Mailbox Monday #189

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is 5 Minutes for Books.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which I won ages ago and can’t seem to remember from where….forgive me.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

2.  All the Truth by Laura Brodie for review from the author.

One night can alter a life forever…

Emma Greene enjoys living in rural solitude with her husband and five-year-old daughter, Maggie, far away from her college students in Jackson, Virginia. But late one night, with her husband away and her daughter upstairs in bed, some of Emma’s students trespass on her property. The ensuing confrontation changes Emma and Maggie’s life forever.

Nine years later, still plagued by nightmares from that evening, Maggie is living with her father in the same small town, and entering her first year of high school. She develops problems in class when her math teacher, a strange and lonely woman, begins to exhibit an odd interest in her.

In order to let go of the past, Maggie begins to piece together all the truth of what happened that night—and discovers a story of anger, guilt, and redemption.

3. The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart unsolicited from Doubleday.

When Indian Princess Alexandrina is left penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor, Queen Victoria grants her a grace-and-favor home in Hampton Court Palace. Though rumored to be haunted, Alexandrina and her lady’s maid, Pooki, have no choice but to take the Queen up on her offer.
Aside from the ghost sightings, Hampton Court doesn’t seem so bad. The princess is soon befriended by three eccentric widows who invite her to a picnic with all the palace’s inhabitants, for which Pooki bakes a pigeon pie. But when General-Major Bagshot dies after eating said pie, and the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect in a murder investigation.
Princess Alexandrina isn’t about to let her faithful servant hang. She begins an investigation of her own, and discovers that Hampton Court isn’t such a safe place to live after all.
With her trademark wit and charm, Julia Stuart introduces us to an outstanding cast of lovable oddballs, from the palace maze-keeper to the unconventional Lady Beatrice (who likes to dress up as a toucan—don’t ask), as she guides us through the many delightful twists and turns in this fun and quirky murder mystery. Everyone is hiding a secret of the heart, and even Alexandrina may not realize when she’s caught in a maze of love.

4. Fireproof by Alex Kava unsolicited from Doubleday.

When a building bursts into flames on a cold winter night in D.C., investigators see a resemblance to a string of recent fires in the area. There is one difference, however: This one has a human casualty. The local team insists they’re looking for a young white male, suffering from an uncontrollable impulse to act out his anger or sexual aggression. But when special agent Maggie O’Dell is called in, everything she sees leads her to believe that this is the work of a calculating and controlled criminal.

Jeffery Cole, a reporter looking for his big break, is also at the scene of the crime and decides to make Maggie part of his news piece, digging up aspects of her past that she would rather forget. Maggie’s brother Patrick is also back in DC where he is working for a private firefighting company and is frequently called in as these fires continue to light up around the city.

As the acts of arson become more brazen, Maggie’s professional and personal worlds begin to collide dangerously. The killer may be closer than she imagines.

5. The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo unrequested from the publisher.

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California.

Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone.

But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.

6. LBJ’s Hired Gun by John J. Gebhart, which Anna got me for my birthday!

Many Vietnam memoirs have appeared in recent years, but not a single one has the humor, pathos, poignancy, and often sheer hilarity of John J. Gebhart’s riveting LBJ’S Hired Gun. As Gebhart tells it, he was a “smart-mouthed college boy” who joined the Marines to see the world and “dust a few black pajamas for Uncle Sam.” Two grueling tours of duty later (1965-1967) he returned home as a sergeant after surviving 240 combat missions (12 air medals) and being shot down twice. On his chest was the Navy Commendation Award (with the combat V).

LBJ’s Hired Gun launches with Gebhart’s grim recollection of the intense old-school brutality that was Marine Corps training on Parris Island before transitioning to his difficult journey for Southeast Asia aboard a troop transport with 2,000 other nameless grunts. These hardships offered but a glimpse of the suffering he and his comrades were about to endure. PARA His candid account of life and death in Vietnam is written with a lively, infectious flair. But be forewarned: no attempt has been made to sanitize this memoir with politically-correct language. Gebhart tells his story exactly as he and his comrades spoke in the 1960s. The result is a gripping, no-holds-barred memoir of his “misadventures in-country.” He spares no detail and no one in his effort to convey exactly what he and his comrades experienced in Vietnam.

What did you receive?

The Value of Mess by Laura Brodie

I want to welcome Laura Brodie to the blog.  You’re in for a real treat.  She’s written about her writing space and provided a photographic invitation for all of you.  I want to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to provide a guest post.

Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to her post, The Value of Mess.

I wish I could say that my writing space is beautiful—that I have a cozy, book-filled corner, decorated with tasteful artworks, happy family photos, and well-tended plants. In fact, as I write this sentence I am sitting at a dining room table strewn with children’s textbooks, pens and markers, hair bands and sweaters and cough drop wrappers, and piles of papers that need to be recycled.  I haven’t included a photo, because it’s too embarrassing. At my feet lie mangled socks that our puppy likes to gather from my daughters’ bedroom floor. He chews them into shredded clumps, and distributes them around the house.

What inspiration can a writer take from such a messy space, except the most important of all—the motivation to get lost in imagination, far away from the world of laundry and dishes and stacks of college students’ papers.

