April & Oliver Review by Book Worms Talk

Thank you, Hannah, for diving deep and offering this generous, insightful lens on April & Oliver. To have one’s work read so deeply and with so much heart is the greatest honor an author can receive. I wish you well with your own work. Many thanks.

A Conversation with Nicole Bokat

Join me Wednesday 6/9 for an interview with THE HAPPINESS THIEF author Nicole Bokat hosted virtually by Watchung Booksellers. Nicole is a longtime friend, member of my writing group, generous editor, and fearless writer. We will explore her creative process and her inspiration for this thrilling domestic suspense novel.

“Bokat is an evocative wordsmith . . . she has crafted a sympathetic heroine as her main character. . . . A compulsively readable mystery and character study.”―Kirkus Reviews

“So, so smart, and as downright dangerous a read as the edge of a razor, Bokat’s book is a masterful study of memory, family, and the lies that derail us. Don’t even dare to think you’ll get any sleep once you start reading.”– Caroline Leavitt, New York Times best-selling author of Pictures of You and With or Without You

“Nicole Bokat has the rare and precious gift of being both a master storyteller and an elegant poet. Each and every sentence dazzles in this intelligent and fiery tale about family, loss, and what it means to be feel happy, whole.”– Judy Batalion, author of The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos and White Walls

“The Happiness Thief is a beautifully written, heart-thundering page-turner. I tore through it, desperate to discover answers. The novel’s characters are as rich and complex as you and I.”– Aspen Matis, #1 Amazon best-selling author of Your Blue Is Not My Blue and Girl in the Woods

Mystery Scene Magazine reviewer @niidasholm says, “Evocatively written and ferociously paced, Bokat’s latest is a puzzle-box wrapped in a paranoia tale that rivets while exploring the complexities of grief, the anxieties of modern life, and the lasting harm of childhood trauma. Ulterior motives and shocking reveals abound, making for an anxious read that domestic suspense fans will be tempted to devour in a single sitting.” — Mystery Scene Magazine reviewer Katrina Niidas Holm

“Sharp, quick-witted, with twists you can’t foresee, Bokat’s smart new thriller is like a cyanide pill wrapped in chocolate truffle–dangerous but irresistible. The Happiness Thief will swallow you whole.”– Tess Callahan author of April & Oliver

Books to Open the Mind

Images from the novel AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the memoir BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates live vividly in my mind, though I read them years ago. Both deepened my awareness of racism, not just the news-making kind, but everyday, baked-into-the system, corrosive bias. Adichie and Coates widened my world view and deepened my heart.

The “suggested reading” lists of these black-owned bookstores offer additional suggestions to open our minds and make us better humans. The bookshops include: Ashay by the Bay a Black children’s bookstore in Vallejo, CA, Beyond Barcodes Bookstore offering books, coffee, community in Kokomo, IN, The Black Reserve Bookstore in Lansdale, PA, Brain Lair Books offering ‘difficult conversations in a fun place‘ in South Bend, IN, Cafe con Libros an intersectional feminist community bookstore and coffee shop in Brooklyn, New York, NY, Enda’s Booktique offering books written by, for, and about women in Duncanville, TX, Eyeseeme African American Children’s Bookstore committed to increasing childhood literacy and promoting multicultural literature in University City, MO, Frugal Bookstorechanging minds one book at a time‘ in Roxbury, MA, Harriett’s Bookshopcelebrating women authors, artists, and activists‘ in Philadelphia, PA, The Lit. Bar the only bookstore currently serving the Bronx, NY, Loyalty Bookstore centering on Black, PoC, and Queer voices in Washington, D.C. & Silver Spring, MD, MahoganyBooks an award-winning bookstore ‘that sells books for, by, and about people of the African Diaspora‘ in Washington, D.C., Marcus Books the oldest independent Black bookstore in the country, in Oakland, CA, Mocha Bookscreating a path to visibility for BIPOC indie writers,’ in Tulsa, OK, and Turning Page Bookshopspreading love for good books and giving back to the community‘ in Goose Creek, SC. Check them out!

Morris County Library Authors Day

Morris County Library NJ·Sunday, May 3, 2020· 2 minutes

Thank you, librarians, for celebrating local authors through Morris County Library‘s Virtual Author’s Day. I’m honored to participate! Featured authors include Chuck Augello, Dionne Ford, Yvette Long, Julie Maloney, and more.

