Sunday, May 26, 2013

Eight Girls Taking Pictures

In Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Whitney Otto has woven a well-crafted tapestry of vibrant, moving, historically based short stories about women ahead of their time and how the complexities of their lives enabled them to make distinct and wholly original contributions to the world of photography.

The stories span from 1910 through the 1990s and are set in locales from the United States to Europe and South America. Each story features a richly textured character and explores how specific facets of a woman's life can influence her vision, craft and ambition.

The Author's Note indicates that these stories were inspired by Otto's (How to Make an American Quilt) affinity for the work of six real women photographers from around the world:  Imogen Cunningham, Madame Yevonde, Tina Modotti, Lee Miller, Grete Stern, and Ruth Orkin.  Two additional stories are purely a product of the author's imagination, though one can make inferences to other noted female photographers.  What Otto has done--with great skill and care--is craft a collage of stories using a factual basis of reality as a launch pad to creatively explore, via fiction, the undocumented parts of each woman's life and career.

Photography is all about perception, seeing the world through a unique vantage point. These stories evolve in a similar fashion, as they seek to reveal and understand how these women pursued their passion for photography through adversity, motherhood and the challenges of love and romantic relationships.  The stories all share photography as a common thread and the medium is explored via aspects of photochemistry, black-and-white versus color, photojournalism/war, botanical, nudes, still life, advertising/fashion, travel and photographing everyday domesticity. But a deeper thread that emerges is the male influence on each of these women's lives, in particular the often complicated relationships between fathers and daughters. Many of the fathers of these photographers were progressive for their time, and it was that paternal bond and influence (however positive or negative) that encouraged these women to seriously pursue photography as a means of self-expression and ultimately, a fine art form.   
You don't need to be a photographer or to be familiar with some of the most prominent female image-makers of the 20th Century to appreciate and admire Eight Girls Taking Pictures. But once you finish reading this well-rendered collection, you'll more than likely be inspired to learn more. 

Scribner,  $25.00, Hardcover, 9781451682694, 352 pp
Publication Date: November 6,  2012
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Furry, Four-Legged Narrators in Fiction

In multiple genres, dogs and cats have emerged as credible, likable narrators:

In Love Saves the Day, a novel by Gwen Cooper, a smart, tabby named Prudence tells the story of her owner, Sarah, who has gone missing. Prudence is forced to relocate to the home of Sarah's lawyer daughter and her unemployed husband. Will the feline-averse couple in marital crisis ever accept the love of this abandoned kitty?
Two cats living in modern-day Beijing narrate Pallavi Aiyar's imaginative novel Chinese Whiskers. Soyabean is a male kitten living in a multi-generational middle-class household, while Tofu, a female kitten, roams the streets, roughing it. How the two cats come to live together is only part of the story, a suspenseful morality tale about the values of "Old China" versus "New China."

Chet, a dog who flunked out of K-9 School, offers a clever point of view as the sidekick to down-on-his-luck private investigator Bernie Little. The two "babysit" a Hollywood heartthrob, a bad boy with secrets, who is filming a blockbuster movie in a sleepy little town in A Fistful of Collars, the fifth installment in Spencer Quinn's humorous Chet and Bernie mystery series.
Children and young adults can experience the perspective of Enzo, a lovable, observant lab-terrier mix in Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog, the adaptation of Garth Stein's adult novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. This tender-
hearted story teaches valuable lessons about friendship and the choices we make for our lives. Its message speaks to readers of any age.

So whether you're a cat or dog person, enjoy reading general fiction, mysteries or YA/crossover lit, take your pick. Animals, in the hands of the right authors, have become great storytellers. 

