Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Author Interview: Billy Lombardo, Morning Will Come

Billy Lombardo is an author, editor, and writing coach. After teaching literature and creative writing for 25 years, Billy now runs a writing and editing business called Writing Pros/e. He is also the founder and managing editor of Polyphony Lit, a global literary magazine for high school writers and editors. His latest book, Morning Will Come, is the story of a marriage and family struggling with the disappearance of the oldest daughter.

Billy Lombardo talked with Rose City Reader about how a collection of stories became his novel, Morning Will Come, and some of his favorite books and authors:

How did you come to write Morning Will Come?

It began with four stories told to me by two people. I thought they were just too beautiful not to write about. By the time I had five somewhat disconnected stories written, Other Voices Books announced that they were looking to publish a collection of short stories or a novel-in-stories as their next book, and so I wrote three more stories and sent them off.

Why did you decide to tackle the almost unbearable subject of a missing child and how that tragedy affects a marriage and a family?

It wasn't a decision. As it turned out, Isabel, a character in the first story I had written, "At Khyber Pass," wasn’t present in any of the other stories in the collection.

I was in my first residency at Warren Wilson, a low-residency MFA program, and my workshop class had read an early draft of one the stories, "The White Rose of Chicago." A couple of students in the workshop didn’t know what to make of the story taking place beneath the story. The teacher, Wilton Barnhardt, stood up, gestured fluently, and said, “But what if Audrey is grieving over the death of child?”

I had written that draft without knowing what Audrey was grieving over. So when Gina Frangello, the editor at Other Voices, encouraged me to connect the stories, I realized that Isabel had to make the sacrifice for the novel. To break my heart further, I revised that first story in a way that made me fall for Isabel even more.

I didn’t realize until much later, that I wasn’t attempting to tackle the unbearable subject of the disappearance and death of a child, as much as I was trying to language my own grief by trying to understand Audrey’s.

What is your "day job"? How did it lead you to writing fiction?

I’ve recently taken an early retirement from a teaching career, so right now my day job is building a writing and editing business called Writing Pros/e. My teaching did not lead me to writing, though. I came to writing by way of doing performance poetry at The Green Mill, the birthplace of slam poetry. My work was very narrative, though, and after reading and meeting Stuart Dybek, I gave short fiction a shot, and never looked back.

Did you know right away, or have an idea, how you were going to end the story? Or did it come to you as you were in the process of writing?

I didn’t have any idea where the story would end. What I wanted was some small hope. And sharing my son’s baseball life with him had always been a great source of joy for me as a young father. Neither Audrey nor Alan knew how to language their grief and sadness in Morning Will Come, and I wasn’t sure if they’d ever get to that point. So I gave the final story to Dex, the son.

Morning Will Come is a "re-issued, re-titled, re-edited, re-beautifully jacketed version" of your 2009 novel, How to Hold a Woman. Tell us about your decision and the process of reworking your debut novel.

I had recently gotten released from the contract with the publisher of How to Hold a Woman, and was encourage to reach out to Jerry Brennan of Tortoise Books to see if he might be interested in re-issuing the book, and to my delight, he agreed to acquire it.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

I think that every time a writer sits down to the table and strives to string words together to get at the thing within, they can’t help but learn—so, in that way, I came away a better writer. More importantly, though, I think I learned something about how to use my own interior world to gain access to the interiority of my characters.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Oh, there’s just such great joy in writing stories that do something, that language some universal thing in some completely singular way, that move people. The joy in this one was that I noticed my own growth as a writer.

You dedicate your book "For Mickie Flanigan, that I may live long and well enough to pay some bit of it forward." What's the story there?

She’d kill me if I said anything more.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?

I don’t think so much of authors as I think of individual works. I’d say that William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, was one of the most important books to me as a writer. I love Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Salinger’s Franny & Zooey. I love Gatsby. I continue to learn from short stories by ZZ Packer and Amy Bloom, Tobias Wolff and Charles Baxter, Flannery O’Connor.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading a collection of stories by Lucia Berlin called A Manual for Cleaning Women. I’m also re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird for an online enrichment course I’m teaching. I grew up in a house with no books, and a consequence of that, for me, is that I really have to be deliberate about putting my butt in a chair to read. And every time I do it, it ends up to be productive.

You have a terrific website and are active on twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. From an author's perspective, how important are social networking sites and other internet resources to promote your book?

Thank you. I guess my understanding of the value of those things comes from my work as the founder and managing editor of Polyphony Lit, a student-run literary magazine and global online literary platform for young writers and editors. We’ve received submissions from high school writers in more than 70 countries, and our staff has editors from dozens of countries. That’s so wild to me. The digital world makes that all possible.

Amy Danzer, my partner and housemate, deserves all the credit for urging me to build and tend to my personal and business websites. There are certainly great authors who seem to do all right without websites and twitter handles, but it’s been good for me. I actually don’t know if it’s helped me sell any books, but it has helped me immensely with my writing and editing business, Writing Pros/e.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

I’ve got a YA novel that I’m just in love with, and I’m working on a book on the craft of fiction for apprentice writers.

