Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Great Grisby

Part history book, part memoir, The Great Grisby written by Oxford-educated, Mikita Brottman, PhD (Thirteen Girls) is a fascinating exploration of how dogs have changed people and the world in myriad ways. Brottman acquired her first dog, Grisby—a lovable, French bulldog—when she was close to 40 years-old. Her eight-year "love affair" with Grisby encouraged her to better understand their mutual affinity and the many roles dogs have historically played in the lives of others who share their loyal companionship. In the process, she unearthed a trove of information about the ineffable bond between notable humans and their canines.

Over 26 chapters, Brottman analyzes many stories including those of avant-gardes Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and their string of standard poodles; poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her inseparable connection to her cocker spaniel, Flush; Philosopher Schopenhauer and his attachment to all his dogs, always named Atma; Freud's late-life fondness for chows, especially females; Picasso and his curious relationship with Lump, his beloved dachshund; and aristocratic dogs including Prince Albert's greyhound, Eos, and Russian Princess Tatiana and Ortipo, the French bulldog gifted to her by a grateful soldier. Also included are references to the dogs of politicians and in-depth depictions of canines as featured in literature from Charles Dickens to Albert Camus.

Interspersed throughout short chapters, the author shares lively, personal anecdotes about Grisby and how he served as "a buffer...and a bridge" keeping Brottman connected to a world she concludes is generally more empathic because of human-canine kinship. 

The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical, and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals by Mikita Brottman
Harper, $25.99 Hardcover, 9780062304612, 288 pp
Publication Date: October 7, 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 (10/14/14), click HERE

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jessie Burton: When Imagination Takes Control

