books

Review: Girl in the Moonlight a Luminous Novel

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Girl In the MoonlightIt’s clear why Charles Dubow’s Girl in the Moonlight is on so many summer reading lists: The story is passionate and engrossing; the writing simple, yet superb.

The novel tells the story of Wylie Rose who, at 9 years old, falls in love with Cesca Bonet–an impossibly beautiful, rich and incandescent girl a few years older. As teenagers, the two become lovers at her family’s summer home in East Hampton. But while Wylie wants forever, Cesca wants only freedom. As their paths cross and affair continues on and off over several decades, Cesca flees whenever Wylie’s passion becomes too constricting. Yet despite being hurt by Cesca time and again, Wylie’s devotion and desire never wanes. Instead, it flames into obsession, ruining him for other women (including the daughter of a count) and causing him to doubt his choices and his path.

A friendship with Cesca’s brother, an emerging painter named Aurelio, brings Wylie in and out of both Cesca’s life and the world of art. Painting plays a major role in the story as, through Aurelio, Wylie meets great artists and even gives a go at painting himself, attempting to live as an artist in New York City. In an interview with BookReporter, Dubow talks about his relationship with art, including how Goya’s Naked Maja and Manet’s Olympia inspired how he created and shaped Cesca: “There is an element of sensuality in the former and frankness in the latter, which I think sums up much of Cesca’s personality and the impact she has on people.”

Naked Maja, Goya
Naked Maja, Goya
Olympia, Manet
Olympia, Manet

“Sensual” is a great word to describe Girl in the Moonlight. Fans of Dubow’s debut novel, Indiscretion, won’t find the kind of R-rated sex that appeared there. Girl in the Moonlight is more PG or PG-13. But its sensuality is no less provocative and compelling. In fact, on many levels, it’s more real.

Not everyone will experience the kind of erotic passion that characters Claire and Harry do in Indiscretion. (Though how fabulous if we all did!) But the longing Wylie feels for Cesca–his ability, against reason, to move on and let go–is one that most of us have experienced, whether for a lover, a place, a talent or other desire that’s taken hold of our dreams and heart.

IndiscretionPeopled with engaging and poignant characters, Girl in the Moonlight takes readers from the wooded cottages of old East Hampton, to the dining rooms of Upper East Side Manhattan, to the bohemian art studios of Paris and Barcelona. As Kirkus wrote in its review, “Dubow offers a heady, intoxicating tale, and young Wylie’s journey to manhood is a memorable one.”

Charles Dubow will be one of our guests on the Monday, June 15, Literary New England Radio Show. Girl in the Moonlight will be among our giveaways that evening, as will Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness and Jean Zimmerman’s Savage Girl. The show will feature interviews with all three of these authors and, while listening, you’ll have the chance to Tweet or email us to win one of these terrific books!

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The books you can win & authors you’ll hear on the 6/8 & 6/15 Literary New England Radio Show

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June8_3booksTonight, June 8, we feature three women authors as interesting as their books. Join host Cindy Wolfe Boynton at 8 pm for novel talk and book giveaways as she speaks with:

  • Laura Kasischke on Mind of Winter. The latest novel by this bestselling poet and recently released in paperback, it’s the story of a mother who wakes up on a snowy Christmas sure that 15 years ago, something dark followed their adopted daughter home from Russia and is now afflicting them all.
  • Miranda Beverly-Whittemore on Bittersweet. Now a paperback, this suspenseful and cinematic novel tells the story of Mabel Dagmar, a young woman whose East Coast college roommate gives her friendship, a boyfriend, access to wealth and, for the first time in her life, the sense that she belongs–until everything goes all wrong.
  • Maura Weiler on Contrition. An inspiring, debut novel about very different twin sisters separated by birth and then reconnected through art, faith and the father who touched the world with his paintings.

All three of these books are paperbacks, so you can throw them right into your favorite summer bag!

3_books_June15Also mark your calendars for the 8 pm Monday, June 15, Literary New England Radio Show and an hour of lively conversations with three diverse authors about three unforgettable books:

  • Sy Montgomery on The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness. This touching, entertaining and profound memoir explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus, and the remarkable connections it’s able to make with humans.
  • Jean Zimmerman on Savage Girl. Recently released in paperback, it’s the story of a wealthy and outlandish Manhattan couple who adopt a girl purportedly raised by wolves with the goal of civilizing and introducing her into the high society of the Gilded Age.
  • Charles Dubow on Girl in the Moonlight. A scorching tale on countless summer recommended reading lists about one man’s all-consuming desire for a beautiful, bewitching and beguiling woman.

On both the June 8 and June 15 shows, listen and Tweet or email us to win one of these titles! Our Twitter handle is @LitNewEngland and our email litnewengland@gmail.com.

