid impending fears of the apocalypse. Meanwhile, the kindness and loving generosity of strangers are central to another tale, about a mysterious shut-in with a heartbreaking past, who becomes an anonymous benefactor to a struggling family in town.

Van Booy is a wise, philosophical writer. His spare prose is incredibly illuminating and is further enhanced by unexpected resolutions that allow graceful themes to expand and flourish. What makes this collection all the more compelling is that Van Booy claims to have based most of the tales on true stories, told to him over the course of his travels. The dark, sad circumstances that germinate each of these poignant, unpredictable gems will lead readers to refreshing glimpses of transcendence and hope. 


Penguin Books, $16.00 Paperback,  9780143133049, 208  pages

Publication Date: April 24, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE



NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (October 9, 2018), link HERE

This review was originally published (in a longer form) on Shelf Awareness for The Book Trade (August 31, 2018). To read this review on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade, link HERE




Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Thing Is: Ebook on Sale


eBOOK SPECIAL

I am pleased to announce that for a limited time
October 22 - October 25
the eBook
will be available for only $0.99!

If you haven't already read the novel, now is the time to purchase a digital copy for yourself, family and/or friends.

This heartwarming story--about a romance writer in grief and a crafty therapy dog named Prozac who rescues her--has 133 positive reviews (and counting) on Amazon.com

Click below to purchase the eBook for $0.99 at:

Also, if you've read the novel and enjoyed it, I'd be so grateful if you'd consider leaving a short review (just a sentence) about the book on Amazon, as the more reviews THE THING IS receives on their site, the more promotional opportunities the book will have to reach a wider audience.
Thank you for your help and support...Happy Reading!

To learn more about THE THING IS visit:

THE THING IS:
Readers everywhere are sure to benefit from a little Prozac in their lives!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

You Me Everything


An idyllic summer vacation to France becomes a turning point for a 33-year-old woman, her ex and their 10-year-old son.

Catherine Isaac is the pen name for British author Jane Costello (Summer Nights at the Moonlight Hotel), who chose a pseudonym for her American debut, You Me Everything. In Manchester, England, 22-year-old Jess is deep in labor. While facing the agony of childbirth with her mum at her side, Jess is furious that her boyfriend, Adam--a man whom Jess fell in love with in college, who is the baby's father--is markedly absent. By the time Jess cradles son William in her arms, Adam surfaces, reeking of stale booze and another woman's perfume. 
The timeline then leaps ahead 10 years. Jess, a teacher of creative writing at a local college, is a single mother. Adam--never wanting a child or to settle down--lives luxuriously, managing a beautiful hotel in the hills of Southwestern France. He is "not a neglectful father," Jess says. "He pays his maintenance on time, remembers William's birthday and Skypes when he says he will. But our son is no more than a small piece in the jigsaw of Adam's colorful life."
It is Jess's mother who insists that William needs to have a more substantial relationship with his father. Mother and son then make the long journey to Château de Roussignol, Adam's stomping ground. There she hopes free-spirited, fun-loving Adam and inquisitive, bright William will finally form a tighter bond. What ensues is a tender and reflective story that covers a span of five weeks.
This is a multi-layered, heartbreaking story of abiding love. Isaac's graceful, nuanced storytelling gains an unexpected depth and clarity readers are sure to find riveting. 

You Me Everything: A Novel by Catherine Isaac

Pamela Dorman/Viking, $26.00 Hardcover,  9780735224537, 368 pages

Publication Date: May 1, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE



NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (May 15, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mr. Gandy's Grand Tour


A washed-up, middle-aged British man sets off on a tour of Europe that changes him in unexpected, profound ways.
When Timothy Gandy's job as a graphic designer is made redundant, the 55-year-old Brit discovers that he's too old to find a new job and too young to retire. Taking stock, he realizes he's invisible in the shadow of his domineering wife--a woman involved with social and philanthropic causes, and to whom he's been married for 40 years. And he doesn't always see eye-to-eye with his adult children. Son Oliver is a successful barrister. He and his wife are highfalutin, materialistic intellectuals. Middle daughter Alice is single, a distant and reclusive librarian. However, good-natured Rosie, a schoolteacher, shares a bond with her father. She understands him. She and her conservationist, naturalist beau struggle to make ends meet, while happily raising their daughter together. 
The sting of unemployment followed by a shattering personal loss convinces Timothy to follow his long-repressed yearnings for travel. Despite staunch objections from his family--all except Rosie--he finally asserts himself. He sets off on a grand tour of Europe modeled in the style of those taken by young men of means in the late 18th century. Timothy leaves his Chichester, England, home and begins an exciting journey that takes him through France and Italy, where he makes unexpected new friends that change him and his outlook on life. 
Noted gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh (Bring Me Home) plants seeds of hope in another wholesome, richly entertaining story. Readers will be eager to accompany his sensitive, winning protagonist through an itinerary of many adventures.


