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.

***********************************************

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.

tlc logo

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

16248119Well, I loved it. So let’s just get that out of the way right up front. He’s a hell of a writer.

The Illusion of Separateness tells the story of how a chance meeting between an American soldier and a German soldier during WWII crisscrosses throughout time and distance to connect people in the present day. The connections are made through short vignettes of six or so characters in many different decades. The language is concise, straightforward, lyrical, and stunning. Van Booy’s words are essentially narrative poetry. The man can destroy you in six words and rebuild whole worlds in just six more. Talent oozes from every single sentence.

What most impressed me was how fleshed out and fully developed the story and its characters are despite the book’s 200-ish pages. You can tell he’s a master short story writer, and I fully intend to read everything the man has ever written. Please feel free to join me. This is the kind of book I’ll be gifting come holiday season. Because it’s perfect for even non-readers.

I don’t want to say anymore. This quiet little story is best read knowing as close to nothing as possible. I truly do hope y’all decide to give The Illusion of Separateness a chance. It’ll more than likely end up on my best of 2013 list and will be something I read for years to come. The absolute best way to spend a couple of hours.

**************************************************

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Check out more tour stops here.

About the Author

Simon Van Booy is the author of two novels and two collections of short stories, including The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books and has written for The New York TimesThe Guardian, NPR, and the BBC. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare + Joss Whedon!

13586849Y’all should know by now that I’m a Whedon fangirl. For further proof, I’m on my bazillionth rewatch of BtVS right now. So when I heard he was adapting some Shakes – I got hella excited. And yes, Shakes and I are on a nickname basis. What of it?

Much Ado About Nothing is pretty much your typical Shakespearean romcom. There’s mistaken identity, masks, bastards, marriage, and a bumbling sheriff named Dogberry. Who will be played by Nathan Fillion in the movie. THANK THE GODS – Old and New.

If Elizabethan English terrifies you, never fear! So many Shakespeare editions these days come with plain English cheat sheets. But MAAN isn’t exactly a difficult play to understand. The plot is fairly straight forward and revolves around two couples trying to get to the alter. Beatrice and Benedict spar with words and neither believes in marriage so they are perfect for one another. Claudio and Hero fall in love after a couple of sentences until the rascally Don John plots against them – defiling Hero’s virginal reputation which leads Claudio to break off the engagement at the alter. You know, just normal 16th/17th Century shenanigans.

And the sex! If you didn’t know, Willy had an intense love of sexual innuendo and crude jokes.

Joss Whedon’s version sticks to the traditional language and was filmed completely in black and white. Most everyone in the film is someone he’s worked with before. The film was shot over 12 days at his own house! I cannot freakin’ wait. It’s being released wide on June 21st, I believe. I will be there with bells and whistles – and maybe pompoms.

You are welcome.

The Expats by Chris Pavone + A Giveaway!!!

Expats-Ppbk-FINAL-189x300A book I reviewed a while back (last year) is being released in paperback!  That book is The Expats by Chris Pavone and I’ve hopped on the TLC Book Tour to help endorse this little espionage gem.  It’s a fun spy thriller that takes place in Luxembourg and other fantastic European cities.  The armchair travel was a definite high point!

I don’t want to describe the plot too much in fear of spoiling the finer aspects.  Kate Moore is a wife and mom with a secret past that’s about to come to light when her husband arrives home one afternoon with job relocation news.  The small family is picking up their less-than-perfect D.C. existence to move to Luxembourg and join the elite expat society.  All the new money promises to make their dreams come true until Kate begins to suspect something fishy in her husband’s new job and that their new friends aren’t exactly what they seem.  And that’s all you should know!

