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Linda Johnson, one of our longtime readers, has written a wonderful piece for us about Booktopia, which takes place each year at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT. It is a weekend full of highly acclaimed authors, enthusiastic readers, games, food, drink, laughter, new and old friends, and great conversations. As you can see in her blog post, Linda and Booktopia have quite a history together. This year’s event will happen on May 3rd and 4th, and a few tickets are still available if you’re interested in attending.

 

In June 2010, I was excited to hear through my favorite podcast, “Books on the Nightstand,” that the hosts, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, had arranged for their listeners to meet the following April in Manchester, VT. I later found out that I was the second person to sign up to attend. I had no idea how that announcement would enhance my life.

A girlfriend and I saved our pennies over the next nine months, rented a newer-than-our-aging-cars vehicle and took off for an adventure. We are both avid readers and introverts. We had no idea what to expect from the weekend, but were eager to meet other readers who shared our bibliophilic interests.

Nine authors, including Chris Bohjalian --- the only one whose name I recognized --- and about 100 readers from around the world (Australia, Canada and Switzerland) met that first weekend. Breakout sessions divided the attendees into smaller groups to meet with individual authors.

Someone over the weekend remarked that “nary was heard a discouraging word” and dubbed the event “Booktopia.”

We left hoping we would have another chance to experience a similar weekend.

It was to be.

The following April, the event --- now officially known as Booktopia 2012 --- took place in Manchester, VT, the home of the marvelous independent bookstore Northshire Books. Chris Morrow, who owns the store, and his staff are among the people I have met who I now consider friends.

Each event includes the breakout sessions, a “This-gift-card-is-burning-a-whole-in-my-pocket” session in which the booksellers, who each specialize in a section of the bookstore, present books they recommend (the cost of registration includes a $50 gift card to the bookstore), a Friday evening dinner in which Northshire conducts a book trivia contest, a Yankee Swap, and an evening in which local residents are invited to join attendees for “A Night of Authors.” Almost best of all, we befriend the authors who join us for drinks or dinner. They are our Rock Stars.

Sometimes, this year included, the bookstore gets publisher permission to sell the author’s book prior to the official publication date.

Because of the popularity of that first book weekend, successive years supplemented the spring Vermont meeting with additional venues, each featuring great independent bookstores. We have convened at Square Books in Oxford, MS; Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA; McLean and Eakin in Petoskey, MI; Village Books in Bellingham, WA; Boulder Book Store in Boulder, CO; and Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC.

Ann and Michael opted to relinquish their duties after 2015. Thankfully, Northshire stepped up to the lectern to continue the new tradition.

Each year in January, a core of returnees anticipates the announcement of the latest list of authors. Several authors have even returned either as attendees or celebrities after experiencing the joy of this group. Each year, the experienced Booktopians welcome new participants.

Chris, a longtime Booktopian, commented earlier this year that it started about the books, now it’s the people and the books. Many of us look forward to renewing friendships each year and are disappointed when we learn that someone cannot attend because of family, job or financial confines. (My son decided not to attend his college graduation, clearing my way to attend this year.)

This year’s lineup of authors includes Amy Einhorn (the publisher of Flatiron Books), Sarah Blake (THE GUEST BOOK), Christopher Castellani (LEADING MEN), Stephen Mack Jones (LIVES LAID AWAY), Andrea Lawlor (PAUL TAKES THE FORM OF A MORTAL GIRL), Abi Maxwell (THE DEN, to be published May 14th), Jay Parini (THE DAMASCUS ROAD), Dave Patterson (SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT), Maura Roosevelt (BABY OF THE FAMILY), and returning for the second consecutive year, Bianca Marais (HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS).

Since Northshire’s supervision, the event takes place the first weekend of May. Many of us arrive the day preceding the event to enjoy a repast at our favorite Manchester restaurants. Reduced rates are available at several B&Bs and other lodgings thanks to the efforts of the Northshire event manager.

The friendships don’t exist only in Booktopia. One group of Booktopians travels together to other book events. Those members are located from Seattle, Washington, to Zurich, Switzerland. Others of us meet up whenever possible. I have traveled from Ohio to Phoenix to visit another friend/Booktopian. A large group gets together in New York City at least once a year, usually in the fall around another book event.

Come and enjoy the most literate, talkative group of introverts at the designated best independent bookstore in Vermont. A few tickets are still available for the May 3rd and 4th gathering.

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On Monday, April 1st, one of our longtime readers, Annmarie Puleio (along with some of her book-loving friends), attended William Morrow's third Book Club Girls’ Night Out at the HarperCollins offices in New York City. The featured guests were New York Times bestselling author Taya Kyle, who talked about her latest book, AMERICAN SPIRIT, and Claire Gibson, who discussed her debut novel, BEYOND THE POINT. Read on as Annmarie shares her insights on the evening, which she describes as fast-paced, enthusiastic and upbeat. And many thanks to Kate Hudkins from William Morrow for providing us with the photos that you see throughout this blog.

It was a beautiful day to head into New York with friends from my College Woman’s Book Club to see the Macy’s Flower Show, climb the Vessel at Hudson Yards and enjoy lunch, of course. But the main event of the day was Book Club Girls’ Night Out at William Morrow where Donna, Julie and I met up with our fellow book lover, Maria. This third “Night Out” featured Taya Kyle and first-time author Claire Gibson being interviewed by William Morrow editor Lucia Macro (pictured here). The emergent theme of the evening seemed to be “ordinary people called to do extraordinary things.”