Mr. Gandy's Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh

Hodder & Stoughton, $26.99 Hardcover,  9780340953075, 320  pages

Publication Date: April 24, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE





NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (May 22, 2018), link HERE


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rachel Kushner: Writing That Grows Out of Living


The Writer's Life

Rachel Kushner's novels The Flamethrowers and Telex from Cuba were both finalists for the National Book
Author Photo by Chloe Aftel
Award. Her fiction has appeared in the
New Yorker, Harper's and the Paris Review. Kushner's new novel, The Mars Room (Scribner; reviewed below), centers on the harrowing life of a young mother serving two consecutive life sentences in a California prison.

Why set the book in San Francisco?
Partly because I am from there. The main character, Romy Hall, is from the Sunset, the San Francisco neighborhood where I grew up. It's not a bad neighborhood at all, and yet it was a rather gritty adolescence there. When I meet book-learned people now, they always tell me they went to some fancy private school in San Francisco, and the conversation stops there, because we are basically not from the same city. Where I am from is very specific, a time and a place, and no one who didn't experience it might ever understand, which was my challenge: trying to transmute that experience, my knowledge of it, into literature.

Do you live in California now?
In Los Angeles, half a mile from the city jail complex and the criminal courts.

Did this proximity inspire the book?
Most of those who fill the state prisons in California come from metropolitan L.A. and the surrounding counties (Riverside, San Bernardino). Like many writers, I'm interested in other people and in the world around me, and that world, here in California, unfortunately includes a massive carceral system.

Your descriptions of prison life are richly detailed. How did you research the novel?
I'm sort of opposed to the concept of research, because I consider my process more organic. I live in a certain way, and my writing comes out of that. In 2012, I decided to try to learn everything I could about the criminal justice system in California, to understand the deeper layers of the carceral net, the penal zone of the world, which can very often be invisible to middle-class people, and can entirely dominate the lives of poor people. I went "under cover" on an extensive tour of state prisons in California (mostly men's) with criminology students who were effectively being wooed for jobs with the California Department of Corrections. The context meant that guards, prison litigators and public information officers spoke to us as if we were "of their own kind," and thus, I was able to see quite a bit into the mentality of the people who work at the prison, at all levels.

How much access were you granted?
I was allowed to roam prison yards, even maximum security yards, and to talk to people who were serving long, mostly life, sentences. I got to go in their cells, see the so-called "mental health" facilities, the so-called job training, the education programs, so-called, the prison industries like license plate stamping and registration sticker printing. Separately, I became involved, as a volunteer, with a nonprofit organization called Justice Now, which advocates against human rights violations in the women's prisons in California, and whose leadership is partly made up of people serving life sentences. I learned a great deal from the people I met inside who are involved with Justice Now and developed friendships with many lifers that way.

This exposure must have been helpful in creating the psyche of the main character and her difficult life.
It took me a long time to create Romy. I needed to be able to inhabit her fully, and I kept coming up against the irrefutable facts of my own circumstance: I have middle-class resources and would never go to prison, I probably wouldn't even go to jail.... If I did run into trouble, like if I just lost it and did something crazy, I have high-powered lawyer friends who would get me off. That's how it works.

What a leap, then, for you fully to envision her predicament.
I thought and thought into this, and eventually, I invented a girl who was with us growing up in San Francisco, among the girls I knew--I mean most of the people I knew, whose lives didn't turn out like mine, who had parents who struggled with poverty and addictions and who themselves nursed nihilist streaks. I had resisted that because I didn't really want to revisit anything from my own youth, but it rose up and demanded to be dealt with. And suddenly everything made sense about Romy--her past and future.

You divvy out the details of Romy's experiences with great suspense.
The creation of a narrator's tone has to be done delicately, factoring in the way people don't present information about their lives all at once. In fact, prison is not a place that leaves a lot of room to think into the worst thing you've ever done. The idea of a convicted person's remorse and pain and anguish over an irreversible act they themselves have committed, as I understand these things, isn't quite what a middle-class person imagines. Because you have to be closed up and hard in prison, there is no privacy, there's a lot of hostility and dysfunction, and people are trying to survive on a day-by-day basis. So it seemed natural enough that certain elements of Romy's old life--her memories, her regrets and some type of "account" of what happened that resulted in her life sentence--should leak out in parts.

