Saturday, December 23, 2017

Swans, Rings, and Calling Birds: Book Recs for the Holidays

When it comes to the “12 Days of Christmas,” might you or the readers in your life like some last-minute stocking-stuffers? Or, suggestions for books to read in the New Year? Below are three novels which shift between time periods. So, build a fire, snuggle up, pour some eggnog, and enjoy the season. Cheers!

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin: I confess, although I was vaguely familiar with Truman Capote before reading this novel, I knew almost nothing about his work and life. Benjamin's historical fiction immerses us in the high society scene of 1950s New York City. The story follows Capote’s rise to literary fame, his circle of friends he calls his swans—and his subsequent fall from grace when he crosses them. Setting part of her book in the contemporary 1970s as her characters reflect, the author offers a fascinating take on the socialites’ glamorous lifestyle . . .  but also the expectations that they strive to fulfill and the inner yearnings and even loneliness from which they suffer.

             The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger: The author imagines the circumstances that surrounded the lives of Italian artist Raphael and the woman he loved. Inspired by the actual discovery of a 500-year-old ring embedded in the dried paint of one of the master’s sensual paintings, the story uncovers Rome's papal climate and the passionate relationship between Raphael and a baker’s daughter who modeled for his most well-known works.

             The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman: Spanning more than 40 years in the 20th century, this is another tale of a painter, his past, and the women’s lives he influenced. This mysterious story takes us into the heads and hearts of two sisters who end up missing—a beautifully written story that’s rife with secrets and jealousies. 

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

When Aging Characters Look Back: 12 Titles to Read Now


It’s November! Yep, I’m turning another year older. So it’s the perfect time to recommend novels that have a main character who’s, uh, “getting up in years” and where something triggers her memories of long ago—often memories of tragedy and survival.

Of all the novels that alternate between the past and present, those with aging characters who look back are among my favorites. Given the distance of time, a character can examine her life with the wisdom of new eyes.

Check out below a dozen novels I suggest, books filled with secrets and lies, love and betrayals, and regrets and redemption.(Click each title to learn more about the book.)

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline –This is a tale of an elderly woman who as a child was sent by rail across the country to an uncertain future, along with other Irish immigrants. Shifting between Depression-era Minnesota and contemporary Maine, it reveals the woman’s painful past—and how, late in life, she befriends a troubled, teenage foster child.

My take: Orphan Train does what past-and-present books do best: it skillfully intertwines two stories that can each stand on their own, but that are made more powerful because of their parallels.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – Ninety-something Jacob Jankowski lives a lonely existence in a nursing home. But when the circus comes to town, it spurs memories of his youth when he ran off with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Told in flashback, this novel is a story of animals, great love, and heroism.

My take: I didn’t expect this book to make me cry, but it did!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – Alternating between 1990s Oregon and German-occupied, war-torn France, this is a heart-wrenching saga of two sisters, of choices and deception, and of mistakes and sacrifice.

My take: In one word? Unforgettable.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler – Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister asks her young, African-American hair dresser to take her from Texas back to Cincinnati where she will confess her longest-held secret. This is a tale of forbidden love and tragic consequences in a time of horrendous racial discrimination.

My take: Given this book was partly inspired by the life of the author’s own grandmother, it makes reading it all the more heartbreaking and memorable.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon – The story begins in a bar in 1969, where Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. This historical fiction is inspired by the true mystery of Judge Crater’s disappearance in New York City, during the politically corrupt era of the 1930s.

My take: The author writes the period setting so well, I could hear the jazz music and smell the smoke. She put me right there!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Aging and reclusive Evelyn Hugo is at last ready to spill the truth about her scandalous past as a 1950s Hollywood icon. At age 79, she summons to her luxurious Manhattan apartment a virtually unknown journalist and asks her to report on her life . . . after she’s dead.

My take: I was new to Jenkins Reid’s work but found this book a total, effing, page-turner.

