by Maryanne O'Hara. Viking, Aug. 2012 Hardcover $25.95
O'Hara has written a talented and engrossing debut novel based on a true story. She aptly describes the struggle of Desdemona (love that name!) between conformity as a small-town wife in love with an artisitic Jewish traveling salesman and her higher aspirations to be an artist. The art lights a spark between Dez and Jacob, causing a fire in her heart that leads to danger. O'Hara draws you into life in the small town of Cascade where the Massachusetts Water Authority is deciding whether to flood the town for a reservoir. The writing is luminous, the characters are real right down to the grinding of pills in the mortar and pestle by Asa, Dez's pharmacist husband. At first, the reader thinks Asa may be dull and oblivious to the sexual tension between Dez and Jacob but as the story unfolds we are proven otherwise.
"City of Women" by David R. Gilham. Penguin, Aug. 2012 Hardcover $25.95
Don't think this debut novel of David R. Gillham's is just another WWII novel. It is so much more than that. Set in Berlin in 1943, Gillham tells of the women left behind when their men all leave for the front. This is a novel of female courage and strength, bravery and deception. Sigrid is a Nazi wife, living in a small apartment with her mother-in-law. She has a Jewish lover, a frightening relationship in itself. Her husband is at the front, she is left alone to fend for herself and be watched by her mother-in-law.
Gillham deftly shows us how cold and grey life was in Berlin in the early days of Nazism and the Gestapo, and just how dangerous walking the streets could be. One never really knew who was on which side. This debut is not so much about the war but about the world that existed alongside the front. Gillham writes a story of the entanglement of these lives in a brilliant and emotionally riveting tale. I can't wait to handsell this in our store this fall.
"Roots of the Olive Tree" by Courtney Miller Santo. Harper Collins/William Morrow, Aug. 2012 Hardcover $25.99
I love women's fiction and Courtney Miller Santo has given us a gift of exquisite fiction with her debut novel. Set in northern California, five generations of strong women live in an old house on an olive grove, tended by the men. However, the women know there is a secret to harvesting the last of the olive crop that produces an oil so pure that it seems to enhance longevity. This lovely novel winds through the secret lives of each woman when a geneticist seeks the reason for their youthfulness. Santo gives us an intimate look into how a family of women cope with tragedy, love, childbirth and infidelity and shows how within every family there is imperfection. Reading this will make you yearn for your sister, mother, grandmother and a chunk of bread dipped into a dark fruity olive oil. This novel is simply sublime, and a debut not to be missed by any lover of fiction.
"Wilderness" by Lance Weller. Bloomsbury, Sept. 2012, Hardcover $25.00
Any war leaves scars — both physical and mental. Lance Weller deftly crafts a story of a scarred man whose "thoughts, beyond his control, went from painful recollections of women and family, to worse remembrances of war because it had been his experience that one often led to the other." Through the life of Abel Truman, Weller takes us from the northwest coast of the Pacific Ocean to the Spotsylvania battlefields of the American Civil War. Weller writes with language of experience, of one who has walked the endless fog shrouded beaches of the Olympic Pennisula, amidst the "sound of rattling pebbles and pungent iodine stink of the waves." Truman is living out his remaining years in the northwest wilderness with his canine companions, but has never left behind the scars inflicted during The Wilderness of Spotsylvania in 1864. The reader is living in the battle. Weller has crafted a novel of stories within stories, all interwoven in prose so exquisite and descriptive that you will want to read it more than one time, to capture this novel in its salvific beauty. Put aside your day, open up "Wilderness" and take a dive into this fabulous work of fiction.
Annie Philbrick is the
co-owner of Bank Square Books in downtown Mystic;
Also check out:
Pat Kelbaugh of Niantic, author of the supernatural "Dreamtime" series: "Darke House," "Summerland," and the upcoming "Princess Lane" will take part in a sidewalk show on Saturday, Sept. 29 at PINC! BOUTIQUE, 52 State Street, New London from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Kelbaugh will sign copies of her first two novels — which are inspired by southeastern Connecticut settings — and discuss "Princess Lane," in which "Ernie," the legendary ghost of New London's Ledge Lighthouse, is a featured character. Kelbaugh's marine-themed watercolors will also be on sale.
The following is an excerpt from Pat Kelbaugh's novel "Summerland," set in a Connecticut beach town called Shoals Crossing. It tells the story of Nora Reis, who has dropped out of college to finish her first novel. Someone else has moved into the neighborhood too — the ghost of a girl who lived a long time ago. You can read more about Kelbaugh here.
