Thursday, April 30, 2015

Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘The Buried Giant’ asks whether it's better to “forget” the past or to turn and face it

In The Buried Giant, his first novel in ten years, Kazuo Ishiguro poses the question: is it better to forget the past or turn and face it? The question applies to individual people, tribes, clans, races and nations.

The Buried Giant is set in post-Arthurian Briton just after a war between the Britons and the Saxons. A great mist (as one of the characters calls it) has settled over the land, erasing memories of the past, even of events that occurred a day or two before.

Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, have a vague recollection of having had a son although neither of them can remember much about him or why he left their village and went to live in another one. They set out on

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Harlan Coben’s ‘The Stranger’ has a great opening line

“The stranger didn’t shatter Adam’s world all at once.” So begins Harlan Coben’s twenty-fifth mystery novel, The Stranger.

Adam Price is a former prosecutor turned eminent domain lawyer (and pardon my irrelevant aside: I can’t think of any area of the law more boring, but I digress). He loves his life: his wife Corinne, his two boys, his house, his friends, his suburban New Jersey town. As a fellow “lacrosse dad” crows, “We’re living the dream!”

Then, a stranger walks up to Adam and reveals the “terrible secret” Corinne has kept hidden for some two years. It rocks Price to his core.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Marilynne Robinson’s ‘Lila’ completes a trilogy “unlike anything else in American literature”

Photo by Ulf Anderson / Getty Images
Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is one of three “exquisite books [that] constitute a trilogy on spiritual redemption unlike anything else in American literature.” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post, 9/30/14).

Lila is a companion book to Gilead (which won a Pulitzer and a National Book Critics Circle award) and Home (which won the Orange Prize). Now comes word that Lila, a finalist for the National Book Award, has won the National Book Critics Circle Award as well.

Set in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, the three books tell the intertwined stories of the Ames and Boughton families. In Gilead, the Rev. John Ames, one of a long line of preachers and still living in his grandfather’s house, is dying and urgently trying to finish a letter to his

Monday, April 27, 2015

2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction announced and Atticus Lish takes home the big one

Atticus Lish has won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction with his novel, Preparation for the Next Life.

In announcing the award, PEN/Faulkner describes Lish’s book as “a document of the undocumented and an unlikely love story between a Chinese Muslim immigrant, Zou Lei, and a traumatized Iraq War veteran, Skinner… [which] forces readers to look squarely at a host of the failures plaguing contemporary American society. Lish’s prose is dogged and steadfast as he describes his characters’ raw reality and the desperate lives they struggle to lead.” (

Lish will be honored on May 2, 2015 at an awards ceremony. He and the

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ wins the 2015 Pulitzer for Fiction

Congratulations to Anthony Doerr, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for his novel, All The Light We Cannot See. The judges called Doerr’s book “an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology." (Reviewed in this blog 3/6/15)

Other finalists for the prize in fiction were Richard Ford for Let Me Be Frank With You; Laila Lalami for The Moor’s Account; and Joyce Carol Oates for Lovely, Dark, Deep.

The prize for Poetry went to Gregory Pardlo for Digest. Other finalists were Alan Shapiro for Reel to Reel and Arthur Sze for Compass Rose.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Publishers Weekly: The Most Anticipated Books of May 2015

PW asked its review editors to pick the most notable books being published in Spring 2015. Listed below are the ones coming out in May, by category: Fiction, Mystery/Crime/Thriller, SciFi/Fantasy/Horror, Young Adult and History. May should be a merrie month, indeed.

Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins is a companion to her Life After Life. It’s the story of Ursula’s younger brother, Teddy, “would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband, and father.”

Jason Matthews’ Palace of Treason is a sequel to Red Sparrow. A Russian Intelligence Agent, Capt. Dominika Egorova, is working for the CIA.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Luis Alberto Urrea’s enthralling ‘The Water Museum’ leaves me speechless

The stories in Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Water Museum are mostly set in the Southwestern and Western parts of the U.S. Urrea was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother and his stories reflect both cultures – and the ways in which they bump up against each other.

