Fall Into Books

Ah fall. Crisp weather, warm apple cider, football…and books.Some people look forward to fall for the football season but I keep my eye on new books releasing this time of year. Last weekend at my local Barnes and Noble ( doing my part to save my beloved brick and mortar book stores) I plucked Donald McCaig’s just-released novel, RUTH’S JOURNEY from the “new arrivals” table. Authorized by the Margaret Mitchell estate, RUTH’S JOURNEY is the story of Mammy, the beloved character portrayed in the novel by Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for her role.

jpeg“Her story began with a miracle,” McCaig writes, opening his novel on the island of Saint Domingue ( later Haiti)  during the French occupation with the story of Solange, who would become Katie Scarlett’s grandmother. He follows Solange, and five year old Ruth as they escape the war-torn island and establish a new life in Savannah and later, in Charleston.

This story was not quite as engrossing as McCaig’s imagined background of Rhett Butler, which he told in RHETT BUTLER’S PEOPLE, but RUTH’S JOURNEY is a worthy successor to that book, brimming with rich, often raw detail, heartbreaking cruelty, steadfast love, and blending Ruth’s story into the stories of Margaret Mitchell’s beloved cast of characters. I loved it. A must for any GWTW fan.

I picked up Christina Baker Kline’s new novel, Desire Lines. I am a great fan of her writing. Last year I wrote about how much I loved ORPHAN TRAIN, her historical/contemporary blend based on the lives of actual people who were sent west on orphan trains to live with strangers. One of the best books I read all year.

Desire Lines is well written.The plot revolves around Kathryn, a young woman newly divorced and in a dead end career who moves back to Bangor to live with her mother while she figures out what comes next. As it happens, she arrives on the eve of her tenth year class reunion which is overshadowed by the unsolved disappearance of her best friend, Jennifer, who walked away from a bonfire on graduation night and was never seen again. The editor of the local paper,  also a member of that class, assigns Kathryn to write a series of articles about the long-abandoned search for Jennifer.

As Kathryn interviews those who knew Jennifer best, a different picture of her friend emerges, and suspicion falls on an unlikely suspect. Except that I figured it out right away.

Kline’s prose shimmers, and her characters’ interior lives are well defined. But the threats to Kathryn as she delves deeper into Jennifer’s past seem lukewarm,her final showdown with the perpetrator doesn’t seem all that scary, and his explanation for what happened is anticlimactic. For all of its admirable qualities, this one left me feeling unsatisfied.

What fall books are on your TBR stack? I’d love to know.





Looking at the Stars

This morning when I took Jake out at five am, the Southern sky was ablaze with stars. We don’t often see them here in the city because of cloud cover caused by high humidity and because of “light pollution.”  But this morning they were bright and clear and seemed so much closer to Earth than usual. I was reminded of that old quote from Oscar WIlde: “We’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Mr. Wilde was well known for his excesses and this quote probably referred to being falling-down drunk, but taken in a larger context, it reminds me that almost everybody is struggling against hopelessness, fear, and worry. This is certainly the case among many writers I know. Hundreds of venerable magazines have shuttered their offices and turned fine writers onto the street. Publishing houses are trimming their lists and dropping great writers whose books have not made sales projections. It’s a rough time to be a writer.

Sum_Pleiades_Dec_2007_4_x_10_mins_each_2x2_RGB_ps_1_lowBut some people refuse to be beaten down by circumstances, and instead, are looking up at the stars, intent upon reaching a better future and the promise of happier days.Some authors have retreated from the stresses of traditional publishing to strike out on their own. A few are succeeding as self-publishing entrepreneurs, most are not. At least not yet. But dreams and goals are important. They give us a reason to wake up in the morning.

Whatever circumstances are discouraging you today, whatever burden seems too heavy to bear, I hope you will find encouragement in Mr. Wilde’s words, and that you will keep hoping and planning, and keep looking up at the stars.

Have Some Cake

Last week the dear husband and I went to east Texas to see my mom. It happened to be his birthday and she baked his favorite cake, a mandarin orange confection that’s light and sweet with just the right balance of tang from oranges and pineapple. It’s quick and easy and as we all get busier in the fall and there is less time to cook,  I thought you might like the recipe. Here goes:

Mom's mandarin orange cake

Mom’s mandarin orange cake

Grease and lightly flour two 9 inch round cake pans. Preheat oven to 325.

Combine 1 box of yellow cake mix ( Mom uses Duncan Hines Butter recipe) with 1/4 cup oil, 1 medium can of mandarin oranges, juice and all, 3 eggs and one tsp vanilla. Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or till the cake tests done.  COOL COMPLETELY before frosting.

For the frosting: Combine 1 medium carton of Cool Whip with 1 med can of crushed pineapple, juice and all, 1 package of vanilla pudding mix, and 1 tsp vanilla.OPTIONAL: another can of mandarin orange segments for garnish.

Frost the cake and decorate with additional orange segments if desired.  Store in the fridge in an airtight container.  Enjoy.

Meet India Hartley

Last week, I shared my vision of my next hero, Philip SInclair. Today it’s his leading lady’s turn. My fictional character  India Hartley is based on Frances Ann “Fanny” Kemble– a real life  19th century stage actress who married a Georgia plantation owner in the 1830′s. Fanny was described as beautiful, talented and so popular that students at Harvard cut classes to attend her performances at theaters in Boston.

MV5BNzgwMDk1NTUxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTQxODY4Mg@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_AL_Theater life back then was a hard life marked by uncomfortable travel, bad food, unscrupulous managers and other hardships. I needed a heroine who was not only beautiful and talented but smart and tenacious, too. When I saw this photo of Willa Holland, formerly the most popular child model in the US, she looked very much as I imagined India as I was writing her story.

I hope you will look for India and Philip next year. For now, I’m gearing up for the release of A PROPER MARRIAGE next Tuesday, and for THE BRACELET in November. Exciting times ahead. I feel  lucky to be able to work at what I love–bringing the past to life through stories filled with history, mystery, and romance.