Category: Contemporary Fiction

Jan 15

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Book Club, Contemporary Fiction, Family, Humor 23

Hi Ho, Bookworms!

Everyone’s family has a little bit of drama and/or weirdness going on. I mean, it wouldn’t be family if there weren’t some sort of dysfunction going on somewhere. I think that’s why I tend to be drawn to family dramas with a twisted sense of humor. This month, my IRL book club (affectionately dubbed “My Neighbors Are Better Than Your Neighbors” because, well, they are) chose This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper to discuss. Holy bagels and lox, Batman, this book was something else!

thisiswhereileaveyouThe Foxman family put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.” After their father passes away (because cancer is a jerk) the four Foxman children convene in their childhood home to sit shiva for their father. For anybody unfamiliar with Jewish custom, sitting shiva is kind of like a week long wake. The mourning family is visited throughout the week and inundated with sympathy food and awkward conversation. (There’s some sort of universal law that says one must feed the grieving. It’s one I subscribe to myself.) Most families would be on the verge of coming to blows after an entire week in close quarters, mourning not withstanding.

Judd Foxman is our narrator, one of the Foxman siblings. In addition to having recently lost his father, he is also in the midst of a messy divorce. Divorces tend to get messy when you catch your spouse in flagrante delicto with your boss. Even more so when you find out said spouse is expecting a child.

Reading about the Foxmans made me feel so normal. I had a great time reading this book and it ran quite the gamut emotionally. One of my favorite things about the book, though, was that almost every time I got the urge to jump through the pages and punch a fictional character, another fictional character took care of that for me. This one isn’t for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but if irreverent humor and quirky familial drama are your thing, you need to give This Is Where I Leave You a read!

Alright Bookworms, let’s talk. Are there any TV shows or books you like to indulge in simply because they make you feel like less of a screw up? I can’t be the only one… Dish!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Nov 20

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Contemporary Fiction, short stories 10

Greetings Bookworms,

It’s not every day that Margaret Atwood releases a new book, but believe you me, when those days come, they are delightful. I recently had the opportunity to read Atwood’s latest release, a volume of short stories called Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. *I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for review consideration. Any and all gushing that follows will be the result of unabashed Atwood fandom, and NOT because I got the book for free. I’d totally have paid for it, suckers!*

stonemattressMargaret Atwood is a magical Canadian wordsmith. I like to imagine her traipsing through forests, communing with birds, and being inspired to put words together. She might be part fairy, I’m still trying to figure out her supernatural lineage.

Y’all know short stories aren’t usually my jam, but I make all sorts of exceptions when it comes to Atwood. I went into Stone Mattress: Nine Tales with unreasonably high expectations. Because ATWOOD.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales presents nine short stories. Some of them are related to one another, some are related to her earlier works (you should have heard me SQUEAL when I saw “I Dream of Zenia With the Bright Red Teeth.” I geeked out over The Robber Bride connection.) I found this collection innovative and refreshing. A number of the stories are told from the perspective of the elderly, which I found fascinating. She’s also got the occasional psychopath and genetic anomaly to round out the set. Darkly humorous, disturbing, and utterly delicious. If you love Atwood but aren’t sure about short stories, take the leap! You’ll be glad you did.

Talk to me Bookworms! Have you ever been so overwhelmed by an author’s talent that you’ve secretly (or not-so-secretly) suspected supernatural influences? I can’t be the only one here. These words couldn’t be created by mere mortals!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Nov 10

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett & GIVEAWAY!

Contemporary Fiction, Giveaways, Historical Fiction 32

Dearest Bookworms,

You’d think I’d be tired of Jane Austen tributes and spinoffs at this point in my reading career… But you’d think wrong. When I was contacted by the publishers of Charlie Lovett’s new novel, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen I was really excited. Not only do I love Jane Austen, but I also enjoyed Charlie Lovett’s last novel, The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession (review). Everybody loves a subtitle, no? *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I swear on the grave of Jane Austen than the following review will be truthful.*

first impressionsFirst Impressions is told in a dual narrative ping-ponging between the life of modern day Sophie Collingwood and the life and creative process of one Jane Austen. Sophie has recently finished her master’s degree and is feeling rather shiftless. She takes a job in an antiquarian bookshop until she gets things figured out, only to receive two requests for the same extremely obscure book in rapid succession. In researching the book, Sophie is drawn into a scandal that calls into question the authorship of Pride and Prejudice… And it might get her killed. Book enthusiasts can be intense, yo.