Having closed the book a while ago, I have been trying to think of the right words to describe it. “Riveting” is so overused that it’s lost almost all meaning. “Brilliant?” Yes, but not sufficient. “OMG, Dude! Look at you!” comes closer to my reaction.

Michael Shaub was more articulate in describing it: “… [W]hile not all of the 13 stories in Urrea's new collection are dire, they're all realistic and unsparing, as unflinching and hard-hitting as they are beautiful.” NPR (4/8/15)

“Mountains Without Number” is quiet, wistful, nostalgic, sad. New Junction is a dying town, nestled alongside cliffs on which high school

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Obsession and Death in Donna Leon’s Venice

Donna Leon’s Falling in Love: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery is the latest in a well-loved series that was launched in 1992. Reading these novels is like visiting old friends in their comfortable home and sharing excellent wine, wonderful food and good conversation into the wee hours of the night.

The crime is rarely the point. In fact, in more than one of the novels, the crime is solved but no one is ever sent to jail because of political or other

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hissing Cousins? Rivalry Among the Roosevelts

Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer, has been called a joint biography by some reviewers. It’s more an examination of their relationship with each other and the ways in which each wielded (or tried to wield) power in Washington.

Alice was Theodore Roosevelt’s first-born. Her mother died a few hours after her birth and Teddy promptly sent her to live with an aunt while he decamped for parts West to grieve. Only when he married again was the

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Spies and Lovers Take Out ‘All The Old Knives’

ALL THE OLD KNIVES, Olen Steinhauer’s tenth spy thriller, is a doozy. I believe that is the correct literary term for a taut, riveting, well-constructed novel that has you muttering, more than once, Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!

Henry Pelham is a CIA agent, stationed at the U.S. embassy in Vienna. Five years earlier, terrorists took over a plane at Flugenhagen Airport and, when their demands were not met, killed everyone on board, including themselves. A prisoner at Gitmo has now told his

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lily King reimagines Margaret Mead in ‘Euphoria’

EUPHORIA, Lily King’s prize winning novel, is luminous. Reading her lyrical language, her assured handling of technical material, and her evocative descriptions of the peoples and villages of New Guinea as Margaret Mead found them in 1933, produces, well, euphoria.

A brief period in which Mead, Reo Fortune (her second and then-husband), and Gregory Bateson (her eventual third husband) were simultaneously doing field work along the Sepik River provided the seed for the novel. But, as King herself has pointed out, the rest is fiction.

Nell Stone (the Margaret Mead character) is immensely attractive. She has a quick and fertile mind, is hard-working, and able to empathize with and insert herself into the lives of the people she studies. We see

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Approaching Deadlines for Writers!

There are some important deadlines coming up. Don’t miss them.

April 30 | Brevity Magazine Special Issue on Gender

Brevity has extended the deadline for submissions for its special Gender Issue to April 30. From Sarah Einstein:

Writing Friends: I’ve been hawking the Brevity Kickstarter, but we also need more submissions for the Gender issue. Things we are particularly looking for: pieces that engage gender from an adult perspective (we have lots of pieces about the way in which childhood is gendered, I’d love to have at least one about gender in actual old age), pieces by writers of color, pieces that explore gender from a transitional perspective, [and] pieces that explore how disability does/not impact the experience of gender….

Submission details at

May 1 | Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

The submission period for Writer’s Digest 23rd Annual Self-Published Book Awards ends May 1. Grand prize winner gets, among other benefits, $8,000, a feature article in March/April 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest, a press release sent (along with a copy of

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Suzanne Corso’s ‘Brooklyn Story’ is a so-so book, but a decent premise for a 3-star mob movie

Guest Contributor

People love stories about the Mafia. People may love movies about the Mafia even more. Suzanne Corso is a screenwriter and it shows. In her debut novel, BROOKLYN STORY, for which she also wrote the screenplay, there are parts for the innocent ingénue, the spunky sidekick, the Italian stud, the drug-addled mother, and the grandmotherly character actress – to say nothing of all those Italian Mafiosi extras.

