On The Plain Of Snakes by Paul Theroux

On The Plain of Snakes

Along comes Paul Theroux with  a heart-pounding epic journey along the border between Mexico and U.S. It’s not a novel. It’s a tell-all travel documentary written in Theroux’s signature voice. I got so involved that I whipped out a big atlas of Mexico and the border and began to voraciously follow along….sharpie in hand.

Map Mexico-U.S. Border

This book could not be more timely. Surely, I can’t be the only person who’s been wondering about the border, lately. My mind  has pictured areas of crossing both legal and illegal. Immigrants so desperate they are swimming across the Rio Grande sometimes hanging onto the back of another.   Yes, this actually happens daily. And I have spoken to a woman who did just this.

As Theroux drives his personal car across the harsh desert and dangerous roads of Mexico ( and they’re all dangerous) we begin to understand the  potential for disaster around every curve. At one point he was told if  he had chosen to drive a truck it would most certainly have  been stolen. He’s stopped by corrupt government police and officials on every leg of his journey.  Each one extracts  payment for some ridiculous infringement they have cooked up. Non payment is not an option here.  One incident comes to mind where he  encounters a policeman on a motorcycle as he reaches Mexico City.  The policeman  pulled up next to his car and indicated with the fat finger of a leather-gloved hand that he must follow him.  He was lead through heavy traffic  and down a side road, then through a series of slummy streets and finally to the end of a dead-end street.  The policeman approached his car shouting at the top of his voice.  Theroux indicated that his Spanish was poor and asked that the cop speak slowly.  More shouting. The policeman wants to see the papers for the car saying he can take it. It’s illegal to drive this car in Mexico. On and on. Theroux tries to explain that he has the proper permits etc.  By now Theroux is actually afraid. And rightly so. And he writes: ” I have written elsewhere about how I have been frightened in travel, nearly always by someone with a gun–a boy in Malawi, a shifta bandit in the north Kenya desert, and three boys with rusty spears had accosted me in a logoon in the Trocriand Islands, threatening to stab me to death.” Finally, he asked the policeman ,”What do you want?” and that became the game-changer. Money, of course.  Not long after this first encounter, Theroux was again accosted by police for driving down a one-way street. Money was again extracted for the offense. And on and on again and again throughout the  entire adventure. This is a corrupt country.

Theroux gives you a birds-eye view of all that’s hellacious about this often gorgeous but harsh land.  When he teaches a writing class in Mexico City he introduces us to the delicious and unique foods specific to this area.  I enjoyed meeting the intelligent writers in his class. As he walks the streets and uses public transport you feel as if you’re there traveling with him and making new friends as you learn more about the culture and the quirks.

Theroux travels by bus, car, and plane, through the wild wild west of Mexico. Has it always been this way?  Is it more dangerous now than twenty years ago? He even goes so far as to  post about the new four-tier advisory system for travelers to the country.

  • Level 1, Exercise Normal Precautions ( much of Mexico )
  • Level 2, Exercise Increased Caution ( Cancun, Cozumel, Mexico City)
  • Level 3, Reconsider Travel ( Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco )
  • Level 4, DO NOT TRAVEL, ( Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Taxco )

Theroux goes on to say he knew nothing about this new travel alert until after he returned from his trip. He had been warned repeatedly  to avoid driving in Guerrero state and not to visit Acapulco, warnings he heeded.

Paul Theroux

Reading through these above warnings is daunting. Some of you may remember that I’ve been writing about an upcoming novel called, AMERICAN DIRT, by Jeanine Cummins. It begins in that fine Mexican city of Acapulco. Yes, stay away, my friends!!

I will be talking about ON THE PLAIN OF SNAKES all season long and far into the future.  Get out your atlas and get ready for a wild ride that you will never forget. You need this book.

My review copy was provided by the generous publishing people at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review.  Absolutely on the top of my list this year!!! Loved it.

