The Long and Faraway Gone, by Lou Berney

So then there’s THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE, by Lou Berney. If the title rings in your head like the story might be The Long and Faraway Gonethreatening to put a lump in your throat, then good, you’re paying attention.

But this is no sappy, manipulative piece of work. It’s life on pages.

There’s a set of mysteries at its core, crimes from the past that haven’t stopped spreading ripples across the lives of the survivors. There is drama. There is comedy. There are puzzles and misdirections. There are clues that you don’t know are clues until it’s almost too late. There are characters, but I’ll only call them that because I have to, because this is a work of fiction. But what Lou Berney has actually done is rendered fully drawn people who are completely compelling, not simply all-good or all-terrible, just like the whole world of people who don’t live out their lives only on paper. Wyatt, Julianna, Genevieve, the employees of The Pheasant Run movie theater, Candace, Lyle, and a troupe of others will feel very familiar, because they’re very real. You will believe them and they will make your heart ache.

But my two favorite achievements that Lou Berney has managed with THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE stand alone. The first is how he brought back 1986 in the “then” parts of the book in such an organic way that it doesn’t feel like a joke. This is no straining caricature of back-in-the-day. It’s just 1986, the way it was, and the “now” parts of the book are the inevitable result of how it was “then”. You know, just the way real life works.

The best for last is something that I’ve never seen done better. THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE maps out the ways our lives cross other lives, how they brush against each other’s margins in ways we’ll never know. I hate the word “poignant”. It looks awkward typed out and it almost always feels like a punt to me, but the painfully lovely intersections that the reader sees that the characters can’t are just gorgeous. It killed me.

It’s a wonderful book. Read a synopsis here and check to see if Lou Berney will be signing THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE anywhere near you. This is one book you’ll want to have on your “best reads” shelf.

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NOT TACO BELL MATERIAL, by Adam Corolla

I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly I got something other than it with this Not Taco Bell Materialbook. It’s a memoir only a celebrity could get paid for.

Adam Corolla thinks he had a bad childhood and a lot of wild times. And maybe he did. I can’t tell. The book is a stream-of-consciousness daisy chain of oddly depressing anecdotes. The upside is that It’s fascinating as an illustration of privilege and inscrutable motives. I have no idea what Adam Corolla wanted anyone to get out of this book, but regardless of his aim, I got a very illuminating peek at the clockworks of constructing a persona. At least I hope it’s a persona.

The book was not all that fun to read, but very valuable to me as a writer. Very. Worthwhile in a weird way.

The read-a-thon is off to a useful start!

The winners have been notified. Then they notified me…

Thanks to everyone who entered! I so love this event.

The Read-A-Thon of Distraction commences this Friday morning and before I head off to the launch of MONDAY’S LIE at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe the following Friday, February 6th, here’s what I’ve been assigned to read by the winners of the giveaway:

NOT TACO BELL MATERIAL, by Adam Corolla

THE LION, THE LAMB, THE HUNTED, by Andrew E. Kaufman

RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, by Arthur C. Clarke

OBLIVION: A MEMOIR, by Héctor Abad

LITTLE BEE, by Chris Cleave

This should be good fun. Stay tuned for updates.

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Read-A-Thon of Distraction (or please help me get my head out of my own, er, book)

This giveaway has expired. I’ll post the winners and their assignments soon!

Thanks for checking in!

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WIN A BOOK, THEN ASSIGN ME ONE TO READ!

As February 2nd looms, you might find yourself wondering about Groundhog Day and the end of winter, but I won’t be preoccupied with Punxatawney Phil. No. Not this time.This February 2nd, I’m going to be in a full-on cold sweat. My second novel, MONDAY’S LIE, hits shelves and cybershelves the very next day, on Tuesday, February 3rd.

In the past year there have been edits and edits and cover art brainstorms and some more edits and title epiphanies and pre-pub publicities and hopes and dreams and practicalities and— well, I’m not exactly sick of Jamie Mason and MONDAY’S LIE, but I’d quite like a mental vacation for a week.

And that’s where you can help.

From now until midnight on Monday, January 26th, I’m taking entries for the READ-A-THON of DISTRACTION. Here’s how it works:

– over there at the left is a button labelled “Contact” (it might be up top in an overflow menu on mobile browsers)

-wait to hit that button until you know what this is all about

– once you’ve read this whole post, send me a note on the form that pops up; make sure to include your email address

– on Tuesday, January 27th, I’ll draw five (5) entries to receive signed hardcover copies of MONDAY’S LIE

But here’s the fun part!

If you win one of the five copies, you get to assign me a book to read in the week leading up my launch party.

I’ll review each assigned book here on my blog.

Coupla things:

-DON’T TELL ME WHAT BOOK YOU’LL ASSIGN IN THE EMAIL!

(It’s more fun to be surprised.)

– please recommend to me regular-length books

(I’m attempting 5 books in one week and that’s a LOT for me. If you throw a WAR AND PEACE in there, I shall be grim.)

