Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mr. Tall

Aspects of human frailty and damaged psyches permeate the stories in Mr. Tall, the latest collection of short fiction by Tony Earley.  Earley's work (Jim the Boy and Here We Are in Paradise) delves into the lives of ordinary people and addresses complex themes in a pared-down style. This time around, Earley tackles stories about characters that include, in "Yard Art," a divorced 28-year-old midwife and a rough-around-the-edges, bluegrass-singing plumber who spend an afternoon searching for what may or may not be a valuable piece of sculpture. "Haunted Castles of the Barrier Islands" explores the relationship of a North Carolina couple forced to come to terms with the state of their marriage now that their daughter has left for college. Four taut scenes frame "Just Married," a beautiful story about a recently wed older couple that bears witness to the intersection of random events and memory. An isolated, elderly Nashville widow becomes rapt by the disappearance of a seventh grader in "Have You Seen the Stolen Girl?" The incident conjures remembrances of the widow's own child and Jesse James, who legend says once lived for a time at the woman's address. "The Cryptozoologist" centers on a widow who believes she has spied a "skunk ape," a type of Bigfoot creature, wandering outside her home. The presence of the wildly elusive beast compels her to reconcile her past and her true feelings for her misunderstood artist husband.

Elements of the surreal resurface in the novella, "Jack and the Mad Dog," a story about how a young man's misdeeds come back to bite him via a talking dog and a clever play on the Jack and the Beanstalk fable. And in "Mr. Tall," the most suspenseful story of the collection, a young woman living in the 1930s marries a man who whisks her away from her family into a new life filled with uncertainty. Amid loneliness, the young wife is drawn to a mysteriously widowed, reclusive neighbor nicknamed Mr. Tall, who inhabits the only other farmhouse nearby. The young wife is warned to stay away, but can she resist learning more about this man's past?

Earley's vivid, well-crafted short stories speak volumes about the startling realities of life and the complexities of human relationships. He deftly compresses whole life histories into just a few pages that successfully blend humor and poignancy, reality and myth. All of the stories feature Southeastern locales and characters who are ripped from the familiarity of their lives--the comfort, however good or bad, they know and depend upon--only to be thrust, oftentimes unwillingly, into new realities. Along the way, unearthed secrets and epiphanies lead to revelatory moments infused with regret and grace.

Mr.Tall  by Tony Earley
Little, Brown and Company, $25.00 Hardcover, 9780316246125, 256 pp
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Book Trade (8/1/14), click HERE

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jill Paton Walsh: The Legacy of Dorothy L. Sayers

The Writer's Life

Dorothy L. Sayers was one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th century. Her most notable creation was the aristocratic, eccentric sleuth Lord Peter--and later, Harriet Vane, the hyper-intelligent writer of detective novels who would become Lord Peter's wife. In 1936, Sayers abandoned the series. After her death in 1957, a partial manuscript and notes for a Lord Peter novel--what would become Thrones, Dominations, were found. It wasn't until many years later that Sayers's literary trustees commissioned Jill Paton Walsh--at the suggestion of Hope Dellon, an editor at St. Martin's Press--to complete the novel, which was published in 1998.

Walsh, the Booker Prize-nominated and Whitbread Prize-winning author of many novels for adults and children, has since written three additional books in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, including A Presumption of Death and The Attenbury Emeralds. In The Late Scholar (published by Minotaur), Peter and Harriet once again return to the page, post-World War II. In this installment, Peter is asked by his alma mater, St. Severin's College, Oxford University, to help resolve a dispute involving a valuable rare manuscript that needs to be sold in order to raise funds. But when the clever couple arrive at the college, they are faced with a string of mysterious deaths of faculty members.

Were you always a fan of Dorothy Sayers's work? What was your first experience with her writing?
My first experience with Sayers's work was when I was about 14 years old. I read Even the Parrot, a book for children, and managed to like it, though it's very patronizing. Then I moved on and fell in love with Lord Peter. When I read Strong Poison, the first Lord Peter book that features Harriet Vane, I noticed the unusual attitude of Lord Peter to a clever woman. I gave him my heart at once, and he helped inoculate me against the attentions of the men in my generation who wanted a woman chiefly to iron their shirts.

Were you intimidated by taking over the writing of the very successful Lord Peter series?
Yes, of course, I was intimidated... I still am. But it has been an irresistible challenge to my technical skills.