The Writer's Life
photo: Wolf Marloh

Oxford University graduate and actress Jessie Burton is English born and bred. Her debut novel, The Miniaturist (Ecco; review below), tells the story of a wealthy, dysfunctional family living in Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age. Burton claims her only connection to the Netherlands is having visited Amsterdam twice. On one of those trips, she visited the Rijksmuseum and was drawn to an eight-foot-tall cabinet house built in the late 17th century. Burton was intrigued by the "very beautiful, decorative object, full of detail, precision and imagination." When she discovered the miniature house was an exact replica of an actual house owned by a woman named Petronella Oortman--and that it cost the same as a full-blown townhouse to build and furnish--the writer in Burton began to consider the type of woman who would commission such a house and what sort of society would condone such an expenditure.
It took Burton four years and 17 drafts to perfect the novel. During that time, she got to know the characters better, layered and sculpted the story and enriched it. The finished project ultimately went to auction in Britain and around the world. The book will be published in 30 languages. Burton admits, "I would have been happy with one!"
When you first saw the cabinet house in Amsterdam, did you perceive the potential to write a historical novel immediately?
Not immediately, no. I bought the guidebook in the museum shop and kept reading and thinking about the cabinet house. A month or two later, I abandoned another writing project I had been working on and pictured this young woman, turning up in the city of Amsterdam to start a new life. It began as a short story--I had never written a full novel. But quickly it became clear I had a novel on my hands.
Tell us about the research necessary to create such an authentic 17th-century world.
I researched as I wrote. I needed the fictional story to pose factual questions rather than just me absorbing historical facts and regurgitating them as prose. I could neither afford the time nor money to travel extensively to Amsterdam, so I read a lot about the social and art history of the region, looked at paintings, and used Google maps and moved through the city, parts of which have barely changed since the 17th century!
I had the fictional skeleton of the novel in my head, but certain facts, like what pie they might have eaten and in what season, or the debts accrued with a tailor, or draconian citizenship policies, or the type of dog an Amsterdammer might have favored, would trigger my imagination and root the story in a factual, yet still impressionistic, setting. The facts that I learned allowed me to play. The priority was the story. Sometimes I conflated real-life events, sometimes I adhered to them in their chronological order. Other times, I rebelled, because it's a novel. I let imagination take control.
Did you ever have a dollhouse?
I did. When I was a child, I had a Sylvanian Families one, with little woodland animals instead of dolls. I adored it. I had a whole world--a nursery, a school, a shop, an ice-cream cart, a house... it was perfect.
The owners of the actual cabinet house--Nella Oortman and her wealthy, merchant husband, Johannes Brandt--are characters in the novel. How much of their lives is historically accurate and how much was invented? Were any other characters based on actual people?
Very little is based on actual lives. I was more interested in the object of the dollhouse as the inspirational springboard. I invented the ages of Nella and Johannes, the fact that it was Nella's first marriage and her rural upbringing. The novel is all invention except for their names, the historical setting and the fact that Nella owned the dollhouse. All the other characters are invented, too, but their presence has been inspired by many portraits and paintings I studied from that time.
Are there any characters in the novel to whom you feel a strong affinity/dislike?
I feel very deeply for Marin, Petronella's sister-in-law. She took me by surprise. Initially, she was supposed to be a sort of obstacle to Nella, and not much more, but then I realized how complicated and strong she was, how capable she was of love. I have no dislike of any of my characters. They all have their crosses to bear.
There are strong feminist overtones in the novel. Was it always your intention to build that platform into the storyline or did those aspects evolve through the writing?
I had no agenda nor pre-orchestrated intentions. My female characters are just who they are. If a male writer puts strength, color and adventure in the hands of his male characters, he is not asked if he is pursuing an agenda. Many people assume that what he's doing is the norm, because that is the overarching dominating history of Western literature--books by male writers portraying the male experience as universal, even when they're writing women characters. I am female, and it is quite normal for me to give the universal themes to my female protagonists. I didn't think twice.
Did you carefully plot out the novel before undertaking to write it?
I didn't know before I started writing what was going to happen in every chapter, but I had images in my mind--scenes, conversations, ideas I wanted to explore. I had a vague arc with a beginning and an end, and was always jotting down instructions to myself like, 'this has to happen--but where?' Gradually, through the long process, things all started slotting into place. But the process was not obvious.
Why did you choose to write the narrative in the present tense?
I chose the present tense to ratchet up the tension. The book takes place over three months, and I wanted readers to really feel they were seeing all this through Nella's eyes.
The story is visually rich and would certainly lend itself well to a TV or film adaption. Any prospects?
Thank you! On that subject, my lips are sealed!
You've been an actress in Britain for many years. Have you found any similarities between acting and writing?
I have always written--short stories, sketches, poetry. And writing has always gone hand in hand with my acting....The pursuit of a creative career is fraught with high expectations and disappointment... but I think acting and writing are actually very different. Acting works when the actors on stage are all in harmony with each other--it's communal, a mutual concerto, it's about listening and sharing. But writing is so solitary--you are ALL the actors, the director, the producer making sure you turn up for work... it's impossible for me to compare them as they use different parts of who I am.
Are you writing a second book? If so, will it be another historical novel?
Yes. My next book is set in Spain in 1937 and London, 1967. It is about identity and belonging, the chaos of war, missing bodies, an art theft, an unusual friendship and a woman who isn't who she says she is. That's all I can say for now! 

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 

The Miniaturist

Dark shadows, whispered secrets and glimpses of life through ancient keyholes infuse an engrossing story of independence set in the Dutch Golden Age. With her father dead and the family in debt, 18-year-old Nella Oortman is married off to Johannes Brandt, a high-ranking merchant powerbroker for the Dutch East India Company in September 1686. She moves from her countryside home to Amsterdam, but Johannes isn't waiting to meet her. Instead, she is greeted by her husband's severe sister, Marin, who grudgingly welcomes Nella into the household.

Kind but distant and frequently absent, Johannes does little to appease his new wife or tame his overbearing sister, whom Nella overhears telling Johannes how to make trades and other business decisions. She has many questions she'd like to ask her frugal sister-in-law, but Marin answers in riddles. Aggression increases between the two women, and when Johannes presents his bride with an extravagant gift--an exact model replica of their home--the balance of power begins to shift.

Nella finally leaves the house in search of a miniaturist who can help her decorate Johannes's gift, but the shop is always empty. In response to her notes, the miniaturist sends her cryptic messages and unsolicited parcels: uncannily precise furniture reproductions and eerily accurate replicas of the inhabitants of Nella's world. How does this mysterious craftsperson know so much about the complex relationships in the household? Can this artisan/prophet see into the future, or have some sort of ominous control over Nella's fate?

