Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Freebie: Midnight by Victoria Shorr


Congratulations to Lawrence Coates and Patrick Hicks, winners of last week’s Friday Freebie: War Flower by Brooke King.

This week’s giveaway is for Midnight by Victoria Shorr. Subtitled Three Women at the Hour of Reckoning, it weaves a trilogy of mini biographies: Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Joan of Arc at critical moments in their lives. Keep scrolling for more information and how to enter the contest...


Midnight is a study in the courage of three women―Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Joan of Arc. Jane Austen was poor in 1802, unmarried and homeless. She had outlines, ideas, and first drafts of her future novels but no place to sit and write them. It is at this bleak moment that she receives an offer of marriage from a rich man. Midnight takes us to the hour of her decision between financial security and her writing life. When sixteen-year-old Mary Godwin elopes to France with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she scoffs at the cost―life as an outcast. Together they travel through Europe, reading and writing, but Midnight finds her alone, eight years later, pacing a terrace overlooking the Italian shore, watching for Shelley to sail home over stormy seas in a shaky boat. Joan of Arc, imprisoned in chains, kept her faith for a long year. Be brave, daughter of God, her saints had whispered, you will be saved―and she believes it, until she is taken to be burned at the stake. Midnight is the story of Joan’s final days, between her terrified recantation and her heroic return to the stake.

If you’d like a chance at winning Midnight, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Feb. 21, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Feb. 22. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Trailer Park Tuesday: Sounds Like Titantic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman





Milli Vanilli did it. Ashlee Simpson did it. And now Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman does it. In her memoir Sounds Like Titanic, the violinist describes how her orchestra fake-played in front of audiences: string synching instead of lip synching, if you will. Sounds Like Titanic is on my shortlist of books to read this year, and I think you can see, both by the terrific video for the book (above) and by this plot description, how it landed at the top of my pile:
When aspiring violinist Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman gets a job with a professional ensemble in New York City, she imagines she has achieved her lifelong dream. But the ensemble proves to be a sham. When the group “performs,” the microphones are never on. Instead, the music blares from a CD. The mastermind behind this scheme is a peculiar and mysterious figure known as The Composer, who is gaslighting his audiences with music that sounds suspiciously like the Titanic movie soundtrack. On tour with his chaotic ensemble, Hindman spirals into crises of identity and disillusionment as she “plays” for audiences genuinely moved by the performance, unable to differentiate real from fake.
I am fascinated by this story and, to paraphrase Celine Dion herself, Sounds Like Titanic is a reminder that near, far, wherever you are/I believe that the art does go on...


Trailer Park Tuesday is a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.


Monday, February 11, 2019

My First Time: Stephen Evans



The First Time I Heard the Audience Laugh

I had heard audiences laugh before, of course. Most of my time in the theater was spent as a performer: a singer by choice, an actor (though not much of one) by necessity. But this was different.

In the early 1980s, I was playing Rosencrantz in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to small bewildered houses in a theater outside Washington, DC. The play is a marvelous take on Hamlet as seen through the eyes of two minor characters, Hamlet’s two old pals.

During the run, I got an idea to write a play, a comedy about a playwright inspired by Shakespeare to write a play. I had never written a play before, but I didn’t know enough then to let that stop me. I managed over the next year or so to write the first act. But the second act stopped me and I did not finish the play.

About seven years later, I joined two of my oldest pals (also veterans of local theater) in starting a theater company. Our first show would be a fund-raiser, a musical review. Our second show would be my play—for which I now had to find a second act.

Production schedules wait for no man, or playwright. With lots of encouragement from my two friends and Shakespeare, I finally managed a second act to my play, now entitled The Ghost Writer. As opening night approached, it occurred to me that this was no longer just a personal intellectual challenge: could I write a play? An audience was actually going to answer that question for me.

I think of myself as a playwright who writes books. And I feel differently about publishing and producing. Publishing usually has a wider audience, and someone somewhere may let you know what they think. But it is distributed in time, and for me that lessens the impact. With a play, at least the first production, you are for better or worse usually right there sitting the audience. Everything is magnified, and very direct.

