Who’s That Author? Tom Franklin


Source: bookfans.net

Tom Franklin is a best-selling, award-winning American writer from Dickinson, Alabama.  He is currently an associate professor in the MFA program at University of Mississippi.  He is considered a diverse Southern writer of several genres, including crime fiction, mystery and literary fiction.  Franklin’s wife, Beth Ann Fennelly, is an American poet and prose writer.  She also works at Ole Miss and is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi.  They met at the University of Arkansas MFA program.

Franklin put himself through college at University of South Alabama, after his father cut off his tuition because of bad grades.  To pay for school, he worked in a wide range of places:  in a warehouse, at a plant that made sandblasting grit and at a chemical plant where he cleaned up hazardous waste.  He also worked in a morgue, a job that was unpopular, but one he enjoyed because of the stories he heard.

When asked about his writing, Franklin responded,

I’m a very happy person and very lucky with my life, my wife and my children, but when I’m writing I find conflict interesting and it goes to dark places for me.  I’m interested in the shadowy part of humans.  If I try to write against the dark, it feels false.

Awards include the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Crime Writers’ Association Golden Dagger Award.

Books by Tom Franklin:

Mississippi Noir (2016)
The Titled World (2013) – co-written with his wife, Beth Ann Fennelly
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010)
Smonk or Widow Town (2007)
Hell at the Breech (2003)
Poachers (2000)

Check out these links for more information:

Amazon Author Page – Tom Franklin
Harper Collins Publishers

Interested in Tom Franklin’s books?  Click here to read
my 5 Bookmark review of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.

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Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Tom Franklin


When Cindy Walker goes missing in 1982, the people of Chabot, Mississippi blame Larry Ott, the boy who picked her up for a date, but never brought her home.  Although never arrested, Larry is shunned by the townspeople, who hate him for what they think he did.  Now, twenty-five years later, a second girl disappears.  Is Larry, now a loner on the outskirts of town, responsible?  Could there have been other girls?  Silas Jones, the town constable and once Larry’s boyhood friend, is determined to find out.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a mystery crime story about a town hampered by racism.  As boys on their own and running through the woods, it didn’t matter that Larry was white and Silas was black.  Now grown men, they are no longer friends, but they share a history that neither completely understands and both have struggled to get past.  Years ago, Silas ran and Larry stayed.  Now they must overcome massive obstacles and if they do, they must then ask themselves, “Can a broken friendship be fixed?”

I loved this book, which is a great story on many levels, first with an intriguing scenario and a character-driven plot, but second with an important setting, full of moral questions about the impact of decisions and equally of the characters’ action or inaction.  Themes of family, friendship, religion and love are prominent, making the book a true literary work as well.  No wonder it is an award-winning best-seller!

Franklin jumps between the two time periods and fills in the details regarding Cindy’s disappearance.  We learn about Larry and Silas as both boys and men, and begin to understand their relationship to each other as well as to their families.  All this is enhanced by a close look at the culture of Chabot, the perspectives of people who perpetuate prejudice and others who try to rise above it.  Franklin puts his characters in situations in which they have the chance to step up and make things right and he makes the reader ask, “Is it ever too late to do that?”

With an uncertain, but hopeful finish, this is the type of book that generates thought long after the last page, one of my favorite measures of a great read.  While more about the people than the crime, it also stands as a mystery, with a well-paced plot and developments that help tie up the details.  I recommend Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter to anyone who likes mysteries, but also to readers of books about conflicted characters.

Who's that author finalWant to know more about the author?  Click here to read Who’s That Author?  Tom Franklin

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Short story review from: The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction – “You’re Ugly, Too” by Lorrie Moore

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone.

“You’re Ugly, Too”
Lorrie Moore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

First published in The New Yorker in 1989

Zoё Hendricks might be joking when she tells her younger sister Evan, “I’m going out of my mind,” but then again, she might just be telling the truth.  A young, single professor of American history at a small college in Illinois, there’s something about Zoё that doesn’t quite fit in with the contented Midwestern population.  Her sarcasm clashes with everyone she meets.  Her students don’t know what to make of her, the men she dates make quick exits, and the only people she feels connected to are the mailman and Jerry the cabbie.

A trip east to visit Evan and her boyfriend Charlie in New York may be the answer.  “I was hoping you would,” says Evan.  She’ll be just in time for their Halloween party.  And then Evan tells Zoё, “I know a man I think you should meet.”

