Thursday, July 11, 2019

Front Porch Books: July 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.



Everybody’s Doin’ It
by Dale Cockrell
(W. W. Norton)

Jacket Copy:  Everybody’s Doin’ It is the eye-opening story of popular music’s seventy-year rise in the brothels, dance halls, and dives of New York City. It traces the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, to convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance. Whether coming from a single piano player or a small band, live music was a nightly feature in New York’s spirited dives, where men and women, often black and white, mingled freely―to the horror of the elite. This rollicking demimonde drove the development of an energetic dance music that would soon span the world. The Virginia Minstrels, Juba, Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin and his hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and the Original Dixieland Jass Band all played a part in popularizing startling new sounds. Musicologist Dale Cockrell recreates this ephemeral underground world by mining tabloids, newspapers, court records of police busts, lurid exposés, journals, and the reports of undercover detectives working for social-reform organizations, who were sent in to gather evidence against such low-life places. Everybody’s Doin’ It illuminates the how, why, and where of America’s popular music and its buoyant journey from the dangerous Five Points of downtown to the interracial black and tans of Harlem.

Blurbworthiness:  “Another scintillating gem from one of the rock stars of American musicology. Cockrell draws on sources we didn’t know existed to draw conclusions we couldn’t have foreseen. He not only illuminates the music of the title’s time period but also puts jazz scholarship on a different footing. Everybody should be readin’ it!” (Robert Walser, author of Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music)



In the Dream House
by Carmen Maria Machado
(Graywolf Press)

Jacket Copy:  In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming. And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope―the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman―through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships. Machado’s dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.

Opening Lines:  I never read prologues. I find them tedious. If it’s so important, why relegate it to the paratext? What is the author trying to hide?

Blurbworthiness:  “Carmen Maria Machado has re-imagined the memoir genre, creating a work of art both breathtakingly inventive and urgently true. In the Dream House is crucial queer testimony. I’ve never read a book like it.”  (Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body)



All This Could Be Yours
by Jami Attenberg
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Jacket Copy:  “If I know why he is the way he is then maybe I can learn why I am the way I am,” says Alex Tuchman, strong-headed lawyer, loving mother, and daughter of Victor Tuchman—a power-hungry real estate developer and, by all accounts, a bad man. Now that Victor is on his deathbed, Alex feels she can finally unearth the secrets of who he is and what he did over the course of his life and career. She travels to New Orleans to be with her family, but mostly to interrogate her tightlipped mother, Barbra. As Barbra fends off Alex’s unrelenting questions, she reflects on her tumultuous life with Victor. Meanwhile Gary, Alex’s brother, is incommunicado, trying to get his movie career off the ground in Los Angeles. And Gary’s wife, Twyla, is having a nervous breakdown, buying up all the lipstick in drug stores around New Orleans and bursting into crying fits. Dysfunction is at its peak. As each family member grapples with Victor’s history, they must figure out a way to move forward—with one another, for themselves, and for the sake of their children. All This Could Be Yours is a timely, piercing exploration of what it means to be caught in the web of a toxic man who abused his power; it shows how those webs can tangle a family for generations and what it takes to—maybe, hopefully—break free.

Opening Lines:  He was an angry man, and he was an ugly man, and he was tall, and he was pacing. Not much space for it in the new home, just a few rooms lined up in a row, underneath a series of slow-moving ceiling fans, an array of antique clocks ticking on one wall. He made it from one end of the apartment to the other in no time at all—his speed a failure as much as it was a success—then it was back to the beginning, flipping on his heel, grinding himself against the floor, the earth, this world.

Blurbworthiness:  “Set against the vivid backdrop of New Orleans, Jami Attenberg’s extraordinary new novel All This Could Be Yours is a deep dive into fractured family dynamics. In alternating voices, Attenberg expertly weaves together a chorus of love, betrayal and inheritance, each chapter a prism turned, revealing a new spectrum of secrets. Interspersed are gorgeous excavations into fleeting moments with strangers—the checkout clerks and ferry conductors passing through our lives—connecting this singular family into the larger web of life, where everyone is worthy of understanding and no one is without a soul.”  (Hannah Tinti, author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley)



The Story of a Goat
by Perumal Murugan
(Grove Atlantic)

Jacket Copy:  As he did in the award-winning One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan in his newest novel, The Story of a Goat, explores a side of India that is rarely considered in the West: the rural lives of the country’s farming community. He paints a bucolic yet sometimes menacing portrait, showing movingly how danger and deception can threaten the lives of the weakest through the story of a helpless young animal lost in a world it naively misunderstands. As the novel opens, a farmer in Tamil Nadu is watching the sun set over his village one quiet evening when a mysterious stranger, a giant man who seems more than human, appears on the horizon. He offers the farmer a black goat kid who is the runt of the litter, surely too frail to survive. The farmer and his wife take care of the young she-goat, whom they name Poonachi, and soon the little goat is bounding with joy and growing at a rate they think miraculous for such a small animal. Intoxicating passages from the goat’s perspective offer a bawdy and earthy view of what it means to be an animal and a refreshing portrayal of the natural world. But Poonachi’s life is not destined to be a rural idyll―dangers can lurk around every corner, and may sometimes come from surprising places, including a government that is supposed to protect the weak and needy. Is this little goat too humble a creature to survive such a hostile world? With allegorical resonance for contemporary society and examining hierarchies of caste and color, The Story of a Goat is a provocative but heartwarming fable from a world-class storyteller who is finally achieving recognition outside his home country.

Opening Lines:  Once in a village, there was a goat. No one knew where she was born. The birth of an ordinary creature never leaves a trace, does it? That said, the goat’s arrival into the world was somewhat unusual.