The lights went down on the audience of about 30 people, many of them friends. The curtain didn’t go up; it went sideways, which was suddenly how I expected the play to go. Then the lights came up onstage.

Sitting in the dark in the back row of the small theater, I was inundated with emotion. But more than anything—more than excited, more than terrified—I felt exposed. My thoughts, my words, my imagination were all going to be on display.

On opening night, the actress went about her opening business. No one got up and left. So far so good. Then the next actor entered. They exchanged a few lines. And then a miracle occurred.

Someone laughed.

Then more people started to laugh. They started to laugh together (this phenomenon of an audience coalescing to react in unison never ceases to fascinate me).

There were different kinds of laughter coming from that one small audience. I began to study them. There were the explosive laughs that erupted and subsided quickly, the wave laughs that started small and grew, the quantum laughs that jumped around the audience unpredictably, the lonely laughs from the one person (other than me) who thought it was funny, and the delayed exposure laugh, where it took a couple of beats for the audience to catch up before the laugh.

The audience, that blessed audience, continued laughing throughout the play. Not at the play. At the lines. The ones I had written.

I was hooked. From that moment on I knew that writing funny lines was what I wanted to do. Thoughtful funny lines. Funny lines laden with deep philosophic meaning that would change people’s lives.

Or just make them laugh.

That would be more than enough.


Stephen Evans is a playwright and the author of several books, including The Marriage of True Minds, A Transcendental Journey, Painting Sunsets, and The Island of Always. He lives in Maryland. Click here to visit his website.

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. For information on how to contribute, contact David Abrams.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Sentence: Dying: a Memoir by Cory Taylor


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


The problem with reverie is that you always assume you know how the unlived life turns out. And it is always a better version of the life you’ve actually lived.

Dying: a Memoir by Cory Taylor

Friday, February 8, 2019

Friday Freebie: War Flower by Brooke King


Congratulations to Tisa Houck, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Peacock Feast by Lisa Gornick.

This week, I’m pleased to be giving away a new memoir about combat and its aftermath: War Flower by Brooke King. I had the chance to read an early version of the book and offer these words of praise on its behalf: “In her memoir about a combat deployment to Iraq, Army veteran Brooke King writes Nothing good survives war. I would beg to differ: King went to war, lived through months of unthinkable horrors, and returned with a very good book in her duffel bag. The War Flower will leave no reader unmoved, no soul unscathed.”

I have two copies of the book up for grabs in the contest. Keep scrolling for more information on War Flower and how to enter the contest...


Brooke King has been asked over and over what it’s like to be a woman in combat, but she knows her answer is not what the public wants to hear. The answers people seek lie in the graphic details of war—the sex, death, violence, and reality of it all as she experienced it. In her riveting memoir War Flower, King breaks her silence and reveals the truth about her experience as a soldier in Iraq. Find out what happens when the sex turns into secret affairs, the violence is turned up to eleven, and how King’s feelings for a country she knew nothing about as a nineteen-year-old become more disturbing to her as a thirty-year-old mother writing it all down before her memories fade into oblivion. The story of a girl who went to war and returned home a woman, War Flower gathers the enduring remembrances of a soldier coming to grips with post-traumatic stress disorder. As King recalls her time in Iraq, she reflects on what violence does to a woman and how the psychic wounds of combat are unwittingly passed down from mother to children. War Flower is ultimately a profound meditation on what it means to have been a woman in a war zone and an unsettling exposé on war and its lingering aftershocks. For veterans such as King, the toughest lesson of service is that in the mind, some wars never end—even after you come home.

If you’d like a chance at winning War Flower, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Feb. 14, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Feb. 15. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Monday, February 4, 2019

My First Time: Adam Kovac



The First Time I Dated My Novel

I fooled around and fell in love....with a novel.

Publishing my debut novel, The Surge, was a lot like dating. Looking back, I can only describe the process as a roughly five-year slog of rejection, sprinkled with brief bursts of glee, followed by utter dejection. And let’s be clear: I hate dating. I’ve been on many dates. Almost every single one was a shambles, just like almost every single pitch I sent to agents and publishers.

