Absalom’s Daughters by Suzanne Feldman

  • Absalom's DaughtersTitle:  Absalom’s Daughters: A Novel
  • Author:  Suzanne Feldman
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Pages:  272
  • Published:  July 2016 – Henry Holt & Co.
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Self-educated and brown-skinned, Cassie works full-time in her grandmother’s laundry in rural Mississippi. Illiterate and white, Judith falls for “colored music” and dreams of life as a big city radio star. These teenaged girls are half-sisters. And when they catch wind of their wayward father’s inheritance coming down in Virginia, they hitch their hopes to a road trip together to claim what’s rightly theirs.

In an old junk car, with a frying pan, a ham, and a few dollars hidden in a shoe, they set off through the American Deep South of the 1950s, a bewitchingly beautiful landscape as well as one bedeviled by racial striving and violence. Absalom’s Daughters combines the buddy movie, the coming-of-age tale, and a dash of magical realism to enthrall and move us with an unforgettable, illuminating novel.  (publisher)

My take:  Cassie grew up with her mother (Lil Ma) and grandmother in a small Mississippi town. Their walls were papered with magazine pages and that’s how Cassie learned how to read.  One day she learned about her father – a man she’d never met. He was white and her grandmother, wanting a grandchild who could pass for white, had encouraged Lil Ma to let him father her child. But Grandmother’s idea didn’t work –  Cassie’s skin wasn’t light enough. When Cassie meets her father’s white daughter, Judith, the two form an initially uneasy alliance.

After a few years Judith finds out her father (who left his white family) is set to receive an inheritance. She’s going to find him, get some of his inheritance so she can go to New York City and become a star. Since Cassie is also his progeny she convinces her to come with Judith to make her claim. They set off on a road trip that was at times funny, frightening, and magical. The girls learn life lessons along the way – two being to never give up on your dreams and never forget the past.

While I liked the novel it seemed like a book that would be read in a high school literature class. Nothing wrong with that, just thought I’d mention my impression. I think readers in that age group would especially enjoy Absalom’s Daughters.


About the author:

Feldman, Suzanne (Tim Stephens)Suzanne Feldman, a recipient of the Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize and a finalist for the Bakeless Prize in fiction, holds an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins University and a BFA in art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the author of award-winning science fiction titles like Speaking Dreams and The Annunciate, published under the pen name Severna Park. Her short fiction has appeared in NarrativeThe Missouri ReviewGargoyle, and other literary journals. She lives in Frederick, Maryland.

All the Time in the World by Caroline Angell

  • all the time in the worldTitle:  All the Time in the World: A Novel
  • Author:  Caroline Angell
  • Genre:  Women’s Fiction
  • Pages:  336
  • Published:  July 2016 – Henry Holt
  • Source:  Publisher/FSB Associates

Description:  Charlotte, a gifted and superbly trained young musician, has been blindsided by a shocking betrayal in her promising career when she takes a babysitting job with the McLeans, a glamorous Upper East Side Manhattan family. At first, the nanny gig is just a way of tiding herself over until she has licked her wounds and figured out her next move as a composer in New York. But, as it turns out, Charlotte is naturally good with children and becomes as deeply fond of the two little boys as they are of her. When an unthinkable tragedy leaves the McLeans bereft, Charlotte is not the only one who realizes that she’s the key to holding little George and Matty’s world together. Suddenly, in addition to life’s usual puzzles, such as sorting out which suitor is her best match, she finds herself with an impossible choice between her life-long dreams and the torn-apart family she’s come to love. By turns hilarious, sexy, and wise, Caroline Angell’s remarkable and generous debut is the story of a young woman’s discovery of the things that matter most.  (publisher)

My take:  This is the story of Charlotte, a fledgling composer who is more successful at being a nanny for a young family than she is at her art. At least that’s how she feels. She had the rug pulled out from under her by a mentor who found success with Charlotte’s composition, claiming it as her own. Feeling powerless, Charlotte can barely speak about it to anyone so she does her best at helping care for the McLean children. When a tragedy occurs Charlotte becomes indispensable to the family and is even less inclined to pursue her art. As they do, things come to a head and Charlotte must make a decision that could shake the world even more for everyone involved. As difficult as it is, that decision will empower Charlotte in ways she hadn’t imagined.