Manhattan Project anniversary = Wives of Los Alamos giveaway

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Wives of Los AlamosSeventy years ago this week on April 27, 1945, members of the World War II-era Manhattan Project‘s Target Committee met for the first time to begin selecting sites in Japan to drop the atomic bomb. Tokyo Bay, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kokura, Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Sasebo were among the possibilities.

The novel The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit–first released in hardcover last year–tells the story of the Manhattan Project from the perspective of the scientists’ wives, who did not know what their husbands were building.

Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the location of the principal research and design laboratory for the atomic bomb’s creation. Yet in the same place this life-destroying force was being created, so were life-enriching ones: babies were born, friendships forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos itself transformed from a boys school on a hill into a community–though not a typical one. Its residents, particularly its wives, were strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, and the freedoms they didn’t have.

Focused on the remarkable group of women who carved out a life there, The Wives of Los Alamos wonderfully brings this time, project and community to life … And Literary New England has two copies of the paperback to give way to you!

To win one, like Literary New England’s Facebook page and comment on our Facebook post that links to this article. If you already like us on Facebook, just comment. Deadline is midnight tonight, April 29!

You can learn more about TaraShea Nesbit and The Wives of Los Alamos by listening to our 2014 interview with her in the Literary New England Radio Show archives.
WivesOFLosAlamos_abomb_grandeAn image of the first atomic bomb being exploded and observed by Manhattan Project staff. It was detonated at 5:30 a.m. July 16, 1945, at the Alamogordo air base, 250 miles south of Los Alamos. As most people know, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the two Japanese sites chosen to be destroyed by the nuclear weapons developed by the Manhattan Project. “Woe is me” was Albert Einstein’s reaction.

Scissors, please. These Spinster-inspired paper dolls are a must!

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Spinster Paper DollsBy Cindy Wolfe Boynton
What’s very possibly one of the best things, in my whole life, that I’ve ever stumbled across? These super-awesome literary spinster paper dolls, which were created to go along with the release of journalist Kate Bolick‘s memoir Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own.

Adding to my excitement is that like Bolick herself (who grew up in Newburyport, Mass.), four of the five literary goddesses turned paper play-things have ties to New England. In Spinster, Bolick weaves their lives and choices into her own, showing us the unconventional ideas and lifestyles of:

  • Journalist Neith Boyce, who lived in Massachusetts and is buried in New Hampshire
  • Social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of the must-read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” who was born in Hartford, Conn.
  • Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was born in Rockland, Maine
  • Novelist Edith Wharton, who lived in Massachusetts

Irish writer and essayist Maeve Brennan is also featured.

Download printable versions of the paper dolls here, which are part of a “Spinster Kit” that also includes recipes for each of these writers’ favorite cocktails, a list of their works you should read, and a Spinster discussion guide.

SpinsterIn Spinster, which grew out a 2011 cover story Bolick wrote for the Atlantic, Bolick explores not just modern notions of romance, family, career and success, but why she, and more than 100 million other American women, remains unmarried. She uses her personal experiences as a starting point to delve into the history of the idea of spinsterhood, examine her own intellectual and sexual coming of age, and discover why so many fear the life she has come to relish.

Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edith Wharton each helped shape Bolick, influencing both her personal and career choices and, ultimately, this book.

Kate Bolick will be one of my guests on the May 11, 2015 Literary New England Radio Show. We’ll also be giving away copies of Spinster, so save the date!

You may also want to mark Friday, May 15, on your calendar. From 5-7 pm, Bolick will be at Edith Wharton’s home The Mount in Lenox, Mass, to give a free reading and signing. Entitled “Kate Bolick’s Awakening at The Mount: A Reading and Reception to Celebrate Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,” the event will feature hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and, says The Mount website, “conversation about what it means to live independently.” Bolick will also read from Spinster and then sign copies.

If you go, please send photos! I’m so incredibly bummed not to be able to attend.

Random House went through 100 designs before deciding on Hausfrau’s cover

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Watching this video takes just more than one minute. But choosing the cover of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s New York Times best-selling Hausfrau was a lengthy task. An article on Mashable explains:

“I worked with five designers, one illustrator and two letterers on more than a hundred versions of the jacket,” said Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House Publishing Group.

The design, as Schiff sees it, should give readers a clue about the experience, or how they will feel while reading the book, “rather than giving away the plot or the the details of the story.”

“The final design, with its stark Swiss typography against the moody and lush floral grouping, conveys a sensual but claustrophobic atmosphere,” Schiff said.

That mood is especially fitting for a book like Hausfrau, which tells the tragic story of adultery and a breakdown of a woman and her marriage.

