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Foreword Review of Erika Raskin’s CLOSE

Reviewed by Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews
July 30, 2014

Raskin easily balances humor and drama in this novel about parenting, reality TV, and family.

Erika Raskin’s Close is a welcoming and nuanced novel that offers a window into the life of the Marcheson family—with ultimately much of America peering through that window as well.

The Marchesons’ story unfolds in Charlottesville, Virginia, where mom Kik (an acronym for maiden name Klara Isabella Kauffman) tries to manage the daily juggling of a single parent’s extended schedule. Kik has three daughters and a professorial ex-husband, she teaches writing yet longs to be a novelist, wouldn’t mind a second chance at love, and in general experiences the ups and downs of an intelligent, charmingly quirky forty-something female:

The past was crammed with haphazard snapshots that Kik was sure could be separated into two albums. When My Husband Loved Me. And After He Stopped.

Through an unusual crimp of fate, Kik, her daughters, and their father, Owen, end up as the public project of one Dr. Price, famed television therapist and advice guru. Eldest teen daughter Doone lashes out through rebellion and substance abuse, middle teen Casey suffers from the stressful need to be perfect, and the baby of the family, Tess, is an unusually imaginative and challenging five-year-old. Kik’s parenting methods are loving yet sometimes overwhelmed, but Dr. Price feels he can quick-fix this family on his show.

Raskin’s narrative skillfully develops characters and uses shifting perspectives between Kik and her two older daughters. Young Tess is especially vivid, and even less-than-sympathetic Owen seems genuine enough to elicit sympathy during a time of intense crisis.

The author also excels with details of how a reality TV crew can invade private lives, and how the surreality of the viewing audience can continue to invade emotionally and physically. The hypercritical Internet postings of Dr. Price’s many fans are finely satirized, making one think of the “peanut-crunching crowd” of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus, full of voyeuristic zeal and swarming to comment on the latest spectacle.

Close easily balances humor and drama, and despite the academic setting, the tone is accessible and unaffected. And while the last one hundred pages of plot seem to hasten a bit toward anxious climax and multiple resolutions, Kik and her daughters have become appealing and indeed close enough to make us want to wish them all the very best.

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Interview: Erika Raskin, CLOSE

From Kathyerskine’s Blog

Close.  What a great book title!  Fellow local author Erika Raskin’s novel (for adults) comes out in a couple of months and here’s the very engaging opening to pique your interest:

Sometime the dread was just a light tapping on the edge of awareness. Other times it was a howl in that dark space between anxiety and terror.

I love it! Here’s Here’s the synopsis:

Single-mom Kik Marcheson is doing the best she can. But effort doesn’t seem to count for much in the parenting department.

Her oldest daughter, Doone, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence. Casey, the middle-child slash good-girl is fraying along the edges and Tess, a quirky kindergartner, has installed an imaginary playmate in the family abode.

When Doone falls in with the wrong crowd, a TV therapist offers to help. And things do start to look up. But only for a while.

Erika obviously has a way with words and has earned quite a few accolades since she followed in the family business, as she puts it (love that, too), and became a writer.  To get to know Erika a little better (and she is a very fun person) I hope you’ll enjoy this light interview:

Tea or coffee?  Coffee.

Flavor?  Instant.

Milk or sugar?  Definitely doctored.

Favorite season?  I love the colors and sweater weather of autumn (before the leaves drop) — as well as all the impending celebrations. I also love spring when the gardens put on their party ensembles.

Can you deal better with wind or rain?  Wind. Unless I’m wearing a skirt. Then I get a little frantic.

Deciduous or evergreen?  Evergreen. Barren trees bum me out.

What’s always in your fridge?  Carrots.

Favorite comfort food?  Watermelon.

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?  In a perfect world I’d eat a watermelon and Dorito diet.

Food you’d rather starve than eat.  I’m a vegetarian…

Cat or dog?  Dog.

Flats or heels?  Heels.  I plan on retiring them, though, as soon as I get just a little taller.

Natural fibers or synthetics?  I like cotton – but seem to have a lot of the other stuff.

Jeans or fancier?  Jeans. And make-up.