With Thrones, Dominations, you are considered a "co-author" with Dorothy Sayers. Were the notes she left behind easy to follow in finishing the story?
The materials left by Sayers consisted of about one-fifth of the length of the finished novel, in chapters not numbered in order. There were several versions of some of the scenes. There was a plot diagram, down a single page, showing a line for Peter and Harriet and a line for Murderer and Victim. It was annotated with the words "Moves and countermoves as many as may be necessary" and "little bump of emotional development leads to solution." The written part left behind did not get as far as the murder. It was not easy to decipher.

How much influence do the literary trustees of the Dorothy Sayers Society have over the content of each book? Have they ever asked you to rework or rewrite parts of the story?
The trustees are lawyers advised by a literary agent. They have not offered any literary comment or advice, and I would not agree to work under such supervision. But the publisher also has discretion to publish or not to publish, and I accept editorial advice from the publisher as I would with a work entirely my own.

How do you research each book, especially The Late Scholar, which is set mostly on the campus of your alma mater, Oxford University?
Each book is different. They all require some research into the historical setting. The Late Scholar needed very little research, just some checking, because it is set somewhere in 1952-1953, and I went to Oxford in 1955. Peter's life and mine nearly overlap there.

What's the most challenging part of continuing the series? What's the most enjoyable and rewarding?
Writing about someone else's characters imposes a duty to correctness about what is already written about them, as though they were real people. Peter is the most entertaining man possible to imagine, talking in my inner world. He's just fun.

Do you have a favorite book in the Lord Peter series?
Gaudy Night is my favorite--it would be, it's about Oxford, and it's about women with professional careers. But I think the best of the series is The Nine Tailors, even though it had no Harriet Vane for me to identify with.

How hard is it to keep updating the series with recurrent characters, now aging, and moving into a more contemporary, post-World War II era?
It's easier, actually, than writing about characters who do not grow and change. Characters need to be real to me before I can make them real to anybody else, and real people change over time.

Why do you think Lord Peter and Harriet Vane have gained and retained such a loyal and devoted following throughout the years?
Peter is very unusual in needing an intellectual equal for his wife. I can think of two others in literature: Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing and Ralph Touchett in A Portrait of a Lady. Sayers produced a picture of a deeply desirable relationship between a man and a woman--clever, passionate and mutually respectful.

If someone has never read a Lord Peter novel, which one do you suggest they read first? And what do you foresee for the future of the Lord Peter series?
I'd suggest Strong Poison--if someone likes this book, they will like them all. And in terms of Lord Peter's future, he seems to be immortal. Really, doesn't he?

Will there be another Imogen Quy novel? Also, will you write another children's book?
Yes, I do plan to return to the Imogen Quy series. I would also love to get a good idea for another children's book. But my own children are now in their 50s, and my grandchildren are growing up in Australia. I haven't enough contact with children to know in my bones what they like reading... just the same, I'd grab the chance if something promising occurred to me.

If you could meet Dorothy Sayers, what would you like to say to her?
I would be rather afraid of her--such a sharp and clever woman. But I would ask why she abandoned Thrones, Dominations.

Note: This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness (6/17/14), click HERE

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five Year Anniversary

August 7, 2009 - August 7, 2014

Reading Between the Lines
is proud to 
five years!

Thank you for reading along!

Share your thoughts about the blog and be entered to win a $25 Amazon Gift card!

Email:  - write the phrase "Five Years" in the subject line

Winner will be announced on August 14, 2014 

UPDATE 8/15/14:  Appreciate all the kind and thoughtful emails!  Thank you!!
Winner of the $25 Amazon GC is Sheila N. of Yakima, WA
(Winner selected at random)

Link HERE to read the post that launched the blog on August 7, 2009

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

Sometimes you have to leave a place in order to appreciate it. Such was the case for Frances Mayes, who charts and examines her formative years before she wrote her blockbuster memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun. As a child, Mayes longed to escape her hometown of Fitzgerald, Georgia; she lived most of her adult life in Italy and California. But a trip to Oxford, Mississippi, for a book signing served as a conversion moment for Mayes. She and her husband relocated to Hillsborough, North Carolina, a small, historical enclave on the Eno River where many writers and artists reside.

"Often, seemingly spontaneous acts come from a deep, unacknowledged place," Mayes writes in Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir, as she re-imagines and re-creates the solitary, bookish, willful childhood she had in the pre-civil rights South. Mayes's unhurried, stream-of-consciousness narrative provides an intimate look into her upbringing, an "intense microcosm" of family, friends and a home where pride seemed to prevail over realism.

