Traveling Through Time and Around the Globe

The quote from Jean Batton, an early female aviator was the inspiration for Maggie Shipstead to write “Great Circle” about a female aviatrix who disappears in Antarctica in the last century and a modern day movie being made about her.

In 1914, Marian Graves and her twin brother, James, are among the last to be saved when the Josephina Eterna sinks in the North Atlantic. With their father in prison and their mother gone, the two babies are bundled off to live with their Uncle Wallace, an artist in Missoula, Montana. Wallace, preoccupied with his painting, lets the kids run wild, and while James is a sweet-natured child, Marian is a daredevil who revels in the freedom to do what she wants.

That helps explain her attraction to the lifestyle of barnstorming aviators and her decision at 14 to drop out of school to learn to fly.

Fast forward a century. Actress Hadley Baxter, whose Hollywood stardom is somewhat diminished, is starring in a movie about the disappearance of Marian Graves in Antarctica.

The story of these two women takes us back and forth from past to present and around the globe in Maggie Shipstead’s “Great Circle” (Vintage Books 2021; $24).

The disappearance of a woman aviator is familiar. After all, movies and articles are still being written about Amelia Earhart, whose plane vanished in the Pacific Ocean in 1937. But there are many other female pilots from the early and mid-1900s, though they’re exploits are mostly forgotten now. Writing “Great Circle” required Shipstead to research and travel to give the book its authenticity. She visited the Arctic five times and Antarctica twice.

Why so many times, I asked Shipstead.

“I’m drawn to those regions by some weird instinct,” she said. “I think a lot of people are. But I’ve also been lucky to keep getting opportunities to go. Polar travel has become a bit of my specialty, so I’ve been sent on assignment to Alaska, the New Zealand subantarctic, Antarctica, the Canadian high Arctic twice, Greenland twice. I did an artist residency on a ship in Svalbard. In a way, one thing kept leading to another, and I have no complaints.”

The inspiration for “Great Circle” came to her in New Zealand. She was between books and a story line for her next novel that she had thought looked promising, wasn’t. In the airport, she saw the statue of early aviator Jean Batton, its base inscribed with her quote “I was destined to be a wanderer.”

She knew she had her book.

Given how much she has traveled, I wondered if Shipstead was destined to be a wanderer.

“Destined is probably strong,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in travel, but my life could have taken lots of twists and turns that would have precluded traveling as much as I have. Really, this book turbocharged my traveling because, A, I was motivated to get to more and farther flung places in the name of research, and B, it took so long to write the book that I had the chance to start writing for travel magazines.”

I next asked if she ever considered becoming a pilot given her interest in the subject.

“Never,” was her response. “My brother used to fly C-130s in the Air Force and wanted to be a pilot from childhood, so that was always his territory.”

This article originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

Book Riot: Barnes and Noble Announces Their Best Books of 2022 So Far

Book Riot: Barnes & Noble Announces Their Best Books of 2022 So Far. https://bookriot.com/barnes-noble-best-books-of-2022-so-far/

The Top Ten Books So Far

Amazon

Amazon
Amazon
Amazon
Amazon
Amazon

Karen White’s New Orleans Spooky Tale: The Shop on Royal Street

With a step-mother who can’t help but hear and see ghosts no matter how many Alba songs she sings, no longer Nola Trenholm ends up buying a haunted home in New Orleans in Karen White’s latest book.

Author Karen White has added another page-turner to her repertoire of haunted houses and ghosts who won’t stay put in her latest book, “The Shop on Royal Street.”

White, who has written more 30 books, including the very successful haunted home Tradd Street Series, now has moved her spooky action from Charleston to New Orleans as we follow Nola Trenholm, who buys a Creole cottage that needs extensive work only to discover that some of the previous occupants are still living there — if living is the right term to apply to people who are dead.

But you can’t say Nola wasn’t warned. Her stepmother, who hears and sees ghosts like the rest of us see cars on the streets, tours the house with her before she signs the paperwork and suggests that it would be better to burn it down than then to move in.