– please recommend books that I can easily get at my local bookstore or on my ereader

– have maybe two or three books in mind in case I’ve already read your 1st choice

This contest is open to resident of the US and its territories, Canada, Mexico, UK, Ireland, Europe, and Australia.

And I think that’s it. Go ahead and hit that “Contact” button now.   This is going to be fun.

All the Wild Children, by Josh Stallings

I was mostly being polite. No, that’s too bitchy-sounding. I’m not bitchy. I was being friendly. I was being reciprocal.

Polite has never paid so good.

I met Josh Stallings a few weeks ago and for me to say that he struck me as a singularly lovely person feels like damning him with All_the-wild-childrenfaint praise. I spoke with him for maybe fifteen minutes over the conference weekend, but he left an impression on me, both of his own and of a kindness towards other writers. He’s cool. His personality edges out past his aura, maybe protecting that aura a little bit; a Russian nesting doll of warmth, enthusiasm, probably some hurt, and definitely some wisdom.

He said he liked my book. So I bought his most recent book.

I just finished it.

All the Wild Children might be the best memoir I’ve ever read.

I hope this recommendation gets somebody to go straightway to get the book, but let’s get something out of the way, so that it doesn’t come back on me later: In places, it’s bawdy. In lots of places, really. Josh Stallings has very little trouble typing the sentences just the way they come to him. There’s cussing. There’s sex. There’s drug use. There’s violence. But you won’t catch me calling any of it profane, because it’s beautiful and it’s also beautifully honest. I loved this book.

Where you can identify with Stallings – all that he has done and all that he’s seen (so far) and all that he’s felt about those things – you will be either delighted or devastated. Where you can’t identify, where his adventure and heartbreak has taken him but not you, Josh Stallings’ way with words and candor will make you think that you almost can. It’s not a wallow. It’s everything but.

What I value very most in reading is a scratch to my greedy itch. I want more life. Josh Stallings really gets that, and he makes a gift of his own experience. I’m a little bit wrecked this morning over it, but so, so grateful.

I am utterly lucky to have crossed his path with a little money in my pocket and room for one more book in my suitcase. This book is brilliant and I can’t recommend it enough.
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Close Encounters of The Lupine Kind

The first thing you should know about wildlife in Yellowstone is that the longer you stare at a buffalo, the less real it looks. 1-bison

It’s a weird phenomenon. At the first glance, there’s a lump-in-the-throat reverence for Nature and a pang of majestic appreciation, like rising violin music.

But it’s going to go all snorts and giggles once you admit that on whatever day of creation that happened, God had surely woken up in a very Jim Henson mood.

It looks like two guys in a suit made of bathroom rugs.

Also note: Buffalo don’t like to be laughed at. Or even looked at, really. They’re very grumpy.

If you drive any distance at all through the park, you will see a buffalo in the first half hour, unless you’re blindfolded for some Fifty Shades of Long Drives reason.

By the minute hand’s next full sweep, you will have seen sixty-seven of them and the bloom is rather off the rose.

Then you will begin to resent everyone who hasn’t figured this out yet. You will not be (or I will not be, anyway) kindly disposed toward all the yahoos compelled to photograph every single buffalo on the horizon or, in fact, in the middle of the roadway. Honestly, they’re like squirrels. Massive, walnut-brained, irritable squirrels.

Henceforth and forevermore, all pointless traffic stalls shall be known as Buffalo Jams. 1-IMG_0536

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So,out there, you’ve got your buffalo and your pronghorn antelope. The elk are neat to see and only slightly less everywhere than the bison. And whatever you do, never dip your head or extend your hand, in any way–not even to point– at a chipmunk in Montana. This is the Universal Snack Sign and you will have a rodent scaling your leg faster than you can scream.

But what everyone really hopes to see is one of the big boys. The shaggy, toothy, razor-clawed showstoppers. That’s what you’re drifting all over the yellow line and drying out your eyeballs for — a glimpse of a grizzly bear or a wolf. And you may get one, though I didn’t really. I was there for days. My cousin, Randall, says I’m a jinx. He could be right.

I did see both bears and wolves on our trek through Yellowstone, but at such a distance that I can only take the crowd’s word for it. Even with binoculars, it might have been a very leggy tortoise. The lady next to me was somehow positive it was a bear, but whether that was wishful thinking or a degree in zoology, I’ll never know. One roadside stop showed something dark definitely chasing a herd of elk. I’m not sure what would do that if not a wolf, so I’ll go with that. I saw an inky blur that was probably a wolf deviling a collection of deer.

But I didn’t leave the Wild West without a wolf encounter of my own. It inspired the only souvenir I brought home.

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The story of wolves in Yellowstone is interesting . The short of it is that by 1940, every wolf in Yellowstone had been killed. Deemed a dangerous nuisance, it was perfectly acceptable to lace bait meat with poison or broken glass – and it worked down to the very last one. The eradication of wolves in Yellowstone caused problems that humans hadn’t had the foresight to calculate. The elk population exploded to the detriment of the all the green in Yellowstone, cutting into the pasturing for the bison. Coyotes took over as the apex predator, mostly interested in much smaller game and people’s pets. Mid-grade ecological chaos changed what the park had been meant to be.