The New Girl by Daniel Silva

The New Girl

I’m always excited about a new Daniel Silva novel. They come like clockwork each summer.  They are  all wonderful and so special. Having said that, I have to say that this new one, THE NEW GIRL, is absolutely brilliant; a masterpiece!

First of all I must comment on the stunning cover art. Kudos to those involved in producing it! It tells quite a story on its own.

The foreword of this novel is not to be missed! Please make sure to read it before you begin the book. Silva states that last August 2018, he began work on a novel about a crusading young Arab prince who wanted to modernize his religiously intolerant country and bring sweeping change to the Middle East and the broader Islamic world. He set aside that manuscript two months later when the model for that character, Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, was implicated in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for Washington Post.   Reading this foreword made the hair stand straight up on my arms. 

THE NEW GIRL begins in Geneva at an elite private school.  Who is the new girl? She arrives at school shrouded in mystery, via a motorcade fit for a king.  She is thought to be the daughter of a wealthy businessman. However, we quickly discover she’s the only child of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Khalid bin Mohammed. Oh boy, you can feel the trouble brewing.   When the prince’s daughter is kidnapped he goes to the only person he feels can help help him: Gabriel Allon.  And it begins….

Moving from Switzerland to France to Saudi Arabia to Tel Aviv to London to The Netherlands ,THE NEW GIRL, moves swiftly and often. In brief to-the-point chapters that have you sitting on the edge of your seat, Silva takes you on the ride of a lifetime. I usually have some idea of the outcome; not this time. Shocking.

We are dealing with news that everyone has been exposed to in this heart-thumping spy thriller.  That makes it even  more intriguing and intense.  In fact, there were times as I read this story when I wondered if Silva ever feared for his safety. Really. Yes, I know this is written for entertainment. But it’s so realistic. So very spot-on realistic.

author

Daniel Silva

Silva’s brought back some of our favorite characters: Sarah Bancroft is back; Christopher Keller is here; Ari Shamron, and of course Chiara and the twins. I feel like I’ve been visiting my old friends.

I have long been intrigued by Saudi Arabia. It’s an eerily mysterious country to me. Everything about it is misted over with a little something. Silva has managed to uncover some of the ambiguity surrounding the perimeter.  The light that’s shone on this country is not necessarily a good one…. but it is what it is.

I devoured THE NEW GIRL in record time. In fact, I may reread it again soon. Yes, it’s that good. My review copy arrived from the generous publishing people at Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review and a promise that I would NOT post before pub date on July 16. I absolutely believe this is Silva’s masterpiece; best yet!!!

We have copies of THE NEW GIRL on  sale at 20% off at Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida. We’d love to see you there.

https://video.foxnews.com/v/6059719091001/?fbclid=IwAR15IHk8jsgvNv0g7tiMj-BADdgYER9rD6v7w3zTCbvT6J8jIL4otzE12wo#sp=show-clips

 

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys

New, from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner of THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, comes THE NICKEL BOYS, a novel based on the hellish Dozier School for Boys in Florida. This now notorious and horrific institution was a total moral failure in its time.  And I just discovered it only closed in 2011! Whitehead uses the heartbreaking story of two young boys to bring us  this tale of Jim Crow-era Florida.

Be prepared to be shocked. Because you will be. Be prepared to be moved to tears. You will be that too. Most of all, be prepared to remember Elwood and Turner forever.

In a letter written by Colson Whitehead that arrived with my review copy of THE NICKEL BOYS, Whitehead goes on to say that he first came upon a news report about the Dozier School for Boys in the summer of 2014. It was in the midst of the Ferguson protests. It was a story he had not heard before , and it was worth telling. I’m so glad he has done just that.

Colson Whitehead

Elwood is a black teen eagerly looking forward to attending the local colored college.  He never makes it through the gates. Where he does make it is to the Nickel Academy. There he meets and befriends Turner. Neither boy should be there.

” In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.”

