TLC Blog Tour: This Beautiful Life

This Beautiful Life

Helen Schulman

Harper Perennial

256 pages

Ok, so you may (or may not) have noticed that I am late for this review.  Ironically enough, I actually finished This Beautiful Life over a week ago, but somehow my muddled brain thought my review was due to go up on the sixth instead of the first.  We’ll blame it on the baby brain.  Pregnancy is an easy scapegoat! But I digress.  On to my review.

Have you ever had a moment where you made what seemed to be an innocuous, split second decision?  The type of decision that seemed so innocent, the type of decision that seems so mundane you would never give it a second thought? Jake Bergamot is just like any other teenage boy.  He enjoys his freedom, hanging out with friends, and making out with girls.  The Friday night in question seemed like any other, with Jake and his friends getting caught up at a local house party.  Daisy is only in eighth grade but she is often left to her own devices, so on this night she has taken advantage of her parent’s absence and decided to throw a house party.  She and Jake hook up, although he stops it before either of them go too far.  Or so he thinks.

The next day Daisy emails a strip tease video of herself to Jake that culminated with her sticking a miniature baseball bat where the sun don’t shine. (And I should just note as a small aside that the book takes place in 2003, when teenagers apparently communicated with each other via emails. It seemed a bit antiquated to me, because I graduated high school in 2002 and it was rare that my friends and I sent one another emails . . . ) So what does Jake do?  You guessed it.  He forwarded the email to his best friend.  What fifteen year old guy wouldn’t do that, I ask you?!This is where things start to get a bit sticky.  Before you know it, the video has been emailed halfway across the globe and back.  The media has gotten a hold of it and all hell has broken loose.

For such a seemingly meaningless gesture, Jake has now put his entire future at risk.  His school is attempting to expel him and there is discussion of criminal charges being forthcoming.  Not only is Jake in the center of the maelstrom, but as you would expect, his entire family is affected.  Jake’s dad is a higher up with a local university and on the verge of making some huge career moves.  Unfortunately, once the scandal hits, he is forced to take a leave of absence from work at the behest of his employer.  Jake’s mother is equally damaged by what’s going on, and she seems to be becoming a former shell of herself, with Jake’s younger sister Coco becoming lost in the midst.

This Beautiful Life is an intimate portrayal of a family falling apart at the seams.  Told from the viewpoints of Jake and his parents, you see all three of them unraveling and reacting in different ways.  The book was written in such a gritty, realistic way that I had no trouble imagining this is a true story.  As such, I was a ball of emotions as the book wore on.  I was so angry with Jake’s position.  It didn’t seem just that one email sent to one person could have such ramifications, especially when the sender is a kid.  Most fifteen year old’s don’t have the capabilities to rationalize their behavior to that extent, so I was disgusted at the actions of the school, not to mention the pending criminal charges.

On the other hand, I was annoyed by Jake’s mom Liz.  She seemed to cower the most once faced with Jake’s indiscretion, and as time went on, she became more and more dispirited.  It got to the point where I was begging her to just pick herself up by her bootstraps and get on with life for the sake of her children.

If you’re interested in well written family drama, This Beautiful Life is a captivating read.

About Helen Schulman

Helen Schulman is the author of the novels A Day at the BeachP.S.The Revisionist, and Out of Time, as well as the short story collection Not a Free Show. An associate professor of writing at The New School, she lives in New York City.

Helen’s Tour Stops

Thursday, February 9th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, February 15th: A Soul Unsung

Thursday, February 16th: Luxury Reading

Friday, February 17th: There’s A Book

Monday, February 20th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, February 21st: Everyday I Write the Book

Tuesday, February 28th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles

Wednesday, February 29th: Book Hooked Blog

Monday, March 5th: Chunky Monkey

Tuesday, March 6th: Book Club Classics!

Wednesday, March 7th: The Book Bag

Thursday, March 8th: Suko’s Notebook

Friday, March 9th: Stiletto Storytime

Tuesday, March 13th: “That’s Swell!”

TBD: Reviews By Lola

TBD: A Cozy Reader’s Corner

TBD: Book Journey

 

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TLC Book Tour: Gillespie and I

Gillespie and I

Jane Harris

Harper Perennial

528 pages

Harriet Baxter is a spinster who is traveling alone in 1889 after her aunt has passed away.  She ends up in Glasgow, where she plans to be for only a short time.  That changes under pretty odd circumstances.