I’m one of those veteran authors who never wanted to write a book about Iraq or Afghanistan. In 2009, I was wounded in combat. I’m still busted up. And from a mental-health standpoint, there was no way I could return to my civilian newspaper job on the crime and courts beat. I figured I’d use my remaining GI Bill money to go back to college, start a new career writing short stories about life, the great American novel.

I was in the MFA program at Northwestern University when I wrote a dreadful version of what now is the first chapter of The Surge. Since I needed more copy for workshop and my thesis, I banged out another chapter. Then another and another and by graduation had typed “THE END” on a lean, mean fighting machine of a novel. Although it was not the book I’d intended to write, I had developed a little a crush on the story. I couldn’t let it sit in a drawer. At the time, in 2013, very few Iraq and Afghanistan war novels had been published. Confident that my book would be irresistible to agents and publishers, I crafted query letters, and embarked on a search for literary true love.

“I’m afraid your novel isn’t the right fit for my list.” Translation: You’re not my type.

“The early pages didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped.” You look nothing like your profile photo.

“I couldn’t sell a book of this length to a major publisher.” You’re too small.

I soon realized that pitching a novel without writing credits is a lot like sidling up to an intriguing stranger at the bar and asking for their phone number. So, I hit the gym. Bought new outfits over the next few months. After I’d revised the book and polished my query, I felt real good about my prospects for a lunch date, maybe even a movie with coffee afterward.

“Editors have piles of Iraq novels on their desks.” Who’s your friend? Can I have his number?

“We represented an author with a similar project; we’re not prepared to take on another.” You remind me of the last person I dated and that didn’t work out.

After more than 250 rejections, I broke up with my novel. This relationship never had a chance, I told the manuscript. “It’s not you, it’s me.” If this story were a Hollywood movie, this would be the scene where the writer retreats to their garret, chain-smoking, hunched over a typewriter, pouring pain onto the page to the rhythm of an inspirational soundtrack. That’s what I did; I started a new book. And that’s when an agent emailed, said he loved The Surge, and asked if we could chat.

You would be wrong to think agent representation meant my dance card was filled with lucrative publishing offers. In reality, the book was back on the dating scene, this time in the company of a literary matchmaking service.

“It would be a disrespect to this amazing novel if we were to publish it.” (Okay, I have absolutely no idea how to interpret this rejection. Really, it’s bizarre.)

About a year and dozens of rejections later, The Surge was dead in the water. Again. I was truly done. My agent was over it, too. I had since finished that second book, a mystery. We were shopping it when an editor from a small, literary press I’d been admiring from afar emailed with an offer of publication. But this offer was for The Surge.

Full confession: I almost said no. I screamed subconsciously at that old manuscript. “Never! You had your chance! I won’t go back. I’m sick of revising; praying this is the time it’ll work out and we both know that’s never going to happen! You don’t deserve me!” And after I’d gotten that out of my system, I said, “Yes. Of course I do, you silly fool.”

The Surge is now out from Engine Books.

Writing that sentence felt somewhat like announcing a marriage. I still ask myself why I started writing a war novel in the first place, why I continued to tinker with a story I never wanted to tell, and why I kept submitting the manuscript in the face of overwhelming despair. Perhaps it’s because as time went on I saw beauty on the page I had not appreciated before. In my quest for literary love and acceptance, the novel and I somehow forged the kind of bond that is the backbone of an unbreakable relationship. I learned I had to let go of the novel in order for it to find a place in this world. It’s a leap of faith, the chance you’re willing to take when it’s your first time.


Adam Kovac served in the U.S. Army infantry, with deployments to Panama, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan. A former journalist, he's also covered the crime and court beats for newspapers in Indiana, Florida and Illinois. He lives in the Chicago suburbs with his wife and son. Follow him on Twitter @Boondock60mm.


My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. For information on how to contribute, contact David Abrams.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sunday Sentence: Edward Abbey


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


What is the purpose of the giant sequoia tree? The purpose of the giant sequoia tree is to provide shade for the tiny titmouse.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Friday Freebie: The Peacock Feast by Lisa Gornick


Congratulations to BJ Nooth, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman.

