As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been surviving the last licks of winter by immersing myself in books. One of them was Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs (Touchstone Books). Here’s a brief synopsis:
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she’s rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë’s literary estate. But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn’t exist. But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her deceased father’s handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world’s greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë’s own writing.
The description of this book alone was catnip to this Brontë obsessed reader. I eagerly awaited its arrival, and tore through it in several hours. (Many thanks to the lovely people at Touchstone Books for providing me with a copy of this novel.)
My one sentence take: The Madwoman Upstairs is a charming Brontë-fueled romp of a novel. That said, it was lighter of tone than I’d expected because of the dramatic title—I was anticipating dark and stormy psychological depths, not a frothy coming-of-age caper. Don’t get me wrong. Frothy coming-of-age capers are wonderful, but it was as if I’d set my mouth for mushroom risotto and ended up with champagne sorbet. In retrospect, I probably should have been tipped off by the whimsical cover illustration. So, my bad!
Once I adjusted my palette, I had a ball picking up all the gothic tropes planted throughout: from the Rochester-inspired Oxford professor whom Samantha addresses as “sir,” to the Victorian-era governess portrait adorning her tower room. There’s even a sinister blast-from-the-past named Rebecca who drowns (or does she?) in a boating accident. Lowell has a real gift for the clever one-liner, and imbues her characters with wit and eccentricity. This is her first novel, and it’s a very accomplished debut.
Yet, as I read, I often felt the true heart of The Madwoman Upstairs laid in Samantha’s literary critique of the Brontë family and their legacy, rather than in the scavenger hunt plot. These sections were truly involving, and hint at the possibility of a deeper novel more akin to Possession than The Rossetti Letter. Samantha’s recasting of Anne Brontë, the Lady Edith of the Brontës, as a behind the scenes inspiration to her siblings was convincing enough to have me scurrying for my reference books. For this new perspective alone, I am so glad to have read The Madwoman Upstairs.
“When you’re older, you’ll inherit the Warnings of Experience,” he said.
“The Warnings of Experience?” I clarified.
“Why when I’m older?”
I should have asked him, Why the Warnings of Experience? but when you’re young, you never think to question the absurd.
—excerpted from The Madwoman Upstairs
These days at Chez Art and Words, I’ve been deep into books more so than usual. Both the writing of them:
Exhibit A: Spreadsheets for the Next Novel and the Sekret Project book. Yes, I am that geeky.
And the reading of them:
Exhibit B: Just a few of the books gracing my shelves these days.
Total book immersion is a great way to survive the last licks of winter—in Brooklyn, spring can seem especially slow to arrive. Luckily, there’s no shortage of reading material here. I’ve books to read for research, as well as books to read for review. (More about those below.) Another spur to my increased book consumption: Thea and I have started a mother-daughter book club.
Here’s how the Mom-Daughter Book Club usually works: Thea recommends a book she loves. (Usually the book pick is thrust at me as soon as she finishes it. “Mom, you’ve gotta read this now.”) I read. We discuss. Sometimes it’s the opposite: I pre-read a book, if I’m concerned about content, before passing it Thea’s way.
We’ve read some great books together this way: Rebecca Stead‘s When You Reach Me (okay, the ending made me cry—it’s basically a middle grade version of The Time Traveler’s Wife). The Hunger Games trilogy (so much to discuss! Dystopias and totalitarian governments. Greek mythology. The sharply drawn characters!). Other books … well, let’s just say I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Maze Runner, much as Thea loved it. But that’s okay. We can still talk about what worked for us as readers, and what didn’t. The Mom-Daughter Book Club leads to hours of great conversation, and is far less emotionally fraught than talking about, say, middle school applications and room cleaning.
Recent additions to the mom-daughter book club I enjoyed: Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick, which has a charming Charlotte’s Web-inspired subplot and a compelling exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder. Jerry Spinelli’s Eggs, which has one of the best book covers I’ve ever seen. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. Besides being absurdly well written, Green’s novels spurred lots of deep philosophical discussion as well as laughter—he’s a master of dialogue. His novels also offer an entry point to discuss teen sexuality and other Uncomfortable Issues Usually Avoided. (Remember, DFTBA.)
On the review front, I’ve received ARCS for some especially delectable books. (Many thanks to Touchstone Books and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with review copies.) In the coming week, I’m delighted to be offering the inside skinny on Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton, a new biography of Elizabeth Tudor that explores how she used gender expectations to advance her reign. Also on tap: Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs, a fun Bronte-fueled romp of a novel, and The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life by BookSlut.com’s Jessa Crispin.
More about these books soon. In the meantime, here’s a The New Yorker interview with Jessa Crispin about the co-mingling of tarot and literature. Enjoy!
Photographed outside my usual cafe one morning.
Hey, I’m deep in the weeds, dear readers. You know what that means: my To Do list is outweighing my Hours Available list. A quick overview of what’s been going on at Chez Art and Words this month:
~ I finished two Top Secret book proposals. Hint: If published, the subject matter of these books will make Thea very happy.
~ I received feedback from my literary agent on the first third of the Next Novel. Good news: she loved it! Now onto finishing up the rest of the manuscript. (Egads.)
~ Related to above: I’ve completed applications for 2016 writers residencies. After my crazy-productive fellowship earlier this year at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I’m eager for more.
~ I helped out at the Slice Literary conference. My duties included social media, so I’ve a plethora of great notes that I plan to share here once I catch my breath. One highlight: a panel featuring agent Jeff Kleinman and publishing iconoclast Richard Nash.
