The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig

Source: publisher
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig is set in 1892, 1920, 1944 and the art that connects Olive Van Alan, Lucy Young, and Dr. Kate Schuyler to one another through the generations is not the biggest mystery, neither is their relationship to one another. What is forgotten in this tale of love, disappointment, and fate is trust – it’s locked up, hidden in an attic room. There is broken trust between mother-daughter, lovers, and between the past and present.

“As the only female doctor on staff, it was hard enough maintaining the persona of a woman with no feelings or personal needs in front of the male doctors. It was nearly impossible in front of the nurses. If they’d asked me why I’d become a doctor, I would have told them. But they didn’t ask. They seemed to be of a like mind when it came to me — I was a doctor because I thought I was too good to be a nurse.” (pg. 2 ARC)

In addition to gender issues that persist in all three time periods — with women taking on work outside the home — these women also face the harsh realities of a world on the cusp or in the midst of change. From the rise of new money and decadence and the crash that wiped out many wealthy families’ fortunes to prohibition and WWII, there were great opportunities and traumatic losses. Olive is a dreamer with a positive outlook even as she strives to avenge the death of her father, while Kate is a woman determined to make her mark on the medical community and carve her own path to happiness. Lucy is a bit of a wildcard; she has ambition, but not quite enough to carry her through some disappointments on her own.

“‘What your parents did isn’t who you are.'” (pg. 228 ARC)

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig is a sweeping novel about the ties that bind these women together and their family secrets, but also how their lives are wrapped in the work of an artist with the last name Ravenel. Each story of romance is heartbreaking, but the strongest is that between Olive and Harry Pratt. Their love reverberates through the entire novel — it is the anchor that binds these three generations of women.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Authors:

Karen White is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—Southern women’s fiction—and has also expanded her horizons into writing a mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina. Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London. When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children, and two spoiled Havanese dogs.

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons. She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry. Her books include Overseas (2012), A Hundred Summers (2013), The Secret Life of Violet Grant (2014), Tiny Little Thing (2015), Along the Infinite Sea (2015), The Forgotten Room (2016), and the forthcoming A Certain Age (June 2016)

Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of sixteen works of historical fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

Mailbox Monday #371

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Dodgers by Bill Beverly, which I received from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger. It is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East’s hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.

Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran, a surprise from Simon & Schuster.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

Tomorrow’s Bright White Light by Jan Conn, a surprise from Tightrope Books.

Acclaimed poet Jan Conn’s latest book, Tomorrow’s Bright White Light, offers poems as phenomenological guides to an approximation of a future “truth.” The collection includes poems about odd, secretive childhood events and poems that visit the badlands of adolescence from both male and female viewpoints. Some poems deal with the struggles of contemporary life in its many guises, while others derive from Conn’s time in Latin America. Obvious or not, all of the poems in this stunning collection are linked, creating a personal mosaic of the poet’s many lives and experiences.

Tourist by Lara Bozabalian, a surprise from Tightrope Books.

Opening with an aubade for the labyrinthian corners of Bombay’s largest slum, Tourist is a collection that is unafraid of shadows, and aims to unearth the unseen. Set across time and landscape—modern day Michigan, 1970’s Cambodia, WWI England, the kaleidoscopic mindscape of an Alzheimer patient – these poems draw us into lives that, initially, seem foreign, yet provoke our solidarity in the face of disorientation—a boy facing his first bankruptcy, an Elephant facing destruction at the hands of poachers. The book culminates in ‘Beethoven Walks’, an elegiac war cry from a man who wades in and out of darkness like a modern day Odysseus, and the churning resilience that sets him free.

Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer, a surprise from Tightrope Books.

In her astounding third collection, poet Lori Cayer takes on the juggernaut role of steward of human nature and subsequently explodes the myth of happiness through a multi-faceted lens of anthropology, socio-biology, sociology, psychology, archaeology, medicine and philosophy. Hinging on erasure and found material, Dopamine Blunder investigates these fundamental questions as our millennium enfolds with equal uncertainty and trepidation.