How did the rest of the story, as a whole, take shape?
I wrote the book in parts. The book that resulted was from many years of my ruminating on what I saw, felt, thought, have learned and also read. Dostoyevsky was a help to me on some level, as was Nietzsche. The Doc character, the rogue cop, was the easiest and most fully formed right away. Honestly, he really wrote himself, in all his dirty outrageousness. The main character, Romy, was more challenging. It took me two years to write the first long chapter of the book, her bus ride on "chain night," when women are hauled up highway 99 to the Central Valley, because it had to have all of the foundational elements of her narrative, her tone, her cadence in it, her predicament. I had to push myself into certain corners to figure that out.

Your writing has been described as "persuasive" and "moving." What will readers take away from The Mars Room?
I write to please myself or grapple with my own unanswerable questions. In terms of what people take away, I can't claim to have a project in mind for the readers of my book, but if this book were to change the way someone thinks about, say, our society and how it's structured, about life, about class, race, America, women, poverty, dirty jokes, bad cops, all cops, literature, good, evil, God, violence, highways, dead ends, or justice--well, that would be just fine. 

This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness for Readers (May 18, 2018), link HERE 


The Mars Room


A gritty, authentic fictional account of a 29-year-old mother serving two consecutive life sentences at a Women's Correctional Facility.
Rachel Kushner (The Flamethrowers) paints a dark and gritty picture of the U.S. prison system and the larger, contemporary world in her provocative novel, The Mars Room. The action is set at the fictional Stanville Women's Correctional Facility, in the remote Central Valley of California. A diverse cast of inmates--hardscrabble women who formerly lived on the margins of society, suffering from poverty, abuse, neglect, drug addiction and sex exploitation--are forced to adapt and make a life inside prison walls. 
The central protagonist is Romy Leslie Hall, a 29-year-old inmate and former lap dancer at the Mars Room, a notorious, seedy strip club in San Francisco. Romy is serving two consecutive life sentences for murdering a man who relentlessly stalked her. 
Romy--bright and well-read, despite having grown up in unseemly conditions--has a young son, Jackson, who becomes entangled in the child welfare bureaucracy. Although prison separates Romy from Jackson for four long years--and she is ultimately stripped of her rights to find him--her desperate longing and love for him endures. She goes to great lengths to learn more about his status and track him down.
Romy's tragic, hard-luck story is one of many explored in a complex novel that keeps readers off-balance yet fully immersed. Supporting characters and their sordid proclivities and recidivism--along with subplots about an incarcerated dirty cop and a sensitive teacher at the prison--provide an unflinching look at brutality and power plays within the perimeters of razor wire--and beyond. 

The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kushner
Scribner, $27.00 Hardcover,  9781476756554, 352 pages
Publication Date: May 1, 2018
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (May 18, 2018), link HERE


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Little Big Love


A lovable, determined, 11-year-old boy seeks to unravel a decade-long mystery in his family and finally find his birth father.
One night in June 2005 changes the lives of a family in Little Big Love by British author Katy Regan. Set in Grimsby, a small fishing village in England, the story is told from three distinct perspectives of the Hutchinson family. Zac is a precocious, inquisitive 11-year-old, who has blue eyes just like his father's. He is obsessed with food, the memory of his deceased Uncle Jamie, a chef who died a tragic death, and finding his father, Liam, who left before Zac was born.
Zac's mother, Juliet, is a single mom who has a tendency to overeat and to shoplift food from grocery stores. She still carries a torch for her old flame, Liam Jones. Her inability to get over his departure makes dating a challenge--often quite comical. Finally, there is Mick, her dad, ensnarled in the devastating situation that tore his family apart--a situation that has kept his daughter and his wife in a state of inertia for 10 years, and has burdened him with secrets.

The inability of the three narrators to move beyond the impact and implications of the night that changed everything--a night that, in its aftermath, has perpetuated lies and mystery--forms the impetus for this moving, bittersweet story that seeks to unravel the truth of what really happened and why.
Little Big Love is Katy Regan's U.S. debut; as in her U.K. releases (How We MetThe One Before the One), she delivers an affirming, buoyant novel populated by authentic, empathetic characters, young and old, who infuse her adventurous story with great poignancy, humor and heart. 