CHAPTER 15: GOREY DAYS
Remember the old Halloween children's song?
Big fat slimeys everywhere!
They don't scare me. I don't care.
Hang a sleeber in a tree!
It won't ever bother me.
Kreekey figs? Upon a dare,
I would put them in my hair!
Icky, crawly bizzybiskit?
Watch how far my foot can kick it!
(Fill in name here), you bag of goo,
I am not afraid of you!
Every Halloween when Killian and his sisters were little, the girls would sing this song and, of course, they'd fill in Killian's name. ... Actually, it was Killian who wasn't afraid of anything.
Their mother and dad were a little off the beaten track in many ways, and their library reflected this. Tucked in beside the complete collections of Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde and Stephen King were the existential classics written and illustrated by Edward Gorey. Before he learned to read, little Killian sat for hours looking at the pictures and, of course, begged to be read to before bed. The same Gorey story every night. After a while, he could recite it by heart:
"A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears..." and so on, in its own dark, existential humor, all the way down to "Z".
Some parents may have felt it inappropriate to send a little tyke off to slumberland with "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," but Zoe and Thomas Rhodes saw nothing wrong with it. To them, it was simply a swell way to teach their son the alphabet.
Betty Thayer Cotter's second novel, "The Winters," is set on the coast of Rhode Island in 1978, where the Winter family lives in a decaying farmhouse within view of the Atlantic Ocean. When family patriarch Jim Winter inexplicably commits suicide one January morning, his family is left to pick up the pieces. Cotter is a Grace contributing writer, and an adjunct professor at Three Rivers Community College and the University of Rhode Island. Her novel is now available in e-book or print — through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and www.ebookbakery.com. The following is an excerpt:
The questions had begun the day of the funeral.
They had gathered at Loretta Winter's Victorian house by the sea, which stood at the head of a cornfield in the tiny village of Matunuck. Loretta was Jim's older sister, a buxom and domineering woman who ran all their lives in some measure. She had picked the minister for the service, and she had selected the music; Helen, numb, had silently gone along.
While the mourners ate, Helen slipped into the music room, a small study with an upright piano, a scratchy velveteen settee and an overstuffed armchair. From here Loretta scanned the yard for birds and made notes on their behavior and travels. The room was small and dark, crammed with bric-a-brac and old issues of National Geographic piled on end tables, an arrangement that made navigation difficult. To some people it was claustrophobic; for Helen it was a refuge.
Sounds drifted in from the living room. The rustle of a stout woman's slip against a rayon skirt; the clank of spoons on saucers; coffee being poured. And below it all a buzz, waxing and waning in intensity, occasionally disgorging a phrase, a word, innocuous and incongruous, like "A&P" or "left last Saturday" or "fell on the ice, not bad you understand."
Then, coming at Helen through the door, a question, uttered in a nook where someone thought they had found a haven, a place to speak the truth:
"Why do you suppose he did it?"
Helen walked across the room, where an ornate gold mirror caught her from the waist up. She had been attractive once. Not tall, but tall enough so a suit hung on her well and high heels gave her legs a comely shape. Dark hair that took a permanent, a certain symmetry of features that fit the dark lipstick and heavy makeup so popular in her day. But now her face looked sallow and worn.
"There you are."
Helen startled to see that in the periphery of her vision, just outside the mirror's reach, Ludlow Winter stood in front of the doorway, an old-fashioned glass in his right hand. He had parted and closed the pocket doors without a sound and had been watching her watch herself, for how long she didn't know.
"You want a drink, or something?" He waved his glass at her.
"No, no, I'm fine." She walked back to the couch and sat down. Might as well get this over with.
"It's a sad day, Helen." He sat down on the couch, stretching his long legs and cradling the drink close to his heart. "I wish I had something to say. I keep going over and over it in my mind. I just can't figure it."
He was fishing. Let him fish. She had nothing to offer.
He crossed his bare ankles under the coffee table. Ludlow never wore socks, even in a blizzard. His arm was casually draped over the sofa back. "Leaves you in an awful fix."
"I'll get along." His arm was so close she could smell him, a mixture of the musty house and Old Spice after-shave. It was not, in truth, unpleasant, which made his closeness even more discomfiting. She leaned forward on the couch as though getting ready to rise. It was an empty threat; he knew she wouldn't come out of hiding.
"This may not seem the time to discuss it, Helen, but it has to be faced. You're in a tough situation."