Genre: Fiction, Mainstream Contemporary Fiction

About the Author: TESS CALLAHAN is the author of the novel APRIL & OLIVER published by Grand Central Publishing (USA), Random House (UK), and by publishers in Italy and The Netherlands. Her short work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Writer’s Digest, AGNI (Pushcart Prize nomination), Narrative Magazine (Story of the Week), the BEST LITTLE BOOK CLUB IN TOWN, National Public Radio’s “Three Books” series, and elsewhere. She offers advice to fellow writers in her TEDxNewarkAcademy Talk: “The Love Affair Between Creativity and Constraint,” and offers contest and publishing info at: www.Muse-Feed.com. She owes her sanity to the four paws in her life. Her new novel is in the hopper. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Favorite Authors:

Margaret Atwood
Toni Morrison
Joyce Carol Oates
Annie Proulx
George Saunders

Favorite Books:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Dead by James Joyce
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Atonement by Ian McEwan
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

What advice would you give a budding author?

Follow your wildest instincts. Go for the big game. Let the consequences of your characters’ actions unfold to their fullest measure. Don’t stay safe.

Where can readers find your books?

Indie booksellers, www.powells.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com

The Passion Behind Powell’s

Powell's Books Tess Callahan

The 2019 AWP Conference brought me to Portland, Oregon, where I had the blissful opportunity to roam the aisles of the iconic indie bookstore, Powell’s. With five stores in Portland and a two million-volume inventory, Powell’s is powered by the passion of its employees. One of Portland’s main attractions, Powell’s hosts over 500 author events a year, in addition to children’s storytimes, writing workshops, game demonstrations, and book clubs. Through Powells.com and an expansive online community, they reach readers around the world.

Two of my recent favorites, SING TO IT by Amy Hempel and FOX 8 by George Saunders, were among the staff picks.

“In SING TO IT, stories told in just a handful of spare paragraphs glint like small precious stones, while others fill page after page of uncommonly brilliant prose, throwing the lid back on the treasure chest. This remarkable collection—Hempel’s first in over a decade—was every bit worth the wait.” ~ Tove H.

George Saunders Fox 8 Tess Callahan

“Told from the perspective of a fox, this brilliant and brief novel made me laugh so much, but it also distinguished itself as a book that will stay with me for a long time.” ~ Shay

Oh yeah, and in the “C” aisle I stumbled upon an old friend.

Tess Callahan April and Oliver Powell's

Michael Powell began Powell’s as a grad student in 1970, encouraged by friends and professors, including novelist Saul Bellow. Michael’s father Walter and later his daughter Emily helped him to create a bookstore with an unorthodox recipe: used and new, hardcover and paperback, all on the same shelf; open 365 days a year; and staffed by knowledgeable and dedicated booklovers. Four decades later, Powell’s Books continues to operate as a third-generation family-owned business with Emily Powell at the helm.

Says Emily: “My grandfather taught me that our job is to connect the writer’s voice with the reader’s ear and not let our egos get in between. My father taught me not only the love of the book itself but also how to love the business of bookselling.”

The next time you’re in Portland, don’t miss this booklover’s dreamscape.

Review of THE DISTANCE HOME by Paula Saunders

Paula Saunders review

Paula Saunders at McNally Jackson Books

For my full review of Paula Saunders’ arresting debut novel, visit The Common.

Willa Cather once said, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” I thought of those words while reading Paula Saunders’s cinematic debut novel, The Distance Home, which she has said is based on her fractured 1960s South Dakota childhood. Saunders draws from a deep well. 

The Distance Home joins such recent novels as Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, Joyce Carol Oates’ A Book of American Martyrs, Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton that explore family dysfunction. Saunders asks us to consider the violent underside of American drivenness and its impact on a family’s most vulnerable members.  

The story opens with two sisters, the last of the family, driving across the South Dakota plains after burying their mother, and having previously buried their father and brother. The descriptions of “long-abandoned homesteads” with “roofs pitched eerily to one side” foreshadow the remembrance of their turbulent past. 

At a reading I attended in Greece last August, Saunders said that as a Buddhist, she wrote the book as a sacred undertaking to understand what happened to her brother and why. “There was a lot of forgiveness in writing this book.” 

Paula Saunders reviewShe began the novel as a graduate student at Syracuse University and finished it decades later, having raised a family of her own. The work’s long gestation is evident in its dexterous language and distilled wisdom. 

