New York City's crowded Lower East Side tenements come to life in Alkemade's first novel, which opens in 1919. After tragedy strikes Rachel Rabinowitz's family, she's separated from her brother, Sam, and sent to a Jewish orphanage. Decades later, her past comes back to haunt her in surprising way, and her ability to forgive will be tested.
Alkemade's descriptions of Rachel's life in the orphanage are heartreading, although that won't come as a surprise to readers of books like The Orphan Train.
"You see?" Nurse Shapiro said. "They all cry themselves to sleep eventually if you leave them alone long enough."
In the secret darkness under the blanket, Rachel intertwined her fingers and pretended she was holding her brother's hand. It seemed like only a second later that she was jolted awake by a dream of a baby doll come to life, black buttons sewn on with coarse thread where its eyes should have been.
What are you reading this week?
Hilary Liftin is the author of more than 15 fiction and nonfiction bestsellers—but she's just released her first novel. How? Well, Liftin's previous works bore the name of other people: She's been working as a ghostwriter for more than a decade. In a guest post, Liftin talks about what it's like to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
My first novel, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, was published in July. It’s been strange for me to see this book into the world. I should feel like a pro. After all, I worked in publishing for 10 years, published two nonfiction books under my own name, and, as a professional ghostwriter, have so far collaborated on more than 15 books with a wonderful collection of celebrities and experts. But I never considered myself a fiction writer. For all the writing I had done, I’d never made anything up! In fact, that’s what I’ve always said I like most about ghostwriting. The raw material is pretty much handed to me.
Then I had the idea for Movie Star. Like any ghostwriter, I have to wait, sometimes impatiently, for the right projects to come along. I read gossip magazines and fantasize that various stars will want my services. So one day I decided I would take the bull by the horns and write a fictional celebrity memoir—the tell-all of my dreams.
Because the form was familiar to me, this was a baby step into fiction. I knew I wanted to delve into my Hollywood heroine’s struggle in her marriage to a megastar, and I wanted to let readers experience what it might be like if a tabloid darling held nothing back. I’ve written enough memoirs to have a sense of pace and scope. But actually plotting out the story was completely new to me. So I did something that may be unusual for novelists but felt perfectly natural to me as a collaborator—I called upon two of my writer friends to help me do what screenwriters call “breaking the story.” At least with an outline in hand I felt more confident facing the blank screen. Nonetheless, along the way I took some wrong turns, wrote myself into corners, and had to throw out hours of work. But in this process I was bolstered by another attribute acquired through ghostwriting—I had a sense of what I might call caring detachment. I knew exactly what the book wanted to be, and I was willing to scrap anything that didn’t serve it.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this process for me was not the writing, but the publication itself. Once my ghostwritten projects make it through the editorial process, I’m out. I have zero to do with publicizing the book. I just watch from the sidelines, like a proud relative at a graduation ceremony. When Movie Star came out, there was so much to do! The publisher had questions for me. Features and reviews had my name in them. The full spotlight was on me. To be honest, I would have loved to hire a ghost-self-promoter to pull it off with more finesse than I. I still love ghostwriting—the collaboration, the form, and not least the freedom to hide in the shadows—but Movie Star is my baby, and it’s proven fun to nurture it along.
Getting your kids back to school in the fall just isn’t as simple as it used to be. Gone are the days when buying a new backpack, shoes and notebook would be enough. Now, in addition to understanding macro-educational policies, standards and testing requirements, parents must also make sense of ever-changing acronyms, such as STEM, STEAM—and now STREAM. What’s behind these terms and what can a parent do to help support a child’s learning?
The acronym STEM has been around for awhile; it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education refers to teaching and learning in these fields, from preschool to post-doctorate, in both classroom and informal settings. STEM education initiatives are designed to ensure that young people have opportunities in these fields, and to make the U.S. more competitive internationally.
