Goodreads Book Giveaway
by Rachel Bukey
Giveaway ends April 12, 2022.
I’m back on the road after a long hiatus here in the Pacific Northwest. And I’m excited that my literary travels are taking me to Virginia – the tenth state to enter the union. Specifically, I’m going to Charlottesville to visit the oldest bookstore in Virginia. The New Dominion Bookshop opened in 1924 and is now located in the historic downtown mall. The online photos intrigued me and, when I learned that the shop was hosting the twenty-fifth annual Festival of the Book on the very weekend I found them, I wished I could transport myself there and take part in what appears to be a bibliophile’s dream. Instead, I had to be content with leaving a voicemail and getting a call back from a bookseller, Sarah, the next day. They were very busy.
Had I been able to physically travel to Charlottesville, I would have attended the workshop that weekend on Southern Literary Fiction, which included two native Virginia authors: Talley English and Krysten Lewis. Instead, Sarah suggested I read Krysten Lewis’s latest novel, Half of What You Hear, set in the fictitious town of Greyhill, Virginia. I guess I’ll have to content myself with learning about contemporary life in small-town Virginia that way. Moving on to Virginia historical fiction, I could read William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, but there’s some controversy around that book now and maybe Edward Jones’s, The Known World is a better pick. Also, Barbara Kingsolver has lived in Virginia for some time and her novel, Prodigal Summer might also be a good choice. And what about Annie Dillard’s, Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, a kind of modern-day Walden experience? Looks like I have many good choices. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back at the New Dominion Bookshop website, I learned that a long-time owner of the shop, Carol Troxell, loved gardening and planted a rose garden behind the bookstore. Apparently, the once unsightly alley has now become a favorite stop on historic Charlottesville tours. I can see from the photos that the roses are gorgeous – especially the climbers that grow over the arched French trellises connecting two old brick buildings. A profusion of red, pink and yellow roses cascade over the trellises and bloom every May. Their perfume must be heavenly.
I also like the way that New Dominion supports its literary community. Every Thursday night, students in the University of Virginia’s MFA program read from their work – one poet and one prose writer each time. On the last Friday of each month, other young writers and poets read from their work. The UVA Charlottesville Book Club also meets regularly at New Dominion. And the shop hosts a number of author readings, book-signings and launches each month. I’m especially intrigued by this service that New Dominion offers: Dedicated to creating a personalized experience for our customers in-store and out, we’ll collaborate on curating the perfect library completely tailored to you.
I also found this gem, written by a former bookstore employee who went on to have a career in publishing:
Our most famous customer was William Faulkner, who came to Charlottesville because his daughter Jill lived out in the county. He was the writer-in-residence at the University in 1957 and 1958. A conspicuous figure around town, he wore a deerstalker hat and a dashing caped tweed coat and always clutched a pipe. When Faulkner came into the New Dominion, he only spoke with C.C. (That’s the original owner, Christopher Columbus Wells.)
Mostly, what I like about this bookstore is how it feels in the pictures – warm and inviting and stacked floor to ceiling with books. Stay tuned for my reviews.
With the whole day to explore Vermont’s capitol and Lake Champlain, and the forecast for more record-breaking temps, we head straight for the water to hike along the lake. The trail was leafy in spots and beachy in others and we especially enjoyed the prevailing breeze off the water. It felt so good to stretch our legs after clocking so many hours in the car that we spent more time hiking than we’d originally planned. According to my Fitbit, we walked a total of nine miles this day, though not all during our morning sojourn. After our hike, we found a local coop for picnic sandwiches and opted to eat in the air-conditioned cafe since it was hot away from the lake, again pushing ninety degrees.
Linda and our guidebook recommend the Shelburne Museum just a few miles up the road for an afternoon excursion.
To call this forty-five acre property a museum seems misleading. It’s more like many museums spread out across the rolling hillside. There are thirty-nine buildings, twenty-five of which have been moved to the site, along with an old steamship, The Ticonderoga, which is dry docked on the lawn. The buildings are filled with a mind-boggling variety of art, Americana and collections. The guidebook tells me that its founder and brainchild was Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) who inherited a large collection of French Impressionist paintings from her mother and then got interested in collecting collections. Part of Webb’s inherited fine art collection is housed here on site in a Greek Revival building. This collection is extensive and includes paintings by Monet, Manet, Courbet and Mary Cassatt. Also notable is that the interior of this building is an exact reproduction of Webb’s Manhattan apartment which her children built as a memorial to their mother after her death. Weird, right?