Throughout the narrative we’re brought back in time to see Jane Austen forming a close friendship with her elderly neighbor Richard Mansfield. The two have a bond that undeniably shapes Austen’s work, but just how much of an influence was Mansfield?

Back in the present, Sophie’s got mysteries to solve, not the least of which revolves around a pair of suitors. Sophie must channel her inner Elizabeth Bennet to figure things out and live to tell the tale.

And now I shall share my impressions of First Impressions, because it’s what I do and I wanted to smush the word “impressions” into a sentence thrice. (Ha! I win!) I typically enjoy dual narratives, and I liked Lovett’s take on Jane Austen’s life and writing process. I found Sophie to be a spunky heroine, though I will admit I found Sophie’s love life full of rather heavy handed Pride and Prejudice parallels. However, considering the whole book is awash in Austen fandom, it seemed fitting. (Also, never trust a dude whose name starts with a “W.” Scoundrels, the lot of them!) As in The Bookman’s Tale, I loved the peek into the antique book world that Lovett provides. As a person who has always focused on the content rather than the medium, it’s a glimpse into another delightful corner of bibliophilia. I doubt I’ll ever be the sort of person who seeks out first editions, but I can (and do!) appreciate historical objects. (Seriously, you should have seen me flipping out over the copy of the Magna Carta I saw at Salisbury Cathedral. I practically had to bust out the smelling salts. Oh, the vapors!)

As an extra special treat for all my favorite book nerds, the awesome folks at Viking/Penguin have sponsored a GIVEAWAY of BOTH First Impressions AND a gorgeous Penguin Classics hardcover edition of Pride and PrejudiceThis giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only. Check out the Rafflecopter goodness below to enter!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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Oct 23

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Flowers, Romance 20

Greetings Bookworms!

The weather is changing and it’s making me miss my flowers already. I still have mums out, but it’s not the saaaaaaaame. Shortly after having to pull out my summer annuals, I was perusing NetGalley (a dangerous pastime under the best of circumstances) and ran across The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen. I saw comparisons to Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman and simply could not help myself. *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration. May I be stricken with a wicked case poison ivy if I lie in the following review.*

The Night Garden by Lisa Van AllenIs there anything better than an enchanted garden? Lisa Van Allen draws a gorgeous picture of pastoral upstate New York. Pennywort Farms boasts a lovely garden maze that seems to be imbued with magical properties that give visitors clarity on their problems. A little magical realism never hurt anyone! More likely to hurt someone is the beautiful and enigmatic Olivia Pennywort.

Olivia has SECRETS. Despite welcoming boarders into her farm as a matter of course, Olivia keeps everyone at arm’s distance. Her decision to remain aloof becomes more difficult when her childhood friend and adolescent flame Sam Van Winkle comes back to town. The two are (of course) drawn to each other, but there are some significant barriers (and histamines) standing in the way of their happy ending.

You guys, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down, and I stayed up far too late to finish it. On a work night. Thank heaven for coffee, AMIGRIGHT? Magical realism can be very hit or miss for me, but the combination of love story, garden-y goodness, and mystical whimsy hit all the right notes. I particularly liked some of the weird science/magic fusion elements that went on. I don’t want to spoil it all for you, but if you’re at all interested, take a trip into The Night Garden!

Talk to me, Bookworms. The Night Garden spends a lot of time talking about the garden maze’s ability to provide visitors with clarity on their problems. What helps you work out your dilemmas? Asking for a friend…

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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Oct 09

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Contemporary Fiction, Friendship 20

Hi ho, Bookworms!