As if that wasn’t enough of a warning, while they’re looking around there’s a sudden scream and an explosion of antique blue bottles — a seemingly spontaneous event with no possible explanation as to why it happened.

It turns out that the home was the scene of an unsolved murder, and to help her figure out what to do, Nola has to rely upon Beau Ryan, who can communicate with the spirits, something Nola unfortunately is unable to do. But Beau’s past is mysterious. His sister and parents disappeared during Hurricane Katrina and he is also connected to the murder that took place in Nola’s new home.

Nola has her own issues as well. A recent college graduate, like her parents she has addiction issues. Her father, Jack Trenholm, a best-selling novelist, has been able to overcome his demons, but her mother, a drug addict, didn’t.

White, who says she definitely believes in ghosts, has never seen one herself.

“And I’ve definitely put myself in places that are haunted,” she said.

Her grown son has and he is definitely not happy about it.

Is it hard to write about ghosts if you’ve never seen one, I ask White when we chat on the phone?

It turns out it is, since White never plans or plots her books, so what the characters say and do, whether they’re still alive or not, just flows as she writes.

Her human characters can be difficult and so can the spirits.

”I don’t use the ghosts to be scary, I use them as characters — it’s like having a neighbor,” she said. “I love how they tie in the past and the present and I love how they can be useful. Don’t we all wish we could ask for help from the other side?”

But, of course, she continues, ghosts can’t always express themselves any better than their human counterparts.

This article originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

The Book of Cold Cases

When she was nine, Shea Collins managed to outwit and escape a child predator, hiding as he searched for her before moving on to his next victim. Still traumatized two decades later, Shea keeps to herself, working as a medical receptionist during the day and at night holing up in her apartment, heating up single serve frozen lasagna in her microwave while researching unsolved true crimes for her blog, “The Book of Cold Cases.”

This self-imposed isolation is about to change when Shea recognizes Beth Greer in the doctor’s office one day. Decades ago, the beautiful, beguiling and rich Greer went to trial, accused of killing two men. She was found innocent, but like Shea, she has locked herself away from the world, albeit in a mansion in the wealthiest section of Lake Clare where she lived with her parents before their deaths.

Surprisingly, Greer agrees to let Shea interview her and invites her to the house. Located on a cliff overlooking the water, it should be a pleasant place, but instead, almost from the beginning, Shea can feel the odd vibes and happenings that are part of the home’s atmosphere. Looking out the window, she catches a glimpse of a young girl staring at the house. Who is she? And what about Greer? Is she a murderer? Or is she a woman somehow trapped in a supernatural nightmare?

Author Simone St. James went from scheduling and spreadsheets — mostly for live sports, making sure that camera crews showed up on time and that everyone got paid — to writing supernatural thrillers, including her latest, “The Book of Cold Cases.”

“I loved what I was doing, but as time went on I loved writing even more,” said St. James, who has written five novels, including bestseller “The Sun Down Motel.”

St. James says the cases in her book are entirely imaginary.

“But the germ of the idea came from the Zodiac case, in which a man killed random people in the San Francisco area in the late 60s and early 70s,” said St. James, noting that Stephen King was the first writer to influence her and that she read and re-read her copy of “Firestarter” so much that it fell apart.

“The killer in the Zodiac case was never caught,” St. James said. “And I wondered, what if you had a Zodiac-type case, but the suspect was a woman? It changes everything about the story — who the suspect is, why they do what they do, how it’s investigated, how it’s written about in the media. Literally everything about it is different. So I made up a fictional case and went down that rabbit hole because I thought it was interesting.”

Though her books have an eerie ambiance, St. James said she’s never encountered the supernatural herself.

“But I believe it’s possible. I think most things are possible,” she said. “In my books I’m more interested in the human side of the supernatural, if that makes sense. Why one person would refuse to leave, and how the remaining people react. Haunting stories are all about grief and fear and trauma and letting go or refusing to. Those themes are fascinating to me and I always go back to them.”