Thank you, Billy!

Morning Will Come is available online, like all books these days.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Mailbox Monday: Four New Books for Corona Stay-at-Home

Four new books showed up at my house last week. I don't know about you, but looking forward to book mail is a big part of my corona stay-at-home lifestyle. What new books came into your house last week?

The book I am most excited about is an advance copy of Hidden Falls by Kevin Myers.

Hidden Falls is part mystery, part romcom, part mid-life crisis story of Michael Quinn. When his father dies unexpectedly, Michael returns to Boston to wrap up family affairs and run away from personal problems, only to learn his dad had ties with organized crime.

Judd Apato who directed and co-wrote The 40-Year Old Virgin with Steve Carell described Kevin Myers' new book:
"Hidden Falls is like Dennis Lehane and David Sedaris got together to write a romantic comedy. It's intelligent, charming, and the perfect combination of funny and thrilling."
Hidden Falls is available for pre-order now. The Kindle edition drops June 2, 2020. The hardback ships July 15, 2020.

These other three books also look terrific:

Creole Son: An Adoptive Mother Untangles Nature and Nurture by E. Kay Trimberger. This new memoir is the story of how Kay Trimberger became the single white mother of an adopted biracial son and watched him grow into a troubled your who struggled with addiction. Trimberger draws on her training as a sociologist to explore how biological heritage and the environment adopted children are raised in interact to shape adult outcomes.

Trimberger writes for a general audience and hopes her book will provide support to all parents with troubled off spring. Creole Son is out now from LSU Press.

Empires by John Balaban. Poet John Balaban's eighth collection of poetry focuses on key moments in history when culture shifts and imperial eras come to an end. There are poems about Viking traders, Washington crossing the Delaware, a Romanian Jew waiting for the Nazis, and a train ride through the American South after Obama's election.

Empires is available now, published by Copper Canyon Press.

The Benefit of Hindsight by Susan Hill. This is the 10th book in Hill's Simon Serrailler series. I haven't read any of this series before, so I am going to dive in with this one and, if I like it, start over from the beginning.

I found this one in one of the many Little Free Libraries that dot our neighborhood. Apparently our LFLs are more cutting edge than amazon because the copy I found is a UK paperback edition. The paperback is not out in the US yet. Yet another blessing of the neighborhood walks that have kept me sane during coronavirus!

Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday, a weekly "show & tell" blog event where participants share the books they acquired the week before. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught our Eye.

Mailbox Monday is graciously hosted by Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan -- Book Review

Lian Dolan's new novel, The Sweeney Sisters, met me right where I want to be. It was exactly the book I wanted to read to take my mind off current events. Some people are reading thrillers or romance books for distraction these days, others like dense classics or self-improvement. This family drama with a literary theme and a comic touch was just what I needed.

The story starts with the death of Bill Sweeny, author, literary icon, and father of three grown daughters, Liza, Maggie, and Tricia. Only, it turns out he has a fourth daughter, Serena Tucker, who only learned of her connection to the Sweeney family when she did a DNA test. Apparently Bill Sweeny and his Southport, Connecticut neighbor Birdie Tucker were closer than anyone knew.

The plot unfolds from there. In the tradition of all good Aga Sagas, there's lots of domestic conflict, with ex-boyfriends, bad husbands, skeletons in closets, secret relationships, misunderstandings galore, hurt feelings, blow ups, make ups, and lots and lots of shared meals. Eventually, every problem gets sorted and couple gets paired, and everyone sits down to a big Thanksgiving dinner. There's nothing wrong with following a tried and true recipe to make something good. The key is in the details, and Lian Dolan gets all the details right with The Sweeney Sisters; the setting, characters, and tone are spot on.

Much of the story takes place at the family home, called Willow Lane, a well-worn, five-bedroom house from the 1930s on three acres of Southport waterfront, with a dock and a boathouse Bill Sweeney used for his writer's retreat. The sisters' mother Maeve, who died of cancer 15 years before the story starts, described the house as "Shabby and chic before Shabby Chic was chic." The house is itself a character in the story, and Willow Lane's relationship with toney, buttoned-down Southport is a metaphor for the Sweeney family.

Bill Sweeney appears in the book only in retrospect but is the catalyst for all of it. He was a writer of the old school, the last of his generation. I imagined him as a cross between John Updike and Norman Mailer. Nolan describes him like this:
He was a throwback, to the time when being a vaunted American writer meant being male, white, and heterosexual, with a drinking problem, a healthy ego, and a dark childhood. That model of the testosterone-driven man of letters was dying off, fading away like the curriculum it spawned with reading lists of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Styron, Roth, Vonnegut, Cheever, Irving. The academic world was opening up to a diversity of voices and life experiences. William Sweeney, the tail end of the manliest (so they thought) generation, managed to hold on longer than most.
His death, at age 76, and the surprise revelation that he had an unacknowledged daughter, forces the three Sweeney sisters to evaluate their relationships with their father and each other, and his relationship with their mother. They also have to decide how the fourth Sweeney sister fits into the mix, something Serena has a say in as well.

