Coming soon…author interview with Tracy Ewens

Tracy Ewens

Tracy Ewens

Tracy Ewens, author of Catalina Kiss, has written a new book! Premiere – A Love Story is due to be released on October 27.

I recently had the chance to ask Tracy about Premiere and some of her other projects. Check back soon to learn all about her latest book!

catalina kiss   Premiere pic

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What’s up next? Dear Life, by Alice Munro

Dear Life cover

It’s about time I read something written by Alice Munro! She has received many, many awards, including the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. Other awards include the 2009 Man Booker International Prize, the 2001 Rea Award for the Short Story, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1998. Munro’s fiction was named to the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year three times, in 2004, 2001 and 1998.

Dear Life is Munro’s most recent collection of short stories and was published in 2012.

Alice Munro photo from:

Alice Munro
photo from:


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Olive Kitteridge – HBO miniseries coming soon!

olive kitteridge miniseries

I am very excited to tell you that one of my all-time favorite books has been made into an HBO miniseries. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009. And now you can watch the story on HBO. The first two parts will be shown on November 2 at 9:00 pm. Parts 3 and 4 will be shown November 3, also at 9:00 pm.

The miniseries stars Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray. It was directed by Lisa Cholodenko and the teleplay was written by Jane Anderson.

Here’s a blurb from the HBO website:

OLIVE KITTERIDGE tells the poignantly sweet, acerbically funny and devastatingly tragic story of a seemingly placid New England town wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, told through the lens of Olive (Frances McDormand), whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and staunch moral center. Richard Jenkins portrays Olive’s husband, Henry.

The story, which spans 25 years, focuses on her relationships with her husband, Henry, the good-hearted and kindly town pharmacist; their son, Christopher, who resents his mother’s approach to parenting; and other members of their community.

You can watch a preview:

See the full cast and crew:

Check out the book, too, for a risk-free read!

olive kitt pic

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Historical fiction imagines the life of “Migrant Mother”

Mary Coin cover

Mary Coin
by Marisa Silver
Rating: ****

Try to imagine what Florence Owens Thompson was thinking in this iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph, a picture that was taken in 1936 by Dorothea Lange. Lange was a government employee, on assignment to show the plight of poor migrant workers during America’s Great Depression, and this image became a national symbol of the extreme hardships these destitute Americans endured. To me, she looks tired and worried, but also strong and resolved. When this picture was taken, Thompson was a widow with seven children, and she worked in the fields to support her family, picking cotton, peas, and oranges. She and her children traveled to wherever there was work, living in tents and scraping by to do no more than exist.

What was Thompson thinking about when this picture was taken?

What was Thompson thinking about when this picture was taken?

Marisa Silver used this image as inspiration for Mary Coin, a work of historical fiction based on the incredible and difficult life of Florence Thompson and her children.

I enjoyed reading Mary Coin. Silver is an excellent writer and she makes it very easy to imagine what Thompson’s life was like. She presents the story from three perspectives, beginning with Walker Dodge in the present day, whose family has owned an orange grove in California for four generations. When Walker’s father, George dies, Walker must go through the family home and clear out his father’s belongings, furniture, books, and seemingly unimportant, outdated papers. Trained to notice details, Walker begins to piece together a different picture of his family, particularly the lives of his father and grandfather.

Mary’s story begins in Oklahoma when she is a teenager. She is restless and in search of something more than the life she leads in her family’s mud house. Mary reads the newspapers that cover their walls for insulation and feels excluded from a bigger world, “aware that there were words and ideas meant only for people who already knew them.” She’s drawn to Toby Coin, a boy in her village. They marry when she becomes pregnant, marking the beginning of Mary’s life as a mother.

Vera Dare begins her career as a portrait photographer, taking pictures of wealthy society women. She marries and has children, but her marriage is doomed and when the Depression hits, Vera gets a job taking photographs for the government. Her picture of Mary Coin gains national recognition, Mary remains anonymous, and their lives continue independently until years later.

As the years pass and the two women age, each feels compelled to confront and explain the significance of their meeting. And when Walker makes discoveries in his father’s house, we learn about the significance of his family’s link to Mary.

Silver follows Thompson’s story closely, but it’s important to remember that this is a fictional work. It is fun, however, to imagine the personalities of these people and the story of Mary Coin allows you to do just that. Reading Mary Coin makes me want to re-read The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, one of my all-time favorites.

For the record, Dorothea Lange did not receive royalties or any kind of payment (other than her salary) for her photograph of Florence Thompson. The picture was the property of the U.S. government. Lange did, however, receive a great deal of professional recognition after taking the picture, which helped boost her career. Thompson’s identity remained anonymous until 1978 when a reporter tracked her down and told her story.

I recently found additional information about Thompson and her children, including two great interviews of her daughter, Katherine. It’s a fascinating story and I think the interest begins with that very photograph and the serious, but not-totally-readable look on Thompson’s face.

Great 2008 interview with Katherine McIntosh, one of the children in the photo (girl to the left):

Another interview with Katherine McIntosh 2009:

Great article from the Tampa Bay Times:

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Love in the Pasadena Playhouse – Premiere, by Tracy Ewens

Available on October 27!

Available on October 27!

by Tracy Ewens
Rating: ****

Samantha Cathner knows all too well that it’s not so simple to be young and in love. Peter Everoad was her one true love, but he left her for a playwright’s career on Broadway. Now he’s back and he’s brought his new play with him to the Pasadena Playhouse.

