Megan Fishmann

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Wally Lamb won readers’ hearts with his New York Times bestselling novel (and Oprah Book Club selection) She’s Come Undone. Four bestsellers later, he returns with I’ll Take You There

The novel follows film professor Felix Funicello, a divorced father who runs a Monday-night movie club for his film students. One evening, Felix encounters the ghost of Lois Weber, an American silent film actress and director. Felix follows her on the ride of his life, revisiting scenes from his past that are projected onto a movie screen. As Lois takes him back through time, Felix realizes that he has been charged with uncovering a dark secret at the heart of his family. 

Lamb’s previous work has been quite sensitive to women, painting endearing portraits of female characters who have been ignored, shamed and often mistreated. He builds on that tradition in I’ll Take You There, a love letter to feminism and to trailblazing women—real and imagined—who have graced the silver screen or stood behind the camera.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Wally Lamb won readers’ hearts with his New York Times bestselling novel (and Oprah Book Club selection) She’s Come Undone. Four bestsellers later, he returns with I’ll Take You There.
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BookPage Fiction Top Pick, November 2014

Michel Faber’s phenomenal The Book of Strange New Things is primed to become a classic on space, faith and, above all, devotion.

Faber made bestseller and awards lists with his Victorian novel The Crimson Petal and the White, and a film adaptation of an earlier work, Under the Skin, was recently released. In his latest, readers are introduced to Christian minister/reformed addict Peter Leigh. Peter has been selected as one of the very few to travel to the newly named planet Oasis. His mission: to preach the good word to a community of native aliens (Oasans) who are surprisingly desperate to learn from “the book of strange new things” (aka the Bible).

Despite his excitement over this extraordinary opportunity, Peter struggles with having to leave his beloved wife, Bea, back home in London. They are able to communicate only via a form of email known   as The Shoot, and their messages take days to arrive. Peter immediately immerses himself in the Oasans’ community, returning to base only every five days—a timespan that equals weeks on Earth. Each time, he receives new bad news from Bea. Tsunamis have wiped out major islands, national banks have gone under, garbage men are on strike and earthquakes have wiped out small countries. With each day, Bea’s hysteria mounts, along with the public reaction to these traumas.

Peter is faced with a moral quandary: Should he return to Bea, and a potentially doomed planet? Or should he remain with the Oasans, slowly losing himself in their strange world? However, all is not what it appears in his new home, and Faber shines in examining Peter’s conflicting feelings over whether he is best suited to serve God or his wife. Those leery of science fiction should not skip this remarkable, magnetic book full of eloquent meditations on faith, devotion, commitment and humanity.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Michel Faber’s phenomenal The Book of Strange New Things is primed to become a classic on space, faith and, above all, devotion.
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Fans of historical fiction will be drawn to The Miniaturist, a fantastical tale from British debut novelist Jessie Burton that takes place in 17th-century Amsterdam. The story begins as 18-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at the home of her wealthy merchant husband, Johannes Brandt. Surprisingly, though, he is nowhere to be found. In his stead is his strictly religious sister, Marin; housemaid Cornelia; and his manservant, a former slave named Otto. Nella, a country girl, is forced to forge her way alone as head of the household.

Upon Johannes’ return, he doesn’t seem remotely interested in visiting the marriage bed. Marin is reluctant to hand over the reins to the household and continues to decide what foods they must eat (plain, cold herring) and how much money they are allowed to spend (practically none, in spite of their wealth). Still, Johannes surprises his new bride with an exorbitant gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home, based on an actual doll house owned by the real-life Petronella Oortman, which can be seen at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Disregarding Marin’s monetary anxiety, Nella commissions a miniaturist to furnish her doll house. The artisan’s work is exquisite, but soon the miniaturist begins creating objects that Nella never asked for and which the miniaturist could not have possibly seen: their whippets, the oil paintings in their bedchamber and finally, replicas of the members of the household. Nella demands that the miniaturist stop, but the exquisitely crafted items keep arriving, slowly morphing to reveal lethal secrets that hide in the Brandts’ walls.

The fantastical elements of the story are intriguing; however, the novel takes a disappointing turn with an unsatisfying resolution to the mystery of the miniaturist. Regardless, The Miniaturist excels in depicting Amsterdam and its wealthy upper class, and lovers of art and of Amsterdam will be drawn to Burton’s imaginative story, which flows as effortlessly as water down a canal.

RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Jessie Burton about The Miniaturist.

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Artful drama meets historic Amsterdam in The Miniaturist.
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Much like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin, best-selling author Haruki Murakami is the type of writer whose fans queue up at bookstores at midnight, clamoring to be the first to get their hands on his latest book. Unfortunately, people who do not read Japanese have had to wait quite some time to read Murakami’s latest, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which was published to acclaim in Japan in April 2013.

