Posts Tagged Montana

STEELE Picks: 20 Best Books of 2013

woman upstairs

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud [Knopf]
–a brilliant novel about anything but that typical woman upstairs. It’s about aspirations present and past, realized and forsaken.


2. The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna [Tin House Books]
–an intense book about squatting, community and political activism in the 90s

ghana must go

3. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi [Penguin]
–a beautifully written book. haunting and lyrical. family, race, country, belonging.


4. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward [Bloomsbury]
–this memoir. raw. upsetting. the author mediates on the poverty in Louisiana and the black men she lost in its depths.


5. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat [Knopf]
–another novel in which I’m in awe of the writing style. gorgeous mystical tale about Haiti.


6. FEVER by Mary Beth Keane [Scribner]
-wondrous historical fiction about “Typhoid Mary.” fascinatingly imagined.

inbetween people

7. The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy [The Permanent Press]
–stunning, powerful novel. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.

in the body of the world

8. In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler [Metropolitan]
–not only a memoir about Ensler’s personal journey with cancer but it’s a call to community, to get involved. so powerful I cried when I finished reading it.

valley of amazement

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan [ECCO]
–sweeping story about mothers and daughters set in turn-of-the-century Shanghai

Harvard Square

10. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman [W.W. Norton]
–melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s.

sister mother husband dog

11. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron [Blue Rider]
–the this essay collection, Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life-lessons with those willing to listen.

vampires in lemon grove

12. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell [Knopf]
–This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.

freuds mistress

13. Freud’s Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack [Amy Einhorn]
–long rumored to have had an affair with his wife’s sister, Kaufman and Mack vividly imagine this sister’s character and life with the Freuds.


14. Montana by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press]
–MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery. Also Lola’s an independent feminist journalist determined to uncover the truth at any cost.

dirty love

15. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III [WW Norton]– author interview
–one of my all-time favorite authors writes vignettes about love, sex, relationships and the gritty, sticky, messy aftermath.


16. Lillian and Dash by Sam Toperoff [Other Press]
–What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man].

big brother

17. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver [Harper Collins]
–Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending.

together tea

18. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali [ECCO]– author interview
–insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.

hypothetical girl

19. The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen [Other Press]– author interview
–in this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age.

nothing serious

20. Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein [The Permanent Press]
–brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.

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MONTANA: book review


MONTANA by Gwen Florio. Publisher: The Permanent Press (October 2013). Suspense/Thriller. cloth. 256 pages. ISBN 978-1-57962-336-4.

“She couldn’t remember the last time she tried to sleep on a plane. She’d spent too many years trying to get to the sorts of places that sane people sought to leave, traveling there on rusting prop planes of questionable pedigree flown by pilots of dodgy backgrounds under conditions that made her wonder why she’d ever fretted over an assignment of window versus aisle; each new trip a gut-liquefying opportunity to wonder when luck would turn on her, demanding payment for past excesses of hubris.”

Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks gets called back to Baltimore for a local reassignment and she’s furious. Her editor insists she take a vacation. When she arrives in Magpie, Montana at her friend’s cabin, she finds her friend, a local reporter, shot dead. Lola stays to discover why someone killed her even when she finds herself in danger.

Dauntless, free-spirited and a truly independent woman, Lola knows what she wants to do professionally and what makes her happy. At this time, that’s being in a war zone covering international conflicts. Author Gwen Florio writes: “She heard her editor yet again, essentially suggesting that it was time for her to be more like other people. Ignoring the fact that the thing that made her different was the reason she’d presumably been hired in the first place.”

Coming back from Afghanistan, Lola Wicks finds herself a bit paranoid— “She cast sidelong glances at her fellow passengers, retrieving an array of towering backpacks and cylindrical cases that looked as though they could contain grenade launchers.” Into this small, seemingly idyllic town in the midst of America, Lola brings her wary foreign correspondent mindset. But does that become a hindrance or help in determining what happened to her friend?

MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery: “ahead, bare foothills bunched like fists, knuckled ridges pressing back against the weight of sky. The road arced around the hills in lazy swooping curves, then without warning hair-pinned through cliffs that leaned in above her, slicing the sky in manageable size.”

RATING: *****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from The Permanent Press.

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book review: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is

Title: This Is Not the Story You Think It Is
Author: Laura Munson
ISBN: 978-0399156656
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (April 1, 2010)
Category: memoir
Review source: publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

But I don’t buy it. The part about him not loving me. As much as it’s devastating to hear, I believe there’s more to the story, I believe he’s in a state of personal crisis. I believe this is about him.

I neither read the New York Times’s Modern Love column, nor believe in love. At age forty, I’ve never really had it and don’t think I’ll ever find it. Laura Munson turned her column into this memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is. Her husband of fifteen years [they’ve been together for 20] says to her one day that he no longer loves her and she refuses to believe or accept it.

