Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin


This book is a true coming of age novel that deals with complex topics like family, duty, the immigrant experience, love, loss, faith and temptation. And the beauty of this book is that these issues are not dealt with in a highly dramatic fashion. Eilis perseveres in her work, studies and relationships in such a matter of fact way. She knows what needs to be done and gets to it. Her small life suddenly became my whole world as I read this story. Her grace, wisdom and intuition serve her perfectly and makes Eilis a character I will not soon forget.

Size Matters by Cathryn Novak


Oh how I wish this story had been longer.  Tackled in this book are complex issues like self-image, loneliness, disappointment,and friendship.  John Frederick is a remarkably sweet and sympathetic character that needs to have his back story, and likewise his overeating, explained further.  Lexie is patient, kind and caring and I would have liked to have seen her fleshed out a bit more, as well as her supposed relationship with Caleb, which upset John Frederick so much.  The simplicity of the relationship and story between the two of them was refreshing and the food descriptions used were beautiful and offered great visual descriptions in my mind as I was reading.

Texas Book Festival – Day Two!

Day one was exciting for me, but day two was going to be even better.  After a great night’s sleep, I dove into the festival head first again!


First stop this morning was to see Paulette Jiles and Stephen Harrigan present “Old News Made New.” Ms. Jiles’ new book “News of the World” has been nominated for the National Book Award and is the best example of historical fiction I have read in a long time.  Their reflections on their research and story ideas were fascinating.  I greatly enjoyed Paulette’s book and am looking forward to digging into Mr. Harrigan’s “A Friend of Mr. Lincoln” this week!


After browsing all of the fun merchant tents and picking myself up a bookish item or two, I made my way to The Capitol building and greatly enjoyed Jade Chang, “The Wangs vs. the World” and Rufi Thorpe, “Dear Fang, With Love.”  They each read from their books and kept us all laughing and engaged while discussing their humorous looks at the “family road trip, redefined.”  It was lovely to get to speak to Ms. Chang.  As the mother of a 22 year old man myself, her character of Andrew in “Wangs” truly resonated with me and she was a delight to speak with.

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The last event for the day was the one I had been anticipating all weekend.  Truly my favorite book this year has been Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow” and one of my past favorites has been Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”  To have a chance to hear two of my favorite writers together was something not to be missed.  Ms. Semple read from her new book “Today Will Be Different” and had us all hanging on her every word.  Mr. Towles’ presentation on how he imagined The Count in “A Gentleman in Moscow” was so well researched and his background history on the Russian Revolution added even more dimension to a story I have fallen in love with.  If you haven’t read this book yet, get it now, immediately.  You will not be sorry.  The Count is sure to be an enduring character in literary history for years to come.


After off and on rain showers all weekend, the festival closed with the most gorgeous rainbow over the grounds of the Capitol, proving that reading, is indeed, heavenly!  So long Austin!  See you next year!

Texas Book Festival 2016 – Day One!

The 21st Annual Texas Book Festival was held in Austin this weekend and the line up this year did not disappoint.  Over 250 authors were available this weekend for speaking and signing.


Set around the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, the event features tents from C-Span/Book TV, as well as for YA and Children’s authors, signings, music, and vendors of all sorts.  Several talks were also held in the rooms of the Capitol, as well as neighboring churches and hotels.


My first stop was a reading with festival founder and former First Lady of both Texas and the US, Laura Bush, and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager.  They spoke about their love of books and education and did a very charming reading of their newest collaboration “Our Great Big Backyard’ after which they graciously signed their book for the attendees.


Next stop was to the YA tent where I listened to some of the top YA authors in their panel called “It’s The End of The World as I Know It.”  Featuring Aaron Starmer, A.S. King, Siobhan Vivian, and Rachel Cohn, they talked about turning disaster into YA literature and how their own lives inspire their work.  I highly recommend Mr. Starmer’s book “Spontaneous” to anyone looking for an interesting take on spontaneous combustion and literally “blowing up.”


After a quick walk to the Omni Hotel, I was extremely happy to attend a session on the great David Bowie featuring journalist Rob Sheffield and performer Thomas Dolby.  Their insights on Bowie’s career added a whole new level to his work as a musician.  I also found Mr. Dolby’s life after “She Blinded Me With Science” to be extremely compelling and definitely worth picking up his book after the lecture.


After a delicious lunch at one of the numerous food vendors that were at the festival, I made my way back to the YA tent to hear “Twice Upon a Time,” a panel featuring Danielle Paige, Jonah Lisa Dyer, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, three authors who have taken classic stories and given them updated and modern YA spins.  One of my favorite books this year, “The Season” written by Dyer, is an updated take on Pride & Prejudice set in the crazy world of the Texas Debutante scene.  Loved it and Ms. Dyer was a delight to speak with!


I closed out my day at First Baptist Church and was blown away by the panel featuring Noah Hawley and Don DeLillo.  Mr. DeLillo’s writing has been highly awarded and his stories and inspirations were so entertaining.  Mr. Hawley is an accomplished writer himself and his debut novel “Before the Fall” perfectly illustrates the hyper media culture we all live in today.