I definitely enjoyed The Expats.  I loved that the main character in this espionage thriller was female and a mom.  Reminded me a good bit of Alias at times – kind of like, Sydney Bristow, the later years!  Definitely a page turner, but not in an over-the-top way.  The action is actually held to a minimum with Pavone choosing instead to turn his pages with slowly building paranoia and the promise of answers just a few pages further.  I liked the subtlety of the plot and the web of questions and lies deftly built and sustained from beginning to end.  Just when you think you’ve figured out everything, a new web is un-spun that surprises even our narrator!

I give major props to Pavone for keeping me entertained from page one.  I finished the book within 2 days which is fairly quick for me!  His writing style is extremely readable and he alternates between telling the story in past tense with little snip-bits of present day drama you know the past is leading up to.  The end is jammed packed with information – I had to read certain parts twice just to keep up which might not be such a great thing, but didn’t detour me too much.  Also, the ending might not be plausible in real life, but was a ton of fun in the world the book created!  Sometimes, you need a little escape and The Expats was perfect for that!

Note: Book received from publisher (thanks Crown Publishing/Random House!)

Guess what! Fill out the entry form here and be eligible to win a copy of The Expats! Contest open to US and Canada residents only – ends Jan. 31st.

*******************************************

This review is brought to you by the good ppl at TLC Book Tours and the views expressed above are my own honest opinion. To follow the rest of the tour hop over here! (Giveaway now closed!!)

Chris-Pavone-Author-Photo-credit-Nina-Subin-300x298About the Author:

Chris Pavone, a book editor for nearly two decades, recently returned to New York City after a sojourn to Luxembourg. The Expats is his first novel.

Visit the author’s website at www.chrispavone.com.

tlc logo

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

15818362Into the Darkest Corner is a psychological thriller centered around a young woman, Catherine Bailey, and her abusive boyfriend, Lee Brightman. The story is told through alternating timelines – first, when Catherine meets and starts dating the charming Lee and second, four years later when Lee is in jail for what he did to Catherine and she’s moved to London to start a new life. Just when she thinks she’s free of her tormentor, Cathy receives the phone call that Lee is out of prison and back on the streets.

As an intensely psychological novel, I think Into the Darkest Corner succeeds tremendously. Cathy experiences severe PTSD and OCD disorders as the side effects of her traumatic experience with Lee. Haynes writes Cathy’s state of mind with authenticity and complete conviction. You experience the obsessive compulsions with Cathy as she constantly has to check and re-check the safety features of her apartment, at times taking 2-3 hours just to leave her house. I think some readers might get bogged down in the repetitious nature of the ODC descriptions, but I thought they were terribly beneficial in helping the reader understand the depth of Cathy’s illness and fear, while also showcasing her strength, determination, and survival instincts.

The alternating timelines (normally something I’m not a huge fan of) work well here, too. Seeing Cathy’s mental state as a result of the past timeline adds such a great foreboding to the events of four years earlier and help make those pages turn quickly so that we can see for ourselves just how horrible things had to go to reach such a devastating breakdown. Having two extremely suspenseful narratives weaving in and out of each other made for great plot, action, and pacing.

A word of warning – the novel is graphic. Haynes does not paint a pretty picture or cover our eyes to shield us from the worst of Lee’s abuse or Cathy’s party girl ways. You get both humans raw and bare and their relationship in full, gritty detail. You might find Catherine’s sex, drugs, and clubbing nature repulsive – sometimes feeling unable to relate or empathize with her. But I think her indecorous behavior challenges our moral values in the best of ways – did she deserve what she got, did she ask to be abused, or is she completely above recrimination. You see these types of moral conundrums every day. And while I wholeheartedly believe no one deserves such abuse, it was interesting to ponder what might or might not have been.

I think what ultimately pleased me most about Into the Darkest Corner was Catherine’s growth as a character and as a survivor of domestic violence. I appreciated how her journey to recovery was not easy or pretty, but she was determined to find herself again. I couldn’t help but root for her page after page and loved the moment she finally stopped fearing Lee, the moment he no longer had power over her. Kudos to Haynes for keeping the creepy vibe strong throughout the story, right down to the final word.