When I was in college, writing longhand in notebooks, I used to think that I could only be creative in a gorgeous setting. Back then I would sit outside at night on the steps of a church or the banks of a river and write gloomy poetry. I still find that for poetry, elegant journals and long walks provide the best atmospherics. But when it comes to losing myself in the world of a novel or memoir, I’m not so particular. Whether I settle my laptop in the kitchen, dining room or bedroom, the glowing screen draws me in.

My main requirement for writing is not visual, but aural—I need silence. That’s why, when my house is overfull with the sounds of family, I sometimes retreat to my office at Washington and Lee University. There, I have orchids, children’s photos and artwork, and a big sunny window.  But the walls are drab white cinderblocks, shown in this photo taken by a local reporter, who wanted to include author, novel, and website in one picture.

As for that website—it features the chief visual solace in my writing world.  Outside my dining room window I can now see a broad meadow that extends beyond our front yard, divided by a creek that flows toward a barn and trees at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whenever I need beauty, I can sit on our screened porch, stare at the mountains—now a rusty orange and crimson—and  just breathe. The picture shared here appears on the home page of my website, along with lots of other images from the town and countryside that provide a backdrop for all of my books.

Beauty, however, can be distracting. When writing on my screened porch, I sometimes  spend more time watching the ducks in the creek, or the cows moving over the southern ridge, than concentrating on my words. When that happens, I carry my laptop back inside and settle amid the clutter of my dining room table, where my eyes are only too happy to concentrate on the screen.

And now that my writing for the morning is done, excuse me while I go and clean my house.

Isn’t that just a gorgeous view?  Thanks again to Laura for sharing with us her writing space.  If you missed my review of her debut novel, The Widow’s Season, click on the link and get reading.

Have you seen my interview with Laura Brodie at D.C. Literature Examiner? You should check it out and her Halloween reading selections.

I wish I could have made it to the reading with Laura in Silver Spring, Md., last week (Oct. 15).  If anyone made it to her reading, please leave a comment about how it went.

The Widow’s Season by Laura Brodie

Laura Brodie’s debut novel, The Widow’s Season, is a dirge of grief, wraiths, and resurrection of a professional woman whose been lost in of the song’s cadence for far too long.  Set in Jackson, Va., in a small college town, the season’s change and sweep the protagonist, Sarah McConnell along.

“Sarah McConnell’s husband had been dead three months when she saw him in the grocery store.  He was standing at the end of the seasonal aisle, contemplating a display of plastic pumpkins, when, for one brief moment, he lifted his head and looked into her eyes.”  (First line, Page 3)

Not only does Sarah mourn her husband and the life they had, but she also mourns the life they dreamt about, the life that was snatched from them time and again, and the illusion of their future happiness.  The Widow’s Season is a character driven novel that teeters on the brink of despair as Sarah attempts to navigate her after-life alone.  Nate, her brother-in-law, has lost his mother and his brother in such a short time, and he, like Sarah, does not grieve in an outward display of sobs and outbursts, but turns inward.  Sarah’s friend Margaret anchors her to reality and persuades her to meet for tea every Friday and join her widow’s group once a month.  Unlike, Sarah, Nate’s support system is gone, but he has his investment work to bury himself in.

“An hour later, when she pulled up at the cabin, she had the old sensation of arriving at an empty house.  No lights shone in the windows; the grass was still unmowed.  When she unlocked the door, an immense stillness confronted her.”  (Page 151)

Told in third person, Brodie’s language has a eerie, otherworldly quality that will suck readers easily into an alternate reality.  Grief drips from the pages of Sarah’s life and will consume readers in its wake as she lifts the fog that has surrounded her existence and uncovers her strength, poise, and determination.  Fresh and frank is Brodie’s writing as if she has first hand knowledge of deep desolation and how it can twist reality into alternative that is more palatable.

A great selection for the Fall and Halloween holiday, though it is not a ghost story in a traditional sense, The Widow’s Season is about transformation and living with ones ghosts.

Thanks to Laura Brodie for sending me a free copy of her novel for review.

If you missed my interview with Laura Brodie on D.C. Literature Examiner, you should check it out and find out what she recommends for Halloween reading.  Stay tuned for Laura Brodie’s guest post later today.

Also Reviewed By:

As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
Missy’s Book Nook

Laura Brodie in Silver Spring, Md.

Laura Brodie, author of The Widow’s Season, will be in Silver Spring, Md., tonight, Oct. 15, 2009, at 7 PM.


The Pyramid Atlantic Art Center
8230 Georgia Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20910


Laura Brodie, author of The Widow’s Season

Kim Roberts,  editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly and author of the poetry collections
The Kimnama and The Wishbone Galaxy

Cynthia Atkins
, author of the poetry collection Psyche’s Weathers

Lesley Wheeler, author of the poetry collection Heathen

I’m going to try to make it to the reading if anyone is interested in hanging out.  I’ll probably be bringing my copy of The Widow’s Season and maybe meeting Laura in person–maybe she’ll autograph it for me.

Look for my review of this book next week.

In case you’ve missed them, check out my interview with Laura at D.C. Literature Examiner.

***Also, please leave a comment as to which tweet bird you like.  They are in the left hand column.  Check them out.***