If you are visiting Austin, make sure you also check out the food and nightlife scene.  The restaurants and bars in town are incredible and were a lovely way to relax after a long and busy day!

News of the World by Paulette Jiles


At just over 200 pages, this should have been an extremely quick read for me, but I simply did not want it to end. Start with the fact that this is a beautifully constructed book.  The dust jacket is gorgeous, and it comes complete with deckled pages and maps as the endpapers.

On to the story itself.  It is deeply emotional, the language is gorgeous and rich, and the book is constructed in such a way that you feel like you are in the wagon with the Captain and Johanna. The Captain is a character that will stay with me for a very long time, and the relationship that grows between the two of them truly warms the heart.  No wonder this is on the National Book Award Longlist.


(photo credit Jill Gann Photography)

Paulette Jiles was kind enough to discuss the writing of this book:

  1. What draws you to write about the Civil War era?

I was first drawn to it when I was researching the Civil War era in the Missouri Ozarks when doing family genealogy. That research went into Enemy Women. If you are a writer, research is really kind of an investment, a storehouse of stuff, facts, images and documents ready to hand. I was thinking of a sequel to Enemy Women in which I envisioned Adair and the Major moving to north Texas.  So I looked into conditions in North Texas at the end of the War and discovered stories about the black frontiersman Britt Johnson, which led to more research for Color of Lightning. This included discovering Captain Kidd by hearing about him from a neighbor here where I live. This neighbor’s ancestor was a real newsreader named Captain Kidd, or Kydd. It also led to looking into the intriguing subject of captives held by the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. And these things gave rise to News of the World. When you begin research, you step onto the Yellow Brick Road and there is no end to it. No end to the stories.

  1. How many months or years of research went into gathering the fascinating historical details we see in the book?

It is hard to say how much time went into research for News of the World, because it all came from that storehouse I have of sources for both the Civil War, Texas and the clothing, etc. of that time. It was cumulative, from two previous novels. I used Wikipedia a great deal and especially the further references at the end of every Wikipedia article, and their sources. Also, I must say the fact-checkers at Harper Collins were wonderful, very keen and interested, they found mistakes I had let slip by and also pointed me to other sources. To get things right you have to love research. It’s an addiction.

  1. Fans of The Color of Lightening will be happy to see Britt Johnson reappear in News of the World. How did you come upon the idea of bringing him into this narrative?

I was amazed that he had not been given a fuller treatment in literature, he is an archetypal hero figure, like Roland or Beowulf or El Cid. His story, while true, has all the attributes of the classic tragic hero. I just went back to the scene in Color of Lightning when Captain Kidd is reading from a newspaper about the Fifteenth Amendment while Britt and his crew, Dennis and Paint, stand in the back of the hall listening. It is raining. Something momentous is taking place. I shifted this scene into its own book, page one, and suddenly the subject becomes a captive girl. You can always use a good scene twice!

  1. How would you explain your love of the Texas landscape, which figures so prominently in your overall body of work?

Some people are just born with a love of landscape or the outdoors, or gardening, or raising large animals, or searching through the non-urban world for treasure. It’s in your DNA or something. I am one of those people. We should have a secret sign. Part of the fun of researching Color of Lightning was driving up to North Texas with a friend, June Chism, to the Red River country. She and her husband Wayne have relatives there, as well as friends (ranchers) who took me down to the Red River, where I found the place Britt would likely have crossed, and we found the Stone Houses, and visited Spanish Fort et cetera. It is a beautiful and also dangerous country. It is dramatic. There are fires, droughts and floods, rolling red land, astonishing skies. June’s husband Wayne Chism is the one whose ancestor was the real newsreader, who traveled from town to town in North Texas to read the news of the day to those assembled. Captain Kidd or Kydd. The moment Wayne told me about his great-great grandfather I knew this was a truly great character. I put him into the rainy chill landscape of North Texas in COL, but I knew there was more there.

  1. What emotional aspect of the story do you think readers will appreciate most?

I think readers will most appreciate the Captain’s courage in doing the right thing. His protection of the innocent, his staunch defense, even to the risk of his life, of a child in need

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar


I was not prepared for how incredibly emotional this book was going to be. Dealing with complex issues like family, the sins of the past, love and heartbreak, mental health and revolution, all within the backdrop of the first Czech astronaut going to space to explore a mysterious cloud of dust. Questions about the creation of the universe as well as how we ourselves are created runs deep through the narrative of this book. An excellent look at how our pasts can shape our futures so dramatically in both good and bad ways. Plus it has a giant alien spider. How can you resist?

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang


Charles Wang is the epitome of success.  A huge cosmetics empire with all the trappings that go along with it.  Then the great recession happens and it all goes down the drain.  Now on a cross country trip with his family to live with his eldest daughter in upstate New York, the Wangs discover that family is the most important thing of all.

In a year filled with books about “rich people problems,” Jade Chang manages to change it up with humor, love and wit.  A great look at the changing demographics and idea of what an immigrant family is in America. On a side note, I will never be able to look at ketchup the same way again. (I’m looking at you Andrew!)