The novel charts the family’s decades-long rise from hardscrabble roots in a poor section of Old Fort Pierre, South Dakota to a stylish neighborhood of Rapid City, propelled by their workhorse father, Al, a cattle trader. Al sees his eldest child, Leon, a clumsy, tenderhearted stutterer, as a hindrance to his respectability and success. The boy is gradually, harrowingly, and at times nonchalantly, sacrificed to the gods of conformity.

To continue reading, visit The Common.

Tess Callahan Cornelia Street Cafe Reading

Tess Callahan Cornelia Street CafeThe Bennington Writers reading series kindly invited me to read on October 23rd  at the culinary and cultural New York landmark the Cornelia Street Cafe, where I shared an excerpt of my new novel, a work-in-progress. Readers of APRIL & OLIVER encountered familiar characters in deep water. Literally.

Joining me were fiction writers Carrie Cooperider, Danielle Decatur, and Parks Kugle. The Bennington Writers series, hosted and organized by writers V. Hansmann and Oona Patrick, features the voices of Bennington Writing Seminars students, graduates, faculty, staff, and friends. The readings take place in the Cornelia Street Cafe Underground, where a $10 cover includes a drink.

According to the New York Times, the Cornelia Street Café, “claimed a liberated identity, equally linked to the worlds of folk music, literature, Off Off Broadway and jazz.” Opened in July 1977, the cafe was the birthplace of the Monday night songwriter’s workshop started by Carolyne Mas, and became a place for burgeoning talents like Suzanne Vega to hone their skills. Eve Ensler read her VAGINA MONOLOGUES  there for the first time.

Today the café continues to showcase musicians, poets, writers, and artists. Co-owner and author Robin Hirsch regularly attends the readings. With sharply rising rents in the area, two longstanding restaurants on the block recently closed. If you love sumptuous food, music and literature, give the Cornelia Street Café some love. It will love you back.

Indie Bookstore Road Trip Reaches Loganberry Books

indie bookstore road tripOur cross country indie bookstore road trip brought us to the doorstep of the amazing Loganberry Books. What a surprise to step into this independently owned and operated shop to find its inviting spaces unfold like rooms in a dream. Just when you think this library-like bookstore of over 100,000 volumes could not be any larger, another archway appears, welcoming you a reading nook with a beckoning armchair.

Located in the historic Larchmere neighborhood of Cleveland, Loganberry Books has been offering new, used and rare books of all genres to readers and collectors for over 30 years. In addition, they offer a full schedule of events to the community including author signings, old time radio shows, discussion groups, open mics and book collecting forums facilitated by the bookstore’s founder, Harriet Logan.  Can’t remember the name of a book? Submit your mystery to the store’s “Stump the Bookseller” blog.

This year in honor of Women’s History Month, Loganberry made a powerful symbolic gesture by flipping every male-authored book in the fiction room so that its spine faced inward, leaving only the female authored titles visible. According to owner Harriet Logan, the result not only revealed the gender gap in publishing, but also brought more focus to works written by women.

My cohort Flannery James and I were gaga for Loganberry. You will be, too.

Bookstore Sojourners Discover Chicago’s Famous Indies

Chicago Indie BookstoresOur bookstore odyssey stopover in the Windy City brought us to Barbara’s Bookstore, a powerhouse indie with five locations in the Chicago area and one in Boston. Created over 50 years ago, Barbara’s offers a wide selection of fiction and nonfiction, including Chicago travel guides and history. Their excellent staff picks include SCIENCE IS CULTURE by Adam Bly, UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King, and GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD by a favorite author of mine, Michael Chabon. We visited the East Huron Street location downtown, and in honor of President Obama’s city, picked up one of his recommendations, THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu, consumed within 48 hours by my cohort Flannery James, who wholeheartedly seconds President Obama’s endorsement.

The first Barbara’s Bookstore opened on Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood in the early 1960’s. It was a large, shambling, literary bookstore with creaky wood floors and dust dating back to the early 1950’s. The closest thing they had to a computer was a plug-in cash register, pen and paper and a staff that knew every book in the store by heart.

The retail book industry has changed dramatically in the five decades since Barbara’s beginnings. Along the way, Barbara’s discovered they could coexist with the huge national chains and thrive by finding unique locations and creating personal, full-service stores where you don’t expect to find them.

The chain encompasses two types of stores. There are large, neighborhood stores, called Barbara’s Bookstore and the smaller, ‘niche’ stores in high traffic locations like airports and hospitals called Barbara’s Bestsellers.

