First Frost

first frost

Any Sarah Addison Allen fans out there?

I heard Sarah speak at Quail Ridge Books in January 2014 while she was on her Lost Lake tour. The response when she announced that she would be publishing a sequel to Garden Spells was amazing. People clapped, gasped, cheered, and I think a few might have teared up a bit. I knew I was looking forward to reading this book too, but sequels are tricky. Sequels are especially tricky when they come eight years after the original book was written.

Garden Spells was a wonderful story with a very satisfying ending, so a sequel seems like the perfect opportunity to catch up with some great characters. But a sequel has to come at a price. To give us another story about the Waverly sisters, Sarah had to take them out of the snug, cozy places where she tucked them it at the end of Garden Spells and shake them up.

In First Frost, all the Waverly girls are back – Claire, Sydney, Bay, and Evanelle – and just as magical as ever. Claire has put her catering business on hold to start up Waverly’s Candies. In typical Claire fashion, she wants to do all the work herself, but as demand for her candies grows, she struggles to balance filling her orders and ensuring that her products deliver what they promise. Sydney loves her husband, daughter and sister more every day, but her desire to have another baby and to protect Bay from high school heart break are overshadowing all the goodness in her life. Bay has grown up a lot since we last saw her, and her Waverly magic is causing her a bit of a struggle. High school is full of teenagers trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. Bay’s gift is knowing exactly where things belong, but not everyone trusts her instincts.

It’s a time of uncertainty for the Waverly girls, and they anxiously await the first frost of the year, when the temperamental apple tree in Claire’s back yard will carpet the garden with its blossoms and remind them that it’s okay to let things go. As Claire could tell you, “First frost was always an unpredictable time, but this year it felt more… desperate than others.” With only a week to go before the frost arrives, a silver-eyed drifter checks in to the Bascom bed and breakfast. He has a way of charming those around him, but what he carries in his suitcase may just be enough to bring Claire’s entire world down around her.

I’ll admit, as much as I love Sarah’s books, this one took me a few chapters to get into. It’s because Sarah worked so hard in Garden Spells to give Claire, Sydney and Bay such hopeful, happy endings. When the book opens with Claire in the kitchen, frazzled and doubting herself, I wasn’t sure I liked where things were headed. But after a few chapters, I reminded myself to trust Sarah and let her tell me her story, and in the end, I loved it.

The best thing about Sarah’s particular brand of magical-realism is her ability to make you forget that the things she’s describing don’t actually happen in real life. There is no tree that throws apples through your bedroom window. You don’t actually have an eccentric aunt who pops over at after dinner to give you something simple, like a Band-Aid or a flashlight, which will turn out to be absolutely essential tomorrow. You can’t buy a lemon drop at the store that will both ease your sore throat and give you peace of mind. Sarah makes you believe these things are not only possible, but they are a fascinating blend of remarkable and commonplace.

This was another hit for me – I hope she’ll have another in 2016!

*I got an advance copy of this e-book from NetGalley.

Happy Release Day, Chris Bohjalian!

close your eyes

Chris Bohjalian has published more than fifteen books, and he’s also written a forward for a 2013 translation of Les Misérables and an introduction for a 2001 Modern Library Classics edition of Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe. I think it’s fair to call him prolific. He has a 2013 release called The Light in the Ruins that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now, since I have considerable affection for World War II novels. He’s also coming to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on July 23rd, which sounds like something I need to take advantage of. Today, his newest novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, is available for purchase.

Here is what Doubleday has to say about Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands:

A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of “Midwives” and “The Sandcastle Girls.”

“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands” is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a meltdown, and both of Emily’s parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault—was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer’s house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily can’t outrun her past, can’t escape her grief, can’t hide forever-and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

You can read an excerpt for free on Bohjalian’s website.

Serpent of Venice Book Tour

serpent

On Monday night, I headed over to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh with Brad and Beth to hear “The Author Guy” Christopher Moore speak about his new book, The Serpent of Venice. I’ve not read any of Moore’s books, and I didn’t know what to expect, but I looked him up beforehand on GoodReads – he’s got at least fifteen novels under his belt, and one graphic novel.

