Blog Chat with Dan Newman, Author of THE CLEARING

I recently reviewed Dan’s book, THE CLEARING (on 10/15/13), and invited him to tell us more about himself, how he came to write the book, and his next writing project.

Dan- First off, to Beth: thank you so much for the opportunity to be a guest blogger on Beth’s Book-Book – it’s a real privilege.

The release of my first book, The Clearing, is of course a big deal to me personally, as you might imagine. And with its release have come questions, quite a few of them, actually; it’s a strange moment when you discover people are interested in hearing the back story to something you created. So on that (admittedly grand) assumption, I’ll try to answer the question I’m most commonly asked at the moment: how did you come to write The Clearing?

So much of this book is tied to real experiences I had as a boy – that’s not to say all the events in the book actually happened, but some of them are plucked right out of memory. The story itself had been rattling around in my head for a number of years, showing up in passages of other novels I’d been working on. But these interlopers never seemed to fit the current work, and just about as soon as they were written down they were cut out and pasted into a document I keep on my computer, imaginatively named “stuff”. Eventually, I pulled one of these passages out and gave it my full attention, and it seemed to take off. The trick was to let the story be set where much of it was born – in St. Lucia – rather than trying to jam elements of my time on the island as a boy into other stories where they didn’t seem to fit.

One of the advantages I found was that I had a really full and well fleshed out memory of my time living in St. Lucia as a kid, and in particular a weekend I spent at an old estate – where part of the book is set. Like the main character in the book, Nate Mason, I experienced something frightening there that left a distinct impression on me. Perhaps its fear that helped everything become so well seared into my childhood memory – and vivid memory is a useful thing when you’re tapping away on a keyboard at 3:00 am. Now, as for the Bolom: does it really exist? I know the answer to that for me. But everyone gets to make their own call on things like this.

Interestingly, one of the things I had to fight against while writing the book was the urge to fly back to the island, which I hadn’t done in 30 years. My fear was that if I went back there and looked at the “new” St. Lucia – particularly places significant to me during those early parts of my life – it would corrode the purity of those memories, and I’d lose that near photo-quality recollection that I was able to count on. The write what you know adage is certainly one I subscribe to, and that is true of most of my other novels – all of which are invariably set in countries I‘ve lived in, and centered around experiences I’ve had.

Writing The Clearing has been a real education, too, both in terms of making my way through the publishing industry, and in the research I needed to do for important elements of the story. Obeah, for example, is a fascinating and rather frightening world. I just scratch the surface of it in the novel, but as a kid it was a very real and present part of the world we lived in. In the novel the Bolom is an important actor, and as a kid it was, too. But it transcended that boogeyman role and became something real and worthy of inclusion in sage advice: be careful of snakes, stay away from big dogs, watch out for the Bolom.

But that was back then. At the moment I’m wrapping up a sequel to The Clearing, which has been a really new experience for me: all the novel-length writing I’ve done has been stand alone, and this is the first time I’ve taken characters past the conclusion of an existing story. It’s also been a really strange experience, because the story for the sequel was immediately apparent at the outset. I guess that’s the benefit of spending so much time thinking these people through (and you really do end up seeing them as people, not just characters). And in the end, it seems they quietly help you out. They’re quite opinionated, and won’t hesitate to whisper the odd hint to let you know where it is they should be going.

Thanks again, Beth, for the chance to contribute to the Book Nook.
Dan Newman.

Thanks, Dan, for chatting with us! I look forward to your sequel.

Review: Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Well – where do I start with this one? I loved Diane Setterfield’s THIRTEENTH TALE, so I was very excited to get BELLMAN AND BLACK from Net Galley. This is the story of William Bellman, who as a boy kills a rook with a stone — and rooks and this act seem to follow him throughout his life (England – about a hundred or more years ago). Bellman grows up to run a mill and has a business in mourning and funerals. He has so much loss in his life, it turns him inward. “Black” is his mysterious business partner.

So here’s the thing — I eagerly read the first half of this book, and then it felt like it stalled to me. I had to force myself again and again to return to it to finish the second half (I read it on Kindle, but I see it has just over 300 pages – certainly not a tome). I found it slow and fairly uneventful, but all the time I had the feeling that I wasn’t thinking about this book in the right way. It felt like an allegory – or a fable – or something that I just wasn’t getting. The writing reminded me a bit of Nathaniel Hawthorne or some other stark, 19th century writer. I wanted so much to like this book, this character, this story, but instead it felt a bit like a penance to read it. I kept hoping to have an epiphany that never occurred.

