With summer/swimsuit season around the corner (though that corner is looking farrrrrrrrrrr away on this dismal day!) and more and more health issues stemming from eating habits, weight – and the effect on one’s health – is consistently a hot issue.  While much has been known about anorexia and bulimia, compulsive binging seems to be becoming more and more of an issue.  Before even hearing about this SKINNY book tour, I read an article in Seventeen magazine (don’t judge – subscription was gift from roomie’s mom!) asking “are your eating habits normal?” and they were shedding light on the dangerous binging cycle – do you hide your eating/eat alone/lie to friends, etc.

In SKINNY, author Diana Spechler introduces you to Gray, a non-descript 26 year old living with her comedian boyfriend in NYC.  Beyond the fun jacket (looked like a great beach book), I thought the similarities between Gray and myself would be interesting, since we’re the same age in the same city and I had assumed would have similar thoughts.

Ultimately, Gray and I don’t have much in common and once I gave up trying to like her, I enjoyed the book more.

Gray starts her rather sad story by sharing with the reader that she killed her father.  It was understood pretty quickly that this wasn’t a premeditated crime (I bet you knew that too, from the pretty book cover), but more an enabler of bad habits.  The death of her father sends her life into a tailspin in which she quits her job helping her boyfriend, the lovable though slightly schlubby Mikey, book comedy gigs and instead starts binge eating and working odd jobs while gaining weight.

Uncovering a cryptic connection in her father’s will, Gray sets out to be a counselor at a “fat camp” in North Carolina, with the intention on bonding with Eden, a young girl who she thinks is her stepsister from her father’s mid-life affair.  While at camp, Gray ends up in a steamy affair with a fellow counselor and dealing with a lot of pre-teen angst from the campers.

This was the first book I’d read by Diana Spechler and I wanted to be more excited about it than I am.  While I didn’t hate SKINNY, I’m not inspired to think about the characters further. I thought the ending seemed rushed and Gray never did win me over.  I did like the actual writing even though I couldn’t relate to the story, and think Spechler’s debut, WHO BY FIRE, would be more my type of read.

Even though this book wasn’t my “pint of ice cream” I do think the author sheds light on some serious issues, and if even one young woman is helped then I heartily applaud SKINNY.  Check out Spechler’s website http://bodyconfession.com/ and share it for some more feel-goodness.  Also, stop by and see where else you can find SKINNY on tour here.

Our first brunch/book club adventure. Clever & witty name tk.

Two of my favorite past times/hobbies/activities/passions are books and brunch.  Put them together and ta-da – what a fabulous day!  I met the lovely ladies Nicole (@nicolebo) of Linus’s Blanket and Erica (@EricaBrooke) of Harper Perennial fame  at V Bar in the East Village for mimosas, breakfast, and to talk about our first book:

STRANGERS AT THE FEAST by Jennifer Vanderbes

Yes, we all agreed the jacket was unattractive at best.  And if you can explain the tear, I’d love to hear it.

Since I just had 2.5 magnolia cupcakes, I’m on a sugar-high and can hopefully publish this post (that’s been sitting in draft since Monday) before the crash comes!  This is my first real book club gathering in two years, and I must say it was charming that all three of us were racing to finish the novel right before meeting.  I was ready to pack my Kindle away and walk to brunch and planned to finish the remaining 12% while sitting on a sunny bench and waiting for the ladies to arrive, when the action that had been foreshadowed the entire other 300 or so pages FINALLY happened. Needless to say I couldn’t put it down then, sped to the end before speed walking to the V.

STRANGERS AT THE FEAST was the first book I’ve read by Vanderbes (first I’d ever heard of her).  I think all of us felt the same way – we expected to like it more than we did.

There is typically something universally relateable and compulsively readable about a family in crisis.  Nicole pointed out that the pacing felt off – the book was quite slow, foreshadowing this massive event that was to take place and when it (don’t want to give anything away!) FINALLY happened, it wrapped up so quickly and none of us were satisfied with the conclusion.

Also, as Erica so eloquently notes in her GoodReads review: there is a bit about an adult brother and sister who “fiercely hug” every night before bed that freaked us all out. Unintentional incest overtones alert!

