2013 Gaithersburg Book Festival

Tomorrow between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., the fourth annual Gaithersburg Book Festival will offer authors, poets, and activities for kids.

Among the authors I’m looking forward to are these:

And those poets on the Poetry in the Afternoon Panel, I’m moderating are:

I hope that if you are in the area, you’ll stop by the panel or at least see some great authors.  This is always a great family event and shares the love of books.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl by Tara Conklin is told mainly from two female points of view — Lina Sparrow and Josephine Bell — one is a white lawyer in New York City at a corporate law firm and the other is a slave/house girl in the southern Lynnhurst, Virginia.  Lina has lived with her artistic father most of her life as her artistic mother’s life was cut short.  Her story is compelling as she’s chosen the analytical and detached life of a lawyer over that of the emotional and less practical life of an artist.  Josephine, an equally if not more compelling story, is a slave on a tobacco farm caring for her dying mistress, who tries to sketch and paint in her upstairs studio.

“Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run.  She heard the whistle of the blow, felt the sting of skin against skin, her head spun and she was looking back over her right shoulder, down to the fields where the few men Mister had left were working the tobacco.”  (page 3 ARC)

Lina is a first-year associate at her law firm, and she works a mad number of hours as she tries to impress her boss and mentor, Dan, but at the same time, she seems to be beating her head against a wall.  There are some tenuous connections drawn between these two stories, the oppressive nature of working for a law firm and slavery, which may or may not be a fair comparison.  The narrative shifts from Josephine to Lina and between the past and present, and once Lina becomes involved with a slavery reparations case, she is wrapped up in innocuous research while all of her other cases are re-assigned.  She’s struggling with her role on the case, but also with the revelations about her mother and her father that have set her world askew.

“She couldn’t bear the thought of sharing.  This was where her mother had once slept, cooked, painted, breathed, and Lina’s memories of her seemed tethered to the physical space.  The way a wall curved away, a washboard of light thrown by the sun against the bare floor, the sharp clap of a kitchen drawer slamming shut — all these evoked flashes of her mother and early childhood that seemed cast in butter, soft and dreamy, lovely, rich.”  (page 21 ARC)

In the latter part of the novel, Lina comes across a biography of an abolitionist as she’s researching the life of Josephine Bell, but this section is overly long and could have been slimmed down a bit as Lina learns about the abolitionist’s connection to the Underground Railroad.  The strength of the novel is in Josephine’s story and her struggles with the Bell family, with her only release — the snatches of time she has to sketch and paint when her mistress is laid up in bed or asleep.  The mysterious life of Josephine is revealed in quick chapters, but early on these chapters are too focused on her desire to run and whether she should run.

In many ways, Lina’s story detracts from the whole, pulling readers into the present and into a case that seems more fantasy than reality.  However, Lina’s story with her father and mother — and the art world — is strong and could have been explored in a separate novel.  The artistic connection, more than the slavery reparations case, would have been a better angle for these stories, connecting the artists to one another through their craft and inspiration or something of that nature.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin showcases not only Conklin’s grasp of the Antebellum South, but also art and its craft.  The strongest parts of Lina’s story are those in her father’s art studio and in the galleries as the paintings are described and the ties between Josephine Bell and Lu Anne Bell are revealed.  Once the novel picks up speed, its tough to put down, and Conklin easily portrays the culture and atmosphere of the southern farm and the fear slaves felt daily.

About the Author:

Tara Conklin has worked as a litigator in the New York and London offices of a major corporate law firm but now devotes her time to writing fiction. She received a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from New York University School of Law, and a Master of Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School (Tufts University). Tara Conklin’s short fiction has appeared in the Bristol Prize Anthology and Pangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe. Born in St. Croix, she grew up in Massachusetts and now lives with her family in Seattle, Washington.  Check her out on Facebook and Twitter.  Also here’s a podcast about Conklin’s inspiration for the novel.  Photo credit Mary Grace Long.

tlc tour host

This is my 10th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #208

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 Lori’s Reading Corner.

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 receive:

1.  All That I Am by Anna Funder for a TLC Book Tour later this month.

When Hitler seizes power in 1933, a tight-knit group of friends and lovers suddenly become hunted outlaws overnight. Dora, liberated and fearless; her lover, the great playwright Ernst Toller; Ruth; and Ruth’s journalist husband, Hans find refuge in London. There, using secret contacts deep inside the Nazi regime, they take breathtaking risks to warn the world of Hitler’s plans for war. But England is not the safe haven they think it will be, and a single, chilling act of betrayal will tear them apart.

2.  The House Girl by Tara Conklin for a TLC Book Tour in February.

Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine . . .

2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves.

1852: Josephine is a seventeen-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm—an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.

It is through her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine.

3. The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff for review in February.

The world’s leaders have gathered to rebuild from the ashes of the Great War. But for one woman, the City of Light harbors dark secrets and dangerous liaisons, for which many could pay dearly.

Brought to the peace conference by her father, a German diplomat, Margot Rosenthal initially resents being trapped in the congested French capital, where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But as she contemplates returning to Berlin and a life with Stefan, the wounded fiancé she hardly knows anymore, she decides that being in Paris is not so bad after all.

Bored and torn between duty and the desire to be free, Margot strikes up unlikely alliances: with Krysia, an accomplished musician with radical acquaintances and a secret to protect; and with Georg, the handsome, damaged naval officer who gives Margot a job—and also a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie.

Against the backdrop of one of the most significant events of the century, a delicate web of lies obscures the line between the casualties of war and of the heart, making trust a luxury that no one can afford.

4. Blood Gospel: The Order of the Sanguines Series by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, which I received for review.