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy – Spanning sixty years and ranging from Nazi Germany to modern El Paso, Texas, this emotionally-charged story of Elsie Schmidt’s life sheds light on the last year of WWII—and reveals how illegal alien families are handled at the U.S. border.

My take: McCoy’s novel is a wonderful example of how dual narratives can open a reader’s mind to world events in both the past and present.

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner – Set in England and alternating between present day and the 1940s, the story unfolds when an American scholar interviews Isabel MacFarland, an elderly woman with long-held secrets of the choices she made during the war—choices driven by youthful ambition and the terrible destruction that Hitler hurled on London.

My take: Meissner brings great empathy to her characters; you feel the protagonist’s internal conflict as she wrestles with unimaginable choices.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton – It’s the summer of 1924 in England. Grace Bradley is a servant for a family hosting a glittering party at their country estate. Only when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living in a nursing home—and a film director requests a visit—will she be driven to speak of the long-ago night in which a poet shot himself at the party. . . .

My take: This novel marks Morton’s literary debut, and I’ve rushed to read every one of her books since.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – Vida Winter is a renowned, reclusive author when, now that she’s old and ailing, she contacts a bookseller’s daughter to whom she’ll finally tell her life’s story. But does she reveal the whole truth?

My take: Atmospheric and beautifully written, this haunting book demands multiple reads.

The Fortunate Ones by Ellen Umansky – Before WWII, the Zimmers, a Viennese Jewish family, owned a beloved painting. The Soutine painting eventually makes its way to America. Many years later, Rose Zimmer, recalls the days of her childhood during the war, while a young woman in modern L.A. also mourns the loss of the Soutine (for the painting’s gone missing again). Can the two women band together to find the lost work of art?

My take: I enjoy books where I’m forced to ask: to whom does this painting really belong? In this vein, another book to try is Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams – When a rare, vintage Mercedes sells at auction, two women will become inextricably connected . . . one is a young beauty in the 1960s with a scandalous secret, and the other carries secrets of her own from a time when the German automobile rolled through Nazi Europe.

My take: Beatriz Williams never fails to draw me in with a spunky character’s voice, beginning in paragraph one!

The list could go on. What past-and-present books with aging characters do you love?

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Atlanta Novelists—A Tradition Continues


The South has a rich literary tradition, from author Flannery O’Connor to William Faulkner. Though I was born and raised in the Midwest, for almost 20 years as a Georgia girl, I’ve been blown away by the writing chops of the many authors who also make metro-Atlanta their home.
        
   
I'm with Lynn Cullen at FoxTale Book Shoppe
Today is Halloween, so let’s begin with Lynn Cullen whose literary historical fiction earned her a spot as a guest expert on PBS’s recent American Masters TV episode, Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive. Cullen had undertaken exhaustive research for her 2014 bestselling novel, MRS. POE.
            

        A few years before, Vanity Fair magazine featured a few of our fair city’s women authors—from thriller writer Karin Slaughter and debut superstar Kathryn Stockett to Joshilyn Jackson with her unforgettable voice and Emily Giffin who's got legions of fans. You gotta love how the ladies are all fitted out in dazzling belle attire.
     
        Audible fans will find Atlanta authors to love, too. There's Martha Hall Kelly’s THE LILAC GIRLS: A NOVEL, a fictionalized story surrounding real New York socialite Caroline Ferriday during WWII. Kelly’s debut has been compared to Kristin Hannah’s book club phenomenon, THE NIGHTINGALE. 

        I also enjoyed Susan Rebecca White’s A PLACE AT THE TABLE, a beautifully written, touching story about an African-American woman who suffered from racism growing up and a gay man in Georgia who’s ostracized by his own family.
        
        Of course, my blog post would not be complete without highlighting an Atlanta author's novel that alternates between the past and present.

