Sunday, July 20, 2014

Winner!

Another busy, lovely weekend, and I'm thrilled to be facing a week off to do some power writing on my novel (second draft, here I come!).

The winner of The Tilted World is ... Katherine of Historical Fiction Notebook!

No new giveaways at the moment and I'm not precisely sure when more will be coming.  I'm back to reading daily but still haven't hopped on a bunch of tours since I've no idea when this funk might return.

I have to mention that the website for the Historical Novel Society's 2015 conference is now live with some details.  I adored it when I went in 2013 -- my first time -- and I'm eager to go again. (I'm working on having my wife come along with Little Reader!) If you're a fan of historical fiction, consider attending -- it's incredibly reader friendly, comfortable and non-clique-y/snobbish, and fascinating.  Feel free to email me or leave any questions here if you want more details.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekend reads and being kitchen-y...

This weekend I'm reading A Triple Knot by Emma Campion.  I've stalled out on my reading once more -- I went on a refrigerator pickling tear earlier this week so at least I was productive!

We had a huge amount of produce from our CSA about to go off so I did some googling and discovered that a cup of white vinegar, boiled with spices, and poured over veggies makes an excellent pickle. (This recipe was my blueprint although I played fast and loose with amounts.)

I ended up making "traditional" pickles with dill, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and celery seeds, a more "Asian" inspired batch with ginger, mirin, and all spice, some garlicky greens with red pepper flakes, a pseudo-giardiniera, and my triumph, blueberries and white peaches pickled with cinnamon, clove, and honey.  The only problem: these pickles only last about ten days and it's waaaaay more than my wife and I can consume in that time.  (Here's hoping my friends enjoy them as I plan to spend the weekend foisting pickles on them!)

What are you reading this weekend? And do you have any ambitious kitchen/cooking plans?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

Title: The Tilted World
Author: Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1920s / Mississippi / Natural Disaster / Prohibition / Marriage / Motherhood)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (6/10/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A bootlegger and an IRS revenue agent cross paths in a small town on the Mississippi in 1927.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do but it really has nothing to do with the story!

I'm reminded of...: Ann Weisgarber, Jenny Wingfield

First line: Dixie Clay was squelching through the mud along the creek's swollen banks, shooing mosquitoes with her hat, when she saw a baby coffin bobbing against a sycamore snag.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy!

Why did I get this book?: I love me some 1920s!

Review: This delicious novel is penned by a novelist and poet, who co-wrote the entire thing, creating an atmospheric, emotional, and vivid story of love, place, betrayal, and violence. I apologize now if my review doesn't convey my deep like and enthusiasm for this novel -- writing reviews recently has been hard! (Pregnancy brain! and all that, right??)

Set in 1927 in a fictional town on the Mississippi, the story is split between Dixie Clay, a bootlegger who lost her son two years ago; and Ted Ingersoll, a IRS agent searching for two murdered revenue agents with his partner Ham Johnson. But the plot isn't precisely a cat-and-mouse tale, nor a will-they-or-won't-they love story, as the threat of the Mississippi flooding over its levees colors everything and everyone.

Ingersoll, a jazz-loving orphan who fought in Europe during World War I, stumbles upon an infant when he and his partner investigate the scene of a shootout. Loathe to leave the child at an orphanage, on the recommendation of a shop keeper he gives the baby to a young housewife, pretty Dixie Clay.

Dixie, still heartbroken over the death of her infant, clings to the new child, disbelieving -- and unwilling to give him up even when her good-for-nothing husband threatens her. While Ingersoll and his partner masquerade as engineers arrived to help fortify the levees against the swelling Mississippi, they quickly learn that Dixie Clay's swank and swaggering husband is an ambitious criminal, and Ingersoll has to reconcile his interest in Dixie with his desire to do his job well.

There's a love story in this novel that is predictable, but I didn't mind, as I just adored both Dixie and Ingersoll. The flood of 1927 was totally new to me, despite being considered by some to be the worst natural disaster to ever occur in our country, and the events and impact of the flood were fascinating and disturbing and made for a fantastic backdrop to this story.

