Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

unnamedMs. Jackson is a local author and one I have not previously read. I really was super stoked to join this tour and honestly could not wait to start reading this. But then the end of my reading world happened and I haven’t finished a single book this month. Including this one. So now I begin my groveling and hoping that y’all will still love me. I do fully intend to read this, but it might not happen until January when I host my Southern Literature Month. I can only hope I’ve found my reading mojo again by that time.

That being said, Jackson’s newest novel is getting so much love! The reviews have really been superb. I’ll link a couple here:

S. Krishna’s Books

Write Meg!

What I’ve been gathering is that Someone Else’s Love Story really reads differently than the cliched, overdone romance plot. The novel also apparently has quite the emotional punch. I follow Joshilyn Jackson on Twitter and love her! Read a recent interview she did for Powell’s here.

Also, if you live in the Atlanta area she’ll be spending Small Business Saturday selling books and greeting customers over at Eagle Eye Bookshop in Decatur. I’ll most definitely be stopping by.

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Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review (which will definitely happen soonish!). Stop by TLC’s site for all of the tour stops.

About the Author:

Joshilyn-JacksonJoshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, including gods in Alabama and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, Jackson is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

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Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Sea CreaturesSorry if this post seems rather scatterbrained. I have two excuses. First, I just got finished working a 12 hour day and my brain is fried. Second, I loved this book something fierce.

Sea Creatures is a character driven novel that follows thirty-something Georgia, her husband Graham, and son Frankie, as they move back to her hometown of MIami, Florida. All of the things have gone wrong in their life. They’re both out of jobs and their son has turned mute for seemingly no reason. Miami promises a fresh start even if they are living on a dilapidated houseboat. The year is 1992 and Hurricane Andrew is brewing in the Atlantic ominously foreshadowing even more terribly dramatic and sad traumas this small family will have to face.

I know – world’s worst synopsis ever. Reread first paragraph and forgive me. But honestly, you don’t need to know much more than Susanna is one of my new favoritest authors ever. I can’t believe I haven’t read her first novel, Stiltsville, yet. I could go on and on about how wonderful and well-developed her characters are, how her writing will squeeze your heart until you feel sure you’re going to die, and how alive and vibrant Miami shines guided by Daniel’s talent.

I was sucked in from the first page and didn’t let go until the last word. Sitting here writing this review, my heart continues to break for these characters. Daniel’s writing feels almost like coming home amid one of the worst familial disasters ever. All the sadface aside, you’ll also see an intricate and layered parental story that’s sure to genuinely impress any reader with or without children. She’s not painting the prettiest of pictures but she’s definitely highlighting some harsh truths that ultimately make the reader feel better for being human.

Her turns of phrase and sentence putting together mojo are SUPERB.

All of that gushing and I haven’t even mentioned my two favorite bits: Charlie the hermit and Stiltsville. Both are perfect and need no further commentary.

I would have given this book the coveted 5 star rating, but something about the ending just felt a little bit too destructive all at once. I get that the hurricane is also a metaphor for shit hitting the fan, but I think that Daniel could have worked the ‘less is more strategy’ just a smidge more and BOOM - 5 stars. Still a damn good read. Can’t wait for my book buying ban to end so I can go and purchase my very own finished copy!!

RATING: starstarstarstarrating_star_half-1cx8y5d

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Big hugs and sloppy kisses to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for having me on tour and providing me the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. Go check out the other tour stops here!

About the Author:

Susanna DanielSusanna Daniel was born and raised in Miami, Florida.  Her first novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham Prize for outstanding debut fiction.  She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband and two sons.

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The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

13707579The Obituary Writer seemed like a good summertime read. I hadn’t really seen a bad review for it so I added it to my library holds list in eager anticipation.

Ann Hood follows a somewhat overused narrative format – a dual narrative following a woman in the past and a woman in present day. Vivien is our heroine of yesteryear. She’s an obituary writer and still struggling with the loss of her lover during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. She’s convinced he’s still alive. Claire is our modern mother – a suburbanite feeling stifled by the conformity expected of her during the turbulent 1960s.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book and a very pleasant read. I preferred Vivien’s timeline simply because she was the more interesting character, in my opinion. But Claire is worthy of her own story. I flew through this novel in a couple of days over a recent weekend and really had no complaints. However, I don’t have too much to say in its favor either. Before starting this review, I had to go jog my memory of the plot and character names. So this isn’t something meant to blow your mind, just to give you a brief moment of literary entertainment. I would say it’s a step above what most people term ‘chick-lit’.

Goodness. That whole last paragraph sounded a bit negative, huh? I really didn’t mean it that way as I did enjoy my time with The Obituary Writer. At the end of the day, though, I’m glad I borrowed from my library as I’ll likely never revisit this one again. If you need something suitable for vacation or just looking for a lighter reading moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one! Plus, the cover is pretty.