Karen White is prolific in writing novels that shift between time periods. I first got hooked on her books in 2009 when I came upon THE LOST HOURS. Here are the book's opening lines: “When I was twelve, I helped my granddaddy bury a box in the back garden of our Savannah house. I didn’t ask him what was in it. The box belonged to my grandmother….” Who can resist reading on? Not me.
            
        To learn more about authors who reside around Atlanta—or other authors who flock for the city’s many literary events or even for books with stories set in this region—I highly recommend Alison Law’s new podcast series, Literary Atlanta. Check it out!

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Appreciating Art Through Fiction


I still remember seeing Girl With A Pearl Earring displayed at Barnes & Noble many years ago. One look at that cover, and as a lover of historical fiction, I had to snap the book right off the shelf and head for the cashier. During that period, I also discovered Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, another novel that imagines a Vermeer painting. This story traces a portrait’s ownership back in time to WWII and ultimately to Amsterdam when the artist created it. I was saddened to learn Vreeland died last month—and shocked to hear she’d passed the same day I presented my spare copy of her novel to a friend as a gift.

Tracy Chevalier and Susan Vreeland spurred my love of novels about art and artists. What is it about these books that fascinates me (and other readers) so much?


  In the Historical Novels Society's (HNS) series called Art in Historical Fiction, Stephanie Renee Dos Santos interviewed Vreeland some time back. The author had this to say about fiction that ties in art: “While an art history can give us an appreciation of a painter’s work, the view is from the onlooker, while fiction invites us into the artist’s inner nature, takes us to his bosom, and makes us feel the artist’s strong emotions for ourselves.” 

I would add that feeling strong emotion as we read also holds true when getting in the head of someone obsessed with an artwork, such as with the protagonist of The Goldfinch

           Vreeland went on to say, “Each time we enter imaginatively into the life of another, it’s a small step upwards in the elevation of the human race.”

HNS asked Cascade author Maryanne O’Hara why fiction about art matters to readers. The contemplation of art enriches fiction, I think. And to quote Alice Walker: ‘If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.’”
  
I’ve been captivated by books that take me into a painter’s studio centuries ago. I’ve been enlightened by stories that reveal the horrors committed against Jews—and the fate of their stolen treasures. I’ve been swept away by novels of lost masterpieces, of women who dared to hold the brush rather than pose for the master, and of forgeries and muses and love.

           Novels that alternate between the past and present are fertile ground for stories about artists and masterworks, as well, from Lauren Willig's That Summer to Jojo Moyes' The Girl You Left Behind


           To explore books that deal with art, check out some that are pictured from my collection. Also, you might find the following online articles of interest: 11 Novels Every Art History-Lover Should Pick Up and 10 Great Fictional Artists in LiteratureThe latter piece is written by Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara De Vosmy top pick as posted on this blog last March.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Joshilyn Jackson's Latest and Greatest




Psst. Here’s a secret. I don’t come to a Joshilyn Jackson book for its plot, though there’s always plenty of that. I come for the author’s voice. I come for her plucky characters that are so real, I feel as if I might turn my head at a stoplight and find them winking at me from the next car over.

I come to revel in the way Jackson takes the 26 letters of the alphabet and strings together words that vary from juicy, colorful, or frail, to sharp, witty, or lyrical. Sometimes her words are saucy and other times they’re words she creates herself. (Sometimes even both.) Jackson’s writing often reminds me of critically acclaimed T.C. Boyle. Each author has prose so original you don’t read it as much as you chew it. And I love the way it tastes. 

THE ALMOST SISTERS is my favorite Joshilyn Jackson novel to date. It’s brilliantly simple in conception: everyone has an origin story. No matter if it’s a comic book hero like Batman or an old woman rocking on her porch in small town Bama.