My Red Heaven
by Lance Olsen
(Dzanc Books)

Jacket Copy:  Set on a single day in 1927, My Red Heaven imagines a host of characters―some historic, some invented―crossing paths on the streets of Berlin. The subjects include Robert Musil, Otto Dix, Werner Heisenberg, Anita Berber, Vladimir Nabokov, Käthe Kollwitz, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Rosa Luxemburg―as well as others history has forgotten: a sommelier, a murderer, a prostitute, a pickpocket, and several ghosts. Drawing inspiration from Otto Freundlich’s painting by the same name, My Red Heaven explores a complex moment in history: the rise of deadly populism at a time when everything seemed possible and the future unimaginable. A terrific read for fans of Richard Powers’ The Overstory and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin.

Opening Lines:  Every evening the dead gather on rooftops across the city.

Blurbworthiness:  “Lance Olsen locates his porous, alluring, heartbreaking, and haunted narrative in Berlin on a day in 1927. Poised at a moment of such hope and doom, it is a ravishing meditation on history, on time, and on what is it to be alive.” (Carole Maso, author of Ava)



Wild Game
by Adrienne Brodeur
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Jacket Copy:  On a hot July night on Cape Cod when Adrienne was fourteen, her mother, Malabar, woke her at midnight with five simple words that would set the course of both of their lives for years to come: Ben Souther just kissed me. Adrienne instantly became her mother’s confidante and helpmate, blossoming in the sudden light of her attention, and from then on, Malabar came to rely on her daughter to help orchestrate what would become an epic affair with her husband’s closest friend. The affair would have calamitous consequences for everyone involved, impacting Adrienne’s life in profound ways, driving her into a precarious marriage of her own, and then into a deep depression. Only years later will she find the strength to embrace her life—and her mother—on her own terms. Wild Game is a brilliant, timeless memoir about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them, and the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s a remarkable story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us.

Opening Lines:  A buried truth, that’s all a lie really is.

Blurbworthiness:  “It’s a rare memoir that reads like a thriller, but Adrienne Brodeur’s Wild Game manages to do just that. Beautifully written and harrowing, the book left me breathless.” (Richard Russo, author of The Destiny Thief)



Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen
by Dexter Palmer
(Pantheon Books)

Jacket Copy:  From the highly acclaimed author of Version Control comes a stunning, powerfully evocative new novel based on a true story―in 1726 in the small town of Godalming, England, a young woman confounds the medical community by giving birth to dead rabbits. Surgeon John Howard is a rational man. His apprentice Zachary knows John is reluctant to believe anything that purports to exist outside the realm of logic. But even John cannot explain how or why Mary Toft, the wife of a local farmer, manages to give birth to a dead rabbit. When this singular event becomes a regular occurrence, John realizes that nothing in his experience as a village physician has prepared him to deal with a situation as disturbing as this. He writes to several preeminent surgeons in London, three of whom quickly arrive in the small town of Godalming ready to observe and opine. When Mary’s plight reaches the attention of King George, Mary and her doctors are summoned to London, where Zachary experiences for the first time a world apart from his small-town existence, and is exposed to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. All the while, Mary lies in bed, waiting for another birth, as doubts begin to blossom among the surgeons and a growing group of onlookers grow impatient for another miracle...

Opening Lines:  The convoy of nine decrepit coaches and wagons that constituted Nicholas Fox’s Exhibition of Medical Curiosities rolled into the village of Godalming on a Friday in early September 1726, soon after sunrise. Its herald, careening headlong before the horses that pulled the lead coach, was a young blond girl whose face was half covered by a port-wine stain, one of her sky-blue eyes peering out of an inky blotch of burgundy. “Tomorrow, witness a series of physiological wonders of which I am the very least,” she proclaimed to passersby, the men and women trudging out of town to begin the day’s harvest of the hop fields. “For the meager price of sixpence, gaze upon the horrific consequences that occur when the Lord God stretches out his mighty finger and lays a curse on Man. Educational for the mind; edifying for the soul.” The windows of the coaches had their thick black curtains pulled, proof against stray glimpses of their passengers. Education and edification would not come for free.

Blurbworthiness:Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen is provoking in ways that reach well beyond the premise, anticipating as it does our own ‘world of ash,’ with all its spectacle, factionalism, and noise. It is vividly composed and audaciously imagined, filled with characters who do battle against a world that perceives them as strange—or who, conversely, assume strangeness as a mask in order to induce the world to see them at all. It is yet another wonder in Dexter Palmer’s cabinet of wonders.” (Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead)



Year of the Monkey
by Patti Smith
(Knopf)

Jacket Copy:  From the National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids and M Train, comes a profound, beautifully realized memoir in which dreams and reality are vividly woven into a tapestry of one transformative year. Following a run of New Year’s concerts at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, Patti Smith finds herself tramping the coast of Santa Cruz, about to embark on a year of solitary wandering. Unfettered by logic or time, she draws us into her private wonderland with no design, yet heeding signs―including a talking sign that looms above her, prodding and sparring like the Cheshire Cat. In February, a surreal lunar year begins, bringing with it unexpected turns, heightened mischief, and inescapable sorrow. In a stranger’s words, “Anything is possible: after all, it’s the Year of the Monkey.” For Smith―inveterately curious, always exploring, tracking thoughts, writing―the year evolves as one of reckoning with the changes in life’s gyre: with loss, aging, and a dramatic shift in the political landscape of America. Smith melds the western landscape with her own dreamscape. Taking us from California to the Arizona desert; to a Kentucky farm as the amanuensis of a friend in crisis; to the hospital room of a valued mentor; and by turns to remembered and imagined places, this haunting memoir blends fact and fiction with poetic mastery. The unexpected happens; grief and disillusionment set in. But as Smith heads toward a new decade in her own life, she offers this balm to the reader: her wisdom, wit, gimlet eye, and above all, a rugged hope for a better world. Riveting, elegant, often humorous, illustrated by Smith’s signature Polaroids, Year of the Monkey is a moving and original work, a touchstone for our turbulent times.