One building housed the museum’s extensive permanent quilt collection along with a special show of Amish quilts. They were gorgeous—detailed and colorful. My favorite was a predominantly yellow quilt made by a ninety-one year old woman as a wedding gift for her granddaughter.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Ticonderoga. In this heat, I wished I’d been on the water instead of on the lawn and that the ship’s the dining room, all period china and crystal, had been serving cold beverages. We made due with cold bottled water from the gift shop after taking in the Sweet Tooth exhibit—paintings and sculpture, photographic art and video installations all on the subject of dessert. My favorite was this one featuring twinkies.
With only two hours to spend in this amazing place, we experienced only a small sampling of everything offered. That said, we saw some fabulous impressionist paintings, western art and all kinds of beautiful pieces.
Museum docents waved us out when they closed the doors at 5:00 and we headed straight for the local ice cream shop for happy hour craving something sweet after drooling over the desserts depicted in so many delicious formats.
If you go, plan to spend at least half a day here, or maybe two, to do it justice.
After a great night in Lenox including an amazing dinner of duck breast in salted caramel sauce (right?) at the Alta Bistro and a comfy bed at the Birchwood Inn, we take a brief sojourn to the Norman Rockwell Museum. I’m not expecting much but the setting is gorgeous (miles of rolling hills) and there’s a special exhibit of Andy Warhol with Norman Rockwell. The juxtaposition of these two artists surprises me. They are contemporaries after all and more than once chose the same subjects: Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe to name just two. There’s also an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s nephew whose illustrations are playful and amusing—several show his family visits to his famous uncle in New York.
But on this trip, the road’s the thing so we hop back into the car for the main event: driving north into Vermont. Our destination for the next two days is Burlington— Vermont’s capitol, it’s largest city and home to the University of Vermont. The drive is again quite beautiful, rolling hills, leaves starting to turn from green to gold and red. It’s still hot and the air conditioning is still on high for this trip. We cross the border into Vermont and I’m struck by the welcoming roadside rest area. There’s green grass and Adirondack chairs and pots of geraniums still in bloom. I feel welcomed.
We arrive in Burlington and pull into the long driveway of an old Victorian house perched high on the hill up from Lake Champlain and several blocks from the center of town. This is Made Inn Vermont, the B & B where we have a booked a room for two nights. Our hostess greets us in the driveway with hands on hips and a huge smile like we’re her long lost friends. She doesn’t look like your average B & B proprietor. She’s dressed in a tight plunging black top over black pants, her black hair touches her shoulders and her red lipstick accentuates her clear pale skin. She is still beautiful and knows it. Her name is Linda and she’s excited to give us the tour of her old Victorian house. It really is something else—a kind of retro sixties throw back kind of place. There are old rock and roll posters, lots of vinyl records in the common areas and we hear Billy Joel’s upbeat piano plinking from the speakers. Old guitars line the hallways and fill the nooks. Linda shows us the hot tub in the back off the kitchen while offering to make us margaritas, pour us an ice cold local beer or glass of wine while her guy takes our bags up the stairs to our room. As it’s still ninety degrees in the shade, I go for the margarita and my husband takes a beer.
The room is ridiculous and fun, all done up in black and white with red heart-shaped balloons on either side of the bed. The opposite wall is one huge blackboard filled with graffiti. Linda flips a switch and the platform of the bed lights up like a lava lamp. The desk looks like any other hotel desk until Linda opens the top to reveal the turntable. My husband is already flipping through the vinyl records in here while Linda gives us the rest of the information we need: breakfast between nine and ten, cupola up the stairs with great views of the lake and the bathroom across the hall is ours alone. She gives us the keys and leaves us alone to take a deep breath and consider whether we’ve just booked the best place ever, or whether we’ll regret this in the morning. But the bed is comfortable and the margarita is delicious and the room is coolly air-conditioned. It’s a good place.
Later, we walk down the hill to a wide pedestrian mall filled with white lights hanging in the trees and restaurants on either side, all with outdoor seating. We find an Italian place and have pizza and cold Pinot Grigio with a Caesar salad. We are happy tourists.
