Guest Host: Elizabeth Kelly June 27, 2013Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, mystery.
Tags: Elizabeth Kelly
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What kind of life can you expect when you’re a girl named after Jimmy Hoffa, your mother is an iconic former movie star and your father is running for congress? Elizabeth Kelly draws this girl in all her adolescent confliction, then throws her into the center of a murder mystery where she is the only eyewitness.
Chat with Elizabeth Kelly about her new novel, The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, in #litchat from 4-5 p.m. on Friday, June 28, 2013. Catch the full conversation from our dedicated #litchat chatroom.
It’s the summer of 1972, the Vietnam War is raging, Watergate embroils the nation with political scandal and President Richard Nixon is running for reelection. Riddle, whom her father insists on calling Jimmy, idolizes her idealistic father. A self-described loner, 12-year-old Riddle pales in comparison to her beautiful mother, an ice queen with a wit sharp enough to crack a glacier. The only thing they appear to have in common is their love of horses. It’s this love of horses that sets Kelly’s novel galloping toward a finish both expected and surprising.
While searching for a missing dog, Riddle happens upon a scene of violence in a horse barn and is threatened by the perpetrator, a horse trainer named Gula Nightjar. She tells no one what she saw and heard, yet the scene haunts her imagination. When the wealthy Cape Cod neighborhood is alerted to a local boy gone missing, Riddle wants to doubt what she saw, while still knowing and fearing the worst. Eventually Riddle is the one who happens upon the boy’s dead body hidden in the woods. By the time she finally accepts the reality of what she saw in the barn, she’s completely cowed by the dark, creepy horse trainer.
As Riddle keeps the secret of what happened in the barn, other family secrets emerge that entwine the entire close-knit neighborhood for a final showdown in The Last Summer of the Camperdowns.
Follow Elizabeth Kelly on Twitter: @ElizabethKelly8.
Life Lessons in Fiction November 12, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, inspirational fiction.
Tags: Mitch Albom
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Many authors write because they’re driven to put words together in meaningful and creative ways. Other authors are haunted by stories that compel them to be told in prose. Some authors write because it’s a job they do well and it brings them a good income. Then there are authors who are inspired to teach lessons through their fiction. Mitch Albom is one of the fortunate few authors who successfully embodies each of these creative motivations.
We’ll begin a discussion of fiction written as a teaching tool for life lessons on Wednesday, November 14, and complete the topic on Friday, November 16 when Albom joins us as guest host to discuss his new novel, The Time Keeper.
The Time Keeper is one of those easy reads you can give your grandmother, your teenage niece, or your son’s soccer coach. Each of these people will glean something different, a lesson (or two, or many) that speaks to their individual place in life.
Albom introduces three characters as distinct from each other as autumn leaves on a maple tree. Reaching back to the dawn of human time, we meet Dor, a man who creates a means of measuring time. The means is not the message here; the obsession with the measurement is what traps Dor for an eternity as Father Time. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and we meet Victor, a man at the end of his long life who covets more time, and Sarah, a teenage girl who seeks an end to hers. Both Victor and Sarah have appointments with destiny, each of them contriving to manipulate time. Dor is given an opportunity to redeem himself from the eternal measurement of time if he can intervene in the tragic consequences that hang over Victor and Sarah. Time is stopped, an intervention is made. When time resumes its ticking, not only has the outcome changed for Victor and Sarah, but for Father Time himself.
Written in Albom’s signature prose, sparse and still pregnant with meaning, The Time Keeper, can be read in one sitting, yet will be remembered long after.
Albom is an internationally renowned and bestselling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster and musician. His books have collectively sold over 33 million copies worldwide; have been published in forty-one territories and in forty-two languages around the world; and have been made into Emmy Award-winning and critically-acclaimed television movies.