I'll admit I was curious how coherent the story would feel with two authors. My apprehension was that the two viewpoints would be split between the authors -- Ingersoll penned by Franklin and Dixie by Fennelly -- and according to the Reader's Guide included with the novel, this was the original plan. In the end, however, both authors worked on both characters and sections, and the resulting prose is just gorgeous -- lyrical, poetic, rich, and action-filled.

As one who is going to give birth in a few months, I enjoyed Dixie's ruminations on motherhood and parenting -- I haven't been drawn to fiction around those themes for some reason, but welcomed them here. (Fennelly wrote Great With Child, a volume of letters she sent to a pregnant friend -- "These are letters I would have welcomed when I was pregnant," she said -- and if they're half as tender and thoughtful as her writing here, I'm going to love them.)

For those who enjoy Jazz Era-novels but want something different, consider this one -- I haven't stumbled over many novels that feature jazz fans and flappers that aren't set in a large urban center. Fans of fiction set in the South absolutely will want this book -- place is a very rich character here! Thoughtful and action-filled, this is a wonderfully escapist novel with two very appealing characters and an absorbing story.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Tilted World to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 7/18.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Weekend reads and I'm reading again...

I finished a book (albeit a short one) in a single night, and I swear, I feel like I can breathe deeply again!

For the last few months, reading has taken such effort, I've avoided it, but something just switched (thankfully!) and I'm hungering for the written word once more. 

Yesterday I started and finished Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. It's poetic dystopian-ish sci-fi, a little psychological, a smidgen confusing, and really gripping.  I was creepied out all night, and can't wait to get my hands on the sequel.

My weekend reads is Jaime Lee Moyer's Delia's Shadow, which is a historical mystery slash ghost story. It's light and fun, and I hope to finish it today as there are books I'm ready to dig into. I feel voracious now!

What are you reading this weekend?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Winner!

For those in the US, hope you had a safe 4th of July!  We've had a hectic weekend of apartment hunting and cleaning, and I can't believe I'm looking forward to work as it'll be more restful!

Just one giveaway winner this week:

The winner of Mrs. Poe is ... Diana S.!

Congrats to the winner!  I'll have more giveaways this week although with my life turmoil, I've cut down on accepting review copies.  Hope folks don't mind -- I'm in another reading rut, too, so apologies for the lackadaisical posting.  I hope to get my reading mojo back soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Midweek update

The one shot where he looked human!
I have to apologize for seemingly disappearing -- I know I've barely updated here and have virtually stopped visiting all of you -- and I'm sorry!

My personal life is just a bit emotionally tumultuous right now, and I'm having a v hard time pausing to read -- or focusing long enough to digest words on the page!  The biggest stressor has been a sudden need to find new housing -- we have to leave our apartment in August and it wasn't something we planned on doing.  Scrambling to find a place we can afford (and that can fit a us and a new baby!) is tough and not a stress I need right now!

In happy news, I'm at 21 weeks and things seem to be going really well.  I started to feel the Little Reader moving, which is pretty incredible.  But last Mon I had to euthanize my cat of 16 years and I'm still feeling heartbroken about that.  (I admitted to friends I'm devastated to learn I don't have reserves of steely resolve like a romance novel heroine; instead, I'm kind of like a bag of cotton balls, apparently. Wet ones.)

I promise to return to book reviews -- starting tomorrow, actually, with the fabulous The Tilted World.  I inhaled Sally Beauman's The Visitors, too, and will hopefully review it soon -- my list of to-be-written reviews gets longer and longer!

I've just started Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation -- speculative/sci-fi-ish-ness isn't always my thing (I'll admit, the science makes me cross-eyed) but I just love VanderMeer's stuff and I could use some serious escapist fiction right now.  Throw recs at me if you've got 'em -- what are you reading?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Interview with Lynn Cullen

Earlier this week I reviewed Lynn Cullen's Mrs. Poe, her deliciously gothicky novel of Edgar Allan Poe and poet Frances Osgood.  I just fell in love with Ms. Cullen's writing with her previous novel, Reign of Madness, and I'm delighted to share my second interview with her.  Read on learn more about Mrs. Poe, her other books, and what she does when she's not writing.

