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Posts from the ‘books’ Category

Briefly Noted: ‘The World That We Knew’ by Alice Hoffman

I reviewed The Dovekeepers which was extraordinary. The World That We Knew is also extraordinary, but it’s well beyond my poor powers to review.

It’s a breath of fresh air at a time when for reasons I cannot comprehend anti-Semitism is rearing its polluted self around the world along with the equally bankrupt white supremacists. And then, my generation was born in the shadow of World War II and that’s had a life-long effect on us.

Among other things, the sins of the world–from Nazi Germany to the U.S. and other countries who wouldn’t accept Jewish refugees–are still strongly on my mind. So, this novel stops the world of today and takes me back into the horrors suffered by the Jews in Germany, France and elsewhere. Hoffman’s novel is tantamount to an immersion in a history we cannot bear.

So, I’m too biased about the subject matter to speak objectively about The World That We Knew.  I think it is perfect, complete (as is typical of Hoffman in The Dovekeepers) with a blend of brutal facts, magical realism, and characters we care too much about before they are gone. There was love here, too, in spite of the atrocities surrounding the characters.

Perhaps that love was enough, a brief flash of divine light above misbegotten times, places, and unspeakble crimes.



What the heck’s on my website?

Chaos, usually. I tinker with the place until it becomes a mess and then I clean it up and start fresh again:

My home page tells people the kinds of books I write and has space, as needed, for the announcement of new books, book sales, and other promotions.

About: This is the obligatory about me schock that tells you who I am. It’s all fantastic lies, of course, but I try to make it sound humble.

Excerpts: Do I really need to tell you what’s on this page?

Books: This is a listing of my books and indicates how many editions (e-book, hardcover, paperback, audiobook) each one has. The links are generally to the books’ Amazon pages, yet I’m happy when people get them from Indie Bound or from their neighborhood bookstores.

Spotlight: Currently, this page talks about my latest release, Special Investigative Reporter.

Etc.: This page presents weird stuff I’ve done or subjects related to one of my books. Right now, there’s an article there about belladonna, something one’s favorite conjure woman doesn’t need on her shelf since it’s rather dangerous. It’s hard to believe women used to enhance their beauty with this member of the nightshade family.

I used to have my website on Homestead which has one of the best editors I’ve found for absolutely controlling the page. I switched over to GoDaddy which isn’t as costly but is missing some of the functionality I got used to having on Homestead.

GoDaddy has e-mail as an added feature, but since I’m not really in the market for doing speeches, appearing on panels, or teaching in MFA programs, I’m not using the feature. However, if you really need to contact me, you can send me an e-mail at People who know me well, know that I’m hard of hearing, so that’s why I don’t do events.

The rumor that my conjure research allows me to put a hex on everyone who stops by the website without buying a book probably isn’t true. I’m really not sure.












2019 National Book Awards Finalists 

To invoke this year’s most persistent platitude: We need good books now more than ever. From speculative fiction by Marlon James, to Carolyn Forché’s memoir 15 years in the making, this year’s National Book Award finalists reflect today’s ever-innovative literary landscape: Diverse perspectives are celebrated and old genre mores are thrown out the window. Literary luminaries like James, Susan Choi, László Krasznahorkai, and Laila Lalami are joined by rising talent including Akwaeke Emezi and Julia Phillips, and nearly all the finalists are first-time nominees.

Source: EXCLUSIVE: The 2019 National Book Awards Finalists | Vanity Fair

Every year when the Nobel, Pulitzer, Booker, and National Book Awards finalists and winners are announced, scores of people say they haven’t read any of them even though book sales usually increase after books receive awards.

I haven’t read any of the finalists on this list. The primary reason is that I very seldom buy hardback books. I tend to wait for the paperback editions. Sadly, by then I’ve often forgotten the books I was waiting for and so I don’t think of them until they show up on an awards listing.

I often wonder why so few people have read the awards’ finalists and winners prior to the award announcements. Are the awards out of touch with what most people want to read or ar most readers being lazy and sticking with the latest in the Tom Clancy, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts releases?

