There are few forces in this world like a true Southern grandmother. Nickole Brown has written a lyric biography of her own in her second collection, Fanny Says. Brown blends descriptions of the immensely wise, brazen and sailor-mouthed Fanny with ruminations on both the power of memory and the Kentucky culture that surrounded them both. The editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson, the fabric of Brown's poems share threads of his deeply honest and personal reporting, but Fanny Says proves that she's a literary heavyweight in a class of her own.
Don’t carry a purse but a pocketbook, and underneath
don’t wear a bra and panties
but a push-up Frederick’s of Hollywood brassiere
and a pair of bloomers—nylon, always white, pulled up
as far as bloomers can possibly go.
For your shoes, two options: should you need to go shopping
or get your pressure checked, lace up a pair of white Keds.
Otherwise, it’s house shoes, dust-pink slippers
curled from the dryer into tiny, warm cups for your feet.
What are you reading this week?
It's one of the most special times of the (literary) year, readers! And no fooling—we're officially kicking off National Poetry Month, which celebrates poets and poetry all April long. This year's striking poster is by the very talented Roz Chast, a 2014 National Book Award Finalist for her graphic memoir, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, and features text by former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand.
Check out our poetry feature from our April print edition for the scoop on three new collections to get you into the spirit of things, and look out for more web-exclusive Poetry Month posts, interviews and features coming soon.
So, how many poetry fans do we have out there? How are you planning to celebrate, and which collections are you looking forward to reading?
New York Times best-selling author Kylie Scott has made a name for herself writing about the scintillating love lives of her (sadly fictional) rock band, Stage Dive. Deep, out now, is the final book in the series. In this guest post, Scott tells us about what drew her to rockers, her decision to feature a pregnant heroine and her thoughts on closing out the series.
Rock stars are funny things. Ever since prime-time TV deemed Elvis’ hip-shaking antics too raunchy to show on air, we’ve been fascinated with their lives, both on stage and off. Rock stars push boundaries and live life on the edge. They stand up beneath the spotlight in front of thousands and both enthrall and entertain. And right from the get go, more than any other topic, they were singing about sex, love and relationships. Take Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” or Little Richard’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” Sex, sex and more sex. How about Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” or The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”? All of the longing and heartbreak you could ask for and then some.
For me, writing the Stage Dive series meant finally putting all the hours I spent in my youth sitting in front of music video shows, or with my ear glued to the radio hoping to catch a certain song, to good use. In the first book, Lick, there was lead guitar/song writer David. He was the tortured artist, emo-type dude. Next came manic, life-of-the-party drummer Mal, because filters . . . why would you even? Then came lead singer Jimmy, the messed-up, moody-ass show pony with addiction issues (He’s my favorite. I can’t help it. I love an asshole.) And finally, bass player Ben: big, bearded and simple in his ways. The man just wants to make music. So of course I screwed with him big time and had him accidentally knock up his best friend’s kid-sister. Angsty complications—I love them.
But why a pregnant heroine? Good question. You see, as we all know, in real life, sex has consequences. Sometimes those consequences are as simple as losing a bra down the back of the headboard or doing the walk of shame. Other times, they’re unexpected pregnancies that throw your whole life for a loop.
Now, despite the rather loud voices in my head, I know Deep is just a book. As much as I’d love to have a beer with Lena, it ain’t gonna happen. But romance novels are an opportunity for us to explore all those nitty-gritty relationship and female-orientated issues. Hold your horses! I’m not saying men can’t or don’t write romance, or that pregnancy doesn’t affect the other partner. What I am saying is, that in this book, written from the heroine’s perspective, we have a chance to dig deep into the mind of a young woman in this situation. It means we can bring unrequited love (*swoon*) out to play whilst also taking a peek at the biological, emotional and mental changes a woman undergoes when she’s knocked-up—both the funny and the frightening. Another reason I gave Liz a bun in the oven? I hadn’t written about a pregnant heroine before, and I like to mix things up, set myself a challenge. Also, pregnant women can, and do, have sex. We don’t suddenly lose all personality and become solely a breeding machine when sperm meets egg.