While the novel is not strictly a multi-period piece, the characters’ pasts smolder beneath every breath, threatening to spew out any minute. There’s Leia’s one-night stand that leaves her carrying the child she almost didn’t know she wanted. There’s her goody-goody stepsister, Rachel, whose marriage has just imploded (her marriage, that is, with JJ—I mean Jake—who’s got a hush-hush history with Leia). Then there’s Southern matriarch, Birchie, and her bestie, Miss Wattie . . . who together have somethin’ hidden in a locked attic trunk.

     Indeed, I can always count on Jackson’s stories to bring big-time conflict. And where there’s conflict, I know that when her protagonist finally releases a piece of her mind, the stinging, digging, cathartic, and ass-kicking bitch-session may go on for a full delicious page or longer (while in the back of my brain, I’m rooting, “You go, girl!”).

     THE ALMOST SISTERS is the kind of novel that once you close the cover, you close your eyes as well. You let the story’s themesthemes which are uncomfortable illuminations arising from the characters and plot (yup, the same plot you hadn’t thought you'd come for in the first place)sink in and in and in.

     I’ll not forget this book’s characters. I’ll not forget the connections Jackson makes with the origin story that we all in today’s society share.


POSTSCRIPT:  At Joshilyn Jackson’s recent book launch party for THE ALMOST SISTERS, she revealed to a standing-room-only crowd how her earlier books have drawn inspiration from her mother’s side of her family. With her latest release, Jackson scoured the memories of her paternal ancestors’ past. If she does so again with her next novel, readers are promised another bold, un-put-downable read! Pictured here, I’m the one wearing glasses, standing in back beside the author (who’s got on glasses and a green scarf)—alongside other loyal fans from her novel workshop earlier this year in Decatur, Georgia.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Best Love Story Ever

This week marks my 40th wedding anniversary, so for this post, I googled the greatest love stories of all time. Guess what stories appear in the "Top 3" of most lists? Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, and Wuthering HeightsSome lists also include Gone with the Wind and Casablanca.

     Note any trends? What is it that draws us to stories where love is unrequited or the couple is doomed?

     One theory is it’s because human beings yearn to find love and to glory in its fledgling state—and we long for stories of others with whom we can identify. Yet, the best literature is built on conflict and tension. The top-rated stories certainly have that. 

     What of Pride and Prejudice, you may ask. Sure enough, that novel also appears on virtually every internet list for the greatest love stories of all time. It's got conflict, no doubt, but noting how the would-be lovers end up happily engaged, it’s a wonder the story isn’t categorized with Cinderella insteadPerhaps the key difference between the fairytale and Jane Austen’s classic is that Darcy doesn’t just swoop in and save Elizabeth. Rather, the female protagonist’s feelings and intellect are central to her and Darcy uniting.

     For a literary, modern retelling of the Austen classic with a happy ending, I recommend Eligible. I was impressed by author Curtis Sittenfeld’s reinterpretation for today’s readers (and not only because the bulk of the story is set in Cincinnati, city of my birth, nor how I “occasionally” have the guilty pleasure of watching The Bachelor on TV in hopes of seeing someone fall in love).

     Novels that alternate between the past and present are good for those who crave tales of undying love, where even several centuries do not stop two lovers from being together. There's the beloved Outlander series, of course, but I also offer up a 1972 book that spent six months on the New York Times Best Seller list: Green Darkness. 

     Now, my own love story has survived for four decades . . . but given the literature that's also stood the test of time, mine may not be the stuff of legend. My husband and I haven't met with a tragic separation or found each other in the 1600s. Still, I’m often asked how we've enjoyed such happiness and longevity. Brace yourself. The irony is, it’s not all about love. We actually like each other, too. It’s about shared family values and practical give-and-take and a pride in having come so far as people and as a couple since the day we said “I do.”