Albom’s first book, the memoir Tuesdays with Morrie, is the chronicle of Mitch’s time spent with his beloved professor. Albom wrote the book as a labor of love to help pay Morrie’s medical bills. It spent four years on the New York Times Bestseller list and is now the most successful memoir ever published. For One More Day debuted at No.1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and spent nine months on the list. In October 2006, For One More Day was the first book chosen by Starbucks in the newly launched Book Break Program, which also helped fight illiteracy by donating one dollar from every book sold to Jumpstart. Have a Little Faith was released in September 2009 and selected by Oprah.com as the best nonfiction book of 2009.
Follow Mitch Albom on Twitter: @MitchAlbom.
Literary Legends September 16, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, historical fiction.
Tags: Erika Robuck
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Before the internet, and some would even argue television and Oprah, authors were rather mysterious people. They wrote books and sometimes their photo and a brief bio was included on the back cover. They might review other books, write personal essays, or be interviewed for magazines and newspapers from time to time. They didn’t generally live out loud. Unless he or she was a personality larger than life—think Hemingway—chances are that author could walk down the street of a city without ever being recognized. The internet—particularly blogs and social media—have changed the game for authors.
Have blogs and social media feeds of current authors given us a hunger to know more about the literary legends of the past? Perhaps so. Several novels about or with literary figures as secondary characters are making names for new authors, while revisioning the lives of the legends in fiction. On Friday we’ll welcome Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl.
Using Ernest Hemingway as a focus in Hemingway’s Girl could have been an excuse for using this larger than life character as a voyeuristic selling point. However, Robuck’s longtime personal interest and insightful research into the period and Key West setting of this tale elevates the story. Robuck masterfully sets Hemingway as a third in a trio that includes the tough, but tender young protagonist Mariella, and the rugged World War I veteran Gavin. Grieving from the recent death of her father and suffering from the depression in a resort community such as Key West, Mariella takes a job as a maid in the home of charismatic Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline. It’s not long before a mutual attraction begins between the big man and the maid. As Mariella dusts and sweeps her way around the Hemingway abode, dodging advances from Hemingway, parrying barbs from Pauline, she struggles to understand the complicated relationships between Hemingway and everyone else. The trivial way these relationships are played by Hemingway provide a counterpoint to the romantic interest that arises with Gavin. Hemingway may be in the title, but the story is so much more than just him and a girl.
Erika Robuck was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. Inspired by the cobblestones, old churches, Georgian homes, and mingling of past and present from the Eastern Shore, to the Annapolis City Dock, to the Baltimore Harbor, her passion for history is well nourished. Her first novel, Receive Me Falling, is a best books awards finalist in historical fiction from USA Book News. Her second novel, Hemingway’s Girl was published on September 4, 2012. Her third novel, Call me Zelda, will follow. Robuck is a contributor to popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, and maintains her own blog called Muse. She is a member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, The Hemingway Society, and The Historical Novel Society. She spends her time on the East Coast with her husband and three sons.
Follow Erika Robuck on Twitter: @ErikaRobuck.
There will be no MediaMonday #litchat today as we prepare for the next two days of LitChat Literary Salon. More about it here.
Hidden Pasts September 10, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers.
Tags: Kurt Andersen
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The English idiom is skeleton in the closet—those shameful secrets a person spends life covering up. When the skeleton begins to rattle and the closet is opened, that person’s response exposes his or her true character more than what the skeleton reveals. This is the basis for many great novels and is central to Kurt Andersen‘s latest novel, True Believers. On Wednesday, September 12, we’ll discuss writing and reading novels with themes of hidden pasts, then on Friday, September 14, Andersen joins us as guest host.
In True Believers, Karen Hollander is a celebrated attorney who recently removed herself from consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her reasons have their roots in 1968—an episode she’s managed to keep secret for more than forty years. Now, with the imminent publication of her memoir, she’s about to let the world in on that shocking secret—as soon as she can track down the answers to a few crucial last questions.
Today, only a handful of people are left who know what happened. As Karen reconstructs the past and reconciles the girl she was then with the woman she is now, finally sharing pieces of her secret past with her national-security-cowboy boyfriend and Occupy-activist granddaughter, the power of memory and history and luck become clear. A resonant coming-of-age story and a thrilling political mystery, True Believers is Kurt Andersen’s most ambitious novel to date, introducing a brilliant, funny, and irresistible new heroine to contemporary fiction.
