Maeve Binchy, Irish family saga novelist, has died

Maeve Binchy, whose very first novel became a bestseller, died yesterday in Dublin.

Ms. Binch's love of Irish small town living and family sagas, was a teacher and a journalist before her first work of fiction, Light a Penny Candle (1982, on order) was rejected by five publishers before Century (England) and Viking (U.S.) picked it up. It quickly became a bestseller.

She wrote several collections of short stories and 15 more novels, several of which became movies, including Tara Road (1999) which hit the silver screen as a film in 2005 starring Andie MacDowell and Stephen Rea.

Ms Binchy's fascination with human interaction and family relationships which were often fueled by secrets served her well as she penned rich multi-generational tales.

When Ms. Binchy was hospitalized four years ago with a heart ailment, she turned that experience into a novel she called Heart and Soul.

Ms. Binchy's last novel, A Week in Winter will be published posthumously later this year.

Maeve Binchy had turned 72 in May.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #341 "A sister is a gift to the heart..."

3 debut novels - from the wilds of British Columbia to the idyllic Swedish countryside, from WWII Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, - the stories of sisters.

In Frances Greenslade's Shelter *, living almost off-the-grid with their hippie parents in the Pacific mountains, Maggie and Jenny experience their first blow when their father is killed in a logging accidents. Then their mother disappears, leaving them with almost strangers. It is up to them to build the shelter, both physical and emotional— to sustain themselves as they move into adulthood.

"Heartbreaking and lushly imagined,Shelter celebrates the love between two sisters and the complicated bonds of family. It is an exquisitely written ode to sisters, mothers, daughters, and to a woman's responsibility to herself and those she loves."

I am Forbidden * brings to life four generations of one Satmar family. 1944 Transylvania, little Mila was rescued from certain death and raised with Atara, the daughter of Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community. As the two girls mature, Mila's faith intensifies, while her beloved Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore, and continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters make force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they've ever known.

"A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide". Anouk Markovits was raised in France in a Satmar home, breaking from the fold when she was nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Science from Columbia University, a Master of Architecture from Harvard, and a PhD in Romance Studies from Cornell. I Am Forbidden is her English-language debut.

Drowned *, set in the idyllic countryside during a short-lived Swedish summer, Marina, a burnt-out college student visits her older sister Stella who is living with Gabriel, a famous writer as charismatic as he is violent. As Marian gradually comes under Gabriel's spell, she also senses unease in Stella and the many secrets she keeps. With recurrent references to Ophelia, savvy readers could already anticipate the plot that mixes "hothouse sensuality with ice-cold fear". A compelling psychological thriller not to be missed.

Debut novelist Therese Bohman is a magazine editor and a columnist writing about literature, art, culture, and fashion. She lives in Sweden. Translator Marlaine Delargy serves on the editorial board of the Swedish Book Review. She lives in England.

* = starred review

Nora Ephron, screenwriter, author, director, and funnywoman, has died

Nora Ephron, known for her sweetly funny romantic comedies and wryly humorous essays about issues that didn't used to be amusing, died last night in Manhattan.

Ms. Ephron came from a family of writers. Her parents were both screenwriters. All three sisters -- Delia, Amy, and Hallie -- are authors. She took her familial destiny and ran with it, to the delight of her fans, friends, and loved ones.

Ironically, her first script to bring her fame was the serious film, Silkwood (1983), a devastating look at the life and death of Karen Silkwood. The film starred Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell.

That same year, Ms. Ephron turned the agony of the adultery of her second husband, Carl Bernstein into Heartburn, a very successful, very funny book and, three years later, movie.

In 1989, America couldn't get enough of Ephron's hilarious romcom, When Harry Met Sally, in which Meg Ryan's public display of noisy fake bliss is forever immortalized in the line delivered by director Rob Reiner's mother, Estelle Reiner, who muttered, "I'll have what she's having."

Two more romcoms were huge box office successes. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You've Got Mail (1998) both starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Women of a certain age hailed Ms. Ephron's chuckly outing of formerly tabboo topics -- wrinkles, small cup size, memory all received the Ephron treatment, especially in I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.

The online blog Huffington Post paid enormous tribute to Ms. Ephron, who was one of their top-tier bloggers.

Ms. Ephron, who was 71, died of acute myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder which can be an offshoot of chemotherapy. MDS entered the public awareness a few weeks ago when Robin Roberts, beloved co-host of Good Morning America, went public with her diagnosis of this disease. According to Be the Match, THE place to go to register to be a bone marrow donor, registrations have more than doubled since Ms. Roberts' announcement.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #338

If I had to pick a favorite this publishing season, it would have to be debut author Francesca Segal's The Innocents * *, a captivating recast of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, set this time in Temple Fortune, a swanky, and close-knit Jewish enclave in North West London.

