This issue is full of recommendations for readers and writers--and a giveaway too. The winner will receive his or her choice of one of 14 great novels or a $25 Starbucks gift card.To enter the drawing, simply identify the classic novel which opens with this line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Read Story Lines and enter the giveaway here.
Midway through 2017, here are my top three reads. See my reviews below and give these great novels a try.
As a writer, I read with a highlighter, constantly marking metaphors I love, descriptions of characters that make them easy to know, paragraphs that skillfully and unobtrusively establish a theme or point worth remembering, and moments that move me, whether to laughter or tears. My copy of Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's darkly comic THE NEST is so full of yellow markings now, that my friends will want to borrow someone else's or buy their own.
Every dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way, and the Plumb siblings--Leo, Bea, Jack, and Melody (divorced, single, gay, and married)--are vividly and originally so. Secondary characters are just as well-drawn, and New York City, where all live, is a vibrant part of the story.
The plot is set in motion by Leo, who abandons his wife at a wedding reception, seduces a young waitress, and plows his car into an SUV. He's driving and the waitress is...well...imagine. A need for hush money arises and depletes the about-to-be-distributed nest egg that all four siblings have counted on for financial security dreams. Prior to a joint meeting with Leo to insist on repayment, the other siblings prepare by having a drink, not together, or knowingly. We meet each one in a different New York bar. Therein, the tone of this hilarious, highly readable novel is set. Ms. Sweeney tied things up neatly in the end, in a bow that I found satisfying, credible, and not over sentimental. Year-to-date, THE NEST is one of my favorite novels.
NEWS OF THE WORLD
Paulette Giles had me at page one of News of the World, and held me with her poetic prose, voice, scene setting, dialogue that always rang true, meticulous but unobtrusive historical detail and, most of all, with action and story—just pure story. I didn't read. I rode with Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd from Wichita Falls to San Antonio, Texas in 1870, as he returned 10-year-old Johanna, a four-year-captive of the Kiowa Indians, to her family. Dust, heat, stars, danger, weariness, fear, excitement—I was part of it all and hated to leave the characters I came to love along this 214-page trail.
MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON
I didn't read a novel with a character named Lucy Barton. Lucy Barton spoke to me over the course of 200 pages and a couple of days. Her voice is that real, that human, that distinct. As she lies in a hospital bed, conversing with her estranged mother for the first time in years, Lucy reflects on their relationship; her childhood of extreme poverty and abuse, of shame and separateness; and even many aspects of the human condition -- all of this in author Elizabeth Strout's spare, quiet, yet remarkably resonant prose. Lucy recognizes that: "Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me." Her mother, also an abused child, remains distant and hurtful in small, unintentional ways. Though she is unable to say to her daughter, "I love you," Lucy recognizes that "It was the sound of my mother's voice I wanted most; what she said didn't matter." Lucy finds exuberant joy in the smallest of kindnesses: a boy opening a door for an old woman, the touch of her gentle doctor's hand upon her head. She tells of "falling in love" with a grade school teacher because he would not tolerate any student feeling superior to another. As for me, I fell in love with Lucy Barton, a new friend whose voice I listened to for days. I loved her resilience and the wisdom she imparted: "No one comes from nothing." "We can never understand a person fully." The roots of family are always "twisted tenaciously around one another's hearts." This is a lovely, moving read.
In my next novel, Darcy Holland is a single mom and not much of a cook, but her chocolate chip cookies are surefire and the favorite food of her four-year-old son, Zach. Try her recipe, but be forewarned: stirring the batter in the final stages has broken many a spoon!
1 pound brown sugar
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 lb butter
6 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
24 oz chocolate chips
16 oz nuts (pecans)
In large bowl, beat eggs 4-5 minutes. Add sugars, vanilla, and butter, mixing thoroughly. Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to egg mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Line cookie sheet with waxed paper and drop batter by ice cream scoop. Bake 16-20 minutes, rotating shelves. Let cool on cookie sheet 5-10 minutes before removing. Bake at 350.
NOTE: By the time you add the pecans and chocolate chips, the batter will be very stiff. It’s supposed to be!
I hope you'll enjoy the new issue of Story Lines, in which I've shared recommendations on novels and articles I think you'll enjoy, highlights of my online book tour for Breaking and Holding, a progress report on my second novel, and its protagonist's recipe for the World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies!
In addition to book reviews, my online book tour included author interviews and guest posts on four notable book blogs. Here are things you may not know about Breaking and Holding, writing groups, my next novel, and me(!)--including the funniest thing that happened at a book signing.
