Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: One of This Summer's Most Anticipated Books

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, now there’s a mouthful. I predict that this book title will be the most butchered title of the summer. It just might be up there with the like of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. That being said, this book has already been named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly, and it’s only fair to say that booksellers should get used to the different interpretations of this title that will be bandied about as the word spreads and book clubs tromp through the doors to get their hands on the new hot read.

Here’s the plot in brief:
It’s 1930; America is in the midst of the Great Depression, families are losing money, homes, and their lives. In the midst of the country’s turmoil sits 15-year-old Thea Atwell, the only daughter of a Florida doctor and his beautiful wife. Thea’s family is wealthy thanks to her mother’s citrus groves, and has led a sheltered, unstructured life, roaming her family’s fields on the back of her pony Sasi with her twin brother Sam at her side. When we meet Thea she is in the midst of familial banishment, shunted out to the mountains of North Carolina, so far and so drastically different than Florida, to The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, an elite boarding school for the daughters of the upper echelons. It is here, that Thea, banished from her family due to mysterious circumstances, must fit into the complicated social order that is an all-girls school, while dealing with her own issues of guilt, resentment, and abandonment toward her family.

I’ll start by saying that I was immediately immersed in this book. Told from an adult Thea’s perspective as she looks back at her life, is it easy to empathize with her teenage self; separated from her idyllic home and thrust into the competitive environment of other teen girls, mourning the lost connection with her twin with whom she has been inseparable, and suffering the shunning from her mother. As the story progresses and the reader learns more about Thea’s life and the probable reasons of her banishment that involve the only other teen she had contact with—her cousin George, the sympathy remains, along with a twinge of contempt for the naivety of her mother, and the willful blindness she displayed to the goings on. Author Anton DiSclafani know just how to pull the heart strings, with the right amount of angst and resentment and that cleverness perfectly sucks the reader into the story and firmly implants Thea as a solid, yet tragic hero. The brilliance of this writer is truly displayed in how she slowly and subtlety adds more to Thea’s character and backstory, throwing in little tastes of Thea’s less than perfect traits, stacking them up slowly, so that when the reasons behind the banishment are learned, the reader is so enmeshed in the world through seen through Thea’s eyes, that it becomes nearly impossible to condemn her actions. I say brilliance because the actions of Thea are really reprehensible when removed from the context of the narrative (actually, in my mind they are reprehensible period), and when the shameful reason behind her exile comes to the forefront the reader is still on her side. It’s like being caught up in the gaze of a hypnotist, difficult to breakaway, and in the case of Thea, even harder to condemn.

Having finished, and been given time to digest the plot and motives of its main character, I have come to a far different conclusion; Thea is not a victim—she made her choices willfully and defiantly, but she can be sympathized with to some extent as being a product of her time. Instead of being villains, the Atwell parents bring on their own destruction, both because of the era and the hardships of the Depression, but also because in separating their family from the world at large, they in a sense engineer their own demise. Yet, in the end, when looking back at all that Thea has wrought by her actions, it is clear how much of a path of destruction she left behind her. She is a product of the time—a girl, naïve in her approach to worldly things like sex, politics, money, and society in general, yet because of her isolated upbringing both she and her twin Sam were unable to blossom into fully formed moral human beings capable of becoming healthy members of the world. I’m philosophizing here, but Thea is an almost sociopathic blend of naivety and selfishness, it is her actions that set the ball rolling in a downward spiral, she needs to be punished, and yet in reality it is not Thea who is ultimately punished, it is the family that turned her away, incapable of moving on. Thea is hero and villain, her family the tragic remnants of a battle they didn’t even know had started, and it is they, not Thea who suffer the price. Thea is the champion in this narrative, winning the reader to her side, but upon further contemplation, she is a harbinger of destruction, both contemptible in her actions, but oddly amazing in her resilience, something her parents lack.