~ Thea started school anew and is winding her way toward middle school. (Egads again.)
~ On top of all this, I’ve reluctantly accepted the inevitable: I’ll be having surgery on the foot I broke last year to take care of some pre-existing issues. So I’m feeling the weight of Things I Must Get Things Done before my mobility becomes limited. I’ll be in a walking cast for six weeks. Nor will I be able to drive. (No egads, just a big sigh.)
~ Despite all this, I do have some lovely things planned once the weeds are less cumbersome. An interview with my fellow Venice-obsessed author Alison MacMahon (THE SAFFRON CROCUS) is on the docks, along with reviews of Amy Stewart’s just-published historical romp GIRL WAITS WITH GUN and other books.
~ In other blog news, as of this Sunday I’m planning to return to my first of the month Snippet Sunday excerpts. So I hope you’ll check back then. After all, aren’t you curious what I’m working on these days? I know I am.
After much hard work, the e-book edition of The Lover’s Path was officially launched earlier this week! I’m still recovering from many late nights and full days behind the computer, but am very pleased at the overwhelmingly positive response thus far.
Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood wrote:
“The sheer design of the book is a delight for any bibliophile. Lavishly illustrated, the images, textures, and illuminated letters hearken back to a time when books were treasured things to behold. As deeply as I love physical books, e-books aren’t going anywhere. The Lover’s Path is a testament to the fact that electronic text can also be artistic and aesthetically pleasing.” Read the full review.
Also there: A guest post by moi about Pre-Raphaelites in Venice.
From Unabridged Chick:
“I’ve got nothing but swoony, swoony love for this one — get it and indulge in some lush escapist reading! With the playful and charming illustrated elements, this book drew out that sense of wonderment I get from reading, the visceral joy of being plunged into a story.” Read the full review.
Over at Unshelfish, Melinda wrote that The Lover’s Path was:
“A delicate, sensual yet powerful story leaving you stunned in beauty in its entirety. Exquisite.” Read the full review.
Also there: A guest post by me about creating the illustrations for it.
We got some love from Peeking Between the Pages too:
“The Lover’s Path: An Illustrated Novella of Venice by Kris Waldherr is an absolutely gorgeous book both in story and in the stunning art work depicted throughout its pages. It is a beautifully written tale of forbidden love that is accompanied by amazing illustrations that are a treat for a reader’s eyes. When I opened this book I fell into it and couldn’t put it down until I turned the last page…. I loved this book and can see myself delving into it again in the future.” Read the full review.
From CelticLady’s Reviews:
“Does the story have a happy ending? I can’t really tell you that, but what I can tell you is The Lover’s Path is a beautiful novella, filled with gorgeous pictures done by the author and a bit of a history lesson on the 16th century Italian Renaissance…. What a pleasure is was to read this book.” Read the full review.
More reviews will be coming next week. On top of all this, there’s now a dedicated webpage devoted to The Lover’s Path at LoversPathBook.com. I hope you’ll take a moment to visit. And with that, I’m going to go collapse onto a chaise.
Illustration from The Lover’s Path iPad e-book.
So things are going to get even more Lover’s Path-ish around here in the next few weeks because:
1. It’s only a week—a week!—until the e-book launch for real on June 16th. Because the digital edition has been so extensively revised and expanded from the original print publication, it truly feels like a second birth.
2. Already reviews are coming in this New And Improved Digital Edition. From Stephanie Cowell, the acclaimed author of Claude and Camille and Marrying Mozart:
“THE LOVER’S PATH is beautiful in every way; not only is the story of the girl’s secret and ultimately dangerous love wonderfully told, but the exquisite illustrations and layout make you feel that you have truly fallen into old Venice with its longing and eroticism. You feel you will look up from your screen and find yourself in an antique palazzo smelling of the sea with the soft footsteps of servants on the stair and the sound of a gondola moving through the water outside your window. Prepare to be lifted into another time and place and discover secrets long guarded…. You must own this lovely, lovely book!”
From Kimberly Eve of the wonderful blog Musings of a Writer.
“Follow these lovers as they walk their path and discover along with each of them how they find the love they didn’t know they were seeking. Venice, Italy, comes to life with each tale of lovers whether it is Tristan and Isolde or Dante and Beatrice. Her research is spot on, her history and passion for Venice, opera, and love shines through. If you want an enchanting read full of ancient tales, beautiful imagery, or just want to fall in love, I hope you will read THE LOVER’S PATH when it becomes available…. This one is a DO NOT MISS!!
3. The Lover’s Path is now available for pre-order everywhere save for Nook/BN.com; that link will go live June 16th.
4. To commemorate the relaunch of The Lover’s Path, I’ll be participating in a book blog tour. Here’s the schedule so far:
Thursday, June 18
Review & Excerpt at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Monday, June 22
Review at A Book Drunkard
Tuesday, June 23
Review & Guest Post at Book Lovers Paradise
Wednesday, June 24
Review & Guest Post at The Emerald City Book Review
Thursday, June 25
Review at Broken Teepee
Friday, June 26
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, June 29
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, June 30
Review at Just One More Chapter
4. If this isn’t enough, I’m also preparing for the Historical Novel Society Conference later this month—I’ll be on a panel about book design—and finishing up pages of the long-aborning Next Novel for my literary agent. Oh, and revamping a book proposal, designing websites. And more. But no complaints: it’s all good.
The Fortuny dress I’d like to try to sew for the Historical Novel Conference. Because I don’t have enough to do.