This week’s giveaway is for the new novel by Lisa Gornick, The Peacock Feast. I have one hardcover copy to put in the hands of one lucky reader. Will it be you? Here’s what Meg Wolitzer, author of The Wife, had to say about the book: “The Peacock Feast is one of those rare books that feels both grand and intimate, bringing the reader deeply into a very vivid past. Lisa Gornick has written an engrossing and impressive book.” Ready to be engrossed and impressed? Keep scrolling for more information on the novel and how to enter the contest...


The Peacock Feast opens on a June day in 1916 when Louis C. Tiffany, the eccentric glass genius, dynamites the breakwater at Laurelton Hall—his fantastical Oyster Bay mansion, with columns capped by brilliant ceramic blossoms and a smokestack hidden in a blue-banded minaret—so as to foil the town from reclaiming the beach for public use. The explosion shakes both the apple crate where Prudence, the daughter of Tiffany’s prized gardener, is sleeping and the rocks where Randall, her seven-year-old brother, is playing. Nearly a century later, Prudence receives an unexpected visit at her New York apartment from Grace, a hospice nurse and the granddaughter of Randall, who Prudence never saw again after he left at age fourteen for California. The mementos Grace carries from her grandfather’s house stir Prudence’s long-repressed memories and bring her to a new understanding of the choices she made in work and love, and what she faces now in her final days. Spanning the twentieth century and three continents, The Peacock Feast ricochets from Manhattan to San Francisco, from the decadent mansions of the Tiffany family to the death row of a Texas prison, and from the London consultation room of Anna Freud to a Mendocino commune. With psychological acuity and aching eloquence, Lisa Gornick has written a sweeping family drama, an exploration of the meaning of art and the art of dying, and an illuminating portrait of how our decisions reverberate across time and space.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Peacock Feast, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Feb. 7, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Feb. 8. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Front Porch Books: January 2019 edition


Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of new and forthcoming booksmainly advance review copies (aka “uncorrected proofs” and “galleys”)I’ve received from publishers. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released. I should also mention that, in nearly every case, I haven’t had a chance to read these books, but they’re definitely going in the to-be-read pile.



I Miss You When I Blink
by Mary Laura Philpott
(Atria Books)

Jacket Copy: Mary Laura Philpott thought she’d cracked the code: Always be right, and you’ll always be happy. But once she’d completed her life’s to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies—check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious. Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic. She’d done everything “right,” but she felt all wrong. What’s the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options? In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first. Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that? Like a pep talk from a sister, I Miss You When I Blink is the funny, poignant, and deeply affecting book you’ll want to share with all your friends, as you learn what Philpott has figured out along the way: that multiple things can be true of us at once—and that sometimes doing things wrong is the way to do life right.

Opening Lines: It’s the perfect sentence, but I didn’t write it. My six-year-old did.
       I was sitting at the desk in my home office, on a copywriting deadline for a client in the luggage industry, wrestling with a paragraph about suitcases. I leaned forward, as if putting my face closer to the computer could help the words on the screen make garment bags sound exciting. My little boy lay on his belly on the rug, “working” to pass the time until our promised walk to the park. He murmured to himself as he scribbled with a yellow pencil stub on one of my notepads.
       “...and I miss you when I blink...” he said.
       It stopped me mid-thought. “Say that again?”
       “I miss you when I blink,” he answered and looked up, pleased to have caught my attention. He turned back to his notepad, chattering on with his rhyme (I miss you in the sink...I miss you in a skating rink...). When he ripped off the page and tossed it aside, I picked it up and pinned it to the bulletin board on my office wall.

Blurbworthiness:  “I Miss You When I Blink is a delightful, thought-provoking collection of essays, written with such spark and vulnerability that I was alternately laughing out loud and gasp-sighing at its poignancy. Mary Laura Philpott shows us her real, flawed self in these pages, sharing when she’s made mistakes, when she’s been less than charitable, or when she wasn’t sure who she was 'supposed' to be. It’s easy to connect with her honesty, and damn fun to laugh at her jokes. This book is totally irresistible!”  (Edan Lepucki, author of Woman No. 17)



Aerialists
by Mark Mayer
(Bloomsbury)