In Jessie Burton's atmospheric debut, The Miniaturist, the powers of love and obsession, sins and secrets, loyalty and forgiveness bind together a cast of sympathetic characters who all have a part to play in a collectively chilling conclusion.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Ecco Press, $26.99 Hardcover, 9780062306814, 416 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: Reader's Edition (8/22/14), click HERE

To read the full review of this novel as originally published as a special feature of Shelf Awareness: Maximum Shelf (5/21/14)--a much longer and much more comprehensive review--link HERE

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Happy Birthday, William Faulkner!

William Faulkner was born in 1897 and would've been 117 years old today!  He's the author of many books and stories. My favorite is his novel, The Sound and The Fury (1929). The story is a complex one that spans 30 years. It deals with the dissolution of the Compton family, aristocratic Southerners. The novel begins with the first line of:  "Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."

"I'm trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I'm still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead. I don't know how to do it. All I know to do is to keep on trying in a new way." ~ William Faulkner on writing

Photo credit: "The Faulkner Portable" by Gary Bridgman,

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Removers

In 1990, when Andrew Meredith was 14 years-old, his family fell apart. The downfall was caused by his 50 year-old father, a teacher fired from La Salle College in Pennsylvania after he was accused of sexual misconduct with a female student. The scandal and its lasting impact on the lives of his mother, sister and himself bind this powerfully drawn, often wrenching debut memoir, The Removers. The story of Meredith's experiences working alongside his father, who later found work as a "remover," taking away the bodies of people who died in their own homes, becomes the central thread and metaphor for the dissolution of his family.

A remover is someone who is "paid to be invisible . . . We are men made to be forgotten." Fortunately for the reader, however, Meredith never forgets incidents from an 18-year period in his life, which vividly recall details from his often gruesome, sometimes exhilarating, experiences in handling corpses while grappling with his bitterness toward a father who broke his heart.

Meredith's fluid, unabashed prose is delivered in a stream-of-consciousness style interspersed with scenes of how he floundered for fifteen years after high school. He worked a job he didn't want, taking ten years to finish college, and endured a series of failed romantic relationships. After ultimately moving to California, Meredith missed his hometown—the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia. Might his work with the dead have been his true professional calling, his salvation? Meredith's circuitous journey of self-discovery, his trying to reconcile his life by working with the dead, will fascinate those interested in the mysteries of life and death.

The Removers: A Memoir  by Andrew Meredith
Scribner, 24.00 Hardcover, 9781476761213, 179 pp
Publication Date: July 15, 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: Readers (7/25/14), click HERE

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Family Matters: A Mystery Anthology (New York Style)

Family life and the impact of crime on familial bonds take center stage in Family Matters: A Mystery Anthology (Murder New York Style) edited by Anita Page and presented by the New York/Tri-State Chapter of SISTERS IN CRIME

As in the first two anthologies in this series, Deadly Debut and Fresh Slices, all the stories are set within neighborhoods and towns of the greater New York City area and explore a gamut of scenarios and emotions. Pressure mounts in "Thanksgiving on the Throgs Neck Bridge" by Terrie Farley Moran, a menacing story about alcoholism and the toll it takes on a family. The power of wealth and the consequences of greed are at the heart of "Killing Short" by Cynthia Benjamin.  A diamond broach, a family heirloom, is the centerpiece of "Roads" by Eileen Dunbaugh. And a tragic 'work-related accident' tears a family apart in "Stealing Home" by Clare Toohey.

There are stories about parents and children. In "Their Little Secret" by Anita Pagea teenage daughter gets caught up amid her parents' crumbling marriage. "Eldercare" by Triss Stein deals with an adult son eager to cut the cord with his elderly, infirm mother.  A naive widow, a troubled son and a locked basement forge "Everything in its Place" by Fran Bannigan Cox. An over-bearing Italian-American mother reports a suspicious death to a tough, female, NYPD detective in Catherine Maiorisi's "Murder Italian Style." And a pet parrot comes between a mother and young daughter and brings them face-to-face with mortality in "The July Rebellion" by Kate Lincoln

Siblings and close relatives anchor "My Brother's Keeper" by Leigh Neely where an elderly mother gets drawn into a power-struggle between her righteous daughter and her ne'er-do-well son. And a mysterious history lingers between 'long-lost' cousins in "Sylvia" by Roslyn Siegel.