      Over the years, we've taken pleasure together in viewing the tragic love stories on the big screen, from Titanic to the more recent box office smash, Wonder Woman. At the theater, it’s hard to beat a good lump in the throat, shared with the person you love.
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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

On the Storied Campus of Yale University

I’ve loved traveling to historical places for vacation ever since my dad let me choose Jamestown, Virginia over Disneyland when I was 10. This year, I got a bonus: I combined my love of history and my love of books by attending a summer writers’ conference at Yale University. There I learned from some of today’s most celebrated novelists—and I got to wander the shaded greens and hallowed buildings of one of our country’s oldest institutions.
     Author Chris Bohjalian’s master class was certainly a highlight. I’ve read several of his 19 books, and perhaps my favorite is his historical novel, Skeletons at the FeastThe story centers on 18-year-old Anna, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats, toward the end of WWII. Anna and others flee from Eastern Europe as Russian soldiers advance to Berlin. Bohjalian said, “I must invite readers into the story soon. And, when my books work best, they are about dread for readers.” Skeletons introduces a character we care about—as well as high tension—on page one, and there is a palpable sense that things will only get worse.
     Readers who enjoy lush, epic novels that shift between the past and the present should check out The Queen of the Night, by Alexander Chee, another instructor I had the honor of meeting. In Chee’s 2016 bestseller, Lilliet Berne is an opera singer in nineteenth-century Paris. Just when she thinks she may achieve her chance at immortality—a role that no other diva has ever performed—she discovers the composer’s material is based on her own life’s deepest secret. Of the four people who know about her hidden past, who will be the one to betray her? Chee’s goal with this book was to “grab the reader by the collar and not let them go.” He added, “To build a story, write with a chain of consequences. This happened because this happened because….” I loved the gritty protagonist in Chee’s novel, and I loved her twisting, turning story.
     Then there was author Lily King whose historical novel Euphoria captivated me. I only wonder why I waited to so long to pick it up. Inspired by the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, the book is a masterwork of creating characters in conflict—conflict internal to themselves, and conflict that drives an unforgettable love triangle. About her writing, King said, “I don’t ‘think’ when I write. I’m more like a blind worm on the ground, feeling my way around. It’s not an intellectual process. Writers must be true to what’s inside; it wants to come out. Writers must listen.”
     My week was filled with other joys, too, everything from browsing 16th-century paintings at the Yale University Art Gallery to curling up in a leather love seat at Sterling Library (a breathtaking structure in the Gothic style) and studying fiction projects by the talented classmates from my small group workshop. We were led by Terra Elan McVoy, whose many novels have kept her young adult readers up late into the night to see how her ever-so-relatable stories end. Terra shared with us her insights from a lifetime of reading and studying craft. Because of her caring instruction, I left my summer vacation not only as a stronger reader, but as a woman filled with even more creative inspiration.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Calling All Audiobook Listeners


     Call me old-fashioned, but I rarely read books on Kindle. I like running my fingers across an embossed cover or up and down a deckled edge, and, as I’ve posted before, I jot notes throughout the chapters using my own key words and symbols.

     Yet, there is one exception to my old-fashionedness when it comes to reading novels: audiobooks.

     A dear friend recommended books on tape five years ago, and for me, there was no turning back. Oh, how much time I had wasted in a car! I commute to my job in the city for 50 minutes a day, each way. Now, I actually welcome traffic jams. (Okay, that might be a stretch.) But, true to what my friend had predicted, when I’m alone, I listen to snippets en route to the grocery, the gym, and the nail salon.

     Eventually, I graduated from shuffling 10-CD box sets to Amazon Audible. (Love. It.) While at a stoplight in rush hour, I can download a book from my wish list with one click on my iPhone and be “reading" a new story by the time my foot pushes the pedal.

     I find unexpected joy in listening to books being read to me. Perhaps it’s some subconscious throw-back to when I was a girl, to when my Memaw read me MADELINE. With audiobooks, a professional narrator often adds something that heightens my experience. This can be the varied character voices or a story interpretation—with the pauses, the cadence, the emphasis, the tone. The sounds of the words strung together by the author make music to my ears that my classic rock radio simply cannot.

