Kimmery on ... Writing

Let me tell you something that changed my life. I've always been kind of an idiot savant when it comes to reading. I like everything: outlandish memoirs, straight-up nerdy science texts, humorous travelogues, overwrought YA dystopian romances, wordy literary fiction. And so on. I’m an information junkie, and I read in the bathtub, in bed, while eating, and instead of cleaning the house. Sometimes I read instead of remembering my job, which means I’m constantly yelping in dismay as I rush out the door with my clothes on inside out. I'll read anything if it's well-written. But this writing thing is new to me. I read somewhere that 81% of Americans want to write a book, which, if true, is colos

Interview with Michelle Gable, author of I'll See You In Paris

Today's interview is with Michelle Gable, author of the bestselling women's fiction novel A Paris Apartment and acclaimed new novel I'll See You In Paris. Kimmery Martin—Tell us about the origins of I’ll See You in Paris. How did you run across the story of Gladys Deacon, and how did the process of fictionalizing it take shape? Michelle Gable---The first seed of I’ll See You in Paris was planted while researching my debut novel. Artist Giovanni Boldini was a central character in A Paris Apartment. Back in the Gilded Age, you weren’t anyone unless he painted you and so I studied every person Boldini rendered. When I stumbled upon Gladys Deacon, I decided she needed top billing in a future nov

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

Anyone want to take a guess as to the approximate time period of the Golden Age of pirates? If you guessed 1650–1720 then you’re obviously a huge nerd, but congratulations. You're right. We’ve all seen Pirates of the Caribbean, so we have a vivid mental image when it comes to what a pirate should look like: swarthy, with beaded hair and Keith Richards-style eyeliner. And we know how they spent their days, too: commandeering ships in order to effect dashing rescues of waifish maidens, while accumulating treasure, intrigue, and enemies along the way. This is the point in a scholarly review where we’d normally make fun of Hollywood and its insistence on portraying all historical characters as s

Kimmery's Guide to Rome and Florence

Journey to the Eternal City Rome is a nine-hour direct flight from Charlotte, which is tolerable, especially if you can wrangle up some first class seats. Unfortunately, some sadist at Charlotte’s dominant airline apparently gets his kicks by making it so difficult to exchange air miles for an upgrade that you’re more likely to achieve nuclear fission from your head exploding than you are to fly up front. I remained calm, though, and bravely soldiered on through months of calls to this stupid airline. Yeah, Kimmery! Holla! Seats 1C and F. So after clearing security at CLT—I endured a full-on grope stopping just short of a cavity search—it should have been smooth sailing. However. The seats a

An Interview with Flight of Dreams author Ariel Lawhon

This week’s book is Flight of Dreams, a historical thriller by the delightful Ariel Lawhon. The book goes on sale February 23rd, and I have a feeling it will be huge. And—great news—another novel about a fascinating historical event is in Lawhon's future! I was lucky enough to be able to interview Lawhon about the novel, her writing process, and her personal intersection of motherhood and career, below: Kimmery Martin—What sparked your interest in the Hindenburg? Ariel Lawhon—I read an article about the Hindenburg on the 70th anniversary of the crash and immediately thought it would make a great novel. But I was knee-deep in a different book and had to put the idea aside. And then four month

The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick

Note from Kimmery: all middle grade books with boy protagonists are reviewed by my nine year-old son, Alex, and contain spoilers. If you are looking for recommendations for a boy aged 7-12, please read on! I think The Big Dark is a great book and should be 4 and a half stars! I liked it because it was adventurous and because the main character was likable and brave! At the end of every chapter, I could not wait to read more. The Big Dark is about a boy who is living in a small town, and on New Years Eve the town is watching what they think is the northern lights but suddenly there’s a big flash and the electricity goes out. In the first few days the boy’s family is just gathering fire wood a

