Book Review & Q&A with Cathy Marie Buchanan, Author of The Day THE FALLS Stood Still

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What a fresh and interesting title to add to the many historical fiction books out there.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still is a must read for those looking to dive into a new book this fall.  Author Cathy Marie Buchanan has created a cast of characters led by Bess and Tom.  Bess is a wonderful heroine whose desires, dreams and fears helped to keep me enthralled as I read.  After reading a few books set during WWII this year, it was interesting reading this book which is set during WWI.  The mood was much different but still set a stress in the story and for its character.  Set between 1915 and 1923 in Niagara Falls, Canada, Ms. Buchanan also presents focuses on a new way of getting energy to the masses is making its way into everyday life.  It’s called hydroelectric power and it will change the way lives are lived and will change the lives of residents in Niagara Falls forever.  Bess is also on the cusp of womanhood and finding love and will never be the same again.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still will keep you enraptured from beginning to end. 

I’m not the only reader singing Ms. Buchanan’s praises these days.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still debut on the New York Times bestseller list at #31 two weeks ago and Barnes & Noble selected the book as a “Recommended Pick.” 

Ms. Buchanan started touring for her debut book last week but has taken a moment to answer a few questions for us here at Planet Books.  I would love to welcome The Day The Falls Stood Still author Cathy Marie Buchanan to Planet Books. 

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PB Having written a book that I consider historical fiction, what other era in history is your favorite?  What is your favorite historical fiction title?

CMB ~ My formal education in history ended in grade nine, and so I hardly feel qualified to have a favourite era.  That said, I did fall in love with the WWI period as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  The way communities pulled together, the way everyone was doing their bit really struck me.  People gave up driving and meat and started war gardens and, if they had a free moment, rolled bandages and wrote letters to buoy the spirits of soldiers they’d never met.  It seemed the crisis brought out the best in people, that sacrifice was widespread.  It made me feel hopeful that at some point, hopefully not too far off, all of mankind will take up the fight against our own looming crisis–climate change.

PB ~  What has been your favorite part of the process you went through to get to this finished product?  The research?  The writing?  The press junket?

CMB ~ I was fascinated on a daily basis as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  Born and bred in Niagara Falls, the lore I’d grown up came to life as I read old newspaper accounts of the stunts and rescues on the river or as I came upon gorgeous old photographs of the river before the massive diversion of water away from the falls for the production of hydroelectricity or as I gazed out over the Niagara River from Loretto Academy, the boarding school the book’s protagonist attends.  A now I have the great pleasure of meeting readers online and in the flesh, and I love being told their stories of Niagara Falls or hearing how The Day the Falls Stood Still has touched them in some way.  Still, I am a writer at heart, and it’s what I love most.  I write everyday, sitting down at the computer as soon as my boys leave the house for school.  The objective is always the same, to lose myself in the words I am setting on the page.  And I have had moments when I look up from the computer, dazed.  It takes a second to grasp that I am sitting at my desk, a further second to decide:  Is it morning or afternoon?  Have I had lunch?  Have I forgotten to pick up my boys from school?  My head was a hundred years away in Niagara Falls.  It’s when the best writing has come, and I overflow with happiness.

PB ~  Being an author, do you feel that book blogs are a great way to get the word out?  Have you enjoyed your blog tour?  Do you find it an effective way of communicating with readers?

CMB~ I was a marketer (among other things) before I was a writer.  In marketing lingo, the groups of consumers who seek out new product information and then go about spreading the word are called chat leaders.  These chat leaders are respected authorities in their areas of expertise, and companies jump through hoops to get newly launched products into their hands.  For a new line of lipstick, the chat leaders might include the beauty editors at magazines, the cosmeticians in stores, that neighbour you’d know to turn to for a recommendation for a lipstick that stays on for more than five minutes.  Book bloggers and their followers fit the bill when it comes to books.  You are the chat leaders–the people who know books, who talk about books, who can’t wait to find that next great read, the people whose opinions on what to read next are regularly sought.  So, yes, absolutely, book bloggers are a great way to get the word out.  And the book blogs do provide a wonderful platform for giving readers further insight into a book.  Through reviews and guest posts and Q&As, the bloggers enrich the experience of reading a particular book for their followers.  I have loved my tour, not only because the chat leaders are chatting but also because having someone thoughtfully consider the work that I’ve poured my heart into for the last umpteen years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Thank you, bloggers and followers, for that. 