     At times I have read a “real book” and listened to it, too (sometimes during the same period, other times years apart). The best of both worlds!

Here are two of my favorite audiobooks with stories that shift between the past and present:


Other awesome audiobooks you might enjoy:








You've heard of a TBR (To Be Read) List. Here are a couple of books I loved reading, and now they're on my "TBL" List. As in Yangsze Choo's audiobook above, the narrators for the books below are the authors!




What audiobooks are your favorites? 

Monday, April 3, 2017

True Confessions: I Crease the Spines of My Books

     Some people open a novel just far enough to read it. Heaven forbid they would ever bend back the wings of a hardcover book until the glue in the binding crunches. Nor would they ever permit deep vertical creases to mar the spines of paperbacks on their shelves. I get it. Books are works of art. To purists, bending back covers is akin to taking a Depression glass plate and purposely chipping off a shard from its rim.

     Warning to purists: when I read, I've been known to open a novel until it can lie flat on a table like a placemat. At minimum, I bend the cover back until I can comfortably hold it in one hand and read while in bed or while lounging by the pool. And no, I don’t fuss with bookmarks when dog-eared corners will do.

     I also write in my books. (Gasp.) I keep a mechanical pencil clipped to the top edge of a hardbound book’s jacket, so it’s handy when I need it. The edges of my trade paperback covers are frayed and cottony from fastening and unfastening my pencil for three hundred pages. I study the craft of writing fiction, so I underscore first lines that hooked me on page one. I mark lyrical sentences and beautiful sensory details. I note passages with tension and twists and character change.

     To me, the works of art that line my bookcases are keepsakes from where I’ve been. A book represents an interactive experience I’ve had—be it for learning or be it an escape—an experience that evokes memories like photos in an album I keep from a trip.

     Last weekend, I read—correction, I was enthralled by—Christina Baker Kline's A PIECE OF THE WORLD. 



Like her wildly popular ORPHAN TRAIN, her latest novel alternates between the past and the present. Blending fact and fiction, the book is about Christina Olson, the figure in a famous painting with a New England farmhouse and a field of gold. In the story, the main character is a friend of artist Andrew Wyeth and observes this about him:

All the things that most people fret about, Andy likes. The scratches made by the dog on the blue shed door. The cracks in the white teapot. The frayed lace curtains and the cobwebbed glass in the windows…. There’s more grandeur in the bleached bones of a storm-rubbed house, he declares, than in drab tidiness.
Aren’t the words of the last sentence true for a well-worn, well-loved, hard-read book?

     Purists might argue that books are meant to last beyond the life of the reader. I agree; that’s one of the things I love most about books. Yet, when I’m gone, no one will find first editions in mint condition for collectors, nor pristine tomes bearing the faint scent of old ink presses. They will find books that compare more to my Barbie from 1963, a doll with torn fingers from so much fun play—not a cold Barbie preserved in the original box that was bought from the store.

      They will find books that show a smudge of chocolate or drops of red wine on page 232. They will find smiley faces by paragraphs and know that in that moment, I laughed. They will see annotations such as “Oh!” by a scene that surprised me or “Tears!” where I cried.

      They will find books that were a part of my life and discover more about me.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Weekly Tweets: The First 100 Books

     Today marks my Twitter-versary—my anniversary for 100 straight weeks of tweeting about novels that alternate between the past and present. Below you’ll find a "tapestry" of the first 100 books that I highlighted in my Sunday tweets. 

     This week also marks my first post at Past & Present Reads blog. Here to celebrate with me is fellow writer and blogger, MM Finck. She has been by-lined at Writer Unboxed and leads Women Writers, Women's Books’s Interviews. Thank you, MM, for stopping by to ask me the questions readers want to hear!

MM:
Tori, congratulations on your 100-week milestone! I’m glad to find in one handy spot all of the past-and-present books you’ve tweeted about so far. Have you actually read them all?
Tori:
Yes, though not in the order in which I tweeted about them. I read mostly in hardcover and trade paperback formats—and many through Audible (because listening to stories makes my long commute to work fun!).

