Books and More: ‘Off Island’ captures the lure of the unknown


I’m not exactly sure when I started loading up my nightstand with books, but it’s been a practice for as long as I can remember. How about you? Is your stack full of fascinating titles, some revered, some pure escapism? Perhaps you lean toward psychological thrillers? A well-researched biography? Or, are romance novels your guilty pleasure?

I currently have four very different titles within arm’s reach. There’s “Frida” by Hayden Herrera, a richly detailed biography of Frida Kahlo that primed me in the best possible way for our recent trip to Mexico City.

On top of this sits “Words Are My Matter, Writings on Life and Books,” a powerful and brilliant collection of essays, lectures and book reviews by writer Ursula K. Le Guin. (One of my favorite essays is “The Hope of Rabbits, A Journal of a Writer’s Week.” After re-reading it the other night, I was left wondering … as a writer who now finds herself surrounded by isolation and solitude, will I manage to do the next round of edits for my novel?)

Next up in my stack is “True Grit,” the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. (The movie versions have been entertaining, but give yourself a real treat … read the book.) This one has been sitting there for quite some time. While I thoroughly enjoyed the story — what’s not to love about the fierce, courageous 14-year-old Mattie Rose — I sometimes randomly open it up just to escape into the book’s poetic language.

And finally, there’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty, a lighthearted and fascinating character study of nine strangers who come together for a health retreat at Tranquillum House. Promised transformation by their commanding facilitator, I can’t wait to see how it ends.

Curious about what others were curling up with during this odd period of social distancing, I reached out to a friend of mind in Portland. Mary Bisbee Beek, who is bright and wonderfully dry witted, has been a part of the publishing world for decades. (Full disclosure, she did the marketing for my novel a few years ago.) I wondered what had her attention these days and she promptly responded with this:

“Try the recently launched ‘Off Island’ by Lara Tupper. It is the perfect book for lovers of art, people who live by the sea and for transplants from New England — but it also works as just a good read.

“Paul Gauguin was a French post-impressionist artist who, near the end of his life, spent 10 years in French Polynesia. ‘Pure color!’ he wrote to his wife, Mette, from the South Seas. ‘Everything must be sacrificed to it.’

“But in his quest for new light and new color, Tupper imagines Gauguin running away to a new island, a rugged outpost off the coast of Maine. There, Gauguin leaves behind some paintings and letters, and maybe a child. This intriguing plot picks up 100 years later when another Maine painter, Pete, finds himself torn between his muses: the sturdy, reliable Molly, and the unhappy, peripatetic Karla — who promises to take him to other, newer islands.

“‘Off Island’ captures the lure of the unknown and the pull of the familiar, and questions what it means to be loyal to one’s art, one’s family and one’s home.”

This struck me as just the kind of book to add to my nightstand. Curious about the author, I visited Tupper’s website,, and discovered she is not only a novelist, but a singer/songwriter who lives in western Massachusetts.

Here’s a bit more from Tupper’s bio: “She has worked as a clambake waitress, a cruise ship entertainer, an academic, a yogi, a backup singer, an editor and a music booker. She remains a proud member of the BMIFC (Barry Manilow International Fan Club) and has recently become a Little Free Librarian. She has had the good fortune to live in New York City, London, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Dubai, Otaru, Hua Hin, the Berkshires and Boothbay. She feels most at home near the sea.”

Tupper sounds like someone I’d love to share a cup of tea with.

“Off Island” can be ordered directly through the publisher, or through our local bookstores. All of the books I mentioned can be ordered locally or, hopefully, found in one of our wonderful used bookstores.

Happy reading!