I had a hard time finding something to like about a couple of the characters – two brothers, one being the father of the two young children. I found them lacking when it came to stepping up at the appropriate times – two more people to take advantage of Charlotte. And that led me to shake my head at times when Charlotte failed to speak up or act.

Caroline Angell’s novel is a study in grief, moving through grief, and finding one’s way through challenges in life. Any reader who has experienced loss of this kind will understand what the characters go through – and that there’s no right way to do it. This is just how Charlotte and the McLean family grieved their loss and started the ascent to a new normal. It’s a compelling story and I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

Saturday Spotlight: Absalom’s Daughters by Suzanne Feldman

Today I want to shine the spotlight on a new novel by Suzanne Feldman. I hope you’ll take time to read the excerpt.

Absalom's Daughters

Description:

Self-educated and brown-skinned, Cassie works full time in her grandmother’s laundry in rural Mississippi. Illiterate and white, Judith falls for “colored music” and dreams of life as a big city radio star. These teenaged girls are half-sisters. And when they catch wind of their wayward father’s inheritance coming down in Virginia, they hitch their hopes to a road trip together to claim what’s rightly theirs.

In an old junk car, with a frying pan, a ham, and a few dollars hidden in a shoe, they set off through the American Deep South of the 1950s, a bewitchingly beautiful landscape as well as one bedeviled by racial strife and violence. Suzanne Feldman’s Absalom’s Daughters combines the buddy movie, the coming-of-age tale, and a dash of magical realism to enthrall and move us with an unforgettable, illuminating novel.


Chapter 1:

Cassie and Lil Ma and Grandmother lived in a house at the far end of Negro Street in two rooms over the laundry that they ran in Heron-Neck. Whoever had lived there before had papered the walls of the upstairs rooms, every inch of them, with newspapers, spread-out magazine pages, and letters. One crumbling page of newspaper showed a white man with a rifle standing over an animal, which Lil Ma said was a lion, which Grandmother said was a wild animal from Africa that would eat you in one bite. Below the lion a page torn from a magazine showed a rabbit eating a head of lettuce. Underneath the rabbit the words said, Ridding your garden of pests. Over by the back window were pictures of ladies in beautiful dresses, all tall and slender, like Lil Ma. There were no pictures that looked like Grandmother, who was short and round. None of the ladies on the walls were colored either.

Lil Ma taught Cassie to read by showing her the words on the walls and making her say them properly. Before bed, she and Cassie would find a patch of wall and sound out the letters. There was a picture of an elephant by one of the front windows with words underneath that said, Tuska Lives on Coney Island. Coney Island was a long way from Heron-Neck, Mississippi, Lil Ma said. One summer when the circus came to town, Lil Ma took Cassie down to the other end of Negro Street and across the railroad tracks to see the animals, but said Grandmother wouldn’t want them to spend the nickel to see the show. They watched an elephant sway in its chains and a lion pace in a cage. Clowns sang a funny song; a monkey in a little suit danced and caught peanuts in its mouth. Music started inside the tent, and the white people went in with their ice cream cones. Cassie and Lil Ma went home, across the tracks and back to the laundry, where Grandmother was waiting with a stack of linens to be pressed. Continue reading.


Feldman, Suzanne (Tim Stephens)About the author:

Suzanne Feldman, a recipient of The Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize and a finalist for the Bakeless Prize in fiction, holds an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins University and a BFA in art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the author of award-winning science fiction titles such as Speaking Dreams and The Annunciate, published under the pen name Severna Park. Her short fiction has appeared in NarrativeThe Missouri ReviewGargoyle, and other literary journals. She lives in Frederick, Maryland.