The four sisters have their own stories that Nolan blends together well. Liza is the eldest of the three, most rocked by learning she has an older sister. She runs and art gallery in Southport, is married, has twins, and manages everything perfectly, until she doesn't. Maggie is the middle of the three, an artist with a family reputation for not living up to her potential. Tricia is the youngest by six years, perhaps the most affected by their mother's death when she was still a teen. She is a hard-driven attorney, "always thinking strategically before emotionally," which causes much of the conflict in the story. Serena is a journalist, curious about, and envious of, the connection between the three sisters she grew up next door to without knowing. Dolan, who hosts the popular and long-running Satellite Sisters talk show with her own sisters, knows how to write authentic sister relationships.

The Sweeney Sisters is my favorite book of 2020. If you like Elinor Lipman, Anne Tyler, Joanne Trollope, or any good story about adult families, The Sweeney Sisters is the book for you.


The Sweeney Sisters comes out April 28, 2020.

If you wrote a review of this book and want to me to list it here with a link, please leave a comment below.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book Beginning: Bad Dad Jokes: That's How Eye Roll by Bart King and Jack Ohman.



What's a Dad Joke?

A lot of people brag that their parking skills are unparalleled, but I can back it up.

-- Bad Dad Jokes: That's How Eye Roll by Bart King, art by Jack Ohman. This goofy book of eye-rolling, corny "dad jokes" came out this week, in plenty of time to get a copy for Father's Day. It is packed with every g-rated pun ever told! Along with some great illustrations by Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Jack Ohman.

If you are trapped at home with kids, get a copy. This will inspire plenty of giggles and family fun along with the eye rolling.

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

EARLY BIRDS & SLOWPOKES: This weekly post goes up Thursday evening for those who like to get their posts up and linked early on. But feel free to add a link all week.

SOCIAL MEDIA: If you are on Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, please post using the hash tag #BookBeginnings. I try to follow all Book Beginnings participants on whatever interweb sites you are on, so please let me know if I have missed any and I will catch up. Please find me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.


TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


I've learned about dogs named Beowoof, Drools Verne, Harry Paw-ter, Prince of Barkness, Pup the Magic Dragon, Doggie Houndser, Puppy Longstocking, MacArther Bark, Mary Puppins, Raise the Woof, The Puppymaster, Collieflower, Barkimaeus, Dunepuppy, Arfie Bunker, and Peter Barker.

Not to mention Droolius Caesar.
The longer you stay at home, the funnier this gets.

Author Interview: Erica Heller, Author of One Last Lunch

Writer Erica Heller is the editor of a new collection of essays she gathered from dozens of contributors, asking them to imagine a final meal with someone they cherished. The collection, One Last Lunch, gathers 48 of these essays, bookended by two essays by Heller about her own imagined meals with her father, novelist Joseph Heller.

One Last Lunch: A Final Meal with Those Who Meant So Much To Us, Editor Erica Heller, launches May 12, 2020 from Abrams Books. There are many options for pre-order. I already know One Last Lunch will be a gobsmacker for me because my dad passed away last month. I plan to enjoy every essay while thinking of my own imaginary meal with my dad.

Erica talked with Rose City Reader about missing our loved ones, collecting essays, and the finished product, One Last Lunch:

Can you describe the theme of the essays in your new book, One Last Lunch?

The theme is universal longing. The fervent wish that we could have just a bit more time with someone meaningful to us whom we’ve lost. In a sense, the lunches are imagined codas to all of these relationships.

How did you get the idea for this collection?

I was extremely close to my mother. She is gone 25 years now and I still hear her voice sometimes. (please don’t put me in a straitjacket!) I still wish we could talk, argue, make up. I just realized how much I yearned for this and started wondering whether everyone else had similar fantasies.

How did you pick the 49 people who wrote essays for One Last Lunch?

Well, in a sense they picked me. It took a lot of thinking and literally thousands of emails trying to track people down who would commit to such a project. Not an easy one, to be sure. I can laugh at it now but for 2 years, all I did was beg and plead, negotiate, convince. Each one was like capturing a star in the sky, these lunches are so precious.

What is your background and how did it lead to this book?

I come from a literary family, with both a father and brother who wrote/write pretty memorable novels. I myself was an ad copywriter for 30 years. Then I wrote and published a humor book with Seymour Chwast, then a novel. This time, I wanted something completely different and boy, did I get it!

One Last Lunch feels especially poignant right now, during this pandemic, when so many people are wrestling with ideas of mortality. What do you think it offers to readers during these upsetting times?

I think it offers solace, comfort. To read these lunches, all so different, some tender, some hilarious, some scalding, really does transport you to a place of quiet fulfillment, knowing the writers actually did, in a way, get to have their One Last Lunch. Reading this is satisfying, filling, and of course, distracting.

What did you learn from editing this book – either about the subject of the book or the editing process – that most surprised you?

What most surprised me but also saddened me, was to see how many children still longed for a parent’s acceptance. The late Kirk Douglas needed to know what his father thought of him becoming an actor. The editing of this was truly a joyful experience for me, seeing how differently each contributor approached the project. Lee Clow’s lunch with Steve Jobs is a masterpiece of brilliant drawings. And in truth, helping to get some of them just over the finish line. It was exciting, but sometimes adding just one detail, like someone spilling their water or asking a waiter for more pickle, would transform a fantasy into something almost real. It was amazing.