Jacket Copy:  Welcome to the sublime circus of Mark Mayer’s debut, Aerialists, a fiercely inventive collection of nine stories in which classic carnival characters become ordinary misfits seeking grandeur in a lonely world. Under the luminous tent of Mayer’s prose, we see P.T. Barnum’s caravan remade: A young misogynist finds a confidante in a cable-TV strongwoman. A realtor for the one percent invokes his inner murder clown. A skin-and-bones mathematician and his bearded wife plot revolution. A friendless peach farmer holds a funeral for a beloved elephant. And a model-train hobbyist prepares to throw his miniature world in the trash. The circus has always been a collection of American exaggerations-the bold, the beautiful, the freakish, the big. Aerialists finds these myths living in the everyday. Mayer’s deftly drawn characters illuminate these small-scale spectaculars, and their attempted acts of daring and feats of strength are rendered with humor, generosity, and uncommon grace.

Opening Lines:  A few weeks after my dad moved out, I played a trick on my mom. I asked to give her a hug, and after we held each other a minute, I stuck a sewing needle in the back of her neck. I had it taped between my fingers with invisible tape.

Blurbworthiness:  “Aerialists is a work of great imagination. These stories are always in motion, as characters reach for their better selves and touch them only briefly, in singular, exquisite moments rendered in astounding prose. Mark Mayer is wise and big-hearted, a magician of the American sentence. Each story is its own world, inhabited by characters who are painfully, wonderfully real.”  (Emily Ruskovich, author of Idaho)



Staff Picks
by George Singleton
(Louisiana State University Press)

Jacket Copy:  It’s Father’s Day 1972 and a young boy’s dad takes him to visit a string of unimpressive ex-girlfriends that could have been his mother; the unconventional detective work of a koan-speaking, Kung Fu–loving uncle solves a case of arson during a pancake breakfast; and a former geology professor, recovering from addiction, finds himself sharing a taxicab with specters from a Jim Crow–era lynching. Set in and around the fictional town of Steepleburg, South Carolina, the loosely tied stories in George Singleton’s Staff Picks place sympathetic, oddball characters in absurd, borderline surreal situations that slowly reveal the angst of southern history with humor and bite. In the tradition of Donald Barthelme, T. C. Boyle, Flannery O’Connor, and Raymond Carver, Singleton creates lingering, darkly comedic tales by drawing from those places where familiarity and alienation coexist. A remarkable and distinct effort from an acclaimed chronicler of the South, Staff Picks reaffirms Singleton’s gift for crafting short story collections that both deliver individual gems and shine as a whole.

Opening Lines:  According to the radio station’s rules, the contestants were permitted to place their hands anywhere on the RV they felt comfortable. Staff Puckett chose the Winnebago’s spare tire, which was sheathed in vinyl emblazoned with the image of Mount Rushmore. Staff had considered visiting the granite sculpture, off and on, for twenty years, and now she vowed to herself that soon she’d make her way northwest on mostly back roads to stare down those four faces, whose stony expressions didn’t look much different than her own.
       But first she had to win the RV. She’d been one of the nineteen nineteenth callers during WCRS’s nineteen-day “19th Nervous Breakdown” marathon. Now she and the other eighteen contestants were gathered in the parking lot of State Line RV World, near the border of Georgia and South Carolina. The rules were simple: This was a “hands on” contest. Contestants had to remain in contact with the RV. The last one standing got the keys.
       A man to Staff’s left stuck his hand on the taillight, and a woman with bleached hair reached up high onto the back window, which Staff thought to be a questionable move. The other sixteen contestants—including a doughy, balding man whose shirt blazed with advertising logos—chose the hood, windshield, door handles, random snatches of stripe.
       “Good morning,” the balding man said. While he waited in vain for Staff’s reply, he gave her what seemed to be a sincere smile, which led Staff to believe that he wouldn’t last long.