Harriet is strolling about town one day when she comes upon a woman lying prostate on the ground.  The woman is clearly in trouble, and not a single person in the crowd surrounding her seems to have the knowledge or inclination to help her.  Just as the woman is on the brink of death, Harriet discovers that she has swallowed her dentures, and as she plucks them out of the woman’s throat, respiration is restored! Such are the circumstances under which she meets Annie and Elsbeth Gillespie.

The woman are the wife and mother of local artist Ned Gillespie, and Harriet immediately befriends the entire family.  She is recounting the friendship decades later for the historical impact, so it quickly becomes clear that something has happened. From the beginning, the reader is pretty much slapped in the face constantly with foreshadowing and foreboding.  It could have become overwhelming, but Harris crafted the story in such a way that it helped build the suspense.

Part of the foreshadowing has to do with Ned and Annie’s daughters, Sybil and Rose.  Sybil, the eldest, is a malevolent child, to say the least.  Despite the fact that Harriet describes Sybil’s actions matter-of-factly, it is evident that something is seriously wrong with the child.  At one point she is even storing bottles of her urine under her bed, but that doesn’t seem to raise the type of alarm one would suppose.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t finish Gillespie and I in time for this tour.  I have no excuse for this, as I absolutely love this book so far.  It has just taken me longer to read than I expected.  That being said, I have quite a bit to say about the book!

First off, Harris is phenomenal at character development.  Every main character is fleshed out completely, and the tone for much of the book is a bit tongue and cheek, because that’s just Harriet’s persona, so it makes for fun reading.   She and Ned’s mother, Elsbeth, both had me in giggles quite a few times.  Imagine Mrs Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, but magnified! I much appreciated Harriet’s tenacity as well!

Gillespie and I is obviously historical fiction, and in that respect it is an interesting book.  I am no history buff, so I can never comment on whether or not a particular book is historically accurate, but whether or not each fact checks out, I loved the background of this book.  The international expo is taking place in Glasgow during the story, so there is a rich backdrop on which to build off of.

I read and enjoyed Jane Harris’ previous novel, The Observations, so being on this tour was a no brainer for me.  Despite the fact that I haven’t finished this one, I am certain that the last one hundred pages won’t change how much I already love Gillespie and I.  Highly recommended.

About Jane Harris

Jane Harris is the author of the award-winning novel The Observations. She lives in London.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Jane’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 31st: Unabridged Chick

Monday, February 6th: Wordsmithonia

Tuesday, February 7th: The House of the Seven Tails

Tuesday, February 7th: BookNAround

Wednesday, February 8th: Broken Teepee

Monday, February 13th: Library of Clean Reads

Tuesday, February 14th: Reviews by Lola

Wednesday, February 15th: The Lost Entwife

Friday, February 17th: Amused By Books

Monday, February 20th: Amusing Reviews

Wednesday, February 22nd: Tales of a Capricious Reader

Thursday, February 23rd: nomadreader

TLC Tour: Graveminder

Graveminder

Melissa Marr

William Morrow Paperbacks

352 pages

Rebekkah Barrow  is living alone on the west coast, but she has always felt ties to her old town of Claysville.  She left there years ago after the death of her stepsister but she still returns from time to time to visit her grandmother Maylene.  She finds that she must return home spur of the moment once she receives word that Maylene has died suddenly.  What awaits her there sounds like stuff of dreams . . . or nightmares.

Rebekkah must confront her old love interest Byron, who works with his father William as the only undertakers in town.  Byron knows that Maylene has been murdered, but none of the town officials seem too concerned about it, and he’s unsure of how to break the news to Rebekkah, who has enough on her plate as it is. Add to that some strange traditions that have been taking place around Claysville regarding the city’s dead, and you’ve got quite a strange concoction.

I suppose I should throw out my negatives before I move onto the positives.  For one, I absolutely hated the love affair between Rebekkah and Byron.  It seemed contrived and juvenile.  It’s made obvious from the word go that both Rebekkah and Byron have strong feelings for one another.  Byron is very vocal about this fact and pleads with Rebekkah to open up to him.  But Rebekkah refuses.  And so it goes.  Again and again and again.  It just seemed so drawn out and I didn’t really connect with either character, so in the end I was bored with the twosome.

I also thought that Graveminder started out a bit slow.  The plot didn’t grab my attention till well over the 100 page mark.  Instead, it just seemed amateurish, possibly in part due to the love affair of Rebekkah and Byron. The rest of the characters also seemed very two dimensional and I often had issues with trying to figure out each one.  Take Charles for example.  By the end of the book, I was still unsure of exactly who he was and how he got where he was.  That just may be me being dense, but I kept wondering when everything was going to be fully explained.