"Secretive, inverted things informed my childhood," writes Mayes, as she traces the complex connections of a small town. She renders the trajectory of her life story—the people and the places she's fled—via pivotal scenes infused with colorful characters and sensory imagery. In describing one of the first funerals she ever attended, Mayes writes, "The smell of roses feels so heavy it's as if we've stepped inside a flower. Pink shades on hanging lamps make the room glow like inside a shell." Such vivid, poetic prose serves to enhance the bittersweet journey of a natural-born storyteller who rediscovers and reclaims her Southern roots.

Crown, $26.00 Hardcover, 9780307885913, 336 pp
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (4/11/14), click HERE

Friday, August 1, 2014

Selling a Camera, Assessing a Life

"It's not what you look's what you see"

Friday, August 1, 2014
Opinion/Editorial: "Other Views" (Section A-19)

To read the article in its entirety, click on the highlighted title above

Monday, July 28, 2014

Special Heart

One out of every hundred babies is born with a congenital heart issue. Some problems are pinpointed and diagnosed early, while others go undetected for years. When Bret and Amy Baier joyfully gave birth to their son, Paul, in 2007, he was a "perfect," healthy baby. But less than 24 hours later, through a seeming coincidence—or more likely, providence—a substitute nurse assigned to the newborn didn't like something about Paul's color and alerted doctors. Paul was later diagnosed with a complicated combination of five major heart defects, the most serious and life-threatening being that his "walnut-sized heart" was pumping in the wrong direction.   

The main story that ensues in Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love is an intimate and detailed account of Paul's harrowing struggle to survive as his parents face hard choices amid his critical health condition. What hospital was best for Paul? Which pediatric surgeon would be the most experienced and capable to handle the delicacy of reconstructing and rebuilding Paul's fragile heart with vessels as "narrow as angel hair pasta"? And how long could the couple wait to make such life-changing decisions?

Along the way, Bret Baier, noted journalist and anchor of "Special Report," gives a well-told, anecdote-filled back story of his life—his years as a traveling reporter whose goal was to break into the Washington news business; how he met his wife, Amy, and courted her; his passion for golf; and his ascent en route to becoming the Chief White House Correspondent and ultimately manning the helm of a successful daily news program. These details offer a fully drawn portrait of Baier and enhance an era of his life when he and Amy had their faith and courage tested amid the challenges of Paul's unexpected medical crisis.

Throughout, the story is touch-and-go and stirring. Baier and his co-writer, Jim Mills, render it with perfect balance, blending facts with raw, emotional honesty, which makes for a riveting, page-turning read. From the time of Paul's birth until he turns six years-old, he bravely endures three open heart surgeries, seven angioplasties and one unrelated stomach surgery. The most moving parts of the memoir are the reprinted emails Baier sent to family, friends and others concerned and interested in the Baiers' journey, those who also offered love, support and the power of prayer. These passages are deeply personal and revealing. They shed light into the mind and soul of a sincere, sensitive person grappling with his faith, fate and the future.

In the end, all "Three Baiers" are physically, emotional and spiritually transformed by an experience that continues to require diligent, ongoing effort. At its core, "Special Heart" emerges as an inspirational story of hope from a man in the public eye unafraid to share the depth of his experiences in order to help and heal others.

* Note: One hundred percent of what the author receives from the sale of this book is donated to various non-profit pediatric heart causes.

 Click HERE to watch an in-depth interview with Bret Baier on Book-TV 

Center Street, $25.00 Hardcover, 9781455583638, 288 pp
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Invisible Ellen

Well-drawn characterizations and a compelling opening launch Invisible Ellen, a unique story of friendship by actress/writer Shari Shattuck. The book begins with an intriguing description of Ellen Homes, a 24 year-old, 273 pound, socially-awkward woman who shares a low-income, one-room apartment—and a "love of caloric excess," namely in the form of bacon—with her cat named Mouse. Ellen was once a product of the foster care system, where she was either taunted or ignored due to a prominent scar on her face and her left eye, halfway closed, which limits her vision. Ellen's background, along with her physical deformity, encourages her to espouse evasive techniques of anonymity to accommodate her limitations and cultivate her reclusiveness. But one afternoon, a young, blind woman boards the same bus that Ellen takes to her job cleaning at a Costco store, and Ellen instinctively intervenes to save the stranger from being mugged. Ellen's once-manageable, invisible life—spent quietly observing, from a distance, her struggling, also afflicted neighbors and co-workers, namely a troubled, pregnant woman and a drug dealer—is suddenly upended by the incident. In an ironic twist, the blind woman named Temerity takes an interest in Ellen and after more than six years of isolation, offers Ellen friendship—along with the motivation to more fully participate in life and courageously help others, regardless of complications.