Blurbworthiness:  “George Singleton’s talent as a humorist is on full display in Staff Picks but don’t let your laughter distract you from the fact that he is also a sly, insightful witness to life in the American South and one of the most dexterous short story writers anywhere. He knows our hurts and fears, our desires and disappointments. He understands better than just about anybody that life can be sublime and heartbreaking and absurd all at once and he holds nothing back in his best collection yet.”  (Michael Knight, author of Eveningland)



Time Song: Journeys in Search of a Submerged Land
by Julia Blackburn
(Pantheon)

Jacket Copy:  Shortly after her husband's death, Julia Blackburn became fascinated with Doggerland, the stretch of land that once connected Great Britain to Europe but is now subsumed by the North Sea. She was driven to explore the lives of the people who lived there--studying its fossil record, as well as human artifacts that have been discovered near the area. Now, she brings her reader along on her journey across Great Britain and parts of Continental Europe, introducing us to the paleontologists, archaeologists, fishermen, and fellow Doggerland enthusiasts she meets along the way. As Doggerland begins to come into focus, what emerges is a profound meditation on time, a sense of infinity as going backwards, and an intimation of the immensity of everything that has already passed through its time on earth and disappeared.

Opening Lines:  I am looking out across the North Sea on a calm day. The surface of the sea is like a covering of grey skin, breathing softly in and out.

Blurbworthiness:  “Species appear and vanish, cultures develop and are annihilated. It sounds depressing, but this is one of the only books I’ve ever read that has made me feel better about climate change. It’s not that we’re not doomed. . . But the end of us doesn’t mean the end of existence altogether. . . but if this book convinces me of anything, it’s that there will always be more life to come.”  (Olivia Laing, in The Guardian)



Earth to Charlie
by Justin Olson
(Simon and Schuster)

Jacket Copy:  A high school outcast spends his life hoping to be abducted by aliens in this funny, quirky novel about finding your footing in a world that sometimes feels like Mars. Convinced his mother has been abducted by aliens, Charlie Dickens spends his nights with an eye out for UFOs, hoping to join her. After all, she said the aliens would come back for him. Charlie will admit that he doesn’t have many reasons to stick around; he doesn’t get along well with his father, he’s constantly bullied at school and at work, and the only friend he has is his 600-pound neighbor Geoffrey, and Geoffrey’s three-legged dog, Tickles. Then Charlie meets popular, easy-going Seth, who shows him what real friendship is all about. For once, he finds himself looking around at the life he’s built, rather than looking up. But sooner than he expected, Charlie has to make a decision: should he stay or should he go?

Opening Lines:  My mind drifts from one thought to the next. My bed sheets are finally warm. I roll to one side, then to the other. After a bit of adjusting, I find myself on my back. My eyes shut.
       I wait restlessly for sleep to find me.
       The house is so deadened of people and activity that the air feels heavy and stagnant. If someone were to walk into my room right now, they’d think it was a tomb.
       And I, the body.



At Briarwood School for Girls
by Michael Knight
(Grove Atlantic)

Jacket Copy:  It’s 1994 and Lenore Littlefield is a junior at Briarwood School for Girls. She plays basketball. She hates her roommate. History is her favorite subject. She has told no one that she’s pregnant. Everything, in other words, is under control. Meanwhile, Disney has announced plans to build a new theme park just up the road, a “Technicolor simulacrum of American History” right in the middle of one of the most history-rich regions of the country. If successful, the development will forever alter the character of Prince William County, Virginia, and have unforeseeable consequences for the school. When the threat of the theme park begins to intrude on the lives of the faculty and students at Briarwood, secrets will be revealed and unexpected alliances will form. Lenore must decide who she can trust--will it be a middle-aged history teacher struggling to find purpose in his humdrum life? A lonely basketball coach tasked with directing the school play? A reclusive playwright still grappling with her own Briarwood legacy? Or a teenage ghost equally adept at communicating with the living via telephone or Ouija board? Following a cast of memorable characters as they reckon with questions about fate, history, and the possibility of happiness, about our responsibilities to each other and to ourselves, At Briarwood School for Girls is a stunning and inventive new work from a master storyteller.

Opening Lines:  All boarding schools are haunted. Not infrequently by suicides. So it was at Briarwood School for Girls.

