Book Recommendation: GEORGIA

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“A life is built of lies and magic, illusions bedded down with dreams. And in the end what haunts us most is the recollection of what we failed to see.” Dawn Tripp, GEORGIA

Publisher Synopsis:

Georgia O’Keeffe, her love affair with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her quest to become an independent artist come vividly to life in this sensual and exquisitely written novel, a dazzling departure into historical fiction by the acclaimed novelist Dawn Tripp.

This is not a love story. If it were, we would have the same story. But he has his, and I have mine.
 
In 1916, Georgia O’Keeffe is a young, unknown art teacher when she travels to New York to meet Stieglitz, the famed photographer and art dealer, who has discovered O’Keeffe’s work and exhibits it in his gallery. Their connection is instantaneous. O’Keeffe is quickly drawn into Stieglitz’s sophisticated world, becoming his mistress, protégé, and muse, as their attraction deepens into an intense and tempestuous relationship and his photographs of her, both clothed and nude, create a sensation.

Yet as her own creative force develops, Georgia begins to push back against what critics and others are saying about her and her art. And soon she must make difficult choices to live a life she believes in.

A breathtaking work of the imagination, Georgia is the story of a passionate young woman, her search for love and artistic freedom, the sacrifices she will face, and the bold vision that will make her a legend.

My Recommendation:

Tripp has long been a favorite literary writer of mine, and O’Keeffe is a favorite artist; naturally I was eager to read GEORGIA. I expected the prose to be beautiful and the story to be interesting, but it far surpassed even my highest expectations.

I did not know GEORGIA would be written in the first person–from the point of view of the artist, herself–and if I had, I might have cringed. How to harness that voice? That person! Tripp has done it. O’Keeffe is so electric, so alive on these pages, the power and passion are almost too much. It must have taken great courage to take on O’Keeffe’s voice, but Tripp has accomplished a true channeling and faithfulness in this portrayal.

I also did not know the epic scope of the novel, and it pleased me to discover it. It’s incredibly difficult to write a life story that is not a biography, but Tripp has executed the writing to perfection, keeping every scene sharply focused on O’Keeffe’s development as an artist, while continually exploring what it means to be a woman.

Sensual, savage, revelatory, and heartbreaking, GEORGIA is a must read for fans of James Salter or Priya Parmar. This is one of the finest pieces of biographical historical fiction I have ever read–if not the best. I will forever be an evangelist for GEORGIA.

I have one copy of GEORGIA to give away to anyone (in the US) who comments on and shares this post by Thursday, February 11th at 4 PM ET. Tell me your favorite work of biographical fiction or your favorite O’Keeffe painting. Good luck! 

Book Recommendation: WHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES

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“A memoirist’s brain acts out the coal-to-diamond process. A story puts pressure on the brain; the book is what comes out.” @Darinstrauss 

Publisher Synopsis:

All the secrets a reader or writer of memoirs needs to know—and all the secrets an aspiring writer or lover of literature wants to know—in one readable volume, a follow-up to the acclaimed writers’ handbook Why We Write.

For the many amateurs and professionals who write about themselves—bloggers, journal-keepers, aspiring essayists, and memoirists—this book offers inspiration, encouragement, and pithy, practical advice. Twenty of America’s bestselling memoirists share their innermost thoughts and hard-earned tips with veteran author Meredith Maran, revealing what drives them to tell their personal stories, and the nuts and bolts of how they do it. Speaking frankly about issues ranging from turning oneself into an authentic, compelling character to exposing hard truths, these successful authors disclose what keeps them going, what gets in their way, and what they love most—and least—about writing about themselves.

My Recommendation:

Writers: WHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES is a must-read.

I underlined so much of this book, I excerpted the most poignant quotes on Twitter to showcase the buffet of rich, satisfying words provided in its pages. It fills the well.

Whether or not you write memoir, it is undeniable that our *selves* are embedded in anything we write. This book will give you the inspiration, hope, caution, urging, and permission you need to put yourself on the page.

The work is important; do it.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: STILL WRITING

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“I prefer to think of [a writing routine] as rhythm rather than discipline. Discipline calls to mind a taskmaster, perhaps wielding a whip…Rhythm, however, is a gentle aligning, a comforting pattern in our day that we know sets us up ideally for our work.” Dani Shapiro, STILL WRITING

Publisher Synopsis:

From Dani Shapiro, bestselling author of Devotion and Slow Motion, comes a witty, heartfelt, and practical look at the exhilarating and challenging process of storytelling. At once a memoir, a meditation on the artistic process, and advice on craft, Still Writing is an intimate companion to living a creative life. Writers—and anyone with an artistic temperament—will find inspiration and comfort in these pages. Offering lessons learned over twenty years of teaching and writing, Shapiro shares her own revealing insights to weave an indispensable almanac for modern writers.