So in 1994, the US Government put some wolves back into the park. You can read about the program here. Today, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 wolves doing their wolfy thing and restoring wolfy balance to the area.

But, of course, there aren’t any fences around Yellowstone.

On Day 8 of our adventure, we left through the west checkpoint and tucked our RV into a camp just outside the park exit in West Yellowstone, Montana. It was late in the day, so we backed in, hooked up, and walked into town for possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.

My daughters, 11 and 15 at the time, and I headed to the camp’s bath house to wash off the day– rather later than usual. We came back out at around 10:20 pm, and it was as dark as night ever gets. Montana-black is, shall we say, comprehensive. The bath house had short-reaching floodlights that abandoned us in solid pitch after about ten steps.

Julia, my oldest, kept talking even after I’d stopped our walk, my hands flung out across both girls’ middles. The wolves were so loud, she thought they were sirens. The pack happened to be unfortunately situated, by the sound of them, just on the other side of our camper. They were dead ahead of us, likely-but-not-certainly just beyond where we needed to go. And it was definitely a they, not a him, not a her, not a slightly-less-terrifying it all on its own. To get back, we had to march straight at a full-on choir practice with quite a number of distinct howly voices ringing in harmony.

I didn’t have my phone, so my choices were to sleep in the bath house or to make a break for it. A quick bit of math noted that we were already a quarter of the way there and if we didn’t come back, my husband would surely feel obligated to come out after us — with his back to the pack of wolves and quite a bit closer to them, for a lot longer than we would have to be, and all by himself.

Wolves aren’t known to be aggressive toward humans, especially humans in noisy groups. I tried to make a mantra of that terrific bit of trivia, but the howling was doing my head in. My littlest stuffed her towel into her mouth to keep from screaming. I put my hands on my girls and set off at a cheerfully chattering clip that I wouldn’t allow to turn into a run until we were within a hundred feet of the RV.

The wolves sang us home, and at the slamming of the door I was aglow with the cavewoman’s delight at not being someone else’s dinner. I drank a beer. Then a nip of whiskey.

The next morning, I related the night’s flight to the camp office.

“Was it… coyotes?” I asked, although I’ve heard coyotes in my own backyard and they sound nothing like that. And besides, an affirmative wouldn’t be exactly reassuring. Given the choice between facing down a pack of wolves or a pack of coyotes, I think I’d rather go ice-skating.

“Oh no, that was wolves,” she said.

“But they sounded as if they were right behind my RV.”

“Oh they were…” because unbeknownst to me, just on the other side of the split-rail fence from our RV slot, was the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, a rescue zoo and educational exhibit of animals that cannot, for one reason or another, be released into the wild. (It’s a great place. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the vicinity.)

I had been a mere stone’s throw from three packs of wolves, howling in the dark — caged and harmless.

I don’t know what color I turned. The lady helpfully drew a line, of sorts, under my humiliation.

“But I can’t promise they were all in cages. The Yellowstone wolves come out to talk to our wolves all the time. But I’m sure you were fine.”

The Secret Place, by Tana French

So the last time I talked about Tana French’s books, I was delighted by the Möbius strip impossibility of ranking my favorite among her first four novels.

The Secret PlaceI’m equally delighted to take a scissor to the strip. Every one of Tana French’s books is wonderful, but The Secret Place is just that little bit more so. Or rather, it’s an extra heaping dose – on every page – of the things she does best.

The Secret Place brings back detective Stephen Moran and also Holly Mackey from Faithful Place, which draws the inevitable cameo of her da, Frank, who readers will remember with varying degrees of antipathy from both The Likeness and Faithful Place. (I, for the record, enjoy the hell out of Frank Mackey.)

The murder of young Chris Harper on the grounds of a girls’ school is chilling – in at least two senses of the word. A beautiful, popular boy cut down in the moonlight freezes both the community and St. Kilda’s faculty and students, but the case itself has also gone cold. That is, until Holly Mackey brings a card, pried from the school’s confessional bulletin board, The Secret Place, to Stephen, the cop she chooses over her father to spark onto the year-old investigation. The card reads: I Know Who Killed Him.

The story takes place in a single day, with flashbacks into the tangles of teenage politics and crystalline glimpses of youth blooming into independence. Our narrator, Stephen, struggles on a tightrope, looking to wring every professional advantage from this gift of opportunity as its balanced against what’s at risk for everyone involved. The mystery is cracking. The resolution is wrenching.

And still it’s not the best part of the book.

That would be the writing. Tana French vaults everything she’s done yet with jeweled tone and sparkling description to put the reader everywhere they need to be. Sometimes it’s painful. I cried about seven times. But I full-on cheered once. Scared the hell out of my husband while he was driving.

Truly, The Secret Place is a wonderful book. It comes out September 2, 2014. Get it as soon as you can.