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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.

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!

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?

How serendipitous – I return from my own blogging disappearance to share my thoughts on the debut novel, THE ART OF DISAPPEARING.

My own disappearance is nothing like in the novel – I didn’t travel to another dimension or get lost in a hidden pocket of space or have a spur-of-the-moment wedding in Vegas (though I think my mom wondered when I called her quite late from the Caribbean!)… But we are not Toby and Mel.

Toby Warring and Mel Snow have a relationship that began unconventionally – having met in a desolate diner in a small town in Nevada, just outside the circle of the Vegas lights then married within 48 hours upon arrival in Sin City (sober, I’m compelled to add).  Toby is not merely a magician who pulls rabbits out of hats, but has the ability to create his own magic not relying on illusions and tricks of the eye.  Mel accepts Toby’s abilities/magic without reluctance (I’m a big fan of magic myself, but this was more than mind tricks and into the realm of paranormal – I would definitely have been a little more freaked out about his abilities – except white wine to red and vice versa sounds fun).

The paranormal comes from more than just Toby’s abilities. Though he has no malicious intent (no black magic here), he doesn’t always have control over his abilities. Most notably, he lost his past assistant and girlfriend Eva in the middle of a magic trick. Though Mel’s career seems more grounded in reality (less “woo woo,” as Catherine Coulter would say), she can hear fabrics sing to her.

The woman behind the beautiful prose

A little odd right?  A magician with real abilities and a consultant who can hear fabrics sing.  A story that may have unraveled or gone up in smoke (lame puns intended), debut author Ivy Pochoda has a way with words that keeps the story moving.  She lyrically and poetically describes magic in a way that makes this novel less “woo woo” (as Catherine Coulter would say) and crafts into a love story grounded in reality… if you’re willing to bend your imagination to contend with hidden “pockets” in the air, into which people and objects magically appear and also hide.

I think the characters were drawn together over shared loneliness.  Both were haunted by happenings in their past – Toby his missing assistant along with the tragedy that happened in Vegas, and Mel with her brother that feel too deeply in love with water.  I wanted more between the characters – it never clicked to me as to why they were together; what compelled them to love the other.  And maybe that’s why it ended the way it did (I don’t want to ruin anything – read it  yourself!) – because it was more a relationship of timing and the shared need to shed loneliness than a real partnership

I’m thrilled that TLC Book Tours introduced me to the writing of Ivy Pochoda – Marilyn Dahl of Shelf Awareness says it best with “Ivy Pochoda has written a lyrical novel that will enchant you with a love story and with poetic, evocative prose.”

You can connect with Ivy on her website or on Facebook, and I highly suggest you visit other reviews of this enchanting debut novel on the TLC tour found here.

US jacket

Yes it’s Wednesday, and I’m skipping my Wordless Wednesday post (even though I have several fabulous doors to share!) because I told myself I wouldn’t  participate unless I had shared a review since my last WW.  So here I am; writing about vintage clothing instead of sharing some vintage doorways.

Last week while delayed in yet another airport, I went on a little Kindle buying spree (for conservative spenders, it’s really convenient that Kindle doesn’t give you a combined order total but charges for every title) and among the new Larsson, Evanovich and Roberts, I discovered a jewel in THE VINTAGE AFFAIR by the charming Brit,  Isabel Wolff.

While this novel has stories of romance, the protagonist Phoebe is an independent woman, who opens a vintage clothing store in London.

A warning to all you with a propensity to shop: be careful upon finishing this book! I happened to be in Newport, RI for a gorgeous wedding last weekend and found myself spending hours in the vintage store, determined to find the dress that spoke to me, as deliciously described by Wolff.  Unfortunately (fortunately for my wallet) I found no such dress, but I will keep looking.

UK jacket

Beyond the gorgeously described vintage threads, there is a story of two female friendships woven throughout.  One is that of Phoebe and her late best friend, Emma, and the other is through a connection discovered with an ill, elderly woman who lived during WWII.   The emphasis on the novel is strongly in the friendship camp, although there is a bit of romance (or discussion of the lack there of) in Phoebe’s dating life and the recent demise of her parent’s marriage.

This book isn’t life changing, though it definitely offers more depth than traditional chick lit.  It will make you think about some of your personal regrets you’ve been carrying with you, and may offer some insight on how to let it go.  Perfect read for a trip, especially if you’re escaping to a charming countryside with many vintage offerings!

Which jacket do you prefer? UK or US?

There is endless entertainment to be found in the incorrectly, humorously translated signs featured in the “Strange Signs from Abroad” article on the NYT:

I found myself laughing in the obvious, and for the most part harmless, confusion on display as language barriers turn toilets into fishing ponds and the occasional crude translation.