28 year-old Adam Newman considers himself very lucky - newly engaged to sweet Rachel Gilbert with her traditional values, embraced by her loving family, and assured as heir-apparent in her father's prestigious law firm. Turning his world upside down is Rachel's younger cousin Ellie who arrives from New York discredited (Columbia University), disgraced (for the less than above-board arrangements with a married man), and scandalized (for her starring role in an "art house" film).

Adam does try to keep clear of Ellie but their mutual attraction and Ellie's fiercely independent thinking and reckless behavior keep drawing them together. "While the basic plot will not surprise Wharton readers, this new version of a classic is appealingly fresh and brisk, taking on issues of love, community, and compromise as unforeseen events alter the courses of lives", coming most appropriately on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edith Wharton.

Francesca Segal "writes elegantly and thoughtfully about Adam's growing sense of entrapment... (and) ties in family Holocaust lore and high-holiday gatherings to show that those long-standing bonds are tough to break. Even if the plot and themes are second-hand, this is an emotionally and intellectually astute debut." Francesca was born in London and studied at Oxford and Harvard University before becoming a journalist and critic. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Guardian, and The Observer. She is daughter of author Erich Segal.

Flying lower on the media radar is another Edith Wharton recast this summer - Gilded Age: A Novel by another debut novelist Claire McMillan, inspired by The House of Mirth, and set in contemporary Cleveland. A little darker and more demanding, but engaging just the same. Former English majors should feast on them.

* * =Starred reviews

AADL Talks to Delia Ephron

If you missed Delia Ephron's program here at the AADL on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, here is a chance to meet her as she sat down with us before the program for a lively discussion.

Her parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron were both Hollywood screenwriters. We asked her about growing up in Beverly Hills in the shadow of the film industry, and how her parents might have influenced her as a writer. She also talked about coming East for college, living in the Village and getting published.

We asked how she came up with the topic for her first published work (under the name Delia Ephron) How to Eat Like a Child and Other Lessons in Not Being a Grown-up? and how different it is writing teen and adult fiction.

Then we went on to the very important topic of wardrobe (not fashion but wardrobe!)

Her play Love, Loss and What I Wore which she co-wrote with sister Nora, based on a book by Ilene Beckerman is about women's relationships and wardrobes. The off-Broadway production won several very important awards. Speaking of jeans, she shared the secrets of her favorite brand, and when we posed the Desert Island question - she was happy to comply.

Don't miss our conversation with Delia. It was open, warm and full of humor. And if you haven't read her latest novel, out this spring The Lion is In ,like the author, it is a real treat.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #331


Wife 22 * * is "smart, fresh, entertaining, moving and incredibly funny" (I can't say it any better) and perhaps, one of the best Women's Fiction titles this year.

Let's see how YOU would answer the following questions:

#10 Do you believe love can last?
#44 What do you believe should NOT be done in public?
#50 If your spouse gave you one free pass to have sex with another person, who would you choose?
#80 Define passion in one sentence
#88 Has your life turned out the way you would hoped it would?

Like these? Thankfully, debut novelist Melanie Gideon (author of The Slippery Year: A meditation on happily ever after: a memoir, and 2 YA novels: Pucker and The Map That Breathed) provides in an appendix these 110 questions - some survey-generic, some philosophical & probing, some downright invasive but all seriously provocative.

Alice Buckle: spouse of William, mother to Zoe and Peter, part-time drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions is also "Wife 22". Readers will be privy to her honest and witty response to an anonymous survey on marital satisfaction. Over time, her correspondence with Researcher 101 has taken an unexpectedly personal turn, and soon, she comes dangerously close to making a decision that will affect more than her happiness.

Rights sold to 19 countries and optioned for film. Perfect escapism and a breezy, delightful summer read.

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #330

Joining a recent crop of fictional biographies of famous women and their little-known love affairs such as The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott and Romancing Miss Brontë is Rosie Sultan's Helen Keller in Love.

No doubt we are all familiar with Helen Keller's early education as depicted in The Miracle Worker, a play by William Gibson (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960, and adapted into an Oscar-winning feature film in 1962), but we are less likely to remember her for her strong interest in women's rights, universal suffrage, and social activism. Very little is written about her private and emotional life.

This debut novel imagines a 30-something Helen's love affair with Peter Fagan, a brass young journalist hired to step in as her secretary when Annie Sullivan was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Their daily sensual interactions of signing and lip-reading with hands and fingers quickly set in motion a liberating, passionate, and clandestine affair, which was met with stern disapproval from her family and Annie. Helen is caught between the expectations of the people who love her and her most intimate desires.

"Richly textured and deeply sympathetic", it vividly depicts Helen's inner life and her feelings of utter dependence and loneliness and her desperate desire to be treated as a woman.