One could argue that it was worth the wait. In this somber book, readers are introduced to Tsukuru Tazaki, a Tokyo train engineer in his mid-30s. During high school, Tsukuru had been immersed in a particularly close friendship with two other boys and two girls in his hometown. However, one day soon after they started college, the group kicked him out of their close-knit circle and refused all future contact, without giving any explanation.

Now Tsukuru’s girlfriend has decided that before their relationship can progress, he needs to get to the bottom of why his friends tossed him out like a piece of garbage. So Tsukuru embarks on an international pilgrimage to visit each of his friends for an explanation behind the breakup, in order to move on with his life and find closure.

Traveling from Northern Japan through Tokyo and over to Finland, Tsukuru is immersed in the type of nostalgia where one feels homesick for a past that cannot be recreated or reclaimed, no matter how hard one might try. Those who have suffered a loss of friendship (and who can say that they haven’t ever been ousted by a clique?) will find this book hits particularly close to home.

As the ending of this sorrow-steeped novel approaches, a beautiful future for Tsukuru is only guaranteed by a close examination of the secrets that have stained his past.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Much like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin, best-selling author Haruki Murakami is the type of writer whose fans queue up at bookstores at midnight, clamoring to be the first to get their hands on his latest book. Unfortunately, people who do not read Japanese have had to wait quite some time to read Murakami’s latest, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which was published to acclaim in Japan in April 2013.
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“There are often two conversations going on in a marriage,” short-story writer Robin Black claims in her debut novel, Life Drawing. “The one that you’re having and the one that you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when that second, silent one has begun.” One could suggest that there are two conversations going on in this quiet, yet exquisitely crafted novel: the conversation between Augusta (Gus) and her husband Owen, and the conversation they’re not having, about Gus having cheated on him.

Black’s novel is primarily set in an idyllic farmhouse in Pennsylvania, where the couple has moved in order to work on their craft (Gus is a painter; Owen, a writer), and their marriage. Several years ago, during a bout of depression following the death of her sister, Gus had a brief—but extremely passionate—affair with Bill, the father of one of her art students. Determined to make her marriage work, Gus confessed her transgressions to Owen.

What Owen does not know is that Gus has been keeping in touch with Bill’s troubled yet talented daughter, Laine, for years. Keeping this secret weighs heavily on Gus. So when Alison Hemmings, a teacher-turned-painter, moves in next door, Gus finds the female confidante that she didn’t know she was looking for. Their friendship quickly deepens as Gus confides about her affair while Alison reveals her own stories about an abusive ex-husband and her 20-something daughter Nora’s recent turn to religion and writing.

What happens between the neighbors is both expected and yet full of surprises. Black takes precise care with her prose, drawing out the emotional conflicts between her characters as she asks whether a marriage can be saved after the ultimate betrayal. Though the slow pacing may frustrate readers, it’s all part of a buildup to a powerful conclusion. Life Drawing is a memorable debut.

 

“There are often two conversations going on in a marriage,” short-story writer Robin Black claims in her debut novel, Life Drawing. “The one that you’re having and the one that you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when that second, silent one has begun.” One could suggest that there are two conversations going on in this quiet, yet exquisitely crafted novel: the conversation between Augusta (Gus) and her husband Owen, and the conversation they’re not having, about Gus having cheated on him.

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Emma Straub’s delightful second novel, The Vacationers, is the best work yet from this Brooklyn-based writer, who previously penned the quirky short story collection Other People We Married and the historical novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.

The Vacationers begins as the Post family is getting ready to leave their Upper West Side apartment for a two-week vacation on the island of Mallorca. Franny is a zaftig travel writer who treats food as a means of therapy; her husband, Jim, was just fired from his longtime job as a magazine editor after having an affair with an editorial assistant barely older than his daughter. Only mildly aware of her parents’ marital problems, Sylvia is focused on starting at Brown in the fall, far away from the brutality of high school bullies.

Joining the group is Sylvia’s older brother Bobby (a Miami real estate agent) and his personal trainer girlfriend, Carmen. Rounding out the bunch of vacationers is Franny’s best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence, who are awaiting possible good news from an adoption agency.

But while Franny meant for the trip to celebrate her and Jim’s 35th anniversary along with Sylvia’s high school graduation, the vacation turns into something much heavier as tensions are inflamed, jealousies are ignited and, ultimately, those pesky family secrets are revealed.

Straub transports her readers to an idyllic paradise of cobblestone streets, olive-tree-strewn hillsides, stunning beaches and rich, foreign delicacies, even as she creates an all-too-real family drama. The Vacationers is as refreshing as a frozen strawberry daiquiri and full of crisply drawn characters you’ll feel you’ve come to know.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Emma Straub’s delightful second novel, The Vacationers, is the best work yet from this Brooklyn-based writer, who previously penned the quirky short story collection Other People We Married and the historical novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.
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Every now and then, a reader stumbles across a debut novelist and thinks to herself: What took you so long? Bret Anthony Johnston—­current Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University and named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 following the publication of his 2004 short story collection—is such an author. His first novel is so spellbinding, so moving, that one’s only complaint is that we had to wait 10 years to read it.

