CSP team note: We are SO proud of our very own Smarty Kimmery – she is on her way to becoming a PUBLISHED AUTHOR. Yep, her novel, The Queen of Hearts, is scheduled for an early 2018 release from Penguin Random House. She also has her own website kimmerymartin.com, where she posts book reviews and author interviews. Make sure to subscribe to her newsletter to get all the latest (subscribe at the bottom of her web site). The reviews in this post of her fave books of the past year are also on her web site, and we thank her for allowing us to share it here. Kimmery – we couldn’t be prouder of you! Can’t wait to read The Queen of Hearts!
Now that we are well into 2017, it’s time to reflect back on the previous year. It was the best of years and the worst of years. For me personally, my crazy dream is one step closer to reality— I signed with a fabulous literary agent and sold my novel to the world’s biggest publisher in 2016. But someone I love died unexpectedly, the world still seethes in a stew of self-inflicted turmoil, and of course, there was the election process, which did not always showcase democracy at its finest. IMHO.
Which brings me to the bewitching thing about reading: it allows you to escape. You can visit any kind of world you choose. Looking back over my reviews this year, I was busy: I became a tech genius, a gay Manhattan writer, a guilded-era artist, a victim of quantum physics, a political hack, a twin at Auschwitz, an ex-Army black-unit Veteran, an escaped slave, and a damsel in distress, among others. I was also a scientist and Winston Churchill. That’s how I roll. Soooo….. here are some of my favorites from 2016, a year of much drama and fuss, but also a year of many excellent books.
An enslaved woman makes her harrowing way through a literal underground railroad in this elegant, poetic, thought-provoking novel. This is a novel that will change the way you think. Full review HERE. Read More →
CSP team note: This giveaway is held through Smarty Kimmery’s Web site http://www.kimmerymartin.com, where she posts book reviews and author interviews. Make sure to subscribe to her newsletter to get all the latest (subscribe at the bottom of her web site). Thanks, Kimmery, for sharing the giveaway with CSP readers!
You gotta love our civil, logical political system. Wait, no! I have that exactly backwards. But here’s an unanticipated benefit to our national dysfunction: it provides for some interesting behind-the-scenes reading. Exhibit A: Jennifer Close’s fresh, smart, realistic portrayal of two young Washington couples is a must read for West Wing junkies. In the aftermath of Obama’s first campaign, newlywed Beth is reluctantly uprooted to D.C., where her husband lands an administration job. But when Beth and Matt meet a charismatic Texan couple with intense political aspirations, everything is suddenly at risk: their marriage, their careers, their friendships.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Close about her book, one of the buzziest new novels of the summer. If you’d like a FREE copy from the publisher, Penguin Random House, please visit www.kimmerymartin.com and leave a comment at the bottom of the review of The Hopefuls. Three winners will be chosen on July 30th.
KM—Like your protagonist, you moved from New York City to Washington, D.C. resulting in an unsought exposure to the world of politics. How did your characters emerge in your imagination, and was there any concern that your acquaintances might attribute them to real people? Have you had any feedback from politicians?
JC—When my first book—Girls in White Dresses— came out, everyone assumed (as they often do about debut novelists) that it was based on me. And like most debut novelists, I had to reassure everyone: it’s fiction, it’s fiction. Because the beginning of this novel mirrored my own experience —the switch from New York to D.C., the proximity to a political campaign—I knew the same questions would come up, but the temptation to write this story was too great to ignore. I thought people would find the intricacies and backstories of D.C. to be interesting, and there’s an inherent drama in political campaigns that was too good to pass up. The novel is inspired by my move to DC, but completely fictionalized. I haven’t yet run across anyone who thinks it was about them. Read More →
CSP team note: We are SO proud of our very own Smarty Kimmery – she is on her way to becoming a PUBLISHED AUTHOR. Yep, her novel, Trauma Queen, is scheduled for an early 2018 release from Penguin Random House. She’s also started her very own web site, http://www.kimmerymartin.com, where she posts book reviews and author interviews. Make sure to subscribe to her newsletter to get all the latest (subscribe at the bottom of her web site). The reviews in this post of yet-to-be-released books are also on her web site, and we thank her for allowing us to share it here. Kimmery – we couldn’t be prouder of you! Can’t wait to read Trauma Queen!