We showed up to Quail Ridge about half an hour before Moore was scheduled to start speaking, but the parking lot was already packed. When we got inside, it was immediately clear that we’d be standing in the back to hear Moore speak, if we could find a place to squeeze in at all. The store was packed, and the table that QRB usually stacks with books by the visiting author was already looking thoroughly picked over. We took one look at the crowd, did some mental math about how long the line might be to have Moore sign our book after his talk, and opted to buy one of the few remaining pre-signed copies of The Serpent of Venice.

Moore opened his speech with a few jokes about the “author tour” experience (referencing a challenge from a book store employee to sign more books than Amy Tan in an hour – evidently, her record is 800) and a funny (if random) story about his beloved San Francisco. I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with any of his stories, but he made me laugh, and also convinced me that I should be following him on Twitter (@TheAuthorGuy, if you are interested).

When Moore did get around to speaking about The Serpent of Venice, he gave a bit of background on his inspiration for the story. Evidently, he and his wife were visiting Mantua on a tour for one of his books several years ago, and they decided to do a little exploring in Italy while they were there. Moore said that he loved the entire experience, but that Venice in particular struck him as a great setting for a monster story – buildings buttressed together at the top to prevent them from collapsing into each other, streets so narrow that you have to turn sideways to walk down them, and all that water! So he started thinking about stories that were already set in Venice, and he came up with Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and Poe’s story “The Cask of Amontillado.” Moore said that Othello and Merchant both struck him as being stories about outsiders. “The Cask of Amontillado” is a story about “a Venetian nobleman who walls up a fool in a basement.” As Moore, pointed out, he already has a fool – Pocket, the title character of his 2009 novel Fool. So in The Serpent of Venice, readers will see Iago, Antonio, and Montressor plotting against Pocket with a loveable sea-monster thrown in. Christopher Moore describes this book as “like Game of Thrones, only with more Jews.” I have no idea what that means, but I own a copy now, so we’ll see.

During the question and answer session, Moore did reveal a few things that were obviously big news to people who have been fans of his for a while. First of all, his current work-in-progress is a sequel to his 2006 novel A Dirty Job. I’ve never read it, but that announcement was met with a burst of applause, so I’m guessing that’s exciting. Also, one reader asked if Moore ever thought about converting any of his novels to plays. Moore revealed that he’s actually written a stage play of Fool, which is going to have its first table reading in a few months. Again, lots of enthusiasm from the crowd for this announcement.

I have a feeling Brad will get around to reading The Serpent of Venice before I do, but I’m looking forward to it after seeing Moore in person. Also, huge thanks to Quail Ridge Books for making events like this possible!

Release day!

I thought A Week in Winter would be the last “new” book I would ever read by Maeve Binchy. She is one of my favorite authors, and when she died in 2012, she had published fifteen books and ten collections of short stories. There is something about her way of writing that no other author has ever been able replicate for me – that feeling that her characters, instead of existing only in a book, are living and breathing somewhere very close by. I’ve read Circle of Friends more times than I could count (thanks, RB!), and the main characters of that book feel like my friends. I was surprised to see that more of her work is being published, but I’m so glad. She really was wonderful.

chestnut

Today, Knopff is releasing Chestnut Street, and here is their description:

Maeve Binchy imagined a street in Dublin with many characters coming and going, and every once in a while she would write about one of these people. She would then put it in a drawer; “for the future,” she would say. The future is now.

Across town from St. Jarlath’s Crescent, featured in Minding Frankie, is Chestnut Street, where neighbors come and go. Behind their closed doors we encounter very different people with different life circumstances, occupations, and sensibilities. Some of the unforgettable characters lovingly brought to life by Binchy are Bucket Maguire, the window cleaner, who must do more than he bargained for to protect his son; Nessa Byrne, whose aunt visits from America every summer and turns the house—and Nessa’s world—upside down; Lilian, the generous girl with the big heart and a fiancé whom no one approves of; Melly, whose gossip about the neighbors helps Madame Magic, a self-styled fortune-teller, get everyone on the right track; Dolly, who discovers more about her perfect mother than she ever wanted to know; and Molly, who learns the cure for sleeplessness from her pen pal from Chicago . . .