If you’re anything like me, you accumulate books faster than you can read them. I don’t suppose it helps that I enter giveaways on other blogs, but I have a severe weakness for free books. A few months ago I won a copy of Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen from Bookalicious Mama and it taunted me from my bedside table with its pretty cover mercilessly. I finally got around to reading it, and I’m SO GLAD I did!

lost lakeOur heroine Kate recently “woke up” from mourning the loss of her husband. She’s been going through the motions for a solid year and has only just managed to muster the will to participate in life again. While clearing out some detritus to prepare for a move, Kate and her daughter Devin (a budding fashionista, with an eccentric sense of style) find an old post card reminding Kate of the summer she spent at her great aunt’s cabin resort, Lost Lake.

Kate’s re-awakening came with a healthy dose of “carpe diem” so she loads Devin into the car and sets off for rural Georgia to seek out some R&R in the serene environment. Kate’s Aunt Eby is thrilled to see her long lost niece, but Lost Lake is on the verge of closing up shop. Eby, Kate, and a few regular guests set out to make Lost Lake’s final summer one to remember. A little romance, a little magic, and a healthy dash of Southern fried fun make Lost Lake a wonderful escape.

This book is utterly charming and heartwarming. Sarah Addison Allen puts together a cast of quirky characters that can’t be beat (and you know how much I LOVE quirky characters, especially when some of them are cranky old women. It makes my inner Mildred positively gleeful.) I read this tasty morsel in a single day. If you need a little escape from reality, Lost Lake is as refreshing as a cold glass of sweet tea.

Tell me, dear Bookworms. Do you enjoy books that offer an escape?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will use it to take a flipping vacation!*

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Sep 18

Diversiverse! Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T Wurth

Contemporary Fiction, Diversiverse 14

Greetings Bookworms!

If you’ve been floating around the book blogosphere at all, you’ve probably noticed there’s a little event going on called A More Diverse Universe. It is, in a word, awesome. The purpose of the event is to encourage readers to step out of their comfort zone (or for me, my lazypants-can’t-be-bothered-to-pay-attention-to-things zone) and pick up books written by people of color. To participate you need to read and review ONE book by a person of color. Talk about low-pressure! I’ll be the first to admit that my reading list ends up being rather, uh, Caucasian-heavy? It’s not something I do intentionally, but this event is the kick in the pants I need to PAY ATTENTION. So I am! Today we’re going to talk about a book by Native American author Erika T Wurth called Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This in no way affects my opinion of the book. My integrity is more expensive than a paperback novel.*

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Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend tells the story of a mixed race Native American girl living in Colorado. Margritte’s community is poverty stricken and plagued with alcoholism, drug use, and violence. Though only 16 years old, Margritte and her cousin Jake supplement their pathetically small incomes by moonlighting as marijuana dealers. Margritte spends most of her time hustling and partying, giving her schoolwork short shrift. crazyhorsesgirlfriendShe’s just trying to survive high school so she can leave her dead-end town in the dust. Her home life leaves much to be desired as her father is an abusive alcoholic and her mother refuses to leave him despite his dangerous behavior. Margritte is often tasked with taking care of her young twin sisters and trying to keep them out of harm’s way. Jake keeps landing himself in juvie, and you never know when a meth-head is going to stab you. And because all that drama isn’t enough, let’s not forget about teenagers and their raging hormones! Margritte’s got a hot steaming pile of crap to wade through if she’s ever going to escape her circumstances.

I know this book sounds like a total downer but it is INCREDIBLE. It’s raw and gritty and intense. It gives a very realistic portrayal of poverty in Native American communities and the choices young people are forced to make. I will warn any tender-hearted readers that this book doesn’t shy away from anything. If you’re offended by profanity, sex, drug usage, or violence this book is NOT for you. If you’re on the fence, though, you need to give it a shot. It really is just THAT good. Since we’re celebrating diversity this week, I thought I’d share a little something-something from the author’s biography:

Erika T. Wurth is Apache / Chickasaw / Cherokee and was raised on the outskirts of Denver. She teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and was a writer-in-residence at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including Boulevard, Fiction, Pembroke, Florida Review, Stand, Cimarron Review, The Cape Rock, Southern California Review and Drunken Boat. Her debut collection of poetry, Indian Trains, was published by The University of New Mexico’s West End Press.