Husbands and wives take prominence in Deirdre Verne's, "Dead Last," about a 9-11 survivor who sets off for the New York City Marathon and is forced to run for his life. JFK airport serves as the backdrop for "We All Have Baggage" by Lindsay A. Curcio, a story about an older woman who is suddenly forced to question the implications of her marriage. A wife suspicious that her husband may be cheating pervades "Crossing the Line" by Ellen Quint.  And there is something very unsettling about a husband's sudden death in "You Always Hurt the One You Love" by Lynne Lederman.

Older relatives figure prominently in "The Kaluki Kings of Queens" by Cathi Stoler about slick, card-playing elderly grandfathers who exacerbate the imagination of an impressionable boy. And a centenarian who believes she is cursed, harbors a secret from the past that may change the present and future in "The House By the Bay" by Dorothy Mortman.

Alternate variations of family also figure notably in "Death Will Fire Your Therapist" by Elizabeth Zelvin, a story which focuses on a tight-knit therapy group dealing with family issues and an unexpected death of one of the members.  A community busy-body unravels dark family secrets of her neighbors in "Murder in a Family" by Stephanie Wilson-Flaherty.  And family expectations oppress and impact friends and lovers in Anne-Marie Sutton's "Friends."

The smorgasbord of 20 stories that round out this well-balanced collection are filled with humor and horror and offer differing perspectives, voices and points-of-view. Unexpected twists and turns—and endings that often pack a chilling, emotional wallop—make for compelling, page-turning short reads that will interest a broad-range of mystery readers.

Glenmere Press, $25.00 Trade Paper, 97809909131922, 248 pp
Publication Date: August 22, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New Novella Release: COLD COMFORT by Kathleen Gerard

I'm excited to announce that my new Thanksgiving novella, Cold Comfort, is ready for release. This is a very special story about the bonds of family and old flames—and the unexpected power of love. I hope this novella will warm your heart, especially as we head toward Autumn!

Here is a brief synopsis:  It's Thanksgiving weekend and photojournalist Anna Maria "A.M." LaRusa returns to Federal Hill, a small Italian-American enclave in Rhode Island, to spend a quiet holiday with her only remaining relative, her Aunt Minnie, a 96 year-old who texts and has a blog. But when an anticipated blizzard nor'easter threatens the region, there is a change in plans. As A.M. and her aunt prepare for the holiday and the storm, A.M. unexpectedly runs into a man she hasn't seen in ten years—a man whom she still refers to as "the guy who broke my heart in college"—and her weekend and her life are suddenly upended. Stuck amid the cold, snowy deep freeze that paralyzes the region, A.M. begins to wonder if her wounded heart from a long-ago unrequited love will ever thaw.  

The novella is available for purchase wherever e-books are sold !

Link HERE for Amazon  (Kindle)

Link HERE for iBooks

Link HERE for Barnes & Noble  (Nook)

Link HERE for Kobo

Link HERE to order via Google Books

Link HERE to order direct from my publisher, UNTREED READS

As always, I appreciate your support and encourage you to share your review about the story on Amazon, iBooks, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Google Books etc.  

And thank you, in advance, for passing on this information to other readers!

 Be sure to check out my other titles on Amazon and iBooks!

Untreed Reads Publishing, 99 cent e-book, ASIN: BOONFPVKEM, 61 pp (215 kb)
Publication Date:  October 13, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gina Holmes: Helping Others Heal

The Writer's Life

Gina Holmes is the CEO and founder of the popular literary site Novel Rocket and the bestselling and award-winning author of the novels Crossing OceansDry as Rain, and Wings of Glass. She is a two-time Christy and ECPA Book of the Year finalist and winner of the INSPY, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award. Her work often examines big themes reflecting the challenges of life including death, grief, adoption, alcoholism and spousal abuse.  

Holmes holds degrees in science and nursing and resides with her husband and children in southern Virginia. She "works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their pasts and discover their God-given purpose."  To learn more about her, visit or follow her on facebook and twitter.