An earthquake in Masada, Israel, kills hundreds and reveals a tomb buried in the heart of the mountain. A trio of investigators—Sergeant Jordan Stone, a military forensic expert; Father Rhun Korza, a Vatican priest; and Dr. Erin Granger, a brilliant but disillusioned archaeologist—are sent to explore the macabre discovery, a subterranean temple holding the crucified body of a mummified girl.

But a brutal attack at the site sets the three on the run, thrusting them into a race to recover what was once preserved in the tomb’s sarcophagus: a book rumored to have been written by Christ’s own hand, a tome that is said to hold the secrets to His divinity. The enemy who hounds them is like no other, a force of ancient evil directed by a leader of impossible ambitions and incalculable cunning.

From crumbling tombs to splendorous churches, Erin and her two companions must confront a past that traces back thousands of years, to a time when ungodly beasts hunted the dark spaces of the world, to a moment in history when Christ made a miraculous offer, a pact of salvation for those who were damned for eternity.

5. Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley, which I bought at the library sale for 50 cents.

They were beloved sisters and the best of friends. But Jane and Cassandra Austen suffered the same fate as many of the women of their era. Forced to spend their lives dependent on relatives, both financially and emotionally, the sisters spent their time together trading secrets, challenging each other’s opinions, and rehearsing in myriad other ways the domestic dramas that Jane would later bring to fruition in her popular novels. For each sister suffered through painful romantic disappointments—tasting passion, knowing great love, and then losing it—while the other stood witness. Upon Jane’s death, Cassandra deliberately destroyed her personal letters, thereby closing the door to the private life of the renowned novelist . . . until now.

6. The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, which I purchased at the library sale for 50 cents.

The Secret Lives of People in Love is the first short story collection by award-winning writer Simon Van Booy. These stories, set in Kentucky, New York, Paris, Rome, and Greece, are a perfect synthesis of intensity and atmosphere. Love, loss, human contact, and isolation are Van Booy’s themes. In radiant prose he writes about the difficult choices we make in order to retain our humanity and about the redemptive power of love in a violent world. Included in this updated P.S. edition is the new story “The Mute Ventriloquist.”

7. Eight Silly Monkeys illustrated by Steven Haskamp, which I picked up for the girl in spite of her temper tantrum for 50 cents.

Get set for romping and rhyming fun! Young ones will love counting backwards as they watch eight monkeys disappear one by one with each turn of the page in this delightful tale. Eight Silly Monkeys features full-color illustrations, charming verse, and innovative die-cutting to reveal silly, touchable monkeys on each page. As fun to read as it is to listen to, this enjoyable rhyming adventure is a perfect read for ages 3 and up.

8. A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson, which I borrowed from the library since I’ve been inspired by this challenge to read more books about/set in Portugal, though I’m not limiting it to historical fiction or fiction — poetry works too.

In A Small Death in Lisbon, the narrative switches back and forth between 1941 and 1999, and Wilson’s wide knowledge of history and keen sense of place make the eras equally vibrant. In 1941 Germany, Klaus Felsen, an industrialist, is approached by the SS high command in a none-too-friendly manner and is “persuaded” to go to Lisbon and oversee the sale–or smuggling–of wolfram (also known as tungsten, used in the manufacture of tanks and airplanes). World War II Portugal is neutral where business is concerned, and too much of the precious metal is being sold to Britain when Germany needs it to insure that Hitler’s blitzkrieg is successful.

Cut to 1999 Lisbon, where the daughter of a prominent lawyer has been found dead on a beach. Ze Coehlo, a liberal police inspector who is a widower with a daughter of his own, must sift through the life of Catarina Oliviera and discover why she was so brutally murdered. Her father is enigmatic, her mother suicidal; her friends were rock musicians and drug addicts.

9. News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh for a TLC Book Tour in February.

Now, in this collection of interconnected short stories, Jennifer Haigh returns to the vividly imagined world of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining town rocked by decades of painful transition. From its heyday during two world wars through its slow decline, Bakerton is a town that refuses to give up gracefully, binding—sometimes cruelly—succeeding generations to the place that made them. A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-absent brother makes a sudden and tragic homecoming. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. With a revolving cast of characters—many familiar to fans of Baker Towers—these stories explore how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become.

10. Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh, which I received as part of the tour for the new book.

Bakerton is a community of company houses and church festivals, of union squabbles and firemen’s parades. Its neighborhoods include Little Italy, Swedetown, and Polish Hill. For its tight-knit citizens — and the five children of the Novak family — the 1940s will be a decade of excitement, tragedy, and stunning change. Baker Towers is a family saga and a love story, a hymn to a time and place long gone, to America’s industrial past, and to the men and women we now call the Greatest Generation. It is a feat of imagination from an extraordinary voice in American fiction, a writer of enormous power and skill.

Also, I’ve been remiss in talking about some of the Kindle books I’ve downloaded or gotten for review, and have reviewed one or two already without featuring them in Mailbox Monday.

11. Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan, downloaded for free.

12. Georgiana Darcy’s Diary: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice continued (Pride and Prejudice Chronicles) by Anna Elliot, downloaded for free.

13. Becoming Elizabeth Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen, downloaded for free.

14. Monsters In My Closet by Ruby Urlocker, which I received for review and reviewed, here.

15. A Killing in Kensington (A Patrick Shea Mystery) by Mary Lydon Simonsen, which I downloaded for free.

16. Must Love Sandwiches (The Bartonville Series) by Janel Gradowski, which I got for review from the talented author.

17. Darcy Goes to War by Mary Lydon Simonsen, which I downloaded for free.

What did you receive?