Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Sinner

Bitter Lemon Press, February 2008

Cora Bender, a German mother and housewife, teeters on the edge of madness in the brilliant, psychological thriller, The Sinner by bestselling German author Petra Hammesfahr. Unhappy with her marriage, unable to feel any love towards her son, Cora muddles through life as she attempts to forget a tortured past.

As Cora and family picnic at the beach, Cora becomes enraged over the sexually overt behavior of a young couple sitting next to them. Without warning, Cora attacks the male and kills him; so begins the unraveling of her past; a past which is inextricably linked to the man she has murdered. Although it is clear that Cora has committed the crime, Police Commissioner Rudolf Grovian is determined to discover why, even if it means uncovering that which Cora can not face.

Hammesfahr, considered one of the greatest German crime authors, deftly explores how our past serves to define us and how one can never truly run from what was. Lyrical prose and concise wording creates a novel that hits at one's very soul; each word is rift with meaning and purpose. This is a book created by a master of the genre - one that an American public would be wise to embrace.

Monday, December 24, 2007


5 Spot, 9/2007

As a single mom of two, I find there are many instances where I feel like a fish out of water. Take for example the annual school fundraiser, a black tie event where everyone attends with their spouse. I've never gone as I no longer have a spouse and lack a significant other. In her new book, Odd Mom Out, author Jane Porter tells the story of Marta Zinsser, a single mom by choice, who feels like an outsider in her Seattle suburb. Like me, Marta is a working mother who can't be bothered to wear the garb of the suburban mom, doesn't get her nails done weekly and finds it hard to make time for PTA meetings. While Marta is comfortable with who she is (at least at the beginning of the book), she begins to question herself when her nine year old daughter, Eva, takes her to task for not being more like the other moms.

Porter writes for those of us who are entering (if not already there) our mid-life - a demographic that is normally ignored in the typical chic lit arena. Recognizing that we all get older (readers of books included), Porter dissects the lives of women who have succeeded in their careers but may find themselves feeling empty in their personal lives. When Marta meets the gorgeous, rich Luke (please will someone write a chic lit book with a man who is imperfect!), she must question her determination to go it alone and succumb to both the needs of her daughter and the inner desires in herself.

This is a book that is not only fun to read but one that deals with the turmoil of single mothers everywhere. Bravo Jane Porter!

Beginner's Greek

Beginner's Greek by James Collins, Little Brown, January 2007


LC:You worked in finance and as a journalist. Now you're a novelist. How did this book come about?
JC:Going by my natural abilities and inclinations, I have always been better suited to writing fiction than to working in journalism much less in finance, so I feel as if I have sort of been moving backwards to the thing I should have been doing in the first place. But I never would have had the confidence after college just to say, “I’m going to be a novelist.”

When I was first trying to figure out what to do I thought that getting some financial experience would make practical sense and would be useful no matter what. That has proved to be true, and it was interesting, but, as anyone who knew me could see immediately, I was not cut out for a career on Wall Street. I was really lucky to have some friends who helped me make a transition to journalism, which I like a lot, even though I am most comfortable sitting by myself making stuff up.

This particular book came about after I had moved to rural Virginia and had switched from having full-time jobs in New York to just writing on my own. I had a couple of germs for a novel in my mind and I started it thinking I would write it on the side quite quickly, but I enjoyed writing it so much that it got longer and longer and more and more complicated. I’d say that the finished book is probably only sixty per cent of the original manuscript.

LC:What's your writing process?
JC; I wrote the first hundred pages or so in longhand and then switched back and forth from longhand to writing on the computer. I can’t explain why I wrote some sections one way and others in the other way. I do really like the tactile experience of using a soft pencil (no. 1, to be specific) on paper. I feel a little silly saying all this but I know that when I read interviews with writers I am always fascinated by these details—what size nib of a fountain pen they use.
I tried very hard to have a regular schedule. That’s what real novelists do, right? They work religiously every day between certain hours. But the fact was that with two small children and lots of other things of life to interfere I never could establish a set time that I could devote exclusively to writing, so I would work as long as I could whenever I had chance at all times of day and night. It was my own fault because I just never could insist that I not be disturbed. And, funnily enough, since I had worked at magazines where the phone is constantly ringing and people are constantly coming to see you while you are trying to write or edit, I think having a certain amount of activity around me was familiar and even stimulating. Also, I tried to avoid becoming dependent upon there being certain set conditions in order to write. One of the nice things about writing fiction I found was that all you need is a pencil and paper and you can work anywhere and any time, and that’s what I did.

LC: Authors you would like to meet?
JC: This could be a very, very long list, especially if I included writers of non-fiction and authors who are dead. But let’s see, here are a few living writers of fiction off the top of my head: John Updike, Philip Roth, David Lodge, Tom Wolfe, Michael Chabon, Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, William Vollman, David Foster Wallace, Jane Smiley, Allegra Goodman, Peter Carey ….