I won the dork lottery this year: my beloved local library system asked me to accompany them to this May’s BEA conference, held in Chicago. In case you aren’t familiar with it, BEA stands for BookExpo America, and it defines itself as the leading book and author event for the North American publishing industry. This is where you go to mingle with rock star authors, listen to the country’s best editors rhapsodize about their selections for upcoming bestsellers, and load up your suitcase with as many free ARCs (advance reader copies) of pre-release books as you can tote. (In my case, I overestimated my ability to tote them and had to borrow a warehouse cart to wheel down the street to a FedEx.) The conference takes place in a giant convention center festooned with two-story mock-ups of book covers dangling from the ceiling. Heaven.
As a reader, I loved it. As a writer, I developed a giant inferiority complex, because most of the authors who spoke were mesmerizing and self-assured to the point of seeming superhuman. I mean, didn’t we become writers in order to AVOID people? Where were the elbow-patched blazers, the spectacles, the shy, stammering nerds? These people all sounded like a cross between Stephen Colbert and Stephen Hawking. Also, many of them were quite beautiful too. I think I found my tribe.
Anyway, I loaded up with dozens of ARCs, and while I haven’t read them all yet, I started with the ones I think will be the hottest books of the year. Stay tuned next month for another list of great summer reads, and an interview with Kim Wright, author of acclaimed new release Last Ride to Graceland. Read More →
Anyone want to take a guess as to the approximate time period of the Golden Age of pirates? If you guessed 1650–1720 then you’re obviously a huge nerd, but congratulations. You’re right.
We’ve all seen Pirate of the Caribbean, so we have a vivid mental image when it comes to what a pirate should look like: swarthy, with beaded hair and Keith Richards-style eyeliner. And we know how they spent their days, too: commandeering ships in order to effect dashing rescues of waifish maidens, while accumulating treasure, intrigue, and enemies along the way.
This is the point in a scholarly review where we’d normally make fun of Hollywood and its insistence on portraying all historical characters as stylish and smoking hot, but here’s the thing. Those hair beads were real. (No word on the eyeliner, alas.) That we know as much as we do about how pirates looked and lived is a testament to the indomitable obsession of men like John Chatterton and John Mattera, the heroes of Robert Kurson’s fascinating nonfiction narrative, Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship. Well, I say nonfiction, but the book relays such a mesmerizing story and is written in such engaging prose that for quite a while, I actually thought it was fiction.
It turns out that, while exploring any shipwreck is phenomenally difficult, exploring a bona fide pirate ship adds a whole layer of impossibility to the task. This is because no one can find sunken pirate ships. In the history of diving, only one prior such ship has been definitively located: the Whydah, sailed by pirate captain “Black Sam” Bellamy, off the coast of Cape Cod. But we all know that ground zero for sunken pirate ships is the Caribbean, where a pirate infestation in the 17th century turned port cities into debauched desperado playgrounds. Pirates swarmed the seas, plundering ships and spending their ill-gotten gains in all kinds of unsavory ways, which I’ll leave to your imagination. They weren’t big savers, to say the least: these were men who lived every day as if it were their last. And it often was. Swinging from a rope was the gentlest end these guys could expect if the English caught them, but even that paled in comparison to the deaths the pirates occasionally inflicted on their victims. The descriptions of these tortures are so gruesome, I nearly vomited on my shoes while reading the book. We aren’t talking about a nice little walk off the plank here. (Men: must we idolize murderous villains all the time? Apparently, yes, we must.) No matter how you and I die, it’s going to be better than getting taken out by a pissed-off 17th century buccaneer, I promise you. Read More →
I’ll See You In Paris, by Michelle Gable, is entrancing historical fiction, blending star-crossed romance with a startling account of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating women. Fair warning: it takes quite awhile before anyone actually gets to Paris: most of the novel is set in a quaint village in the English countryside, alternating between the 1970s and the present day as it relays the (mostly) true story of the roguish Duchess of Marlborough, Gladys Deacon.