On August 21, 2014, I launched my first mystery novel, Leap of Faith, at The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle and I’m just now coming down off the high of that awesome dream-come-true experience. Here’s how it played out. I invited all my friends to come and help me celebrate the publishing of my first mystery novel and everyone showed up! And friends brought other friends. One friend of mine brought his mother, wife, daughter and his daughter’s friend. Wow! I greeted people and watched nervously as more and more chairs were lined up in the room— we packed the house! There were introductions and then my publisher, Waverly Fitzgerald of Rat City Publishing, raffled off tickets to a Rat City Roller Girl bout – tickets collected by a member of the Junior Roller Girl “Brats” rolling around the room on skates. Finally I got up on the podium and faced the crowd.
I’d been nervous all day. I’m not used to public speaking. Having spent some years teaching middle school language arts and writing, I’m especially not used to getting up in front of a group and having their immediate attention. It felt like an out of body experience. But once I looked around the room at all the smiling and expectant faces of my family and friends, I could really feel the love. That sounds corny but it’s exactly what I felt – love and good wishes for my success beaming from every person in that room. My nerves settled then and I was able to give a brief introduction about writing mysteries in general and about the Ann Dexter series in particular. I read the Prologue and first chapter of Leap of Faith. There were some questions: Why did I decide to write about a psychic medium? Why did I choose to set the mystery in Seattle? Was I thinking of a particular suicide I had witnessed off the Aurora Avenue Bridge? Would I be going on a book tour?
And after the Q & A I made my way to the back of the room to sign books. That’s when I really felt strange. I mean, real authors do this, right? And my nerves flared up again. I faced the first person in line and my mind went blank – his name would simply not come to me. I couldn’t remember his name! One of my writer friends had told me about a book signing where the author provided sticky notes for those in line and on the white board had written: “Even if I’ve known you since kindergarten, please write your name down in case my mind goes blank.” I should have heeded that warning. But Andy just chuckled and reminded me of his name. He’s a writer too and I think, I hope, he understood about nerves.
And here’s another fabulous thing that happened that night: the book sold out! The common wisdom is that only about fifty percent of those invited will actually show up at a book launch so Elliott Bay ordered books accordingly. Ha! I guess they didn’t know that I have the best friends and family in the world. You all packed the house and rocked my universe that night! Thanks to Elliott Bay and to all my lovely friends who helped me celebrate.
And over the past week I’ve had many readers tell me that they’ve finished Leap of Faith and enjoyed it. Phew. Because the only thing more nerve-wracking than facing a room full of people and reading from my novel was knowing that now those friends would actually read it themselves. So thanks to all of you who’ve read the book, bought copies for your friends and even told your local independent bookstores about it. Because of you Leap of Faith is on the shelves at Phinney Books and may well make its way to the Edmonds Bookshop too. My publisher, Rat City Publishing, assures me that Seattle Mystery Bookshop will stock it and also, perhaps, Third Place Books. Of course, it’s also available from Amazon:
I had a lovely experience sending Leap of Faith out into the world. Thanks to everyone!
As Alice Hoffman’s novel, Skylight Confessions, opens, Seventeen-year-old Arlyn Singer has just lost her father to a long illness. With no mother or siblings, Arlyn alone nursed him through his final days and listened to his stories about people he met during his career as a ferry boat captain. Her favorite story is about a tribe in Connecticut who looked like normal people until the boat went down or when they needed to escape — then they sprouted wings, flew away and saved themselves.
After her father’s funeral, Arlyn stands on her front porch and looks out into the unknown distant future, promising herself that she will marry the next man she sees. Three hours later a young man, John Moody, pulls up in his beat-up Saab and tells Arlyn — still standing on the porch — that he’s lost. He’s a senior at Yale studying architecture on his way to a party. Arlyn looks at the directions and agrees that he is very lost — the party is four towns over. As in a fairy tale, the strange young man suddenly notices how tired he is and Arlyn invites him in to rest. He stretches out on the sofa and falls into a deep sleep. Arlyn watches him for a while then goes into the kitchen and rustles up the first meal she has eaten in the three days since her father’s death. Then she tidies up the dishes, takes off all her clothes and waits for John Moody to notice. Now, although she’s never even been kissed before, she takes John Moody to bed and knows he is her destiny. They stay in bed for three days. Early on the fourth morning, John realizes what he’s done and slinks off in the dark to go back to Yale.