Kurt Andersen is author of Heyday and Turn of the Century, and frequently writes for New York and Vanity Fair. He is host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program Studio 360. In 2006, he founded Very Short List, an e-mail service for connoisseurs of culture who would never call themselves “connoisseurs.” He was co-founder of Spy magazine, and has been a columnist and critic for The New Yorker and Time. Andersen lives with his wife and daughters in Brooklyn.
Follow Kurt Andersen on Twitter: @KBAndersen.
Children in Danger August 13, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, thrillers.
Tags: Lesley Kagen
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MediaMonday for August 13, 2012: Epitaph of the Book, a discussion on how digital media is rewriting the way we read. Source media from two essays published in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review:
Most of us live in safe homes, in communities with efficient emergency services and reliable law enforcement. Opening a newspaper or flicking on news channels reminds us that we live in a violent world where where children are maimed by war, kidnapped by parents or others with nefarious motives, pushed around and beaten by bullies, and used as chattel in the skin trades. Reading about violence to children isn’t easy. Some people simply will not read books that feature children in perilous situations. Why are they such hard sells for authors? Why are the ones that succeed so compelling? Why do some people avoid reading them? We’ll ask these questions and more on Wednesday in #litchat during our discussion topic: Children in Danger.
Joining us as guest host on Friday, August 17, is novelist Lesley Kagen, author of four novels which feature the affects of harm, either physical or psychological, done to children. Kagen’s protagonists are girls who see the wrong things, hear too much, or happen to be in the wrong place at the worst time. They grapple with responsibilities far too consequential for their age and face danger in places where children should not be required to go. With compelling and believable characters, Kagen avoids the pitfall of polarization which is so easy in thriller genres. Her skill with plausible plots takes her novels from sensationalist exploitation of children into sensitive portrayals of life in rural communities where bad things happen to good people.
Good Graces, Kagen’s latest novel, was released in paperback last May. Good Graces is a sequel to her New York Times bestselling debut novel, Whistling in the Dark. Readers of Whistling in the Dark sat on the edge of their seats as precocious sisters Sally and Troo O’Malley survived the nightmarish summer of their father’s death and escaped the clutches of a murderer and child molester in their close-knit Milwaukee community. Good Graces picks up a year later as Sally struggles with the promise she made to her dying father to watch over her wild sister Troo. When an orphan in the community mysteriously disappears, Sally amps up her defenses, certain that Troo is in danger. Readers ride the tide of emotions once again, as Sally struggles with responsibilities and choices compounded by grief, fear and self-doubt.
A native of Milwaukee, Kagen’s four novels to date include, Whistling in the Dark, Land of A Hundred Wonders, Tomorrow River, and Good Graces. Kagen has worked as on-air talent in the radio, television and record industries, including acting parts in several movies of the week and Laverne and Shirley. She was the voice of “Lesley,” the hip spokesperson for the popular Southern California record store, Licorice Pizza. She and her husband moved their young children back to Milwaukee in 1990, where they opened and continue to operate a sushi bar. Kagen is at work on a fifth novel, soon to be released.
Follow Lesley Kagen on Twitter: @LesleyKagen.
Exploring Love July 23, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, literary fiction, science fiction, weekly topics.
Tags: Lydia Netzer
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MediaMonday for July 23, 2012: Are the Rules of Engagement for Serious Novels Changing? Source media by Warren Adler for Huffington Post, July 18, 2012.
Love is a universal emotion. Some say it is what separates humans from lower life forms. Often misunderstood and misused, love has fueled storytellers, poets, playwrights and novelists for as long as humans have used words. How does love differ from devotion, admiration, attraction and lust? Can humans truly love entities that have no flesh and blood? We’ll discuss these questions and others this Wednesday in #litchat. Wrapping up this discussion on Friday is guest host Lydia Netzer, author of Shine, Shine, Shine.