Set in the late 1970s in Bensonhurst, BROOKLYN STORY is drawn from Corso’s own experience and narrated in Runyonesque tones. (Kirkus Review, 12/28/10). While the dialogue is not always believable, Corso

Friday, April 17, 2015

Himalaya Nepali & Indian cuisine – YUM!

Here in our part of North Carolina, it’s a foodie’s paradise. Every day, a new ethnic restaurant seems to pop up – so many that we cannot keep up with them. Lately, we have been on a quest to find the best Indian food in the area. I say “Indian” food, knowing that there are many different regions in India, each with its own special dishes.

This week we discovered Himalaya Nepali Cuisine, a new restaurant in Cary, NC. They bill themselves as “a place to enjoy your favorite Nepali and Indian food.” It’s a relatively small space with little ambiance beyond some prayer flags and a picture or two but it was packed. Large families, maybe Indian, maybe Nepali, maybe from elsewhere, celebrating, laughing, having a great time. And the food was terrific.

Many of the dishes on the menu are standards on Indian menus but there were subtle differences and some not so subtle: the lamb saag was

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Writers Beware: The Seven Deadly Submission Sins, or what NOT to send to this magazine editor

This essay is reprinted from freeze frame fiction with its permission and that of the author, Nathaniel Tower.

APRIL 13, 2015

Things I’m tired of seeing in lit mag submissions

Managing Editor
Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine

An editor of a literary magazine has to put up with a fair amount. Among the struggles we must face on our daily quest for literary greatness is repetition. I’m not simply talking about the monotony of reading submissions. Rather, I’m referring to the fact that, at times, it feels like every submission is exactly the same.

When lit mag editors are asked what frustrates them the most about submissions, the responses are typically the same: submissions that don’t follow guidelines, submissions riddled with typos, submissions

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Faith and longing in Kirstin Valdez Quade’s story collection ‘Night at the Fiestas’

All the stories in NIGHT AT THE FIESTAS, Kirstin Valdez Quade’s debut collection are set in Northern New Mexico where her family has lived for generations. “My family’s presence can be traced back to 1695 and some of the earliest conquistadors. So there’s a long family history in the region,” she said in an interview conducted by NPR staff (3/28/15). This deep familiarity with a place and its people, as might be expected, adds depth and nuance to her work.

While the stories are not linked in the traditional sense, there being no overlapping characters or events, there are themes that recur in story

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Donald Antrim’s new short story collection follows his path from light to dark

Donald Antrim’s THE EMERALD LIGHT IN THE AIR is a new collection of seven short stories that originally appeared in The New Yorker between 1999 and 2014.

In The New York Times Sunday Book Review (9/18/14), Adelle Waldman wrote in a somewhat curmudgeonly but admiring manner:

The most underrated quality in fiction nowadays is intelligence; the most overrated, imagination. Donald Antrim possesses both – but his intelligence is what makes you sit up straighter when you begin his new collection, ‘The Emerald Light in the Air.’ Very quickly you realize you are reading something different from the mass of competent, earnest and depressingly dull short stories that are as commonplace now as ever (only the styles change).

Antrim’s stories are arranged in the order of their publication which gives added interest to the collection. The reader is able to see the

Monday, April 13, 2015

70’s cult favorite MacDonald Harris finds new fans with re-release of silver-screen ode ‘Screenplay’

Guest Contributor

I happened upon MacDonald Harris’ Screenplay in the New Books section of my local library (Islands Branch, Live Oak PL). Never heard of the guy, but a good title and an interesting book jacket hook me every time.

A few pages into Screenplay and I was a fan. I went online and reserved the other two works of his that my library stocks: Carp Castle and The Balloonist.

