Posts Tagged ‘Burnt Mountain’

My coffee table is going to grad school. Come Saturday, it’s relocating to my cousin Georgianna’s new apartment near the University of Central Florida.

I have mixed feelings about its departure because for the last 20 years the massive, two-tier wood-and-glass structure has served as mission control. It’s been writing desk, dining table, magazine rack, book shelf and storage unit. Mostly, it’s encouraged my packrat tendencies; I’m downsizing in hopes I’ll stop hoarding.

Cleaning it out, I found several galleys I’ve been meaning to write about, as well as several more I’m still planning to read. All have been relocated to the office/library, where I can’t get to the floor-to-ceiling shelves because of the stacks cluttering the floor. At least I can shut the door so no one has to look at the mess but me.

Now to those books that had been buried before they disappear again. Michael Parker’s The Watery Part of the World (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) is a different kind of beach book set on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The novel beautifully reimagines two time periods, its stories based on historical fact. In 1813, Theodora Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr, disappeared at sea while en route by schooner from South Carolina to New York. In 1970, two elderly white women and one black man were the last residents of a small Banks barrier island.

In the novel, Theodora is cast upon the isolated island by pirates, building a new life with the help of the old hermit Whaley. “Had the wind through the sea oats promised to bring her anything she wanted, she would have asked, hours before, for chocolate, books, Chopin. Now it was nails, a couple of hinges for her door, an ax, a saw, a hammer.”

The second, parallel story focuses on Theo’s descendants, sisters Maggie and Whaley, who are looked after by Woodrow Thornton, who lost his wife to Hurricane Wilma. Loss and loneliness link both tales as Parker lyrically explores the geography of the heart and the way the past impinges on the present.

Place and past events also figure in Anne Rivers Siddons’ new novel, Burnt Mountain (Grand Central), which, sadly, isn’t one of her best. Growing up in small-town Georgia, Thayer Wentworth is at odds with her social-climbing mother, being more like her free-spirited grandmother. She finds solace as a counselor at an exclusive summer camp, falling deeply in love with Nick Abrams before heartbreak ensues.  At college at Sewanee, Thayer meets and marries Irish professor Aengus O’Neill, causing yet another rift with her mother. Still, Thayer is happy until Aengus’ interest in Celtic mythology blooms into an obsession as a storyteller at a boys’ camp on Burnt Mountain. And then Nick reappears in her life.

Siddons is very good with Thayer’s emotion-tossed narrative, but the contrived plot splinters into disarray and improbability.

Felix J. Palma makes it easy to suspend disbelief in his wildly imaginative The Map of Time (Atria Books), which blends history, mystery, fantasy, science and romance into an entertaining, genre-bending mix. Several stories intertwine in Victorian London, where many are talking about H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as if time travel is a soon-to-be reality. (Murray’s is one agency already taking bookings).

Readers meet Andrew Harrington, an aristocrat whose beloved lady of the night’s murder has left him with a death wish until he chances on time travel as a way to thwart her killer. Meanwhille, a repressed young woman longs to travel forward a century. Wells himself eventually appears on the scene, as well as a detective who believes a weapon from the future was used in a murder.

Karl Alexander offered Wells stalking Jack the Ripper in 1979’s Time After Time, still a favorite, but Palma, a best-selling Spanish author making his U.S. debut, crafts a more complicated adventure that invigorates the debate as to whether one can — or should — tamper with time and alter history. And it’s just the first book in a trilogy.

Open Book: As noted, I received galleys/ARCs from the above books’ respective publishers. I signed up for Palma’s book as part of a web promotion announced on Shelf Awareness, my favorite daily e-mail for book professionals. Now the new Shelf Awareness for Readers is available free online twice a week, and I am insanely jealous of editor Bethanne Patrick for doing what I always wanted to do at the Sentinel. Each issue  reviews the best books publishing each week, along with author interviews, book excerpts, giveaways and links to more book stories and news. Right now they’re running a contest for new subscribers. Click on the button I’ve posted on the right side of this blog under “Elsewhere on the Web.” Good luck!

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