What did you enjoy most about creating this book?

I most enjoyed seeing how much the contributors stretched their imagination, and seeing the essays for the very first time. Each one was like opening a magical present. Remember, many contributors are not professional writers, but they came through this shining. Sometimes it’s the rough spots, the raw emotion in a lunch that makes it unforgettable.

You are a writer and the daughter of a writer. Are you also a big reader? What are you reading now?

To be honest, I am regularly a voracious reader but during this pandemic, have not been able to focus on a book. I read the same page 112 times. I do have an indecently high, dusty stack of books waiting for me when this is all over. Biographies, fiction, and always, always Edna O’Brien, who for me, has always been the Goddess of Words.

It's tough to launch a book during this coronavirus crisis. Do you have any online events coming up to promote your book?

Nothing is planned yet but I do have 5,000 Facebook friends whom I intend to badger mercilessly about this book.

What's next for you?

I wish I knew. The pandemic has given me plenty (too much) time to wonder about this, but as yet I’ve not stumbled upon what will be next.



Monday, April 20, 2020

Mailbox Monday: Black Box by Gary D. Cole to Benefit CoHo Productions

Black Box by Gary D. Cole came through my front door mail slot the other day and I was pleased to see it. Book mail is particularly fun when we are staying home during this coronavirus pandemic!

Gary Cole was the co-founder of CoHo Productions, a theater company in Portland, Oregon known for 25 years co-producing exceptional theater.

Black Box is a novel set in the theater world, the story of an actress and the two men mesmerized by her charms.

Because CoHo Productions has to close during the COVID 19 crisis, Gary is donating the 100% of the proceeds of the sale of Black Box to CoHo Productions. For $25, the price of a CoHo Productions ticket, you get a paperback edition of Black Box shipped to your door. Go to the CoHo website here to buy the Black Box book or learn more.

Black Box is Gary’s first novel. The lead character, Ned Prince, leads an enviable life. An acclaimed young writer and heir to an ample fortune, he spends a handsome allowance playing at working. But when tragedy strikes Ned’s father, leaving a depleted estate, Ned is forced to take a real job as a theater critic in Portland. He is mesmerized by an actress who has sold herself to a financier for a stage of her own – a black box. After all off-stage attempts fail, Ned resorts to theater to avenge his father and liberate the actress. Sparks fly when an actress, a critic, and a patron form a dramatic triangle whose ambitions collide, all within the confines of the “black box” theater – an unadorned performance space enclosed by black walls. Black Box contains mature content.

Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday, a weekly "show & tell" blog event where participants share the books they acquired the week before. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught our Eye.

Mailbox Monday is graciously hosted by Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

List: James Tait Black Prize for Fiction

The James Tait Black Prizes, established in 1919, are Britain's longest running literary awards. The Prizes for fiction and biography have been awarded since 1919; the Prize for drama was added in 2013. The James Tait Black Prizes for Fiction, Biography, and Drama are awarded by the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, established in 1762.

The two book prizes are judged by senior staff from the English Literature department at the University, assisted by a group of postgraduate students. Each prize is £10,000.

I'm working my way through the winners of the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction. Those I have read are in red. Those on my TBR shelf are in blue. If you are also working on this list, and would like your related posts linked here, please leave a comment with links and I will list them below.

2018 Crudo by Olivia Lang

2017 Attrib. and Other Stories by Eley Williams

2016 The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

2015 You Don’t Have to Live Like This by Benjamin Markovits

2014 In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman

2013 Harvest by Jim Crace

2012 The Deadman's Pedal by Alan Warner

2011 You and Me by Padgett Powell

2010 The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

2009 The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt

2008 The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (reviewed here)

2007 Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben

2006 The Road by Cormac McCarthy

2005 Saturday by Ian McEwan

2004 GB84 by David Peace

2003 Personality by Andrew O'Hagan

2002 The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen

2001 Something Like a House by Sid Smith

2000 White Teeth by Zadie Smith

1999 Renegade or Halo2 by Timothy Mo

1998 Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

1997 Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller

1996 Last Orders by Graham Swift and Justine by Alice Thompson

1995 The Prestige by Christopher Priest (reviewed here)

1994 The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst

1993 Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips

1992 Sacred Country by Rose Tremain

1991 Downriver by Iain Sinclair

1990 Brazzeville Beach by William Boyd (reviewed here)

1989 A Disaffection by James Kelman

1988 A Season in the West by Piers Paul Read

1987 The Golden Bird: Two Orkney Stories by George Mackay Brown

1986 Persephone by Jenny Joseph

1985 Winter Garden by Robert Edric

1984 Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard and Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