Screenplay’s plot is reminiscent of Jack Finney’s time travel stories. A wealthy young man living in an exclusive area of Hollywood takes in a boarder who turns out to be a famous “silents” director with the ability

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Margaret Maron to get Lifetime Achievement Award at Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

BOUCHERCON, the World Mystery Convention, will be held in Raleigh, NC October 8-11, 2015. Yes, that’s six months away but registration is open and approximately 1500 people from all over the world are expected to attend. So, you’d best sign up now (details at and

Margaret Maron will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. Maron is the author of the nineteen books in the Deborah Knott of which 2014’s DESIGNATED DAUGHTERS is the most recent. She is also the author of the eight books in the Sigrid Harald series, two non-series novels and two collections of short stories.

Guests of Honor at the Convention will be Kathy Reichs, Tom Franklin, Zoë Sharp and Allan Guthrie. Special Local Guests are Sarah Shaber and Ron Rash.

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention bills itself as “a celebration of the mystery genre. It is the largest annual meeting in the world for mystery lovers. The convention program includes panel discussions,

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Girl on the Train: What's all the fuss about?

So, Paula Hawkins’ thriller, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, sold two million copies in three months and is still going strong. It has been translated into a zillion languages and has been on the best seller list for weeks and weeks. It’s been reviewed by Amazon customers 11,980 times and 78% of those reviewers gave it either four or five stars. It has also received some very good reviews from critics.

So, I should just shut up, right? Like our mothers used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about something, then don’t say anything.” After all, who am I to contradict two million readers and counting?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Betty Adcock is featured poet at Nâzim Hikmet Festival honoring Russian poet Anna Akhmatova

The Seventh Annual Nâzim Hikmet Poetry Festival will be held on April 26, 2015 from 1-6 p.m. at the Page-Walker Art and History Center in Cary, North Carolina. The Festival is free and open to the public.

This year, the Festival honors Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, and her poetry. Speakers will be Stanislav Shvabrin, Assistant Professor and Irene Masing-Delic, Professor in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Betty Adcock is the invited poet for the Festival.  The winners of the annual poetry competition, a major component of the Festival, have also been invited to read their poems during the Festival. Their poems will be published in the Festival book and on the Festival website.

As many as a thousand entries are received each year. The 2015 winners, in alphabetical order, are Leila Chatti, North Carolina; Lois Harrod, New Jersey; Mimi Herman, North Carolina; Emily Jaeger, Massachusetts; Edison Jennings, Virginia; Anne Whitehouse, New York; and Andy Young, Louisiana. Honorable Mentions: Jane K. Andrews, North Carolina; Mary E. Parker, North Carolina; and Eric M. Saye, Georgia.

Judges for the competition were Joseph Bathanti, Professor, Appalachian State University; Greg Dawes, Distinguished Professor, NC State

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Bikes Rolling From Coast To Coast

Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Remember Bookmobiles? Those big shiny buses that brought books to your neighborhood and let you check them out right then and there? You didn’t even have to get your mother to drive you to the library?

Well, if you live in Seattle or Boulder, Cleveland or Tucson, Rochester or about fifty other towns, the Bookmobile may now be a Book Bike!
According to American Libraries Magazine (8/14), custom-made library book bikes are being used by libraries across the country to bring books and services to local citizens, using old-fashioned pedal power. The BookBikes go to parks, schools, community events, senior centers – wherever readers congregate. It’s a way, too, to tell people about the services the library provides and to get new

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Exposition contains tenderness; dramatized scenes prove emotional experience. Say what?!

All right, I need your help. You got some ‘splaining to do. Please. Especially if you’re a writer, teach writing, study it, edit it or review it. The name of this exercise is “WHAT’D HE SAY??? WHAT’D HE MEAN???”

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about Akhil Sharma’s award-winning novel, FAMILY LIFE.