Shattuck (Legacy) has written an upbeat, entertaining survival story about the souls of lost human beings often ignored by society and shows how lives can be profoundly transformed through unlikely human connections.

Putnam Adult, $26.95 Hardcover, 9780399167614, 304 pp
Publication Date: May 29, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/5/14), click HERE

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mill River Recluse

"Sometimes, what you find in a small town can surprise you," writes author Darcie Chan in The Mill River Recluse. The novel centers on Mary Hayes McAllister, a wealthy, disfigured, elderly widow who inhabits a white marble mansion that overlooks the insular town of Mill River, Vermont. Chan describes Mary as "a woman who knew the difference between being alone and being lonely, who wanted so much to be accepted, to have coffee at the bakery, to come face-to-face with someone she didn't know without feeling fearful." Mary's early life was marred by an event which stole her innocence and confidence—and later led to an abusive, heartbreaking marriage. 

The story behind Mary's reclusiveness, which winds back to WWII, unfolds among other Mill River townsfolk who are struggling with their own challenges and demons. This includes an 87 year-old priest, Mary's only friend and confidante; a lustful, power-hungry cop; a widower transplanted from Boston with a young daughter; a teacher battling her waistline; and the town misfit, who practices witchcraft.

Secrets and unexpected gestures of kindness shape Chan's compassionate novel that blends elements of mystery, suspense and romance. After sixty years, Mary's reclusiveness is second nature in town, but behind-the-scenes, she remains attuned to the lives of those around her—"decent, hardworking people, the kind that don't have a lot but would give everything they have to a neighbor in need." Mary humbly leads this initiative, which culminates in a beautifully rendered denouement that rekindles hope for a troubled world. 
Ballantine Books, $15.00 Trade Paper, 9780553391879, 416 pp
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/24/14), click HERE

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Survive Life (and Death)

It's one thing to have a Near-Death Experience (or NDE, for short), but to have three?  Could it be that fate shepherded Emmy nominated art director and author Robert Kopecky away from three potential near-death catastrophes in order to finally convince him to commit his experiences to the page and share what he's learned with others?

Kopecky never planned on personally investigating the nature of death and how to live a more fulfilling life. But in his entertaining memoir and self-help book, How to Survive Life (and Death): A Guide for Happiness in This World and Beyond, he delivers his insightful and inspiring personal story, which puts mortality into perspective while offering strategies to improve and experience life to the fullest. Crafted in simple, accessible prose, and filled with lots of good humor, the author intersperses details of each of his NDEs, which occurred via various culprits in three distinct generations of his life. The author's disembodiment experiences—and each aftermath—taught him valuable life lessons that ultimately enlightened him about the nature of time, how to face fear and suffering, why "radical kindness" and compassion, along with forging a spirit of generosity and forgiveness, are essential to keeping faith and hope alive.

Kopecky ties cosmology, metaphysics and quantum reality together with his own spiritual experiences, while also weaving in theories from Buddhism, Hinduism, the teachings of Gandhi, excerpts from the apocryphal Gospels of Thomas and the more contemporary views of Joseph Campbell. In the end, Kopecky's miraculous passages back from the brink of death make for a compelling narrative—for believers, nonbelievers and garden-variety skeptics. He demonstrates how love and surrender are liberating, healing powers that can ultimately bring us "out of this world"—and sometimes back again, too!
Conari Press,  $16.95 paper, 97801573246361, 224 pp
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Martha Grimes: Every Book the Last Book