I’m torn. This book was phenomenally good. I really felt for Thea, I hoped her parents suffered for their abandonment, for choosing Sam over her. Ultimately, their eventual suffering, even though it stemmed from their own blindness and bad judgment, was so shattering that I can’t help but be frustrated. You love a character, skim over her sins, but when everything else is destroyed by her choices how can you enjoy the aftermath? I was enthralled by the first three quarters of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, and irritated by the last quarter because of Thea’s blasé attitude and seeming lack of awareness that she was the catalyst of all the misery. Maybe these feelings speak to the talent of the author and her compelling narrative. Perhaps they are a more accurate depiction of what happens when a child is denied socialization and accountability. Maybe if Thea’s parents dealt with the issue instead of just removing the elephant in the room, the outcome would have been different. Life is a series of what ifs; postulating on the parents mistakes, the role of society in that era, and Thea’s choices isn’t going to give me anything, but a headache, and it is this that speaks to Anton DiSclafani’s talent as a storyteller, she is making me think, there might even be a catharsis somewhere in there. A good storyteller charms you with the lore, a great one makes you deconstruct it and feel emotion, positive and negative, question it, revel in it. I might be ethically frustrated by the outcomes of this novel, but while reading it I was invested, and it is that investment, created by the mesmeric narrative, which makes it a book worth reading and discussing.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reading Beth Hoffman

It is great fun to find fantastic debut novelists. It’s something that every bookseller gets to enjoy, and do quite frequently, but I have to admit to a bit of nerves when it comes to sophomore efforts. There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a debut author, only to have those feelings thrown in your face with the production of a lackluster second novel. It happens more often than not, and as a reader it is always a bit crushing. So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up Beth Hoffman’s new book Looking for Me. I absolutely loved her debut Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and was a little afraid that I would be disappointed by this second novel. Well, let me tell you how foolish those worries were.

Looking for Me is a fantastic second novel. It possesses the same charm as its predecessor, drawing readers in with its southern warmth and anecdotal tone, while also maintaining the remarkable insight and depth that I believe readers will begin to associate with Hoffman’s writing. Beth Hoffman has that rare quality as an author to present a seemingly light and easy read, only to have a fully-fledged novel that is not only engrossing, but also intelligent, and brilliantly written. Her use of language is beyond simple charm, her sentences flow like warm honey to be savored and reread, and her characters are fully functioning, living and breathing people—ones you wish with all your heart you could get to know.

Told in first-person, and bouncing back and forth through time, Looking for Me tells the story of Teddi Overman, a talented furniture restorer and owner of an antique shop in South Carolina. Born on a farm in Kentucky, readers are introduced to the Overman family; Teddi, a girl who’s love from antique furniture leads her on a road of self-discovery, Teddi’s silent and wonderful father Henry, her perpetually disappointed mother Franny, and her brother Josh whose affinity with nature, in particular rare birds of prey, provides readers with a heartbreaking mystery. As Teddi’s life unfurls, bouncing between her present and memories of her childhood, I was delighted to only be captivated be her life, but to also be engrossed by her love of antiques—learning more about restoration and estate shopping in a way that was both entertaining and emotional, than I ever could have thought. These instances are so well-written in fact, that I, who have never had an interest in these things, found myself wanting to look up terms on Google and pop out to the next big estate sale in my neighborhood. To get non-crafty me interested in furniture restoration is a fete in itself! Hoffman also manages to effectively and lastingly tug on the proverbial heartstring as she addresses Teddi’s strained relationship with her mother, and her brother’s mysterious disappearance, in a way that manages to forgo the mawkish sentiment or cheesiness that so often finds its way into novels.

This is a deceptively complex story that is beyond readable, it’s enchanting, lovable  beautiful, and full of depths that one would not expect from a novel that might appear lighter in content than some. Looking for Me is one of those books you pick-up and literally do not put down, not because of suspense or turmoil, but because it is so well-written, and the characters so believable and rich, that it mesmerizes with the first paragraph. Beth Hoffman is just that good and I will never again feel trepidation that her next novel won’t be good enough—she’s secured my fandom for life.

Come meet Beth Hoffman at Warwick's on Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm. Details available at

Friday, May 17, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed: A Q&A with Khaled Hosseini (Courtesy of the Publisher)

Khaled Hosseini (c) Elena Seibert
What most excites you about meeting your readers across America?
Meeting the wide range and diversity of people who have responded to my books, people from all walks of life, all religions, races, cultures, from varsity wrestling team members to hipsters to CEOs to middle-aged accountants to octogenarians. It is always a reminder to me, when I meet these kaleidoscopic demographics, of the ability of fiction to connect people through the expression of basic, common human experiences.