Barbara’s has earned a reputation in Chicago for high-quality inventory and informed service. They love books. Twice they have been named by the Chicago Tribune as one of the 100 best things about the city. The alternative newspaper, Newcity, has recognized Barbara’s author event schedule as the best in Chicago.

Chicago is home to many excellent longstanding indie bookstores, including Women & Children First specializing in feminist, lesbian, gay and children’s literature, the Seminary Co-op specializing in academic books of literary and scholarly interest, 57th Street Books which offers general interest fiction and nonfiction and children’s books, and Unabridged Bookstore, which features fiction, poetry, travel, LGBTQ and children’s literature. We wish we could visit them all, but alas the road calls. Cleveland, here we come!

Indie Bookstore Travelers Bask in Prairie Lights

Prairie Lights Flannery JamesWhen our indie bookstore cross-country odyssey brought us to the long awaited Prairie Lights in Iowa City, I thought I might not be able to extract my cohort Flannery James from her reading chair. Having attended the Iowa Young Writers Studio, she has deep affection for Prairie Lights, and who wouldn’t? This iconic bookstore features an ever-growing reading series, hosted both within the store and at a nearby theater. They attract bestselling authors on their book tours as well as the prestigious faculty of the Iowa Writers Workshop.

The deeply knowledgeable staff offers suggestions of must-reads as well ask  kids picks .  Book buyer Paul Ingram offers reading and book club suggestions at Paul’s Corner.  We purchased THE PAPER  MENAGERIE by Ken Liu.

Prairie Lights sprang to life in May 1978 as a small, intimate bookstore offering titles by the newer voices of Raymond Carver and Alice Munro and by established authors like Eudora Welty and George Orwell. As the staff and customers tended the books with care much like a garden, the store grew and blossomed. By 1982 Prairie Lights transplanted itself from South Linn St. to South Dubuque and has gradually spread to three and a half floors, the half being an 1100 square foot coffee house located in the same space that the local literary society met throughout the 1930’s, hosting writers Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, e e cummings and others. Today the Cafe features art installations, including works by Elizabeth Munger,   Matthew Foster, Kenneth Hall,  Thomas Agran, Sarah Bozaan and Heidi Zenisek. 

The bookstore’s strength of reputation lies in the reading series of local, national and international writers who have read their works which were broadcast live on stations WSUI and WOI and which was the only regular literary series of its kind. Upcoming events include visits from Paul Harding, Joe Brisben, Z.P. Dala, Benjamin Percy, Inara Verzemnieks  and Bernie Sanders.

Booklovers everywhere, consider Prairie Lights your mecca. For us, it was well worth the pilgrimage.

Indie Bookstore Road Trip Finds Bookworm of Omaha

Bookworm of Omaha

Photo by Ryan Soderlin. Reprinted with permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

Our cross-country indie bookstore odyssey brought us to the Bookworm of Omaha, Nebraska, my old stomping grounds. An independent family business owned and managed by Phillip and Beth Black, the Bookworm has served Omaha for more than 30 years, and recently moved to a new brightly lit spacious location on 90th and Center Street.

A full service bookstore, the Bookworm highlights local authors such as Bookworm employee Nancy Rips, who wrote several children’s books on Hanukkah.  Their dedicated staff, some of whom are prior bookstore owners themselves, know books inside and out. A delightful children’s section offers a rocking chair and weekly “Wiggle Worm Story Time” for children 5 and under.

Books in the queue to be discussed by the store’s In-house and external book clubs include The Trial by Franz Kafka, Cinder, volume #1 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Janaway, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Into Oblivion by Arnaldur Indridason, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shatterly. We purchased a staff pick, THE FISHERMAN by Chigozie Obioma, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.

We appreciate the Bookworm’s warm hospitality and wish them well in their sparkling new location. As a former Omaha resident, I’m delighted to see the Bookworm’s growth and success.

Indie Bookstore XC Odyssey Discovers Indigo Bridge Books

During our cross-country indie bookstore road trip, we happened upon Indigo Bridge Books located in the Creamery Building on P Street in Lincoln, Nebraska, a little bookstore with a mighty spirit. As the name suggests, the bookstore endeavors to help “bridge”  divisions of neighborhoods, social classes, political ambitions, religious beliefs, ethnicity, national borders, and even languages. In the Lincoln community, Indigo Bridge is a voice for tolerance, inclusion and positive regard for fellow human beings and the planet. Their dynamic book club offerings include themes such as human rights and graphic novels.