Several years ago, STEM was expanded to STEAM, an effort to incorporate art into the mix. STREAM wasn’t far behind—a reminder that reading and writing are essential. As Rob Furman wrote in his 2014 Huffington Post article, “Without the ability to read and write, there is not a job to be found for which STEM or STEAM education is going to be enough preparation.”
What’s a parent to do? Fortunately, reading great books at home—and seeing reading as a jumping off point for the exploration of the world, is the best place to start. Sometimes just following your child’s lead is all it takes. Examples abound: Gardening books for preschoolers can lead to explorations of how plants get energy, and young children are naturally curious: a fictional story about a bear can lead to nonfiction books about mammals and hibernation.
Here are some tried-and-true tips:
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of titles such as The Great Trouble (about the history of cholera), Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building (construction and engineering) and Who Was Charles Darwin? Her newest book is Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark, out August 25. She's also a regular contributor to BookPage.
Debbie Macomber's novels have inspired countless readers (and a television series and a few movies!), and in this guest post, Macomber tells us what inspires her. Her latest novel, Silver Linings, returns to her beloved Cedar Cove as part of the Rose Harbor Inn series.
When people ask me what inspired my Cedar Cove series, I generally joke and answer, "My house payment." While that's true, the real answer is a bit more complicated. The inspiration for the Cedar Cove series and the Rose Harbor Inn spin-off came directly from my readers.
I read every piece of mail that comes into my office. My readers have directed the course of my career from my first published book to this very day. Their notes and emails have steered my writing. The Cedar Cove series is a good example.
Dedicated readers were the ones who led me to create my first six-book series, and by the time the last book was published, my office was flooded with mail asking for more. That was when the light bulb went off in my brain. Why not create a series and continue writing until all the stories are told? The Cedar Cove series was born and ended up being 11 full-length novels, two Christmas books and a novella before it was laid to rest.
By now, I'd caught on, and I knew my fan base wasn't ready to leave Cedar Cove—even though I was. As a compromise, I set the Rose Harbor Inn series in the town my readers and I had grown to love.
Silver Linings is the fourth book in the Rose Harbor Inn series. The overarching theme of these books is emotional healing. The idea for Silver Linings came from a notice that my own high school reunion is coming up soon. And frankly, who among us can't do with a bit of healing from the angst of our teenage years? This reunion is a biggie for me. You know the ones—they have zeros in them. I'm still in touch with several of my high school friends, and we see each other often. These friendships are important to me and have blessed my life. My hope is that when you read Silver Linings and come to know the stories of Katie Gilroy and Coco Crenshaw and their class reunion, plus the ongoing story of inn owner Jo Marie Rose and Mark Taylor, you will be blessed—for you, my readers, are the ones who inspired it.
Looking for more romance? Sign up for our monthly romance newsletter, Smitten!
A best-selling novel that’s sure to appeal to book clubs and two short story collections by Southern masters of the form top the list of new paperbacks on sale today:
Big Little Lies
By Liane Moriarty
Berkley • $16 • ISBN 9780425274866
Attention, book clubs: The latest novel from the author of The Husband's Secret is out in paperback, with a page-turning plot and a juicy satire of suburban scandal. Book clubs will find plenty to talk about, from cliques and bullying to parenting and infidelity. The paperback includes a list of discussion questions worthy of an AP English exam.
By Tony Earley
Back Bay • $14.99 • ISBN 9780316246149
In his first collection in 20 years, the author of the lluminous novel Jim the Boy offers a novella and six short stories that showcase his talent for capturing the rhythms and characters of Southern life. Many of the stories explore the poignant complexities of relationships, including the moving title story in which a newly married mountain woman has a fateful encounter with a grieving neighbor. The paperback includes a reading group guide.
Something Rich and Strange
By Ron Rash
Ecco • $16.99 • ISBN 9780062349354
If I had to choose one word to describe Rash's stories, it would be "powerful." Set mostly in the mountains of western North Carolina, the 34 stories here constitute a "best of" collection drawn from his four previous volumes of stories. (Rash is also the author of five novels, including Serena and The Cove). Spare, poetic and compelling, many of these stories will take your breath away. As evidence, we refer you to "The Trusty," first published in The New Yorker in 2011.