MM:
What a wonderful variety of authors, periods, and themes are represented here. Have you repeated any authors in the first 100 tweets?
Tori:
No. Can you believe that? It suggests that other readers also enjoy books that shift between the past and present. That said, among the next 100 tweets, I will be excited to feature again some of my favorite authors—those such as Karen White and Beatriz Williams.    

                            (Interview continues below.)



MM:
Besides your love of history, what inspired you to be an enthusiast of novels that shift between the past and present?
Tori:
Many years after William Martins BACK BAY was published in 1979, I bought the novel and was enthralled. The story follows multiple generations of a Boston family and their connection to a lost silver tea service crafted by Paul Revere as a gift for George Washington. I later discovered many books with a similar structure, like early works by Sarah McCoy (THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER) and Jenna Blum (THOSE WHO SAVE US); both of these novels alternate between modern day and that of World War II—an era I find fascinating. I am intrigued by how past-and-present novels can take a glance back with the benefit of distance in assessing a time gone by. This holds true whether the novel spans 10 years, 70 years, or 300.

MM:
The tapestry of all 100 books is visually interesting. Can you possibly pick a favorite cover?
Tori:
Hmm, I distinctly recall when I first caught the buzz about A FINE IMITATION. I was unfamiliar with debut author Amber Brock at the time, but I knew instantly I had to read any book with that title and that cover. I was thrilled to learn Amber’s novel shifted between the past and present, and it turned out she also lives in the Atlanta-metro area. She’s one of many authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during events at FoxTale Book Shoppe.

MM:
Might we expect anything new with your weekly tweets in the future?
Tori:
Followers will find more book covers displayed in upcoming tweets. I might try a three-week series on a particular author’s past-and-present novels. I’m thinking maybe books by Susan Meissner and Kate Morton? And, I’ll be tweeting under a new hashtag now: #PastPresentReads.

MM:
Okay, ready for my toughest question, Tori? Which of the first 100 books was your best read?
Tori:
Ugh! That really is tough. If I was forced to drop everything this minute and start reading one again today, I’d probably pick up book #100. Besides its beautiful writing, THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS blends so many of the things I'm drawn to in fiction . . . a historical period from centuries past (here, the 1600s); a second storyline, this one set in the 1950s; yet another narrative thread in the modern era—one that’s fueled by the memories and regrets of characters who have aged; the portrayal of women's roles over time; an underlying love story; and, of course, a compelling object or event that ties everything together: in this instance, a great piece of art.

MM:
Thank you, Tori! I look forward to seeing what books you feature next.
Tori:
Thank you, MM, for being my first blog guest!

     In closing, I have to say, I never anticipated my weekly tweets would carry on for nearly two years and running. I had already read 52 of these books before I began, and I thought I’d tweet each week for one year and be done. But, the more books I read, the more I found. I decided to keep going.

Please see my Sunday tweets @ToriLWhitaker. And, follow this blog for periodic reviews and other stuff for lovers of history and books.

NOTE ON THE TAPESTRY:  On Twitter, I inadvertently tweeted WEEK #36 twice, with two different books. Okay, I must have had a late night the Saturday before. LOL. (It’s amazing it only happened once!) Then, for WEEK #66, I happened to retweet librarian Sarah Johnson’s excellent blog post where she covered several past-and-present books. Her post could not be pictured in my tapestry above, so the 100 cover images ended up evening out. I encourage fans of historical fiction to follow Sarah’s beloved blog, Reading the Past.  

Today’s guest, MM Finck, is a writer, essayist, and offers query letter coaching and developmental editing as The Query Quill. She leads Women Writers, Women's Books’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. She is the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star Writing Award. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is active on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, and Litsy (@MMF). http://www.mmfinck.com.