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles


I don’t know what else to call this book other than perfection. Amor Towles has created an entire world within the walls of the Metropol Hotel.

After having been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the Metropol Hotel after the Communist Revolution, Count Rostov, a former aristocrat, finds himself having to make an entirely new world and life for himself while confined in the luxurious building. And he does it with grace and charm and manners that completely befit his former life as a Count.

This book oddly enough reminded me so much of “The Little Princess.” Its cast of characters make you smile throughout the entire book and the ending is nothing short of exactly what I was hoping for. Go and get this book immediately. Buy it, download it, borrow it from the library. When I literally hug a book after I finish it, you know you cannot go wrong.

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam


A very accurate examination of the cycles of friendship that we all go through. There were parts of the book where I genuinely felt that Sarah and Lauren were simply maintaining the friendship out of loyalty or habit, but then there were times (i.e. Sarah’s wedding, the birth of Henry) that you could see genuine love and friendship between them. In regards to the look at the friendship, I thought the book was spot on. I have heard other people question what they perceive to be a lack of plot or story line. However, I felt that Lauren’s and Sarah’s lives were the plot and the story line. It’s our everyday ins and outs, comings and goings, arguments and apologies, that make up the stories of our lives. What left me wanting however was the ending of the book. Their story ends in a giant unknown after a huge gap in time between the birth of Henry and the upcoming arrival of Sarah’s second son. Maybe I just wanted a happily ever after for Lauren too. In a lot of ways the ending mirrors the way friendships really can be. Long stretches of time apart, but when you see each other again, you can pick up like it was yesterday.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood


This one was a hard one for me. The story is beautifully written and the character development is outstanding. But the subject matter in this book is very disturbing. In my mind, the relationship between Wavy and Kellan grows into something that in our world is considered very wrong and downright criminal. I had to keep reminding myself that in their world, where love was so entirely lacking from their own families, their love for one another made sense. It really challenged me on all of my levels. The understanding of what it must have been like to grow up in Wavy’s situation and find that one person in the world who you feel doesn’t harm you, but is she mature enough to understand what she was getting herself involved with? And the fact that Kellan knew how the relationship looked but continued to to be involved with Wavy, and find himself growing more and more physical with her made me very uncomfortable. And I think that was the author’s intent. To find yourself outside of your comfort zone as a reader and look at how two very flawed individuals tried to find something or someone in the world to hold on to-the desperate need we all have to find someone who we think understands us, whether or not that relationship is healthy or not.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


I usually tear through the books I receive for review so that I am able to talk about them as soon as possible.  I waited on this one knowing it would be a difficult and brutal look at the horror of slavery.  But when Oprah got the publication of this book moved up by weeks for her latest Book Club pick, I knew I could sit on it no longer.

I can usually finish a book of this size in two days tops, but this one I needed time to digest and take in slowly.  The story of Cora, a slave who risks it all to escape an abusive master, cut me to my core.  There were several parts of the book that required me to put it down and walk away from it for awhile as I processed the events described on the pages.  The systematic dehumanization of blacks in the US is so clearly outlined by the reactions and experiences of Cora and the other slaves in the story.  The expectation of being treated like property, the expectation of violence against them, the expectation by whites that they were not intelligent. Cora overcomes so many trials and near death experiences that she becomes very aware that she is more than a wealthy land owner’s property.  She has worth, a mind, and a faith in herself that comes through as the story progresses. Definitely worthy of the attention it is garnering especially considering the state of the country right now.  This is historical fiction written to perfection.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood


Only Margaret Atwood could take The Tempest and rock it like this!  A play within a play starring prisoners at a correctional facility led by a washed up director living in his own prison of pain.  Felix Phillips find himself let go as the director of the town’s arts festival and finds himself consumed by not only grief over the loss of his wife and young daughter, but also feelings of revenge at those who fired him from his dream job.  Resigning himself to becoming a hermit, he finds a job listing for a part time director for a local prison’s literacy program.  Determined to work in the theater again, Felix, now calling himself Mr. Duke, lands the job and finds himself forever changed by the experience.  Working through his grief and hatred that he feels, Felix discovers that only he has the power to release himself from the prison he has built in his own mind.  Plus this book has Shakespearean rap.  What more could you want?!?  I highly recommend this book for fans of Ms. Atwood, as well as for anyone else like me who is greatly enjoying the Hogarth Shakespeare project.

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard


When I read the synopsis for this book, I certainly did not expect the level of tension that the author was able to build into this story. What I thought was going to be a road trip story centered around a marriage on the rocks, turned into something that felt almost like Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Maggie and Mark, along with their dog Gerome, set out on a road trip to visit Mark’s parents in Virginia. Mark is hoping that this much needed vacation will allow Maggie to continue to heal from a mugging that happened to her. Maggie has become obsessed with “victim stories” and “bad news” leaving Mark considering having an affair with one of his university students. A series of storms along the drive lead Maggie and Mark to a far out of the way hotel where they both make realizations about not only themselves, but their love for one another.

Hannah Pittard masterfully built the suspense in this story to the point that I could not put this book down. As the tension builds, the person who you expect to break, isn’t the one at all.