Chestnut Street is written with the humor and understanding that are earmarks of Maeve Binchy’s extraordinary work and, once again, she warms our hearts with her storytelling.

Maeve’s husband, Gordon Snell has also written a bit about this book over on her website. I’ll be grabbing a copy of this ASAP.

Chestnut Street shares its book birthday with Christopher Moore’s new release, The Serpent of Venice. I’ve never read anything by Christopher Moore, but he’s coming to Quail Ridge Books on May 5, so I am going to go see him and give this book a try.

serpent

Here is what William Morrow has to say about The Serpent of Venice:

New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore channels William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe in this satiric Venetian gothic that brings back the Pocket of Dog Snogging, the eponymous hero of Fool, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, Jeff.

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal-Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters-the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago-have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of sprits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

I do love Shakespeare. Worth a try!

Lost Lake Book Tour

ImageLast night, I drove out to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh to see Sarah Addison Allen on the first stop of her book tour for Lost Lake.  I never know what to expect when I see an author in person, and I can get weirdly anxious waiting for the event to start.  What if I can’t reconcile the person standing in front of me with the book they have written that I love?  I had no cause for alarm with Sarah.   The minute she walked into the room, she radiated happiness.  She was visibly excited that it was time to share Lost Lake with her readers.

Sarah started out by explaining that this book tour is special to her because she didn’t have a chance to tour for her last book, The Peach Keeper.  A few weeks before The Peach Keeper’s release, Sarah was diagnosed with cancer.  In just a few weeks, Sarah learned that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, that the doctors had found nodules in her lungs, and that she would have to undergo treatment for stage four cancer – surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  She compared this series of revelations to the feeling of being lost in the woods, in the dark, in the snow, and being chased.  But within a year, understandably the most frightening and dark year of her life, Sarah had her first set of clean scans.  She has been in remission for two years now, and in that time, she has gone through several drafts of Lost Lake.

Sarah said that she spent all of her treatment trying to get back to “life before cancer,” because that was a good and safe place for her.  But when her treatment was over, she realized that her life after cancer is actually better because she has made some changes that she would not have considered before.  Then she offered up some thoughts that seem to play a big role in Lost Lake“What would I say to that old Sarah – the Sarah before cancer?  What I would say to her, and what I would say to you is “What are you waiting for?  Life is too short.  Stop making excuses, because you KNOW what it takes to be happy…  Let go of those things you can’t control.  Tell the people you love that you love them.  Let go of the people who don’t love you – it’s okay.  Have more fun.  Ask for help when you need it.  Stop being afraid.  What are you waiting for?  Start now.’”

Sarah said that most people who learned she was writing a book after her treatment all wanted to know the same thing.  “Are you going to write about cancer?”  She considered it, but she found that she couldn’t.  “Cancer is too real and too awful, and I can’t make it good, and I can’t make it magical.  But after I finished writing Lost Lake, I sat back and I pondered, and I realized that, while I didn’t write about cancer, what I did write about was grief.  I wrote about characters who have gone through the worst thing they think they can possibly go through.  And they end up on the other side of it in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar life, and yet it’s LIFE.  It’s life waiting for them to live it.” 

At this point, Sarah read aloud to us the prologue of Lost Lake.  I sat back, closed my eyes and listened, and I was captivated completely.  I’m in the middle of another book right now, but Sarah’s reading made me want to chuck that book out the window and start Lost Lake immediately.  We’ll see how much self-control I can scrape together.

After the reading, there was a quick Q&A, and then Sarah signed books.  I’d say around forty people stayed to have their books autographed, and Sarah took her time with each person.  My friend Beth and I were two of the last people in line, and when our turn came, I was struck by how gracious and modest Sarah was.  She seemed genuinely surprised (and a bit overwhelmed) that anyone would wait an hour and a half just to speak to her.  She had a packet of beautiful postcards for each person in the line, and she took the time to personalize her notes in our books and even draw little pictures.  It was a great experience, and I feel like I need to say a huge THANK YOU to Sarah and to the great staff at Quail Ridge Books.  Sarah is currently working on a sequel to her first novel, Garden Spells, hopefully to be published in 2015.  If it works out that way, I hope her book tour will bring her to QRB again!