Do you like dual narratives or do you think they are way overdone at the moment?

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

13547234The 2013 Man Booker Prize longlist was recently announced and bookish people (myself included) tend to love book lists. I mentally make a note to read all of them every year and never succeed. Don’t even really come close actually, but my intentions are pure. When I stumbled upon The Testament of Mary on my local library’s new fiction shelf, I grabbed and conquered this novella rather quickly.

Colm Toibin is becoming quite the prolific author. He’s already become comfortable with being a Man Booker regular. My bookclub and I read Brooklyn a couple of years ago to a fairly mixed reception. I wasn’t the biggest of fans plot-wise, but loved Toibin’s writing. The Testament of Mary is 81 pages focusing on an elderly Mary after Jesus has been crucified. It’s just a short little character study of one of the most famous women of all time. And a Saint, no less.

What worked for me was Mary’s characterization. I liked that Toibin made her a real, elderly woman filled with bittersweet memories, anger, and many mixed emotions about her son and herself. Unfortunately, 81 pages is just not enough time to flesh out such an important biblical figure. With twice as many pages, Toibin could have written a deeply moving masterpiece. Instead, Mary’s contrary characterization comes off as a quick talking point to attract readers rather than a fleshed out analysis of the kind of woman Mary might have been – particularly in light of her life’s tragedies and joys.

I’m beginning to think Mr. Toibin and I just aren’t likely to have a long lasting relationship. I’ve given him two fair tries and nothing has really impressed me. Maybe his genius is just something I can’t see. Or maybe these award lists are full of shit. What do you think? Either way, I’m glad I read it – only took a couple of hours – but I’m even more thankful that I didn’t spend any of my own dollars.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

12875355Death Comes to Pemberley had a promising premise even to a Jane Austen fanfiction avoider such as myself. Death and mayhem befalling the dramatically inclined Wickham household is mostly irresistible especially in the hands of prolific writer, P.D. James. The lady is no novice and knows a thing or two about the whodunnit genre. I was willing to take a chance despite all the rather unfortunate reviews.

Plot-wise, there’s not much to talk about. A murder occurs on the Pemberley property the night before the Darcys are meant to hold a huge ball. Lydia and Wickham are involved in said murder. There’s an investigation, inquest, trial, and aftermath. That’s pretty much it.

James sets her story six years after Pride and Prejudice. I was so excited to see where marriage had led Lizzie and Darcy, Jane and Bingley. Plus, I really wanted to see the Wickhams get what they had coming to them. Particularly Lydia. I really detest Lydia.

The novel opens with a whole chapter that recaps P&P. The entire plot. Boring. Snooze. I think this was completely unnecessary as most of the readers were coming directly from the source material. The others probably know the plot of P&P simply because they are alive and read. Maybe I’m being harsh. Once I had slogged through that bit of redundancy, the pacing should have, but didn’t pick up. I don’t mean to say that the book is hard to read or takes a long time, but if FELT long. James seems to be trying too hard to write Austen-esque prose. It doesn’t flow smoothly.

But people, where the hell is Elizabeth? She’s present, off and on, but mainly as background scenery. In what literary world would our dear Lizzie Bennett ever not be a driving force to any story involving her? Her lack of vivacity and general characterization was the book’s most evil downfall. Darcy has also reverted back to his icy, stoic ways. And since he’s the lead to this narrative, the book feels just as icy and stoic. I missed Darcy and Elizabeth so hard.

The other characters are decent enough – the Wickhams are still dastardly, the Bingleys still sweet, and Mr. Bennett is still my favorite literary father. The newly introduced characters never really amount to much although I did enjoy Georgiana and her male suitors quite a bit. The murder mystery is almost not worth mentioning. Nothing was surprising or particularly interesting in how it all unfolded. Only one scene was at all shocking and, again, Darcy’s wooden perspective pretty much ruined it.

I did enjoy one aspect of the novel immensely. Off and on, James manages to bring together the Austenian society of her many novels into this one story. I really loved seeing how the Knightley’s (of Emma fame) found their way into the plot.

I know P.D. James is better than this. I’m determined to read something else by her and love it. But Death Comes to Pemberley is just a tragically epic mess. And as much as I hated writing that sentence, it’s the truth. I should have listened to my peers and stayed away. Perhaps I should just stay away from Austen fanfiction in general. I hated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as Austenland. Boo, hiss.

So tell me Austen fans – what’s your favorite Austen fanfiction? Any good recommendations? Did you like this one or love Austenland and just think I’m a Scrooge?