Zoё’s Halloween costume is a giant bonehead.  The man she’s to meet is Earl, newly divorced, and he’s dressed as a naked woman. They try to connect as they talk out on the balcony, but their conversation goes in strange directions.  Earl tries to talk about love.  Zoё tells jokes to get through the awkwardness.  As they share two versions of a doctor’s joke, the different punch lines may be the dagger.

This is a terrific short story, full of Zoё’s shocking sarcasm and over the top conversations.  They’re the kind of lines that make you stop and try to get a handle on what’s gotten into this complicated character.  It could be her loneliness or an unnamed illness, or a variety of the other jaded viewpoints that run through her mind.

But while the story is joltingly funny, serious themes of isolation, relationships, mental instability and illness are just below the surface and the final lines show just how unglued Zoё has become.

If you like complicated characters and the alarming twists in short fiction, you will enjoy Moore’s writing style.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her fiction.

Lorrie Moore is an American short story writer and novelist.  She is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.

From Vanderbilt University’s English Department:

Lorrie Moore is the author of three novels and four collections of stories as well as the editor of several anthologies. Moore has received honors for her work, among them the Irish Times International Prize for Literature, a Lannan Foundation fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for her achievement in the short story. Her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize and for the PEN/Faulkner. Her most recent collection, BARK, was shortlisted for The Story Prize, The Frank O’Connor Prize, and The Gregor Von Rezzori Prize. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2005.

Visit Amazon for a list of all Lorrie Moore’s books.

Interesting articles about Moore:

From The New Yorker:  “The Year in Reading:  Lorrie Moore”
From The Believer“Lorrie Moore Writer and Professor”
From New York“Influences:  Lorrie Moore”
From Wikipedia

A full analysis of “You’re Ugly, Too” can be found here:  “You’re Ugly, Too.” Short Stories for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. 2 Nov. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com&gt;.

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Book Review: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast
Ernest Hemingway

In 1928, Ernest Hemingway stored two steamer trunks at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and didn’t retrieve them until 1956. Inside the trunks were notes and papers from his days in Paris, during the time when he wrote his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

Seeing these notes prompted Hemingway to begin working on a memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation”, a term attributed to Gertrude Stein.  By the 1950s, however, Hemingway was suffering from many conditions, injuries resulting from two serious plane crashes, poor eyesight, depression and different paranoias.  He committed suicide in 1961, leaving the book unfinished.  After his death, his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, edited the manuscript and the first edition of A Moveable Feast was published in 1964.

My interest in the Lost Generation started a few years ago after I read The Sun Also Rises and then read more about Paris in the 1920s and of the talented writers and artists who lived there and met in the city’s cafés.  Then I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a terrific historical fiction about Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson.  After that, it only made sense to go back to the source, A Moveable Feast.

It’s fascinating to me that so many talented people were all together in Paris.  Did they know they were part of this creative burst?  Some of the well-knowns were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.  Others included Wyndham Lewis, Ford Maddux Ford, and Ernest Walsh, names I didn’t know, but enjoyed reading about.

The book reads a lot like Hemingway’s fiction.  His simple writing style is identical.  Hemingway presents a vivid picture of this time period and, in particular, talks easily about his relationships with Hadley, Stein, and Fitzgerald.  I liked reading about his disciplined approach to writing and his desire for perfection.  He was very focused on writing what he called “true” sentences and was not happy unless he had put in a productive time writing, often in cafés or in a sparse rented room.  I think he makes it very clear how hard writing is and how devoted and conscientious a writer must be.

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next.  That way I could be sure of going on the next day.

Hemingway and Hadley seemed very happy in their marriage, despite being poor.  He describes an easy and affectionate relationship.  This is, of course, before his affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who would become his second wife.  He seems to deeply regret hurting Hadley and writes:

The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book.  I wrote it and left it out.  It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story.  How it all ended, finally, has nothing to do with this either.  Any blame in that was mine to take and possess and understand.  The only one, Hadley, who had no possible blame, ever, came well out of it finally and married a much finer man than I ever was or could hope to be and is happy and deserves it and that was one good and lasting thing that came of that year.

His relationship with the American writer and art collector, Gertrude Stein, gave him confidence, but lasted only a few years.  In the book, Hemingway explains the friendship and tries to understand why it ended.