Remember Me Like This opens with a surprise: It begins where most novels would have ended. We meet the Campbells four years after the traumatic ordeal of losing their then 11-year-old son, Justin, to a kidnapper. Laura and Eric (along with their youngest son Griff) are learning how to claw their way out from the darkness of grief. Then they receive the extraordinary news that Justin is coming home.

Even then, Johnston doesn’t focus his novel on the facts behind Justin’s disappearance, but keeps the focus on the repercussions of the family’s loss rather than its details. Though they never stopped combing the Corpus Christi sand dunes or canvassing the town with “missing” flyers, each family member turned to distractions to cope with their grief. Laura has become a shadow of herself, spending most of her time and energy volunteering at Sea Lab, where she cares for hurt or sick marine life. Eric—a high school history teacher who still loves Laura but is unable to connect with her—has found solace in the arms of travel agent Tracy. Griff, now entering his teenage years and unable to bridge the gap between his parents, focuses his energy on skateboarding and daydreams about his best friend, Fiona.

Yet it is the way Johnston reveals Justin’s painful ordeal in increments and through the eyes and ears of his family members that makes this tale so emotionally powerful. Johnston is a master at creating honest portraits of family members that could easily be your neighbor. Make no mistake about it: Bret Anthony Johnston is a writer to watch.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Every now and then, a reader stumbles across a debut novelist and thinks to herself: What took you so long? Bret Anthony Johnston—­current Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University and named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 following the publication of his 2004 short story collection—is such an author. His first novel is so spellbinding, so moving, that one’s only complaint is that we had to wait 10 years to read it.

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Ayelet Waldman (Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits) has written about personal tragedy numerous times: failed marriages, the struggles of motherhood, divided families. Her latest novel, Love & Treasure, deals with a larger human tragedy: the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War II. It is a slight departure from her previous work, and yet, it remains just as powerful and inspiring.

Broken into three sections told over various periods of time, Love & Treasure follows three men: Jack, a young Jewish-American captain in Salzburg during WWII; Amitai, a famous Israeli-born art dealer in the current day who deals with repatriated items; and Dr. Zobel, a pioneering psychiatrist at the turn of the 20th century in Budapest. It begins with Jack, whose primary responsibility is to guard and take inventory for the Hungarian Gold Train, which was filled with stolen riches from exterminated Jews. There, he falls head over heels for Ilona, a striking Hungarian woman who has lost all her family to the concentration camps and is desperately holding out hope that her sister might have survived.

Then readers find Jack—50 years later—on his deathbed with cancer. It is there that he gives a stunning gemstone peacock pendant to his recently divorced daughter, Natalie Stein. His last wish is for her to return this item, stolen from the train, to its original owners, leading Natalie on an epic pilgrimage throughout Europe with Amitai, who finds himself quickly obsessed with both the pendant and Natalie herself.

The third section of the novel adds more layers to the story about the pendant’s origin and owner, but the heart of the novel is the story of Amitai and Natalie. Although the male characters control much of the narration, it is the female characters (Ilona, Natalie and the suffragette Gizella) who truly shine with their moxie, fiery spirits and utter determination. Whether they’re fighting for the rights of Jewish people, trying to secure the female vote or making sure a family promise is fulfilled, it is these leading ladies who make Love & Treasure a real treasure.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Ayelet Waldman for Love & Treasure.

Ayelet Waldman (Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits) has written about personal tragedy numerous times: failed marriages, the struggles of motherhood, divided families. Her latest novel, Love & Treasure, deals with a larger human tragedy: the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War II. It is a slight departure from her previous work, and yet, it remains just as powerful and inspiring.

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It has been 20 years since Julia MacDonnell wrote her first novel, A Year of Favor. But readers will find her highly entertaining and heartfelt second novel, Mimi Malloy, at Last!, well worth the wait.

At 68, Mimi Malloy finds herself divorced, forced into early retirement and spending her days fending off check-in phone calls from her six daughters and four surviving sisters. Having lost her husband to a much younger secretary, she bides her time in her Quincy apartment drinking Manhattans, listening to Frank Sinatra and puffing away on True Blue cigarettes. Her eldest daughter, Cassandra, is adamant that her mother needs to be placed in an assisted-living home. Despite Mimi’s recent “spells” of forgetting things (like how to start her car) and a MRI showing that she’s got the atrophied brain of an 86-year-old, Mimi stubbornly claims that she is just fine on her own.