Opening Lines:  It was well past midnight when we pulled up in front of the Dream Motel. I paid the driver, made sure I left nothing behind, and rang the bell to wake up the proprietor. It’s almost 3 a.m., she said, but gave me my key and a bottle of mineral water. My room was on the lowest floor, facing the long pier. I opened the sliding glass door and could hear the sound of the waves accompanied by the faint barking of sea lions sprawled out on the planks beneath the boardwalk. Happy New Year! I called out. Happy New Year to the waxing moon, the telepathic sea.

Blurbworthiness:  “A chronicle of a year filled with deep losses and rich epiphanies. The titular year, 2016, set Smith, [who] refers to herself as the ‘poet detective,’ on a quixotic quest, with a mysterious companion unexpectedly reappearing amid a backdrop of rock touring, vagabond traveling, and a poisonous political landscape. Throughout, Smith ponders time and mortality—no surprise considering her milestone birthday, and the experience of losing friends who have meant so much to her.” (Kirkus)



Wanderers
by Chuck Wendig
(Del Rey)

Jacket Copy:  A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. From the mind of Chuck Wendig comes “a magnum opus . . . a story about survival that’s not just about you and me, but all of us, together” (Kirkus Reviews). Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead. For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

Opening Lines:  The world discovered the comet six months before it appeared in the sky, visible mostly to those on the west Coast of North America. The woman who discovered it, Yumiko Sakamoto, age twenty-eight, was an amateur astronomer in Okayama Prefecture, in the town of Kurashiki. She found it on a lark, looking instead for an entirely different comet―a comet that was expected to strike Jupiter.

Blurbworthiness:  “This career-defining epic deserves its inevitable comparisons to Stephen King’s The Stand.” (Publishers Weekly)


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sunday Sentence: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


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


He gave me another one of those tender “I’m sorry if you’re hurting, baby” kisses, and I don’t mind saying I responded by sticking my tongue so far down that man’s throat, it’s a miracle I didn’t lick the bottommost quadrant of his heart.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


Friday, July 5, 2019

Friday Freebie: Machine by Susan Steinberg


Congratulations to John Smith, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: two by Elly Griffiths: The Stone Circle and The Stranger Diaries.

This week’s giveaway is for Machine by Susan Steinberg. One lucky reader will win a softcover copy of the book. Here’s Bennett Sims with a few words of praise: “Otherworldly, and every-other-line sublime, Machine reads like the text messages Laura Palmer might send back from the Black Lodge. It’s a timely reminder of why our culture remains haunted by dead girls, and of the different ways we find to drown them.” Keep scrolling for more about the novel and how to enter the contest...


Susan Steinberg’s first novel, Machine, is a dazzling and innovative leap forward for a writer whose most recent book, Spectacle, gained her a rapturous following. Machine revolves around a group of teenagers—both locals and wealthy out-of-towners—during a single summer at the shore. Steinberg captures the pressures and demands of this world in a voice that effortlessly slides from collective to singular, as one girl recounts a night on which another girl drowned. Hoping to assuage her guilt and evade a similar fate, she pieces together the details of this tragedy, as well as the breakdown of her own family, and learns that no one, not even she, is blameless. A daring stylist, Steinberg contrasts semicolon-studded sentences with short lines that race down the page. This restless approach gains focus and power through a sharply drawn narrative that ferociously interrogates gender, class, privilege, and the disintegration of identity in the shadow of trauma. Machine is the kind of novel—relentless and bold—that only Susan Steinberg could have written.

If you’d like a chance at winning Machine, simply e-mail 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 July 11, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on July 12. 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 e-mail 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, July 1, 2019

My First Time: Susan Rudnick



My First Memoir Writing Class

This year I will turn 75, and my first book, a memoir of how my mentally challenged sister Edna has been my life’s greatest teacher, will be published.

It was never part of my life plan to write a book. For the past 40 years I’ve been a psychotherapist, learning to listen and understand the stories that my clients bring me. So I’m used to keeping my own life in the background, while drawing on it to understand others. I also grew up with a reputation of being flighty. My parents told me I lacked sitzfleish, the capacity to sit for long periods and accomplish things. Until ten years ago, having internalized this message, it would never have occurred to me to even dream of such a lengthy project as a book.

Yet here I am, pre-publication galley in hand, trying to understand my journey. Looking back, I find some seeds: a few poems I had written about Edna over the years, and, about twelve years ago, I had contributed a chapter to a book with personal reflections by psychotherapists on psychotherapy and Buddhist experience. In it I described my sister’s unconditional acceptance of me as integral to my spiritual path. Many people told me they wanted to hear more about her. Chancing upon a catalogue from the Open Center with a workshop in writing spiritual memoir, I signed up. Maybe there was some way I could go further.

For me, why and how I wrote the book, are inextricably linked, one reinforcing the other. To unlock why I needed to do this, or to even conceive that I could express my story, there needed to be a how: how to begin and how to allow the words to flow. As I found a way, I kept learning more and more about why I had to keep going, which helped to find more ways how.


I sat around a table with ten people as the teacher, a woman half my age with soulful brown eyes, gave us the first prompt: write without stopping for ten minutes about a difficult experience in our lives that was still affecting us.

Edna’s face in her coffin was the first thing to come to mind. It was unadorned or made up, as she had lived in a spiritual community that didn't do embalming.

I gasped in the same way I had when the moment had actually happened. Hers was the face of a beautiful, strong intelligent woman at peace. It expressed who she would have been, if she hadn’t faced the challenge of a brain injury at birth, as well as the subsequent suffering because of it. I totally recognized and knew her.

I began to write furiously, describing the batik dress I had picked out for her to wear, the color of her skin, and the strength and wisdom I was witnessing. A rush of feelings: awe, wonder and grief washed over me. The prompt gave me the how, and in writing I felt the immensity of my gratitude to her, the why. I wanted to keep going and explain more of who she was and what she meant to me. In so much of my day-to-day life, my sister had remained invisible. Friends and colleagues barely knew she existed. Now I wanted her to be visible.