Did y’all see that?! She teaches at Western Illinois University! Why, that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from my cornfield. You can bet I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for author events in the area!

Talk to me, Bookworms! Do you typically pay much attention to the backgrounds of the authors you frequently read? Is my laziness normal?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Sep 05

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Audio Books, Contemporary Fiction, Psychological 34

Greetings Bookworms!

Today we’re going to talk more about my new found obsession with audio books, and a book turned Oscar-winning-movie (which OF COURSE I haven’t seen, because I am the WORST at being relevant when it comes to cinema.) You guessed right. It’s time for The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick!

silverliningsplaybookAudio books typically begin with a short musical interlude. I rarely take notes while I’m reading/listening to something, but when Kenny G was chosen as the introduction, I had a rather visceral reaction. My notes: “What is WITH the Kenny G at the beginning? There’d better be a contextual reason for this. Harumph.” A little while later… “Oh there’s a reason. Thank God. My reaction isn’t as intense as Pat’s, but sheesh. I can’t handle the Kenny G.”

Okay. So. Pat Peoples is our protagonist. He’s recently been sprung from a long term care facility for people with brain injuries and/or intense psychological problems. He comes home with his eye on a single goal- to reunite with his estranged wife Nikki. Only, things are weird. Whenever he brings up Nikki, people change the subject. His relationship with his father is strained to say the least, with the only subject they can broach being the Philadelphia Eagles. To add to the weird, he’s being relentlessly pursued by the enigmatic Tiffany (who has her own cartload of baggage) and his therapist seems to think spending time with this other woman is a good idea. Oh yeah. Kenny G is a demon specter who tortures Pat. You know. As he does.

I really enjoyed this book! I went into it with tempered expectations because the movie had gotten so much hype and everyone loved it so much. I found the book charming, tender, and real. I’ve got a soft spot for broken psyches and I couldn’t help but love Pat and Tiffany.

Talk to me Bookworms! Have you read The Silver Linings PlaybookSeen the movie? How do they compare? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Sep 04

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

Contemporary Fiction, Family 11

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

Shortly after BEA, some of my blog pals who had been lucky enough to attend the conference o’ bookish goodness and starting chatting about what ARC’s they were excited to have picked up. One of these books was We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Not one to be left out, I jumped over to NetGalley to see if I could snag myself a digital copy. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This in no way affects my opinion on the book, as I am a cantankerous old mule whose opinions will not be tamed.*

wearenotourselves We Are Not Ourselves begins with a young Eileen Tumulty. The daughter of Irish immigrants, Eileen’s life is marked by family strife and alcoholism. She dreams of living a more prosperous life, and eventually meets a young scientist named Ed Leary who is refreshingly different than the other men in her neighborhood. Sadly for Eileen, she soon learns that Ed isn’t motivated by the American Dream and a desire to become a social climber.

Eileen’s obsession with bigger homes, better friends, and higher paying jobs begins to drive a wedge between her and Ed. As time passes, Eileen and her son Connell begin to notice that Ed is exhibiting some disturbing behavior, behavior that can’t be easily explained away. When confronted with a devastating diagnosis, the family tries desperately to hold together.

This book is epic in scope. It’s a bit of a chunkster (600+ pages) and covers decades of the American experience. It’s got humor, it’s got heartbreak, it’s got a little bit of everything. I find myself without the appropriate words to describe how I feel about this book, so I’m resorting to comparisons. Cool? Cool. Okay. If you liked Angela’s Ashes (review), Still Alice (review), or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (review), you should check out We Are Not OurselvesJust trust me on this one, okay?

Tell me Bookworms. Do you dig sweeping family epics?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

 

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Aug 28

Two Lovely Berries by AM Blair

Contemporary Fiction 25

Greetings Bookworms!