Short hair or long?  In between.

Ideal evening.  Hanging out with my husband after a productive workday, bingewatching TV.

Ideal vacation.  Big beach house with everyone I love inside.

Favorite board, card, or computer game?  Scrabble.

Favorite sport or form of exercise?  Ballet barre.

Language in which you’d most like to be fluent.  Spanish. Still.

Country you’d most like to visit.  Ireland.

Skill you’d most like to acquire.  Being able to sing without scaring small children.

Favorite musical instrument.  Guitar.

You’re going on a book tour: Plane, train or automobile?  Depends on the distance. (Are we there yet?)

Topic you’d most like to write about.  I love writing and exploring different families.

Topic you think most needs writing about.  Social justice issues.

Author you’d like to meet.  Anne Lamott.

Question you’d ask that author.  How did she get so fearless.

What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?  Different writings, different authors. Sometimes no more than a line can change my path.

What most surprises you about our current culture?  The general acceptance of a loss of privacy. Totally creeps me out.

Some favorite books?  To Kill A Mockingbird, Mockingbird, Angela’s Ashes, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Traveling Mercies

Some favorite movies?  To Kill A Mockingbird, Terms of Endearment, Good Will Hunting, Little Women.

To learn more about Erika and her writing, please visit her website or her author page on Facebook.  Happy reading!

 

 

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San Francisco Book Review: GROWING UP WHITE

San Francisco Book Review, Reviewed by Hubert O’Hearn

Evan Nash of Choctaw County, Arkansas played Santa Claus at the end of the annual Christmas Parade in the Delta Country, and every Sunday, he taught those same children who had cheered him as he waved his red and white-sleeved arms; he taught them their Bible study at Sunday School.

“Would you trust God if you were thrown into a fiery furnace?” Uncle Evan asked.

“Yes! With all my heart!” I replied.”

Evan Nash taught those children to love the nigras (sic) too, just as Jesus loved them. Until, one day, a young black man named Bo Taylor accidentally bumped Evan’s old Aunt Tilley Nash into a stand of grape jelly and, wouldn’t you just know, poor old Tilley went and fell and broke her hip. There wasn’t much left to see of Bo Taylor, and what there was, you wouldn’t want to see—not after Evan Nash and the rest of the Klan had tied Bo to a tree and skinned him alive. Welcome to Arkansas’ Bayou country in the mid-1960s.

Jake Evans, who was ten when those events occurred, just turned fifty-nine and is not really handling the number of that birthday particularly well. So, as many of us do when the present is grey and the future an evening leading to a dark and endless light, Jake looks back to the sunshine of his youth. Well, sunshine laced with the clouds of tragic killings. Jake is a Presbyterian lay preacher using all he has learnt of, and because of his chosen life with God, he tries to make some sense of it all.

Author James T. Stobaugh is quite an elegant writer, verging on the poetic. Growing Up White is very much a novel of mood and meaning and, yes, quite explicit in religious intent. Clearly, Stobaugh knows his material, as in his day-to-day life, he is a pastor as well as quite a gifted writer. One cannot help but admire writers who have a clear love of language, and Stobaugh clearly has that. His words, images, and just general flow of his Bayou-like pacing are common enough in excellent poetry; a rarity in prose. Rather fittingly, the first song referred to in Growing Up White is ‘Moon River,’ for Henry Mancini would be the perfect musical accompaniment for the reader to have playing in the background.

Jake, in reminiscing about childhood hunting trips with his father, says of him “He was enjoying, no doubt, the enormity of being in Devil’s Den Swamp before the dawn erased its clandestineness. When he was in the woods, in a slough, walking in a field—no matter where he was, as long as he was hunting, it was sacramental. He was communicating with his God.”

As later in life, so does Jake. Throughout this book, so does Stobaugh. This is a graceful, elegant novel about – yes – evil, yet also the redemption from evil that is around us if we choose to seek it.

 

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BWW Reviews: Diane Haithman Kills in DARK LADY OF HOLLYWOOD

t was only natural that former Los Angeles Times writer and current Deadline|Hollywood contributor Diane Haithman would one day turn the tables on the town she has covered with such precision for the last 25+ years. A writer after my own heart, she also knows her Shakespeare Ps and Qs.