A WRITING GROUP THAT WORKS. One writing group. Four years together. Six women working in different genres. And since August 2016: three novels sold for publication; a non-fiction book deal signed with a major university press; two essays and two short stories published; and a memoir now in submission to agents. Here are my thoughts on what makes a writing group a success. More...
FIVE THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT BREAKING AND HOLDING. Why the novel has been called The Great Gatsby meets Madmen, why the setting is 1978, why you don't want to watch a tennis match with the author, and more.
AUTHOR Q & A. Learn which 1978 songs I'd choose for the novel's soundtrack and the first place I would take Savannah visitors. More...
AUTHOR Q & A - LAUREN K. DENTON'S "BOOKISH PEOPLE" BLOG. What am I working on now? What books have I recently read and loved? What's the funniest thing that happened to me at a book signing? Find out!
The itinerary was packed: sixteen destinations in less than thirty days. But this book tour for Breaking and Holding required no travel, hotel stays, or time away from home. Instead, the tour stops were book blogs that featured reviews of the novel or author interviews and guest posts. Sample the review highlights here or click an image for the entire review.
Breaking and Holding is heartbreaking and tragic and steamy and sweet...But this wasn’t a light and easy-breezy (beach) read for me. With a dysfunctional marriage, addiction, secrets, and abuse plus a tender and sweet romance, friendship, longing, and hope, the author made me care about the characters...Until the very last pages, I had no idea how things would turn out...I also really enjoyed her style of writing. It was whip-smart, at times funny, and for a book with so much romance, it never veered into cheesy or saccharine for me.-- Lauren K. Denton
Breaking and Holding was intense, romantic and compelling, but I found myself more interested in the time frame it took place. From a women’s perspective, the 1970s were a very tumultuous time, a time of introspection and growth...I took away a story of a young woman breaking free, finding her unique spirit and ultimately her truth. We should all be so blessed. -- Cindy Roesel
The relationships of family and friends, the absence of family and friends, age and stage and love and money and needs and secrets with the backdrop of Kiawah Island and the tennis circuit make Breaking and Holding engaging, thought provoking and a juicy, quick read. -- Jennifer Blankfein
I felt the constant thrum of pressure and awaited the approaching train wreck; I...was intrigued about just what the specific antecedent would be that would trip the bomb and blow the track. There were multiple instances I thought the fuse was lit and was bracing for the explosion, but oh – what a sly and clever minx Ms. Fogarty is, she fooled me more than once. The storyline was cleverly constructed and smartly written. Judy Fogarty has made a stunning debut. -- "Empress DJ"
A tale of love, madness, tennis, and breaking free...I loved Lynn and rallied behind Tricia and there was no way I could put the book down until I found out how their stories would end! -- Becky LeJeune
The author does an amazing job at establishing another time and place. I loved the 1970's island setting. -- "Birdhouse Books"
Fogarty has created a set of deeply flawed, broken characters who must make peace with their own pasts in order to move forward...Each has to decide when the tipping point is and when to take a chance and go to the net for match point. -- Serena
If you're like me -- always looking for a great new read -- here are a few novels I consider sure-fire!
From the 10th Savannah Book Festival. On Saturday, 2/18, from 9:00 to 5:00, I heard talented authors speak in some of our historic city's most beautiful churches, museums and theaters. Dorothea Benton Frank delighted. Tess Gerritsen fascinated. Tama Janowitz endeared. Gerald Marzorati inspired. (So what if 60 isn't the new 40! It's a great time to find a new passion, work hard and improve!) Paulette Jiles made my fingers itch for my Kindle to finish News of the World. But far and away, the day belonged to Yaa Gyasi, who quietly held her audience in the palm of her hand. Like Colson Whitehead, who spoke Friday night, she spoke of the importance of history that is not manipulated but true, and how it should inform our lives and hearts today.
From Nancy Brandon. Nancy is a member of my writing group, the Savannah Scribes, and I had the pleasure of reading her novel as it was written. Set in Vidalia, Georgia in the early 1930s, Show Me a Kindness is rich in colorful, period details. As gentle, confused Marthanne Hendrix and Oma, her feisty second personality(!), lead a chorus of great characters through the story, you'll find it sings from start to finish. Show yourself a kindness and order this one today.
A New Favorite. My "Top Ten of All Time" list is always in flux, and Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton caused the latest shift. More? Here's my review.
From 2016. Belatedly, here are my hands-down favorites from last year. They include: Novels I thought I would love and did: Fates and Furies; The Goldfinch. Those that surprised and captivated me: Big Little Lies, The Mating Life. Novels that took my breath away: The Yellow Birds; Everything I Never Told You. Something charming: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Something chilling: In Wilderness (on my Kindle, so not pictured). My choice for the year's best: Commonwealth.
if you have recommendations, I'd love to hear from you. Comment here or Connect with me by clicking on the tab above. Happy Reading!