You will recall Taya’s husband, Chris Kyle, from his book, AMERICAN SNIPER, which then became a movie. After an extraordinary military career, Chris was tragically killed while mentoring a fellow veteran, leaving behind Taya and his children. Taya talked about moving through that tragedy with her children in AMERICAN WIFE. Her new book, AMERICAN SPIRIT, recounts the stories of other ordinary people who have faced challenges and found their strength and goodness within, not just to survive, but to use their experience and help others in a profound and enduring way. Taya shared that her faith guides her life and she feels called to urge us to focus on our neighbors to search for the goodness around us.

Claire Gibson grew up at the West Point Military Academy where her father was a professor. She did not attend West Point herself, but instead pursued a successful career as a writer for a magazine when she received a call from someone at West Point inviting her to tell the story of three women. BEYOND THE POINT recounts the story of Dani, Hannah and Avery --- three cadets, three heroines --- who, though each very different, bond together to face the challenges of West Point and, post-9/11, rely on friendship, family and patriotism.

The Q&A had some surprises.

Taya shared a hopeful and inspiring picture of what life with her children is like without her husband. In a most gracious gesture, she introduced Jim DeFelice, her co-author. She credited him with helping her get through her worst moments and invited him to join her in signing books. Taya is hoping that an ABC series, “American Wife,” will make it to the screen and that a podcast develops. She is working on a faith-based children's series and is 50 days into a daily devotional book. And yes, Bradley Cooper, who played her husband in American Sniper, has the bluest eyes!

Claire introduced two of the women featured in BEYOND THE POINT to the delight of the audience and an appreciative round of applause. She shared some of the challenges that she and her husband, Patrick (no, he did not graduate from West Point), have faced with fertility and their subsequent decision to adopt their son, Sam. She is exploring adoption stories and their connections to biological families in a post-DNA testing world for her next book, which she said will be “This Is Us” meets The Sound of Music.         

Lucia Macro, Claire’s editor, led an insightful discussion that never lagged for a moment. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and the night was quite upbeat.

The next “Night Out” will be on June 19th. It will feature Joshilyn Jackson (NEVER HAVE I EVER) and Meg Mitchell Moore (THE ISLANDERS), and maybe someone we know as moderator.

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Suzanne Leopold enjoys reading and finding that great book to share, which she does on her blog, Suzy Approved Book Reviews. Suzanne attended this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book, which took place in Charlottesville from March 20-24, and was kind enough to write about her experiences for us and share photos from the event. Not even a broken toe kept her from getting the most out of her weekend there!

The Virginia Festival of the Book is held every March in Charlottesville. This year I decided to attend because my son started his freshman year in nearby Williamsburg. I thought this trip would be a great way to combine my love for books and family!

This event is held in a beautiful location with the backdrop of the University of Virginia. The venue is small, providing great access to authors, and generates an intimate feel. I was impressed by the breadth of talent and the ease of shuffling between presentations. The downtown area where the festival is located is very convenient, and quick breaks can be spent at fun restaurants and local coffee shops.

Among the panels that I attended:

“Enduring Heroines in Historical Fiction” with Janet Benton (LILLI DE JONG), Camille Di Maio (THE BEAUTIFUL STRANGERS) and Sarah McCoy (MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES), moderated by Caroline Preston.

“Cautionary Tales: Fiction from the Not-Distant Future” with Christina Dalcher (VOX) and Adam Nemett (WE CAN SAVE US ALL).

“Literary Luncheon with Lisa See” at the Omni Hotel

“Contemporary Appalachia in Fiction” with Robert Gipe (WEEDEATER), Mesha Maren (SUGAR RUN) and Tim Poland (YELLOW STONEFLY).

“Vivid Tales of Connection and Loss” with Abigail DeWitt (NEWS OF OUR LOVED ONES) and Ed Pavlić (ANOTHER KIND OF MADNESS).

My one setback for the weekend occurred when I broke my toe stumbling in my hotel room. The local clinic provided a mundane walking boot that wreaked havoc on my wardrobe. I didn't let this hold me back, though, and still managed to keep to my schedule while making time to tour the local campus.

I plan to make this an annual event. I would recommend this festival to book enthusiasts who are looking to get access to great authors.

You can find Suzy Approved Book Reviews on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzyapprovedbookreviews
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/suzyapproved
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuzyApproved

and Virtual Book Tours:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzyapprovedbooktours
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/suzyapprovedbooktours
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuzyAPBookTours

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Kathryn B., one of our readers from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, wrote us with some insight that she has gathered for more reading about the subject of Susan Meissner’s THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR, which we recently reviewed. It was so interesting that we asked if we could share it with you as a blog. She graciously said yes, and you can read it here.

I was interested to note the recently published novel, THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR by Susan Meissner, in your recent update, and I was glad to see that my library has several copies (and even more holds) of this book "in processing." When I read historical fiction, I am often looking up some of the names and events and find that many are real. This time, I read the nonfiction version first.

For those who would like to read more about this subject, I recommend THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II by Jan Jarboe Russell. I read it in September 2015; you also can get it on audio.

I learned of this nonfiction book --- and this story --- from an e-newsletter from the publisher Simon & Schuster, which gave a link to a short video. This is the book promo summary that describes it: "Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR’s tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war."

As I was looking for additional information, I found and read this excerpt from the book from Texas Monthly. I sent a request (suggestion) to my library (with the excerpt link) to order the copy: they did, and sent me an email that it was waiting for me to pick up. Even just the excerpt is worth reading any time, or before/during/after reading THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR.

This is a powerful story that is worth reading. These are excellent stories about real people and a place that few know about. Friends who go to Texas for the winter say that they have driven by the historical site but not stopped; now that they know more about it, they will.