In “A Conversation Between Akhil Sharma and Mohsin Hamid,” included in the back of the book, Sharma says something that I didn’t understand. I read it

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Semi-autobiographical ‘Family Life’ wins the Folio Prize for Akhil Sharma

Akhil Sharma’s second novel, FAMILY LIFE, has won the Folio Prize which is given to a work of fiction written in English and published in Britain and carries an award of approximately $60,000.

William Fiennes, who chaired the committee of judges called it a “lucid, compassionate, quietly funny account of one family’s life across continents and cultures.”

Sharma has said that the book is semi-autobiographical, but is not a memoir. “For me, a memoir is nonfiction and nonfiction has to be absolutely true.” However, he added, “Almost everything in the novel is true.” (“A Conversation Between Akhil Sharma and Mohsin Hamid,”

Monday, April 6, 2015

Memories of family Easter feasts and recipes have me pulling out some favorite cookbooks

I am the product of what used to be called a “mixed marriage.” I tend to think of it as “mixed cuisines,” rather than mixed religions, nationalities or politics.

My mother’s people were Scotch-Irish and had lived in Alabama for many generations. My grandmother made buttermilk biscuits every single morning of her married life in a “bread bowl” which her husband’s grandfather had carved from a log for his wife. I have it now although I can’t make a decent biscuit to save my soul. I love looking at it, though, especially the very bottom where years and years of kneading fingers finally wore through the wood, requiring a makeshift patch. Easter at that grandmother’s house meant ham

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

May your basket be full of eggs
and chocolate bunnies!

No one has time to read blog posts on Easter…
daily posts will resume tomorrow.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gun Street Girl: Pure Belfast Noir

Adrian McKinty’s GUN STREET GIRL, the fourth book in the DI Sean Duffy trilogy (yes, that’s what I said), was released on March 5 and it is another page turner.

Hard-drinking, drug-using, world-weary Sean Duffy is a Catholic Detective Inspector in the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland; he’s had “ten years of this shit.” He lives in a rough “Prod” neighborhood ruled by Bobby Cameron, the local paramilitary commander, a neighborhood so dangerous that Duffy has to check for bombs under his car each morning.

The book opens with a royal screw-up: a RUC-Gardai-FBI-M15-Interpol surveillance intended to catch five American gunrunners turns into a shoot-out. Duffy leaves the scene, thinking, “Fireworks behind.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Free Books?! Who doesn't want free books??

There’s a happy trend afoot which should bring joy to all of us who love to read. FREE E-BOOKS! Thousands and thousands of free e-books.

The Gutenberg Project has made 48,518 e-books available. “…choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online,” the project says on its website. “We carry high quality ebooks: All our ebooks were previously published by bona fide publishers. We digitized and diligently proofread them with the help of thousands of volunteers.” (

No fee or registration is required to download books, but it asks that, if

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Iraq vet Phil Klay's "brutal, piercing, sometimes darkly funny collection" wins National Book Award

REDEPLOYMENT, Phil Klay’s debut novel, is grim. Dark grim. Funny grim. Despairingly grim. Infuriatingly grim. Grim grim. And brilliant.

Set mostly in Iraq during the surge, it is a collection of twelve short stories, each told by a different character in first person. The book “asks us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos.” (, 3/18/15)

In describing the book, the National Book Award judges said, “These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy,

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wanna read grown-up books, but grown-up words upset you? There's now a [freaking] app for that.
Halleluiah, Brothers and Sisters!! I bring you glad tidings! Jared and Kirsten Maughan of Twin Falls, Idaho are gonna’ save you from having to read any of those awful dirty words depraved writers put in their goshdarned books.

Mr. and Mrs. Maughan have come up with Clean Reader, a free app that you can use to cleanse every single naughty word from your e-books. “Read books, not profanity,” is their slogan.

There are three Clean Reader settings: clean, which “only blocks major swear words from displaying”; cleaner and squeaky clean, which “will