You’ll be on the road for five weeks—what are you planning to bring to read on your tour?
I have already bought a few books for just that purpose and they are now sitting on my desk! Some are new, some are older books that I have always meant to read and never got around to. They are:

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Dear Life by Alice Munro
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Not sure I will get through all of them, but I will knock off a few.

What do you like to do with your downtime during your book tour?
I read. I exercise, if I can find the time. I watch parts of movies. I call home. I try to write but never can. I end up reading a lot.

What do you pack in your suitcase that might surprise us?
I always pack—though I never end up wearing it—my SF 49ers cap, which I consider my good luck hat. Also, I have started taking guitar lessons (as a show of solidarity, really, with my son), and sometimes I will pack a small travel guitar for practice on the road. (A bit of parental trickery is at work here, of course; i.e., if I can find time to practice on a national book tour, then my son can find twenty minutes in his day to do the same. Sometimes you have make people feel so bad that they’ll do the right thing.)

What are your children reading right now?
My daughter, who is ten, is reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
My son, twelve, just finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Come listen to and meet Khaled Hosseini on June 26th! Event and ticket information available at

And the Mountains Echoed is available for purchase on May 21, 2013.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kaleidoscopes—My Journey into the Warwick’s Gift Dept.

I don’t often get the chance to peruse the Office and Gift Departments of Warwick’s. I have excuses: I work in books, I’m chained to my desk, the always popular—we have a Gifts Dept.?, or the ever promising—I’m lazy! I’m sure I could come up with more, but really, there are some great gems in our Gift Dept., it’s just sometimes I’m moving too fast to notice. That’s why, when a co-worker stopped me in my tracks to show me some new jewelry, I wasn’t terribly surprised to find something truly unique, and well—awesome: kaleidoscope necklaces.

Yes, I'll admit it, I think kaleidoscopes are cool, but let me back-up. Growing up kaleidoscopes were kind of a thing for me, my cousins, and siblings. It’s not that we were all kaleidoscope mad, or even eager to own and play with kaleidoscopes, it’s that our grandmother collected them and whenever we visited her inner sanctum (bedroom) we got to investigate them to our hearts content. From simple little $2 cardboard tubes, to elaborate glass contrivances, my grandma had an eclectic and often beautiful collection and it gave us all  a sense of pleasure to pick-up one and discover a world of shape and color. My grandmother has since passed, and I have the pleasure of temporarily harboring those wonderful devices, and each time I get a glimpse of one out of the corner of my eye when walking through the house, I think of her.

So, back to those kaleidoscope necklaces at Warwick’s—seeing them displayed on our jewelry counter immediately made me think of my grandma, particularly since she probably purchased some of her kaleidoscopes here. With Mother’s Day around the corner, I couldn’t help but think how much she would have loved one of these beautiful necklaces. It just really ended my day with a smile.

Now I’d like to share a little information about these truly unique pieces. The kaleidoscope necklaces are created by Healy Designs, run by jewelers Deborah and Kevin who have been making kaleidoscopes since the 1990’s. As told by the designers “The swirling colors and patterns of Kaleidoscopes have enabled us to add a new dimension to how our jewelry may be enjoyed. As artists, we feel fortunate to participate in the revelatory and peaceful world of Kaleidoscopes."1
Warwick’s features the necklaces, and other fine jewelry in our Gift Department, with prices ranging from $99 to $345, each handmade and filled with pieces of colorful sea glass, and of course all are working kaleidoscopes. I’ve provided a few pictures, but honestly they don’t do the necklaces justice, my suggestion  is to come into the store and check them out—if only to see how intricately they are made. Also, the Gift Dept. staff is well versed on the jewelry and can answer any questions you might have.

I guess I’ve now learned that if I am able to make such a find by traveling to the other side of the store I should probably do it more often and I must urge those of you who only peruse books to do the same. Who knows what amazingly perfect item you may find or what memories of your own those items might evoke.

As a side note, Warwick’s also sells some stunning full-size kaleidoscopes, the picture here depicts three kaleidoscopes by Sea Parrot, which are handmade and use unique colors and materials, sure to stun the eyes.

Heather is the Marketing Coordinator for Warwick's