This is from the Texas Historical Commission, so you can see more. And here you can see the historical marker.

It also is interesting to read the alternative perspective of Crystal City on Wikipedia both here and here. I looked for more recently, and here is an update from March 2018 about one of the young German-American boys sent to Germany, and 81 last year. He returned to the US, served in Vietnam and was blinded from Agent Orange. Here's the last paragraph: "The campaign seeks to encourage the U.S. government to formally recognize German American internment. President Ronald Reagan recognized Japanese American internment in 1988, and President Clinton recognized Italian-American internment in 2000."

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We love when our readers share with us their experiences about the book festivals and literary events that they attend. Thus, we were so pleased to get this report about the Montclair Literary Festival from our longtime reader, Nancy Sharko.

The Montclair Literary Festival held its third event in Montclair, NJ, this past weekend. It's pretty close to where I live, so even though there were only a few presentations of interest, I couldn't resist! 

Montclair is a beautiful town, with a bustling downtown, and is home to many well-known authors, who are definitely a big part of the event. The aim of the Festival is to raise money for an organization called Succeed2gether that runs literacy activities and events. One way they do this during the Festival is to charge an entrance fee for events for bigger-name authors (although you do get a copy of their newest book as part of the fee), but the vast majority of sessions were free. I didn't attend any of those sessions, but the featured authors included Joyce Carol Oates, Nathan Englander, Sigrid Nunez and Amber Tamblyn.

My favorite session was presented as a conversation about race, education and privilege, and featured author Sam Graham-Felsen, journalist Jazmine Hughes and moderator Dale Russakoff  (who's also a writer and published author). Sam's book, GREEN, is about a 12-year-old white Jewish boy attending a middle school that is predominantly black. They started the session talking about their different experiences in middle school, with the common theme that they all attended segregated schools: Sam (a white Jewish child in a predominantly black school in Boston), Jazmine (a black child in a school with predominantly black students in New Haven), and Dale (a white Jewish child in a school with predominantly white Christian students in Birmingham, AL). While Sam said that the book is not autobiographical, he and Jazmine talked about the limitations they personally experienced in their schools in terms of aspirations. As an example, in neither of their schools was there talk about the students working hard to attend Harvard or Yale.

Before writing the book, Sam also had the interesting experience of working as a blogger on President Obama's 2008 campaign. He got the job by writing directly to the campaign, and after he was hired, he traveled around the country talking to voters. During the campaign, they were not allowed to talk about race, which frustrated him, to the extent that this experience was one of the factors that inspired him to write his novel. An interesting anecdote concerned Michelle Obama. Sam said that he spent more time with her and spoke very highly about her powerful stump speeches. Initially, she included the subject of fear (around children), but that made people feel uncomfortable. The campaign ended up hiring a consultant, with the end result being that Mrs. Obama's speeches started to focus more on motherhood and work/life balance.

Another session I attended was entitled "Crafting Stories from Visual Inspiration," and featured Christina Baker Kline and Fiona Davis. Christina lived in Montclair for 20+ years but recently moved back to NYC. Her most recent novel, A PIECE OF THE WORLD, is about the relationship between Andrew Wyeth, the painter, and Anna Christina Olson, the subject of one of his better known works, Christina's World. Christina talked about the research challenges for the book, which was the first where she had to "inhabit" a character who was a real person, and added that it probably will be the last time she does that.

In A PIECE OF THE WORLD, there's quite a bit of discussion about the fried apple cake baked by Christina Olson. The reality is that the recipe she used is from the Pioneer Woman's website, and Christina Baker Kline said that she's made it and it's delicious (but you need a cast iron skillet).

Fiona does a tremendous amount of research but likes that her books are a mixture of reality and fiction. She talked about the research she undertook for her last book, THE MASTERPIECE, including a behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal, where she learned there was an abandoned train car underneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel that was used to transport FDR. Fiona's next book is coming out on July 30th and is about the Chelsea Hotel; it is called THE CHELSEA GIRLS. She also has a book underway that is about an apartment that used to be in the New York Public Library for the building superintendent. Fiona was intrigued by Christina's stories about going to Australia for research for the book she's currently working on, and thought that would be an interesting change from NYC. 

The third session tackled the timely and difficult subject of immigration and featured fiction writers Irina Reyn and Maria E. Andreu and journalist Suketu Mehta. It was moderated by Marina Budhos, also a published author who writes about immigration. Mingled in the discussions about immigration and their books were a number of poignant personal stories, particularly from Maria, who was undocumented when she first came to the US. She and her mother went back to Argentina for a family funeral, and when the legal process to return was becoming overwhelming, they returned to the US by crossing through Mexico. Her YA book, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, is a fictionalized story but is based on her own life.

The idea for Irina's newest book, MOTHER COUNTRY, came from the nanny she hired to take care of her daughter. The nanny was from Eastern Europe, and her daughter was stuck in Ukraine, trying to emigrate to join the rest of her family in the US. One of Irina's motivations was to give a voice to people caught up in these immigration battles.  

All three authors on the panel saw their books as an opportunity to educate people about immigrants and their humanity. Suketu's book, THIS LAND IS OUR LAND, will be coming out in June, and when his publisher asked him where he wanted to go to promote the book, his first suggestion was to appear on Tucker Carlson's show on FOX News.

As usual, I left the event with more books for my TBR list (although I currently have Irina's book), and I hope to have my book club add GREEN to our list for this year.

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We love when our readers share with us their experiences about the book festivals and literary events that they attend. Thus, we were so pleased to get this report about the Montclair Literary Festival from our longtime reader, Nancy Sharko.

