Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday Freebie: Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

Congratulations to Carl Scott, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie contest: Machine by Susan Steinberg.

This week’s giveaway is for Someone We Know by Shari Lapena. One lucky reader will win a hardcover copy of the book. Keep scrolling for more about the novel and how to enter the contest...

       Maybe you don’t know your neighbors as well as you thought you did....
       “This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much....My son broke into your home recently while you were out.”
       In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses--and into the owners’ computers as well--learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too. Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets? In this neighborhood, it’s not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide....
       You never really know what people are capable of.

If you’d like a chance at winning Someone We Know, 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 25, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on July 26. 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, 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

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)

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