Shine, Shine, Shine is a love story and so much more. It’s a study on how we judge people consciously and unconsciously, and how some people cover their differences, some people exploit them, and why it’s so easy to do this. It’s a journey into space, into populating the moon with robots designed to build perfect human colonies. It’s an odyssey of flashbacks from the jungles of Burma, to the heartland of America, through the robotic voice of the POV character, Sunny.
Sunny, however, isn’t a robot. She’s a normal woman in every way, except she was born without body hair. Her mother guides her into celebrating her difference by refusing to let her wear wigs to cover her bald head. Add to this mix her future husband, an awkward boy named Maxon, who we come to understand is a savant genius somewhere on the autism spectrum. It’s no surprise when their child, Bubber, is diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
When Maxon takes a job designing robots for NASA’s upcoming colonization of the moon, the couple moves to suburban Virginia, where Sunny begins wearing wigs, false eyelashes and eyebrows to fit in with the other SUV-driving mothers. Sunny and Maxon’s odd courtship and married life takes up much of the backstory, while the immediate action of the story begins as Sunny’s wig is thrown off her head when she has a minor car accident while her husband is on a rocketship heading for the moon, her mother is dying in hospice, and she is eight months pregnant. When Maxon’s rocketship is struck by a meteor and the mission is doomed, readers watch Sunny snapping and stretching with superhuman strength and resolve. Shine, Shine, Shine peels away the hearts and flowers of romance to explore the nature of love in its myriad types and shapes.
Lydia Netzer was born in Detroit and educated in the Midwest. She lives in Virginia with her two home-schooled children and mathmaking husband. When she isn’t teaching, blogging, or drafting her second novel, she writes songs and plays guitar in a rock band.
Follow Lydia Netzer on Twitter: @lostcheerio
Secrets, Lies and Love July 16, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, women's fiction.
Tags: Nichole Bernier
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MediaMonday for July 16, 2012: A View from the Critics Seat, by New York Times opinion editor Arthur S. Brisbane, July 14, 2012.
A good novel is like a nautilus shell. It appears to be one thing from the outside, smooth, luminous, alluring, but inside its hard shell are chambers of characters, situations, and secrets that flow from the fantastic to the finite. On Wednesday we’ll discuss novels that examine friendships or other relationships that are cloaked in deceit or masked by secrecy. Then on Friday, July 20, Nichole Bernier joins us to discuss her debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.
How much do you want to know your friends? Really know them—their secrets, failures, personal prejudices? Would you really want to know what they think of your mutual friends, your children, your husband? You? Bernier’s novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, takes readers into the private live of Elizabeth D through journals she bequeaths to her best friend Kate after she is killed in a plane crash. Elizabeth asks Kate to read the journals and then decide what to do with them. Inside the journals that go back dozens of years, Kate discovers an Elizabeth quite different than the friend with whom she’d shared her intimate thoughts, a woman with secrets as fresh as where she was going and with whom she was meeting the day her plane crashed. Confronted by Elizabeth’s pointed observations of herself, Kate reads and recoils through the pages, taking to heart what is true and sloughing off what isn’t.
Nichole has written for magazines including Elle,Self, Health, Men’s Journal, Child and Yankee. A 14-year contributing editor to Conde Nast Traveler magazine, she was previously on staff as a features writer, golf and ski editor and television spokesperson. After she married and moved to Boston, she joined Boston Magazine as a senior editor, where she supervised restaurant reviews, the annual Best of Boston feature, and wrote an investigative piece about environmental toxins in the suburbs that won the magazine a City and Regional Magazine Award. She is one of the founders of the literary blog Beyond the Margins, which features daily essays on the craft and business of publishing, and received her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, where she received the 1993 award for literary journalism. She is at work on her second novel, and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children.
Follow Nichole Bernier on Twitter: @NicholeBernier.
Utopia Lost April 2, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, literary fiction, weekly topics.
