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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.

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!

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.

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.

Sisters, City, Romance, Gay man friends, Family, Cocktails and… Waxing.

A story of NYC + Sisters seems like my type of novel, especially in these hot summer months when I need to escape the airlessness that can overtake my tiny NYC pad to go lie in a shady patch of green.

But even typing “patch of green” makes me cringe a bit, as I think of the Salon that this whole story is centered around.  I’m not easily embarrassed – I’m way too clumsy to blush over the occasional trip or the bruises that consistently appear from things hopping right in my way – but WAXED details some “below the belt” happenings that I would have preferred remained un-detailed.  I found myself to be rather distracted by the, er, unique setting that it was difficult to focus on the sisters.

From the publisher:

Waxed is the story of three relationship-challenged sisters working together at New York’s hottest waxing salon, catering to socialites, actresses, and regular folk alike.

Yank. On the surface, glamorous Carolina Impresario—big sister and owner of Impresarios—unapologetically wants it all, but secretly she is caught between her successful boyfriend and the only man she has ever truly loved.

Pluck. After a painful divorce, middle sister Anna reluctantly reenters the workforce and puts on a brave face while attempting to raise her children, one of whom is decidedly different.

Tear. Newlywed Sofia is a hybrid of her two older sisters: She loves the idea of a domestic life like Anna’s, but is entranced by New York nightlife and a new best friend, resulting in some major complications at home.

There was more than just hairless talk, as the three sisters had some complicated issues – I just wish I had been able to care more.  This book was a quick read, so we didn’t get to go in-depth with any of the characters but just skimmed the surface.  Carolina is a little too cold for comfort and I wish there had been a couple more cracks in her facade (and what happened with her “surprise” at the end).  Anna was sweet enough, but nothing stellar (though I did like her interactions with JJ and the way she accepted her children unconditionally).  Sofia was exploring herself and testing boundaries and was fun to follow along, though had some questionable behaviors that seemed to be in contradiction with other aspects of her described personality (which is totally allowed, just an observation… by far my favorite sister.  And wow, what a twist – yes, that’s intended to hook you!).

The winning character award goes to JJ, the eccentric elderly widow who is determined to live out The New Yorker’s “List of Things To Do in NYC Before You Die” before her terminal illness takes her.  Though Anna is written as the sidekick, the opposite is true – JJ was the highlight of this novel.

Side note – I tried to find this list, does anyone know if it really exists? The closest result Google delivered is the Facebook page called “New York Bucket List” here.

I’m more interested in the author than the characters, and I don’t really mean that as an insult.  His official bio is “Former New York City publicist, Robert Rave, has worked on numerous public relations campaigns and high profile special events in the lifestyle, fashion, nightlife and entertainment industries.  He is the author of SPiN and currently lives in Los Angeles.” But I suggest you visit his website at http://www.robertrave.com to learn more.  It’s so curious to me that a man chose to set a book around a waxing salon.  I enjoyed this book enough to want to pick up Robert’s SPiN when it comes out in paperback (which I think would be soon), as I think the public relations setting would appeal to my apparently prudish sensibilities more.

This book is the perfect pick for a beach read as it’s short enough to carry around without being weighed down and you can read it in one sitting – though be aware you may blush at some parts!  You can pick it up on Amazon here.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for hosting this book tour!  I invite you to take a look at the list of all blog hosts available here.

I like to think I’m not a superficial book buyer or reader (I trust you fellow bloggers to tell me about books!), but if I were to buy a book for its cover, I definitely would choose 31 BOND STREET.

Beyond the jacket, the cover language of: “A Novel of Murder, Innocence and Power in New York City” is very compelling. Additionally (like I need another reason), I walk by Bond Street at least once a day, as it’s located between my current apartment in the East Village and just about every other place I go.

Though the house of the “society dentist” in this novel no longer stands, the intersection of Bond Street and Bowery is still a hive of activity, with pedestrians walking and cabs honking all day and well into the night.  Though in this novel, the setting of 31 BOND STREET was in many ways a simpler time of horse-drawn carriages, though the simple times didn’t stop evil from rooting.