Some readers–including me–often shy away from titles where it looks like the authors attempted to write important books on purpose. It’s as though they look at the issues, pick something that’s cutting edge and current, and then craft a novel that’s intended to be gospel on the subject more than readable. The thin turns into a tidal wave, I think, where those voting on awards vote the “gospel” because they’re afraid they’ll be criticized if they don’t.

The same thing seems to happen with the Oscars, I think. And maybe beauty pageants as well.

Or, perhaps I’m just a bumpkin who likes easy books with lots of pictures.



Thanks for the downloads

Recently, I did free Kindle promotions for my novels Mountain Song and At Sea. Once these run their course, it’s nice to check my Kindle dashboard and see that people downloaded multiple copies.

Thank you.

Even when copies are free or reduced in price, an author is also asking you for your time. And you have a lot to choose from when mainstream author/big publisher books are in the mix of choices. There’s so much talk about mainstream authors, it’s hard not to be tempted, Goodness knows, I read a lot of those books like everyone else!

I found out today that my dark short story “Shock Treatmen” is a semifinalist in Tulip Tree Publishing’s Stories That Need to Be Told contest. That’s unexpected good news.



LeVar Burton to Host 70th National Book Awards

The National Book Foundation announced that LeVar Burton, acclaimed actor and entertainment industry professional, will host the 70th National Book Awards on November 20, 2019 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Burton, who is known around the world as Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge in the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation television and film series, and as the host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow, will serve as master of ceremonies for the event that will announce the National Book Awards Winners in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. The ceremony will also include the presentation of two lifetime achievement awards, to Oren J. Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association and pioneering writer Edmund White.In addition to announcing the winners of the National Book Awards, the benefit dinner on November 20 serves to fund the educational and programming work of the National Book Foundation year-round.

Source: LeVar Burton, Actor and Education Advocate, to Host 70th National Book Awards – National Book Foundation

I think it helps awards programs when an individual known to the general public serves as the host. This man is a great choice for we’ve watched in on the screen for years and he has been active in publishing. So, unlike some of the celebrities who testify before Congressional committees, Burton knows publishing and books.

Wish I could be there.


“Mountain Song” is free on Kindle from October 27 through October 1. This novel about a summer romance gone wrong is set in Glacier National Park and Tate’s Hell in the Florida Panhandle.

Best Books of the Century (already!)

The Guardian has already come out with a list of the best books of the 21st century. (Dazzling debut novels, searing polemics, the history of humanity and trailblazing memoirs … Read our pick of the best books since 2000).

Er, isn’t it a bit early for such pronouncements?

I’m not surprised to see this, for every year, everyone and their brother comes out with a best books of the year list about August or September–like no books are published in the fall that could possibly be worthy of consideration. (I’ll spare you my usual rant about that practice.)

Looking at the past ten years, I think they’ve got a fair number of great books. Needless to say, they consider major publishers and let the rest of the industry’s output go unmentioned.

Yet, for a list like this, maybe they should have waited until 2050 for a look of the best books so far as of that point.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Eulalie and Washerwoman, a 1950s struggle between a conjure woman and a man who runs a gambling operation called policy.

The novel is available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardback.



Review: ‘The Lake of Learning’ by Rose and Berry

The Lake of Learning (Cassiopeia Vitt Adventure, #3)The Lake of Learning by Steve Berry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novella, and “The Museum of Mysteries,” represent everything a good novella should provide for readers: strong characters, mysterious stories based on heavily researched history, conflicts that are not easy to resolve, and a compelling storyline that leaves the reader wishing the book went another 500 pages farther than it did.

This story focusses on the Cathar religion, a system of beliefs that the Catholic church considered heretical and then killed the adherents in a crusade launched in 1209 and later during the inquisition. However, Cathars still exist today, and it’s about them–and the discovery of an old Cathar book of hours–that’s the focus of this story.

An old book is found on a construction site, and suddenly opposing Papist and Cathar individuals insert themselves into the story, creating a dangerous game for the protagonist Cassiopeia Vitt. Old conflicts die hard, it seems, as those who believe and those who don’t believe put Vitt’s life, wealth, and company in danger.