I don’t think I agree with the Mashable reporter’s use of the word “tragic” in describing Hausfrau. I’d use the word “uncomfortable,” or maybe “darkly insightful.” And as I’m typing this, I’m wondering how much of my different perspective comes from the fact that I’m a woman, and the Mashable reporter is a man.

Hausfrau, which has been described as a “modern-day Anna Karenina,” is the story of 30-something-year-old Anna, an American living with her husband in Switzerland and struggling with isolation, among other challenges, because she can’t speak the language. Desperate to feel happy again, she tries to figure out her life through a series of new experiences, including German language classes, Jungian analysis and a series of sexual affairs that she enters with an ease that surprises even her.

As Jill and I talked about on the Literary New England Radio Show earlier this month, Hausfrau can be erotic, but at its heart it’s an exploration–an exploration of how we lose ourselves, and the imperfect choices that can help us find ourselves again. That doesn’t sound very tragic to me.

– Cindy Wolfe Boynton

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Last night I dreamed of Nauquasset again.

This is the first line of Rachel Pastan’s Alena, which as anyone familiar with the 1938 novel Rebecca knows was inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s timeless and classic gothic story of Mrs. Danvers and the two Mrs. de Winters. The first line of Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Like the heroine of Rebecca, the heroine of Alena remains nameless throughout this provocative and spellbinding tale. But rather than take readers to an isolated gray stone mansion on coast of England, Alena takes readers to a progressive art museum on the coast of Massachusetts–where, like the second Mrs. de Winter, the new, young curator finds herself haunted by the legacy of her predecessor.

Alena was released in paperback earlier this month and is an ideal book to enjoy outside on a park bench, at the beach or under the hugging branches of an oak or willow tree. It’s so wonderful spring has finally arrived! We had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel for the Literary New England Radio Show when Alena was first published in hardcover in winter 2014.

Here is a mini Q&A with Rachel, though you can listen to our entire interview with her by clicking here.

When you got the phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react?
I was at work, at my day job at the art museum—my novel takes place in an art museum—and I didn’t feel I could tell anybody. I just walked around in a daze for a while and then called my husband and my mother. That made it finally feel real.

Where did you get the idea for the novel?
I had gotten a full-time office cubicle job in my mid-forties, and there were lots of things I didn’t know how to do: use the complicated copy machine, format letters in Microsoft Word. People kept talking to me about the person who’d had the job before me, whose name was Elysa. They would say, “Elysa used to do it this way.” It made me crazy. Then one day I thought, It’s just like the novel Rebecca (in which a new wife is tormented by comparisons to the dead wife), only in the workplace. And then I thought, “That’s a good idea for a novel!”

What scene or bit of dialogue in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I’m very proud of the end of the book. My novel is a version of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which lots of people have read and loved. So I had to think of something for my ending that honored Rebecca’s ending, but that was also different and surprising. I always wish I could read the ending when I give presentations at bookstores, but of course you can’t do that.

Who’s your favorite character in the book, and why? Who was the most fun to write?
I love my main character (who doesn’t have a name; actually she does have one, but I’m the only person who knows it), because she keeps her sanity and finds peace, despite everything. I loved writing Agnes, the business manager at the museum, a spooky, large, middle-aged woman—often compared to a crow or some other big bird—who wears black dresses and dyes her hair pink and does her best to make the narrator miserable.

If there was one thing in the main character’s life that you’d like to have in your own life, what would it be? What one thing in the character’s life would you never want?
I’d like to have an apartment in San Francisco with a balcony. I’d never want to have to work for a selfish, shallow, petty boss like Louise!

Hear Nancy Bilyeau, MO Walsh & Linda Goodnight on tonight’s Literary New England Radio Show

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The final novel in the award-winning series about a former nun in Tudor England; a haunting debut about a crime in small-town America; and the first stand-alone novel by a best-selling romance author. Join us at 8 p.m. for interviews and book giveaways with:

  • Linda Goodnight on The Memory House. The long-dead ghosts of a Civil War romance envelop two wounded people whose lives come together at an inn brimming with secrets in Honey Ridge, Tennessee.
  • MO Walsh on My Sunshine Away. An extraordinary debut set in the late ‘80s that involves a teen raped just yards from her front door; the boy who has a crush on her and tries to solve the crime; and the secrets that hide behind seemingly innocent white picket fences.
  • Nancy Bilyeau on The Tapestry. The final installment (following The Crown and The Chalice) in Nancy’s Tudor-era trilogy, which puts independent Joanna Stafford in her most dangerous situation yet as she tries to decide who she wants to be: nun, wife, spy, rebel or courtier.

Hosted by Cindy Wolfe Boynton.