But Arlyn is not to be trifled with. She’s a doer, driven to take control of her future. So she sells her father’s house, packs up all her belongings and takes the ferry to Bridgeport and on to New Haven to track down her man. Shocked at her arrival, John tells Arlyn to leave, but she is so certain, so “young and insistent” that he lets her stay, “just for one night.” But while he studies, she waits for him in bed and the sex is even hotter than he remembers: “he was in a fever, he was acting like a man in love.” But when he falls asleep, he has nightmares of “houses falling down, broken windows, women who hold on and don’t let go.” In a panic, he gets up early and leaves her a note: “Have a good trip home.” He takes his exam and then stops for a couple of beers before driving to his parent’s house near Madison, Connecticut. But Arlyn gets a ride to John’s parents’ house and arrives half an hour before he does. As John approaches the house, he sees Arlyn in the kitchen with his mother cutting up carrots for their dinner. Third time’s the charm — John surrenders to his destiny.
Flash forward and the couple have a baby and live in graduate student housing at Columbia University. Eventually they move to John’s parents’ house in Connecticut — the Glass Slipper. It’s a famous house built by John Moody’s father, an acclaimed architect whose reputation John can never live up to. But John and Arlyn’s marriage is lonely. John is not interested in his son while, for Arlyn, it seems Sam is the only thing she is interested in. Not a great combo. The boy turns out to be a strange solitary child with no friends besides his mother and a baby squirrel he finds and carries home in his pocket. Soon Arlyn falls into an affair with the window washer (this glass house needs window washing every week!) and John with the next door neighbor. Arlyn conceives a child with her lover, quickly develops breast cancer, and dies within months.
Flash forward again and John Moody is visiting a psychic medium in New York because he’s being haunted by Arlyn. Enter a young woman, Meredith, who can see the ghost of Arlyn following behind John Moody. She’s intrigued enough and lost enough herself to want to know more about this man and his ghost so she shows up unannounced at the Glass Slipper. When Meredith arrives, Sam is standing on the flat part of the roof, as if he will jump or thinks he can fly. (Remember that strange flying Connecticut tribe?) And now, in another of the more and more difficult points in the novel when the reader is asked to suspend disbelief, this twenty-eight-year-old, Brown University educated young woman decides to stay with the Moody family and become the live-in nanny for Sam and his half sister Blanca. Sam Moody is now sixteen — a difficult, messed up teenager who has a problem with drugs and with life. The story moves forward, Meredith develops a deep relationship with the Moody children, John marries the next door neighbor. But no one can save Sam from himself and his eventual addiction. And Sam, apparently not being from that tribe that can fly away, cannot save himself either. But Meredith does meet a young physicist with whom she can discuss her experiences with Arlyn Moody’s ghost.
By now, I’ve lost interest in this story and I’m not sure why. Maybe because of all that not-so-willing suspension of disbelief I’ve engaged in throughout; maybe because none of these characters is likeable or believable enough for me; or, maybe because I keep waiting for Sam Moody to fly away and save himself or for Arlyn’s ghost to stop haunting the man she didn’t love in life and to intercede with the son she loved so desperately. But, apparently, ghosts haunt the person who can’t let them go and for some inexplicable reason, John Moody can’t let the dead Arlyn go when it seemed he couldn’t wait to get rid of her in life.
Turns out Sam does believe that he belongs to the Connecticut race who can fly, but for him flight means escaping through drugs. His end is tragic, as it was predestined to be. Blanca escapes from Connecticut to run a bookshop in London that sells only fairy tales. Of course. The themes of fairy tales and ghosts, especially confronting one’s ghosts, is a theme that Hoffman plays with throughout this novel. For me, though, the story covers so much ground in so few pages that I don’t feel connected enough with any of the characters and it ends up feeling more Grimm than hopeful.
Sadly, too, I do not get any real sense of Connecticut through Skylight Confessions. I that many of the characters in this story can’t wait to leave — that it’s a place in which it’s easy to get stuck, just as Arlyn’s ghost has been stuck. I know that “The lanes here in Connecticut were winding, green, shadowy. There were fields with stone walls . . . built a century earlier when cows roamed the pasture.” Sam Moody sums it up for Meredith as “green and boring” but she stays on in Connecticut for exactly that reason, she says, “Connecticut felt safe, a bubble floating above the real world.” She wants “The bubble. The green lawn. The blackbirds. The quiet.” One can stay in the bubble for a while but ultimately, like Meredith, we must all confront our own ghosts.