I’m going to miss the Stage Dive crew. They taught me a lot over the course of four books and I’m grateful for the experience. Will I ever write another story about them? Honestly, I don’t know. Right now, it’s time for something new. In the future though? There is that god-awful Martha woman still hanging around making side-eyes at Sam . . .
Two memoirs that earned slots on the BookPage list of Best Books of 2014 are among this week's new paperback releases:
By Frances Mayes
Crown/Archetype • $15 • ISBN 9780307885920
In a memoir that's as rich and evocative as the scent of magnolias, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun recalls her fractious Southern upbringing in tiny Fitzgerald, Georgia, and her eventual escape to Randolph-Macon Women's College and the world beyond.
Blood Will Out
By Walter Kirn
Liveright • $15.95 • ISBN 97816314902249
In 1998, novelist Walter Kirn (Up in the Air) wanted to find a home for a shelter dog so badly that he offered to drive the dog all the way from his home in Montana to a wealthy prospective owner in New York City. It was only after years of friendship with the man that Kirn would learn the truth: The animal lover in New York was actually an imposter and a murderer.
Mimi Malloy, at Last!
By Julia MacDonnell
Picador • $16 • ISBN 9781250063779
The first novel from MacDonnell in 20 years features an unlikely protagonist: a chain-smoking, 68-year-old divorcée who lives in a modest apartment in Quincy, Massachusetts. The feisty Mimi Malloy will win readers' hearts as she stands her ground and begins to sort through troubling memories from her childhood.
A Fighting Chance
By Elizabeth Warren
Picador • $17 • ISBN 9781250062253
Will she or won't she? Often mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate, the senator from Massachusetts outlines her rise from small-town Oklahoma to Harvard Law and the halls of Congress in this revealing memoir.
Despite having only two novels to her credit, Lauren Groff is one of the most original voices in American literature today. Rumor has it she cements that reputation on September 15, when she'll release novel #3, Fates and Furies (Riverhead). A tour de force about a marriage, it's a story that posits that "the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets." Lotto and Mathilde married at 22, in secret, and their whirlwind romance and creative partnership is the envy of their friends. But 10 years on, we revisit the couple to find that there is more beneath the surface.
Check out an excerpt here. Who else is looking forward to this one?
James Hannaham's bold debut novel and our March Fiction Top Pick, Delicious Foods, centers on a mother's search for her son as she struggles with grief, addiction and the diabolical business of Delicious Foods Farm. Our reviewer writes, "Few novels leap off the page as this one does. Delicious Foods is a cri de coeur from a very talented and engaging writer." (Read the full review here.)
We asked Hannaham to tell us about three books he's enjoyed reading lately, and he graciously agreed to share.
Last year, indie publisher The Dalkey Archive released the first 14 of a planned 25 translations of modern Korean works of fiction. And if you think K-Pop, bibimbap, and Kias are all that nation has to offer, the books that have appeared so far are already revelatory. No One Writes Back exemplifies a lot of what’s terrific about Dalkey's Library of Korean Literature: It’s ostensibly the story of a man compelled by a family tragedy (unnamed until late in the novel) to wander purposelessly, accompanied by his aging and blind dog, Wajo, sending letters to everyone he meets. But the story isn’t as thin as it seems; Jang deftly illuminates the alienated tone of our times through the hero and his animal companion, balancing hipness and heartbreak.
When I visit a new place for the first time, I sometimes read a well-known novel set there, hoping it will deepen the experience culturally, perhaps emotionally. My partner and I visited Cartagena, Colombia, recently, so I chose this one, which is supposedly based on his parents’ relationship. Gabo, as they call Marquez there, was on my mind after he died last year, and I’d already read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabo never mentions the old city of Cartagena by name in his mordant and ironic, yet intensely romantic, tale. But as I meandered, entranced, through the gorgeously well preserved, 16th-century walled city on the Caribbean coast, with its belated Christmas decorations still glittering everywhere, it was unmistakable. I sometimes felt as if I had opened the book instead of going for a walk.
Almost like a black remake of Jennifer Egan’s first novel, The Invisible Circus, Bridgett Davis’ Into the Go-Slow is also a story about a young woman who idolizes an older sister who perished in a foreign country and decides to re-trace the older woman’s steps. In Egan’s case, the protagonist travels from San Francisco to Italy; Davis’ heroine, Angie, flees a dead-end life in Detroit to follow her late sister's adventures in Lagos, Nigeria. As she learns shocking new details about her sister, she begins to discover herself, Africa and how different the realities of these things are from everything she expected. Davis makes all these moves feel fresh and almost effortless in this wonderfully engrossing book.