The duchess’s quirky, colorful life is processed through the eyes of two young American women living in different decades: Pru, who finds herself directionless after the death of her fiancé in the Vietnam war; and Annie, whose fiancé has just been sent to fight in Afghanistan in the tumultuous post-911 days of the early 21st-century. Pru, grieving and adrift, accepts employment as the caretaker of an elderly, reclusive English woman named Mrs. Spencer—who many people suspect to be the Duchess of Marlborough—in the village of Banbury. Many years later Annie journeys with her mother to the same village, and is captivated by a forgotten old biography describing the outrageous exploits of the duchess. At the village pub, she acquires a new friend named Gus, who knew both the remarkable writer of the book and its equally remarkable backstory; he helps her fill in the missing pieces regarding both the fate of the rambunctious duchess and the surprising connection between Pru and Annie herself. Read More →
This week’s book is Flight of Dreams, a historical thriller by the delightful Ariel Lawhon, who was kind enough to answer questions for me, below. The book goes on sale February 23rd, and I have a feeling it will be huge.
Three minutes. This is when the screams really begin to bother him. Screams from within the ship. He can hear the terror and fear and pain of men caught in the flames. But there is something worse about the screams coming from every direction across the field. The spectators can do nothing but watch in horror as their friends and love ones are consumed within the Hindenburg. They are watching people die. And they will live to remember it.
In the course of human history, there are some events that so completely worm their way into the human psyche we are still captivated by them many lifetimes later. The crash of the Hindenburg on May 6th, 1937 is one such occurrence, even though as historical disasters go, the carnage was relatively limited. 36 people lost their lives, including one on the ground, as the massive German Zeppelin caught fire and spectacularly crashed to the ground at the very end of its transatlantic journey.
But nearly eighty years later, we’ve all heard of the Hindenburg. Why? One of the reasons is it was one of the first major catastrophes to be publicly broadcast. You can watch newsreel coverage at this link, if you want to see it. It’s almost unbelievable that anyone survived it, given the extreme speed with which it morphed from a luxurious floating airship into the world’s most horrifying fireball. The massive explosion also became famous because of the myriad of theories proposed to explain what could have gone wrong: sabotage, incendiary paint, lightning, a suicidal nut firing a Luger pistol onboard, etc.
Ariel Lawhon’s Flight of Dreams is a compelling mash-up of historical fiction and suspense, told from the POV of various passengers and crewmen on the doomed flight. There’s Emilie Imhoff, a fetching, friendly air hostess, who radiates competence even as she hides a dangerous secret. She’s also busy dodging the affections of the ship’s navigator, a handsome, mercurial man named Max Zabel, who is determined to rescue her from the peril she faces in Germany. Then there’s a mysterious American, a pair of relentless German journalists, and a befuddled but indefatigable cabin boy called Werner Franz. Together with all the other souls on board, they bring a human face to the ill-fated voyage, providing a voyeuristic glimpse into the mysteries still surrounding the last 3 1/2 days of the zeppelin. Read More →
I have never liked short stories. I gravitate toward novels, for their character depth and their elaborate plots, and can’t recall a single time I’ve voluntarily spent money on a volume of short stories.
That changes right now, with American Housewife. (Well, to be fair, I did receive a free ARC of the book prior to its January 12th release, but I plan to buy some more copies as gifts for my naughtier bookish friends.) It’s that good.
Normally I’d advise against this, but it’s fine to judge American Housewife by its cover, which features a square-jawed, full-lipped, pink-haired beauty clad in orange terry-cloth panties and black-framed nerd glasses sitting on the potty filing her nails and curling her hair. Right on! That’s exactly what I do every day once my husbands treks off to work. They left out the bonbons, but you get the gist. Then once you get past that, you plunge into a little essay called, appropriately, What I Do All Day, followed by the first of the stories, The Wainscoting War. Read More →
In a shameless display of nepotism, this week’s Smarty Mom is a member of my beloved writing group. She’s one of the most engaging people I know, producing witty and hilarious columns, blogs, and even books the way other people produce carbon dioxide. If that’s not enough, she’s raising two boys apparently without aging at all. Please meet…Tracy Curtis.