The staff at Indigo Bridge loves to put thoughtful books into your hands. Their recent picks include three of my favorites, AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS by Helen Oyeyemi and THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt. They also offer an eclectic assortment of zines and books by local authors. 

Indigo Bridge books Helen OyeyemiA cozy reading area offers a living room like feeling with rustic wooden tables, a bookshelf and piano. A delightful children’s section is graced by a tree sculpture made of hand-dyed canvas and jute twine designed by artist Toby Thomas. More of Thomas’s work can be found at http://tobythomas.com/.

Having studied creative writing at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln years ago with the wonderful Marly Swick, I wish Indigo Bridge had been around back then. The warm, personable staff sent us on our way with delicious mocha lattes from the café (all coffee proceeds go to good local causes). Indigo Bridge, a haven for all those seeking wise words and open hearts, is a bookstore with a mission.

2 Booklovers, 8 Days, 9 States, 12 Bookstores, 2.500 Miles: The Tattered Cover in Denver

Tattered Cover indie bookstoreOur cross country bookstore odyssey landed us on the shores of the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. After losing each other among the multi-tiered landscape of this indie bookstore, each turn revealing yet another hidden alcove adorned with a wingback chair, antique fainting couch or rustic church pew, my daughter and I stumbled upon each other and simultaneously mouthed the same words, “I could live here!”

One of four Tattered Cover sites in Denver, the Colfax store resides in the historic Bonfils/Lowenstein Theater and retains the venue’s original charm, including travertine tiles, polished wood paneling and unique glass windows with cartouche designs. But the inviting ambiance of this place comes not only from its vaulted ceiling and vintage chandeliers. A distinct glow of warmth comes from the book-loving experts who work here, many of whom have been part of the Tattered Cover family for upwards of twenty years. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who, upon entering these doors, felt compelled to stay. These literary Sherpas stand ready and able to guide customers to their next reading adventure. Their book club  and staff picks, sprinkled throughout the store as well as showcased in a special section, are backed up with personalized notes on why you might love a particular read. Along with new titles, staff favorites include books that were published years or decades ago, including two of my favorites, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien and INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer. We purchased THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton at an excellent discount price.

Tattered Cover indie bookstore chairWhile we did not have time to visit all four locations in Denver, each has a reputation for expert staff and distinct flavor. Together, the venues host more than 500 events each year, including storytimes for kids (the children’s section was teeming) and readings by literary titans such as Amy Tan and Oliver Sacks. As if all this weren’t enough, baristas at the Tattered Cover Café are ready to cap off your visit with a selection of pastries, coffee and tea. We would have liked to set up camp among the old theater seats and reading lamps of this famous bookstore, but alas, the road calls. Tattered Cover, we shall return one day!

2 Booklovers, 8 Days, 9 States, 2,500 Miles: Poor Richard’s Bookstore in Colorado Springs

Poor Richard's indie bookstoreOur cross country bookstore odyssey brought us to the indie bookstore gem Poor Richard’s Books & Gifts in Colorado Springs. The Bookstore specializes in good-condition, used books, including current books in 150 categories and classics in every field. They also stock a large variety of new books. For those looking for a particular title, Poor Richard’s places customer orders on a weekly basis. Book collectors will find a selection of rare, first-edition and collectible titles. They also carry Colorado trail guides, local and state maps, wildlife/flora books and artistic, funny and quirky postcards. Recent staff picks include THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood and THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang. While the adjacent Poor Richard’s cafe serves excellent food and coffee, the newly renovated rear section of the bookstore has library-like stacks and quiet chairs to curl up and read. We are grateful to the the friendly staff at Poor Richard’s for a lovely visit!

2 Booklovers, 8 Days, 9 States, 12 Bookstores, 2.500 Miles: Next Page in Frisco

indie bookstoreOur cross country bookstore road trip brought us to Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco, Colorado, where we enjoyed vibrant ambiance, terrific book selection and delicious panini from the cafe. Located on “the Main Street of the Rockies,” this indie bookstore has an appealing display of books on Colorado nature, wildlife and hiking as well as a solid collection of fiction and nonfiction. We purchased a Will Shortz New York Times crossword puzzle book, fun socks and a Colorado mountain range deck of cards. The knowledgeable staff offers a thoughtful selection of book club picks.  Current staff favorites include THE FLOOD GIRLS by Richard Fifield and COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett. We thank the friendly Next Page staff for a wonderful visit.