For more information about Cathy Marie Buchanan and THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL, be sure to check out her website HERE.

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Guest Post ~ Belong to Me Author, Marisa de los Santos

I am so thrilled to welcome Marisa de los Santos to Planet Books!!  Marisa is the author of Love Walked In and Belong To Me.  She has written a wonderful guest post that I really relate to and I hope you will enjoy reading as well.  Without any further ado, Marisa de los Santos!

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   Lately, I’ve been thinking about happy endings.

   Not so long ago, I was on a panel at a book festival, and in response to an audience member’s question, one of my fellow panelists said something like, “I don’t write ‘feel good’ books.  It’s not my job to make people happy; it’s my job to put my characters in challenging situations and then see how they respond.”  This struck me as a completely fair and lucid remark, but what followed was a discussion about serious books versus fluffy books, literature vs. “beach reads,” and while I noticed that most of the audience was silent, those that spoke up seemed to share the assumption that happy books are, by definition, fun but trivial:  shallow, intellectually empty, even soulless.  “’Feel good’ books don’t make you smarter,” one woman said, “They just make you happy.”

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   I’ve written two books.  Neither Love Walked In nor Belong to Me ends with all of the characters, or really any of them, getting exactly what they want, but both have what I think of as “upswing” endings; in both books, hope gets the last word.  Judging from the emails I get from readers, a lot of them (the ones who like my books, anyway) find that, after reading my books, they feel, well, . . . good.

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   And what I’ve decided is that this is OK with me.  I like to be taken seriously; it’s painful to think of people dismissing my books as “fluff” because of their happy endings, but if readers walk away from my books feeling more joyful than when they opened them, so be it.  More than “so be it”.  Very few writers can be everything to all readers; everyone, if they’re lucky, has a place to fill; if my role is writing books that make people happy, I am humbled and honored.

   But the truth is that I don’t really have a choice.  I could write at length about happiness, how I don’t think it’s dumb or trivial or less complicated than sadness or anger or unrelenting grimness, how a character’s journey toward her or his happy ending can be just as difficult and interesting as any other kind of journey.  I could list works of literature generally acknowledged as “great” that end happily.  But this might imply that I write happy books on purpose, and that just isn’t the case.

   Like my fellow panelist, I don’t think it’s my job to make people happy.  It’s a good thing, too, because if faced with such an enormous responsibility as that, I would probably freeze up and write nothing at all.   I think it’s my job to create characters that feel multi-dimensional and alive to me, to set them in motion, and then to try to be true to them, to get their actions and reactions right, to find language that serves them and their stories.  I can’t think about anything else, like making readers happy, like being taken seriously by critics, like pleasing my editor, like selling lots of books, like fulfilling a higher moral purpose, because then I might get distracted and fail at my one job:  being true to the demands of my story.

   If both of my books end on an upswing, and if this third one does, too, as it might (I have no idea what will happen in the end, but if it ends on a hopeful note, I will not be shocked), it’s not because I write with that goal in mind.  My guess is that it has to do with the thing that all three books have in common:  me.

   I write out of who I am, what I know, what I intuit, and what I’ve observed and experienced.  While I have an imagination, I am singular and limited, and, while I’ve sorrowed and lost and encountered meanness, while I know that monsters exist, my life so far has led me to two beliefs out of which, inevitably, I live and write:  most people are fundamentally decent, and love is what saves us.  I hope this doesn’t change, but if it does, I’m sure my books will change, too.

   For now, though, I’m happy with happiness.

To learn more about Marisa check out her website HERE.

Guest Post ~ Author of The Last Beach Bungalow, Jennie Nash

Jennie Nash’s “winning” debut novel, The Last Beach Bungalow, was released in trade paperback in February 2008.  She’s here today to share with us her thoughts on fame and celebrity in the book world in a guest post.  You can check out Jennie’s web site at http://www.jennienash.com/pages and an article she wrote for The Huffington Post.com HERE

Jennie Nash is also the author of two other books.  The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming: And Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer and Raising a Reader: A Mother’s Tale of Desperation and Delight.