********************************************

Elizabeth HaynesELIZABETH HAYNES is a police intelligence analyst. She started writing fiction in 2006 with the annual challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the encouragement of the creative writing courses at West Dean College. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of Into the Darkest Corner in exchange for my honest review! Check out the other tour dates here!

tlc logo

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

8331320For my first read of 2013 I wanted something short and sweet to finish quickly and help make me feel productive. Yes, mind games. I play them. And while CeeCee definitely fit the bill, I was surprised at the generous amount of emotional levity the novel brings to the table as well.

Cecelia Rose Honeycutt is a lonely 12 year old living in Ohio with her depressed, crazy mother and absentee father. CeeCee’s world changes practically overnight when her mother meets a tragic end to a rather tragic life. Essentially orphaned, CeeCee goes to live with her (great) Aunt Tootie in Savannah, Georgia and her world begins to open up to a slew of amazing women. Along with her aunt, Oletta, Mrs. Odell, and Ms. Goodpepper set about saving CeeCee and showing her all the kindness, loyalty, and kookiness the south has to offer.

Y’all know I am hesitant with any so-called Southern Literature aspiring work. And this one being set in Georgia had my guards up immediately. But I gotta say, my home state really came alive in Hoffman’s pages and I was shocked at the level of authenticity that I found in her magnolia-scented setting. Savannah reads beautifully, but not as over the top as many authors have idealized it over the the years. Instead, reading CeeCee felt just like taking a stroll through Forsyth Park on a humid summer afternoon. The dialogue was also well-done, never seeming overwrought in its attempts to sound southern. I believe CeeCee’s mother even calls her hunny-bunny at one point which was a pet name my mother had for me as well.

Hoffman also writes several southern stereotypes such as the ever-present gaudy gossip with a heart of coal. While often overly recognizable in southern literature, for some reason I really enjoyed this crazy cast because Hoffman allowed me to see the truth in the stereotype and not just the stereotype itself. And the women are just written so sincerely – they are strong, capable, smart, mature women and you immediately get sucked into their sisterhood and know it’s the exact right medicine for healing CeeCee. I saw so many women I’ve known throughout my life in Hoffman’s words. That’s big praise coming from me.

Yes, there are some silly moments in this book, but I smiled through them instead of cringing. CeeCee was a very believable character and her development from beginning to end was endearing, heartbreaking, and genuinely heartfelt. I’m not ashamed to say I teared up at the end feeling almost like a proud mama as Cecelia took that first walk to her new school. This book really reminded me of a good southern movie – something that might star a 12-year-old Sandra Bullock. I have a soft spot for Sandra and now, CeeCee.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

6777616Oh, Flavia! How I love you so. I read the first Flavia novel for book club awhile back and fell head over heels in love. Many other members hated her! Something about her quirkiness just reminds me of myself. Not sure why I waited so long to read the second, but I plan on catching up with books 3 and 4 soon.

In Bradley’s second outing, we find Flavia up to her old tricks – chemistry in her lab, riding Gladys all over kingdom come, and finding herself smack dab in the middle of another murder mystery! A famous BBC puppeteer and his lady assistant come to Bishop’s Lacy and mayhem ultimately ensues. I love how random and eccentric Bradley’s topics and characters always are – from stamps to puppets everything you never thought you cared for but love instantly when Flavia’s on the case.

I will admit that the mystery in Hangman’s Bag isn’t nearly as fast-paced or intriguing as Sweetness, but I found myself not caring too much. The mysteries are not why I read these novels – not at all. Flavia, the people of her world, and the kookiness of Bishop’s Lacey is what I love. I could read about this little town watching the grass grow and be enthralled. But I understand how other readers less enamored than myself might find this second installment on the dull side. If you weren’t a fan of the first one, I highly doubt Hangman’s Bag will win you over.

