Monday, June 20, 2011

Screen Doors And Sweet Tea
y Martha Hall Foose

"Books offered alternative adventures to me as I grew up amid the kudzu. Mrs. Wilburn would read aloud to our fourth-grade class each morning from Willie Morris's books. We hung on every words, sending up a sorrowful "awww" when she would leave us hanging until the next day. For the first time I realized that a book could be about where you were from. Until then they had been about fairy-tale kindoms or tales of old or distant places cover by National Geographic. Later the lovely Bea Donnelly, Dean of Girls at high school, introduced me to Faulkner's story "The Bear," and my love of books about the South became firmly rooted."
--Author quote.

Publishers Weekly - The warm, languid air of the South filters through this engaging book, in which Foose shares the traditional recipes that she ate while growing up on the Mississippi Delta and has returned to after training as a pastry chef in France and traveling the world. Gently humorous stories about family and friends form a seamless part of her instructions for community recipes like Strawberry Missionary Society Salad, as well as pleasant surprises like Tabbouleh, Curried Sweet Potato Soup, and Chinese Grocery Roast Pork that take Southern food beyond stereotypes. Fried chicken and grits do appear, but for such classics Foose emphasizes relatively simple, wholesome preparations that are rich without loading on more butter and oil than necessary. Although recipes for Gumbo Z’Herbs, Chile Lime Skirt Steak, and creamy succotash are mouthwatering enough just to read about, many cooks will be tempted to flip straight to the last chapters, where her enticing breads and pastries provide the book with a winning flourish. The cook may be Southern, but the appeal of the dishes she presents should reach well beyond people who grew up in the land of four-hour lunches and sweet tea savored on a porch swing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Up Next, A Memoir ... Of Sorts

Up Next Up:

Described as an entertaining, touching memoir of life with an alcoholic father who secretly works with the CIA, a dark pilgrimage through the valley of depression and addiction, and finding a faith to redeem and a strength to forgive.

Spring For Susannah - A Novel Review & Writers Workshop

"Marta says she is thinking of the book of Ruth," Ivar began, pausing for his wife's words. "Like Ruth, Susannah has traveled far to marry a man she did not know. Like Ruth, may you find great joy in your new family." (page 69)

Jesse Mason welcomes his mail-order bride Susannah to his home in the Dakota Territory. Married by proxy by his brother, The Reverend back in Michigan the couple meet for the first time when Susannah arrives by train. Jesse, a Christian man is immediately pleased by his bride. Her prayer request is answered when he smiles. Jesse has a full set of good teeth. While Susannah does carry on an inner dialogue with God, she also acknowledges that she feels He has let her down in the past and is to blame for her current predicament. She also arrives with a suitcase full of several secrets and huge inferior complex. While both have inner demons to content with Susannah is particularly fragile. But she is prepared to keep her part of the deal, be a good wife, and obey her husband. Jesse is patiently hoping for more....

First time author Catherine Richmond has crafted a enjoyable story for the Christian reader, I suspect however, this novel will also appeal to readers beyond this market, readers who enjoy historical "prairie" romances. The Christian themes that run through the story has been seamlessly integrated and are appropriate. A nice read by a promising new author.

Writers Workshop - The author has chosen to open the story of Jesse and his mail-order wife minutes before they meet for the first time. She is considered a spinster, and he is a farmer. As the story unfolds the author has a double burden, first to show the push and pull of the couple as they get to know one another, and second to reveal the backstory of these two very different people. Revealing this much backstory without slowing the pace of the novel can be tricky.

Catherine Richmond has done a good job of dropping past events of Susannah's life into the story to show (explain) who she is and why. Ms. Richmond has used backstory to her advantage. While both are mature, Jesse is portrayed as a more open character. He readily admits to a past that includes serving in a brutal war and using (abusing) alcohol . Because he is immediately pleased by his new wife, and because we, the reader know Jesse has conquered his past we trust that he will be able to help her. There are many reasons for Susannah's hesitancy and bit by bit they are revealed to Jesse and the reader.