The Montclair Literary Festival held its third event in Montclair, NJ, this past weekend. It's pretty close to where I live, so even though there were only a few presentations of interest, I couldn't resist! 

Montclair is a beautiful town, with a bustling downtown, and is home to many well-known authors, who are definitely a big part of the event. The aim of the Festival is to raise money for an organization called Succeed2gether that runs literacy activities and events. One way they do this during the Festival is to charge an entrance fee for events for bigger-name authors (although you do get a copy of their newest book as part of the fee), but the vast majority of sessions were free. I didn't attend any of those sessions, but the featured authors included Joyce Carol Oates, Nathan Englander, Sigrid Nunez and Amber Tamblyn.

My favorite session was presented as a conversation about race, education and privilege, and featured author Sam Graham-Felsen, journalist Jazmine Hughes and moderator Dale Russakoff  (who's also a writer and published author). Sam's book, GREEN, is about a 12-year-old white Jewish boy attending a middle school that is predominantly black. They started the session talking about their different experiences in middle school, with the common theme that they all attended segregated schools: Sam (a white Jewish child in a predominantly black school in Boston), Jazmine (a black child in a school with predominantly black students in New Haven), and Dale (a white Jewish child in a school with predominantly white Christian students in Birmingham, AL). While Sam said that the book is not autobiographical, he and Jazmine talked about the limitations they personally experienced in their schools in terms of aspirations. As an example, in neither of their schools was there talk about the students working hard to attend Harvard or Yale.

Before writing the book, Sam also had the interesting experience of working as a blogger on President Obama's 2008 campaign. He got the job by writing directly to the campaign, and after he was hired, he traveled around the country talking to voters. During the campaign, they were not allowed to talk about race, which frustrated him, to the extent that this experience was one of the factors that inspired him to write his novel. An interesting anecdote concerned Michelle Obama. Sam said that he spent more time with her and spoke very highly about her powerful stump speeches. Initially, she included the subject of fear (around children), but that made people feel uncomfortable. The campaign ended up hiring a consultant, with the end result being that Mrs. Obama's speeches started to focus more on motherhood and work/life balance.

Another session I attended was entitled "Crafting Stories from Visual Inspiration," and featured Christina Baker Kline and Fiona Davis. Christina lived in Montclair for 20+ years but recently moved back to NYC. Her most recent novel, A PIECE OF THE WORLD, is about the relationship between Andrew Wyeth, the painter, and Anna Christina Olson, the subject of one of his better known works, Christina's World. Christina talked about the research challenges for the book, which was the first where she had to "inhabit" a character who was a real person, and added that it probably will be the last time she does that.

In A PIECE OF THE WORLD, there's quite a bit of discussion about the fried apple cake baked by Christina Olson. The reality is that the recipe she used is from the Pioneer Woman's website, and Christina Baker Kline said that she's made it and it's delicious (but you need a cast iron skillet).

Fiona does a tremendous amount of research but likes that her books are a mixture of reality and fiction. She talked about the research she undertook for her last book, THE MASTERPIECE, including a behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal, where she learned there was an abandoned train car underneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel that was used to transport FDR. Fiona's next book is coming out on July 30th and is about the Chelsea Hotel; it is called THE CHELSEA GIRLS. She also has a book underway that is about an apartment that used to be in the New York Public Library for the building superintendent. Fiona was intrigued by Christina's stories about going to Australia for research for the book she's currently working on, and thought that would be an interesting change from NYC. 

The third session tackled the timely and difficult subject of immigration and featured fiction writers Irina Reyn and Maria E. Andreu and journalist Suketu Mehta. It was moderated by Marina Budhos, also a published author who writes about immigration. Mingled in the discussions about immigration and their books were a number of poignant personal stories, particularly from Maria, who was undocumented when she first came to the US. She and her mother went back to Argentina for a family funeral, and when the legal process to return was becoming overwhelming, they returned to the US by crossing through Mexico. Her YA book, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, is a fictionalized story but is based on her own life.

The idea for Irina's newest book, MOTHER COUNTRY, came from the nanny she hired to take care of her daughter. The nanny was from Eastern Europe, and her daughter was stuck in Ukraine, trying to emigrate to join the rest of her family in the US. One of Irina's motivations was to give a voice to people caught up in these immigration battles.  

All three authors on the panel saw their books as an opportunity to educate people about immigrants and their humanity. Suketu's book, THIS LAND IS OUR LAND, will be coming out in June, and when his publisher asked him where he wanted to go to promote the book, his first suggestion was to appear on Tucker Carlson's show on FOX News.

As usual, I left the event with more books for my TBR list (although I currently have Irina's book), and I hope to have my book club add GREEN to our list for this year.

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The Montclair Literary Festival held its third event in Montclair, NJ this past weekend. It's pretty close to where I live so even though there were only a few presentations of interest, I couldn't resist! 

Montclair is a beautiful town, with a bustling downtown, and home to many well-known authors, who are definitely a big part of the event. The focus of the Festival is to raise money for an organization called succeed2together that runs literacy activities and events. One way they do this during the Festival is to charge an entrance fee for events for bigger name authors, (although you do get a copy of their newest book as part of the fee), but the vast majority of sessions were free. I didn't attend any of these sessions but the featured authors included Joyce Carol Oates, Nathan Englander, Sigrid Nunez, and Amber Tamblyn.