 

Book Club at our initial Dos Cominos inception brunch

Our April pick (when hopefully we’ll have the whole “club” present, including Colleen @booksnyc, Jenny @jennysbooks, Miriam @MiriamParker, and Neha) is YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE by Siobhan Fallon.

 

Addition to post: on the topic of blurbs – even though Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE was hugely, wildly popular, I never would have thought a quote from him of vampire fame would be relevant to this book, though it appears on the cover.

As usual, I’m so grateful to TLC Book Tours for giving me reason to update my blog!  And this time, it’s to take a look at ONE BIRD’S CHOICE, a memoir from “an overeducated, underemployed twenty-something, living in the big city in a bug-filled basement apartment and struggling to make ends meet” who ends up moving home to live with his parents – a topic to which so many of us can relate in this economy.

Even though I’m not typically a memoir reader, I was excited to read Iain’s story because it very easily could have been my own.  A couple years ago, I was happily residing in Chicago with my two best friends from college, living in an amazing apartment, enjoying wonderful people and a great city and toiling away at an advertising agency.  Did I love my job? No. Was it terrible? Absolutely not.  It was all I knew a couple years out of college.  When the economy tanked, many advertising dollars (and accounts) were pulled – thus leaving me (and many wonderful co-workers) laid off in the new year (hello, 2009).   So…. I job hunted. And I free lanced. And I volunteered at literary organizations.  And I tried a couple trial gym memberships. My days were so busy I had trouble understanding how I ever worked those long 50+ hour weeks.

So could I sympathize with Iain’s predicament? Definitely. Was I baffled by his actions (or lack there of)? Definitely.

Iain and I had similarities: My parents also lived in a small town and are very supportive.  My siblings were also off successfully living their lives.  But Iain seemed content to essentially take a year off from life.  He enjoyed lots of sleep, ate wonderful meals cooked by his parents, drank beer alone, and helped out with the animals; I’m thinking there was personal growth in there or a lesson in humility, but that didn’t come through for me.

The one story that really resounded was when his Dad coerced him to hit the gym one day, and he was in shock at the elderly men standing around nude in the locker room.  Well, those free gym trials I mentioned I enjoyed during my unemployment were often used during the day and my favorite (aka only) class was “low impact jazzercise” so you can imagine who I was hanging out with in the locker room.

If you’re a reader of memoirs and a lover of animals (and Canada – some of the scenery descriptions are beautiful) then pick up ONE BIRD’S CHOICE.  It’s an enjoyable read, just try not to over analyze the characters (I admit this is a fault of mine).  In the meantime, I suggest you meet the fabulous animals in the ONE BIRD’S CHOICE book trailer:

Also, check out the entire tour available on the TLC website here.

I don’t know what I had expected when picking up MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, but what I found was a comforting read, similar to going back to my parent’s house – it’s welcoming and warm; almost from a different time – and you feel right at home with Major Pettigrew and Jasmina Ali.

The characters are discreetly clever – I found myself chuckling (I feel like that’s an appropriately old fashioned word) at their antics and the Major’s thoughts and actions.  An upstanding and opinionated gentleman, the Major was of a different world and I had a hard time remembering that this book was taking place in present day.  When text messaging was mentioned in passing I’d get a little jolt as the story was often so quaint and the opposite of modern (until Pettigrew’s son, more tk).

Unlike NYC apartment searches when “quaint and cozy” mean good luck trying to fit a twin bed in the bedroom, “quaint and cozy” are compliments as this is no small novel. It looks at the influences of social class and race and society’s expectations.

At its heart, it’s a love story – one of different values and characters than we typically find in society these days.  Major Pettigrew and Jasmina are both widowed and definitely “over the hill” – but by no means dried up and stagnant in intelligence, wit, and heck – sexuality!  This is a book I’d love for my grandmother to read, as I feel these love stories are often overlooked for the wrinkle-free versions.

Major Pettigrew’s son was just terrible, but also only too believable.  I’ve seen his type – the young, slick guys in finance whose sole ambition in life is to be as rich as possible and have that be known, at the expense of others.  This was epitomized by his BLACK Christmas tree, to match his modern house – absolutely no warmth or sense of tradition.  I was horrified at the way he treated his father and cringed at the lack of respect.  I like to think he did defrost a little towards the end… No spoilers though – you have to read it yourself!