My Recommendation:

I have several nonfiction books and essay collections on the writing process I’ve been saving for the right mood (aka: when I need important reminders.) This is one of those times, and for me, STILL WRITING was the perfect balm for a profession that often leaves one hollow or raw at the completion of a work.

With her elegant phrasing and straightforward organization, Shapiro can be relied upon to not only give voice to the messy feelings one has throughout the writing process, but also offer solutions, comfort, and camaraderie across time and space. From the first whiff of premise through publication, Shapiro is unafraid (or rather, willing) to expose her insecurities and the challenges she faces each step of the way.

Some of my favorite quotes:

  • “Writing…is an act of faith. We must believe without the slightest evidence that believing will get us anywhere.” (p. 23)
  • “You do not…need to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” (p. 118)
  • “When I consider endings, I think of music–in particular, the experience of sitting in a concert hall at the end of a performance…When those last notes have sounded, they linger. The music doesn’t screech to a halt. It can’t. We–the listener, the reader–have to lean into it. To meet it as it hangs in the air, as it fades away, until finally it is only memory.” (p. 194)

I recommend STILL WRITING to all writers at all stages of the process. Shapiro’s collection should be shelved alongside the greats, like BIRD BY BIRD and ON WRITING.

Writers: Have you read STILL WRITING? What are your favorite books on the craft of writing?

My Favorite Historical Fiction of 2015

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Here is my (much agonized over) list of the best historical novels of 2015. Some of the books were not published in 2015, but that is when I read them. My criteria for making the list:

*I read it obsessively.

*I can’t stop thinking about it.

*I can’t stop recommending it.

I read so many outstanding books this year (and some were not historical), so if you’d like to see all my favorites, check out my reviews on Goodreads. Of note: I only review and recommend books I’d give 4 or 5 stars, so this is really a *best of the best* list. Torture, I tell you.

Here we go, and in no particular order:

  1. Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar imgres
  2. Almost Famous Women, by Meg Mayhew Bergman images
  3. Vienna Nocturne, by Vivien Shotwell17978492
  4. West of Sunset, by Stewart O’Nanwest of sunset
  5. The Edge of Lost, by Kristina McMorris23453136
  6. The Accidental Empress, by Allison Pataki22609307
  7. Rodin’s Lover, by Heather Webb81Tv3eOnDsL
  8. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah81j3rfXRwmL
  9. Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain51AjU4AyNrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
  10. The Song of Hartgrove Hall, by Natasha Solomons61PR8HHYPZLWhat a wonderful year in books! Happy Reading, and Happy New Year!!

Book Recommendation: VIENNA NOCTURNE

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“It was the parlor and music room, filled with sun. She had never seen so much sun, never in Vienna. It came through the windows and sparked the dust on the ceramic shepherdesses on the mantelpiece. Even the big, heavy flowers in their vases seem to strain again for sun and belie their state of suspended dying. She caught herself at the doorway, remembering her thinness, her ashen skin, her mussed hair, the peacocks. She could not recall when last she had washed. The room billowed with music and sunlight. She could almost lean against it.//Mozart glanced at her with a calm smile, as if she were a rare and nocturnal animal he had coaxed to the edge of a meadow. He seemed as if in a meditation, as one deeply caught up, in this music which he did not write down, or read from, but tossed into the air like unstrung beads…” Vivien Shotwell, VIENNA NOCTURNE

Publisher Synopsis:

In the tradition of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife and Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone comes a sweeping historical love story and a portrait of an age. Vienna Nocturne is a deeply moving debut novel that brings to life two extraordinary figures—a thirty-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a young English soprano, Anna Storace, who was his muse—in prose as spirited, timeless, and touching as Mozart’s greatest compositions.

In late-eighteenth-century London, a young girl takes her first singing lessons with a mysterious castrato in exile. Her life is forever changed. Having learned everything he can teach her, Anna leaves behind all the security and familiarity of home and journeys to Naples and Venice to struggle and triumph in Italy’s greatest opera houses. Only sixteen, she finds herself in an intoxicating world of theaters, nobility, and vice, overwhelmed by her newfound freedom and fame. Her first bitter experience of love and heartbreak inevitably follows.

Within a few years, Anna is invited to sing in Vienna, the City of Music, by the emperor himself. There, in a teasing game of theft and play, Anna first meets Mozart, a young virtuoso pianist and striving, prodigiously talented composer. They are matched in intellect and talent, and an immediate and undeniable charge occurs between the two, despite both being married to others.