 SUMMARY ~ The Last Beach Bungalow

FOR SALE: THE LAST BEACH BUNGALOW
The owner of this 1928 original bungalow is
seeking a buyer with heart. What would you give— besides money—to live here? Bring your offers, your stories, and a promise to preserve and protect. Winner will pay $300,000. Open House, Saturday 1 to 4.

After five years cancer-free, April Newton should be celebrating, but instead she’s suffering. She feels her husband slipping away, and though the spectacular, stylish house he’s building for her should be a fresh start, April finds herself resenting it. As their move-in date approaches, she becomes obsessed with winning the right to buy the last Redondo Beach bungalow, convinced that the quirky, lived-in little house represents everything she is missing in her life—comfort, completeness, survival. And though her quest for the bungalow will take some surprising twists, it may put back together the pieces of her heart…

 

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Almost Famous

The other day, I met a 17-year-old girl named Katharina, who had just arrived from Germany as part of an international exchange program. She came to my house to meet some of her new classmates – including my daughter — before the first day of school. She dazzled us all with the fact that she could speak four languages, that she was spending a full year away from her parents and that she was eager for every new American experience anyone proposed. When she learned that I was a writer and saw the (small) stack of books with my name on the spine, she lit up even more than before. “Are you famous?” she asked.

I have been asked this many times before, in many different guises (Have you been on Oprah? Have I heard of your books?), and I have often felt defensive about it, because the fact is that fame is a country very far away from the shore where I sit every day and write. But there was something about the way Katharina asked the question – in such a straightforward manner, with such innocence and such disarming hope that fame could be so close at hand – that made me wish that I could have said, “Yes! I am famous.”

You can’t write a novel with the intention of becoming famous. You can’t spend whole years of your life spinning a story and hoping that it will hit a bestseller list. Fame, after all, only comes to a tiny percentage of writers. I write because I’m a storyteller. I write because it’s the way I make sense of the world. I write because I have found a (small) audience for my work out there in the book-reading universe. And all of that is more than enough motivation to continue doing what I do. But I also can’t pretend that I wouldn’t wish for a certain amount of fame, because unless you’re J.K. Rowling, writing-fame is very different from Brittany-fame or Angelina-fame. Writing-fame mostly means that you get a bigger paycheck, get invited to speak at really cool conferences where other writers congregate, and get the pleasure of connecting with a bigger, broader audience. 

What I ended up saying to Katharina in answer to her question was among the most honest things I have ever said to anyone about my writing. “I’m not,” I said, “As famous as I wish I were.”

Sunday Salon ~ August 24th, 2008

Well it’s almost bedtime for this Sunday Saloner.  I finished another good book this evening.  The Summer of Naked Swim Partiesby Jessica Anya Blau.  A fun yet touching story of a fourteen year-old girl living in 1976 Santa Barbara, CA.  I will be posting my review later this week but for now please feel free to check out Jessica Anya Blau’s guest post titled Motherhood & Celebrity Penises HERE

*Regarding the winners of the Schooled giveaway from last week, I am still waiting for an e-mail from winner Carol Esovski.  If you know her please let her know that author Anisha Lakhani would like to get her signed book off to Carol soon.

Something else I did this weekend was finally give in and create a Facebook page.  I’m still new to how the whole thing works but if you are on Facebook, you can find me under Karen Brandt O’Connor.  Please add me as a friend if you like. 

This week is a busy one on the social calender and I am also starting Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl.  I am looking forward to seeing what all the talk is about with this book and included with my review will be a guest post from author Kerry Cohen herself. 

This past week the pages of Planet Books have been graced by guest posts from Home Girlauthor Judith Matloff and The Art of Racing in the Rain author Garth Stein.  Check out Judith’s HERE and Garth’s HERE

Got anything cool going on at your blog?  Reading anything that is hard to put down or that makes you want to throw the book out the window of the Empire State Building?  Tell us about it!