Kimmery’s All-Time Favorite Books, Part 1

My household got slaughtered last week by a vicious, soul-sucking GI virus similar to Ebola. I zombied around without sleep for 898 straight hours, while enduring a constant spray of foul bodily fluids from whichever prostrated child I was holding, trying not to whine about my own barfy exhaustion. If you have a kid, you’ve been there. Anyway, in lieu of a new review, I’m handing in a list of books I can’t live without. I love some of them because they’re fabulous, inventive stories, some because the writing is phenomenal, and some because the content awakened me to new avenues of thought. (That is why I read—nothing makes me happier or more revved up than a brand new idea!) I’m sure in my p

Requiem For My Father

see the stars you say in the gloaming night my tiny hand in yours here is the world through my daddy’s eyes up higher than high on a shoulder ride in from our porch with the day’s dying light sleep tight, little flower, good night build it strong you say as the summer melts but i make my house from a heap of sticks that blow away in the wind your hammer falls, a rising wall a fine little playhouse for me play hard, little flower, be free hike the woods you say, through green-dampened sun we stride side by side through the buzz i step on their nest and i freeze and i scream and although i’m near grown, you carry me home their venom your own misery you’re too sweet, little flower, too sweet bu

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

I have never liked short stories. I gravitate toward novels, for their character depth and their elaborate plots, and can’t recall a single time I’ve voluntarily spent money on a volume of short stories. That changes right now, with American Housewife. (Well, to be fair, I did receive a free ARC of the book prior to its January 12th release, but I plan to buy some more copies as gifts for my naughtier bookish friends.) It’s that good. Normally I’d advise against this, but it’s fine to judge American Housewife by its cover, which features a square-jawed, full-lipped, pink-haired beauty clad in orange terry-cloth panties and black-framed nerd glasses sitting on the potty filing her nails and c

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

So. I personally have written 1.5 as-of-yet-unpublished novels, which does not exactly qualify me as a world-class writing expert. But consider a couple of writing patterns I discovered in this week’s reviewed book: —A tendency toward superfluous adverbs: “He was foully eaten alive.” —When things get exciting there are a lot of exclamation points! However. You are not going to care. You aren’t reading The Great Zoo Of China for its exquisite prose or its thought-provoking insight into the essential nature of man and beast. You are reading it because it is a stomach-churning, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat adventure story, starring a fearless and supremely competent female herpetologist who i

The Bees by Laline Paull

Strikingly different. Original. Bizarre. Awe-inspiring. Mystical. These are phrases used to describe Laline Paull’s The Bees, and it’s true; reading this novel is like drifting into an acid trip that introduces you to unimaginable brand-new colors. (Important note: Speaking figuratively here. I’ve never actually tried acid.) But The Bees is undeniably trippy; everything in it is both familiar and foreign, a dreamy, hushed Otherworld that operates according to fascinating, immutable and utterly un-human laws. The story centers around Flora 717, a sanitation worker born into the lowest caste in her hive. Obedience, industry and sacrifice define the lives of the colony, along with worship of th

The Martian by Andy Weir

One night three years ago, my father—my healthy, funny, beloved father—went to sleep and did not wake up. He was a truly brilliant guy. In my belligerent youth, I failed to appreciate this as unique. I just thought all men had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from foreign policy to structural engineering. In my house, if some highly complex piece of machinery broke, my dad did not truck over to Lowe’s and buy a new one. He’d dissemble the thing down to its component parts, deduce how it worked, and whip up a new and much more efficient one out of some toothpicks, duct tape and gum salvaged from the trash. (Side note: duct tape is featured prominently in The Martian. Men love duct tape

Seveneves by Neil Stephenson

I’m going to veer off in a different direction this week and review what has got to be the weirdest, most epic book I’ve ever read. I’ll warn you straight up that this is a 900-page, highly technical apocalyptic saga, but to my surprise, I saw it was number three on the New York Times bestseller list the other week. Who knew there were that many hardcore space geeks out there? Please bear with me if you’re not the kind of reader who digs on lavish descriptions of astrophysics. The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. When a mysterious explosion separates the moon into seven giant fragments, human beings are at first astonished, but quickly accept the new celestial reality