Books like this not only have compelling stories but teach readers a lot about the subject matter. In this case, the authors’ note at the end of the book what separates fact from fiction so that readers can see what’s true, what’s imaginary (but possible), and where to follow the historical record for themselves.

The characters in this novel (both the ones you like the and the ones you don’t like) not only have great depth to them, but they’re experts in their fields and savvy about everything that surrounds their areas of interest. If you have an interest in the Cathars, you will enjoy this novella. But even if you don’t, the fascination of a well-told tale will keep you reading.

View all my reviews


The 2019 National Book Awards Longlist: Fiction 

This week, The New Yorker is announcing the longlists for the 2019 National Book Awards. This morning, we present the ten contenders in the category of Fiction. Earlier this week, we published longlists for Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature.

Source: The 2019 National Book Awards Longlist: Fiction | The New Yorker

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here’s the long list for the fiction category the National Book Awards.

One criticism, I often hear for these awards and the Pulitzer Prizes for fiction is that most people have either never heard of, much less read, many of the winners.

That makes me wonder whether the fiction awards really focus on work that is viable, important, and in tune with the times or if they focus on material which is so far off the beaten track that they are actually oblivious to the times.

What do you think?

Here’s the list from New Yorker Magazine:

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, “Fleishman Is in Trouble
Random House / Penguin Random House

Susan Choi, “Trust Exercise
Henry Holt & Company / Macmillan Publishers

Kali Fajardo-Anstine, “Sabrina & Corina: Stories
One World / Penguin Random House

Marlon James, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

Laila Lalami, “The Other Americans
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House

Kimberly King Parsons, “Black Light: Stories
Vintage / Penguin Random House

Helen Phillips, “The Need
Simon & Schuster

Julia Phillips, “Disappearing Earth
Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random House

Ocean Vuong, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Penguin Press / Penguin Random House

Colson Whitehead, “The Nickel Boys
Doubleday / Penguin Random House

I’ve read The Nickel Boys and, while it was powerful, I thought it had an author’s trickery in it that kept it from working for me.




The 2019 National Book Awards Longlist: Nonfiction 

Of the ten authors longlisted for this year’s National Book Award for Nonfiction, only Greg Grandin has previously been a nominee, for his 2009 book, “Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Jungle City.” This year, Grandin was selected for “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America,” which Francisco Cantú praised for its efforts “to situate today’s calls to fortify our borders in relation to the centuries of racial animus that preceded them.”

Source: The 2019 National Book Awards Longlist: Nonfiction | The New Yorker

Fiction usually outsells nonfiction in books, though the opposite is true in the magazine and newspaper world. I notice that when people online or in real life sit around and talk about the books they’re reading, it’s mostly fiction they’re mentioning.

I read a lot of nonfiction if I see that it has a long-term value. That is, I don’t care much for books about current political issues because I think they’ll soon be out of date. But history itself, I like. Or philosophy or psychological theories.

At any rate, it’s always nice to see news stories about nonfiction books because they remind us nonfiction is out there and can often be just as compelling as a novel.


Check out the free book promotion for ‘At Sea’ in the pages menu at the top of the screen.

3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program

The pros and cons of an MFA in creative writing are widely debated: on one hand, such programs offer students the opportunity to work with accomplished authors, whose expertise (and endorsements) could make all the difference in publishing their first book. On the other hand, such programs often come with a hefty price tag, with fully funded options few and far between. But regardless of whether you go for an MFA, some things are critical to establishing a career as an author that you probably don’t know, unless you’ve learned them the hard way (or you’ve worked in publishing).

Source: 3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program | Jane Friedman\

The important take-aways from this post have little to do with whether or not you’re considering an MFA program or even know any reasons why anyone would sign up for one.

This post is interesting because it shows you that agents and publishers don’t read your manuscript the same way a beta reader, professor, or colleague in a critique group reads it.

Obviously, the agent and publisher want to see if your story will sell and to do that they focus closely on the voice you demonstrate in the opening lines and whether or not the characters and plot develop reasonably throughout the work.

Their view, while narrow and expedient, is often similar to what reviewers and knowing readers bring to a book. Worth looking at, I think.