Blurbworthiness:  “Like a package of sweets sent from home, At Briarwood School for Girls is replete with the familiar, beloved, humorous elements of a boarding school book--old trees and legacies, a headmistress, a ghost, and girls out of uniform--and surprise at what real life offers up. I read the book in an evening--so irresistible and satisfying was it, I kept turning the pages.” (Christine Schutt, author of Pure Hollywood)



Everything Inside
by Edwidge Danticat
(Knopf)

Jacket Copy:  From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of Brother, I’m Dying comes a collection of vividly imagined stories about community, family, and love. Rich with hard-won wisdom and humanity, set in locales from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond, Everything Inside is at once wide in scope and intimate, as it explores the forces that pull us together, or drive us apart, sometimes in the same searing instant. In these eight powerful, emotionally absorbing stories, a romance unexpectedly sparks between two wounded friends; a marriage ends for what seem like noble reasons, but with irreparable consequences; a young woman holds on to an impossible dream even as she fights for her survival; two lovers reunite after unimaginable tragedy, both for their country and in their lives; a baby’s christening brings three generations of a family to a precarious dance between old and new; a man falls to his death in slow motion, reliving the defining moments of the life he is about to lose.

Opening Lines:  Elsie was with Gaspard, her live-in renal-failure patient, when her ex-husband called to inform her that his girlfriend, Olivia, had been kidnapped in Port-au-Prince.



What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About
Edited by Michele Filgate
(Simon and Schuster)

Jacket Copy:  In the bestselling tradition of The Bitch in the House, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About is an anthology about the powerful and sometimes painful things that we can’t discuss with the person who is supposed to know us and love us the most. In the early 2000s, as an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took many years for her to realize what she was actually trying to write about: the fracture this caused in her relationship with her mother. When her essay, “What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About,” was published by Longreads in October of 2017, it went on to become one of the most popular Longreads exclusives of the year, and was shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, Lidia Yuknavitch, and many other writers, some of whom had their own individual codes of silence to be broken. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers an intimate, therapeutic, and universally resonant look at our relationships with our mothers. As Filgate poignantly writes, “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.”

Opening Lines:  Lacuna: an unfilled space or interval; a gap.
       Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them. To know what it was like to have one place where we belonged. Where we fit.
       My mother is hard to know. Or rather, I know her and don’t know her at the same time. I can imagine her long, grayish-brown hair that she refuses to chop off, the vodka and ice in her hand. But if I try to conjure her face, I’m met instead by her laugh, a fake laugh, the kind of laugh that is trying to prove something, a forced happiness.
       Several times a week, she posts tempting photos of food on her Facebook page. Achiote pork tacos with pickled red onions, strips of beef jerky just out of the smoker, slabs of steak that she serves with steamed vegetables. These are the meals of my childhood; sometimes ambitious and sometimes practical. But these meals, for me, call to mind my stepfather: the red of his face, the red of the blood pooled on the plate. He uses a dishtowel to wipe the sweat from his cheeks; his work boots are coated in sawdust. His words puncture me; tines of a fork stuck in a half-deflated balloon.

Blurbworthiness:  “These are the hardest stories in the world to tell, but they are told with absolute grace. You will devour these beautifully written--and very important--tales of honesty, pain, and resilience.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love)


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sunday Sentence: In Memory of Jane Frazer by Geoffrey Hill


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


       She died before the world could stir.
       In March the ice unloosed the brook
       And water ruffled the sun’s hair,
       And a few sprinkled leaves unshook.


“In Memory of Jane Frazer” by Geoffrey Hill
from New Poets of England and America

Friday, January 25, 2019

Friday Freebie: Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman


Congratulations to Sudha Balagopal, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: the new collection of short stories by Kathy Fish, Wild Life.

This week’s giveaway is for Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman and it sounds like a really fun read. Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life, had this to say about the book: “The sharp, smart wit of Elinor Lipman is a treasure and Good Riddance more than delivers with laugh out loud dialogue, wise social commentary, and thoughtful observations about love.”  Keep scrolling for more information on the novel and how to enter the contest...


Daphne Maritch doesn't quite know what to make of the heavily annotated high school yearbook she inherits from her mother, who held this relic dear. Too dear. The late June Winter Maritch was the teacher to whom the class of '68 had dedicated its yearbook, and in turn she went on to attend every reunion, scribbling notes and observations after each one—not always charitably—and noting who overstepped boundaries of many kinds.

If you’d like a chance at winning Good Riddance, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Jan. 31, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Feb. 1. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.