But here’s the most painful part—the conundrum that shows me my husband’s inner war and challenges my commitment to non-suffering to the core. His final words before he left for the dump were: “I just want a woman who doesn’t have any baggage.”

Here’s where I land and it’s not graceful: my husband, the father of my children, thinks there’s someone out there who is better for him than I am. Somebody who’s gotten this far in life unscathed. That he then, in effect, believes in fairy tales. And fairy-tale princesses. And maybe even fairy-tale princes, too. (Even though he’s terrified by horses.) But this sort of thinking cuts, and I put on the brakes. I even laugh, trying to imagine a human being without “baggage.”

Her therapist tells her: “So let me get this straight. You base your personal happiness on things entirely outside your control.” That one really hits home. You cannot make someone love you or even like you. It’s one of the most difficult concepts to come to terms with but it rings so true. A harsh reality but true. Laura tries to surrender herself to this idea. She holds her tongue often when her husband does something she doesn’t like [staying out all night, going fishing instead of to his son’s game, avoiding family dinners] or something he says. It’s really admirable as it is so challenging to do. She wants to shout, she wants to defend herself and she wants to point out her husband’s issues and the problem with what he has said to her. But she refrains.

Laura gives her husband the space he needs. Though I suppose because they have two children and their finances aren’t in the greatest shape, he never actually moves out of the house and they sometimes still share a bed. I don’t know how much “space” that’s really giving someone. Finding solace riding her horse alone or with friends, spending time with her children and writing, Laura tries to take her mind off her husband’s state of mind and declaration. She even spends a month in Italy [where she spent her junior year of college] with her 12-year-old daughter. She never begs or pleads with her husband. She remains calm.

There’s much to like about This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: how to cope with a difficult time, be patient with a loved one while that person figures things out and also how to take care of oneself when in crisis mode. I found some solace in Laura’s story and I could relate despite not believing I’ll ever find love that isn’t unrequited. One thing I could not relate to is that Laura quite often speaks of this devilish alter-ego called “Sheila.” This little being in her head or on her shoulder, “Sheila” would fight with Laura about her husband’s attitude and treatment of her.

I want him to have time alone. I cherish my own. We’ve always given each other that room in Rilke’s “greatest possible trust.” Still, regardless of his personal crisis, regardless if he’s telling himself he doesn’t love me anymore, is he willing to ruin the years of trust we’ve built?

In reading This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, I often thought of my own situation with an ex-friend. We dated for the first two years and then we were friends for eight. Brian Schofer started dating a woman [after not dating at all since we broke up eight years ago] and cut off all contact with me. All contact. He has stopped answering my emails, texts and phone calls. He cut me off cold after caring about me and spending a lot of time with me for an entire decade. I dated some men but had time for our friendship. He once told me he’d never let me go and never let anything happen to me, but he did.

Laura reads a plethora of self-help books and spiritual guides [and I admit I own more than a few of these books] from the Bhagavad-Gita to The Book of Love by Rumi to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and A New Earth to Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. In all her reading, one thing she finds is that “the end of suffering happens with the end of wanting. The end of wanting.” That’s a complicated and really difficult thing. How can you stop wanting? Love, happiness, professional fulfillment, good health, devoted friends. How is that even possible?

Is that what this is about? He’s vilifying me for my lack of career success? What about my other successes? All he has to do is look around to see those in 3-D and Technicolor. All he has to do is look into his children’s eyes. I have created so much that is a success. Plus, when’s the last time he actually read anything I’ve written? Just because the publishing world doesn’t deem my work worthy doesn’t mean it’s not.

In writing This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, Laura reflects on the early days with her husband. She delves into their connection and the caring moments the two have shared. They lived in Boston, then Seattle—where her husband ran a successful brewery– and finally moved to the wide plains of Montana. Laura has written 14 novels and has never had one published. She does manage to publish the occasional article but not nearly often enough. Laura also reflects on the successful marriage of her well-to-do parents. She was a daddy’s girl and feels good about it. And by caring for her own well-being and providing her husband with support in silence and space, Laura and her husband come to an understanding.

Laura Munson tour dates:

New York—April 6—B&N, Upper East Side—7 pm

New Canaan, CT—April 7—New Canaan Library—12 pm

Boston—April 8–Borders, Chestnut Hill—7 pm

Chicago—April 9—B&N, Skokie—7:30 pm

Chicago—April 10—Lake Forest College—10:30 am

San Francisco—April 11—Copperfields, Napa—2 pm

San Francisco—April 12—Book Passage, Ferry Building—1 pm

Seattle—April 13—Third Place Books, Ravenna—7 pm

Denver—April 15–Tattered Cover, LoDo—7:30 pm


Web site

This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness

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