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard from NetGalley for review.

Legendary photographer Art Wolfe presents an intimate behind-the-scenes guide to the experiences, decisions, and methods that have influenced forty years of stunning images captured around the world. Wolfe and co-author Rob Sheppard transport readers on a global journey, while carrying on a dialog about photography, tools and process, world travel, close calls, and photographic opportunities both taken and missed. From the rich sights and smells of the Pushkar Camel Fair to the exact moment when a polar bear and her cubs leave their arctic den, Photographs from the Edge represents the instances when circumstance, light, and subject miraculously collide to form an iconic image. Many of these photographs can never be duplicated as cultures and landscapes are transformed and wildlife diminishes or disappears all together. No matter his subject, Wolfe regales us with the stories behind the photographs and helps us experience life on the world’s most unique photo safari. Photographs from the Edge is a lifetime of experience distilled into a rich photographic education.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford for review from NetGalley.

London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.

Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living.

Straight James / Gay James by James Franco for review from NetGalley.

Actor James Franco’s chapbook of poems explores the different personas he uses in his writing, art, acting, and filmmaking. The poetry varies from the imagistic to the prosaic. Franco’s poems delve into issues of identity, sexuality, private and public life, being a brother, a son, an artist and actor. The chapbook also contains an interview of Gay James conducted by Straight James. Yes, Straight James asks the overwhelming question: Are you gay?

What did you receive?

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

Source: Penguin Random House
Hardcover, 416 pgs
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The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck is word portrait of Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s courtship, marriage, and family, as well as the tensions that arise from two artists balancing their passions with their family.  Spoken in the voice of Sophia Peabody, readers are given a glimpse of her passionate painting and love of life despite her debilitating headaches before she meets Nathaniel, an aloof writer who feels the inadequacy of his words on paper.  From the 1830s to the U.S. Civil War, readers are taken through their early romance and their marriage.  While readers will find Sophia passionate about her work, she still finds joy and love in being a wife and mother, though she does miss her painting.  Despite the vacillation between poverty and moderate wealth, the Hawthornes are a family unit that loves deeply and remain loyal to their friends.

“One hand is open, overflowing with an abundance of joy and vitality; the other is a fist, clutching a void so desperately that the nails dig holes in the skin.” (pg. 247)

Like many artists there are period of abundance and times when the land is fallow, and this is true in terms of both writing and painting artistry as well as the funds they earn.  Sophia is a headstrong woman, but she quickly learns how to navigate her husband’s moods and comfort him in the best way she can for a reserved man.  Nathaniel is an enigma, but we get to see him through Sophia’s loving eyes, which can help soften some of his more anti-social behavior that others may see as mean or aloof.  It is wonderful to see the circle of friends the Hawthorne’s have and how those relationships evolve over time, particularly in light of the coming Civil War between the North and South.  From the drifting away from the Emersons to the effusive complements of Melville, the Hawthornes remain a tight knit family and rally around each other in times of loss and suffering.

“Our country simmers like a covered pot over the issue of slavery, and while Nathaniel and I do not approve of owning slaves, we cannot imagine what a division or even a war between the Northern and Southern states would do to our young nation.” (pg. 264)

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck is a stunning narrative that illuminates the often overshadowed life of Sophia Hawthorne and demonstrates how two artists can live together and build a life despite their differences and their own need for solitude and succor.  The novel raises questions of self-identity, self-expression, compromise, and the desire to create and have it all.

About the Author:

Historical fiction writer, book blogger, voracious reader. Erika’s first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING was self-published. Penguin Random House published HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, FALLEN BEAUTY, and a short story anthology to which Erika contributed, GRAND CENTRAL: ORIGINAL STORIES OF POSTWAR LOVE AND REUNION. Her forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE will release on May 5th, 2015.

Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Hemingway Society, the Millay Society. and the Hawthorne Society.





The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Source: New American Library
Hardcover, 432 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Sound of Glass by Karen White, published today, embarks on a journey that will leave readers slowly unraveling the interconnected lives of Mrs. Heyward in the late 1950s and the Mrs. Heyward in the new millennia.  Edith Heyward is a woman who lives a closed life in her attic where she makes wind chimes out of sea glass, but she also lives a large life inside those tiny, humid walls.  She tiptoes around not only her husband, but also her son and one of her grandsons, but even after they have left her home, she still closes herself off from the outside world.  Meanwhile, Merritt Heyward, who married Edith’s grandson Cal, has taken the chance and given up her life in Maine to come to Beaufort, S.C., where a home she’s inherited as Cal’s widow lays out its secrets in a methodical way.

“She’d barely slid from her stool when the sky exploded with fire, illuminating the river and the marshes beneath it, obliterating the stars, and shooting blurry light through the milky glass of the wind chime.  The stones swayed with shocked air, singing sweetly despite the destruction in the sky behind them.  Then a rain of fire descended like fireworks, myriad balls of light extinguished as soon as they collided with water into hiccups of steam.”  (pg. 2 ARC)

While much of Edith’s pain is in secret, except to her immediate family, her sense of justice and right will push her to investigate the mysterious plane crash above her home in South Carolina.  As she works on this case in secret, she’s simultaneously balancing the need for family calm and the desire for change within the family dynamic.  What ultimately drives her family to separate will also bring it back together and resolve a nearly 50 year old mystery.

“‘She always said that only fools thought all glass was fragile.'” (pg. 31 ARC)

Fast-forward to the present day, and Merritt find herself trying to curl up into a ball on her own, only to realize that Southern manners will not allow it.  On top of her new well-meaning neighbors, she also must confront a brother-in-law she never knew about and adjust to life with her step-mother and younger brother Owen.  As Merritt learns the traditions of Southern living, she also begins to realize that like drinking Coke with peanuts, you have to take the bitter with the sweet in life.  While she may have found love with Cal, she also knew there were wounds that would never heal, and some that hovered below the skin’s surface that she was unaware of.

The Sound of Glass by Karen White is a multi-layered story about family, their secrets, and the innocuous connections that can lead to lasting relationships and memories to be cherished.  What breaks us can only make us stronger, and in some cases, some of us are unaware that we are broken and in need of fixing.  Denial can be a powerful drug, as can self-protection, but family bonds and love are the only true healing power in this story and in our own lives.  White is a successful writer of Southern, women’s fiction for a reason, and once readers buy one book, they’ll be addicted and buy the rest!

***Another contender for the 2015 Best List***

About the Author:

Known for award-winning novels such as Learning to Breathe, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance 2009 Book of the Year Award finalist The House on Tradd Street, the highly praised The Memory of Water, the four-week SIBA bestseller The Lost Hours, Pieces of the Heart, and her IndieBound national bestseller The Color of Light, Karen has shared her appreciation of the coastal Low country with readers in four of her last six novels.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a storyteller by birth, Karen has made her home in many different places.  Visit the author at her website, and become a fan on Facebook.

My other reviews:

After the Rain by Karen White

After the Rain by Karen White is a republished and remastered novel that is full of twists and turns, touches lightly on the desolation of a broken family life and the darkness people can fall into as a result, and the hope that just might be around the corner.  Suzanne Paris is on a bus to Atlanta when she decides on a whim to get off in Walton, Ga., where she meets a large family and finds the home she’s been looking for all of her life.  But with the sun comes rain.  And there is a deluge of it in this book.