Guest Post ~ Author of The Art Of Racing In The Rain, Garth Stein

Have I got a treat for you this happy Friday!  Author Garth Stein, of the acclaimed summer hit (and one of my new all-time favorite books; check out my review HERE) The Art Of Racing In The Rain is here with a guest post just for us.  Garth has taken time out of his extremely busy summer to talk about his book and where exactly the idea behind it came from.  You can learn more about Garth at his website, http://www.garthstein.com/.  You can also check out a website solely dedicated to his book The Art Of Racing In The Rain at http://goenzo.com/.  At the end of this post you will find three You-Tube videos.  The first one is the book trailer for The Art Of Racing In The Rain.  The second and third videos are interviews with Garth Stein himself. 

 

It’s the simplest question, to be sure:  “Where did the idea for your book come from?”  It is a question that is asked of every author, and it is one that deserves a thoughtful and thorough answer. 

But while the question is simple, the answer is usually not.  Because, yes, ideas have an ultimate source, like a long, meandering river; but, like a river, the outlet on the coast rarely reflects the spring in the mountain, thousands of miles away. 

When I am asked the question, I think of a cooking analogy.  Mirepoix.  Those of you who watch Food Network know about mirepoix.  It’s the simplest thing:  butter, onion, celery, carrots.  But when simmering these things together something magical happens.  The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  And by the time the stew is finished, there is no way to identify the individual ingredients–the ingredients have sacrificed themselves for the flavor!

And so, the beginnings of a novel….

 

The first idea for The Art of Racing in the Rain came more than ten years ago when I screened a film from Mongolia, “State of Dogs,” that was about the Mongolian belief that the next incarnation for a dog is as a person.  I remember being struck by the beauty and simplicity of the idea, and feeling the strong sense that, some day, I would do something with it.

It was years later that I heard the poet, Billy Collins, read his poem, The Revenant, which is told by a dog who has recently been euthanized.  When I heard his extremely funny and biting poem–and the very vocal and enthusiastic response from the audience–a light bulb went off in my head:  I would tell the story of a dog reincarnating as a person, and I would tell it from the dog’s p.o.v.!

But wait.  The very first idea for my book goes even further back, I think…..

In the summer of 1986, I had the great fortune to attend the Detroit Grand Prix.  Joining a friend who had all-access passes, I remember standing behind a concrete barrier of the street course and marveling at how small, yet incredibly powerful the Formula One cars were.  So quick and so close–no more than an arm’s length away.

One driver was obviously quicker than the rest of them.  He started in the pole position and, after losing many positions due to a tire puncture, scrambled back into the lead and finished first.  I remember watching his green helmet flash by.  I remember the devoted fans in the stands waving their giant green, yellow and blue flags.  I never had the pleasure of meeting Ayrton Senna, but I did have the pleasure of watching him race…and win in glorious fashion.

And further:  I remember, as a child, sitting on the sofa in the rec room of our house with my father on a Saturday afternoon, watching racing on a black and white Zenith television, eating from a bag of sunflower seeds.  And at my feet, our faithful dog, Muggs, the Airedale to whom The Art of Racing in the Rain is dedicated.  She was hoping for the occasional dropped seed, I’m sure; but I like to think she also enjoyed watching the races with us.

And so there!  Tracing the river from the mouth to the source, we find the truth:  when I was five years old, I believed my dog understood what she saw on the television set.  That’s where it started. 

The reason I wanted to tell you this story is that there is magic in Enzo.  When I teach writing, I talk about the craft–the mechanics of writing:  plot, voice, dialog–and I talk about the art–the intangible, the magic, the inspiration, the moment where we lose ourselves in our work it is no longer ours. 

Writing The Art of Racing in the Rain was magic for me, full of joy and inspiration.  I can trace the elements of the story, but I can’t necessarily explain how all these things made Enzo complete.  That’s something that resists explaining, and demands indulgence.  Like a delicious stew, there will always be a certain mystery about it, but that mystery doesn’t detract from the flavor.  In fact, I think it makes the stew all the more memorable….