1983 Allegro Postillions by Jonathan Keates

1982 On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin

1981 Midnight's Children (reviewed here) and The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

1980 Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

1979 Darkness Visible by William Golding

1978 Plumb by Maurice Gee

1977 The Honorable Schoolboy by John le Carre

1976 Doctor Copernicus by John Banville

1975 The Great Victorian Collection by Brian Moore

1974 Monsieur, or The Prince Of Darkness by Lawrence Durrell

1973 The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

1972 G by John Berger (reviewed here)

1971 A Guest of Honour by Nadine Gordimer

1970 The Bird of Paradise by Lily Powell

1969 Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen

1968 The Gasteropod by Maggie Ross

1967 Jerusalem the Golden by Margaret Drabble

1966 Such by Christine Brooke-Rose and Langrishe, Go Down by Aidan Higgins

1965 The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark (reviewed here)

1964 The Ice Saints by Frank Tuohy

1963 A Slanting Light by Gerda Charles

1962 Act of Destruction by Ronald Hardy

1961 The Ha-Ha by Jennifer Dawson

1960 Imperial Caesar by Rex Warner

1959 The Devil's Advocate by Morris West

1958 The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot by Angus Wilson

1957 At Lady Molly's by Anthony Powell

1956 The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macauley

1955 Mother and Son by Ivy Compton-Burnett

1954 The New Men and The Masters (in sequence) by C. P. Snow

1953 Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

1952 Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh

1951 Father Goose by W. C. Chapman-Mortimer

1950 Along the Valley by Robert Henriquez (out of print)

1949 The Far Cry by Emma Smith

1948 The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

1947 Eustace and Hilda by L. P. Hartley

1946 Poor Man's Tapestry by G. Oliver Onions

1945 Travellers by L. A. G. Strong

1944 Young Tom by Forrest Reid

1943 Tales From Bective Bridge by Mary Lavin

1942 Monkey by Wu Ch'eng-en (translation by Arthur Whaley)

1941 A House of Children by Joyce Cary

1940 The Voyage by Charles Morgan

1939 After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley

1938 A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours by C. S. Forester

1937 Highland River by Neil M. Gunn

1936 South Riding by Winifred Holtby

1935 The Root and the Flower by L. H. Myers

1934 I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves

1933 England, Their England by A. G. Macdonell

1932 Boomerang by Helen Simpson

1931 Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien

1930 Miss Mole by E. H. Young

1929 The Good Companions by J. B. Priestley

1928 Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon

1927 Portrait of Clare by Francis Brett Young

1926 Adam's Breed by Radclyffe Hall

1925 The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty

1924 A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

1923 Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett

1922 Lady Into Fox by David Garnett

1921 Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare

1920 The Lost Girl by D. H. Lawrence

1919 The Secret City by Hugh Walpole


List updated on April 18, 2020.


Please leave comments with links to related posts -- progress reports, reviews, etc. -- and I will list them here.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Book Beginning: The Overstory by Richard Powers



Now is the time of chestnuts.

-- The Overstory by Richard Powers. I love this book so far, although I am only about four hours into a 24 hour audiobook. I heard some people complain it was dreamy and slow and I do not find it that way at all. So far, it has plenty of story enough for me. Each chapter has been like a separate short story introducing a new character. I understand from the book description that they are all going to connect in some way.

The Overstory won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I'm trying to read all the Pulitzer fiction winners, which is why I'm reading this, but I am glad I am.

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

EARLY BIRDS & SLOWPOKES: This weekly post goes up Thursday evening for those who like to get their posts up and linked early on. But feel free to add a link all week.

SOCIAL MEDIA: If you are on Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, please post using the hash tag #BookBeginnings. I try to follow all Book Beginnings participants on whatever interweb sites you are on, so please let me know if I have missed any and I will catch up. Please find me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.


TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


Jean takes her brothers into the forest preserve. There, the three of them hold the service their father won't allow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Author Interview: Jackie Shannon Hollis, This Particular Happiness

Jackie Shannon Hollis is a writer, storyteller, and speaker who grew up with the assumption she would get married and have kids. When she fell in love with a man who didn't want children, she had to examine her assumptions and chose a different path. Her new memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story (Forest Avenue Press), looks back on her happy life without children of her own.

Jackie talked with Rose City Reader about her memoir, self-discovery, and some recent favorite books:

How did you come to write your memoir This Particular Happiness?

The book started off as an essay to explore the experience of being childless when I was beyond the time of longing and the possibility had passed. I wanted to shine the light on the complex decisions around becoming a parent or not. From the outside childless people are often seen as either selfish (because they didn’t want children), or sad (because they wanted and couldn’t have children). The true experience is much more textured, and it changes over time. Many people who are childless are quiet about their experience, and people around them don’t typically ask about it. I wanted to open up the conversation.

As I worked on the essay, I realized I needed to address bigger questions. How did the way I was raised influence my choices in relationships and also in the question of whether to become a parent? How much of my longing came from external pressure and how much was my own desire? What was it about my husband’s history that made him uninterested in becoming a parent? Why was he the person I wanted to spend my life with? This led me to the bigger topic I wanted to explore, to unravel the what’s and why’s that lead us to finding our true self. And so, while I see This Particular Happiness as a book for readers interested in the decisions we make about parenthood, it is also a book for readers who want to go on a journey of self-discovery.