When I was done writing, I raised my hand to share. After I finished reading aloud, the teacher and I made eye contact. I could tell she was moved. A plan was already forming. My how would involve getting help and feedback. There was no way to do this alone. I needed a guide. When the class was over, I would ask to work with our teacher privately. I had to keep going.

A story was waiting to be told.


For over forty years Susan Rudnick has been listening to people tell their stories in her Manhattan practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. In Edna’s Gift, she tells hers. The seed for her memoir was “Coming Home to Wholeness,” a chapter she contributed to Into the Mountain Stream, a book of personal reflections on psychotherapy and Buddhist Experience. Rudnick, a Zen practitioner, has published haikus as well as articles about psychotherapy in professional journals. Culled from thousands of submissions, one of her haikus appears in New York City Haiku: From the Readers of The New York Times. She and her husband live in Westchester, New York, but also love to spend time at their cabin in the Catskills.

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.

Author photo by Chris Loomis


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Sentence: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake


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


There is no story until we’re dead, and then our children tell it.

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake


Friday, June 28, 2019

Friday Freebie: Two Mysteries by Elly Griffiths


Congratulations to Lisa Murray, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: Of Fathers and Fire, the new novel by Steven Wingate.

This week’s giveaway is for two by Elly Griffiths: The Stone Circle and The Stranger Diaries. One lucky reader will win a hardcover copy of both books. Keep scrolling for more about the mystery novels and how to enter the contest...


Death lies between the lines when the events of a dark story start coming true in The Stranger Diaries, a haunting modern gothic mystery, perfect for fans of Magpie Murders and The Lake House. Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she teaches a course on it every year. But when one of Clare’s colleagues and closest friends is found dead, with a line from R. M. Holland’s most famous story, “The Stranger,” left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with the storylines of her favorite literature. To make matters worse, the police suspect the killer is someone Clare knows. Unsure whom to trust, she turns to her closest confidant, her diary, the only outlet she has for her darkest suspicions and fears about the case. Then one day she notices something odd. Writing that isn't hers, left on the page of an old diary: Hallo Clare. You don’t know me. Clare becomes more certain than ever: “The Stranger” has come to terrifying life. But can the ending be rewritten in time?



In The Stone Circle, a chilling entry to the award-winning Ruth Galloway series, she and DCI Nelson are haunted by a ghost from their past, just as their future lands on shaky ground. DCI Nelson has been receiving threatening letters. They are anonymous, yet reminiscent of ones he has received in the past, from the person who drew him into a case that’s haunted him for years. At the same time, Ruth receives a letter purporting to be from that very same person—her former mentor, and the reason she first started working with Nelson. But the author of those letters is dead. Or is he? The past is reaching out for Ruth and Nelson, and its grip is deadly.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Stranger Diaries and The Stone Circle, simply e-mail 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 July 4, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on July 5. 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 e-mail 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.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunday Sentence: Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins


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


       In the ashen newsreels,
       the avenues of cities
       are broad rivers flowing with hats.


“The Death of the Hat”
from Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins


Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday Freebie: Of Fathers and Fire by Steven Wingate


Congratulations to Bill Wolfe, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean.

This week’s giveaway is for Of Fathers and Fire, the new novel by Steven Wingate. One lucky reader will win a signed copy of the book. Keep scrolling for more about fathers, fires, and how to enter the contest...


When Richie Thorpe and his ragtag religious band of ex-thieves arrive in the High Plains town of Suborney, Colorado, Tommy Sandor is captivated by the group. It’s the summer of 1980 in the dusty, junkyard town, and the seventeen-year-old is wrestling with the forces shaping America and himself: the Iran hostage crisis, the incoming tide of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and the political rise of the Christian Right. As Tommy is increasingly drawn to the group, his mother, Connie, grows frantic. She has been hiding the truth from her son, telling him that his father was a saxophonist from New York who never knew he had a child, and is lying low in Suborney to hide from Tommy’s actual father—Richie Thorpe. Connie knows Richie has come for his son, and though she has witnessed Thorpe’s mysterious powers, the desperation to protect her lie, her son, and their life begets a venom with an elemental power that threatens the whole town.

Of Fathers and Fire employs magical realism in a way that few American writers have been able to achieve. . . . Beautifully detailed, from the geography of Colorado and Nebraska to the trivia of daily living. Steven Wingate has an eye for the peripheral, the seemingly insignificant, the almost forgotten. Much of the novel’s power comes from Wingate’s juxtaposition of the mundane with the miraculous.”
       —Mary Clearman Blew, author of Ruby Dreams of Janis Joplin

For more about Steven Wingate, be sure to check out his “My First Time” essay.

If you’d like a chance at winning Of Fathers and Fire, simply e-mail 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 June 27, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 28. 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 e-mail 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.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sunday Sentence: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


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


She looked like a spinster who drank Ovaltine for dinner and gargled with salt water for vitality.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Freebie: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean


Congratulations to Nancy Bekofske, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: The Rest of the Story, the new novel by Sarah Dessen.

This week’s giveaway is for The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean. One lucky reader will win a new softcover copy of the book. Keep scrolling for more about the Van Apfel girls and how to enter the contest...


Tikka Malloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long, hot, Australian summer of 1992. The TV news in the background chattered with debate about the exoneration of Lindy (“dingo took my baby”) Chamberlain. That summer was when the Van Apfel sisters--Ruth, Hannah, and the beautiful Cordelia--mysteriously disappeared. Did they just run far away from their harsh, evangelical parents, or were they taken? While the search for the girls united the small community, the mystery of their disappearance was never solved, and Tikka and her older sister, Laura, have been haunted ever since by the loss of their friends and playmates. Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try to make sense of that strange moment in time. Part mystery, part darkly comic coming-of-age story, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a page-turning read--with a dark, shimmering absence at its heart.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, simply e-mail 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 June 20, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 21. 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 e-mail 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.


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Front Porch Books: June 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.