In DARK LADY OF HOLLYWOOD, Haithman uses her insider’s insight and razor-sharp wit to create a feisty new contemporary novel that blends the two worlds into a hilariously gratifying page-turner of epic sitcom proportions.

(more)

 

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Foreword review: A LITTLE SOMETHING

A Little Something

Foreword Review

Haddaway stays tightly focused on characters who deal with tragedy in a way that feels real.

Richard Haddaway’s A Little Something opens with a random and seemingly minor accident. While waiting on deck at his youth baseball game, eleven-year-old Justin gets hit in the head by a foul ball and has to go to the dentist for emergency work. While he seems fine on the way there, something goes wrong at the dentist, and what started as a small injury instead leads to the boy enduring a long coma. This instigates a moving story about life, death, family, and the meaning of love between a parent and child.

What makes this story work so well is Haddaway’s laser focus on the characters and how each deals with the impact of Justin’s coma and the uncertainty about his future. Nearly the entire book takes place in the hospital, while Haddaway fills in the characters with flashbacks to their lives before the accident. Justin’s parents, Sam and Katherine, bring very different perspectives to the situation. Katherine, a doctor herself, understands the clinical reality of Justin’s condition, while Sam relies on optimism and focuses on best-case outcomes.

Through their dialogue with one another—and their discussions with other characters—the book makes both perspectives and both parents truly relatable without making those differences too stark, so the couple remains compatible.

There are times when the book presents signals that it’s going to wind up with a clichéd story line, but those thankfully prove mere ways to play with audience expectations. Justin’s coma has no easy solution, and what makes A Little Something work so well is the way it takes readers inside the minds of family members in various stages of accepting that difficult reality.

The medical aspect of the situation is explained with a journalistic style that reveals all that needs to be known without becoming too technical. The doctors and other supporting characters feel like real people, and the flashbacks show both parents as well intentioned without turning them into too-perfect victims.

Perhaps most impressively, A Little Something realistically portrays its characters coping with grief in myriad stages—from lashing out at the dentist whose error might have caused the coma to grasping at Justin’s small movements as signs of hope for recovery.

The book addresses a sad story without veering into melodrama, and it does real character work in showing how its subjects handle their increasingly difficult ordeal.

Jeff Fleischer
April 30, 2014

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Booklist review: DARK LADY OF HOLLYWOOD

“Ken Harrison is a burned-out Hollywood executive who has been demoted from his job as vice president of comedy. Ken is also a very sick man, and his recent treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has left his body wasted and his mind vulnerable. Ken’s saving grace is his love of Shakespeare, particularly the sonnets. So when he meets the beautiful Ophelia Lomond, a budding actress and personal assistant to the spoiled and demanding Jazzminn Jenks, host of a popular talk show, he just knows something Shakespearean has happened. Ophelia becomes his muse, his personal version of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. Not only does Ken fall in love with Ophelia, he also agrees to her request that he murder Jazzminn. As the clock ticks toward the appointed day, the three find themselves trapped in their own modern-day Shakespearean drama. A finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition, Haithman’s hilariously funny novel gives readers a bird’s-eye view of the Hollywood machine and its players. With witty, fast-paced dialogue and characters readers will cheer for, this debut is a deeply satisfying story of love, loss, and acceptance.”

–Carol Gladstein, Booklist

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Tony Rogers Wins National First Novel Prize

Tony RogersHarvard alum author and Cambridge resident Tony Rogers’s novel, The Execution of Richard Sturgis, As Told by His Son, Colin, recently won the first annual Dorothy and Wedel Nilsen Prize for a first novel. An excerpt of the novel first appeared in Harvard Square Editions’ Above Ground anthology. The story follows a rowdy, complex family man who befriends two devious men, and with them, is arrested for the rape and murder of a young man. While the other two men are released, Richard is sent to trail and convicted. His son Colin, deeply scarred by the effects of the trial and going through his teen years known as the son of a murderer, can’t bring himself to believe in his father’s guilt, continuing what he knows maybe a lifelong search to find out the truth about the murder and about his father.