LC: Your book is a wonderful exploration of a young man's unrequited love. Would you consider the book a member of the new genre, male lit?
JC: It’s funny, a couple of people have mentioned that they were struck by the fact that protagonist of a book like this was a man. It never occurred to me to think of that as being unusual, since it seemed to me that male heroes of love stories have always been very common. “Boy meets girl…boy loses girl…boy gets girl back” is the classic formula. So, no, I don't think of it as being part of a new genre, and, while I really like Nick Hornby, whose success started the "lad lit" trend, I actually hope my book has a bit more "lit" and a lot less "lad" than the typical one in that category.

LC: Have you ever met someone remarkable on a plane?
JC: Something like the incident in the book actually happened to me, but I knew the other person slightly and there were no romantic consequences, so it wasn't really the same. Otherwise, I find as I get older I am less shy about talking to strangers, and while I haven’t met anyone truly remarkable, I have had some enjoyable conversations. I know much more about shark-fishing and theatrical lighting and how a Dollar Store makes money than I did before, and I have gotten a look into other people’s lives, which is endlessly fascinating, no matter who they are.

LC: Future plans?
JC: I have started a new novel and have an idea for another one, so I hope to write those, while also doing some journalism, too.

REVIEW:Have any of you ever found yourself seated next to a stranger on a long airplane ride with whom you begin a conversation? Last time I flew across the country I sat next to a very pleasant college student and we had an interesting conversation about fraternities and liberal arts studies. By the time we both picked up our luggage from the baggage carousel, I knew more about this young man's back story than I could ever imagine. Author James Collins uses this type of experience as the first plot point in his forth coming book, Beginner's Greek. Peter Russell finds himself seated next to Holly, a beautiful young woman, on a cross country flight to Los Angeles. The chemistry is immediate and as they disembark, Holly hands Peter her phone number (on a page ripped from her Thomas Mann novel). In the first of many mishaps, Peter loses the number and never calls Holly as promised.

Fast forward to a couple of years later. Peter is about to marry Charlotte, a woman he is fond of but not necessarily in love with. No...the love in his heart remains with Holly. Holly who is now married to Peter's best friend, the serial cheater Jonathan. I don't want to give away the important plot points of the book but suffice it to say that life keeps the two lovers apart whereas fate ultimately brings them together. A kind of Greek comedy with a bit of tragedy thrown in, this book showcases the talent of a honest, sardonic writer who delivers a truly rewarding, entertaining read.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

Grand Central Publishing, March 2008

I am exhausted and the reason is simple...I stayed up all night unable to put down Joshilyn Jackson's forthcoming book, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

Laurel is a mother and wife who lives in a beautiful home in a gated Florida community with her husband, David and daughter, Shelby. Her present is altogether different than her past: one that includes the Southern town of DeLop, a poverty, drug stricken town where her relatives still reside. One evening, Laurel awakes to find a ghostly female figure hovering above her (Laurel has a history of seeing ghosts) and follows the figure down to the pool where she is startled to find the dead body of Molly, Shelby's friend. This discovery propels Laurel to reach out to her estranged, bohemian sister, Thalia, a young woman who lives for drama and chaos. Together Laurel and Thalia will face the past they have tried so hard to run from while solving the mystery of the present.

In Jackson's adept hands, the character of Laurel is rich and complex: refusing to see the truth behind family secrets and the reality of her own life, Laurel is foibled and true. Thalia has such depth and strength that one can actually visualize her, right down to her bizarre clothing choices and marriage to a gay man. The nature of family and the fear of disclosure runs under the entire book - who are we? Are we simply a compendium of all of those who have come before or can we ever really wash away our history? As the book comes to its spectacular finish (one that couldn't be seen), the reader can only wish that Jackson will hurry up and finish her next book. This is one of the best books to come across our office desk in quite awhile.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Seeing Me Naked

5 Spot, January 2008

I've loved Liza Palmer's writing since I read Conversations with the Fat Girl. In her forthcoming 5 Spot release, Seeing me Naked, Palmer again addresses the issue of outward appearance, only this time the focus is on a young woman from an extraordinarily high profile family. Elisabeth Page, a pastry chef, is the daughter of famed author Ben Page and literary man of the day Rascal Page. In the glare of their spotlights, Elisabeth feels inadequate; she can never be good enough for her father or heroice enough for her brother. Not only is she stuck working crazy hours at the hottest restaurant in LA, she is stuck in a relationship with Will, a childhood friend who simply can't commit to anything other than his journalism. When she is presented with a great job opportunity and meets Daniel Sullivan, a basketball coach, Elisabeth must let go of all the pretense, shed her "clothing" and allow herself to appear naked, flaws and all. Once this occurs, her transformation will allow her to move on with her life.

Palmer writes with humor and warmth, bringing the reader in to the story quickly and creatively with each word. We are meant to like these characters and we do...they are us, struggling with family, with the desire and search for happiness in love and career and faltering as we go. At its heart a story of family and the fact that love can truly conquer all.