I’d be so curious (and grateful) to hear from others who have read it! Setterfield is an excellent writer, so if this is your only exposure to her, you might want to read THE THIRTEENTH TALE also.

Thanks, Net Galley for my copy.

Kids’ Review: MISTER MAX: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt

I’ve read a lot of Cynthia Voigt’s books, so I was excited to see she had a new novel out for kids. MISTER MAX is about a young boy living at the turn of the century. His parents have boarded a ship for India, but have disappeared, leaving Max to fend for himself with a little help from his grandmother. While Max is only about twelve, his parents are actors, and he uses their techniques and costumes to pass himself off as an adult and makes a business for himself as a detective. Max has several mysteries to solve, with the underlying one being: where are his parents??

There were some things I loved about this book. I almost always enjoy books set in the past. Max was definitely a spunky and resourceful young man. I kept reading to see how things would come out.

Other things I was not so keen about in this book were that it felt long (looks like 400 pages for paper copy), the mysteries were pretty straight-forward (though they are for kids), and there was no final resolution (apparently, this is the start of a series/trilogy). It’s hard for me to say what age to recommend this story for. Content-wise, I would say about ages 9-11, but reading stamina/level wise, I’d say more like 11-13.

Voigt is a wonderful writer and this shines throughout the story. I laughed out loud at some parts. I will most probably read the next installment because I’d like to see how Max’s story turns out.

I got mine via Net Galley for review.

Quick Review: I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU by Erin Lindsay McCabe

Oh how I loved this book! While it doesn’t publish until 1/2014, I just can not stay quiet about this Civil War love story and spunky heroine.

Rosetta and Jeremiah are newly married when  Jeremiah leaves to join up with the Union forces. Rosetta is a tomboy  and while she loves being married, she detests “women’s work” (of that era) and prefers to run the farm. A series of events lead her to rashly decide to join up disguised as a boy so that she can find her husband and be with him.

I absolutely loved this story and give McCabe credit for creating such a powerful heroine with a unique voice. Her depiction of the Civil War experience is clearly based on much research and I could not forget this book after I was done. I cried in parts. I rooted for Rosetta. I could not put it down.

I got mine as an ARC from Net Galley.

Review: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

I love Fannie Flagg’s books! I think I’ve read them all, but “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” and “Standing in the Rainbow” are two of my favorites. Her latest book came out this month and the wait was so long at the library for it, I had to buy it for myself!

(Note: The following may contain SPOILERS!)

In “The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion”, we start with middle-aged Southerner Sookie Poole, who is looking forward to relaxing after two weddings in the family. Sookie is a sweet lady, but has no backbone and even less self-esteem. She has pretty much been bullied by her domineering mother her whole life. Then her life changes when she discovers she is adopted. Her years of Southern heritage, her sorority, her “Simmons foot” are eclipsed by the fact that she appears to be ‘Ginger’ – the illegitimate daughter of a Polish Catholic woman and “father unknown”. Sookie first falls apart, but then embarks on a journey to find out more about her birth mother.
At the same time, we have the story of Sookie’s birth mother and her family. The Jurdabralinski family is from Wisconsin and work hard at running their gas station. When WWII breaks out, the girls of the family run the station; then three of them become female military pilots – WASPS. The stories go back and forth between 1940 and 2005, between Fritzi, the spunky eldest sister, and Sookie.

I really enjoyed reading this book! Fannie Flagg’s writing always makes me laugh out loud, then suddenly I’m crying. It’s funny, poignant, silly, and touching all at once. I particularly liked the chapters on Fritzi and her sisters. I found the information on the WASPS (something I knew little about) very interesting! Sookie’s chapters made me laugh as some of it was pretty silly. I did like the resolution and end of this book.

So glad to see a new one by Ms. Flagg!

You can see it on Amazon where I got mine.

Review: A DOOR UNLOCKED by Calvin Dean

Recently, Mr. Dean sent me an email and asked if I’d like to read and review his book, a supernatural thriller. I said yes as I was in the mood for a thriller/mystery read. In A DOOR UNLOCKED, a home invasion goes wrong when the bad guy kills the homeowner, rapes the wife, and abducts their eight year old daughter. Vanessa Fitzgerald makes it her mission to find her daughter and bring the perpetrator to justice. However, Vanessa has some help from beyond – when unconscious (e.g. in a coma), she can hear and communicate with her recently deceased husband. He gives her guidance in finding and saving their young daughter, Lydia.