My favorite session was presented as a conversation about race, education and privilege and featured author Sam Graham-Felsen, journalist Jazmine Hughes and moderator Dale Russakoff  (who's also a writer and published author). Sam's book. GREEN, is about a 12-year-old white Jewish boy attending a middle school that was predominantly black. They started the session talking about their different experiences in middle school with the common theme that they all attended segregated schools: Sam (white Jewish child in predominantly black school in Boston), Jazmine (black child in a school with predominantly black students in New Haven), and Dale (white Jewish child in a school with predominantly white Christian students in Birmingham, AL). While Sam said the book is not autobiographical, both he and Jazmine talked about the limitations they both personally experienced in their schools in terms of aspirations. As an example, in neither of their schools was there talk about the students working hard to attend Harvard or Yale.   

Before writing the book, Sam also had the interesting experience of working as a blogger on President Obama's 2008 campaign. He said he got the job by writing directly to the campaign, and after he was hired, traveled around the country talking to voters. During the campaign, they were not allowed to talk about race and this frustrated him, to the extent that this experience was one of the factors that inspired him to write his novel. An interesting anecdote concerned Michelle Obama.  Sam said that he spent more time with her and spoke very highly about her powerful  stump speeches. Initially, she included the subject of fear (around children),but that made people feel uncomfortable. The campaign ended up hiring a consultant, with the end result that Mrs. Obama's speeches then focused more about motherhood and work/life balance.

Another session I attended was entitled "Crafting Stories from Visual Inspiration" and featured Christina Baker Kline and Fiona Davis. Christina lived in Montclair for 20+ years but recently moved back into NYC. Her  most recent book, A  PIECE OF THE WORLD, was about the relationship between Andrew Wyeth, the painter, and Anna Christina Olson, the subject of one of his better known works, Christina's World. Christina talked about the research challenges for this book and said that this was her first book where she had to "inhabit" a character that was a real person and added that "it will probably be the last time she does that."  

In A PIECE OF THE WORLD, there's quite a bit of discussion about the friend apple cake baked by Christina Olson. The reality is that the recipe she used is from the Pioneer Women's website and Christina Baker Kline said that she's made it and it's delicious (but you need a cast iron skillet).

Fiona does a tremendous amount of research but likes that her books are a mixture of reality and fiction. Fiona talked about the research she undertook for her last book, THE MASTERPIECE, including a behind the scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal, where she learned there was an abandoned train car underground underneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel that was used to transport FDR. Fiona's next book is coming out on July 30th and is about the Chelsea Hotel; it is called THE CHELSEA GIRLS. She also has a book underway that is about an apartment that used to be in the New York Public Library for the building superintendent. She was intrigued by Christina's stories about going to Australia for research for the book she's currently working on, and Fiona thought that would be an interesting change from NYC. 

The third session tackled the timely and difficult subject of immigration and featured fiction writers Irina Reyn and Maria Andreu and journalist Suketu Mehta. The session was moderated by Marina Budhos, also a published author who writes about immigration. Mingled in the discussions about immigration and their books, there were a number of poignant personal stories, particularly from Maria, who was undocumented when she first came to the US. She and her mother went back to Argentina for a family funeral and when the legal process to return was becoming overwhelming, they returned to the US by crossing through Mexico.  She said that her YA book, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, is a fictionalized story, but it is based on her own life.

The idea for Irina's newest book, MOTHER COUNTRY, came from the nanny she hired to take care of her daughter. The nanny was from Eastern Europe and her daughter was stuck in Ukraine, trying to emigrate to join the rest of her family in the US. One of Irina's motivations was to give a voice to people caught up in these immigration battles.  

All three authors on the panel saw their books as an opportunity to educate people about immigrants and their humanity. Suketu's book, THIS LAND IS THEIR LAND, will be coming out in June and when his publisher asked him where he wanted to go to promote the book, his first suggestion was to appear on Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News.

As usual, I left the event with more books for my TBR list (although I currently have Irina's book) and hope to have my book club add Green to our list for this year. 

---Nancy Sharko

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Contributors

I LOVE book festivals. I admit a little skepticism when I first heard that the DC suburb of Gaithersburg would host a book festival. That was 10 years ago. Everyone should benefit from being so wrong; I adore this day. I was lucky enough to talk to Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, who dreamed up this jewel of a festival.

Denise Neary: Your Festival combines big-time talent and lots of sweet small-town nods. Tell me how you imagined that coming together.

Jud Ashman: It stems from the foolish ambition to be all things to all people. We wanted to be the place where people come to meet their very favorite authors. We wanted to be the place where you could reliably discover the up-and-coming writers you'd want to meet, but before they broke big. And we wanted to be the place where talented, local authors could catch a break and have a shot on the big stage.

Those are just a few of the ways in which we sought to change the world with a one-day annual book festival.

DN: What’s an element of this year’s Festival that you can’t wait to see play out?

JA: There are a few. This is our milestone 10th year, so we're planning to close the Festival with a concert, which should be great fun. We have our first-ever writing workshop conducted all in Spanish for aspiring Spanish writers. Very cool, particularly in our super-diverse community. And, of course, we have a spectacular lineup of authors and programs that I cannot wait to see.

DN: Who is someone you would love to have speak at the Festival but haven’t yet been able to wrangle?

JA: There are probably a hundred authors we regularly dream about, but haven't wrangled yet. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, John Green, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, George R. R. Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Malala Yousafzai, etc. You know the type: the very authors who least need the exposure. Isn't it human nature to pine most for the ones we can't have?

DN: I’ve had lots of “pinch me” moments at your Festival. (Seeing Jenny Lawson overcome by the response of her fans is one among many.) What’s one (or a few) for you?

JA: So many come to mind! Here are a couple:

The first happened early on and wasn't actually at the Festival. I think it was in the months leading up to our second or third Festival. A friend of mine had come back from a trip to Arizona and called me. He said that, when he was checking his luggage at the Phoenix airport, the attendant, having noticed the luggage tag, said to him, "Gaithersburg. Isn't that where they have that book festival?"

