Monthly Archives: June 2014

Poets & Writers Live in New York

On Saturday I attended a new event, hosted by Poets & Writers, called Poets & Writers Live, which brought writers, agents and editors together to talk about writing, much as you might find in their print magazine. The focus of the event I attended was Literary Agents, and along with hearing some luminary agents, like Molly Friedrich and Eric Simonoff, speak, two debut novelists talked about getting their books published. It was a packed, but enjoyable day. Poets & Writers will be hosting similar gatherings in other cities. The next one is in Washington, DC and will focus on Indie Publishing.

The two debut novelists who spoke have books out in July.

Panic in a Suitcase, by Yelena Akhtiorskaya revolves around a Ukrainian family, some of which live in Brighton Beach, while others are in Odessa, and is described as a social and domestic satire. Sounds like a timely launch for this book which is out at the end of July.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, by Mira Jacob is set in India and New Mexico and is a family drama in which a daughter unravels family mysteries as her father is dying. It is described as both funny and deeply moving. And is out July 1st.

Both of these books sound like great summer reads and I love their titles!

Next week I will review, The Bicycle Diaries, by David Kroodsma – a memoir of his bicycle ride from California to Tierra del Fugeo.

Happy summer reading all….




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Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward


Men We Reaped

By Jesmyn Ward

Bloomsbury Press, 2013

256 pages

Jesmyn Ward’s debut memoir, Men We Reaped, about growing up in DeLisle, Mississippi, a low income coastal Mississippi town, and the deaths of five young men (between the ages of 19 and 32) she grew up with, provides a unique look at inequality in the United States.

Ward’s family has been in DeLisle since the early 20th century. She begins her story with the history of her grandparents, and great-grandparents, and how her parents met. She continues to chronologically tell her own coming-of-age story in this small rural community in a state where 23% of the population, and 35% of Blacks, live below the poverty line. She then intersperses her life story with the stories of five young men, including her younger brother, who died between 2000 and 2004. As she tells their stories, Ward explores the extent to which their deaths were caused by the entrenched gender and race roles of the region, and by the histories of their families in which Black men die young and the women work too hard and take care of their families.

This is a moving, yet sad, story and Ward is a poetic and emotional writer. She is the one who got out of her community and yet she has not left it behind. She wants to tell its story and after living in California, Michigan and New York she now lives in Mississippi again. I was moved by this paragraph in which she describes the pressures on her community:

“My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust out fathers to raise us, to provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless. Some of us turned sour from the pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, without and within. And to blunt it all, some of us turned to drugs.” (p. 169)

Ward teaches at the University of South Alabama and has written two novels. I look forward to exploring her fictions, which I have not read yet.

I borrowed this book from a friend.





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BEA and the Chautauqua Prize

BookExpo America (BEA) was last week and although I didn’t attend this year, I have been following their Buzz Books list, which features summer and fall release books they think are going to do well. Of the debut novels featured, war and family are themes I saw in a lot of the books, with a few of them being historical novels. Three that stood out to me are:

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. A historical novel set in 17th Century Amsterdam involving a woman who gets a miniature replica of her home as a wedding gift. The author was written about in this recent Guardian article, after the London Book Fair. (Summer 2014)

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. A story about two families divided by the Sir Lankan Civil War. It has been compared to Anil’s Ghost and The God of Small Things, which are two of my favorite books. I really want to read this one! (Fall 2014)

The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle. After spending many years living overseas, a young woman comes back to Tennessee to come to terms with her father’s release from prison and the death of her stepmother, who her father killed 17 years before. (Fall 2014)

And finally, congrats to Elizabeth Scarboro for wining this year’s Chautauqua Prize for her moving debut memoir, My Foreign Cities, which I reviewed earlier this year. A well-deserved prize for a remarkable book. If you have not read it yet, this memoir, a love story between a 20-something woman and 20-something man with a terminal illness, is one of the best books I have reviewed this year, but make sure you buy some tissues before you get too deep into the story.

More reviews next week…for the next couple of reviews, I will be writing about debut memoirs.





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