My favorite passage in the book was when Pettigrew was hoping to help Jasmina make friends and fit in with the social crowd, but his (understated) humor went -

“He could not, in good conscience, promote any association with Daisy Green and her band of ladies. He could more easily recommend gang membership or fencehopping into the polar bear enclosure at the Regents Park zoo.” -pg 113

This was Helen Simonson’s debut novel, and I look forward to whatever comes next. Helen is a true Brit who I wager takes milk in her tea, but she now lives on the East Coast.  You can connect with Helen on her website or via her Facebook page.

I suggest MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND to anyone looking for a charming read that will take their mind off their own pressing matters.  I am so thankful TLC Tours introduced me to this fabulous story and talented writer & I suggest you visit the rest of the tour stops, listed here.

And, just because I think it’s fascinating, here’s the UK cover – what do you think? I like the tea cups, but don’t think the style and colors correctly portray the story. This looks more like the hipster’s version of MAJOR PETTIGREW to me!

Actually, “light weekend reading” may be incorrect, because even though I’d definitely classify HEART OF THE MATTER as chick-lit, the subject of infidelity is never light or easy.

Emily Giffin’s books are as recognizable by their pastel hues as they are for covering topics you’d expect in chick-lit (I don’t mean this to be derogatory; is “women’s fiction” better?): weddings, babies, love, friendship, and now infidelity.  After having read some deeper books, I was in the mood over the wintery weekend for an easy read and saw the purple spine on my bookshelf.  I was ready to be lost in a world of chattering women and married suburbia… Instead, it was a love triangle with no easy way out.

Tessa is married to Dr. Nick Russo, a pediatric plastic surgeon dedicated to his work.  Married for seven years with two young children, they have a seemingly happy life in a wealthy suburb of Boston.  The short version is Nick gets overly attached to a patient and his single mom.  Seemingly (inappropriately; unconvincingly) unsatisfied with his home life, he starts along the slippery slope of lying about working late; Halloween parties, etc.  I won’t ruin the ending, but this was one of those books in which I didn’t really identify with any of the characters and found none of their actions to be totally reasonable/understandable.

“Moral” of my review: books focused on infidelity aren’t my thing. I don’t mind if it’s a plot point, but when infidelity is its own character I’m lost.  I just like to think people are better than that – although my dad always says I’m too trusting.  The silver lining is that it motivated me to update my blog!  And y’all, this is a tenuous connection to my Southern list since the gorgeous Emily Giffin hails from Atlanta?!

Other books on infidelity that I haven’t loved include many of the Jennifer Weiner’s (I enjoyed the movie IN HER SHOES but was horrified that the sister slept with the others’ bf!), ADMISSION by Jean Hanff Korelitz (though I loved her WHITE ROSE novel), the one about the teacher and student with a green apple on the hardcover jacket (don’t remember the name of this one – anyone?)…

But I’m not a total prude: I have enjoyed many books for which infidelity takes place like Jonathan Tropper’s THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (in fact, my literary-lovin’ pup just chewed this one up recently), Anita Shreve’s THE PILOT’S WIFE (though it was traumatizing and I will still not date a pilot… and have been disappointed by every Shreve novel since), Sue Miller’s THE SENATOR’S WIFE (infidelity was much less of a focus in this one) and I’m sure there are more, because for better or worse this seems to be a hot topic in our society.

This was a pretty boring review, sorry crew!  I’m super excited for my Monday post on MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND – please come back then.

Do you all have that list of authors in your head that you’d like to read, when given the moment?  Well, due to a couple strong recommendations (I wish I could elaborate on the source – if it was you please say so!), author Kate Atkinson was always on my radar as someone to pick up.  Serendipitously I stumbled across her novel, CASE HISTORIES, in the bargain bin at B&N (ok, maybe it wasn’t serendipity as much as it was escaping the cold and being a *great* shopper).

So yesterday, my last day of a very long though not-as-relaxing-as-one-may-think Christmas vacation, I sat down to read it and couldn’t put it down. Oh I tried – I had to unpack, clean up, wash dishes, dry my hair – but in between every small task I glanced longingly at book – and quit trying to be productive until I finished it.