For the Flavia lovers out there, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. More insight in the citizens of Bishop’s Lacey – including loads more gossip and perhaps even a love connection or two! The relationship between Flavia and her sisters is still filled with angst and well…poison! We’re also privy to a wonderful conversation between Flavia and her aunt concerning her mother that was the highlight of the book, in my opinion. I can’t wait to see where Flavia takes us next.

Jane Austen: A Life by Carol Shields

31678“In one of his judgements brother Henry was far too moderate. Jane Austen’s works, he prophesied, would eventually be “placed on the same shelf as the works f a D’Arblay and an Edgeworth.” How far from the mark he was. Not only would she outdistance those all-but-forgotten names, but she would also find herself comfortably on the same shelf and in the good and steady company of Chaucer and Shakespeare.” (pg. 84)

Despite my intense love of Jane Austen’s novels, I had never read a biography about her life. I knew that not much was known, mostly just bits and pieces of information put together from various family correspondences. Sure, we know where she was born, where she lived, and when she died, but we don’t know much about her personality – her hopes and dreams – who she was as a human being and woman of regency England. Understanding how limited the sources were, I was always weary of picking up a supposed biography, fearing the whole thing would merely be fiction masquerading as a life. Shields defies all my fears and has written one of my favorite books of the year!

This volume is tiny at less than 200 pages and the Penguin edition is a glorious apple green. Definitely a book worth collecting for your shelves! As far as the writing is concerned, the reader is in capable hands with Shields. I felt a since of kinship between Austen’s prose and Shields’s. Shields manages to update her language for modern readers, but the same quick wit and clever turns of phrase are still recognizable. Nothing here is fiction, although parts are obviously being surmised through educational intreptations of Austen’s novels and letters. Shields generously informs the reader when the facts are a little shaky, but does a superb job of providing supporting evidence of all her claims. For this, I was most thankful.

I’d recommend this biography to anyone who adores Austen. But, perhaps more importantly, I’d recommend this book to any reader who isn’t familiar with Austen’s novels or who has had a hard time loving them. Shields does a magnificent job of searching through the famous stories and their equally famous heriones to help bring readers a better understanding, not just of Jane, but the works themselves. Every time I turned a new page, I desparately desired to pick up all 6 of her novels for a reread, armed with new insights I couldn’t wait to put to the test! Nothing in this small tribute to Jane Austen is a disappointment.

Shields also suggests several other biographies to read for which I am eternally thankful. This way I know which ones are a must read and which aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on! I’m thinking of making 2013 an Austen intensive year. January will see a reread of Persuasion! So excited.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

7719245More YA! I think I’m sort of addicted or maybe just enjoying short, fluffy reads during this holiday season. I’ve seen lots of positive reviews for this series claiming that Evie is a fun protagonist and that the paranormal creatures are far more original than other similar novels. I do have a paranormal weakness, so it was only a matter of time until I read Paranormalcy. Plus, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Normally I don’t approve of the overdone pretty girls posing, but this cover actually relates to the story and the colors are magnificent.

Evie works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Orphaned, the Agency took her in when it became apparent that Evie wasn’t your average, everyday human. She has the ability to see through paranormal glamour. No creature can hide from her – vampires, fairies, hags…you name it. Very handy in a containment facility! At 16, she’s beginning to get a little claustrophobic, cloistered away in the Agency’s facilities and unable to lead the normal life of a teenage girl. Her best friend is a mermaid who can’t leave her tank. All this changes when a new-to-her paranormal teenage boy, Lend, breaks into the compound around the same time that paranormals begin being slaughtered by some unknown menace  Soon, Lend and Evie are on a mission to save the innocents, uncover the truth about the Agency, and free Evie from her prison-like home and perhaps even herself.

I gotta say, White has managed to create a very unique paranormal world in the midst of so many overdone paranormal tropes in the YA genre. The supernatural creatures you’ve come to know and understand are all there, but there’s also a slew of new creations that are fascinating and highly imaginative. Even your run-of-the-mill vampires are made more interesting by getting back to their dangerous roots and not being quite the sex gods literature has decided they should be. I appreciated this on so many levels.