Suzanne Feldman Facebook Suzanne Feldman Facebook

Photo credit: Tim Stephens


Absalom's Daughters

“Magnificent…. reminiscent of both William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, but her voice is entirely her own and utterly original… a monumental new talent.”

KIRKUS REVIEWS (STARRED REVIEW)

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Spotlight/US Giveaway: All the Time in the World by Caroline Angell

all the time in the world

Description:

Charlotte, a gifted and superbly trained young musician, has been blindsided by a shocking betrayal in her promising career when she takes a babysitting job with the McLeans, a glamorous Upper East Side Manhattan family. At first, the nanny gig is just a way of tiding herself over until she has licked her wounds and figured out her next move as a composer in New York. But, as it turns out, Charlotte is naturally good with children and becomes as deeply fond of the two little boys as they are of her. When an unthinkable tragedy leaves the McLeans bereft, Charlotte is not the only one who realizes that she’s the key to holding little George and Matty’s world together. Suddenly, in addition to life’s usual puzzles, such as sorting out which suitor is her best match, she finds herself with an impossible choice between her life-long dreams and the torn-apart family she’s come to love. By turns hilarious, sexy, and wise, Caroline Angell’s remarkable and generous debut is the story of a young woman’s discovery of the things that matter most.



About the Author:

Caroline Angell grew up in Endwell, N.Y., the daughter of an electrical engineer and a public school music teacher. She has a B. A. in musical theater from American University and currently lives and works in Manhattan. As a playwright and director, she has had her work performed at regional theaters in New York City and in the Washington, D.C., area. All the Time in the World is her first novel. Follow Caroline on Twitter


Praise for All the Time in the World by Caroline Angell

“An extraordinary book. Caroline Angell is wise beyond her years in rendering the heartache of grief, and all the different kinds of love we are capable of feeling. I was haunted by All the Time in the World long after finishing the last page. It reads like the work of a mature writer at the height of her powers, not a debut novel. I can’t wait to see what Ms. Angell will write next.”  —Alice LaPlante, New York Times bestselling author of Turn of Mind

“In All the Time in the World, Caroline Angell explores the different ways in which people find their way through grief, and she does it bravely and masterfully. A heart wrenching yet life affirming novel. What a debut!”  — Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle

“Caroline Angell deftly handles the complexities of love, grief, hope, humor and family. All the Time in the World is funny, beautifully textured and deeply moving. An absolute joy to read.” 
— Allie Larkin, author of Stay and Why Can’t I Be You?

“There’s wit, wisdom, and insight on every page of Caroline Angell’s great debut novel. But, more importantly than any of that are the emotional truths she reveals at every turn.” — Matthew Norman, author of Domestic Violets


US Giveaway

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all the time in the world
Giveaway ends on July 15, 2016

A Royal Experiment by Janice Hadlow

  • a royal experiment (H.Holt 11:14)Title:  A Royal Experiment: The Private Life of King George III
  • Author:  Janice Hadlow
  • Genre:  Biography
  • Published:  November 2014 – Henry Holt
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  To Americans, King George III has long been doubly famous – as the “tyrant” from whom colonial revolutionaries wrested a nation’s liberty and, owing to his late-life illness, as “the mad king.” In A Royal Experiment, he is also a man with a poignant agenda. He comes to the throne in 1760, at age twenty-two, determined to be a new kind of king, one whose power will be rooted in the affection and approval of his people. He is equally resolute about being a new kind of man, a husband able to escape the extraordinary family dysfunction of his Hanoverian predecessors and maintain a faithful, companionable marriage and domestic harmony.