What is the meaning of the title?

The definition of happiness given to us by society is often a narrow band: grow up, graduate high school, go to college, career, marriage, children. But happiness is beautifully complex, and we each have our own “particular” way of being happy. The title reflects my sense of surprise at finding my happiness in a shape I didn’t expect. Looking for it to come in one form risks missing it in the form it arrives in.

The subtitle: A Childless Love Story. reflects all the kinds of loving that are woven into my story –in addition to romantic love and the love of a long-term partner, this love story explores mother and daughter, father and daughter, sisters, friendship, and the love that comes from being an aunt.
My own particular happiness is hard won, and I never take it for granted. And by “happiness” I mean being present for all the joys and pains of being alive.

You describe your book as exploring "the complicated relationship with the self through the lens of childlessness." How defining was your decision to not have children?

When I shifted from an automatic “plan” to have children, to questioning why I wanted them, and ultimately deciding I would not have them, I knew (given my generation and upbringing), that this would be a different path from the traditional and expected. The role of “mother” tends to be elevated and romanticized in our pronatalist society. People are often uncomfortable with the woman who says, with no apology, or explanation. “No, I don’t have children.” Not choosing motherhood pushed me to ask, what else? There is no lovely word to define a non-mother. All the words are about absence. So that isn’t validated externally, I had to find a way to value it in myself.

At the same time, I also never wrapped the identity of childless or childfree around myself. I am and have always been a woman who loves children and for a number of years, despite my plan not to have children, I felt the dual pull of longing to have one alongside the specific freedoms of being childfree. I think my defining identity became a woman who loves wholeheartedly. This has led to a life full of friends, family, work and travel, and more children and young people than I could ever have imagined. And a relationship with my husband Bill that has been the truest joy of my life.

Writers often follow the rule, “Write what you know.” But did you learn something about yourself from writing your memoir that you didn’t know before?

Oh yes. It would be impossible (and not very interesting) to write about a personal experience without discovering something new. In fact, I think the discovery is why most memoirists (and writers in general) write.

Perhaps one of the biggest discoveries was how I had shielded myself from the judgements of others by hiding the part of me that longed for a child. I got in touch with the sadness that I had carried in a mostly hidden pocket of myself. Similarly, as a person who survived having been raped, I understood on a deeper level than ever before how that life-threatening assault had given me a certain kind of urgency to live the fullest life.

Did you consider turning your experiences into fiction and writing your story as a novel?

I did consider this, briefly. But I think part of what is compelling about my memoir is that it is a very honest story. It seems to me that, had I shaped this as fiction, the power of the story would have been diminished. And then there would be the question always, of which parts are true and which aren’t…which I understand happens to writers who write novels inspired by their own lives. The fiction gets layered onto them anyway.

One of the great delights of book events with my memoir has been doing these with people who are part of this story. My niece, my husband, my dear friend, my cousin, each came and joined me at different events and they talked about their own stories that I had written about. For instance my cousin Patti talked about the death of her daughter at 19, which I write about from the perspective of a non-mother who loved her. My niece Annilee talked about her decision not to have biological children, but to adopt and also about the aunt/niece relationship. My friend Amy and I did an event together where we talked about the impact her becoming a mother had on our friendship and how we healed from what was a 17-year breakup. Bill and I, have done several event together talking about how we navigated as a couple through the experience of wanting very different things.

Are there other memoirs about women finding their authentic selves that you recommend?

Oh my gosh. So many books. I hate choosing because it means I will later think of another and another.

Of course, Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a wonderful example of this (a deeply honest and inspiring personal journey, both internal and external). A memoir from some time ago that I have never forgotten is A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel (oh how I loved and laughed through this book). The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod is a complex exploration of childhood incest and the impact over time. Most recently I read Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, which blew me away in the originality of the story structure as well as the power of the story itself.

I give this range of books as an example of how many ways there are to tell a personal story with the same arc, tension, devastation, and hope that can be found in fiction. And I could give so many more examples. Because women are writing with power and authenticity.

Who are your favorite authors and is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?

I cannot choose a favorite author. I read a lot and a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, in short and long form. I’ve been reading a collection of short stories Shine of the Ever by Claire Rudy Foster and I admire their writing very much. And I’ve just finished The Dutch House. Ann Patchett is a master. I plan to read this again as I go back to writing fiction because the way she unfolds story and character and helps me like EACH character in all their complexity. Well, I’d love to have one ounce of her talent. Ramiza Koya’s book, The Royal Abduls (recently released by my publisher, Forest Avenue Press), is on my mind a lot because the two narrators of the story are a childless aunt and her nephew. What a delight to see this relationship unfold as part of the story.

People who write are my favorites authors and there are many gems to be discovered. Even in work that is less than perfect, I learn something as a writer and a reader. I do find as a writer that it is a harder to get completely lost in a book because I am often paying attention to the how it is written in terms of structure, voice, and so on. A really great book makes me forget all that, and then I go back and reread to try to figure out how the author helped me get lost in the story.

You have a terrific website and are active on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram. From an author's perspective, how important are social networking sites and other internet resources to promote your book?