This book reminded me a bit of a Mary Higgins Clark mystery. It read quickly and focused on a heroine who was bent but not broken, and very determined to find her daughter. I wish that the storyline had not included rape and molestation (which I don’t like to read), but they did occur mostly “off stage” so to speak (there wasn’t a graphic, violent, drawn out scene to read). I kept reading to make sure that there was a happy ending!

At less than 300 pages, I finished this book in a few sittings.

Thanks, Mr. Dean, for sending me a download of your novel!

Review: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

Coming out in January, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS is the fictionalized story of the events surrounding the real life disappearance of NY Supreme Court Judge Joseph Crater in 1930 (see here for more info:  Judge Crater’s disappearance was never solved and he was declared dead after several years. Lawhon gives us her take on the event, through the points of view of Crater’s wife, Stella, his maid, Maria, and his showgirl mistress, Ritzi. In this novel, these women know what happened to Crater — and they aren’t telling!

I found this novel so intriguing that I couldn’t put it down. It does jump around in time, which can be confusing at times. We have Stella current day, the events as they happened in the 30’s, events prior to the disappearance, etc. all interwoven.

If I had one major complaint, it was that I did not really like the ending. Without giving too much away, I will say that I felt a lot was told at the end to explain events and wrap the story up quickly and neatly. However, I did enjoy this book and it made me interested enough to look up more about Judge Crater, his disappearance, and Tammany Hall.

Thank you, Net Galley and Doubleday, for my review copy!

Review: Walking with Mary by Edward Sri

Through Blogging for Books I received WALKING WITH MARY: A BIBLICAL JOURNEY FROM NAZARETH TO THE CROSS, a short (less than 200 pages) but interesting overview of the Virgin Mary’s life, based on historical fact and biblical analysis. Edward Sri has created a very readable and accessible work here, where he explains Mary’s background and life (for that time/area) and couples it with biblical quotes and passages, analyzing them and explaining them so that the reader comes to a better understanding of Mary as both a person and a saint, and thus a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church’s teachings on Mary.

Very readable and highly recommended!

Thank you, Blogging for Books, for my copy!

FREE YA book on Kindle — 11/8-12!

My friends over at Smith Publicity have alerted me to a freebie this week! The YA novel THE SAFFRON FALCON by J.E. Hopkins will be available FREE for your kindle from 11/8 through the 12th. Here’s what they sent me about the book:
In The Saffron Falcon (Unseen Worlds Publishing, 2013), author J. E. Hopkins uses fantasy and what he calls “Transition magic” to explore the unique challenges faced by adolescents as they reach adulthood.

A dark fantasy-thriller, the book takes place in our world in the near future. Children can use Transition magic for one month as they approach puberty, but they must use certain ritual words and the magic must be unique. If it doesn’t meet these requirements, the child doesn’t make it to adulthood. Few children attempt to use their power because the danger is too great, and most who do use it, die.

“Life in the book can be tough. Favorite characters can and do die. Children can and do die,” Hopkins says. “Magic wouldn’t be very interesting if kids could use it with impunity. Some manage to find a way, but that’s the rare exception.”

The Saffron Falcon features two parallel stories: in one, United States security agents try to recover an ancient codex that would eliminate Transition magic’s uniqueness requirement. If they fail, dark magic will be unleashed on the world. At the same time, the book tells individual stories of children throughout time who have used Transition magic to save themselves or someone they love.

“This is the story of flawed adults either trying to protect the world from magic or trying to use magic to dominate it, while children struggle with the knowledge that Transition will probably kill them,” Hopkins adds. “Unfortunately, some young characters face circumstances that make them feel as if they have no choice but to use their power, no matter the risk.”

J. E. Hopkins is the author of fantasy thrillers including The Scarlet Crane (March 2012) and The Saffron Falcon (October 2013). A life-long reader, Hopkins says his writing influences include J. R. R. Tolkien, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Isaac Asimov, John Connolly, and Greg Bear, among others. The Saffron Falcon (Unseen Worlds Publishing, 2013) is available at For more information, visit
Sound good? I will be downloading myself a copy to read, too! 🙂

Author at the Concord Bookshop…Martin W. Sandler

Last Sunday, Martin Sandler was at the Concord Bookshop to speak about his new book: THE LETTERS OF JOHN F. KENNEDY. Sandler was an entertaining and engaging speaker, and this book promises to highlight many letters to and from JFK that have previously never been published. It is hard to believe that we are marking the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death this month.

You can get yours at the Bookshop (they even have some signed copies left!) or at your own local indie!

JFK book