Animalia
by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo
(Grove Press)

Jacket Copy:  The small village of Puy-Larroque, southwest France, 1898. Éléonore is a child living with her father, a pig farmer whose terminal illness leaves him unable to work, and her God-fearing mother, who runs both farm and family with an iron hand. Éléonore passes her childhood with little heat and no running water, sharing a small room with her cousin Marcel, who does most of the physical labor on the farm. When World War I breaks out and the village empties, Éléonore gets a taste of the changes that will transform her world as the twentieth century rolls on. As the reader moves into the second part of the novel, which takes place in the 1980s, the untamed world of Puy-Larroque seems gone forever. Now, Éléonore has herself aged into the role of matriarch, and the family is running a large industrial pig farm, where thousands of pigs churn daily through cycles of birth, growth, and death. Moments of sublime beauty and powerful emotion mix with the thoughtless brutality waged against animals that makes the old horrors of death and disease seem like simpler times. A dramatic and chilling tale of man and beast that recalls the naturalism of writers like Émile Zola, Animalia traverses the twentieth century as it examines man’s quest to conquer nature, critiques the legacy of modernity and the transmission of violence from one generation to the next, and questions whether we can hold out hope for redemption in this brutal world.

Opening Lines:  From the first evening in spring to the last vigils of autumn, he sits on the little worm-eaten hobnailed bench, his body hunched, beneath the window whose jambs frame the night and the stone wall in a small theatre of shadows. Inside, on the solid oak table, an oil lamp sputters and the fire in the hearth projects the bustling shadow of his wife onto walls mottled with saltpetre, shooting it up towards the rafters or breaking it on a corner, and this hesitant, yellow light swells the room then pierces the darkness of the farmyard, leaving the father motionless, silhouetted against a semblance of sunlight. Regardless of the season, he waits for night here, on the wooden bench where he saw his father sit before him, its moss-covered legs buckled by the years now beginning to give way. When he sits on this bench, his knees come a quarter-way up his belly and he has trouble getting to his feet, yet he has never considered replacing it, not if there were nothing left but a board. He believes that things should remain as he has always known them for as long as possible, as others before him believed they should be, or as custom and wear has made them.

Blurbworthiness:  “Four-hundred breathtaking pages of flesh, blood, grimy mud, executed with a blazing style....Beyond its thematic richness, the pictorial power of the scenes and the fierce sensitivity of the words in Animalia are worthy at times of the best of Cormac McCarthy. A dark splendor.” (L’Express)



Dear Edward
by Ann Napolitano
(The Dial Press)

Jacket Copy:  After losing everything, a young boy discovers there are still reasons for hope in this luminous, life-affirming novel, perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett. One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor. Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery—one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live? Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

Opening Lines: Newark Airport is shiny from a recent renovation. There are potted plants at each joint of the security line, to keep passengers from realizing how long they’ll have to wait. People prop themselves against walls or sit on suitcases. They all woke up before dawn; they exhale loudly, sputtering with exhaustion.

Blurbworthiness:  “Eddie is an ordinary twelve-year-old, until a horrific plane crash turns him into the real-life Boy Who Lived. Ann Napolitano brings clear-eyed compassion to every character in Dear Edward, from Edward himself, caught between living and merely surviving, to his fellow passengers, who don’t have that choice. The result is a rich, big-hearted tapestry that leaves no one behind. Fans of Room and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be spellbound by Dear Edward, which explores trauma with the same honesty and tenderness as it does the crooked path to healing.” (Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists)



Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
by Laura Ruby
(Balzer + Bray)

Jacket Copy:  From the author of Bone Gap comes the unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII. When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie's not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket. Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive. And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she's able to carve out will be enough.

Opening Lines:  The first time they took Frankie to the orphanage, she couldn’t speak English. Only Italian. “Voglio mio padre! Voglio mio padre!” That’s what she said, over and over and over.
       At least, that’s what the nuns told her she said. She couldn’t remember any of it.
       The second time they took her to the orphanage, the last time, she didn’t say anything at all. Not one word. For months.
       She didn’t remember that either.
       What she did remember: her father’s shoe shop on Irving Avenue. The scent of calfskin and polish. The cramped apartment behind the shop. The metal tub sitting in the middle of the kitchen. Cold bathwater wrinkling her little toes. The rough scrape of Aunt Marion’s brush on her back.
       And then the shot from her parents’ bedroom—so sharp, so loud, so wrong.



Frankissstein
by Jeanette Winterson
(Grove Press)

Jacket Copy: Lake Geneva, 1816. Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form. In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI and carrying out some experiments of his own in a vast underground network of tunnels. Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his mom again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere. Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryogenics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead....but waiting to return to life. What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? In fiercely intelligent prose, Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realize. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.

Opening Lines:  Lake Geneva, 1816
       Reality is water-soluble.
       What we could see, the rocks, the shore, the trees, the boats on the lake, had lost their usual definition and blurred into the long grey of a week’s rain. Even the house, that we fancied was made of stone, wavered inside a heavy mist and through that mist, sometimes, a door or a window appeared like an image in a dream.
       Every solid thing had dissolved into its watery equivalent.
       Our clothes did not dry. When we came in, and we must come in, because we must go out, we brought the weather with us. Waterlogged leather. Wool that stank of sheep.
       There is mould on my underclothes.

Blurbworthiness:  “Winterson writes with heartrending precision.” (Vogue)



Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson
(Ecco)

Jacket Copy:  Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help. Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth. Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for? With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love.

Opening Lines:  In the late spring of 1995, just a few weeks after I’d turned twenty-eight, I got a letter from my friend Madison Roberts. I still thought of her as Madison Billings. I heard from Madison four or five times a year, updates on her life that were as foreign to me as reports from the moon, her existence the kind you only read about in magazines. She was married to an older man, a senator, and she had a little boy whom she dressed in nautical suits and who looked like an expensive teddy bear that had turned human.