That being said, I do think that Marr had a great story to tell.  Graveminder is not without flaws, but the story was so interesting that I did begin to enjoy it.  I could see this becoming a fun series because now that I know the back story, it would be fun to see where Rebekkah and Byron end up (although I could do without a focus on their love life!).

Melissa’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 17th: Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, January 17th: The Road to Here

Wednesday, January 18th: Raging Bibliomania

Thursday, January 19th: Wordsmithonia

Friday, January 20th: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Tuesday, January 24th: Jenny Loves to Read

Wednesday, January 25th: Life in Review

Thursday, January 26th: Reviews by Lola

Tuesday, January 31st: Elle Lit.

Wednesday, February 1st: The Scarlet Letter

Thursday, February 2nd: Savvy Verse & Wit

TBD: Books Like Breathing

 

TLC Book Tour: Night Swim



Night Swim
Jessica Keener
Fiction Std
284 pages

I am an absolute sucker for coming of age novels. I’m not sure why that is exactly. I suppose I’m one of those pathetic souls that remembers my high school years as “the good old days”. I can’t imagine going back at this point in my life, but damn was it a blast while it lasted. So anyway, my point is that I am rarely disappointed with novels in this vein.

Sarah Kunitz is growing up in Boston decades ago. Her world is completely different than what I experienced during my formative years. Her daily ensemble consisted of a matching skirt and sweater set with knee socks and the cliques in the school caused a great divide. Sarah, a Jew, is classified along with the other teenagers of her faith, with the Italian kids causing problems and picking on their Jewish counterparts.

Sarah is not buffered my a strong home life. Her father is a literary professor and seems to be disconnected from his four children. Meanwhile, Sarah’s mother is a train wreck. Her passion was violin playing, which is no longer attainable due to her arthritis and, according to her, her children. Now she self medicates with alcohol and pills, which culminates in crashing her car into a local river after a cocktail party at their home.

As Night Swim went on, I realized that, despite the cultural differences between Sarah’s high school years and mine, I could still empathize with her situation and relate to what she went through. Despite her young age, Sarah was a logical thinker who seemed older than her years. At the same time, she still had a vulnerability that was overtly realistic.

I have to admit I can be nervous to read debut authors at times, because you’re flying blind. I had no idea what to expect and the last thing I wanted was for this novel to flop. Luckily, I need not have worried. I thought Keener had a fresh voice and Sarah’s character was one that resonated with me, which was unexpected.

About the Author, Jessica Keener:
Jessica Keener has been listed in The Pushcart Prize under “Outstanding Writers.” Her fiction has appeared most recently in:Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Night Train, and Wilderness House Literary Review. A recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist’s Grant Program, and second prize in fiction from Redbook magazine, her feature articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, Design New England, O, The Oprah Magazine and other national publications. Night Swim is her first novel. Visit her website: http://www.jessicakeener.com, and find her on Facebook and Twitter.

TLC Book Tours: A Train in Winter

A Train in Winter

Caroline Moorhead

Harper

384 pages

As readers, we are inundated with books on WWII.  I, for one, am pretty burnt out.  It’s gotten to the point that I rarely choose to pick up books on this particular subject matter, so it is surprising that I chose to read this one! It just felt like it was a different aspect of the war that I maybe wasn’t familiar with.

230 women were transported to Auschwitz during the war, the majority of them being part of the French resistance.  They had no idea that they were being sent to an extermination camp, but they learned fairly quickly that they would have to work extremely hard to survive.

I suppose I should back up a bit, because I am getting ahead of myself.  A Train in Winter is broken up into two parts, part I consisting of an overview of the women and their upbringing as well as their activities during the war.  Given that there were so many women, Moorehead obviously had to pick and choose which women she would discuss, however she cast her net pretty wide, so there was quite a bit for her to cover.

Part II was more focused on the time these women spent in Auschwitz and various other concentration camps.  This portion of the book had me a lot more interested and I was fascinated and appalled by the descriptions of daily living; I never imagined that it would be pleasant to live in a concentration camp but I could not even speculate that there would be so many atrocities. The women were forced to stand at roll call for hours each morning and evening, standing in the snow and freezing mud with barely any clothes on.  They lived among fleas and lice, in the most unsanitary conditions imaginable.  Women died daily, whether by being gassed or finally succumbing to the harsh conditions or various diseases going around.  The French women, however, seemed to be a little more resilient than the women of other nationalities imprisoned with them.  They were determined to stick up for one another and protect one another despite all the adversity they faced, and miraculously, quite a few of them survived.