… His wife, Queen Charlotte, shares his sense of moral purpose, and together they can raise their tribe of thirteen sons and daughters in a climate of loving attention. But in a rapidly more populous and prosperous England, throughout years of revolution in America and in France, the struggle to achieve a new balance between politics and privacy places increasing stress on George and Charlotte as their children grow into adulthood. The story that roils across the long arc of George’s life and reign is high drama – tragic and riveting.  (from the book flap)

My take:  If you’re a fan of books about anything royal you’ll want to read A Royal Experiment. Author Janice Hadlow’s meticulous research of the Hanoverians is obvious and presented in a way that the reader feels she is missing no detail about their lives. You’ll get an insider’s look at the ups and downs of being one of the family. I was dismayed and, at some points, even felt sympathy for all involved.

At 600+ pages this is a big book and the print is not large (think textbook) – so be prepared. For that reason alone it’s one to consider for the eReader. I was glad to see a section that included portraits of all the principals. Also helpful is a family tree.  A Royal Experiment is an interesting work that almost begs for its own cable series. I would definitely tune in!

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

  • texts from Jane Eyre (Nov4)Title:  Texts From Jane Eyre and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters
  • Author:  Mallory Ortberg
  • Genre:  Humor
  • Published:  November 2014 – Henry Holt
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Hilariously imagined text conversations—the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange—from classic and modern literary figures, from Edgar Allan Poe to Katniss Everdeen.

Mallory Ortberg, the co-creator of the cult-favorite website The Toast, presents this whimsical collection of hysterical text conversations from your favorite literary characters. Everyone knows that if Scarlett O’Hara had an unlimited text-and-data plan, she’d constantly try to tempt Ashley away from Melanie with suggestive messages. If Mr. Rochester could text Jane Eyre, his ardent missives would obviously be in all-caps. And Daisy Buchanan would not only text while driving, she’d text you to pick her up after she totaled her car. Based on the popular web-feature, Texts from Jane Eyre is a witty, irreverent mashup that brings the characters from your favorite books into the twenty-first century.  (publisher)

My brief take:  Holiday gift alert! This could be the perfect choice for the literature buff on your holiday gift list. The text messages run from the classics to modern literature to The Babysitters Club.

One text conversation that made me giggle was from two characters from The Outsiders trying to figure out how to pronounce “soc”. Some texts went right over my head because I hadn’t read the original book. Rest assured, there’s a little something for every reader in Texts From Jane Eyre.

This is one of those books that can be read a little at a time – in fact, I’d recommend it. Put it in your guest room for a little unexpected entertainment for your guests. I guarantee it will start some fun conversations.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

  • the assassination of marg. thatcher (sept)Title:  The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
  • Author:  Hilary Mantel
  • Genre:  Short Stories
  • Published:  September 2014 – Henry Holt
  • Source:  Publisher

Publishers Description:  One of the most accomplished, acclaimed, and garlanded writers, Hilary Mantel delivers a brilliant collection of contemporary stories

In The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel’s trademark gifts of penetrating characterization, unsparing eye, and rascally intelligence are once again fully on display.

Stories of dislocation and family fracture, of whimsical infidelities and sudden deaths with sinister causes, brilliantly unsettle the reader in that unmistakably Mantel way.

Cutting to the core of human experience, Mantel brutally and acutely writes about marriage, class, family, and sex. Unpredictable, diverse, and sometimes shocking, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher displays a magnificent writer at the peak of her powers.

My brief take:  I want to begin with a disclaimer: I haven’t read any short story collections that wowed me so I tend to avoid reading them. Why did I accept a review copy of Hilary Mantel’s latest collection? Because I haven’t read her books and wanted to sample her writing. In hindsight, I probably should have read a chapter or two in one of her chunky historical fiction novels. I like historical fiction. At any rate, all of the stories in the collection are immensely readable. If pressed to name a favorite in this collection I’d say it was How Shall I Know You? in which an author honors a commitment to a book group despite being quite ill.

The title story was not included in my review copy (embargoed until publication date) so I can’t speak to that.

I think if you enjoy the author and short stories you’ll probably like this collection.

It is also available in audiobook from Macmillan Audio