A Polar Affair
by Lloyd Spencer Davis
(Pegasus Books)

Jacket Copy:  George Murray Levick was the physician on Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic Antarctic expedition of 1910. Marooned for an Antarctic winter, Levick passed the time by becoming the first man to study penguins up close. His findings were so shocking to Victorian morals that they were quickly suppressed and seemingly lost to history. A century later, Lloyd Spencer Davis rediscovers Levick and his findings during the course of his own scientific adventures in Antarctica. Levick’s long-suppressed manuscript reveals not only an incredible survival story, but one that will change our understanding of an entire species. A Polar Affair reveals the last untold tale from the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. It is perhaps the greatest of all of those stories—but why was it hidden to begin with? The ever-fascinating and charming penguin holds the key. Moving deftly between both Levick’s and Davis’s explorations, observations, and comparisons in biology over the course of a century, A Polar Affair reveals cutting-edge findings about ornithology, in which the sex lives of penguins are the jumping-off point for major new insights into the underpinnings of evolutionary biology itself.

Opening Lines:  It is October 13, 1911. A cold day in Antarctica, even by Antarctic standards. Pack ice extends to the horizon from the tiny spit of land that is Ridley Beach at Cape Adare. A white, windswept tableau, it has been battered into a state of bleakness by the blizzard that masses overhead and pushes hard up against the mountain it hides. It is as uninviting a place as it is possible to find. And yet, as the man squints ahead of him, he can make out a little black-and-white person, a penguin, leaning into the wind, straining, marching toward its destination. This beach. This season. A chance to prove itself.

Blurbworthiness:  “The spirit and soul of the penguin is entwined with the factual information in this first-person account so that it is rather like reading a novel or an autobiography.” (American Bookseller)

The Crying Book
by Heather Christle
(Catapult)

Jacket Copy:  Heather Christle has just lost a dear friend to suicide and now must reckon with her own depression and the birth of her first child. As she faces her grief and impending parenthood, she decides to research the act of crying: what it is and why people do it, even if they rarely talk about it. Along the way, she discovers an artist who designed a frozen-tear-shooting gun and a moth that feeds on the tears of other animals. She researches tear-collecting devices (lachrymatories) and explores the role white women’s tears play in racist violence. Honest, intelligent, rapturous, and surprising, Christle’s investigations look through a mosaic of science, history, and her own lived experience to find new ways of understanding life, loss, and mental illness. The Crying Book is a deeply personal tribute to the fascinating strangeness of tears and the unexpected resilience of joy.

Opening Lines:  I suppose some people can weep softly and become more beautiful, but after a real cry, most people are hideous, as if they’ve grown a spare and diseased face beneath the one you know, leaving very little room for the eyes. Or they look as if they’ve been beaten.

Blurbworthiness:  “This is a wonderful and profound look at the act of crying—something human and yet hidden, common and yet mysterious. I found myself reading with a thirst for the tears Heather Christle collects here—instances within literature, film, history, and the author’s own life all add up to a greater understanding of what makes us human.” (Chelsea Hodson, author of Tonight I’m Someone Else)


Monday, June 10, 2019

My First Time: Karol Ruth Silverstein



My First Time Getting “The Call”

I’m a daydreamer. Always have been. I know: shocker, right? It’s basically a requirement for writers. (At least that’s how I justify it personally, being a children’s book author and screenwriter.) So of course I’ve had lots of daydreams about becoming a successful writer—being interviewed about my projects, meeting fans, delivering acceptance speeches for awards I’ve won . . .

But let’s rewind a tick. Before all that—before the possibility of a glorious reception for my stellar work—comes The Call. You know the one, where someone (agent, manager, editor, producer) calls to say that somebody read your work and deemed it worthy of time, attention and money. It’s The Call that marks the end of your life as an aspiring writer and launches you into the professional realm.

I’d daydreamed about The Call plenty. I tried to imagine how I’d feel hearing words akin to, “We got an offer.” Would I scream? Be moved to tears? Stunned into silence? How much detail would I be able to process? Who would I call first and what would I say? I imagined conference-calling my (very separated) parents and breaking the news to them simultaneously so neither one would be angry at being second. Perhaps I’d start with, “Are you sitting down?” or maybe I’d be too excited and just blurt out my news.

These fantasy scenarios played out in my head more times than I’m willing to admit, but a few more rewinds are necessary in order to tell this story:

• To the late-90s, when a screenwriting mentor suggested I write about my experience of getting sick as a young teenager—a suggestion I promptly put on a back-burner.
• To the moment I discovered my main character’s snarky, angry voice during a writing exercise and knew I could no longer put off telling her story.
• To the insanely long journey of writing the first draft.
• To signing with my amazing agent Jen Linnan via a Twitter pitch event. (Seriously, this really happened!)
• To 2015, when my YA novel Cursed first went out on submission.

During that whole time, I was writing a handful of other projects, working part time and dealing with health issues (six major surgeries and seven hospital stays between 2002 and 2013.) Still, I admit this is a glacial pace. That just seems to be how I roll.


Once the manuscript went out on submission, the fantasies about getting The Call ramped up. Which publisher would swoop in to make an offer on my book? Would I receive a decent advance? And how long would it take for me to finally, finally, get The Call?

Answer: a while.

I loved my manuscript (and am incredibly proud of the book it became after going through the editorial process), but I’m a realist. We sent out a story with a 13 year-old protagonist and 140+ F-bombs. I inherently knew that finding Cursed a home would take steadfast tenacity. My agent’s belief in the book and determination to find an editor who’d fall in love with the story never wavered (did I mention she’s amazing?). She left no stone unturned in her search while I waited and hoped and kept my fingers crossed and then eventually came . . .

March 29, 2017. 9:59 a.m.

Let me set the scene for you: I’m barely awake. I am the opposite of a morning person and so unfit for human interaction during the earlier part of my day that I have my phone set to silent mode until noon. The only way I can tell a call’s coming in is if I happen to be looking at the phone at that moment. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but during the submission process, I’d gotten into the habit of checking my phone when I first woke up to see if perhaps my agent had left me a message. She’s on the East Coast, so she has three hours on me out in L.A. (Note that we generally only speak by phone when we’ve scheduled a call in advance, so a voicemail would definitely mean big news.)