As her star rises in Vienna and her personal life deteriorates, Anna experiences an ultimate crisis. During this trying time, her only light is Mozart: his energy, his determination for her, and his art. She, in turn, becomes his hope and inspiration, and his joy, as he writes for her some of his most exquisite and enduring arias—music that will live on as his masterworks.

Rich in historical detail and beautifully wrought by Vivien Shotwell, an author who is herself an opera singer, Vienna Nocturne is a dramatic tour de force of a woman’s struggle to find love and fame in an eighteenth-century world that controls and limits her at every turn.

My Recommendation:

Smitten from the first chapters, I consumed VIENNA NOCTURNE over three consecutive nights in great, greedy gulps. Anna Storace is a charming, beguiling, and flawed protagonist. Her part in every scene commands the attention the woman herself must have earned on the great stages of Venice, Vienna, and London. Even in her darkest times, Anna is a light because of the vibrant intensity of her spirit, talent, and passion.

In addition to a highly readable story, the writing, itself, is worthy of note–especially descriptions of music. The fact that each chapter is titled is an unexpected pleasure, and one I don’t often see. It is as if each section is a little world unto itself–a small scene in a grand opera–and it is a pleasure to seek the meaning in the titles, deepening the themes of the novel with their inclusion.

Fans of historical fiction will adore the tragic and beautiful VIENNA NOCTURNE. Vivien Shotwell is a debut novelist of enormous talent, and I eagerly look forward to her next book.

Book Recommendation: THE EDGE OF LOST

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“It’s fascinating, really, when you think about it. How a person can slip into a new life as one would a new pair of shoes. At first there’s a keen awareness of the fit: a stiffness at the heel, the binding of the width, the curve pressed to the arch. But with time and enough steps, the feel becomes so natural you almost forget you’re wearing them at all.” Kristina McMorris, THE EDGE OF LOST

Publisher Synopsis:

From New York Times bestselling author Kristina McMorris comes an ambitious and heartrending story of immigrants, deception, and second chances.

On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard’s only daughter–one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island–has gone missing. Tending the warden’s greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl’s whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search’s outcome.

Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

Skillfully weaving these two stories, Kristina McMorris delivers a compelling novel that moves from Ireland to New York to San Francisco Bay. As her finely crafted characters discover the true nature of loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal, they are forced to confront the lies we tell–and believe–in order to survive.

My Recommendation:

I am a long-time fan of the novels of Kristina McMorris. She is one of those writers whose books manage to get better and better, and her latest, THE EDGE OF LOST, is no exception.

Intricately plotted in a series of vividly rendered settings from Ireland, to New York, to Alcatraz, THE EDGE OF LOST is an addictive read with a sympathetic and memorable protagonist. Each period and location is represented so true to life, the book unfolds like a film in the reader’s mind.

There are many surprises in the book, especially the moving scene that explains the gorgeous cover. Fans of period novels and novels of suspense will be captivated by THE EDGE OF LOST. I give it my highest recommendation.

Have you toured Alcatraz? Did you know that the island where some of the most notorious criminals in history were imprisoned had civilian residents?

Book Recommendation: THE NIGHTINGALE

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“Isabelle reached out for the old woman’s hands. There were so many terrible aspects to what their lives now were, but there was this, too: friendships forged in fire that had proven to be as strong as iron.” Kristin Hannah, THE NIGHTINGALE

Publisher Synopsis:

In love we find out who we want to be.

In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

My Recommendation:

Since its release in February, I have never had a book recommended to me as many times as THE NIGHTINGALE. Blurb requests and my own writing deadlines kept me from reading it. Then I read ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and felt that it was such a perfect and heartrending book I needed a break from novels about WWII. When I read that THE NIGHTINGALE had sold over one million copies, I knew I had to get started. I’m so glad I did.

This is less a novel about romantic love and more a tale of familial love–sisters, fathers and daughters, mothers and children–and the sacrifices family members are willing to make and endure for their flesh and blood. It is the story of how two women are held to the fire–how their courage brings about great change in each of them. The reader will wonder over and over, “What would I do in this situation?” “Would I have the courage, the gall, the audacity, the love to do this?” The answers are not always clear or easy, but that’s what makes THE NIGHTINGALE so compelling.

There are many surprises along the way, and the book is heartbreaking, but it is worth it. THE NIGHTINGALE lived up to and surpassed every recommendation I received, and I pass along that recommendation to you.

Have you read the book? Have you read any others by Kristin Hannah? What would you recommend as a follow up?