Sam has moved on with her life, or has she? As assistant creative director at the Playhouse, she must work directly with Peter and she soon discovers that the characters in Peter’s play bear a close and uncomfortable resemblance to Sam, Peter and their close friends and family.

The sparks are still there and Sam wrestles with this undeniable attraction and her anger with Peter for leaving four years earlier, just as their romance was taking off. But Peter’s story is much more complicated than a guy fleeing when things get too involved. Pasadena represents good and bad memories for Peter. Now that he’s back, he’s forced to confront the painful reminders of his father’s suicide, including a mother who can’t make it to lunchtime without a drink.

I enjoyed reading this smart romance about the trials and angst that young professionals endure as they navigate love’s rocky road. It’s a great look at young lives when everything is on the brink of happening. The reader can see where things should head, but the characters struggle to find their way.

Ewens’ characters move within Pasadena’s privileged class and it is fun to jump into a world where money is no object.   But Sam is not a princess. She is strong-willed and career-driven, like her grandmother, who is portrayed in Ewens’ first book, Catalina Kiss.

The story moves along at a nice pace with lots of romantic tension and fun, intelligent conversation. Ewens has a good feel for what it’s like to be a twenty-something young professional, with equal parts of romantic drama and serious personal conflict.

Suspense carries the reader through to the play’s opening night. With his personal life unsettled, Peter has struggled to write a satisfying ending, which he’s kept secret to all. As she sits in the audience, Sam shakes with nervous anticipation and can hardly watch as Peter’s final and unconventional scene draws her into its conclusion.

Premiere is an enjoyable romance, with the bonus of interesting and uncomplicated descriptions of behind-the-scenes drama production. The attraction between Sam and Peter is well-presented, with realistic dialogue and conflict. In addition, Ewens has managed to write love scenes that are nice and spicy, but not over-the-top, which gives the story class and separates it from popular bodice-ripping tales. I think the strongest scenes are between Sam and Peter in New York. It’s what the reader sees as an ultimate coming-together, but with more pages ahead, there’s a lot to figure out. But my favorite scene is towards the end between Peter and his mother, one of those conversations that has taken years to happen and is satisfying to witness.

Ewens also raises the important question of where writers get their material. Peter’s best writing comes from his own experiences, which he puts on stage for all to see, a catharsis for him, but a writer’s dilemma as well. Is it right to include these painful and personal experiences, at the expense of family, friends and, especially Sam?

Premiere is a seemingly simple story with more complicated layers and is best described by one of my favorite quotes from the book, “If only life were as simple as a good-looking guy and a great dress.” So true, but the complicated parts are just as entertaining!

I received an ARC to review Premiere, which will be released on October 27.

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Patrick Modiano wins 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature

 French novelist Patrick Modiano. Photograph: AP

French novelist Patrick Modiano. Photograph: AP

The decision is in and the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Patrick Modiano. Modiano, from Paris, is 69 years old and is the eleventh French writer to win. The prize is worth 8 million kronor, which is $1.1 million or £700,000. The Nobel Academy awarded the prize to Modiano: “For the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

Modiano’s father had Jewish and Italian roots. His mother was a Belgian actress. His parents met during the German occupation of Paris and Modiano was born two months after the end of World War II. He often writes about Jews during the Nazi occupation and about the loss of identity, themes that occur in La Place de l’Etoile, published in 1968.

Peter Englund, the Nobel Academy’s permanent secretary, has this to say about Modiano:

Patrick Modiano is a well-known name in France but not anywhere else. He writes children’s books, movie scripts but mainly novels. His themes are memory, identity and time.

His best known work is called Missing Person. It’s the story about a detective who has lost his memory and his final case is finding out who he really is; he is tracing his own steps through history to find out who he is.

Englund adds that Modiano’s books “are always variations of the same theme – memory, loss, identity, seeking. Those are his important themes: memory, identity, and time.”

The Swedish Academy nominated 210 writers this year. Twenty made it to the secret long list and five to the committee’s short list. There was much outside speculation about who was being considered, and several writers’ names came up as possible winners, including Ngugi wa Thiong’o, from Kenya, the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and the Belarussian journalist Svetlana Aleksijevitj.

There are lots of articles online today about Modiano, but I think the best one is from The Guardian:

You can also check out what The New York Times says here:

If you speak French or German, you can get La Place de L’Etoile on Amazon:

Missing Person is available in English on Amazon:

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What’s up next? Mary Coin, by Marisa Silver

Dorothea Lange took this now iconic photo of Florence Owens Thompson.

Dorothea Lange took this now-iconic photo of Florence Owens Thompson.

Do you know this photograph? It’s called “Migrant Mother” and it was taken by Dorothea Lange, a photographer for the Resettlement Administration, part of America’s New Deal. In 1936, Lange was on assignment in California and visited a crowded campsite of out-of-work pea pickers. The subject of the photograph is Florence Owens Thompson, a mother of seven. Her family had stopped at the camp to fix their truck and Lange took six images of Thompson and her children. This photograph was published nationwide and became one of the most familiar symbols of the American Depression. It also launched Lange’s career as a photographer and helped earn her a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. Thompson’s identity was kept out of the story until 1978, when a reporter located her and wrote about her.

Mary Coin is a novel inspired by this brief encounter between photographer and migrant worker. Silver has written a story about a present-day professor of cultural history who discovers a family secret hidden in the photograph.

Mary Coin cover

Marisa Silver

Marisa Silver

I am looking forward to reading Mary Coin, this month’s selection for my local book club!

Here are some links to information about Florence Owens Thompson’s remarkable story and about Dorothea Lange’s photography career.


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