That morning, after a prolonged snuggle session with my two cats, I dragged myself upright, scrambled for my glasses and checked my phone. No new voicemail. No missed calls. Sigh. Off to the bathroom I went....but wait!—my phone’s lighting up. I glance at the caller I.D.

My agent.

My agent’s calling me at 9:59 a.m. on a random Wednesday.

I answer.

It’s The Call.

We’d gotten an offer from editor Monica Perez at Charlesbridge Teen. A good one. The only caveat was that I’d have to agree to age the main character up to 14 to make the book more clearly YA. I was fine with that (and, incidentally, the ripple effect of changing her age resulted in wonderful things thematically).

My memory of the rest of that day is a giddy, giggling mash of pinch-me moments. Before our call ended, Jen confessed that she’d planned to hold off calling me until it was 10 a.m. in Los Angeles but she simply could not wait another moment. I’m not totally sure but I believe I called my mom first to break the Big News. And then my dad, my sister, my critique buddy....and then dozens of other friends who’d been rooting me on for years (all sworn to secrecy on the details as I was instructed to keep them under wraps until the official announcement appeared in Publishers Weekly....which didn’t happen until November—eight months later!).

That night, I was one of a handful of screenwriters whose writing was being featured in an event called The Disability Scene. It was sponsored by the Writers Guild of America West’s Writers with Disabilities Committee, of which I’m a member. Before my scene (which was from the in-progress screenplay adaptation of Cursed) was performed, I provided a little intro explaining what the story was about and setting up the specific scene. I ended by making a special announcement that I’d been given permission to share: This morning, at 9:59 a.m., I learned that my book had sold.

There was a gasp from the crowded room.

Followed by a loud burst of cheers and clapping.

I’d managed to share the surprise, joy and exhilaration of getting The Call with an entire room of people. After such a long wait, the timing turned out to be perfect—and the moment itself bigger and more special than I ever could have imagined.


Karol Ruth Silverstein writes all genres of children’s books and screenplays. She serves on the board of SCBWI-Los Angeles and is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West. Based in the Los Angeles area, she currently lives with her two cats, Ninja and Boo. Follow her on Twitter @KRSilverstein and www.karolruthsilverstein.com

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.

Author photo by Sonya Sones


Sunday, June 9, 2019

Sunday Sentence: Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins


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


       It seems only yesterday I used to believe
       there was nothing under my skin but light.
       If you cut me I would shine.


“On Turning Ten”
from Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins


Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday Freebie: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen


Congratulations to Bj Nooth, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: Prairie Fever by Michael Parker.

This week’s giveaway is for The Rest of the Story, the new novel by Sarah Dessen (author of Saint Anything, Once and For All, and many others). One lucky reader will win a new hardcover copy of the book. Keep scrolling for the rest of the story about The Rest of the Story and how to enter the contest...


From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah Dessen comes a big-hearted, sweeping novel about a girl who reconnects with a part of her family she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl—and falls in love, all over the course of a magical summer. Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when Emma was twelve. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges. Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family that she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl. When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is also divided into two people. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her. Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well. For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her—Emma or Saylor—will win out?

If you’d like a chance at winning The Rest of the Story, simply e-mail 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 June 13, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 14. 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 e-mail 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.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sunday Sentence: Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins


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


       I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
       that I was still learning to turn
       Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon-brown hair,
       playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
       of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
       the boy and the girl who begin fiction.


“First Reader”
from Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins


Friday, May 31, 2019

Friday Freebie: Prairie Fever by Michael Parker


Congratulations to Maureen Wanket, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: To the Bones by Valerie Nieman.

This week’s giveaway is for Prairie Fever, the new novel by Michael Parker (author of The Watery Part of the World). Here’s what Joan Silber, author of Improvement, had to say about the novel: “What a terrific book this is, wonderful and strange...a whole family acting out what can and can’t be forgotten, against the backdrops of prairie and range—characters so magnificently and sometimes comically stubborn I really couldn’t put the book down. And what other novel has a character writing letters to a dead horse? I was completely taken by this book.” Keep scrolling for more information on Prairie Fever and how to enter the contest...


Set in the hardscrabble landscape of early 1900s Oklahoma, but timeless in its sensibility, Prairie Fever traces the intense dynamic between the Stewart sisters: the pragmatic Lorena and the chimerical Elise. The two are bound together not only by their isolation on the prairie but also by their deep emotional reliance on each other. That connection supersedes all else until the arrival of Gus McQueen. When Gus arrives in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, as a first time teacher, his inexperience is challenged by the wit and ingenuity of the Stewart sisters. Then one impulsive decision and a cataclysmic blizzard trap Elise and her horse on the prairie and forever change the balance of everything between the sisters, and with Gus McQueen. With honesty and poetic intensity and the deadpan humor of Paulette Jiles and Charles Portis, Parker reminds us of the consequences of our choices. Expansive and intimate, this novel tells the story of characters tested as much by life on the prairie as they are by their own churning hearts.

If you’d like a chance at winning Prairie Fever, simply e-mail 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 June 6, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 7. 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 e-mail 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, May 27, 2019

A Birthday in a War Zone



Happy Friggin’ Birthday to me.

When it’s your birthday and you’re in a war zone, the day is just another day in the year’s long trudge of days. Unless you really work hard at it, in a selfish manner, there is nothing special about your “combat birthday.” No mother is there, just outside the door of your hootch, waiting for the lights to dim and everyone to fall silent before she enters bearing the candlelit cake while starting the group singing with a slow drawled “Haaaaa-ppy Biiiirthday to you...” There is no son or daughter to climb into your lap to hand you a clumsily-wrapped mess of a present. There is no wife to call you at work and mysteriously insist you cancel the rest of the day’s appointments because she has a surprise for you.