The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

The Butterfly SisterThis little literary mystery peaked my interest at the mention of Virginia Woolf.

Our narrator, Ruby, has recently attempted suicide and dropped out of college. A few months into writing obits, a suitcase arrives at her front door that she once borrowed from an old dorm mate, Beth, who has gone missing. In the suitcase, Ruby finds a beat up copy of Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own with a clue nestled inside that leads her on a mission to find out what happened to Beth. Shenanigans ensue. Plus, literary ghosts.

If you’re heading to the beach anytime soon, this is the perfect read for a sun soaked vacation. Even more so if you are a book nerd or former English major such as Ruby. Her senior thesis centers around female authors who have famously and gruesomely ended their own lives which adds an extra layer of funness (a word that should exist) to the psychological thriller within Hansen’s pages. And if you’re not reading too hard, you’ll have a great time.

The Butterfly Sister reads quickly and entertains in a commercial fiction sort of way. The writing is passable if slightly lacking a seasoned quality. Little things bugged me like continuously calling New Orleans the Crescent City. Sometimes sentences didn’t flow very well which I noticed but perhaps others would just fly right past. I also think the first half is much stronger than the conclusion which bordered on convoluted, clunky, and predictable. However, there were enough surprises along the way to adequately hold my interest. I think the biggest flaw might be how utterly forgettable the plot will inevitably be – I’ve already forgotten most of the details. So pick this one up before the long, lazy summer days come to close and you shouldn’t be too disappointed.

Have you read any other beachy gems this summer? Do you like a bit of mystery while you’re sitting pool side?

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Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of The Butterfly Sister in exchange for my honest review. Check out the other tour stops!

About the Author:

downloadA former English teacher, Amy Gail Hansen is a freelance writer and journalist living in suburban Chicago. This is her first novel.

 

 

 

 

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The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan + Giveaway (Closed)

The-Panopticon-JacketSo, I’ve read a lot of books that have left me speechless this year. That’s both good and bad, I suppose. Mainly, I’m still surprised at how shocked a book can leave me. The Panopticon left me utterly stunned, uncomfortable, and smiling. An odd mixture, for sure.

Anais is 15, covered in blood, and on her way to The Panopitcon. That’s a prison-like place (home for wayward children) that allows no privacy. You can be seen from anywhere at all times. Anais is suspected of having more than a little to do with a cop in a coma. She’s had a tough life – born in a psychiatric hospital, no family that she knows of, 30+ foster homes in 15 years, drugs, sex, and just general delinquency. This is her story.

Jenni Fagan has written an explosive debut novel. And she’s been racking up the literary awards ever since the book’s release in her native United Kingdom – she’s Scottish. I’d describe my reading experience as akin to lying on a bed of nails. For some it will be nothing but uncomfortable pain, but for others, there’s an opportunity to profoundly change your understanding of the social work system, kids lost in the system, or even your own life.

Fagan’s writing is mostly dialogue. Scottish dialogue, so it takes a bit of warming up to for the non-Scottish reader. The kids in this story are brash, blunt, and their language, lives, and loves are extremely colorful. Violently colorful. Drugs are used frequently and sex is a fact of life no matter the age. In fact, I’m not certain Anais was ever completely sober for longer than a few pages. A good portion of the novel reads like an acid trip, literally. And there’s a rape scene that will level you. Not for the feint of heart, not even close. I took a shower immediately after finishing.

Beyond the gruesome, what really shines through is how amazing these kids are – Anais especially – who have had the most fucked up lives ever. They are smart, funny, loving, and lost in a system they will probably never escape. It’s absolutely enraging. Reading The Panopticon will make you think twice about the next juvenile offender you instantly write off during the 6 o’clock news. A very powerful book, if you let it be.

The only complaint I really had was the end. And I loved the end which makes my complaint seem ridiculous. But when I stepped back and thought about how Anais’s story wrapped up, it felt a bit odd and out of place. A bit too easy and too happy. I wonder, though, how much of that conclusion can actually be trusted when told by a very wasted, generally unreliable narrator? A book well-worthy of an in depth discussion.

If you’d like to experience The Panopticon for yourself, just fill out this form to win your very own copy! Giveaway winner will be announced on August 13th. US residents only, unfortunately. Good luck! Update: Congrats to The Book Wheel on winning!

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Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher (Hogarth) for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Visit the other tour stops here!

About the Author:

Jenni-Fagan-Credit-Urszula-SoltysJENNI FAGAN was born in Livingston, Scotland. She graduated from Greenwich University and won a scholarship to the Royal Holloway MFA. A published poet, she has won awards from Arts Council England, Dewar Arts and Scottish Screen among others. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize.  She is currently the new Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. The Panopticon is her first novel.

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