This story originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

2022 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Books and Drama

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winners.

It’s the 106th year honoring excellence in journalism and the arts. http://Pulitzer.org. #Pulitzer

Fiction

The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family, by Joshua Cohen (New York Review Books)

A mordant, linguistically deft historical novel about the ambiguities of the Jewish-American experience, presenting ideas and disputes as volatile as its tightly-wound plot.

Finalists

Monkey Boy, by Francisco Goldman (Grove Press)

Palmares, by Gayl Jones (Beacon Press)

Drama

Fat Ham, by James Ijames

A funny, poignant play that deftly transposes “Hamlet” to a family barbecue in the American South to grapple with questions of identity, kinship, responsibility, and honesty.

Finalists

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, by Kristina Wong

Selling Kabul, by Sylvia Khoury

History

Covered with Night, by Nicole Eustace (Liveright/Norton)

A gripping account of Indigenous justice in early America, and how the aftermath of a settler’s murder of a Native American man led to the oldest continuously recognized treaty in the United States.

Cuba: An American History, by Ada Ferrer (Scribner)

An original and compelling history, spanning five centuries, of the island that became an obsession for many presidents and policy makers, transforming how we think about the U.S. in Latin America, and Cuba in American society.

Finalists:

Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction, by Kate Masur (W. W. Norton & Company)

Biography

Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South, by the late Winfred Rembert as told to Erin I. Kelly (Bloomsbury)

A searing first-person illustrated account of an artist’s life during the 1950s and 1960s in an unreconstructed corner of the deep South–an account of abuse, endurance, imagination, and aesthetic transformation.

Finalists

Pessoa: A Biography, by Richard Zenith (Liveright/Norton)

The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine, by Janice P. Nimura (W. W. Norton & Company)

Poetry

frank: sonnets, by Diane Seuss (Graywolf Press)

A virtuosic collection that inventively expands the sonnet form to confront the messy contradictions of contemporary America, including the beauty and the difficulty of working-class life in the Rust Belt.

Finalists

Refractive Africa: Ballet of the Forgotten, by Will Alexander (New Directions)

Yellow Rain, by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press)

General Nonfiction

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, by Andrea Elliott (Random House)

An affecting, deeply reported account of a girl who comes of age during New York City’s homeless crisis–a portrait of resilience amid institutional failure that successfully merges literary narrative with policy analysis.

Finalists

Home, Land, Security: Deradicalization and the Journey Back from Extremism, by Carla Power (One World/Random House)

The Family Roe: An American Story, by Joshua Prager (W. W. Norton & Company)

Harlan Coben’s “Hold Tight” Now a Netflix Movie

From the Book Jacket

How well do you really know your child?

Tia and Mike Baye never imagined they’d spy on their kids. But their sixteen-year-old son Adam has been unusually distant lately, and after the suicide of his best friend Spencer Hill, they can’t help but worry. Within days of installing a sophisticated spy program on Adam’s computer they are jolted by a cryptic message from an unknown correspondent that shakes them to their core: “Just stay quiet and all safe.”

As if Mike Baye isn’t dealing with enough, he also learns that Lucas Loriman, the sweet kid who grew up next door, is in urgent need of a kidney transplant. As the boy’s doctor, Mike suddenly finds himself in possession of an explosive secret that threatens to rip the Loriman family apart at the seams.

Nearby, while browsing through an online memorial for Spencer, Betsy Hill discovers a surprising detail about the night of her son’s death. Before she can find out more, Adam disappears, taking the truth with him and sending shockwaves through the neighborhood.

As the lives of these families collide in tragic, unexpected, and violent ways, long-hidden connections in their small suburb begin to work their way to the surface. And when an unidentified Jane Doe is beaten to death not far away, those connections threaten to turn this quiet community upside down—and force these desperate parents to decide whether there is any line they won’t cross to protect those they love most in the world.