Evie, as our protagonist, was also well done. She’s often whiny and immature which makes sense for a girl locked away from the world. Conversely, she’s also wise, witty, and older than her years since she’s been deprived of a normal childhood. I mean, she’s been bagging and tagging scary creatures since she was 8. This mixture of young and old in Evie’s voice comes off naturally and realistically. White truly understands her heroine and isn’t afraid to paint her as a flawed, strong-willed girl. Kudos, Ms. White.

The overall story was probably the weakest link. Paranormals in trouble, Evie has to save the day, and so on – not terribly original or unpredictable, but a fun ride nonetheless. You’ll turn the pages quickly which is all this sort of novel needs to accomplish anyway. We aren’t reading Paranormalcy to change our lives or learn something brilliant about the world around us. We just want to be entertained and the book manages this task fairly well.

The love interest, Lend, is well written. He’s a very unique supernatural being and his relationship with Evie is believable. They seem like normal high school students entering into their first relationship. Their chemistry is more cute than sexy, but nothing wrong with that. As for her ex, a fiesty fairy named Reth, I loved him so much for all his manipulative, slightly evil, and very sensual characterization. I never knew if we were supposed to love him or loathe him, but I sided on love. I think he’d be a very intriguing character going forward.

As for the end, White has managed to write a YA novel that doesn’t have a cliffhanger!!! This feat alone amazes me, but also has a rather large pitfall. I absolutely don’t feel the need to continue on with the series. Nothing has compelled me to soldier on alongside Evie and Lend. So as much as I complain about cliffhangers and unresolved questions, I do see their purpose in a series. When things get wrapped up, you put the characters away and tend to forget about the remaining novels too quickly. Perhaps the follow-ups, Supernaturally and Endlessly have gorgeous covers as well. Is that enough reason to buy them? Or maybe just to see what kind of evilly delicious trouble Reth can get into? We shall see!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

8664353I love narrative non-fiction; I really do. Throw in anything related to WWII and normally I’m sold. But Laura Hillenbrand also wrote Seabiscuit which is about a horse. Horses, I do not love. I recognize their beauty, but they bore me to death. For some reason and despite the overwhelming number of people to recommend Unbroken, I avoided this novel written by the lady who wrote an entire novel about a horse. I was afraid.

Color me stupid. What an utterly ridiculous excuse not to read this novel which turned out to be one of the best books I read in 2012 (that post is coming soon!). Hillenbrand is a genius and Louie Zamperini’s story is breathtaking. The things that man accomplished and survived – from celebrated Olympic athlete to WWII bombardier and Japanese POW, I could not believe how richly his life unfolded. But even more than these amazing feats, I enjoyed his ‘aftermath’ story the most. It wasn’t nearly as flashy, but hit home on such a deeply emotional layer than I can only tell you that Hillenbrand is, in fact, a narrative non-fiction goddess.

I really don’t know what else to say that won’t just end up being a gushy mess all over this post. You must go read this yourself if you haven’t yet. Throughout the narrative are pictures, bits of historical data, and fascinating sideways plots (I’ll always remember you, Lost) come together flawlessly to create not only Louie’s story, but the story of an entire generation. I love that Hillenbrand, while focused on Louie, also gives much deserved attention to the important people in Louie’s life and other brave men and women who have stories that probably will never grace the pages of their own bestseller.

I really can’t find one single, solitary criticism. By the end of Louie’s story I was grinning like a mad fool – especially at the picture of him skateboarding in his 70s or 80s. Mr. Zamperini, you are a true American classic and Ms. Hillenbrand, I’d pick you over all others to pen my own biography. I’d even allow you to include a horse or two.

Pssssst…should I read Seabiscuit? Someone convince me in the comments. It won’t take much.