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Thank you for this chance to chat, Audra. I’m a huge fan of you and your blog and am happy to be here with you today! So, to answer your questions:

Was Mrs. Poe the original title of your book?

Mrs. Poe was the title before I’d even begun writing the book, which is not my usual experience with novels. I usually agonize for months before settling on one. I’m going through that right now with my work-in-progress. But I knew Mrs. Poe was this book’s title from the get-go, just as I knew the main character would not actually be Virginia Poe, but the woman who wished she could be the real Mrs. Poe, Frances Osgood. I had in mind the novel Rebecca, in which the main character was obsessed with her new husband’s first wife, Rebecca. Mrs. Poe isn’t told from Virginia Poe’s point of view, just like Rebecca is not the narrator in the du Maurier book.

As you were writing Mrs. Poe, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Two characters kept trying to run away with the book. One was Samuel Osgood. In real life, he was a total jerk for leaving his wife and daughters while he chased women, but darned if he didn’t keep trying to make me like him whenever he had a scene in the novel. Even though I knew he was a rat, his voice kept coming to me as someone charming. I let him have his way and be charismatic because I figured that’s how he must have got in all the ladies’ petticoats.

The other character who threatened to take over the book was Margaret Fuller. She insisted upon calling a spade a spade and didn’t care what people thought and I loved her for it. (As you see, if characters are really working, they become very real to me. It’s kind of spooky if I think about it too much.) Interestingly, these two were the main people to warn Frances of the cost to her emotionally and professionally of having an affair with Poe. I appreciated their candor, even from that rascal Samuel Osgood.

The heroines of your novels are so diverse -- painter Sofonisba Anguissola, Spanish princess Juana de Castile, Rembrandt's daughter Cornelia van Rijn, and most recently, poet Frances Osgood. Is there a common theme between these four women?

All four find themselves constrained by the roles they were called upon to play in their societies. Their limitations stemmed from being women—if they had been men they wouldn’t have had the difficulties they did. However, each of them finds a way to get what they want, although the price they pay is terribly steep. Sofonisba gets to be the first painter but sinks from view in history because she’s not allowed to lay claim to her work; Juana de Castile allows the men in the life to take the crowns she does not want but is locked up for 46 years because the menfolk fear she will take them back; Cornelia van Rijn learns to love Rembrandt van Rijn when it is almost too late; and Frances Osgood is finally creates a stir as a writer only after she is scandalously linked with Poe. They all should be broken by their experiences but remain hopeful. I am fascinated by their resilience.

Are you working on something now and if so, can you tell us about it?

I’m working on a novel about Mark Twain and the women in his life, and wow, am I finding that he is an angry man. He could be so noble and yet so cruel. I think that his childhood is the key to understanding him. Actually, isn’t that the key to understanding just about everybody?

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I walk a lot, year ‘round, and hang out often with my daughters. Now that they’re grown up, they’re my best friends. A lot of our activities are based around kid’s play as the daughters now have four little ones. Evenings with friends and family tend to involve margaritas.

I also love to travel to research for my books although when I do, I stress about leaving our cats. I wish I could tell them that we’re coming back!

Read any good books recently?

I loved Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters. It’s a literary historical novel rolled up in a fun package. Frankly, that’s what I aspire for with my books.

Thanks for your great questions and for having me aboard, Audra. And may I ask, are you working on something now and might you tell us a tad about it? Inquiring minds want to know…

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To answer Ms. Cullen's question (thank you for asking!)... Yes, I'm at work on a very, very, very muddy second draft of a historical novel.  I began it last fall when I went on sabbatical and spent five weeks mostly alone in western Massachusetts writing it.  (It's a hot mess.)  Taking place during the mid-1800s, it follows an abolitionist minister's wife from Cambridge who moves to Kansas with her husband to fight for the Free State movement.  When she is introduced to a pamphlet about birth control, she becomes embroiled in the politics of morality when she shares her knowledge with other women.  I'm in the midst of writing classes this year which I hope will help me clean up my draft; my goal is to nail down half of it before our baby comes!

My thanks to Ms. Cullen for her time and thoughtful answers (and kind question!).  You can learn more about her and her books at her website, and connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Mrs. Poe to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 7/4.