Hemingway also discusses his friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald, including Scott’s marriage to Zelda.  He recognizes a great talent, but even before Hemingway meets Zelda, he can see Fitzgerald’s life and marriage spiraling.  After reading The Great Gatsby, Hemingway understands his role as a friend.

When I had finished the book I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how preposterously he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend.  He had many good, good friends, more than anyone I knew.  But I enlisted as one more, whether I could be of any use to him or not.  If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one.  I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.  But we were to find out soon enough.

Other topics include horse racing, boxing, eating, drinking and writing in cafés, skiing in the Austrian Alps and the story of how Hadley lost all his papers and previous manuscripts on a train.  I very much enjoyed reading about Hemingway during this time, although I’m sure it is subjective.  I had read that Hemingway was very difficult to live with – that seems to be left out here, except for one reference to his own hot temper.

My earlier impression of an aimless group of hard-drinking and pleasure-seeking writers and artists changed a bit after reading his account and I recommend the book to anyone who wants to know more about Hemingway and this group.

Some side notes:

You might like these other Hemingway books and short stories:

The Sun Also Rises
A Farewell to Arms
The Old Man and the Sea
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
“Hills Like White Elephants”
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

You can find a lot of information about Hemingway online.  Click here to view his Wikipedia page.

A sad history of suicide has plagued generations of Hemingways, beginning with Ernest Hemingway’s father.  Hemingway’s sister and brother also took their own lives, as did his granddaughter, Margaux.  In an effort to understand and avoid this trap, Margaux’s sister, Mariel made a documentary entitled “Running from Crazy”.  You can read a CNN article about this 2013 film here.

The Restored Edition of Hemingway’s memoir was edited by his grandson Seán Hemingway, who is a curator of ancient art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Seán also wrote the introduction.  Hemingway’s son Patrick (from his marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer) wrote the foreward.  This edition is different from the first, in that the chapters are ordered differently and a few extra sections are added, including transcriptions of Hemingway’s false starts for his introduction.  Some people were critical of Mary Welsh’s introduction and her editing and this newer version seeks to share all the parts of his manuscript.  I enjoyed reading an interesting article about The Restored Edition of A Moveable Feast from popmatters.com.

Hemingway had a hard time with marriage and was married four times. Read more about his wives on Wikipedia:

Hadley Richardson
Pauline Pfeiffer
Martha Gellhorn
Mary Welsh

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What’s That Book? The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach


: The Art of Fielding

Author:  Chad Harbach

Genre: Fiction

Rating:  ***

What’s it about?  Westish College star shortstop Henry Skrimshander thought he was headed for Major League Baseball, but now his throw is off.  He must do something, but what?  As the season unfolds, Henry grapples with self-doubt and several other characters, including the university president, struggle with their own challenges.  Each character hopes that their beliefs in love, family and relationships are strong enough to carry them through.  A dramatic conclusion awaits at the season’s end.

How did you hear about it?  I was interested in the idea of an athlete facing a slump because it’s a common topic in college and professional sports commentary.

Closing comment:  I was disappointed with the book because I thought it was going to be about overcoming adversity, one of my favorite themes, but it is more about unlikely relationships and situations and unrealistic characters.

Contributor:  Ginette

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Ernest Hemingway – love him or hate him?


I’m getting ready to read A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of Paris in the 1920s.  During this time, Hemingway wrote both The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms and became part of the expatriate community in Paris, which included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos.  This group is commonly known as the “Lost Generation”, a description Hemingway made popular when he wrote The Sun Also Rises, and a phrase to whom he credits Gertrude Stein.


Hemingway died in 1961 and A Moveable Feast was published in 1964.  My copy of the book includes a foreward by Hemingway’s son, Patrick and an introduction by Seán Hemingway, the author’s grandson.

Now you either love Hemingway or you hate him.  I happen to think he is one of the greatest writers of all time, but many readers become frustrated with his style.  I have always liked his simple dialogues, word choices and descriptions because I think they make the characters and events all the more moving.  I recently read a review of The Old Man and the Sea  in which the reviewer commented that she thought she would like it better now that she was older but she still hated it!