The Writer's Life

Since 1981, fans of the Richard Jury mysteries have come to expect eccentric characters, peculiar murders and a smart, cultured, analytical detective who searches for killers from a cast of disparate suspects. One of the more consistent hallmarks of a Richard Jury novel are the titles derived from clever names of actual pubs and bars, like The Old Fox Deceiv'd and The StargazeyMartha Grimes has largely set the atmospheric series in London and quaint, small-town villages in the English countryside, but a few titles are also set in America--The Horse You Came in On in Baltimore, Md., and Rainbow's End in Santa Fe, N.Mex. Her new Jury novel, Vertigo 42 (see review below), is set in London and environs.
Grimes is a writer of authority and great wit. She continues to reinvent and put refreshing new spins on the traditional mystery form. She has also penned several other books, not all of them mysteries. Her novels Foul Matter and The Way of All Fish offer funny, suspenseful send-ups of the publishing industry.
You are a U.S. born-and-bred writer, yet most of the Jury novels are set in Britain. What is your connection to England?
None, other than I've always liked it.
Do you often travel to England and the British countryside for research?
Not as often as I used to. Perhaps every couple of years now.
You've written 23 books in the Jury series. How and why do you stay engaged in this series and keep it fresh?
Because I like the characters, not simply Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, but all of the characters, including the ones readers appear to hate.
How was Richard Jury's character originally created?
As with all of my characters, Richard Jury simply popped into my mind. So did Melrose Plant. So did all of the others. There's no backstory; there's no searching for names; there's nothing prior. All I knew about the main character was that I wanted a Scotland Yard detective.
Do you have favorite characters from the Jury series? If so, who are they and why do they appeal to you?
Carole-anne Palutski (Jury's neighbor) is one because she's always intruding. She has no respect for Jury's personal "space." This amuses me. I'm especially fond of the kids and the animals. I always enjoy writing scenes with them in it. Mungo (the dog) was a total relief from boredom.
I also really like Harry Johnson because he's more clever, most of the time, than Richard Jury. Jury needs a nemesis.
The names of pubs and bars play a significant role in each Jury novel. Was this a conscious choice from the inception of the series?
Yes. I couldn't imagine better titles.
The name and atmosphere of the champagne bar, Vertigo 42, is a departure from your usual small-time pubs. Why did you make this choice?
Because of the name. How could one resist it?
How did the story of Vertigo 42 germinate?
Stories don't really "germinate" for me. I start writing and keep writing and the story goes on. Vertigo 42 started because, as I said, I was fascinated by the name. That's the way a lot of the books in the series started: because of the name.
Do you carefully plot out your novels in advance of writing them?
I never plot them out. I tried once and couldn't do it. The reason for this is (1) I can't write unless characters are moving and talking in some setting that I can see and hear, and (2) plots bore me. There is a famous writer/editor, whose name escapes me, who was approached by a student who asked him to look at a plot she'd formed for a novel. He said, "There is no plot." I loved that. A plot cannot be foretold separately from the whole story.
You studied at the University of Iowa writing program and concentrated on poetry. How and why did your writing career veer toward mystery novels?
My poetry was complicated by elements of mystery--dark houses, fleeing children, bodies, blood. The book of poetry I published is a British mystery in poetry form, or a satirical treatment of one.
Your memoir, Double, Double--co-written with your son, Ken--deals with your shared struggles with alcoholism. Would fans of the Richard Jury mysteries want to read this book?
I don't know if they'd want to read it because they like Jury. But everyone knows someone who's been touched by alcoholism, so perhaps that would be a reason to read it.
Is there a difference between writing a novel "under the influence" versus being sober?
Yes, "under the influence" is more fun. However, "under the influence" suggests some sort of drunken stupor. I never actually drank when I wrote, but that had to do with my writing schedule more than my being a good little writer. Insofar as the books are concerned, I doubt anyone could tell where the line was drawn.
If readers have not yet experienced a Richard Jury novel (pity the fool!), should they start with the first book (The Man with a Load of Mischief) or can they jump into the series midstream?
There's no need to start at the beginning. I'd suggest The Anodyne because it introduces the Cripps family and features Emily Louise Perk, who serves as a perfect example of Jury's and Melrose Plant's interactions with children. But one could start anywhere in the series, I think.
Do you have a favorite Richard Jury novel?
The Old Wine Shades because it's intelligent. I enjoyed writing about quantum mechanics and, also, it introduces both Harry Johnson and the dog Mungo. How could I ask for more?
You've been writing and publishing books for decades. Does the process get easier or more difficult?
More difficult. Much, much more difficult.
You are an esteemed and lauded "mystery writer." Do you often have the urge to write fiction other than mysteries?
I've written nine novels that are not mysteries--two books in the Andi Oliver series certainly aren't mysteries! How do readers come by this naive idea that any book that contains a mysterious death or a disappearance or something else inexplicable is a "mystery"? If that were the case, even Henry James would be thought to have written several "mysteries." I'm getting tired of the assumption that any book I write must be a mystery.
Throughout the series, Richard Jury has been rather unlucky in love. Do you think he'll ever find a true, lasting soul mate?
I thought he had. But I was wrong. I think he will. I could be wrong again.
Do you foresee a conscious end or conclusion to the Jury series some day?
Robert Frost said, "Make every poem your last poem." Every Jury novel has a note of finality to it, although the only one readers ever paid attention to was the ending of The Blue Last. Every book is the last book, in a very real sense. I have no plans for closing down Richard Jury. But life does. --Kathleen Gerard

Note: This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness: Maximum Shelf (5/21/14), click HERE