The important thing about all these mediums is to be yourself and make it fun to do. What I post on social media comes from my truth, and I try to have a good time doing it. If it’s not natural to me I won’t do it. That’s why I am less active on Twitter. It just goes so dang fast and people are so witty.

I’m glad to hear you like my website! For new authors especially, a good website with helpful information, and a social media presence will really help them and their book be more visible. It helps both readers and media make contact with the author or their representatives. My website has links to reviews, interviews, other stories, blog posts, and a photo gallery for folks who read the book to see pictures that mirror parts of the memoir.

It’s challenging to draw the attention of readers. Social media is important especially for authors published by indie presses. We hope news of our book gets out to the world and that people buy it. A good review from an influential publication helps. But for an indie author, that is often hard to do. So the author and the publisher spread the word in all the other ways. I am lucky to have Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press championing my book.

Social media offers great resources for writing and throughout the publishing process. Writers supporting each other, indie bookstores, reading series, bloggers (like you!) and podcasts are all wonderful opportunities to connect with readers. And by the way, one of the delights of this publishing process has been the connection with readers (personal messages to me, Instagram shares, GoodReads and Amazon reviews). So readers, if you LOVE a book, let the world and the author know. It means so much to us.

What other projects are you working on?

I’m slowly finding my way back to a novel that I began some years ago. At the Wheat Line is set in rural Oregon in the 1970’s. Back then, wheat harvests were mostly done by teenagers -- boys running combine, girls driving truck. Carly Lang, the narrator, is on one of the harvest crews. She is grieving the recent death of her mother which happened under shameful circumstances and the whole town is still talking about it. A new boy joins the crew. A city boy with big ideas. Teenagers, tinder dry wheat, those big machines are all fuel for an explosive summer. The 1970’s were also a time when national agricultural policies began to favor larger corporate farms and small farmers began to feel the pressure of these changes. That time has roots in some of the current urban/rural divide and this is a backdrop of the novel.

Thank you for this interview, Gilion, and for Rose City Reader, and your support of books and authors. You are wonderful.



Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Teaser Tuesday: To the Survivors by Robert Uttaro

I was born on Holy Thursday.. . . My parents left the hospital after three days on Easter Sunday, which is celebrated by Catholics and Christians as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and brought me to Sunday mass. I was in a Catholic Church before I was in a home.

To the Survivors: One Man's Journey as a Rape Crisis Counselor by Robert Uttaro. That seemed like a good teaser for the week after Easter.

To the Survivors is Robert Uttaro's account of his experiences and lessons from working as a rape crisis counselor, along with essays and first hand accounts from sexual assault survivors about their experiences and healing. The stories are rough, but powerful in their honesty.

Right now, To the Survivors is available on Kindle for only $.99.


To the Survivors is about my journey as a rape crisis counselor with true stories of sexual violence shared by survivors in their own words. Gently and beautifully constructed, To the Survivors is moving, tender, sharp, and piercingly true all at once. Readers will encounter uncensored written stories, poems, and interviews from women and men who have experienced rape and sexual assault, plus some of my stories as a counselor and educator. The survivors are diverse in age, gender, and ethnicity, yet each gives a similarity raw and heartfelt account of his or her victimization and recovery. The authenticity and vulnerability with which survivors speak resonates profoundly. But this book is not just for survivors of sexual violence. I believe anyone can benefit from the words in these pages, rape survivor or not.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by The Purple Booker. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from the book they are reading or featuring. Please remember to include the name of the book and the author. You can share your teaser in a comment below, or with a comment or link at the Teaser Tuesday site, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Book Beginning: The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan



"Does this come in teal?"
Liz looked up from her computer and tried not to make any noise that would indicate her disdain.
The Sweeney Sisters launches on April 28. It’s a family comedy about three sisters gathered for their father’s wake, only to discover that their dad had a secret daughter. Lian Dolan is one of the Satellite Sisters from the popular and long-running podcast of the same name.


With the rise of at home DNA tests, we’ve all heard stories or had our own experiences uncovering family secrets – sometimes good, maybe a little sad, and occasionally secrets that should have remained just that. In her new novel THE SWEENEY SISTERS (On Sale April 28, 2020), Lian Dolan delivers a brilliant and entertaining story about books, love, sisterhood, and what makes up a family, tapping into the zeitgeist of 23 and Me, and the surprises we can discover in our DNA.

Maggie, Liza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

EARLY BIRDS & SLOWPOKES: This weekly post goes up Thursday evening for those who like to get their posts up and linked early on. But feel free to add a link all week.

SOCIAL MEDIA: If you are on Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, please post using the hash tag #BookBeginnings. I try to follow all Book Beginnings participants on whatever interweb sites you are on, so please let me know if I have missed any and I will catch up. Please find me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.


TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


Nothing about her tempted him. As he had said to Cap once, "There's no amount of alcohol that would get me to sleep with Lois."
Hmmmmmm . . . I sense foreshadowing.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

List: French Connections

France holds allure for most readers I suppose. Paris is a world capitol. French food is the basis of fine dining. The country has a rich history and culture. Everyone who reads has probably read at least one book about France, probably several.