Thank you, James! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Ian Douglas)
Congratulations to all of the authors nominated for the prestigious RITA awards, which recognize the best romance novels published in the past year. We've covered many of the books and authors in the running and wish them the best of luck. Check out the full list of nominees on Romance Writers of America's website!
A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
The Best Medicine by Tracy Brogan (Bell Harbor)
It’s in His Kiss by Jill Shalvis
Love with a Perfect Cowboy by Lori Wilde
One in a Million by Jill Shalvis (Congrats on the double nod!)
Douglas: Lord of Heartache and Worth: Lord of Reckoning by Grace Burrowes
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie
The Darkest Touch by Gena Showalter
My two favorite food groups are coffee and cake, so clearly baking Lorraine Pascal's Simply Coffee, Vanilla & Walnut Cake has jumped straight to the top of my weekend priorities. Find this and a wealth of, ahem, a bit healthier recipes in her new cookbook, Everyday Easy.
Simply Coffee, Vanilla & Walnut Cake
One of the first cakes I ever ate was a simple coffee-flavored cake. No bells, no whistles, nothing fancy, simply coffee cake with a rich coffee buttercream. I have, however, played around with the recipe a bit and added whole wheat flour, which gives a tasty, nutty dimension to the sponge cake. But if you don’t have whole wheat flour in the cupboard, then just make this up with all-purpose flour instead for an equally appetizing cake.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Time baking in the oven: approximately 25 minutes
Equipment: Kettle, two ¾ x 8-inch round cake (springform) or tart pans with removable bottoms,
large baking sheet, mug, 2 large bowls, pastry brush, wire rack, fine sieve
++Preheat the oven to 350°F, and put the kettle on to boil (with just a small amount of water). Grease the bottom of two cake or tart pans with butter and line with baking parchment. Set them on a large baking sheet and set aside.
++First make the sponge cake. Put the coffee powder into a mug, using 1 tablespoon for a subtle coffee flavor or 3 tablespoons if you want to be awake for quite some time! For me, 3 is just right. Then add 1 tablespoon of hot water from the kettle for every tablespoon of coffee and mix until smooth. Finely chop half of the walnuts and set aside.
++Put the flours into a large bowl along with the sugar and baking powder and mix a bit to combine. Then add the butter, eggs, vanilla extract, prepared coffee and chopped walnuts (reserving the halves for decoration). Beat it hard until smooth and well combined. Divide the mixture evenly between the two pans and then pop them in the oven for around 25 minutes.
++About 5 minutes before the cake is ready, put the kettle on again for the coffee syrup. Spoon the coffee powder into the mug with the sugar and 2 tablespoons of hot water from the kettle. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.
++Check that the cakes are ready. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Return to the oven for another 5 or so minutes if not. Once ready, remove from the oven and brush liberally with the coffee sugar syrup to give a wonderfully soft sponge. Then leave the cakes for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Carefully remove from the pans, peel off the paper and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
++Cooling should take about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the buttercream. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter and beat hard until light and fluffy. Blend the coffee powder in the mug with 1 tablespoon of hot water from the kettle and stir into the buttercream.
++Once the cakes have cooled, put one layer on a cake stand or serving plate and slather the top liberally with half of the buttercream. It will be a good thick layer. Place the other cake layer on top and slather the remaining buttercream over. Arrange the remaining walnuts on top. Totally yum.
Spring is finally (finally!) here, and finding a new book is a great way to celebrate. LibraryReads has put together a list featuring the 10 books coming out next month that librarians across the country are the most excited about putting on their shelves.
Our April Fiction Top Pick, Sara Gruen's At the Water's Edge, also tops LibraryReads' list. Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan's The Royal We promises to be a fun royal romp, while The Bone Tree continues Greg Ile's incendiary trilogy that began with Natchez Burning. Rounding out the list is Kimberly McCreight's chilling mystery, Where They Found Her.
You can see the full April LibraryReads list here. Which book are you most looking forward to getting your hands on?