San Francisco Journal of Books seeks reviewers

The new online publication, San Francisco Journal of Books, publishes thought-provoking reviews of new fiction and nonfiction from across the publishing spectrum.

We believe that the divide between literary and genre fiction is often arbitrary, that good writing spans subject and genres, and that book culture is alive and well in America. San Francisco Journal of Books aims to be part of a growing network of serious online review sites that is filling the void left by traditional newspapers.

San Francisco Journal of Books is currently seeking reviewers. Apply to be a reviewer, or submit your book reviews, here. To apply, you must provide a brief bio, along with links to at least two previously published reviews. You may also submit the full text of a proposed review by email at sfjournalofbooks at g mail dot com. San Francisco Journal of Books welcomes reviews from published authors (links to your website and your book will appear alongside your review), as well as current graduate students in literature and creative writing.

Authors, publicists, and publishers may submit a book for review here.

Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner

With The Killing–AMC’s moody Seattle-centric drama series about a smart, nervous, possibly mentally ill, and extremely dedicated female detective attempting to unravel the murder of a young girl–only a distant memory, I’ve been jonesing for a thriller with a woman in the starring role. (Yes, I am a novelist who wholeheartedly admits to watching TV, and not just Downton Abbey.) Series like The Killing are few and far between, but Lisa Gardner’s latest novel, Touch and Go, managed to momentarily fill the void.

The novel opens with the kidnapping of the wealthy Denbe family–the parents and a teenaged daughter–from their home. The investigation is complicated by the fact that the family are such pillars of the community that no one wants to step on their toes, and the company they own has hired its own investigator. Some posturing ensues–whose jurisdiction is it, just who gets to touch what evidence–though ultimately, the various parts find a way to work together. The large cast of characters includes the secretive family members, a bunch of bad-ass kidnappers, D.D. Warren (whom Gardner fans will recognize from the eponymous series),  and another recurring character, Tessa Leoni from Love You More. Added to the mix is a sheriff named Wyatt Foster. Gardner is masterful, of course, at creating suspense, and Touch & Go is no exception. This is a fun ride, a well-plotted pot-boiler that will keep you turning pages.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

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The Next Time You See Me

The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

The Next Time You See MeThe Next Time You See Me, the debut novel by Holly Goddard Jones, is a literary mystery in the tradition of Kate Atkinson. The novel opens with the discovery of a body in the woods by a misfit middle-schooler named Emily Houchens. The novel’s plot hinges on Emily’s strange reaction to the body; rather than telling the police or her parents, she keeps the knowledge to herself, relishing the secret and hoping to share it with the boy in her class on whom she has a crush, a wealthy kid named Christopher whose repeated cruelty to Emily is the source of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the book.

Soon, we meet young schoolteacher Susanna, the only person in the small factory town who believes foul play may be involved in the disappearance of her sister, Ronnie, who has a reputation as a drinker and troublemaker. Susanna, who is suffering through an unhappy marriage, isn’t an easy character to like, but she is believable in her complexity. While attempting to get the police to pay attention to her sister’s disappearance, Susanna takes her bullied student, Emily, under her protection.

The novel is told in a shifting third person point of view. In addition to Emily and Susanna, we hear from  Emily’s neighbor, a quiet factory worker named Wyatt, as well as from the lonely middle-aged nurse who cares for him and the detective whom Susanna regrets turning down for a date a decade ago, when they were in high school. While this is a small town, the residents, each trapped in his or her own private struggles, are not always aware of what links them; their failure to truly understand one another gives this the feel not of an idyllic small town but rather of a community falling apart at the seams, its deterioration at once physical, economic, and moral.

Goddard Jones manages just the right amount of creepiness, mixed with strong characterizations. While there is a mystery at the heart of the novel, it’s not a whodunnit, as Goddard lets the reader know pretty early on not only that Ronnie is the body in the woods, but also who killed her. The mystery lies, instead, in the characters’ unusual reactions to their own suffering. Goddard Jones excels in peeling back the layers of human nature, so that, while our heart breaks for a troubled child, we also understand why she is an outcast, and while we are aware of the decomposing body in the woods, we nonetheless are able, in some way, to feel the sorrow of the murderer’s own life falling apart.

Goddard Jones has published one previous book, the story collection Girl Trouble, and she teaches in the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I was delighted upon reading her bio at the back of the book to discover that we share something in common beyond our Southern upbringings and our path from short story collection to literary mystery; in 2013, Goddard Jones received the Hillsdale Award for Fiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, which I also had the good fortune to receive in 2009. I highly recommend The Next Time You See Me and am looking forward to Goddard Jones’s next book.

Visit the author’s website,

Michelle Richmond is the author of the international bestseller The Year of Fog, the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, and the forthcoming novel Golden State, as well as two other novels. She is the founder and publisher of Fiction Attic Press.

hikikomori and the rental sister

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus

Jeff Backhaus’s beautiful debut novel, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, opens with a man locked inside a room, unable to come out except for in the middle of the night, while his wife is sleeping. Ever since losing his young son in an accident which he feels he should have prevented, Thomas Tessler has been hikikomori–a common enough condition in Japan for which Americans have no name. Megumi, a young woman from Japan whose own grief and alienation prompted her move to New York City three years before, is called upon to help him. Megumi’s job: to coax him out of his room, so that he can have a life again.

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I did not come inside one day, shut the door, and decide never to come out. I needed a day to grieve. Then a week. A month. Tired, I took a nap. When I woke, it was dark. The walls were high. There was no way out.

When Thomas’s wife, Silke, pleads with Megumi to save her husband, Megumi reluctantly agrees to visit the apartment, planning to only go once. Finding herself drawn to Thomas, whose plight is similar to that of her dead brother, Megumi continues to return, day after day, until finally, Thomas opens the door a crack. As their intimacy grows, Megumi begins to realize that she wants more than to simply be Thomas’s savior. There is a kind of innocence to the eroticism that unfolds between them, and while Silke cannot help but suspect that there is more to Megumi’s process than merely talking with her husband, there is nothing torrid or cheap about this love triange. Backhaus manages to create genuine empathy for Thomas, Megumi, and Silke, and to make readers feel the separate and devastating loss that each of them is experiencing

Beckhaus’s writing is spare and beautiful. If at times simplistic, it is the simplicity of a very young woman whose unique talents have thrust her into a very complex situation.  What I love about this novel is that there is never too much on the page; there is always just enough. There is a lightness to the novel, despite the characters’ enduring sadness–a lightness not of mood but of atmosphere. Imbued with the sense of quiet and delicacy that permeates the bestof Japanese fiction, Hikikoromi and the Rental Sister is an extremely promising debut. Put Jeff Backhaus at the top of your list of writers to watch.

Visit Jeff Backhaus’s website.

Buy Hikikomori and the Rental Sister from Indiebound

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Michelle Richmond is the author of the international bestseller The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. She is the founder and publisher of Fiction Attic Press.


My Great Gray Reading Chair – Don Draper replaces Mr. Carson

I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally replaced my beloved old reading chair, which my then-boyfriend and I purchased on sale from Macy’s for our first San Francisco apartment back in 1999. It is a well-used chair that served us lovingly, kind of like Mr. Carson, but, like Mr. Carson,  it long ago began showing its age. It’s cozy but rumpled, quite a bit shabbier than it ever thought it would be. The new one, pictured below, is from the Chairs Event at One Kings Lane. I think it’s pretty subtle. I love the clean lines, the smart gray fabric;  it’s more Mad Men than Downtown Abby.