About Harlan Coben:

With over 75 million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben is the #1 New York Times author of thirty three novels including WINTHE BOY FROM THE WOODSRUN AWAYFOOL ME ONCETELL NO ONE and the renowned Myron Bolitar series. His books are published in 45 languages around the globe.

Harlan is the creator and executive producer of several Netflix television dramas including STAY CLOSE, THE STRANGER, SAFE, THE FIVE, THE INNOCENT and THE WOODS. Harlan was also showrunner and executive producer for two French TV mini-series, UNE CHANCE DE TROP (NO SECOND CHANCE) and JUST UN REGARD (JUST ONE LOOK). KEINE ZWEIT CHANCE, also based on Harlan’s novel, aired in Germany on Sat1.

Spooky and Scary: Beneath the Stairs

An abandoned octangular home hidden away from the main road, a mysterious door leading to a dark and haunted basement. What is beneath the stairs?

              A mysterious and abandoned octangular house, hidden in the woods, a mysterious disappearance, and tales of hauntings. A scary and spooky place indeed and one that attracts—no make that lures—Clare and Abby, two young friends, into taking a peek inside.

              Or rewind even further, into the memories of author Jennifer Fawcett, a playwright who worked with a theater company in Canada before moving to upstate New York to teach at Skidmore College. Fawcett, the author of the just released Beneath the Stairs, accepted a dare from a friend to participate in NaNoWriMo about a decade ago. Short for National Novel Writing Month, it’s a way for writers to jumpstart the process by setting a goal of completing a 50,000=page book within a month.

              Make that a decade for Fawcett. That’s how long it took her to complete Beneath the Stairs as there were plays to write, a baby that came along, a move to upstate New York,  and classes to teach. But what emerged was a story based upon her own experience when she was 13 of riding bikes with three friends to explore an old decrepit octangular home.

              “We didn’t stay inside for long,” says Fawcett, who has an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. “I remember it being very cold.”

              Decades later, that short visit and the feelings of cold and creepiness flowed into Fawcett’s story about the aftermath of Clare and Abby’s visits. Long estranged from her childhood friend,  Clare is living in Chicago when she receives a call that Abby is hospitalized after attempting to commit suicide in the basement of the octangular house. Clare, who has had a miscarriage and is seeing her relationship dissolve, reluctantly returns home. There are all sorts of  reasons why she wants to avoid the place where she grew up and one of them is Abby’s older handsome brother.

              Trying to understand what happened to Abby leads Clare back to the octangular house. As she remembers from all those years ago, there is an icy chill to the house and a feeling of unseen beings. Almost irresistibly, she’s drawn to the basement where the distilled evil of the house seems centered. The door to the basement is an animate object, opening on its own, and more frightening, occasionally locking in someone who has walked down the stairs into the basement.

              In the book, Fawcett added a widow’s walk to the top though there wasn’t one when she and her friends visited when they were 13. She recently found out that home originally had one. She also came to discover, after the book was published, that the names she used for characters were the actual names of people associated with the home. It was almost as if the house was channeling its history through Fawcett when she was writing. Spooky stuff indeed.

              Fawcett isn’t necessarily a believer in the supernatural but we both get a slight shiver when I ask her if she would  go into the house, which is located in Canada, now if she had the chance.

              “I can’t,” she says. “It burned down a few years ago. On Halloween.”

This book story previous ran in the Northwest Indiana Times.

This Might Hurt

         

          While her sister Nat is successfully climbing the corporate ladder in Boston, Kit has embraced life on a remote Maine island where she enjoys the structure imposed by the leaders of Wisewood. For most, Wisewood is a temporary respite from the world—a place for self-improvement and a total immersion into life totally off the grid as they work at maximizing themselves. One of the requirements for anyone staying  there is having no contact with friends and family for the length of their stay and not using their computers and cell phones. Not that they easily could. As Nat quickly discovers, cell service on the island is practically non-existent.