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Midwest Review: ALL AT ONCE

“The boundaries of human imagination are explored in Alisa Clements’s intelligent fantasy novel All at Once. Clements presents two romantic triangles, centuries apart, whose participants all share psychic abilities beyond the norm. Much of this beautifully written novel centers on the story of Josephine, a scholar researching native religious practices in a more or less modern-day Brazil, and her encounters with a group of people, rebels against the government, who seem to have harnessed their psychic powers in a manner that promises great things for humanity but threatens the power structure. How Clements connects the dots between the two fraught relationships is just one of the rewards of this clever and entertaining book.”

—Midwest Review

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Virtual Writers Workshop, 1st Sunday of the Month at 12 p.m. Eastern Time

Drum Circle 7

The Virtual Writers Workshop brings published authors together with writers for synergy and exchange in a drum circle the first Sunday of the month at 12 p.m. Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific time. Get writing for the next meeting!

Participants have included acclaimed author and Pastor Stan Duncan, award winning author Charles Degelman, and Soviet author Ruben Varda whose humorous story ‘Consultation’ about a celestial computer class experimenting in virtual worlds was first published in the HSE anthology Voice from the Planet, later reprinted in Cambridge Book Review, and was lauded by British reviewer The Truth about Books, which named Planet ‘Book of the Month’. If you would like to meet up and rap, read a poem, lyrics, some of your writing (max 10 min.), or just listen, come to the Virtual Writers Workshop in Second Life.

Directions:
Just create an avatar, download the Second Life veiwer ‘Firestorm’, launch the viewer, and go to this location by pasting this link in the browser in the upper left of the Second Life viewer for a primer on how to move your avatar:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Virtual%20Ability/170/100/23

…Then, on Sunday at 12 p.m. Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific time, click on Visit Etopia Island (154, 181, 23) and hit then hit the orange  “Teleport Now” button in the middle of the page, and then the gray “Teleport” button at the bottom of the popup to participate in the workshop. Pacific time when everyone will be here… or  meet us here by pasting this link in the browser in the upper left of the Second Life viewer:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Etopia%20Island/150/181/22

Chat by typing into the chat box and hitting ‘enter’. To be able to hear the talk, hit CTRL P, and on the preferences screen, lower the volumes on the media, music, and sound effects, and raise the volume on the voice chat. Right click on the drums to play, ‘stand up’ to stop. If you’d like to read, when it’s your turn, press the ‘speak’ button on the bottom of the screen to talk. For best results, use a headset or Mac. Be sure to turn the speaker button off when you‘re done talking to avoid feedback (worse than criticism!)

You can improve listening by standing near the person who is talking.

‘See’ you there!

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Panel Discussion: The Antiwar Movement — Degelman at the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences

Panel Discussion: The Antiwar Movement — Then and Now | Charles Degelman | William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences.

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David Laudau Named HSE’s Editor-in-Chief

David Landau took over as Harvard Square Editons’ Editor-in-Chief today. David graduated from Harvard College where he wrote and published a political portrait of Henry Kissinger. The first book-length treatment of its enigmatic subject, Landau’s Kissinger: The Uses of Power created an immediate furor in the U.S., going on to appear in Great Britain, Japan, Spain and China (where millions of people read it in a government-sponsored pirate edition). The New Republic, in a 1992 review, called it “the best of the books” about Kissinger.

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Publishers Weekly on Harvard Square Editions

Publishers Weekly Harvard Square Editions: A Publishing House Run by Alumni
By Judith Rosen 

…Not only does HSE operate on a shoe-string budget out of staffers’ homes, but those apartments and houses are scattered throughout the U.S., South America, and Europe. So it wasn’t until last summer’s publication party for Voice from the Planet that many founding members of HSE met for the first time in person. They gathered in France for a joint reading at Village Voice Bookshop in Paris…”  

…and Harvard Square Editions has just put out three new novels: Travelling Light by J. L. Morin, Patchwork by Dan Loughry, and A Weapon To End War by Jonathan Ross!

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