Note: This article is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this piece as published on Shelf Awareness for Readers (3/15/13), link HERE

Monday, May 13, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Opinion: My Mom - Nobody Loves Me More

How Mother's Day can also be a Holiday for the Childless

Sunday, May 12, 2013
Opinion/Editorial (Section O-1)

To read the article in its entirety, click on the highlighted title above

Monday, May 6, 2013

Heart of Palm

A hot, sweltering Florida summer is the setting for Heart of Palm, a debut novel by Laura Lee Smith. The story centers on three months in the lives of the Bravo family of Utina, a sleepy little town near St. Augustine, where Palm Sunday palms and moonshine once offered a prosperous economic existence. But that was years before. Times have changed for the town and for the Bravos, whose long-held properties on the Intracoastal Waterway are of great interest to enthusiastic land developers. What will it take for the Bravos to sell?

The prospect dredges up repressed emotions and looms over the family that consists of the matriarch, Arla, once a "perfect," striking red head and her adult children - Carson, a philandering investment manager with secrets; Frank, the dutiful son and proprietor of "Uncle Henry's," the family's restaurant on the waterfront; and Sofia, an emotionally wounded woman with hair as red as her mother's used to be and a fiery temper to match. But it is Dean, the patriarch, whose absence casts a long shadow over the family's past, as old wounds, secrets, heartbreaks and missed opportunities have woven themselves into the fabric of the present - and maybe even the future, too.

Well-developed characters confronted by an undercurrent of change propel this unhurried family saga. Smith is a careful, detailed writer who assembles big, bold, well-drawn scenes - moments from the everyday lives of the Bravos that resonate with deeper insights into how personal regrets and longings shape the fates of all involved.

Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith
Grove Press,  $25.00, Hardcover, 9780802121028, 496 pp
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please 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 (4/16/13), click HERE.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Manuscript Found in Accra

In July 1099, the walled city of Jerusalem is said to have experienced religious peace and tolerance - Jews, Muslims and Christians worshipped without incident. But beyond the gates of the city, enemy crusaders sharpened their swords, readying to invade the populace and disturb the peace. The people were given a choice to either abandon the city or fight to the death. Most chose to stay.

In Manuscript Found in Accra, Paulo Coelho has written a transcription of a fictional Apocryphal Gospel (not included in any holy religious book), documenting what one prophet, a Greek named Copt, revealed to multitudes on the night before the attack that transformed peace into a war that Copt predicted "will last into an unimaginably distant future."

One wonders why the people gathered to listen to Copt? After all, the manuscript reveals that Copt worked as a shoemaker and did not belong to any one religious sect. What encouraged the inhabitants to defer from making provisions and feeding their anxiety and preoccupation in the face of death and forced exodus to stop and listen? Were the masses who hunkered down simply looking for a way to allay their fears and deepen their faith?

By choosing to leave missing pieces and unanswered questions, Coelho lends greater authenticity to the form and tenor of this novel-turned-gospel-narrative. In Coelho's literary hands, one questions the role of coincidence. Is Copt's name a coincidence or a relation to Coptic Christians? And what about the setting--the square where Pontius Pilate and the crowds condemned Jesus Christ to death? Here, Copt makes his philosophical declarations on a myriad of issues including knowledge, death, work, miracles, loyalty and the future and encourages listeners to write down his words in order to "preserve the soul of Jerusalem" as he believes that peace will one day reign in the region again.

Fitting, too, that Coelho chose not to support this novel with a traditional literary plot, outside of the introduction that briefly details the long, circuitous route the manuscript takes until discovered. Instead, Coelho's parable-like structure and historical presentation heighten the relevance of wisdom shared a thousand years ago to people in peril. Read in the context of modern society--with its wars, terror, divisiveness and decadence--Manuscript Found in Accra points up how the world has continued to be invaded by "demons of intolerance and lack of understanding" for centuries and yet, amid adversity, there still remains the hope that tenets of love and faith can endure, if consciously cultivated.

Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho (Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa)
Alfred A. Knopf,  $22.00, Hardcover, 9780385349833, 208 pp
Publication Date: April 3, 2013
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This book was provided for review by Alfred A. Knopf Publishers and TLC Book Tours.