Suzanne has a past that is not far behind her, even as her freelance photography job takes her to many places.  She’s running from a life and for her life, and White has created a character who is both likeable and unlikeable.  She keeps secrets even from those know care for her, and her ability to trust others is very tenuous and easily broken by the wrong word or action, which White captures easily in her imagery.  From how she’s described by the muscular, hot mayor Joe Warner — who also teaches at the high school and coaches football — to how Suzanne pauses before answering questions about her past, readers will find a character who is taken in slowly by the small town and its residents but frightened of how her own past could harm them.

“Tides change.  So does the moon.  With the unfailing constancy of brittle autumn closing in on bright summer, things always changed.  If Suzanne had ever had faith in anything, it was in knowing that all things were fleeting.  And for good reason.  The highway of life was littered with the roadkill of those who didn’t know when to change lanes.”  (Page 1)

While things can be fleeting in life, there are things that are ever-lasting, and in this case, White talks about the support systems that we can have within our own families.  Whether those families are the ones we are born into or the ones we fall into or create out of friends and husbands and our own children, they are there to love and support us unconditionally.  Suzanne has a lot of lessons to learn, but the slow unraveling of her fears and her heart is endearing.  In many ways, though she’s an adult, she’s like a child being led into the life she’s always wanted.

“‘Amanda! You quit right now or I’m gonna jar your preserves!'”  (Page 5)

Photography plays a large role in the novel, and Suzanne not only takes photos of the people in Walton but also finds that she’s become a part of the town’s tapestry as she weaves parts of herself into the photos she takes.  Even more poignant, she connects with teenage Maddie when she shares with her the techniques a budding photographer needs to learn that are not necessarily taught in art classes.  After the Rain also offers readers that down-home southern feel that all of White’s novels have — from the caring strangers to the idioms that make the place its own.  There are moments when readers will want to strangle Suzanne for her decisions, and some events are easy to see coming, but the way White writes these characters and their story endears them to readers and ensures their love and struggles will never be forgotten.

102nd Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 102nd Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry.  Please contribute to the growing list of 2011 Indie Lit Award Poetry Suggestions, visit the stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour from April.

From Ordinary Miracles by Erica Jong, which I reviewed earlier this week.

Because I Would Not Admit (page 67-9)

+++++And his dark secret love
+++++Does thy life destroy. (William Blake)

Because I would not admit
that I had nurtured
an enemy within my breast–

a lover who wanted to gnaw
my secret rose,
a lover who wanted to press me
between the covers of a book,
then burn it,
a lover-usurper who wanted
to take my soul–

I nearly died,
running my car upon rocks
like a badly steered sloop,
crashing into trees
like a hurricane gale,
burning my arms in ovens
(when I thought I was only
baking bread) . . . .

To admit the betrayal
was worse than
the fact of betrayal–
for I loved him
as leaves love sun,
turning my face to him,
turning my hips, my womb
to be filled with a dream
of children, a dream of books
& babies sprouting like leaves
from a spring tree,
a dream of trees that leaked blood
instead of sap . . . .

The dream’s the thing–
the dream we die for,
turning our faces to the sun,
eyes closed, never seeing it has
gone out:
dead star, it blazes coldly
over a dead planet
while we bask in its afterglow,
now remembered in the mind.

He was fond
of stars & telescopes;
fond of machines, fond
of building the most complex
to scale the clouds.
But Icarus flies
near the sun with waxen wings,
& does not think of gears
or motors.

Trees rise up at him
as he falls; the earth
rushes to meet him
like a lover
raising her writhing hips;
the wings weep their waxy tears
& fall apart;
the sun is hot
on his face.
But even as he falls
he is in ecstasy;
his sun has not
gone out.

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions. Let’s have a great discussion…pick a line, pick an image, pick a sentence.

I’ve you missed the other Virtual Poetry Circles. It’s never too late to join the discussion.