Early on January 1, I sat beside my Christmas Book Tree with a good cup of coffee and my seldom used journal. For many hours and pages my consciousness streamed with gratitude, peace and optimism, out of which -- damnit! -- resolutions arose. Far too many. I knew as I wrote them that I'd need a spreadsheet to keep them straight, and worse, that I'd create one. (I did.) A week later, I wondered if I should have set intentions instead, for human-being instead of human-doing. Two weeks later, I longed for mini-goals, so easy to achieve (floss one tooth daily!) that you can't help exceeding them (lowers and uppers too!). Now, 24 days into 2017, I'm relaxing my white-knuckled grip on the new year's steering wheel. I'm pondering "Advice from some Old People". I'm setting an intention to be kind (my favorite thing to be). Daily, I'm going to ask the question Martin Luther King, Jr. called life's most urgent one: What am I doing for others? And I'm going to remind myself that each day is another first serve, as in tennis, and another opportunity, as Buddha taught us, to be born again and do what matters most.
Friday, 1/27/2017, Women's Tennis Weekend, Kiawah Island Golf and Tennis Resort, Kiawah Island, South Carolina. 4:00-5:00 pm, Sip and Shop; 6:30-8:30, Reception, The Sanctuary Hotel.
Thursday, 2/9/2017, Meet the Author Series, Sun City Hilton Head, Bluffton, South Carolina. Pinckney Hall, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
February/March - ONLINE BOOK TOUR - 2/16/2017-3/24/2017 - 15 Tour Stops on Book Blogs and Writing Blogs. All will feature Breaking and Holding through book reviews, author interviews and Q&As, or guest blog posts. See the detailed schedule from TLC Book Tours and come along!
Saturday, 3/25/2017, Dahlonega Literary Festival, Dahlonega, Georgia. 9:00 am - 4:30 pm, Historic Downtown Dahlonega.
Monday, 3/21/2017, Book Signing. Nevermore Books, 702 Craven Street, Beaufort, South Carolina. Time tba.
BOOK CLUB APPEARANCES
The Landings on Skidaway Island, Savannah, Georgia
Renegade Readers, Savannah, Georgia
Rodgers and Hammerstein weren't writing Christmas songs in 1959, but "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music has flown like "wild geese with the moon on their wings" to a high place in the holiday repertoire. Listening to several renditions--nearly 100 artists have recorded it--has inspired this list of favorite Christmas things. I hope you'll find something here to create, enjoy or give this season.
FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE.
Christmas with Dino is a classic, right down to the white socks and loafers. My favorite song? "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Songs of Angels offers 29 traditional carols, all sung a capella, with the late Robert Shaw conducting his chamber singers.
It's delicious and easy. (You can't mess it up!) I bake as many as six for the Fogarty Christmas gathering. A few brothers-in-law and nephews like to take an entire pie home! Pecans and chocolate chips, obviously. Secret ingredient? 2 tablespoons of bourbon! Recipe.
A BOOKWORM'S CHRISTMAS TREE.
I'm hardly an artsy/craftsy type, but this project was great fun. My first attempt looked like the misshapen mountain in Close Encounter of the Third Kind, but I persevered and think I did okay. All of my family's favorites books are in there......... somewhere.
BOOKS ABOUT GIVING.
I'd love to see Congratulations, by the Way - Some Thoughts on Kindness as required reading for the human race. I've read this gem by George Saunders countless times and never without tears. It's just that moving. Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree? Perfect for children and grown-ups too. And O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi is available in many gorgeous illustrated editions, like this one by Lisbeth Zwerger. My copy was a long ago gift from Mike's mom, but it's still in print. (I checked to be sure.)
And don't forget BREAKING AND HOLDING, my 1970s love story sure to warm a heart. (Or a winter night!)
You won't find these under a tree or in brown paper packages tied up with string, but love, joy, peace, friends and family are the favorites I love best.
Sincere Wishes for a Wonderful Holiday Season from our home to yours.
At the BB&T Atlanta Open I gave John Isner a copy of Breaking and Holding, and bookmarked 201 -- the scene that is set at the University of Georgia in Athens, where he was an outstanding college player. John is 6'9" tall. I'm 5'2". What a pair!
On Thursday, August 25th, I spoke to a group of 125 women at the Ladies Day Luncheon of the Winston-Salem Open professional tennis tournament. Afterward, I was pleased to sign copies of Breaking and Holding and to get to know them. I hope you'll enjoy my remarks.