But it also makes me think to my own confusion (and I admit, occasional irritation) as I try to order take out from the delicious Thailand Cafe (for you NYC’ers, make note they open their front windows and have $5 pineapple lychee mojito specials) down Second Ave, and I look at my iPhone in confusion, wondering is my voice breaking up? It says I have full service so why are they not understanding that I want pad thai and cashew chicken with brown rice?  So I speak louder, thinking if only I can enunciate enough it will be understood, and my order won’t incorrectly be beef chow-mein or spicy noodles.

Obviously, the problem isn’t my phone (though seriously, AT&T if you’re reading this, do something about my dropped calls pleasssssssssssssse) but the language barrier between my English and the order-taker’s non.  I’m not ignorant though – I only speak one language (and I think to think I speak it well, but still – single language speaker here) as opposed to these people crossing oceans and coming not understanding a single word spoken and somehow picking it up… which is just incredible.

My thoughts seem to be all over the place, but really my point is to suggest that you read GIRL IN TRANSLATION, the amazing debut novel from Jean Kwok.  A Riverhead title, I first read this book in manuscript form on my patio last year and was instantly hooked.  I could feel the pain of protagonist Kimberly Chang as she and her mother immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn and lost everything along the way.  History, tradition, language… everything was gone, and replaced with poverty and sweatshops and a freezing cold apartment during NYC winters.

What really struck me about this novel is how Kwok was able to capture the confusion of languages.  She explains how Chinese sounds to outsiders, and her mother’s struggle at understand the English language.  And in this situation, when it really is life, it’s not funny like the signs shown above.  Also incredible is how Kimberly measures cost by how many skirts she and her mother would have to clean at the sweat shop:  “…the jackets cost at least 20,000 skirts each.” – it gives a whole new value to the dollar.

So my point to  you (and a reminder to myself) is to have tolerance and patience.  My intention is not to make this book sound like a downer – it’s a lovely summer read and definitely one you can share with your mom, sister, and any YA reader in you life.  In fact, I suggest you do share it with them; it will give you lots of discussion and things for which to be thankful!

The past several days here in NYC have been just glorious, with warm weather and sunshine finally showing up, giving me freedom from tights and the motivation to spend an exorbitant amount of money for spring-y blond highlights.  There’s no better way to jaunt off to work than tightless, trenched, coffee in hand and to traipse through Washington Square Park en route.

An iconic spot, the arch at Washington Square park is recognizable and has been featured in many movies (and blown-up in some, like that Zombie, world-ending one with Will Smith).  It also graces the jacket, and the title, of Joanne Rendell’s second novel, CROSSING WASHINGTON SQUARE.

“A charming, witty, and cerebral novel.”
-Nicola Kraus, co-author of The Nanny Diaries

Residing solidly in the chick-lit category, this title offers more than just the expected romantic encounters.  Maybe because Rendell has a PhD in English Literature, this book is peppered with references to classics that I felt guilty for not having yet read.  Following a likable, English teacher NYC implant from the South (fittingly, a professor of popular women’s literature), readers sympathize with her character while looking back at their own college days.

Frolicking in front of the arch last summerThe perfect light read for a gorgeous spring day!  As still a relative newcomer to the city myself, I still find cheap amusement in the awareness I have when reading about NYC.  Being able to nod my head and think “yes, yes I know where her apartment is.. that street corner.. that bar” has yet to get old.

Washington Square Park is an iconic, gorgeous attraction not to be missed on your next trip to the city.  There are often performers entertaining the crowds, along with sun bathers, young mothers, and readers on the bench.  It’s under construction now, so I eagerly await the renovations.

If you’re lucky, you may even see a sun-bather, like the picture I was lucky to have snapped last summer:

Cross your fingers for this view!

According to Jane

According to Jane

Yes, this is my FIRST BLOG GIVEAWAY so please be kind and participate!

It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet “tsk” of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go—sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.

Still, everyone has something to learn about love—perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending…

I am not a Jane Austen fanatic.  Truthfully (ashamedly), I’ve never even read

My Austen "collection"

My Austen "collection"

the works of Ms. Austen, though I have her large red omnibus on my bookshelf, along with an old garage-sale copy of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and the same book with the irresistible, re-designed cover from Penguin classics.  They are on my ever growing, never dwindling shelf of to-be-reads (I’m sure many of you can sympathize).

So even though I’ve never officially been introduced, I now feel I’m on intimate terms with Jane, after hearing her wit and euphemisms through the voice of author Marilyn Brant and in the head of protagonist Ellie Bartlett, in the debut novel ACCORDING TO JANE (Kensington Press, Sept. 29, 2009).