I devoured this book. It’s small coming in at just over 200 slight pages. What it lacks in length it gains exponentially from  everything else! It is a devastating piece of literature.

“Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, THE NICKEL BOYS is a heartbreaking, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers!!!”

This book is going to be on every list this year and into next. Whitehead has done it again!  After THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD I could not help but wonder what his next offering would be.  Well, here it is.  And, I hear he’s deep into writing his next novel. Takes place in Harlem in the 60’s.

My review copy came to Copperfish Books from Doubleday Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House. We will have copies of THE NICKEL BOYS for sale beginning tomorrow and they will be discounted at 20% off. We’d love to see you!

This Is American Dirt! Only A Sneak Peek.

American Dirt

I am calling this post a sneak peek for a good reason. AMERICAN DIRT is a novel that will not be available until January 2020. I know, how frustrating for you….

I read a manuscript of AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine

Jeanine Cummins
Credit Joe Kennedy

Cummins in January of this year. Yes, that long ago. I got lucky. Really lucky. Amy Einhorn, who is Flatiron Books, asked if I would read it. Yes, she actually did. I accepted it and put everything else aside even though this book was a year from printing. But it was Amy’s passion for this book that spurred me on. OMG! And now I am adding my passion to the mix.

I’m not writing a review at this point. I’m just gonna whet your appetites. The word is getting out, you see. Jeanine Cummins was recently signing copies of AMERICAN DIRT at Book Expo in NYC.  Our own Cathy Graham was seen at a cocktail party with Jeanine this past week.

Cathy Graham with Jeanine Cummins Book Expo 2019

This photo warms my heart to no end. Jeanine Cummins is poised for BIG stuff. I am predicting that AMERICAN DIRT is going to be HUGE.  The book is like a runaway train.  You can’t catch your breath. You can’t take your eyes from the pages. You can’t  control the beating of your own heart.

When I tell readers that the book is about a  woman who lives in Acapulco, Mexico and owns a bookstore, they smile. They like this. Then I mention her husband is a journalist. They have a young son. More smiling and now intrigue. Then I press the panic button and explain that these middle class people just living their safe lives are about to have everything blown to high heavens.

This novel is so timely. The beginning of this literary thriller is harrowing. And then Lydia and her son are forced into being migrants on the run. Forced to ride la bestia as their once normal lives are left behind them and they are running for their lives.

This AMAZING novel hits the nail on the head. It poses the question; what if this were you? What would you do?

I don’t even know how I took a breath while experiencing this novel. What I did know is that I wanted to talk about it with someone. So I had my husband read it next. Same reaction.

Book Expo 2019

AMERICAN DIRT is for everyone. No matter your political persuasion, your religious beliefs, your class, your ethnicity, or your sex. This magnificent novel is for you!!!

Stephen King is saying “an extraordinary piece of work.” Don Winslow is saying ” A GRAPES OF WRATH for our times.”

Goodreads is saying; ” AMERICAN DIRT will leave readers utterly changed. It is a page-turner; it is a literary achievement; it is filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for all times.” 

Now you can see why I feel so compelled to get the word out about AMERICAN DIRT and Jeanine Cummins. A force is coming. By the time this novel arrives in your hands it will already have become a phenomena. I promise you this. And I was one of the first to know. Cheers! And many thanks to Amy Einhorn for this opportunity.

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Sarah Blake

The Guest Book

Along comes a family saga of epic proportions, where emotions run wild, money speaks out loud, racism pushes to the forefront, and power is king. THE GUEST BOOK is an ambitious second novel by Sarah Blake who is the author of THE POSTMISTRESS.

It’s May, 1935. Kitty Milton is in the prime of her life.  She, quite simply, has everything any young woman could possibly desire.  She’s got wealth, a handsome and accomplished husband she loves, three healthy children,  and a bright future… What more could she want? But, as we know, everything can change in the blink of an eye.