No, when you’re at war in the desert, it’s just you and the sand and the heat and the distant thud of falling mortars. No one notices you. No one pays attention to the day, your day. It’s not like the big red-letter holidays of Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter where they go apeshit filling the dining facility with cardboard decorations, ice sculptures and floral centerpieces. When you grab lunch on your birthday, there are no streamers or balloons or conical hats with rubberband straps for you to wear while you eat. No, it’s just “Here’s your chili-mac, now move along, bub.”

In 2005, I “celebrated” my birthday in a war zone. On May 27, I was in my fourth month of living at Camp Liberty, our home away from home at the edge of Baghdad, where I served with the Third Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Georgia. My wife and three children were all back there at our home tucked among the trees just south of Savannah; I wouldn’t see them for another six months. So, yes, a certain trace of bitterness crept into my journal entry for that day...

May 27, 2005: Happy Friggin’ Birthday to me.

Worked my ass off all day long—answering e-mail, updating the Media Release log and the weekly Video News reports—and hoped to let myself get off early because, well you know, it’s my friggin’ birthday. But no, I’m my own worst enemy and made myself stay until 7:30 at night, as is my usual workaholic custom. I brought dinner back to my hootch—a cheeseburger, potato chips and a slab of cement-colored cake (I pretended it was a birthday cake, but it didn’t quite come close). Then I pulled out my laptop and watched one of my favorite movies, Days of Heaven. I’d been saving it for a special occasion and I guess my friggin’ birthday was the best time as any. The movie filled me with equal parts joy and melancholy, as always. It was the perfect cocktail of emotion on this strange day.

Earlier in the day, during a break from work when there was a lull in the action around headquarters, I walked to the other side of the Forward Operating Base to get some so-called “casual pay.” Getting money from the Army while you’re over here at war is a simple matter of going over to the Finance Office (located two miles from where I live, over by the Camp Chapel...money and prayer, side by side). There, you fill out a form with your name, rank, unit, social security number, and how much you want to “withdraw” (up to $300 per month). At that moment, I just wanted to have the lumpy feel of tightly-rolled dollar bills in my pocket. It would be tangible proof of what I was doing over here: wages for my work. Green money, red money, blood money for oil—it all spends the same at the PX. Call me cynical, but it’s my birthday and I’m at war and I’ve earned the right to be bitter.

I drove over to Finance, filled out my form, then took a seat against the wall to wait for my turn at the window. Two guys, apparent strangers to each other, sat down next to me and started up a conversation. I listened.

“Hey.”

“Hey, how are you?”

“Good. You?”

“Good.”

Pause.

“You live here at Liberty?”

“Been here about three weeks cuz I had medical problems. I came here from Balad. You like it here?”

“This place ain’t so bad. I hear they got three swimming pools.”

“Man, you ever been to Balad?”

“No. Why? Izzit better?”

The Balad guy blew out a “hell yeah” hiss of breath between his teeth. “They got everything this place has got, only it’s all squished together. Everything’s within walking distance—the PX, the gym, the dining facility. Their rec center up there is in an old airplane hangar—it’s huge. They got hundreds of X-Boxes. When I was there, about 150 guys were having a Halo tournament. It was crazy, man.”

Pause.

The other guy said, “Still, this is a whole helluva lot better than it was the first time around.”

“You were here in 2003?”

“Yeah. You?”

“Yeah.”

“So you know what I’m talking about. Now they got so many amenities here, it almost makes you want to come back. Or never leave.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Depends on what you do.”

“Yeah, that’s true. I should say, if you’ve got a support job in the Army and never go outside the wire, if you’re one of them Fobbits, then you’ve got life good. Some dudes nowadays, they stay inside buildings all day long. They just go from air conditioning to air conditioning. It’s all inside the wire for those motherfuckers, man.”

Sitting next to them, I stayed very, very quiet.

“Back in the day, there was no wire.”

“Yeah, everything was outside the wire. No matter what your job, you were out in the shit.”

Pause.

“So, what do you do?”

“Bradley gunner.”

A low whistle of commiseration/admiration.

“Yeah, I’m going outside the wire every day—especially now that we’ve got so many guys on leave. We’re doing 12 out, 12 in.”

“They won’t let my unit take our Bradleys out anymore. They say the Bradleys tear up the streets too much.”

“Yeah, I suppose. We’ve got to change tracks like once a month. But we’ve gotta go out, all on account of we had an M1114 get blown up a few weeks back. Got hit with a big IED. Blew that fucking humvee completely upside down. Landed on its roof. Killed the gunner.”

“That’s all? Nobody else was hurt?”

“The driver and the TC walked away from it. I should say, they crawled away. Pretty extensive burns all over their bodies. They’re back in the rear now. Lucky bastards. Ever since that, though, there are no M1114s allowed outside the wire.”

My number was called and I reluctantly left my eavesdropping to go to the counter for the casual pay. I couldn’t shake the image of those two guys from the flipped humvee, bodies aflame, skin crackling and turning black, lungs searing, uniforms shredding off their bodies, pulling themselves across the road with their arms and elbows. As I tucked my hard roll of money into my pocket, I thought to myself, “Holy crap, am I one lucky son of a bitch or what?”

Later, my mother emailed me from oceans and time zones away and it was my last, best gift of the day:

David,
       I remember this day 42 years ago very well. It was my due date—I had no idea if you were a boy or girl but I was kind of hoping for a boy for our first and maybe only child. It took almost six years before you were conceived and we had just about given up hope. I went to the hospital around 10 a.m. —no labor pains, no water broke, I was to be induced and was already beginning to dilate. They broke my water and labor started. I said goodbye to your Dad at the admitting desk and didn’t see him again until after you were born at 11:19 p.m. It was a long labor—the cord was around your neck and it kept pulling you back. I had a local, saddle block anesthesia but at the end they had to knock me out so I was not awake for your birth. Things are quite different today—that’s how it was in the 60’s. You came into this world screaming and did a lot of it until you were 7 months old—but YOU WERE WORTH IT!!!! I love you so much! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
Love
Mom