I'm Mayor now (I was a City Council member at the time), and I want you to think about it from this perspective: there are a lot of things we naturally associate with cities. For example, when I talk about LA or Chicago or Miami or Birmingham, what comes to mind? Good things, bad things... it's probably a mixed bag, right? And here, with this random luggage attendant in Phoenix, we had some evidence that our city's identity was being associated with something so undeniably positive and admirable. I was utterly over the moon.

And then the next I'll share was also early on.

Jim Lehrer was speaking at our 2012 Festival. He'd written a book about the behind-the-scenes experiences of hosting all those presidential debates, and just as he was getting started in his talk, a loud freight train came by (the occasional train is one of the charms of our Festival, or so we tell ourselves) and stopped Lehrer mid-sentence. As it passed, Lehrer wandered off topic. He began rhapsodizing about how, when he was growing up in rural Kansas, he'd lie in his bed listening to the trains go by, and he'd dream of getting out, exploring the wider world. Trains were his escape, his ticket out. And for that, all his life, he has loved trains. I stood at the back of the crowd, thinking what a wonderful, serendipitous, communal moment it was for all who were there.

DN: Now that you’re established as a premier book festival, is there anything you miss about your early years?

JA: Yes. The weather. Our first six years were basically all perfect days. Two of the last three have been rainy. Don't get me wrong, our Festival is wonderful, rain or shine. But all things being equal, we'd prefer the latter!

DN: You are determined to be an outdoor festival. Why is that?

JA: Two reasons. First, we want to showcase Olde Towne Gaithersburg. It's beautiful and charming, and we want people to see that. The second reason is more practical: we honestly don't have an indoor facility large enough to host it.

DN: I admitted my skepticism about what you could do. What’s the funniest/most memorable roadblock you recall?

JA: In terms of planning a festival in Gaithersburg, we were very lucky to have great support among our municipal folks and among the residents and volunteers. Let's face it, the area was ripe for a book festival.

But I'll tell you a funny “roadblock” story. Each year, a good number of our authors come down by train from New York. A few years ago, there was a big train derailment in Philly that shut down Amtrak during the very week of our Festival. We had a few authors drop out, claiming that, not only did they not own a car, they also couldn't rent one because they didn't know how to drive. (Come on, New York people!) But there was this one graphic novelist, Pénélope Bagieu, who at the time was seven months pregnant --- very pregnant, as my wife would say. She had just moved to New York from Paris only months earlier, but got herself into a rental and hauled it down to Gaithersburg. She was a trooper! And her perseverance earned her everlasting respect among my fellow GBF planners --- and, conversely, it added just a little bit of derision for those who had backed out on us.

DN: What’s your favorite book?

JA: Stop it! It’s impossible to pick just one. ALL THE KING’S MEN, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, SOPHIE’S CHOICE (this question is a SOPHIE’S CHOICE), WHAT IT TAKES, LONESOME DOVE, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, THE RISE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT, THE RIGHT STUFF, AMERICANAH, IN COLD BLOOD, A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA, etc., etc., etc.

Don’t believe us about how wonderful the Gaithersburg Book Festival is? Come join us for the 10th Festival on May 18th and see for yourself! You can check out the schedule on their website here. Bring sunblock and an umbrella because this Festival is impervious to the weather!

Happy 10th!!!

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The Tucson Festival of Books was held on March 2-3 on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. Carol Fitzgerald attended and so did at least six Bookreporter readers. Below you will find commentary from one of those readers, Muriel Logan, about the sessions that she attended. If more of our readers were there, please let us know.

My husband Bill and I attended the Tucson Festival of Books with my sister, Nadine, and her husband, Jerry. We went to four author sessions and found all of them to be enjoyable, whether we were familiar with the authors ahead of time or not. They were interesting, informative, witty and added many touches of humor. The highlights I’m listing are just a small snapshot of what was discussed in the hour-long presentations we elected to attend from the numerous choices that were offered. Each session had a theme that the authors were supposed to focus on in their comments.

Session One: “La Creme de la Crime” with Cara Black and Martin Walker

Cara Black writes a mystery series set in Paris, France, with Aimée Leduc as her half-French, half-American main character. Martin Walker’s detective series is also set in France with Bruno, a police chief, as his protagonist.

Both authors are accused of littering the landscape with corpses. With the type of writing they do, they look for murder scenes wherever they go. Seeing a medieval well on one of his journeys, Walker knew he had to have a body in there. One of Black’s book goals is murder in a cemetery.

Both have a lot happening in their books in a 24-hour time period. Aimée Leduc, in particular, never lets up and never lets down. The villain is the architect of the whole book. The investigator tries to figure out what has happened with urgency and immediacy.

Black and Walker talked at length about France, politics and French history. Martin quipped, “Who knew politics in America would become an arm of the entertainment industry?”

During Q&A, a woman in the audience complimented both authors on having characters who exhibit characteristics of love, hope and caring. Black commented that true heroes like to do the right thing.

Lastly, I’ll mention that Walker has compiled a cookbook called BRUNO’S COOKBOOK, which won a prize as the world’s best cookbook. It has yet to be translated into English.

Session Two: “It’s a Family Affair” with James Anderson, William Kent Krueger and Michael McGarrity

James Anderson’s protagonist is a Jewish/Native American character named Ben Jones, who is a truck driver in Utah. He is an amateur sleuth who is “kidnapped by mysteries.” Anderson said you have to write about characters who people care about. He liked the way John Steinbeck wrote about people. When he sits down to write, he wants to produce the best book he can and doesn’t necessarily plan to write a mystery. During a difficult time in his life, Anderson drove to Utah, parked his car and walked. To him, there is something special about Utah. It tells him stories.