When tragedy comes to live in the heart of Kitty Milton and her family, her husband Ogden is challenged to find a way to help bring Kitty back from the edge. So he buys her an island off the coast of Maine. Just a small one… This island becomes a main character in this novel. And I fell in love with it.

Sarah Blake

I love big family sagas. There is a lot of meat in this one.  So many secrets are buried just beneath  the surface. Blake does such a super job of keeping them just under wrap. Then easing them out so slowly, allowing us to percolate and speculate.  Sarah Blake was a good writer with POSTMISTRESS. She is a great author now with THE GUEST BOOK.  I so enjoyed the actual reading of this story. I found myself pausing, lying the book down,  allowing the reading to soak in. This is not a novel to “blow” through. This is one to savor.

Themes abound here. The Milton family is filthy rich and own much of the power in this country at the time.  On the surface their business practices seem above board. But are they? When a young Jewish man enters the picture in 1959 and begins working for the Miltons, he may be onto something. Something that is quite troublesome.  And then he falls for Joan, the daughter.  Do you think the Milton’s would ever admit a Jewish man inside their family?  Their business, sure. But, family?

The scenes on the island were entrancing.  Blake has an uncanny ability to draw you into her world.   Life on the island is slow.  This is the place where the Milton’s can be alone, or they can choose to be surrounded by friends and family. They all have a stake in this amazing part of their lives. The children grow up not ever knowing life without this haven that has become their oasis.

As the children become adults, marry and bring spouses and grandchildren to the island,  the family dynamic begins to change. The world is changing. Politics are changing, secrets are emerging, lives are lost, and just maybe the Island is losing its power. It’s certainly an expensive part of this family to sustain. In fact, too darn expensive. The new generation finds that the family money  that has been put in trust for this vacation spot has been all but stripped. And thus begins a big bone of contention amongst the family. To keep or not to keep?

Throughout all this is the memory of a young black man named Reg Pauling who came to visit the island one weekend years ago. He and his friend Len Levy were invited by a family member.  This visit completely changed the future of the family and the story. How can we ever be certain who we truly are?

Me showing off my review copy of THE GUEST BOOK at a Worthington Country Club this year.

I am proud to take this fine novel to my book lectures this season. It’s a real tour de force! My review copy was picked up at SIBA and  furnished by Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review. I am such a lucky reader! Yes, I loved it!  We put it high on the summer reading list for Critic’s Choice  in Naples. Psst! A big surprise is coming to Naples this coming season. Stay tuned.

THE GUEST BOOK by Sarah Blake will be available to purchase on Tuesday, May 7.

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

We will have them at Copperfish and they’ll be discounted 20%. We can’t  wait to see you and show off this amazing book. Come on up!

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man

Etaf Rum is a brave new voice to watch.  An Arab- American voice.  A WOMAN IS NO MAN is her first novel.  And it’s going to be a block-buster.  Not since THE KITE RUNNER have I read a novel that delves into the hidden lives of a culture. And this time we find horrific things are happening right here in  this country. In plain sight? Well, no. But close enough.

A WOMAN IS NO MAN tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn.

Isra is a seventeen-year-old Palestinian girl living with her parents in Birzeit, Palestine,  who is married off to a young Palestinian man named Adam who takes her to America to live the dream.  But it’s really a nightmare.

Adam’s mother is Fareeda. She’s been living in Brooklyn for years after emigrating from  Palestine with her husband and children. She’s determined that Isra give Adam a son. No matter what.

Deya is Isra’s eldest daughter. Her story is so compelling I found myself  being held hostage to the page. I could not turn away. I  HAD to know what had happened.

There is a page in the very front of the book that is written by the author.  You can feel the fear as you read. Etaf Rum was scared for her life as she began writing this novel. Once you’ve read the book you will totally understand why. I am still reeling from this  heartfelt and terrifying story. Even though I know this story is fiction, I know of where it comes.  The very first  two sentences are: “When I started writing A WOMAN IS NO MAN, I was constantly swallowed by fear. Telling this story meant challenging many long-held beliefs  in my community and violating our code of silence.”

