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Picturing a World

Sweetness of Water

Wow, is Nathan Harris's debut novel, The Sweetness of Water, ever impressive! You can read an excerpt (with a delightful map as decoration) here and find many reviews on line. What I want to focus on is three main points which Harris makes in an interview at Literary Ashland.

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Bog Child

Somewhere recently, I saw Patrick Ness quoted as saying something along the lines of, "If you haven't read Siobhan Dowd, do yourself a favor and remedy the lack at once." So I went to the website of the Siobhan Dowd Trust and chose Bog Child for starters. Do yourself a favor!

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Spring Cannot Be Cancelled

Last March, a review of Spring Cannot Be Cancelled by David Hockney and Martin Gayford led me to order a copy from a local bookseller and wait for its U.S. release. It would have been perfect for the late, cold springs we have in New England, especially while anxieties about vaccine availability and COVID restrictions were still strong. Bright colors, sophisticated conversation, a place of cultivated beauty and (let's face it) nostalgic ease of life. I thought about saving it for next spring, when I'm sure to need a lift again—but naaahhh, I'm reading it now during the first hot spell of June, and it has me gripped. Look at some double-page spreads and see why.

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Last Neanderthal

Near the beginning of Kindred, Rebecca Wray Sykes quotes such a good passage from Claire Cameron's novel, The Last Neanderthal, that it was the next book I took up—and then read in three gulps. It's one of those two-stranded novels in which a present-day scholar investigates a topic, while historical fiction dramatizes what the scholar will (or won't) fully uncover by the end. In this case, in one story line, an archeologist makes an intriguing discovery. In the other, we live and breathe with Girl, a Neanderthal. It's a very good novel, one that I would recommend to anyone who liked The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish or A. S. Byatt's Possession.

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On Rising Ground

Elaine F. Palencia, On Rising Ground (2021)

A cache of old letters. Research to uncover a secret or reconstruct a life. Narration of the search itself. These are the familiar elements of fiction from Henry James's The Aspern Papers to modern novels like The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. Novelist, short-story writer, and poet, Elaine Fowler Palencia didn't invent such a story; she lived it. The result is On Rising Ground, her narrative of the life of one ordinary man and his experience as a private in the Confederate Army. Ostensibly narrow in focus, it is also wide in scope and written in response to the questions a novelist as well as a family historian would ask.

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Pandemic reading

In a recent interview, author Emily St. John Mandel is quoted as saying about her own bestselling novel, "I don't know who in their right mind would want to read Station Eleven during a pandemic." Well, I've just read it, and I can tell you why. It's about a traveling orchestra and theatrical company in a post-apocalyptic world, but also about the characters' intertwined lives before, during, and twenty years after a pandemic much worse than the one we're in right now. Those interlocking stories have all the human interest of any good read (I especially enjoyed getting inside the mind of a graphic novelist whose running project gives the novel its title). And the picture of a world in which some people remember electricity and some don't makes you look around ours with new eyes.

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Oprah!

What a boost! Amy Shearn at Oprah.com has given Where the Light Falls the kind of endorsement that authors dream of. I am deeply grateful and hope you read it, along with reviews of four other Dreamy Historical NovelsRead More 
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