William Kent Krueger’s main character is Cork O’Connor, a former sheriff living in Minnesota who is part Irish and part Ojibwe. Krueger has no law enforcement background himself, but understands human nature and people, and lives in Minnesota. Cork’s wife, who died tragically in one book, was a blonde attorney, and Krueger’s own wife is a blonde attorney (there were some humorous comments about this).

Michael McGarrity’s main protagonist is Kevin Kerney, a law enforcement officer, investigator and social worker who solves cases in New Mexico, where McGarrity is from. McGarrity said of Kerney, “Women love him, and men want to be his friend.” He went on to say that his character is younger, taller and better looking than himself. 

All three authors discussed setting quite a bit. McGarrity can’t start a story without knowing what the place is like. He commented that we are all products of our environment. Setting is as important to him as anything else in the story. Krueger’s settings are based on real places in northern Minnesota, but his town of Aurora is fictional. He wants to be able to play with the geography a bit and doesn’t want readers to be checking on the accuracy of all the details. Still, the place should feel real. He has vacationed, done research and talked to people in the area of Minnesota he is writing about. Anderson pointed out that he had a map in one of his books, and a couple called him because they were having difficulty finding a place pictured on the map. He had to tell them that the map was not of a real place.

The authors also talked about writing a series. McGarrity did not plan to write a series about the same character, but the character’s voice got stuck in his head and he couldn’t get rid of him. His family will tell him when it’s time for the series to end. Krueger stated that authors usually don’t plan to do a series, but he realized his characters were complex and needed more books. His wife will tell him when it’s time to end the series.

As for their writing styles, Krueger plans everything out and doesn’t understand how a mystery writer would want to do it any other way. He calls himself an “anal architect” who constantly thinks ahead about his characters and aims to plant clues for his readers. Anderson and McGarrity just kind of allow their characters to let the story unfold. Anderson’s rough draft becomes his outline. McGarrity turns in an outline, but his publisher knows they will never see that book.

William Kent Krueger is a particular favorite of mine. I was pleased to hear that he has a book coming out in September, THIS TENDER LAND, a stand-alone novel about four orphans running from the law.

Session Three: “Women Making Their Way” with Marie Benedict, Kate Quinn and Rachel Kadish

All three of these authors want to give women credit for their accomplishments and show how amazing, intelligent and courageous they were --- or, in some cases, could have been if given the chance. They talked about how difficult it was throughout history for women to be taken seriously or given credit for accomplishments in areas such as music, art and inventions.

Each author discussed one or more of her books. Marie Benedict talked about THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM. She related details about Hedy Lamarr’s inside information concerning Hitler and the Nazis in WWII, the Jewish people, and her radio frequency invention to make torpedoes radio-controlled. The U.S. Navy would not accept her ideas and shelved her invention. The American government would not believe the facts she knew about the Nazis, not trusting that a young, beautiful woman could understand what she had seen. Benedict experienced some difficulties researching many aspects of Hedy’s life. There was not much information about her first marriage to an arms dealer in Austria, and it was hard to know what details were true in some instances.

Kate Quinn compared history to a sieve that in earlier times only caught the accomplishments of white, wealthy males. She asked the question “What does it take to propel a woman from an ordinary life?” War is a big factor; another is women helping other women. She discussed her new book, THE HUNTRESS, and the group of all-female night bombers called the Night Witches. If readers come across something in her books that is especially weird and off the wall, it’s probably true. As an example, she cited a plane with a bomb underneath that a female pilot had to get out of and go underneath a few times to make adjustments to the bomb before going back into the plane. After reading about this, she knew it had to go into the book.

Rachel Kadish has written about women who have something to contribute during a time period that would not allow this. In her book, THE WEIGHT OF INK, that time period was the 1600s. Her young protagonist, Ester, is fortunate to be allowed to work as a scribe for a blind rabbi when her brother decides he has other plans. The rabbi protects Ester and helps her learn and grow, offering her more opportunity than what would have been the norm at that time.

Session Four: “Pages to Soundstage, Books to TV & Film” with Lisa Genova, Tess Gerritsen and James R. Hansen

All three of these authors have quite impressive credentials and interesting backgrounds. Lisa Genova is a neuroscientist who graduated from Harvard. Tess Gerritsen is a medical doctor. James R. Hansen was a professor at Aberdeen University.

Hansen approached Neil Armstrong about writing his biography. It took him two years to convince this private man to work with him. Hansen felt that his 20-year career writing about aerospace finally convinced him. The book was optioned for a movie in 2002, but it took 14 years for First Man to be was made. Hansen felt a responsibility to Armstrong when it came to the movie, which was marketed as an Apollo film but it really was not that. One has to understand how Armstrong grew up and how the death of his two-year-old daughter, who had a brain tumor, affected him. His journey was one of grief, as well as a journey to the moon.

Genova discussed her novel, STILL ALICE, and her experience of it becoming a movie, which eventually received the attention she hoped it would. At first the only film offers she had were from Hallmark and Lifetime for TV movies. However, she wanted it to be a major movie that would generate a global conversation about Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. To make a long story short, she finally decided to offer the film rights to a couple of gentlemen who really did not have strong credentials. She doubted what she had done when she found out that they had been writers for some pornographic movies. It all turned out well, and as we remember, Julianne Moore received an Oscar for her role in Still Alice. It was a thrill for Genova to attend the Academy Awards ceremony, and she hopes to be there again.