Tags: Lauren Groff
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Like genius and madness, utopias and dystopias are two sides of the same coin. Utopias, those harmonious communities of equality, idealism, and euphoria, exist only as long as human ego and greed are sublimated. Dystopias are what happens when human ego and greed rise to the surface. As far back as 360 B.C. Plato argued in his Republic that just men could create ideal societies; centuries later in Paradise Lost, Milton blamed the destruction of utopia on a tempter, while H.G. Wells published several novels featuring utopian societies. On Wednesday in #litchat we’ll discuss utopian literature, then on Friday, Lauren Groff joins us as guest host to discuss her novel, Arcadia.
Arcadia is a novel of heartbreaking brilliance. Groff’s enchanting characters reach through the pages to grip your heart, pumping it with each beat of their own, with each enlightened conversation, with each act of selflessness, cowardice, or pride. Set in the wilds of upstate New York, Arcadia is the commune of a visionary musician known as Handy. It’s the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, when idealistic young people took refuge from the establishment in music, drugs, and free-thinking. Told through the eye and understanding of Bit, the first baby born within the tribe of hippies who would three years later found the commune, the voice reads as if disembodied from the idyllic happening that was Arcadia. While Arcadia reshapes the nature around them, it reshapes the nature within the people as well. As if on the puff of a magic dragon, Arcadia sweeps through the last quarter of the 20th century, as young idealists put their faith in a flawed messiah, whose own family doubts his potency. The great commune flourishes for several years, but when it crumbles, as all utopias are wont to do, the reverberations spread deep and wide. After the fall, Bit, his parents, and the Arcadians jaded by flaccid leadership, find the outside world a harsh mistress. Yet, the story doesn’t end there. Bit takes us into his adult life, where Arcadia continues to inform his decisions, his quests, even his own child. Arcadia brilliantly explores a multitude of themes—individuality, home, nostalgia, love, animal rights, expression, freedom, sexuality, innocence, and more—without judgment, sentimentality, or stagnation.
Lauren Groff was born in 1978 in Cooperstown, N.Y. She graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her short stories have appeared in a number of journals, including the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, and Subtropics, and in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007 and Best American Short Stories 2010, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008. Lauren’s first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, published in February 2008, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection and bestseller and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. Her second book, Delicate Edible Birds, is a collection of stories.
Follow Lauren Groff on Twitter: @legroff.
Celebrating the Contributions of African-American Authors February 13, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in African-American literature, bestsellers, multi-cultural fiction, weekly topics, women's fiction.
Tags: Jacqueline E Luckett
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Truth in Memoir is today’s Media Monday discussion from this Associated Press piece on NPR’s site. Greg Mortenson is asking judge to overturn the civil lawsuit claiming he fabricated events in his bestselling memoir, Three Cups of Tea, saying other authors could be subjected to similar claims and the result would be a stifling of the free exchange of ideas.
February is Black History Month in America. Those who don’t study American literature rarely discover the poetry of the slave Phyllis Wheatley that predates the American Revolution. While they may have heard of Frederick Douglas, the average reader is unaware of the thousands of written slave narratives that give voices to the individuals trapped in that era. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois wrote widely of the post-Civil-war black experience, influencing many of those who would later contribute to the brilliant arts, music and literature movement of the 1920s-40s that became the Harlem Renaissance. One can’t speak about African-American literature without recognizing Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou, some of which have passed and others are still contributing. This week in #litchat we’re celebrating the many contributions of Aftrican-American authors, both past and present, to the literary canon.
We are delighted to have author Jacqueline E. Luckett join us as guest host on Friday, February 17. Luckett’s new novel, Passing Love, features the best of this week’s celebration of African-American literature. In Passing Love, two heroines pass through two timelines and two continents to come together for a bittersweet finish. The novel opens in contemporary California, with Nicole-Marie as primary caretaker to her embittered mother and Alzheimer’s stricken father. Still numb from her divorce several years ago, yet wrapped in guilt as the other woman to a married lover, Nicole-Marie is galvanized to take back her life after her best friend dies from cancer. Drop back sixty years to World War II-era Mississippi, when 16-year-old RubyMae, the wild and beautiful daughter of straight-laced parents, meets devilishly handsome sax player Arnett Dupree. Take both heroines across the Atlantic to Paris, where each of these determined women forge new lives that hardens one and softens the other, then combines them both through a shared history.