Ordinary Miracles by Erica Jong

Ordinary Miracles by Erica Jong begins with an introduction by the poet herself in which she talks about how poems have become “the stepchild of American letters,” especially since the novel has become so popular.  She further goes on to discuss the duality of being a poet and a novelist and how it is often considered “promiscuous.”  She has thrown those adjectives aside to embrace her duality and to make the most of both genres, with the themes of one informing and flourishing in the other.  “I am always hoping that someone will recognize the poet and novelist as two aspects of the same soul — but alas, the genres are reviewed by two different groups of people, so no one ever seems to notice this in print,” she says.  (page xvi)  It’s funny that she would have this concern in the 1980s, and I wonder what she would think about blogs today that review both novels and poetry.

Erica Jong’s collection is broken into four parts: Fetal Heartbeat; The Breath Inside the Breath; The Heart, The Child, The World; Straw in the Fire.  From these section titles alone, readers can tell that the poems are likely to generate an arc from birth to death.

Jong’s narrator examines what it means to be a mother, the trepidation that comes with, and the joys that are discovered as the child enters the world and grows up questioning the world around them.  More than that, there is a circle of birth-life-death that Jong refers to and wonders about, working back from her advanced years to her childhood.  From “Poem for Molly’s Fortieth Birthday” (page 23-6), “Now,/I begin/unraveling/the sleeves/of care/that have/stitched up/this brow,/unraveling/the threads/that have kept/me scared,/as I pranced/over the world,/seemingly fearless,/working/without a net,/”

The second section tackles the trials of living, embarking on new aspects of our lives and the moment in which we straddle the past and future.  The indecision, the drawing back, the confusion, and the final moment the decision is made.  The narrator is on the precipice of decisions and movements through life.  From “This Element” (page 39), “Looking for a place/where we might turn off/the inner dialogue,/the monologue/of futures & regrets,/of pasts not past enough/& futures that may never come/to pass,/”

In the smallest of the sections — three — presents the grittiness of life — the love and loss and the pain and joy — but much of this is written bitterly or ironically.  Jong uses simple language and images to demonstrate these emotions without clearly carving out each situation that gave way to those emotions.  Her lines are short and clipped, drawing from that additional emotional power.  On page 55 from “Letter to my Lover After Seven Years,” “Now we have died/into the limbo of lost loves,/that wreckage of memories/tarnishing with time,/that litany of losses/which grows longer with the years,/as more of our friends/descend underground/& the list of our loved dead/outstrips the list of the living.//”

In the final part of the book, the anger, bitterness, and frankness are all that is left as the scars have bored into the narrator and the fluttery, flowery ideas of birth have been completely worn away, leaving only a bristly exterior and nearly empty interior.  In this way, the final section is not a closing of the circle, but it could be if the opening of the circle was ill-perceived.

Ordinary Miracles by Erica Jong takes a look at life from a female point of view — a poet who is derailed and tainted by love and childbirth, who thinks she may have been better off remaining untainted as a way to create the best work.  Whether this interpretation is correct is up to each reader, especially given that many of the poems also illustrate the hidden joys of childbirth and life — the hope that comes with each, a hope that things will be different.  However, readers may cringe at some of the word choices and language used in some of the poems to describe the anatomy of men and the act of sex.  The poet may have chosen the words to provide shock value, and make a point about perspective once relationships fail.  The collection examines the ordinary in an attempt to show readers how miraculous those moments are, but the effort falls short on some occasions.  Overall, the collection will have you talking with book clubs and friends for a long time as it raises issues about relationships and motherhood.

About the Poet (from her Website):

Erica Jong—novelist, poet, and essayist—has consistently used her craft to help provide women with a powerful and rational voice in forging a feminist consciousness. She has published 20 books, including eight novels, six volumes of poetry, six books of non-fiction and numerous articles in magazines and newspapers such as the New York Times, the Sunday Times of London, Elle, Vogue and the New York Times Book Review.

Erica Jong lives in New York City and Weston, CT with her husband, attorney Ken Burrows, and standard poodle, Belinda Barkowitz.  Her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, is also a writer.



This is my 25th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.




This is my 16th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.