I had one problem with this book, and it was a big one.  The way Moorhead chose to write A Train in Winter was a bit problematic for me.  The story and the circumstances of the women was so compelling, but I could not follow the threads of so many women.  Dozens and dozens of women were mentioned in the text to the point where I could not make heads or tails of which was which.  Add to this the fact that many of the women had the same first name and I was a goner.  Unfortunately, this was a big deal breaker for me, and although I finished the book, it was really hard for me to get through, at least the first part.

I was disappointed with the execution of A Train in Winter.  I feel that it is a very powerful book that could have made much more of an impact.

About Caroline Moorehead

The author of numerous biographies and works of history, including Gellhorn and Human Cargo, Caroline Moorehead has also written for The Telegraph, The Times, and The Independent. The cofounder of a legal advice center for asylum seekers from Africa, she divides her time between England and Italy.

Caroline’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 8th: Unabridged Chick

Friday, November 11th: Elle Lit.

Monday, November 14th: Diary of an Eccentric

Wednesday, November 16th: Among Stories

Wednesday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick – author interview

Thursday, November 17th: Broken Teepee

Friday, November 18th: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms

Monday, November 21st: Jenny Loves to read

Tuesday, November 22nd: Picky Girl

Wednesday, November 23rd: Books Like Breathing

Monday, November 28th: Reviews by Lola

Tuesday, November 29th: Buried in Print

Wednesday, November 30th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Thursday, December 1st: In the Next Room

Friday, December 2nd: Wordsmithonia

Friday, December 2nd: Books and Movies

Monday, December 5th: Take Me Away

 

TLC Book Tour: A Watershed Year

A Watershed Year

Susan Schoenberger

GuidepostsBooks

320 pages

Lucy is lonely.  She is in her late thirties and her only close friend is a fellow college professor named Harlan.  Harlan dies in the very first chapter if A Watershed Year.  He was only thirty three years old and Lucy had spent the last year caring for him as he wasted away from cancer.  Now that he is dead, she has no idea what to do with herself.  She needs to focus on her career in order to get tenure at the college where she works but everything changes when, just a few months after his death, an email from Harlan shows up in her in box.  It turns out that Harlan has set it up so that Lucy receives an email from him on the tenth of every month.  He feels that he has dies without telling Lucy everything he needs to tell her.

I accepted this book for one reason.  It reminded me of Cecilia Ahern’s book PS I Love You. And in a way, A Watershed Year was very similar.  Obviously there were enormous differences though.  Once Lucy begins receiving Harlan’s emails though, she realizes that she needs to take hold of her life and start living again.  She decides to adopt.  Problem is, she is a bit short on cash, so she ends up in an adoption agency that specializes in Russian adoptions.  All of a sudden, she is on track to adopt a little boy named Mat who is four years old.  I must admit, the way she goes through with the adoption was unrealistic, which ended up with its own consequences.  It made for a good story, so I was able to overlook it, but seriously, what was she thinking?! The decisions she made were in poor taste and could have cost her greatly.

The adoption ended up becoming a huge plot point, and I started to wonder if perhaps there was too much going on plot wise.  You have the death of Harlan and his emails but that all of a sudden takes a backseat to Lucy’s adoption of Mat.  The linear-ness of the novel was upturned and suddenly the original premise was somewhat forgotten.

The love triangle in the story was great and annoying at the same time.  Lucy obviously loved Harlan.  She wouldn’t admit it to him and instead she spent her days as his caregiver.  As his emails started to arrive, you began to wonder if Harlan felt the same way towards Lucy.  And the whole unrequited love thing was frustrating.  But then I would remind myself he was dying. So I can understand why that would be something that they would both brush under the rug.  But then we had Louis.  He also works at the same college as Harlan and Lucy and he obviously has a thing for Lucy.  Which is fine, because Harlan is dead and she can’t be with him.  So she should go for a good guy like Louis.  He wants to be with her, he wants to help with Mat . . . so what’s the problem?  Lucy treats him the same way she did Harlan, by not admitting her true feelings and instead employing subterfuges so she doesn’t have to confront the situation.