Gina, tell us about your newest release, Driftwood Tides.
Driftwood Tides tells the story of an aging, alcoholic driftwood artist turned beach bum, Holton Creary, and young woman named, Libby Slater. Libby grew up with an absent father and a loving but cold, socialite mother. Leading up to her wedding, Libby and her groom-to-be go through genetic testing, and she learns her blood-type doesn’t match either of her parents. She confronts her mother and is reluctantly told that she’s adopted. She goes searching for her mother, Adele, only to find her husband, Holton Creary passed out and lying face down on the carpet of his Nags Head, North Carolina beach shack.

Libby lies about her real identity until she is finally found out. Holton does not welcome the news. He never knew that the wife to whom he had given "saint" status had actually given up a daughter for adoption. Together, Libby and Holton search to learn the truth about Adele, Libby’s father and themselves.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
At its heart, Driftwood Tides is really about discovering who we are, whose we are, where we belong and the need to accept and bestow forgiveness.

Any special reason why you chose to set the novel in Nags Head, North Carolina ?
Oh, how I love that place! I’m not sure there’s a more peaceful setting in all the world. And the further out I get from civilization, the happier I am. I love the sand dunes, the untouched nature, the quaint towns. Just everything! (Well, except sand in my bathing suit maybe :)

You seem to have a recurring theme in your novels about absent fathers. If it’s not too personal, can you share the reason for this?
It is too personal, and I don’t mind answering (wink!) When I was 6 years-old, I was packed up by my stepfather and driven to my father’s house. Overnight I had a new Mom, new sisters and brother, house and life. It was as traumatic an experience as I can imagine. There were few explanations that made sense to me and I missed my other family desperately. I think ever since I’ve been trying to settle some pretty deep-seated questions. Writing books is wonderful for that.

Your novel Crossing Oceans is a fan-favorite. Do you think you will ever write a sequel? 
I love that book too. Makes me cry just thinking about certain scenes. I would love to write a
sequel, prequel or off-shoot stories. I love those characters dearly. I’m under contract for three different novels, so I’m not sure when I’ll have the time, but I’d love to explore Craig’s story and of course, Bella’s. I miss Mama Peg very much!

You’ve said that, out of all the novels you've written, Wings of Glass is your favorite. Why?
Well, for storyline, I think Crossing Oceans is the strongest. But I think my writing in Wings of Glass was my best. Plus when I was very young, I watched my mother in one abusive relationship after another, and then two of my sisters. I had been there too, despite thinking I was better than that. I know the mindset that keeps a woman (or man) in a relationship like that, and I wanted to give insight to those who don’t understand. I’ve received enough letters to know I did what I set out to do.

You’re originally from New Jersey but you seem to write all your novels from Southern locales. Why is that?
Ha, you found me out! Yes, I was born and raised in NJ. As much as I love my friends and family, I am definitely more suited for the slower pace of the South. I’ve lived in Southern Virginia for half of my life, and I plan to spend the rest of my life here if I can. I try to write books from settings that make me happy. So I write where I want to be. (Although, I’ve got to say, NJ food is amazing and you’ve got to love a boisterous NJ laugh!)

What do you like most about being a writer? Least?
Most, I like being able to have a platform to share lessons I’ve learned in my life that I know others would benefit from. And more than that, I just love to tell a good story.

Least, would be the unpredictability of the business. Sometimes it seems so random and the lack of control makes me uncomfortable sometimes. (Which is probably right where God wants me!)

If you could go back to the pre-published writer you were, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?
Well, I wouldn’t have told myself how many novels I’d write that would never see the light of day, because I would have given up. I wouldn’t have told myself how little money there is actually to be made or how lonely writing can be sometimes. I wouldn’t have told myself that I’d still have a day job with 4 novels out in stores, including 3 bestselling novels… okay, but that wasn’t your question… I would tell myself to relax. Some of this, most of this is, is out of your hands, and that’s okay. It’s not going to be at all what you think it is, but it’s going to be so much more. You won’t get rich, but you will touch lives. At the end of the day, that’s going to be exactly what will fulfill you.

Where can readers find your books and learn more about you?
Thanks for asking! My books are available at B&N, BooksaMillion, Amazon and indie bookstores. You can learn more about me and my work at

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