Creating an in-depth biography for the lead characters is a good idea (especially for beginning writers). The trick is not to ramble on about this happened and that happened. Be careful to use this information to reveal character motivation. A light touch is the goal.

"The trick," according to Larry Brooks, "is to show just enough backstory that the reader can intuit where the character is coming from, rather than spelling it out." Story Engineering (pg. 89).

A copy of this book was provided by Thomas Nelson for review. My expressed opinions are my own.

Reading Spring for Susannah

Next up, Catherine's Richmond's first novel, a historical romance from Thomas Nelson.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Little Women Letters -A Novel Review & Writers Workshop

London born author, Gabrielle Donnelly has written an entertaining novel that might appeal to fans of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Described as: "Vibrant, fresh, and intelligent, The Little Women Letters explores the imagined lives of Jo March's descendants -- three sister who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March."
(cover quote)

_American-born Fee Atwater, a therapist in private practice and her husband David, owner of a small publishing company, live in London and have three grown daughters. The eldest is Emma, poised and beautiful she is considered the model daughter. She is engaged to Matthew, her boyfriend of three years and the wedding is being planned.
_Dramatic, sweet Sophie is the youngest. Tall and slim, flighty and energetic, sort of blond, and sort of loud she is an actress. Sophie is also immensely popular, and every one's favorite. For her life seems effortless.
_Twenty-four year old Lulu is the middle daughter. She's outspoken, often just plain rude to her sisters ... she's yet to discover the line between teasing and unkindness. Lulu is envious, unsettled, messy, academically gifted, she has a degree in biochemistry from St Andrews and a career she refuses to pursue. Clearly unhappy, and unsure of herself she seems to spend her days drifting from one temporary job to the next with no romantic prospects in sight. She is, at least in her own eyes, the failure of the Atwater family.
_The novel opens on a typical Sunday, the girls have gathered at the family home for brunch with Mom (Dad is out of town on business) and the scene is warm, inviting, and full of engaging and well-written dialogue that draws the reader into the family dynamics.
_Later that afternoon, Lulu is asked by her mother to go to the attic and retrieve a collection of family recipes for an upcoming exhibition at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This trip to the attic gives us the main point-of-view character (Lulu) and the story begins here.
_What Lulu finds among the piles of old books and discarded toys is not the privately published recipe book but a collection of letters written by her famous great-great-grandmother Josephine "Jo" March when she was a young woman. The first letter, dated June 1869 to sister Meg, describes the pain in her life since losing Beth. Lulu's attention is immediately captured.
_As the weeks unfold, life gets messy and confusing and Lulu finds comfort as she continues to visit the attic. Reading her great-grandmother Jo's letters helps Lulu change how she views herself, her family, especially her sisters, and the world she lives in.
_A fun read.
Writers Workshop - There is a lot going on in this novel, an abundance of characters, multiple pov's (although Lulu seems to be the lead), a lot of intense family drama, great dialogue, and of course the letters great-great-grandmother Jo Marsh wrote. Gabrielle Donnelly is clearly an experienced author (she has written several books and writes show business articles in L.A.). She credits "Lydia Newhouse, my wonderfully imaginative first editor, who had the idea in the first place and was kind enough to commission me to carry it out...." Ideas come from many sources and are expanded by asking "what if?" (what if a beloved fictional character left a collection of letters). Stories are often developed around interesting characters. Characters are best revealed through dialogue. Miss Donnelly's dialogue is well-written, sounds genuine. Reading the exchanges between the sisters is a rich example of how-to-do-it.

An advance copy of this novel was provided by the publisher Simon & Shuster, A Touchtone Book for review. These comments are my own.

The Little Women Letters


The Little Women Letters
by Gabrielle Donnelly.

Review soon. Fun, interesting.