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin

Oh my. Where to begin? Primates of Park Avenue might be the buzzy book of the summer, at least among the demographic of well-off women in their thirties and forties. Even before its release, the book generated controversy: about its accuracy as a memoir, about its anthropological posturing, and about the notoriety and outlandishness of some of its claims: ‘Wife bonuses’ at the end of the year for high-performing stay-at-home moms? Hiring black-market disabled Disney ‘guides’ so you can skip every line? Authored by Wednesday Martin, POPA is marketed as an anthropological memoir, a case study of the uber-rich Manhattanite housewives who populate the Upper East Side, partly written from the per

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

The protagonist of Luckiest Girl Alive has the worst name in the history of fiction. Plus, the novel opens with the main character callously imagining gutting her fiancé with one of their wedding registry knives. I read it anyway, and I’m glad I did. This is a compelling, brilliant, well-plotted book. TifAni FaNelli is not your average Emily Giffin-type heroine. She pushes past edgy, and lands somewhere in the realm of disturbingly rotten. As a teen, TifAni clawed her way out of a prosaic home, located just far enough off Philadelphia’s fabled Main Line to relegate her to the ranks of the middle class. Then, after getting in trouble at her Catholic girls school, she transfers to the private

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains And go to your God like a soldier. These words, penned by the 19th century British writer Rudyard Kipling, were written in description of the 2nd Anglo-Afghan war, which began in 1878. As we all know, we are no more enlightened in the 21st century than we were in the 19th; the battles for Afghanistan still rage today, churning up a swathe of the world where bloody geopolitics consumes just as many lives as ever. We know this, but most of us don’t live this, of course. When’s the last time you dodged a sniper bullet or saw your loved one beheade

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.” We tend to think of World War II as defined by its sweeping heroism: terrified soldiers fishtailing on the beaches of Normandy; unbowed Londoners during the Luftwaffe bombings, to name two; and its equally sweeping atrocities: sailors entombed beneath Pearl Harbor; the unspeakable extermination of innocent Jews. We all know the versions of WWII told by Hollywood and history books. But the reality of this war also encompassed millions of unheralded, more prosaic stories. There are two main characters in All The Light We Cannot See: a blind French girl, Marie-Laure Leblanc, and an orphaned German boy, Werner

A Pleasure and A Calling By Phil Hogan

Have you ever sold a house? Okay, take a moment and picture…a real estate agent. Usually very likable people, right? Most likely you envision something like this: a nice face, a pleasant laugh, a knowledgable and friendly persona. A perfectly normal human being, present in the periphery of your life during the few times you buy or sell a home. Now peel back that innocuous outer layer of your agent’s face, and replace the congenial visage with a chilling, dead-eyed mask. The friendliness is transformed to calculating judgement, the human warmth reconstituted into a sick, sharp, obsessive madness. Picture this new creature hovering just out of sight, watching you while you’re unaware, laser-fo

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Hoo boy. I have been waiting for five years for Jonathan Franzen to release his latest work. First off, let me elaborate as to why I like him. Burdened with verbal geekiness as I am, it’s a delight to read an author who wields language with such blithe abandon: if there’s an esoteric word that fits the situation with precision, Franzen is going to employ it, all advice to the contrary be damned. (Writers are constantly admonished not to use big words if smaller, common ones could suffice, lest you alienate somebody with your pretentious abuse of Thesaurus.com.) Which is not to say his sentences necessitate a dictionary app at every other word. He’s so witty and interesting! Consider the foll

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Since I’m not bursting with superlatives about any of my recent reads, I decided to go with book published in 2010: the memoir Mennonite In A Little Black Dress. Now, this is a great read, in the vein of Anne Lamott/Garrison Keillor/David Sedaris. I highly recommend it if you haven’t already read it, whether you think you like memoirs or not. 42 year-old Rhoda Janzen’s story opens with a series of circumstances that would reduce a normal woman to whimpering wordlessness. But Rhoda is not a normal woman. She is blessed (or afflicted) with a sunny resilience that allows her to relate the drama of her recent surgery—in which a ghastly operative mistake forces her to wear a urinary catheter—in s

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