While the premise sounds odd (Jane Austen in a role similar to an invisible friend or “A kind of literary twilight zone thing”), the witty banter, lovable characters and unforgettable story take me to my happy “I don’t actually want this book to end but I just want the characters to find what they’re looking for” place.

Brant manages to jump around time and place without making you lose a second of the story to confusion.  She has the rare ability as an author to take you from reliving your awkward high school years along with Ellie (and the traumatic male/female interactions) to within the psyche of a single, searching, adult woman in the next paragraph.  Ellie is a unique female protagonist that I find endearing in her failures and utterly relateable in her fears, while trying to find herself (though I wish she weren’t already worried about marriage at the mere age of 26!).

It’s no surprise to me that this book took home the coveted Golden Heart Award for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements in 2007.  Brant has the humor of Sophie Kinsella with the best-friend-esque (made that up) intimacy of Jennifer Weiner.  The sex scenes are humorous in an actual funny, relatable way as opposed to the over-done, awkward to read (unless that’s just me) scenarios found in other novels featuring “strong romantic elements.”

Marilyn Brant

Marilyn Brant

In an effort of full disclosure, I was lucky enough to meet Marilyn back in June, when I wrote an article on the romance genre.  But, just because I like you doesn’t always mean I’ll like your book – so imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered my friendly, vivacious penpal can translate her personality so splendidly to an entire book!  I invite you all to hurry and visit Marilyn at her personal blog Brant Flakes ASAP, so you can boast about how you “knew Marilyn Brant before she was a huge author”!  Even better, visit her blog and let her know you’ve already pre-ordered ACCORDING TO JANE and are anxiously awaiting its arrival (discounted to only $10.29 – a steal! I’m thinking book club…)!

I admit, I’ve already read my bound manuscript twice and have thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself laughing even more — in one instance, out loud at sushi by myself in NYC – now that got me some looks.

And now for the fun part:

  • Do you like free books?
  • Are you a Jane Austen fan?
  • Ready for some new chick-lit/women’s light contemporary fiction?
  • Enjoy reading a new voice?

Marilyn was nice enough to send me two extra bound manuscripts PERSONALLY SIGNED (!!!) for your reading & reviewing pleasure!!!! Hurry now for these limited pieces.

To enter to win your copy of ACCORDING TO JANE, please comment below including your email address.  For an additional entry, share your most embarrassing high school makeout (ok kidding…unless you want to – I would reward you!) – for an extra entry up to 1/day, tweet this giveaway with a link and include my @novelwhore handle.  The contest ends Friday, September 25 at 11:59PM EST.  I’ll contact the two winners via email, and you must respond within two days to claim your prize.

The Chosen OneLast night, after a few drinks for a friends’ bday and a sleepless night before, I was ready for an early bedtime.  Since reading before bed is like a religious ritual for me, I decided I would just grab a YA novel for some quick, light reading.  Well, I made the wrong decision when I pulled THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams from my (new, beautiful and well organized) shelf.

This novel follows Kyra, a 13 y/o that is one of 20 siblings living in a polygamist cult ruled by a Prophet that oversees the lives of his apostles.  Oversees may be too kind of a word – dictates, rules, decides all fit as well.  Kyra has a tough time conforming and living within the rules of the commune, especially after becoming a member of the library on wheels and diving into the outside “world of satan”. When she is chosen to be the 7th wife of her 60 y/o uncle, Kyra realizes she has to make some big changes.

I used to be so very intrigued by the Amish, but now the polygamists have my undivided attention in the sector of my brain focused on “I don’t understand why the hell people live like that.”  At least the Amish people don’t do harm unto others – it seems to be similar to get out of a polygamist situation is more similar to leaving a gang.  While this novel is fiction, there is murder by weapons as well as by lack of medicine.

I’m still astounded by the lack of power found within the family – Kyra’s father seems to be more human than the cult leaders (though he does have three wives) but he has no influence over his daughter being married off to his brother (hard to believe, right?).  And it’s so sad in the story because Kyra believes her dad can take care of the situation – equivalent to my dad going along with my sister or I being sold into sex slavery.  I want more details – this story is starkly written, without the everyday details I would find fascinating, like no descriptions of the clothing and few details about the father dividing time between wives.

I finished this book without moving from my bed, and when done I ran out to give it to my roommate and instructed Women in a Polygamist Culther to read it immediately.  So much for a good nights sleep – I was thinking about this story (and wishing for a sequel!) and the real lives of the Warren Jeffs followers.  I’ve already added STOLEN INNOCENCE to my shopping cart, to dive into the true story of one young girl who lived Kyra’s fictional life as a teenage bride in a polygamist society.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-
  • Title: THE CHOSEN ONE
  • Author: Carol Lynch Williams
  • St. Martin’s Griffin

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