I don't read books in French, and have to remind myself to read translations of French literature. But I go on tears when I like to read books about, or set in, France. In anticipation of such spells, I keep a list of Frenchy books I plan to read and always have a few handy on my TBR shelf.

What I liked best about Debra Ollivier's Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, besides its perfect cover, were the book recommendations she salted throughout. Olliver listed specific recommendations in sidebars labeled "Le Livre" as well as book suggestions in mini-biographies of "French Girls We Love."

My list of French-themed books follows. These are books I have read or want to read. Those I had read are in rouge. Those on my TBR shelf are in bleu. Those recommended in Entre Nous are marked with an asterisk.

This is a long list, but I would still welcome suggestions! Please leave your idea in comments.

Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle

L’Affaire by Diane Johnson

An Alphabet for Gourmets by M. F. K. Fisher*

Anything Considered by Peter Mayle

Apéritif : Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French Style by Georgeanne Brennan

Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger (reviewed here)

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling*

Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan*

Break of Day by Colette*

The Castle of Pictures and Other Stories: A Grandmother’s Tales by George Sand*

Catherine de Medici by Honoré de Balzac

Chanel: Her Style and Her Life by Janet Wallach*

Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle

The Cheese Plate by Max McCalman*

Cheri by Colette*

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

Consider the Oyster by M. F. K. Fisher

Corked by Kathryn Borel (reviewed here)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in Nineteenth-Century by Joanna Richardson

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Death in the Truffle Wood by Pierre Magnan

The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin*

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Earthly Paradise: Colette’s Autobiography Drawn from Her Lifetime Writings, edited by Robert Phelps*

Elle Décor: The Grand Book of French Style by Francois Baudot and Jean Demachy

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Encore Provence by Peter Mayle

Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier (reviewed here)

The Feasting Season by Nancy Coons

The Flaneur by Edmund White* (reviewed here)

The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells*

The Food of France by Waverley Root (reviewed here)

The Fragrant Year by Caire Louise Hunt*

French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle

French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair in Burgundy by Jeffry Greene

French Ways and Their Meaning by Edith Wharton*

The Gastronomical Me by M. F. K. Fisher*

Gigi by Colette*

The Glass-Blowers by Daphne Du Maurier

A Good Year by Peter Mayle

At Home in France: Eating and Entertaining with the French by Christopher Petkanas*

At Home in Provence: Recipes Inspired By Her Farmhouse In France by Patricia Wells

Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle

How to Cook a Wolf by M. F. K. Fisher*

Inspirations from France & Italy by Betty Lou Phillips

Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

Joan of Arc: Her Story by Regine Pernoud*

The Josephine Bonaparte Collection (a three-volume fictionalized biography) by Sandra Gulland*

Josephine: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker*

The Lais of Marie de France*

A Life in Letters: Correspondence 1929-1991 by M. F. K. Fisher

A Literary Passion by Anais Nin and Henry Miller (letters)*

Living in Provence by Dane McDowellf

The Lover by Marguerite Duras*

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert*

Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford*

Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress by Colin Jones*

Mademoiselle Fifi and Other Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser*

Le Marriage by Diane Johnson

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vols. I and II, by Julia Child*

Meet Me in Venice by Elizabeth Adler

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnan

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

Murder in Belleville by Cara Black (reviewed here)

Murder in the Marais by Cara Black

Murder in the Sentier by Cara Black

My Life in France by Julia Child (reviewed here)

Nana by Emile Zola

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce*

Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (translated by M.F.K. Fisher)*

A Place in the World Called Paris, edited by Steven Barclay

Postmark Paris by Leslie Jonath

The Power of Style by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins*

Practicalities by Marguerite Duras*

Provence A - Z by Peter Mayle

Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Remembrance of Things Paris: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet, edited by Ruth Reichl

The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France by Ina Caro

Rosa Bonheur: The Artist’s (Auto) Biography by Anna Klumpke*

Saint Joan of Arc by Vita Sackville-West*

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

The Sea Wall by Marguerite Duras*

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir*

Serve it Forth by M. F. K. Fisher*

She Came to Stay [L’Invitee] by Simone de Beauvoir*

Silk Roads: The Asian Adventures of Clara and Andre Malraux by Axel Madsen

Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux*

Son of Holmes by John LesCroarte

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Taste of Provence by Francie Jouanin

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fizgerald

Therese Raquin by Émile Zola (reviewed here)

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Two Towns in Provence by M. F. K. Fisher*

The Vagabond by Colette

Vie De France: Sharing Food, Friendship and a Kitchen in the Lorie Valle by James Haller (reviewed here)

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

Walks in Hemingway's Paris: A Guide To Paris For The Literary Traveler by Noel Fitch

A Well Kept Home: Household Traditions and Simple Secrets from a French Grandmother by Laura Fronly and Yves Duronson*

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNiel*

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle


List updated April 9, 2020.


Boston Bibliophile's list of French favorites

If you have a similar list or are reading the books on this list, please leave a comment with links to any progress reports or reviews and I will add them here.

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