Gerritsen has written the Rizzoli & Isles series, which became a long-running drama on TNT. It was a top-rated show for many seasons before being canceled. She said the demographics of viewership can make quite a difference. Women over 40 were her primary viewers, and since many times 18-25-year olds determine the success of a series, she felt this was a reason for the cancellation. She talked about some of the differences between her books and the television series. In the books, Jane Rizzoli is short, has frizzy hair and is not pretty. Angie Harmon, who played Rizzoli on the show, is tall and beautiful. Also, the TV series contained more humor than what she had in her books. Gerritsen also mentioned that she got $10,000 an episode to be a consultant but was called only once.

Hansen talked about his relationship with actor Ryan Gosling in First Man. Gosling wanted Hansen to give him advice about anything he thought would be helpful. However, the producers did not want Hansen on the set talking to Gosling and made that very clear.

According to Genova, the movie adaptation of STILL ALICE was very true to the book from beginning to end. She had a good relationship with the writers, who sent her every script to read, and trusted that they were using the best scenes.

All three authors alluded to the fact that it’s a miracle movies even get made. There are lots of ups and downs as you wait. The budget comes under consideration, and actors, producers and directors all have to be free at the same time. In 2015, Russell Crowe was approached about Genova’s book, INSIDE THE O’BRIENS. He was interested but was going through a divorce and could not leave the country (Australia, maybe) to film because of child custody issues. As a result, everything fell through. They went back to him later but nobody wanted to direct him. Genova mentioned that LEFT NEGLECTED has been shown to Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, but no commitments have been made yet. Gerritsen commented that once you get talent attached to a project, things move more quickly in getting a book made into a movie.

Our group of four came away from each session feeling like the authors truly wanted to be there, and connected well with each other and the audience. We highly recommend going to any book festival you have a chance to attend. It’s a great experience, and we had the added pleasure of meeting Carol Fitzgerald at this festival.

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Contributors

For seven years, I’ve been an active member of a meetup.com book club, The Reading Books by International Writers, led by Fred Hapgood. Meeting in Brookline, Massachusetts, one Sunday afternoon per month, we discuss books from authors outside the U.S., more than half written in a foreign language and translated into English. However, many of our book choices are by authors from other cultures writing about their country, but in the English language. Most are fiction, but we also read nonfiction.

Why do we read books from other countries? I can only voice my own reasons, which have to do with a resistance to the America-centric orientation of the U.S., an interest in other cultures from the viewpoint of those native to another country, and an awareness that some outstanding fiction is being published internationally that receives little attention in our country. It is always exciting not only to be exposed to other cultural viewpoints, but also to discover some excellent novels that are not part of the American mainstream.

Here are some of my favorites that our group has read and discussed:

  • ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque, translated by Arthur Wesley Wheen (exceptional writing and translation)
  • CHRONICLE IN STONE by Ismail Kadare, translated by Arshi Pipa (an Albanian perspective on WWII)
  • THE ART OF HEARING HEARTBEATS by Jan-Philipp Sendker, translated by Kevin Wiliarty (touches the heart)
  • GROWTH OF THE SOIL by Knut Hamsun, translated by W. W. Worster (no wonder it’s a classic!)
  • ALL FOR NOTHING by Walter Kempowski, translated by Anthea Bell (vivid experience of a WWII German evacuation)
  • SHIPWRECKS by Akira Yoshimura, translated by Mark Ealey (haunting and unsettling)
  • EVA LUNA by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (rich storytelling)
  • THE DOOR by Magda Szabo, translated by Len Rix (superb characterization)
  • HOW TO LIVE: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell (Montaigne is a must-read)
  • CHILD OF THE JUNGLE: The Story of a Girl Caught Between Two Worlds, by Sabine Kuegler (true story of growing up in a remote tribe)
  • NOTES FROM THE WARSAW GHETTO by Emmanuel Ringelblum, translated by Jacob Sloan (the horror of the Warsaw Ghetto)
  • THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe (a must-read classic)
  • COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel (original)
  • THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy (my favorite book, a masterpiece)
  • MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor E. Frankl (a must-read)
  • THE HUMANS by Matt Haig (an alien's delightful perspective of life on earth!)
  • A LONG WAY HOME: A Memoir, by Saroo Brierley (true story, made into a superb film)
  • PARTITIONS by Amit Majmudar (the bloody birth of Pakistan)

If I ask myself which books from the above list are most vivid in my memory and deeply moved me, two stand out in my mind, and for similar reasons. The exquisite sensory lyricism of THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy combines with a plot that circles around a secret anguish that is eventually and explosively revealed. In my opinion, it is the greatest masterpiece of the 20th century.

Another heartfelt discovery was Erich Maria Remarque’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (translated by the incomparable Arthur Wesley Ween). It is far more than a war story from the point of view of a German; it is a vivid entry into the mind of a soldier attempting to come to terms with the madness he is experiencing. Like Arundhati Roy, Remarque blends vivid lyrical writing with the experience of painful realities. The superb sequel, THE ROAD BACK, should be read by anyone recovering from a war experience or who wants to understand the post-war disorientation of veterans.

In conclusion, to counter the emphasis in the U.S. on American writers, I encourage everyone seeking a quality reading experience that expands their mind to explore the literary wealth now available to us from other countries. There is a cornucopia out there of superb writing guaranteed to enrich your lives.

Tracy Marks is an author and instructor of continuing education literature and creative writing courses at Lexington Community Education and Newton Community Education in the Boston suburbs. She is also a leader of the LitnLife online book club at Goodreads, a small community for chapter-by-chapter discussion of pre-20th-century classics.

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