           None of this daunts Kit who is fully committed to Wisewood. Still reeling from the death of her mother, she’s excited when she is asked to join the staff even though it means undergoing a ritualistic—and painful—hazing. And she’s less than happy when Nat shows up to check on her.

           For her part, Natalie senses the hostility of the staff from the beginning when she shows up to take the boat to the island. It only gets worse when she arrives. The rooms have no curtains and she constantly feels as though she’s being watched, her cell phone disappears, and she sees her sister seemingly controlled by Wisewood’s leader, a woman known as the Teacher.

          In her first novel, the USA Today bestseller Darling Rose Gold author Stephanie Wrobel explored the relationship between a mother and the daughter that she had systematically made ill for the attention and praise it got her.

          “For this book I wanted to take a deeper look at cults and what makes them so appealing,” says Wrobel about her second novel, the aptly named This Might Hurt. “If you dive deep enough, you find the shades, it’s not all black and white. I think the major commonality when it comes to cults is that people are searching.”

          Told from three different points of view—Kit, Nat, and an unidentified woman who was psychologically and physically abused by a demanding sadistic father—Wrobel, who is from Chicago but is now living in England, shows us how each character developed and what led them to the island. And, what, ultimately happens to all three when the time comes to make choices.

These Toxic Things

          Michaela Lambert has a career I’ve never heard of and indeed doesn’t quite exist yet (but someone should start doing it) as a digital archaeologist for a new start-up run by her boyfriend. No make that ex-boyfriend. Well, like everything in Rachel Howzell Hall’s These Toxic Things, a wonderfully intricate mystery about the secrets that we keep and those that others keep from us, the relationship is complicated.

          But Mickie, as she’s nicknamed, loves her job. She’s a thoroughly modern woman but she loves the curios of the past. For Memory Bank she catalogues items that her clients deem most valuable in highlighting important aspects of their life. Unfortunately, Nadia Denham, her new client and owner of Beautiful Things Curiosities Shoppe, a fascinating store in a somewhat seedy strip mall, is found dead. Denham has a plastic bag over her head and left a suicide note but the death looks suspicious none the less. And there is of course, the shark-like developer who wants to buy the land and bulldoze it for his own upscale development.

          Since the dead woman already purchased the Mega-Memory Package, Mickie decides to go ahead and create the memory book and suddenly finds herself in a sinister, shadowy world. In ways, Mickie is sheltered, she lives in a tree-lined Los Angeles neighborhood behind the pretty home owned by her loving parents. Her uncle, a LAPD cop is equally protective and dedicated to her well-being. She graduated from USC, over-borrows her mother’s expensive and beautiful clothes and the two giggle over her stories of boyfriends while chowing down tacos. And yet even in this cocooned bubble, there are secrets as well.

          Once entering the world of Denham’s beautiful things, she makes good friends at the nearby diner but she’s also suddenly receiving threatening notes and feels as those someone who knows where she lives.

          Hall, a self-described control freak and thoroughly plots out her numerous novels (she has one already written coming out next summer and another next year), draws upon her own life and experiences, the stories she hears from friends and co-workers, and what she reads including newspapers, blogs, and social media.

.         She and her college bound daughter share clothes, munch on popcorn while gossipping, and she has some secrets she will in the future share with her—though none, I’m sure, are as stunning as the one Mickie will discover about her family.

          “Writers are like magpies—we grab shiny things and take them with us,” Hall says and of course that’s true, everything is material for writers. Hall is able to keep track of her complex novels because she is all about organization and has a daily to-do list.

          “If I do something that’s not on the list, I add it later so I can cross it off,” she says. “We all have our rituals.”

          These Toxic Things is one of an emerging mystery subgenre—that of feisty, independent, and intelligent Black woman who while bravely finding her way in the world also has her vulnerabilities.

          “It’s a great awakening of Black female mystery writers, who burst out about three years ago,” says Hall.

          It’s a very welcome one as well.

CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads

CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads. https://crimereads.com/10-new-books-coming-out-this-week-february-21-2022/

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