I’m still working on reading all his books and short fiction, but you can check out my opinions of these:

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
A Farewell to Arms
“Hills Like White Elephants”
The Old Man and the Sea
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
The Sun Also Rises

What do you think of Papa Hemingway?

the paris wife
If you enjoy reading about Hemingway and the Lost Generation, you may like The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.


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The Awakening by Kate Chopin


The Awakening
Kate Chopin


Here’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.  I knew that The Awakening, published in 1899, represented an important expression of feminist ideas, a controversial subject at the time.  I did not know that it is also a story about depression.

How to be happy inside oneself.  That is Edna Pontellier’s chief struggle.  The novel begins at Grand Isle, a vacation resort in the Gulf of Mexico, off the shores of New Orleans.  Edna is twenty-eight, married to Leonce, a successful businessman and they are summering with their young boys and other wealthy families.  It is during this summer that Edna begins to question her marriage, her role as a mother and the choices that led to them.  A close relationship with Robert Lebrun, the son of Grand Isle’s proprietor, teeters on the edge of infidelity.

Edna’s outward appearance suggests happiness and success, but her inner self has always known something darker.  She begins to feel that above all else, she will not be happy until she tends to this side.  Instead of merging her outward persona with her private identity, however, Edna’s two beings bang up against each other.

Chopin writes:

At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life – that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.

Edna’s modern ideas are bound to shake up her life, during a time when women played submissive roles in marriage and society.  Women were expected to fit into the conventional scheme.  To sacrifice for their husbands and their children.  But Edna, in an argument with her friend Madame Ratignolle, states that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone.

I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.

From this point begins Edna’s awakening, and when Robert abruptly departs for Mexico, Edna suddenly feels that she has been denied his love.  Summer ends and nothing will be the same when the Pontelliers return to New Orleans.  Edna exhibits increasingly reckless and alarming behavior and it’s only a matter of time before something gives.

I’ll leave out the ending and simply state that its finish made me completely change my feelings about Edna’s character.  I was sympathetic and supportive at first, but her final actions make me think two things.  One, that Edna had a pretty good life before her awakening.  She had money, servants, and people to take care of her children.  While Leonce had certain expectations of Edna and her role as wife and mother, he took his role as husband and money-maker seriously.  It seems natural for him to think that she hasn’t held up her end of the deal.  My second opinion is that this first idea can’t apply to Edna’s character, because, above everything else, she is suffering from depression and no amount of logic or reason can change her thoughts.  How strange, however, to merge an awakening of feminist thinking with depression.  I’m left unsure of the story’s message.

Chopin’s book was not well received when it was first published, partly for its ideas and partly because of its racy subject matter.  It was nearly forgotten until the 1960s when Per Seyersted, a Norwegian scholar, rediscovered the book and its feminist message.

Kate Chopin was a well-known author of short stories for children and adults.  She married at nineteen and had six children.  She became a widow at age 32 and began her writing career.  Interestingly, her doctor suggested writing as an outlet to help her cope with sadness and depression.  (Source:  Wikipedia)

Click here to visit the Kate Chopin website for many interesting facts about the author’s life and her books.

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Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

fever pic

Fever 1793
Laurie Halse Anderson


Now that the kids are back at school, lots of middle-schoolers are reading historical novels like Fever 1793, the story of Mattie Cook, a fourteen-year-old girl living in Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever plague of 1793. Mattie must grow up quickly during that summer, as the fever strikes her family and friends. She makes difficult decisions and learns hard lessons about survival, life and love.

Anderson weaves history into her story and the reader learns about these difficult times in early America, as well as about how people lived and how the black population built a powerful supportive network to help them through sickness and hunger. She also includes a great deal about doctors’ different approaches to healing the sick and the heated debate over these methods.

I like how Mattie matures during this time.  Anderson shows how, despite vastly different circumstances, young teenagers of all time periods share similar feelings of love, loyalty and rebellion and must make difficult decisions that ultimately shape their adult characters.

Although the story includes sadness and loss, Fever is more a story of hope and survival with a definite feel-good ending.

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Who’s That Author? Herman Wouk

photo: hermanwouk.com
photo: hermanwouk.com

Herman Wouk is an award-winning American author of fiction, non-fiction and plays.  He may be the most famous for The Caine Mutiny, which won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but many readers in my age group will also remember his hugely popular historical novels, also about World War II, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.  The first book was made into the very popular 1983 television miniseries starring Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw, Jan-Michael Vincent, John Houseman and Polly Bergen.  Its sequel was released in 1988, with the return of Mitchum and Bergen and added others including Jane Seymour and Sharon Stone.  You can check out the sequel’s full cast and crew here.