Let’s talk for a minute about self published books, shall we? Now. Most of these conversations consist of bloggers explaining why they won’t read self pubs and self pubbed authors complaining that nobody will give them a chance. There have been a million posts written about how to approach bloggers and pitching your work and whatever. You know what works for me? Establish yourself as a blogger. Write interesting content. Make the rounds. When you subtly announce that you’ve written a book, I’m eleventy billion times more likely to read it than if I’d received a random email pitch. Even better? Don’t pitch the book to me at all. I’ll probably just buy it with my own hard earned money and give it a shot. This is all to say that AMB from The Misfortune of Knowing (a fabulous blog about literature and the law) is DOING IT RIGHT. *I was not asked to read or review Two Lovely Berries by AM Blair. I bought it because it sounded interesting. That said, I do have a blog friendship with the author. Take that for what you will.* 

twolovelyberriesTwo Lovely Berries tells the story of the Daley twins, Nora and Aubrey. Born and raised in an affluent suburb of Philadelphia, Nora and Aubrey were close, but still maintained a sense of individuality. After graduating from Yale, Aubrey immediately marries her college sweetheart and moves across the country. Nora is forced to confront her new twin-less reality as she struggles with her post-collegiate identity, complicated family issues, and her own swampy love life. (I wanted to punch both those Wilcox boys more times than I could count… For the record.)

I don’t know what to say other than this book was excellent. I found the story engrossing from the start. Books that focus on interpersonal relationships sometimes turn a corner into a weird introspective place, but I thought Two Lovely Berries stayed grounded firmly in reality. Everything was realistically portrayed, and even the dramatic bits avoided abject melodrama. Tales of infidelity, workaholics, family violence, and sibling rivalry all blend together with refreshing glimmers of humanity that make the whole thing just work.

Blair has an adorable set of red-headed twin daughters who served as her inspiration for this book (though, God willing, they’ll have an easier time of being grown-ups than Aubrey and Nora did.) I really dug the glimpse into a twin’s world, being a boring singleton myself. If I have to lodge a complaint about this book, it would be that I was left craving Greek food, blueberry pancakes, and I was utterly bereft realizing I would never have a personal chef to make me his or her signature lasagna.

If you have any interest in family dynamics, twins, and/or stories about post-collegiate limbo, I highly recommend you give Two Lovely Berries a read! (If you’re interested in another great blogger/author’s fictional offerings, I recommend you check out Lost and Found by Chris Van Hakes as well.)

Talk to me Bookworms! Do you find twin relationships as fascinating as I do?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Aug 21

WTF?! (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer)

Contemporary Fiction 20

Greetings Bookworms,

I should probably not be allowed to go onto NetGalley. I am entirely too susceptible to “the next big thing” and I end up picking up books I’d never ordinarily look into. Sometimes it’s a great way to get me out of my comfort zone. Other times, I’m just left scratching my head wondering WTF just happened. Enter David Shafer’s new novel, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. *I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for review consideration.*

whiskey tango foxtrotWhiskey Tango Foxtrot centers on a trio of thirty-somethings whose lives haven’t exactly turned out the way they’d expected. Leila Majnoun begins this crazy ride attempting to make a difference in Burma only to have her efforts thwarted. Frustrated by the ineffectual non-profit she’s working for, Leila stumbles across some information that throws her entire world out of orbit. Leo Crane is a mentally unhinged trust-fund kid with a substance abuse problem and a penchant for conspiracy theories. Mark Deveraux is a charlatan of a self-improvement guru who has managed to get himself in the clutches of one of the most powerful men in the world. This unlikely trio unwittingly get wrapped up in a worldwide super conspiracy, and it’s nuts.

Okay. So. Definitely not my normal fare. It took me longer to get into this book than is typical for me. I found Leila, Leo, and Mark’s back stories compelling, but the novel spent a lot of time in exposition and crammed all the action in at the end. The very end. Like, the yellow brick road hit a yellow brick wall and nobody got to chill in the Emerald City. The lack of resolution left me wondering if this was the first novel in a series or if it was just too darn artsy for me to “get.”

All that said, it definitely had some cheeky moments, and I can’t help but smile at the implied WTF joke in the title. I was also rather fond of some of the book’s most bizarre elements (which I won’t reveal to you, because spoilers.)

I’m still scratching my head on this one, but I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there who will love this book. If you’re into conspiracy theories, dark humor, and general weirdness, maybe give Whiskey Tango Foxtrot a try.

Alright, Bookworms. Tell me. Do you ever read things and feel like you’re not in on the joke?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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