In between the lines of Passing Love, Luckett examines the treatment of blacks in Jim Crow America, with sensitive illumination of how black soldiers were segregated and undervalued by the American military during World War II and scoffed at by white America when they returned home, yet hailed as heroes—and rightly so—in post-war Europe. She deftly portrays the complexities of the African-American individual, in this case RubyMae, whose complexion, features and hair provide opportunity to “pass” as white. Within this miasma, Luckett recreates post-war Paris, with its jazz-age nightclubs, cafes, intrigues and challenges, contrasting the ordinary freedom available to blacks in Europe, against the racial prejudice and suffocating restrictions of America. The title, Passing Love, is drawn from a poem by Langston Hughes, to whom Nicole-Marie refers often, poetry being a link between her and her aging father. While RubyMae is seen from her teenage years, the bulk of her story occurs in her twenties, yet Nicole-Marie’s maturity as a woman of a certain age—she’s 57—is ballast to maintain the balance of this elegant novel.
Jacqueline E. Luckett’s first novel, Searching for Tina Turner, put her on the list of writers to watch. A lifelong storyteller, Luckett spent most of her professional life in corporate America. In 1999, she took a creative writing class on a dare, from herself, and happily found her love of writing reignited. By a lucky coincidence, that same year she discovered the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) writing workshops and participated over the next four years in workshops with Christina Garcia, Danzy Senna, Junot Diaz, Ruth Forman and Terry McMillan. VONA provided a safe haven for a new writer still unsure of abilities, yet eager to learn. Luckett attributes much of her growth as a writer to the VONA workshops. In 2004, Luckett formed the Finish Party (featured in O Magazine, October 2007) along with seven other women writers–of–color. An avid reader and lover of books, Luckett is an excellent cook, aspiring photographer, and world traveler. She lives in Northern California and, though she loves all of the friends there, she takes frequent breaks to fly off to foreign destinations.
Follow Jacqueline E. Luckett on Twitter: @JackieLuckett.
Photo of Jacqueline E. Luckett (above): Ashley Summer.
Immortality October 10, 2011Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, paranormal.
Tags: Alma Katsu
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Transcendence over death is one of the oldest themes in literature. Ancient texts dating back thousands of years before the common age and through today’s bestsellers are filled with the heroic and the hopeless attempts at man to become immortal. Whether pulpits for religious moralism, memoirs of mystical sojourns, everlasting love stories, or pure adrenaline-pumping adventure, immortality prevails as one of the most enduring themes of great literature. This is our topic of discussion this week in #litchat.
On Friday, October 14, Alma Katsu joins us as guest host. Her debut novel, The Taker, draws on themes of immortality and eternal love through a 200-year cycle of history beginning in the early 19th century until the present day. When Lanny, hopelessly in love with Jonathan, a man as beautiful as the sun and no less attainable, is exiled to Boston from her small Puritan hometown in Maine, she falls in with the sinister Adair who promises Lanny a means to capture her heart’s desire for eternity. Enduring unspeakable cruelty through the sadistic Adair, the glorious love she’d hoped for with Jonathan is cursed from the beginning. The novel begins in the E.R. of a small Maine hospital, where a weary Lanny is examined by Dr. Luke Findley before sheriffs can take her in for her confession to the murder of a man we learn is Jonathan.
Alma Katsu likes to write stories that pull the reader through a journey that is sweeping in scope, a little dark and a little magical. The Taker, her debut novel, has been described as “an epic supernatural love story” at the crossroads of literary and historical with, as promised, a supernatural twist. She lives in the Washington, DC area, has a MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins University, once studied with John Irving, and counts fairy tales among her greatest influences.
Follow Alma Katsu on Twitter: @almakatsu