Another favorite of mine is Marjorie Morningstar, published in 1955.  It’s the story of a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl from New York who dreams of becoming an actress.  Warner Brothers made it into a movie in 1958, starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.

Wouk has had a long career.  He celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2015 when he announced the January 2016 release of his autobiographical memoir, Sailor and Fiddler – Reflections of a 100-year-Old Author.  Visit Simon and Schuster here for more information about this book, which Wouk has announced will be his last.

Sailor and Fiddler

I haven’t read everything Herman Wouk has written, but if you know me, you know how I feel about Youngblood Hawke!  I think I’m about to go on a Wouk binge to catch up on what I’ve missed.

Here’s a list of Wouk’s work, taken from his website, cited below:

Bibliography (Fiction and Non-Fiction)
Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author (2015)
The Lawgiver
The Language God Talks (2010)
A Hole in Texas (2004)
The Will to Live on: The Resurgence of Jewish Heritage (2000)
The Glory (1994)
The Hope (1993)
Inside, Outside (1985)
War and Remembrance (1978)
The Winds of War (1971)
The Lomokome Papers (1968)
Don’t Stop the Carnival (1965)
Youngblood Hawke (1961)
This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life (1959, revised ed. 1973)
Slattery’s Hurricane (1956)
Marjorie Morningstar (1955)
The Caine Mutiny (1951)
City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder (1948)
Aurora Dawn (1947)

Film & Television                                        
War and Remembrance (1988)
The Winds of War (1983)
Marjorie Morningstar (1958)
The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Don’t Stop The Carnival (music and lyrics by Jimmy Buffett)
Nature’s Way
The Caine Mutiny Court Martial
The Traitor

For more information, click here to read an excellent article from The Atlantic (May 2015) about Wouk’s work and his 100th birthday.  You can also read Wouk’s biography on his website, hermanwouk.com.

Thanks to these additional sources:  biography.com and Wikipedia.

Have you read any of Herman Wouk’s books?  Which ones are your favorites?

Ever made an imaginary soundtrack to your favorite book? Click here to see what songs I picked for Youngblood Hawke!

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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

olive kitt pic
Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout


Olive Kitteridge is Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of thirteen integrated short stories about the people of Crosby, Maine, a seemingly simple town on the New England coast.  The people in Crosby trade news and gossip, but the real stories lie buried deep in the complicated and often painful family relationships that only surface behind their closed doors.

The stories span twenty-five years and focus on the town’s most complicated character, Olive Kitteridge, whose harsh and critical personality is both widely disliked and misunderstood.  Not surprisingly, Olive’s husband, Henry, the town’s pharmacist, and their son, Christopher bear the brunt of her brutal temperament.

Olive speaks her mind.  She apologizes to no one and alienates many.  But something happens over time:  the reader discovers that, while Olive has no patience for simps and ninnies, she cares very much about the emotionally vulnerable, and intervenes at crucial times, using a keen instinct.  If only she could treat Henry and Christopher this way.  Olive’s everyday interactions with her family are so unpleasant they cause deep and lasting damage.  As years pass and lives change, however, Strout offers a better look at Olive’s marriage.  The author shows glimpses of hope, renewed connections and a true understanding of a very complicated woman.

Olive Kitteridge is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  Strout takes a simple Maine town and adds layers and layers of themes, including depression, love, family, marriage, infidelity, growing old and forgiveness.  Her characters show that goodness exists right next to all the flaws and faults of human interaction.  One of my favorite things about Olive is how she works out her frustrations in the garden.  The hearty yet fragile beauty of flowers is everywhere in these stories, an excellent metaphor.  In addition to flowers, Strout includes the subtle yet prominent influence of nature and the sea in her characters’ lives. Sub-themes of religion and politics add further understanding of her characters.

While all of the thirteen stories are terrific, my favorites are “Pharmacy” in which Strout shows Henry’s lovable and caring personality, “Incoming Tide”, a story of critical human connection and “River”, a hopeful look to the future.

Olive Kitteridge is the type of book you can read more than once.  This was my second read and I enjoyed as much as the first, picking up on wonderful details about the characters and town.

This book has made it to my All-Time Top Ten List!

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