Falling in love with a debut novelist is scary. Will they write again? Will the second novel be as wonderful as the first? Most first-time writers probably struggle with those same questions. Here are a few authors who hit it out of the park the first time around—and whose second novels we're still hoping to read one day. (Hey, if it can happen for Harper Lee...)
Golden's 1997 smash hit was a cultural phenomenon and earned him an invite to the White House. But his second novel, set in 1860s Amsterdam and sold to Knopf in 2002 for seven figures, has been a long time coming. A 2013 interview suggested a fall 2014 publication date, but two years later, no announcement has been made.
Almost 20 years after the publication of her first and only novel—which won the Booker Prize and is still one of the biggest touchstones for Indian fiction— Roy has involved herself in activism, leading many to assume that novel-writing is on the back burner. Despite 2007 rumors of a novel-in-progress, readers are still waiting.
Jones' poignant and beautiful exploration of the life of a black slave owner won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle award. Since then, he's published a short story collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children, but no full-length work has yet been announced.
Readers have been waiting since 2004 for another novel-length glimpse into the magical imagination of Clarke, whose nearly 1,000-page opus about the titular frenemy magicians' antics in Napoleonic-era England was a dark horse bestseller. In the wake of the (excellent) BBC miniseries that aired this summer, there's only likely to be more demand. News soon, please?
While Diaz's 2012 short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, was wonderful, we're still eager for another novel from the Pulitzer Prize winner, whose recent self-aware remarks on the pitfalls of men writing about women only made us love him more.
A pick for Oprah's Book Club, this coming-of-age story starring a protagonist with an affinity for dogs—and based on Shakespeare's Hamlet—shot up the bestseller list. In December 2008, Wroblewski sold a prequel to Lee Boudreaux and Daniel Halpern at Ecco, in a deal that mentioned a planned trilogy about the Sawtelle clan. Boudreaux left Ecco in 2014 to form her own imprint at Little, Brown, and it's unclear if Wroblewski went with her. Either way, there's been no word on another Sawtelle story.
Unsettling and provocative, Galchen's 2008 literary debut about a man who is certain his beloved wife has been replaced by another woman, was assured and accomplished. It won her the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and a spot on the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list in 2010. Galchen published a short story collection, American Innovations, in 2014, but there's been no news of a sophomore novel.
This 2010 surprise bestseller was a charming and engaging story of British country life in East Sussex, where a very English retired Major forms a surprising relationship with a Pakistani shopkeeper. In 2011, Simonson sold her second novel to her original publisher, Random House, but no publication date has been set. However, German rights to novel #2, tentatively titled The Summer Before the War, were sold in June—perhaps an announcement is on the horizon?
Is there a debut novelist who has you eager for book #2? Let us know in the comments!
Two Across by debut novelist Jeff Bartsch is the story of two spelling bee champions connecting over words and, of course, a sham wedding. Our reviewer writes, "As Bartsch unravels Stanley’s charades and how they affect people around him, he weaves in enough crossword clues to keep any puzzle fans curious." (Read the full review.)
We asked Bartsch to tell us about three books he's enjoyed reading lately.
I’ve been a fan of Gary Shteyngart since his first novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. He’s a hilarious writer with a very inviting—I would even say gregarious—style, as if you’re in conversation with him rather than reading a book. It’s clear from his novels that the life he’s lived has given him a rich perspective, so I was eager to read his memoir the moment it came out. It is indeed an interesting journey he’s been on, and he describes it so well. His self-deprecation and wit are awesome to behold, and there’s something very life-affirming about his quest for happiness amid this mess that is life. From his Russian childhood through his struggles to assimilate in Queens, then at Stuyvesant High School and again at Oberlin, his funny yet touching take on his life reminds us that we’re all always striving to fit in, in one way or another. Read this book, but read his novels first.