Dating: Andrew Plepler
Children: Colton (13) and Fletcher (9)
Years in Charlotte: 15
Originally from: Greensboro, NC
Alma Mater: University of Georgia
Tell me about your pre-Charlotte past.
After graduating from UGA, I spent 15 years working in radio, television and film, which included producing for CNN, Field-Producing for Entertainment Tonight, working on movie sets in LA and managing radio stations in Charleston.
Any celebrity dishing you can share?
Well – Melanie Griffith can drop an F-bomb between syllables; Tom Hanks is the nicest person in Hollywood and prefers to eat with the crew; Rosie O’Donnell will never eat Wendy’s again after being food poisoned on the set of Now and Then; John Cleese really is that brilliant; and Kyle Chandler is a good kisser (summer stock in the 80’s – but he kissed all the girls, he was the only heterosexual in the cast). Read More →
I got my Christmas present early this year: an advance copy of Tracy Curtis’s Holidazed: Wrapping Your Brain Around Christmas. It’s a collection of 30 holiday essays by the Charlotte Observer Humor Columnist, and it will be for sale locally at Park Road Books. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for a good girlfriend gift.
Christmas. It conjures up wholesome, happy images, doesn’t it? Pink-cheeked tots jumping in delight in front of a beautifully tinseled tree; a picturesque colonial home, adrift in snow and festooned with lights; a fat man in red, munching homemade cookies and distributing cheer. Families and food and alcohol. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, nothing, if you’re me. My holidays are perfect. But it dawns on me as I chortle my way through Holidazed that maybe not all festive dazzle goes as planned. In a series of pithy, hilarious and often poignant essays, Curtis shines a light on the frantic weeks between late November and New Year’s Day. Facebook Killed The Christmas Card. Yep, that’s true. We see everyone’s gorgeous, perfectly dressed families within two seconds of anyone having a professional photo shoot these days; you don’t have to wait for the holidays. But hold on a sec…Video Killed The Facebook Card. This essay is about that irritatingly telegenic family from Raleigh who put out a video of themselves rapping in their cute coordinating jammies. Curtis’s clean sentences and dry wit perfectly capture the emotions of the rest of us when we realize the ante has been upped to the point of expertly choreographed dance moves on our “Christmas Card.” I’m nodding like a bobblehead doll as I read her words. Whoville or Bust…anyone who’s ever tried to lug a child and all 35,000 pounds of their travel gear through an airport can relate to this one. And best of all, there are two elf-bashing essays: Suffering From Low Elf-Esteem and Regaining My Elf-Control (you know you hate moving those stupid things, admit it.) Read More →
A few weeks ago, I spoke with award-winning author Dolen Perkins-Valdez, whose second novel, Balm, is a lovely, lyrical work set in Chicago just after the close of the Civil War. The novel examines age-old issues of race and class, following the stories of three people trying to reconstruct their shattered post-war lives in the midst of a similarly shattered nation: Madge, a freeborn Tennessean; Sadie, a newly widowed white woman from Pennsylvania; and Hemp, a formerly enslaved man whose wife Annie has been missing since she was torn away from him in Kentucky. All of them are transplanted to Chicago during a time of tremendous national turmoil, each with his or her own personal (and metaphorical) struggle for peace.
And each of them has a gift. Madge, who was raised by a mother and two aunts who were powerful healers, is herself a gifted healer, making use of natural remedies to ease the suffering of others even as she struggles with her own miseries after a familial rejection. Hemp is a kind man seeking a righteous path. But it is Sadie’s gift that is the strangest: she can commune with the dead. Their three lives become intertwined, as Sadie hires Madge to assist in her odd household, and Madge and Hemp meet and are drawn to one another. Read More →