Friday, August 31, 2012

New books from Carolinas authors

In recent weeks, my desk has become home to an interesting collection of new novels, kids’ books and nonfiction, all from Carolinas authors. Among them:

“War is Not Just for Heroes” (University of South Carolina; $29.95).
Linda Canup Katon-Lima, who lives in Tega Cay, S.C., edited these World War II dispatches and letters written by her father, the late Claude “Red” Canup, a U.S. Marine Corps combat correspondent.

Canup was sports editor of the Anderson (S.C.) Independent when he took a leave to write about Marines from combat zones in the Pacific. These are the only known collection of any World War II combat correspondent’s writings. The USMC Combat Correspondents Association recently selected Keaton-Lima as recipient of its 2012 civilian award.

“Families in Crisis in the Old South: Divorce, Slavery, & the Law” (University of North Carolina Press; $49.95).

Loren Schweninger, a historian at UNC Greensboro, reviewed nearly 800 divorce cases from the sSouthern United States and found that divorce rates rose steadily in the antebellum South, even though divorce was often viewed as a form of madness or degeneracy.

“The Greatest Unit of Value” (Working Class Press, $14.95).
In this debut novel, Charlotte’s Michael Sadoff gives us Granger Callahan, a young man in the throes of a breakdown. Granger ends up hitchhiking to San Francisco and falling in love with a grifting drug addict.

Sadoff will sign books 1-4 p.m. Sept. 15 at the North County Regional Library’s Back to School Block Party, 16500 Holly Crest Lane in Huntersville.

“The Unfinished Garden,” (Harlequin MIRA; $14.95).
Barbara Claypole White, who lives outside Chapel Hill, draws on her love of gardening in this debut novel about a man who turns to gardening to help cope with his obsessive-compulsive disorder. His life changes when he meets a widow who’s also a landscaper.

“Blue Autumn Cruise” (Zonderkidz; $10.99).
This is the third installment in the “Sisters in All Seasons” series by Mooresville’s Lisa Williams Kline.

To be published Oct. 23, Kline’s tale of two unlikely teenaged stepsisters is targeted to readers 9 and up.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Neil Gaiman and Unchained Tour to perform in Charlotte

The Unchained Tour refers to itself as a group of world-famous raconteurs. In other words, it's a bunch of folks who love telling stories.

The tour, which includes bestselling author Neil Gaiman ("Coraline," "The Graveyard Book"), is making lots of stops in the Carolinas in September. It rumbles into Charlotte in an old school bus on Sept. 18 for a 7:30 p.m. Booth Playhouse performance. Here's more information on tickets and N.C. performances.

The event is a spin off of author George Dawes Green's The Moth, a live storytelling series. You can now also hear "Moth on the Radio" on many NPR stations. The tour's goal is to spread face-to-face storytelling while supporting independent bookstores.

Along with Gaiman, other touring raconteurs include humorist and storytelling coach Dawn J. Fraser; Edgar Oliver, a raconteur star of the Edinburgh Festival; and Peter Aguero, current host of The Moth. There will be music, too, provided by Charleston-based musicians Rachel Kate and Joel T. Hamilton.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Charlotte book club gets a mention in Wall Street Journal

Last year, Elaine Monaghan and other members of Charlotte's Berkeley Book Club enjoyed reading "The Kitchen House."

Now, members of the south Charlotte club have learned via The Wall Street Journal that they've played a part in propelling the 2010 novel to bestseller status.

Kathleen Grissom's debut novel, set on a Southern plantation, features an Irish indentured servant who bonds with slaves in the kitchen house. When it came out in 2010, the book didn't get much notice.

But as the Journal recounts in a recent story, the novel benefited from readers recommending the book to other readers. Independent bookstores saw the demand and began stocking it. It's now a book club favorite.

"It an era when digital buzz is considered crucial to launching books overnight, it was old-fashioned book-club word-of mouth that prevailed," the Journal wrote.

The novel, which is being compared to "The Help," is now in its 21st printing, with 254,000 copies in print and 154,000 e-books sold. Monaghan and her club are mentioned in the Journal's story, which notes that they dressed up last year as "Kitchen House" characters in honor of Halloween and also enjoyed discussing the book by telephone with Grissom.

It's nice to know that word of mouth can still create bestsellers. I also learned about "The Kitchen House" from a member of my own book club. She told me just last week she'd heard it was wonderful.

Monaghan telephoned to tell me about her book club's moment in the limelight. Then, like a true book lover, she urged me to read "The Kitchen House." "It'll make your heart ache," she told me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kathy Reichs' new novel: 'Bones Are Forever'

I love asking Charlotte's Kathy Reichs how she gets the ideas for her bestselling "Bones" series of thrillers.

Last year, I learned she drew inspiration for "Flash and Bones," her fourteenth thriller featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, from a big landfill behind the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

For her newest novel, "Bones Are Forever," out Aug. 28, Reichs told me she was inspired by a visit to Yellowknife, a town in Canada's Northwest Territories. There, she learned about diamond mines, gold mines and the arsenic that's a gold-mining byproduct.

"As soon as they started talking about arsenic," she told me, "I thought, 'What a perfect place for a body.'"

Reichs also drew from forensic anthropology cases she had recently investigated. They included Florida's Caylee Anthony case and the discovery of the body of an 11-month-old girl in an attic in eastern North Carolina.

"Bones Are Forever" opens to a grisly scene. Brennan is investigating the discovery of baby's decomposing body in the bathroom of a seedy apartment in Quebec.