I had read and enjoyed Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan’s 2001 novel Gould’s Book of Fish, and for some reason I felt like I was the only one on the planet who read it. It’s a very unusual book and I thought the writing was excellent, but I think my opinion of it was tainted, strangely enough, by the exuberance of its design: it was printed with purple ink on colored paper and bound in a narrow format. It left me with the lingering notion that the book seemed a bit light. So I was surprised to see that his latest novel won the Booker Prize. My initial impression of his writing was confirmed by this brilliant book. The story moves back and forth between the protagonist’s present and his past as a POW in a Japanese WWII prison camp. This back and forth can feel a bit ragged at times, but that was the only negative for me. His writing is beautiful, smart and original. He conveys emotion with subtlety and honesty. If you can handle a story that’s rather dark, I highly recommend this master craftsman’s work.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Whenever I’m working on a writing project, I keep a book in the rotation that reminds me what the human imagination is capable of, something that makes me feel both humble and inspired. Calvino’s work is one of those sources of spiritual refreshment. I’m making my way through this mind-blowing creation for the third time, like a starving man at a gourmet-food tasting. The book is composed of short vignettes, some only a page, each a wonderful little appetizer describing in gorgeous prose a city of fantasy, a city whose design speaks to an aspect of the human condition. I’m a lover of lists, and Calvino is a genius list maker, layering traits upon his cities that make a reader gasp at the strength of his descriptive abilities. Like all his work, it’s a highly conceptual book with flawless execution—a treat to savor.
Thank you, Jeff! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo Jon Davis)
Though Upstate was published in 2005, its themes and storyline remain sadly relevant in today's world (and will no doubt appeal to readers whose appetite for tales of prison life have been whetted by "Orange Is the New Black"). Kalisha Buckhanon's heartbreaking debut is an epistolary novel about two teenagers in love, but separated when one of them is arrested and jailed.
Upstate explores the myriad trials that afflict the poor, especially the African-American poor: fatherlessness, abuse, drugs, homelessness and the appalling rate of incarceration of its young men ("upstate" is where most of the prisons are in New York). On top of this, there's the universal sadness of a young love that's doomed even though its young lovers, thankfully, aren't.
Read the entire review here.
Looking for a great cut of steak that's easy to grill at home and won't break the bank? Grill masters Joe Carroll and Nick Fauchald make a compelling case for the traditional working-class cut in their recipe for Butcher's Steaks with Garlic Butter from their new cookbook (and our August Top Pick!), Feeding the Fire.
Butcher’s Steaks with Garlic Butter
Makes 4 servings
The hanger steak (aka butcher’s steak) is one of the most underrated cuts of beef. It’s silky and fairly tender, thanks to the fact that the muscle, like the tenderloin, does very little work; its primary function is to support the diaphragm. It literally hangs there, from the cow’s last rib, unprotected by the bones and fat that surround other cuts. Once the animal is processed, this extra air exposure helps the hanger develop its extra-beefy, almost liver-y flavor. Each cow yields only one (two halves separated by a vein), which means that butchers—back when every neighborhood had one—wouldn’t have more than one or two of these steaks on hand at a time, so they’d either grind them into hamburger meat or keep these meat orphans for themselves (hence the name). Its working-class status also makes it the best inexpensive steak around, perfect for a quick weeknight dinner.
On the grill, treat this long, irregularly shaped cut like a sausage, turning it frequently to get a good char on all sides. I prefer mine cooked to medium, which makes it a bit more tender than medium-rare while retaining its gamey flavor and silky texture.
1. Prepare a hot single-level fire in a grill.
2. Generously season the steaks with kosher salt and pepper. Grill the steaks, turning frequently, for about 8 minutes for medium-rare or 10 minutes for medium. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.
3. Cut the steaks across the grain on the diagonal into 1-inch slices. Divide among four plates, drizzle with the garlic butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Serve.
Makes about 1 cup
1. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes; the butter should simmer gently but not brown. Remove from the heat.
2. Skim the foam from the top of the butter and slowly pour the butter through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Discard the milky solids and garlic. The butter can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.