Officially classified as a detective/crime novel, I found it more to be a sweeping drama than a mystery.   The flap copy says: “private detective Jackson Brodie—ex-cop, ex-husband and weekend dad—takes on three cases involving past crimes that occurred in and around London…” – but it doesn’t factor in the hints Atkinson drops throughout the novel, and the intertwining of the individual stories and the unanticipated interaction between characters.  I think only a very talented author can successfully write a novel weaving this many story lines together (not to mention the alternating point of views), and she does without missing a beat.

I’ve already ordered her next two novels featuring Jackson Brodie – for which my expectations are very, very high.  I get the feeling Atkinson won’t disappoint!

My second author discovery, who has also been on my TBR list, is another female author based in the mystery/thriller genre: Laura Lippman.

Obviously I love the alliteration of her name and when I came across the shiny jacket of her latest, I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE (my mom used to call me a crow due to my affinity for anything that shimmers in the light), I couldn’t resist.

I had expected I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE to be more action-packed and thrilling, but similar to CASE HISTORIES above, this book had a psychological depth that surprised me.

Told from the perspective of the Eliza Benedict, a wife and mother who overcame her terrifying kidnapping as a teenager.  She was the only victim of Walter to escape his entrapment alive.  Already dealing with a sullen teenager and a young child, a letter from her captor and his approaching execution puts her hidden past back to the forefront.

I’m happy I finally had the opportunity to experience both authors.  Kate Atkinson immediately left me wanting more and I’ll definitely make more room on my bookshelf for Lippman – I’ve been told that many of her books are more traditional thrillers with a repeating character that I’d love to try.

Any authors you recently “met” that you can’t wait to read again?  Or, any shiny covers attract you lately?

I had so many wonderful suggestions for Southern literature when I posted my “Road(trip) to a Southern Belle” list that I was inspired to make it an official reading list! Check out my newly created page: http://novelwhore.wordpress.com/southern-lit/

Would love more reading suggestions, and still working on that boring “Southern Lit List” name – taking witty and clever recommendations!  I’ve felt like it’s Friday the last two days, and as it’s still not here yet I’m still burnt out.

Even though I work in publishing, it’s important to note I am not an editor and don’t work with agents outside of the marketing realm – I don’t handle book acquisitions and rarely have the chance to read a manuscript or chime in on the purchasing decisions. I don’t get to hear from authors before they are published or searching for the elusive contract, so I was thrilled when LeAnn Neal Reilly, author of THE MERMAID’S PENDANT, shared some of her thoughts with me on being a self-published author and her decision to take this unconventional route.

In LeAnn’s own (clever) words -

Getting an agent is essential to getting a publisher, but it was like looking for a husband who picked you from a lineup while he stood behind a two-way mirror. You didn’t really know what he wanted in a wife or whether you’d dressed appropriately. To make it worse, you weren’t sure if you’d like him or his looks. Most of the time, you waited and waited until you knew that nobody stood on the other side of the glass. Sometimes, you got a bit more information about how long to wait or a terse, written kiss-off. If you were really lucky, he might ask you to open your jacket and twirl around a bit, but even then you might not get any helpful feedback. You just didn’t get called into the next room to arrange marriage. At first, you’d try to be choosy and go to lineups for guys whose personal ad sounded like it had potential, but then you’d realize you might have to go to hundreds of lineups and end up with someone you couldn’t stand. Or someone who couldn’t perform in bed. Then you’d have to get a divorce and start over.

I decided to risk self-publishing to see if I could attract an agent or publisher that way. There have been enough stories in recent years to make me think that this path might become more common. It makes sense to me. It’s one way to let someone else pay the costs of developing a title and testing the market. I’ve done well enough at this point that even if I don’t get a bigger publisher, I’m happier than I would have been if I’d stuck my manuscript in a drawer or spent more months querying without success…

I commend Mrs. Reilly for taking the chance and getting her work out there. It’s a risk but it sounds like she did her research and made a well-informed decision.  I hope

As many other tours hosts have noted, THE MERMAID’S PENDANT is a looooong book.  I think the premise of “a modern fairy tale about growing up and discovering who you are” is great, but it’s lost in the length of this tome with competing subplots.  I though Tamarind, the mermaid, was an interesting character but couldn’t drum up much interest in John – her lover and the main character in this novel.