Reichs, a New York Times bestselling author, was a UNC Charlotte anthropology professor when she published her first novel, "Deja Dead," in 1997. She remains on UNCC's faculty but no longer teaches. Her new book is her fifteenth in her "Bones" series. The books are also the inspiration for "Bones," the Fox television series.

Reichs is under contract for a total of 19 "Bones" thrillers, and she's now at work on the next one, to be set in Afghanistan. That setting was inspired by Reichs' visit last year during a USO tour.

Reichs will sign copies of her novel at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30 at Pineville's Barnes & Noble, 11055 Carolina Place Parkway.

Joining her will be her daughter and fellow novelist Kerry Reichs, author of "What You Wish For," a tale of five families pursuing different paths to happiness.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A big list of political books

Just in time for the Democratic National Convention, readers and local political experts came through with numerous suggestions for great political reads.

Below is a non-exhaustive, non-scientific list compiled from those suggestions. Find more in my accompanying story.

Is there a favorite book of yours missing from these lists? Feel free to comment and share.

“Advise and Consent,” Allen Drury
“Alexander Hamilton,” Ron Chernow
“All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
“All Too Human,” George Stephanopoulos
“Animal Farm” and “1984,” George Orwell
“Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” Richard Hofstadter
“The Boys on the Bus,” Timothy Crouse
“Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime,” John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
“The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad” and “The Post-American World,” Fareed Zakaria
“Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans,” Lewis Gould
“The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge and the 1924 Election,” Garland Tucker III
“Lyndon: An Oral Biography,” Merle Miller
“My Life,” Bill Clinton
“Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63,” Taylor Branch
“Party of the People: A History of the Democrats,” Jules Witcover
“Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush,” Paul Boller
“Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy
“Robert Kennedy,” Jack Newfield
“Southern Politics in State and Nation,” V.O. Key, Jr.
“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” Doris Kearns Goodwin
“The Vital South: How Presidents are Elected,” Earl Black and Merle Black
“What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” Richard Ben Cramer
“The World Is Flat” and “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” Thomas Friedman
“The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” four volumes, Robert Caro

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Carolinas writers score in annual worst-sentence contest

Sure, most people can write mediocre prose. Or even bad prose. But to write a sentence that's so truly awful it wins a Bulwer-Lytton award, now that takes some talent.

This year, two Carolinas writers managed to craft sentences selected from thousands of entries as winners in Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Mary Patrick of Lake City, S.C., won in the science fiction category of the annual bad-writing competition. Her sentence:

"As I gardened, gazing toward the autumnal sky, I longed to run my finger through the trail of mucus left by a single speckled slug -- innocuously thrusting past my rhododendrons -- and in feeling that warm slime, be swept back to planet Alderon, back into the tentacles of the alien who loved me."

And Amy Torchinsky of Greensboro took the vile puns category with:

"Though they were merely strangers on a train, as she looked North by Northwest through the rear window, Marnie knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the trouble with Harry was that he was a psycho -- his left and right hand middle fingers (formerly extended in the birds position) were menacingly twisting a rope in the form of a noose; certain of her impending death as surely as she could dial M for Murder, she was overcome by intense vertigo."

Since 1982, San Jose State University's English Department has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a literary competition aimed at finding the opening sentence of the worst possible novel. It is named for a Victorian novelist, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose novel "Paul Clifford" begins with the famous line, "It was a dark and stormy night."

This year's overall winner, Cathy Bryant, hails from Manchester, England. Her sentence:

"As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting."

Friday, August 3, 2012

S.C. woman's "Cruel Harvest" explores a dark childhood

Fran Grubb lives in Ninety Six, S.C., a little town between Greenville and Columbia. At 62, she’s a curly-haired grandmother, a singer and public speaker.
Most of all, she’s a survivor.
In her new memoir, “Cruel Harvest” (Thomas Nelson; $22.99), Grubb tells the story of a childhood that included near starvation, beatings and sexual abuse. It’s a dark story, but one that’s likely to give hope to others.
“So many people,” she says, “have been through the same thing.”
How bad was her childhood? So bad that being sent to an orphanage, Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in Greenwood, S.C., proved a godsend. There, she learned to make a bed and brush her teeth. When she scraped her knee, she got her first Band-Aid.
This safe harbor was short lived. Her father kidnapped Grubb and her sister after they’d been there less than a year.
As he’s absconding with them, she recalls in the book, he tells them: “They didn’t want you in that home anymore. That old woman begged me to take you off her hands.”
Grubb portrays her father as a monster, a violent alcoholic whose cruelties include snatching a hamburger from the hand of his own hungry child.
In an interview, I asked if she ever saw any redeeming qualities.
None, she told me.
The best she can say for him is that he suffered a head injury as a young man. Perhaps, she says, it changed his personality.
Grubb escaped her father and got a job in a drug store at age 15. She had almost no formal education. Though her mother taught her to read, she left school in third grade. Her parents were migrant workers, and her father kept her and her siblings out of school to work in the fields, picking cotton and other crops.
Once on her own, Grubb taught herself multiplication tables, read voraciously in the public library and earned a GED and a real estate license.
Eventually, she began telling her story at churches, prisons, centers for abused women. She even told it at the Connie Maxwell orphanage. She got a standing ovation.
It took years, Grubb says, but with the help of her faith, she has forgiven her father.
In a moving scene near the book’s end, her husband learns where her father is buried – in an unmarked grave in Cowpens, S.C.
They erect a headstone. For its inscription, Grubb chooses a Bible verse from Matthew:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.