This has been the year of the woman. Woman are getting their voices.  I get this. But this voice is especially strong and meant to be heard. An Arab-American voice is needed in the bookstore. And here it is.

We have copies of this amazing new novel at Copperfish. They will go quickly. Come on into the store to pick up your copy and get 20% off.

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

My review copy of A WOMAN IS NO MAN arrived from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review. I LOVED it!

The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan

Donia Bigan

The Last Days of Cafe Leila (paperback)

“The Last Days of Cafe Leila,” by Donia Bijan, is a wonderfully refreshing and delicious novel about growing up in Iran before and after the revolution. It’s about families, heritage, the angst of being young and being old. It’s written with a great deal of love  and a keen attention to detail; a delicate, dangerous balance of history and progress.

Noor was a teen when she was  sent from her home in Iran to America by her father. As it broke his heart, Zod knew he must send both his son and daughter to safety far away. It was becoming too dangerous in Tehran in the 1970’s during the Islamic takeover of Iran. People were being killed needlessly while others just disappeared. No place to raise children.

We find Noor growing up alone in California and becoming a nurse.  Then meeting a man who is perfect. And they marry and have one daughter, Lily.  But when Noor discovers that her husband has been unfaithful she takes Lily to Tehran to visit  her father,  Lily’s grandfather. Lily is a very rebellious teenager herself by now and does NOT want to go.  The country has changed so much in the 30 years since Noor has visited.  But the cafe has remained the same. And her father is still the mainstay of the neighborhood, cooking for everyone and making an oasis for all.  But what Noor soon finds out is that Zod is not well.  And that changes the dynamic of the visit exponentially.

Bijan takes us back and forth in time handing us snippets of the past. We discover how Zod’s parents emigrated from Russian during that revolution. How they built the cafe and how Zod  married his wife and made the cafe what it is today. We find out what really happened to Noor’s mother and why Zod really sent the two children away.

Everyone has heard of the atrocities in Iran. We all know it’s not a safe place to live, or even visit. I’ve seen movies about this. But this wonderful novel picks the bones of the Iranian people. People ,who through no fault of their own, were made to struggle through this war that still exists within the confines of Iran’s borders. Women being mistreated is an understatement. Not allowed to drive. Not allowed on the street without a male family  member. People being banished or imprisoned for things we can not even imagine. But what I fell in love with in this story is the sheer beauty of the place and the people. Cafe Leila became an oasis filled with love and welcome in an area filled with fear and hate. It’s gorgeous lush gardens filled with trees and flowers and fruit and birdsong. The exotic aromas wafting from the walls as Zod and his family cook hearty Iranian meals. Oh, just the thought of gazing at the tall clear glass of tea with its amber color and its scent of mint. I can totally picture myself sitting back with a book in this garden of Eden. I was there in my mind. And I never wanted this novel to end! I will reread this one, again and again.

The lyrical writing, the loving cast of characters, the laughter and nourishment of the body and soul that make this novel so unique and wonderful, is what I believe puts it at the top of the list for great new books!

There are plenty of twists in this novel. I loved that nothing is predictable. The end is controversial.  And I loved it.

author

Donia Bijan

I found myself wanting more of this author. Lucky for us Donia Bijan has a memoir titled, “Maman’s Homesick  Pie.”  I am reading it now. Filled with recipes from her homeland and a story about her life. Donia attended the Cordon Bleu Cooking School and ran her own restaurant in Palo Alto, California for ten years.

I have added this amazing novel to my summer reading list and we have copies of THE LAST DAYS OF CAFE LEILA available at Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida. I’m thrilled to be hand selling this one this summer and long into the future. Come on in and see my new summer reading table!

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

This one of a kind novel is now available in a trade paper edition.  My review copy came from Algonquin in exchange for an honest review. I am NUTS about this one!!!