Happy manifesting,

Garth Stein

 

Guest Post ~ Author of The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, Jessica Anya Blau

Author, Jessica Anya Blau, has recently released her debut novel, THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES.  It’s a coming of age story about a teen and her unconventional family.  Jessica has written a hilarious guest post for Planet Books and I am so excited to share it with you.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny and the tone of the post gets me even more excited to receive and read THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES.

Summary ~ The Summer of Naked Swim Parties:  It’s the summer of 1976 and fourteen-year-old Jamie has a list of worries: What if there’s an earthquake? What if the police come while her parents are swimming naked or, worse, smoking pot? What if her friends come over while her mother is cooking waffles wearing only cut-off shorts and an apron, her giant, almost pornographic breasts unbound and free? And, most pressing, what if someone dies? Jamie sees death everywhere: in the pool, on the backyard trampoline, and even on a blanket on the beach, where a piece of glass could break through and stab her. Indeed, there will be a tragedy that summer, although it’s one that Jamie hasn’t imagined. And by September, even though her tan is mahogany, Jamie will discover that the beach is not always a refuge, sex does not bring forth love, friendship can be as heartbreaking as romance, and her family– no matter how crazy, no matter how naked– may be her salvation after all.   

Motherhood and Celebrity Penises

One question I am often asked by readers of my novel, THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES, is, “Have your daughters read it?!”  The question is always asked in a way that demands at least one exclamation point, as the novel is full of sex. (Most of it is uncomfortable sex that does not turn out very well for the protagonist, Jamie.  In fact—I’ll digress here—one person at a reading raised his hand and asked if Jamie ever went on to have great sex!)  The novel also has mild drug use (marijuana), alcohol (beer), and lots and lots of naked swimming.  The answer to the question is that I have let my 16-year old daughter read it (she claims she loved it) and I have not let my 11-year old daughter read it (I told her she could read it when she’s fourteen).  They both seem fine with the fact that their mother wrote a book that has sex in it—they’re big readers, they’ve read about sex before.  Also, and I’m not sure this matters much, I don’t drink, or smoke, or swim naked (although I have tried all those things in the past) and so my daughters fully understand that it is not ME, their mother, who is doing the stuff in the book, it is the character.

Now, onto my thoughts about blogging: The wonderful thing about blogs is that it is not characters we are reading about, but the writers themselves.  Blogs are like public diaries, or musings—we, as readers, take what the blogger says to be true.  Also, because they are on the Internet, blogs are more easily consumed than a book that you have to borrow or purchase, then peruse (or all-out read!), to find some tidbit that might titillate you.  A blog can be pulled up in seconds, depending on your Internet connection, and read within minutes. 

When Karen asked me to blog for this site, I considered writing about a weekend I had spent with a somewhat-famous, male, sex-symbolish celebrity (we were both guests in the same home) who did a small jaunt around the house naked and then swam naked in the pool while I, fully clothed, sat on a cushy poolside lounger reading the Los Angeles Times.  The interesting thing to me about this story, is that the celebrity had a very, very, very tiny and pale penis.  It was like a flour-white thumbtack pushed into his pubic hair.  I think a tiny penis is fine, I certainly don’t care and would never criticize anyone because they have a tiny penis (I’d hate to read the blogger who got a good gander at me strolling around naked!).  What shocked me about the penis was that he seemed to have no shame in it—no worry that I would reveal to anyone the fact of his thumbtack.  How marvelous to be so comfortable with whatever you were given at birth.  How liberating to think, “This is it! Voila!  Take it or leave it!”  I envy that poorly-endowed celebrity as I would love to be so accepting of myself, so comfortable in my own skin.  Alas, I am not.  If I leave a room naked and someone else is in that room (my husband, for example) I back my way to the door so as to spare him the view of my undulating rear.
 
This brings me to my problem with blogging: the easy access, the eternal life on the internet.  If someone were to type into Google Jessica anya blau tiny penis would they pull up my blog?  Would my daughters be forever ashamed because their mother wrote a nonfiction posting about a weency celebrity penis?
 
Let’s hope not.