Another issue I want to touch on is Harlan’s illness. SPOILER ALERT: We find out at the end of the novel that Harlan had the ability to continue on with treatment to buy himself another year or two of life, but he chose to forgo additional treatment so that Lucy wouldn’t have to watch him deteriorate for that much longer.  I thought that brought up a great internal conflict.  Did he do the right thing?  Should he have continued to fight?  Is it worth it to gain an extra year or two when you know you’ll be extremely ill or in pain?  Would that extra time be worth it? I really struggled with those questions, but I definitely couldn’t fault Harlan for his choice.  I could completely understand why he chose to go the route he did. END SPOILER

The copy of A Watershed Year that I received from the publisher included a question and answer session with the author in the back that I found very illuminating. I thought it was very interesting that the first chapter of the book was originally a short story.  I remember finishing the first chapter and feeling like it was so conclusive and wondering where the novel would go from there.  I admit, I was little scared because there was such a note of finality.  It all made sense once I read the interview!

I thought A Watershed Year was phenomenal. Obviously it had a few minor issues, but overall the story was so engaging I was able to overlook any niggling doubts I had.

About Susan Schoenberger

Susan Schoenberger, of West Hartford, CT, is a writer, editor and copy editor with a long history of working for news organizations, including The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant, and Patch.com. A Watershed Year, her debut novel, won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in 2006 under the title Intercession and was short-listed for the Peter Taylor Prize. Susan also received an artist fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism to work toward the novel’s publication. Susan’s short stories have been published in Inkwell, The Rambler, and Bartleby Snopes. When she’s not working or driving one of her three children around, she is writing a second novel. For more information, please visit www.susanschoenberger.com.

Connect with Susan on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Susan’s Tour Stops

Monday, October 31st: A Cozy Reader’s Corner

Wednesday, November 2nd: Books and Movies

Tuesday, November 8th: Sidewalk Shoes

Wednesday, November 9th: Books in the City

Wednesday, November 9th: Books Like Breathing

Thursday, November 10th: Kelly’s Lucky You!

Monday, November 14th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Tuesday, November 15th: Chronicles of a Country  Girl

Wednesday, November 16th: Reviews by Lola

Thursday, November 17th: Bibliophiliac

Monday, November 21st: Laura’s Reviews

Tuesday, November 22nd: BookNAround

Monday, November 28th: Among Stories

Wednesday, November 30th: The Lost Entwife

Thursday, December 1st: Booksie’s Blog

Blog Tour: Practical Jean

Practical Jean

Trevor Cole

Harper Perennial

320 pages

Jean is a middle aged woman who has just lost her mother to cancer.  Her mother’s declining health took a toll on Jean, and she is unsure of how to go on with her life.  She had been living with her mother, so she attempts to get back into a routine once she moves back into the home she shares with her husband, Milt.  Then it clicks.  Jean realizes that she has a duty, and that duty is to ensure that her closest friends do not have to deal with the tragedy of aging and eventually dying.  So she decides to off them.

You may think that Jean has gone off her rocker, but she is extremely methodical in planning the deaths of her friends.  She is most interested in an old friend Cheryl, whom she hasn’t seen since high school, decades ago.  As the hunt for Cheryl is on its way, Jean has no choice but to focus on her other friends.

Practical Jean is one of the best satirical books I have ever read.  The humor was so dry it was like a fine dust.  I had a smirk on my face for the majority of the novel.  I have seen quite a few reviews that describe Jean as unlikeable.  Personally, I was more ambivalent towards her.  It’s not necessarily a character driven book, so in the end Jean’s character didn’t move me in one direction or the other.  Instead, I just enjoyed her reasoning process and the way she attempted to cover her crimes long enough to get through her list of friends.

The aspect I loved best about Practical Jean was that it was fresh.  I have not read anything like it in a long time!

About Trevor Cole

Trevor Cole has been hailed as “one of the best young novelists in the country” by Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, for his books Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life, The Fearsome Particles, and Practical Jean. He lives near Toronto.

Visit Trevor at his website and follow him on Twitter.

Trevor’s Tour Stop

Tuesday, October 18th: Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, October 19th: Life in Review

Monday, October 24th: The Lost Entwife

Tuesday, October 25th: The Lit Witch

Wednesday, October 26th: girlichef

Thursday, October 27th: That’s What She Read

Monday, October 31st: Books Like Breathing

Tuesday, November 1st: Wordsmithonia

Wednesday, November 2nd: In the Next Room

Thursday, November 3rd: Cafe of Dreams

Friday, November 4th: StephTheBookworm

Monday, November 7th: Reviews by Lola