Reading this book did give me fond memories of watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid in my family’s van on road trips and I thought the descriptions of the island were gorgeous and definitely made me want to plan another tropical vacation.  I thank LeAnn for sharing her thoughts and wish her only the best in the future – and a huge thank you for the escapism found in the beaches of your novel!

Visit the other bloggers on this tour – the entire list is available here.

I’ve been living in NYC for well over a year now and I feel pretty at home in my ‘hood - which I’d consider to be the area below 14th Street and above Canal. Having lived in the East Village and now in SoHo, I have the East -> West covered.  Once hailing from St. Marks on the verge of the  area known as Alphabet City, I would skip through Tompkins Square Park to drink Mimosas at the great brunch spot of Sunburnt Cow on Avenue C.

Author Josh Karlen recently taught me that Avenue C hasn’t always been the eclectic, colorful place it is now in his memoir LOST LUSTRE: A New York Memoir.  While I still wouldn’t hang out there alone after dark (I don’t necessarily suggest one do that anywhere, really), when he grew up on this street it was colorful due to the bruises and bleeding that would happen after his repeated beatings and muggins, and eclectic because you could buy any drug you wanted.

Karlen’s recent memoir tells of the NYC your parents used to warn you about: the grimy and dangerous, yet vibrantly alive city of the past.

Composed of separate essays, this book did have many repeating parts (I can’t tell you how many times growing up on Avenue C was referred to in varying degrees of detail) but for lack of a better term, it had a good heart.  You cared about the author as a young boy coming of age in a dangerous time, and his talented and aspiring friends.  In a vein similar to The Glass Castle, I was shaking my head at the actions (or lack thereof) of the adults in this book.  He acknowledges the lack of authority and rules, but it’s mind bogling to think that parents were that unaware, uncaring and/or oblivious.

If you’re interested in social history through the years, music, or have a tie to the Village in Manhattan this memoir may be for you!

 

About Josh Karlen:

Josh Karlen, a native New Yorker, grew up on the Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village.  A former journalist, he was a correspondent in the Baltics for United Press International, Radio Free Europe, and other news organizations.

Josh lives in New York City with his wife and two children and is a media relations specialist.

Well I guess it’s not technically a genre, and I’m on the tailend of this book buzz, but I’ve only recently read ROOM and STILL MISSING and am all kidnapped-out.

Getting kidnapped has always been an irrational fear of mine – I shudder at the sight of vans without windows (STILL MISSING really reminded me of this issue) and I used to practice lying very still in my childhood bed, hoping the burglar creeping through my window wouldn’t notice my form.  Obviously my fears haven’t happened yet (knocked on wood) though these two novels brought them back to the surface!

Both books were told from unique perspectives:  As I’m sure you’ve gleaned from the many reviews of ROOM, the entire book is told from the perspective of one very intelligent but very sheltered five-year old boy, who has spent his whole life trapped in a single room with his abducted mother.  It really is a story pulled from the headlines – and the fact that it’s fiction doesn’t make it less traumatizing. This was a book I hesitate to say I enjoyed reading because Emma Donoghue is such a talented writer that you actually were inside the head of Jack yet still aware of Ma’s world and knowledge and experience, and it was a tough place to be.  But this was an impactful read that I will definitely continue to recommend.  In fact, I read this on my Kindle and really missed the physical book when all I wanted to do was send it to a friend for a mini-bookclub discussion.

STILL MISSING was the much-buzzed about debut this spring that I found languishing on my boyfriend’s bookshelf where I had left it.  The unique point of view in this story was how it was told mainly through the victim’s (Annie) meeting with her therapist.  I really wanted to like this book, and didn’t hate it… but can’t say I would recommend it.  The language and violence and character’s turned me off, and I found the twist at the end appalling and rather unbelievable. I like flawed characters, but this was a little too much.  I don’t want to spoil it, but I did call my mom just to hear her exclaim “I can’t believe she did that! That’s terrible! This wasn’t a true story right?” which made it all right in the world.   Though I do commend this young author – she made the NYT bestseller list and I’m proud of her even if this effort wasn’t my favorite – I’ll pick up her next and hope the people are nicer!

 Now that I’ve shared my abduction genre I can fully head back to the deep South for my Southern Reading fun! All your suggestions were great and my pile is as long as the kudzu.

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