 

You can check out Harper Collins page on Jessica and THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES HERE, Jessica’s personal web site HERE and her MySpace page HERE.   THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES is available in stores and on-line now.

Guest Post ~ Author of The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff

Author David Ebershoff’s new novel, The 19th Wife, will be in stores Tuesday, August 5th.  It’s a tale about prophet and leader, Brigham Young’s wife, Ann Eliza Young, who separated herself from their marriage into polygamy and her work against the polygamist lifestyle and bringing it to an end in the United States.  It is also a story of murder and polygamy in present day Utah.  
 
David has taken the time to talk with us here at Planet Books about what initially inspired him to write The 19th Wife and the research he did to help build the story.  Also, he touches on what is keeping him busy right now, writing his next novel as well as what books have his attention this summer.   
 
Photo © Edith High Sanchez
Photo © Edith High Sanchez

I first heard about the so-called 19th Wife seven years ago, when I was working with a scholar of 19th-century women’s history on a book for the Modern Library.  This scholar mentioned Ann Eliza Young to me in passing, saying she had been Brigham Young’s 19th and final wife and had left the Mormon Church in 1875 to crusade against American polygamy.  That was enough to hook me.  Who was this 19th Wife? I wondered.  And what does that even mean – to be a  19th wife?  Those questions stayed with me.  After some time, I started reading about Ann Eliza.  Almost at once I knew I wanted to write about her. She was a bold, outspoken, defiant, somewhat reckless woman raised in a society where none of those qualities were encouraged.  I wanted to understand how she had become who she was.  At the same time, I was curious about her legacy.  Although she played a role in forcing the Mormon Church to officially renounce polygamy in 1890, the story did not end there.  In remote outposts of the American southwest polygamy continued to be practiced with astonishing vigor.  I decided I should interview a few plural wives in order to understand their experiences in plural marriage.  Once I heard these stories, which reminded me in many ways of Ann Eliza’s life, I knew I had to figure out a way to connect the story of the so-called 19th Wife to that of polygamy today.  I spent almost a year reading, interviewing, and thinking, trying to conceive of a novel that could hold the various narratives I wanted to tell.  Then it all came together, and I sat down and got to work.

 A Novel

With The 19th Wife finished, I’ve turned to a new novel, one that cuts back and forth in time and plays with genre.  But I’m not going to say anything else about it, because it’s too early in the process and my vision of  it will inevitably change.

I’m spending my summer reading HG Wells.  He will be my companion as I head out on book tour.  In addition, I’ve read three books recently that are coming out soon that I absolutely love.   The first is White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple.  This is a book for anyone who loves poetry and literary history.  Through the lens of a remarkable friendship, Wineapple unwraps for us the secrets of Dickinson’s artistic life.  If you’ve ever been stunned by the beauty of an Dickinson poem, then you have to read White Heat.  The second book is Stray Dog Winter by David Francis, a Cold War thriller set in Moscow, 1984.  The novel is about a young, gay Australian artist who finds himself ensnared in a murky KGB plot.  I love the book because the hero, or anti-hero, is so unlikely, and because Francis couples exquisite prose with genuine page-turning suspense.   It’s a wonderful book, like a fusion of novels by Alan Furst and Edmund White.  The last book I want to mention is American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.  The novel imagines the life of someone similar to Laura Bush.  It’s not a biography and it isn’t even a political book: it’s a poignant, masterful portrait of a complex, intelligent woman.  Some people have already criticized Sittenfeld for writing the book, falsely claiming it is a hatchet job on the First Lady.  But most of these critics have not read the book (it doesn’t come out until September).  When they do they will see that Sittenfeld writes with profound honesty and compassion.  The book is gentle, generous, and truthful.  Some people wonder whether the novel still has relevance in our society.  American Wife shows the vast potential of the form.  It’s an exceptional book and Sittenfeld, still so young, is one of our greatest writers.  I read American Wife two months ago and a day hasn’t passed since without my thinking of it.

You can visit David Ebershoff at his website http://www.ebershoff.com as well as listen to an interview with the author on NPR HERE.   The 19th Wife will be available August 5th in hardcover at all bookstores and on-line stores.