Rosie Sultan (website), winner of a PEN Discovery Award for fiction, has taught writing at Boston University, the University of Massachusetts, and Suffolk University. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

New Book Clubs to Go - April 2012

Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out a large number of new Book Clubs to Go. It is a mix of classics (you asked for them), literary and popular fiction, among them a couple of award winners. We did not forget our nonfiction readers either.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Traces the fortunes of four generations of one family as they attempt to build a life for themselves in the American West. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published in 1971, Angle of Repose has also been selected by the editorial board of the Modern Library as one of the hundred best novels of the twentieth century.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Forging a deep friendship with a Wampanoag chieftain's son on the Great Harbor settlement where her minister father is working to convert the tribe, Bethia follows his subsequent ivy league education and efforts to bridge cultures among the colonial elite. New York Times bestselling tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure from the Pulitzer Prize winning author.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Chronicles the author's year spent testing the edicts of conventional wisdom to assess their potential for improving life, describing various activities ranging from getting more sleep and singing to her children to starting a blog and imitating a spiritual master.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Harrison William Shepherd, a highly observant writer, is caught between two worlds--in Mexico, working for communists Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky, and later in America, where he is caught up in the patriotism of World War II.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
In 1974 Manhattan, a radical young Irish monk struggles with personal demons while making his home among Bronx prostitutes, a group of mothers shares grief over their lost Vietnam soldier sons, and a young grandmother attempts to prove her worth. The 2009 National Book Award for Fiction, and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
Descending on a family beach house won in a bet years earlier, three generations of women gradually impart difficult respective secrets including a pregnancy, a terrible crush and a deeply held resentment for past misdeeds.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Discovering in childhood a supernatural ability to taste the emotions of others in their cooking, Rose Edelstein grows up to regard food as a curse when it reveals everyone's secret realities.

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
Ten years of infertility issues culminate in the destruction of music therapist Zoe Baxter's marriage, after which she falls in love with another woman and wants to start a family, but her ex-husband, Max, stands in the way.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh must step out of her comfort zone when she is sent into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years--a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
A novel that circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. It is about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. The 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and The National Book Critics Circle 2010 prize for fiction.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #318

Debut novelist Catherine Chung's Forgotten Country * * is praised by reviewers as "superb", "elegantly written, stunningly powerful, simply masterful", "darkly luminous"; endorsed and favorably compared to works by Amy Tan, Eugenia Kim, Lisa See, and Chang-Rae Lee. And I was not disappointed.

Janie (Jeehyun), bookish, dutify and the older of two girls from an immigrant Korean family must set aside her academic pursuits (University of Chicago) to returm home to Michigan to care for her father who has just been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. More pressing still is her parents' insistance that she finds her younger sister Hannah (Haejin), who disappeared over a year ago. Janie is resentful because of their prickly relationship and the rivalry, but also fearful because of her knowledge of the family's legacy that for three generations they have lost a daughter, circumstances often shrouded in mystery.

When her father decides to seek experimental treatment, the family returns to Korea, a homecoming that is both bittersweet and illuminating, making clear the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier. Like invisible threads, the fragile and implacable bonds of shared history could hold a family together even across the seemingly impassable chasm of different cultures and changing generations.

The jacket cover mentioned that the author lived in Michigan and the character Janie attended the University of Michigan. I was curious and contacted Catherine Chung (author website). Here is what she wrote:

"My family moved to Okemos, Michigan when I was eight years old, and I grew up and went to school there. My father was a professor at Michigan State--I don't have any official connection to Ann Arbor: I just had a lot of friends who went to school there and visited often!"

For further reading on the Asian immigrant experience, try Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and Bich Minh Nguyen's Short Girls (also set in Michigan and Ann Arbor).

* * =Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #312

Seré Prince Halverson's debut novel - The Underside of Joy quietly and immediately draws the reader in with : “For three years, I did back flips in the deep end of happiness. The joy was palpable and often loud. Other times it softened..... I also know now, years later, something else: The most genuine happiness cannot be so pure, so deep, and so blind."

Ella Beene's back flips in happiness are named Joe, Annie and Zach. She met Joe as she stopped at Elbow, a small, funky town along the Redwoods River in North California and never left, becoming stepmother to Joe's children when they married. When Joe died, Ella's grief was compounded with Paige, the children's biological mother showing up at the funeral.

As a bitter custody battle raged between the two women, long-buried secrets which Joe took great pains to hide from Ella came to light. Joe's once close-knit Italian-American family initially supportive, took sides, leaving Ella feeling abandoned.

"Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel's setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion-grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement . . . the underside of joy."

'A poignant debut about mothers, secrets and sacrifices. "

Readers who enjoyed Jacquelyn Mitchard's A Theory of Relativity (2001); Marisa De Los Santo's Love Walked In (2006) and Belong to Me (2008); and Caroline Leavitt's Pictures of You (2011) will find much to like with this debut novel.

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