Then Mimi finds herself at the center of a grandson’s genealogy project. Packed to the brim with repressed memories from a traumatic childhood, Mimi refuses to outline her Irish ancestry or explore her Depression-era upbringing. But when she discovers an antique pendant that had once belonged to her mother, Mimi takes the first tenuous step down an extremely crowded memory lane. Bit by bit, she unveils the secrets that she has struggled to hide: a mother who died in childbirth, a secret sister sent away to Ireland and an abusive stepmother.

With the help of her sisters, Mimi slowly begins to piece together the mystery behind the disappearance of their beloved sister Fagan. In the background is a budding friendship between Mimi and her widowed superintendent, Dick Duffy.

MacDonnell truly shines in creating a cast of unforgettable characters who struggle to forgive each other, spinning a story that recalls The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, though with a bit more of an edge. Mimi Malloy, at Last! will ensnare readers with its human drama and fascinating references to Irish folklore—even as the vulnerable and brassy Mimi Malloy steals their hearts.

It has been 20 years since Julia MacDonnell wrote her first novel, A Year of Favor. But readers will find her highly entertaining and heartfelt second novel, Mimi Malloy, at Last!, well worth the wait.

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BookPage Fiction Top Pick, March 2014

Alice Hoffman’s latest novel has the word “extraordinary” in the title for good reason: The best-selling author of The Dovekeepers has served up another historical novel that will dazzle readers until the last page. Set in New York City in the early 1900s, The Museum of Extraordinary Things veers from the extravagant mansions dotting the Upper West Side to the foul conditions of the overcrowded tenements on the Lower East Side to the seaside apartments stretched across Coney Island to tell the interwoven stories of Coralie Sardie and Eddie Cohen.

Coralie is the only child of a once-famous French magician who now runs The Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue. His curiosity show—packed with acts performed by so-called “freaks and oddities” like the Wolfman and Butterfly Girl—is being threatened by competing attractions that are being built nearby. Coralie was born with webbed hands, and unbeknownst to her, her father has been preparing her to one day become part of the museum. Nightly, Coralie is submerged in ice cold baths and forced to swim in the Atlantic Ocean in order to build up her tolerance to the cold and increase the strength of her lungs for holding her breath underwater.

On the Lower East Side, Eddie Cohen—a young Orthodox Jewish man who emigrated from Russia—has abandoned his job as a tailor, along with his father and his faith, to pursue a career in photography. Eddie spends his time photographing the crime beat for newspapers. As he is working the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist fire (which killed more than 100 young female laborers), Eddie is approached by a despondent father looking for his daughter. Despite his reluctance to get involved, Eddie finds himself agreeing to track her down. His investigation leads him to cross paths with Coralie, and both their lives are forever changed.

In The Museum of Extraordinary Things, both characters are searching for something. Coralie is desperate to escape from her father’s obsessive and abusive watch. Meanwhile, Eddie is attempting to make peace with himself and the fact that he abandoned not only his father, but also his God. As the two narratives gradually intertwine, Coralie and Eddie’s faith in both each other and themselves will be tested numerous times, only to come to an explosive head at the end of this powerful novel.

BookPage Fiction Top Pick, March 2014

Alice Hoffman’s latest novel has the word “extraordinary” in the title for good reason: The best-selling author of The Dovekeepers has served up another historical novel that will dazzle readers until the last page.

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Taking a page straight out of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Margaret Hawkins begins her third novel with the preparation for a dinner party. Each year, Lydia invites a group of friends over for a midwinter meal, where they devour food, sip wine and share secrets. Except this year, Lydia has the biggest secret of all. She has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and with only a few weeks to live, she has to share the devastating news so that she can properly say goodbye.

Each year, Lydia invites the same six women, no matter how close (or not close) they might be at the time. These include Maura, who has spent most of her life devoted to her and Lydia’s married boss; Elaine, who is bitter after having ended up alone; Celia, whose life primarily consists of waiting on her husband and teenage son; and Norris, whom Lydia continues to invite despite the fact that no one really likes her. Little do they know that this year a blizzard will force them together overnight and alter the course of their relationships.

Lydia’s Party ably addresses the question of what legacy we leave after we die. Lydia worries that she made the wrong choices: in the men she dated, the art she created and even the friendships she established. This novel is a tearjerker, but readers will find comfort in Hawkins’ sumptuous descriptions of the party preparations and the cozy winter setting. This thought-provoking new novel will please fans of authors like Elizabeth Berg—and provide plenty of fodder for book club discussion.

Taking a page straight out of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Margaret Hawkins begins her third novel with the preparation for a dinner party. Each year, Lydia invites a group of friends over for a midwinter meal, where they devour food, sip wine and share secrets. Except this year, Lydia has the biggest secret of all. She has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and with only a few weeks to live, she has to share the devastating news so that she can properly say goodbye.

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