Little Big Love by Katy Regan
Berkley, $26.00 Hardcover,  9780451490346, 368 pages
Publication Date: June 12, 2018
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (June 15, 2018), link HERE


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Perfect Couple


Turmoil erupts at a posh Nantucket beachfront estate when a member of a wedding party is found dead on the morning of the nuptials.
In The Perfect Couple, Elin Hilderbrand (Winter Storms) dishes up a mysterious and superbly crafted whodunit, wrapping it around a story of domestic bliss gone awry.
As is her trademark, Hilderbrand sets her novel in Nantucket--assembling a large cast of characters who gather on the island for the sultry July wedding of 20-somethings Celeste Otis and Benjamin Winbury. Celeste is a shy, down-to-earth, middle-class zoologist whose parents have what she considers the perfect marriage. Her caring and attentive, well-to-do businessman fiancé, Benji, is the offspring of a successful mystery novelist mother and a notoriously philandering father. With Celeste's mother battling cancer, the Winburys generously offer to host the event at their posh beachfront estate, Summerland. But on the morning of the wedding, the body of the maid of honor--the bride's best friend--is found floating in the surf. Was her death accidental or the result of foul play?
Hilderbrand peels back layers of her suspenseful story by tracing the details of a suspected murder investigation, chronicling Benji and Celeste's relationship and revealing the hidden lives and agendas of others. As the Nantucket chief of police probes wedding attendees for answers, the integrity of many comes into question, along with Celeste's true feelings for her husband-to-be. A rapidly snowballing plot shifts suspicions as Hilderbrand displays a riveting grasp on insidious domestic rivalries and the secrets embedded in the human heart that can lead to unexpected, shattering consequences.  

Little Brown and Company, $28.00 Hardcover, 9780316375269, 480 pages
Publication Date: June 19, 2018
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (July 13, 2018), link HERE


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Lido

A community rallies to save a South London pool facing closure, and a friendship is sparked between an 86-year-old resident and a 20-something rookie reporter.

A public, outdoor swimming pool in Brixton, a small enclave of south London, forms the bedrock of The Lido, a feel-good first novel by British author Libby Page. The tight-knit community is changing. The local library has closed and has since been transformed into a bar. A Starbucks and a TJ Maxx chain store have moved in. And the public pool--the lido--in Brockwell Park, is being threatened with closure by a powerful, local land developer who wants to buy the property.

Rosemary Peterson, who has spent all 86 years of her life in Brixton, hates to see her beloved lido close. She worked in the town library before lack of funds shut it down, and she regrets not having done more to save it. While much has changed over the years in Brixton, the lido has served as a unifying, reassuring constant in Rosemary's changeable life. As a result, she feels powerless when she learns that the pool will close, until loner Kate Matthews--a shy, insecure reporter in her mid-20s, new to Brixton and the local paper--interviews her for a story. The two women are worlds and generations apart. However, as Rosemary regales Kate with stories about the lido and what it has meant to her--and to the history of the town--a bond of friendship grows between them, transforming both of their lives.

Page assembles a lively, diverse cast and heartwarming remembrances about the pool and how it sustained and enriched the town over time. Readers diving into this hopeful, tender story can emerge refreshed by the meaningful depths of community and the bonds of indelible friendships.




Simon and Schuster, $25.00 Hardcover,  9781501182037, 330  pages

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE



NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (July 24, 2018), link HERE

This review was originally published (in a longer form) on Shelf Awareness for The Book Trade (June 14, 2018). To read this review on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade, link HERE

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Recipe Box


The history of a family-run orchard and pie shop enlightens a young pastry chef as she re-evaluates her own life.

Nourishment--especially of the heart and soul--forms the basis of The Recipe Box, a moving novel about the inextricable bonds of family by Viola Shipman (pen name for Wade Rouse). The story is a multi-generational chronicle of the Mullins family of Suttons Bay, Mich., and their agricultural orchard nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Samantha "Sam" Nelson was given her great-great-grandmother's recipe box at age 13. After high school, she chooses to leave the Mullins Family Orchard and Pie Pantry and attend culinary school. She later takes a job at a Manhattan bakery run by a demeaning reality TV chef. At work, she is befriended by Angelo Morelli, a young man who delivers organic produce to the bakery and is trying, like Sam, to chart his own path. When Sam loses her job, she retreats to the family orchard to reassess her life. There, she gains a new appreciation for the long-held family business and the cherished wisdom of her ancestors. But when Angelo arrives for a visit, Sam is torn between staying at the orchard or returning to the New York culinary scene. 

Shipman (The Charm Bracelet)
traces more than a century of Mullins family history, showing how the orchard--and those who passionately tended to it--evolved and endured. The inclusion of scrumptious recipes sweeten this wholesome story where food and baking become acts of love. Shipman has sensitively crafted another tender, deeply resonant novel that readers can savor.

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman 

Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99 Hardcover,  9781250146779, 336  pages

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE



NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (April 13, 2018), link HERE