Based around a murder that stole the newspaper headlines back in 1857, this novel introduces us to the widowed Emma Cunningham, struggling financially while trying to hold her place in society and raise her two daughters (less raising them than trying to rope good husbands).  When a summer trip to Saratoga (which sounded like an old-fashioned Hamptons!) introduces Emma to wealthy dentist Harvey Burdell, she thinks her future is accounted for.

Bond St & Bowery intersection today

Upon moving in to Harvey’s brownstone at (you guessed it) 31 Bond Street, Emma awaits the marriage proposal she thinks is imminent.  The short time in this abode, she alienates the servants while making the location more pleasant for her daughter’s suitors.  It doesn’t take long for her to realize that while she’s sleeping with Harvey, she may not be next in line to be Mrs. Burdell.

Then Harvey is found brutally murdered, his head almost detached from his neck.  With no witnesses, Emma is quickly the only suspect.

Filled with power, corruption and greed, this novel has many strands of historical significance weaving through.  From the “good” lawyers to political corruption to issues of slavery and power, it is not only a courtroom drama but a colorful fictional look at a different time.

Beyond the rough-edged paper, my other favorite unique aspect of this book were the fictional clips from The New York Times, which did a wonderful job setting the scene and lending a feeling of legitimacy to the time and place.

While I enjoyed the historical imagery, throughout the book I was disappointed by the lack of emotion felt by all characters.  Not once does Emma seem to consider falling in love with Harvey (or anyone else), nor does she seem to have many maternal affections toward her daughters beyond finding them a suitable husband.  I found the most feelings to be from the lawyer who seems to accept Emma’s case rather spontaneously and accept the loss of position with a prestigious law firm.  I also enjoyed the young character John.  Beyond those, I was surprised by how unemotional the book felt, when murder trials typically incite very passionate responses.

This is a wonderful book for readers who appreciate historical details and a setting painted with a talented hand.  It really did take me back to a different time period.  If you enjoyed Jed Rubenfeld’s THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER you should definitely pick up 31 BOND STREET.

You can find this debut novel for sale on Amazon, B&N, Borders and IndieBound.  I look forward to Horan’s next novel.

Thank you to TLC Book Blog Tour for planning this tour!  Hop over and visit the rest of the tour stops here.

I love book blog tours and the lovely hosts at TLC, so was thrilled and honored (and more than a  bit nervous) to join this tour for the recently released novel THE ONE THAT I WANT from beloved woman’s fiction author Allison Winn Scotch (visit her lively and fun blog here: http://www.allisonwinn.com/ask-allison).  Though I’ve never read her previous two novels, I’m a dedicated follower of Allison on Twitter (@aswinn) and had been hoping to get my hands on her work.

The gorgeous cover initially drew me in.  At first glance, it seems to depict a joyful child… when upon cracking open the spine, I realized the “child” on the front was actually Tilly Farmer, main protagonist and a woman who in her 30s had managed to maintain a childlike innocence and happiness.  Married to her high school sweetheart, Tilly was content in her unchallenged, consistent, and mundane small town life.

Being from a small town myself, I understood Tilly’s comfort in her in life – knowing everyone and everything, with very few surprises.  However, I related much more to the feelings of her husband Tyler, who felt restricted, as if he had settled too early and was missing out on trying new things and new ventures.

Tilly is similar to many people I knew in high school that were content to settle down and make a life for themselves and their family, on the same street they had always known and continued to go to the same grocery store and walk their dog past the same houses.  I found it rather frustrating that it took magic forced upon Tilly by an old friend and fortune teller for her to open her eyes and realize that there may be more to life; that her husband may not be sharing her feelings of simple contentedness and things may not always be as they appear.

I’m not usually a paranormal reader, but the “magic” that allowed Tilly to see the future didn’t turn me off, since it just helped her open her eyes to what was already there.   Tilly was a tough character for me to root for.  You want people to be happy (and I totally believe in happy endings), but she was only happy in her ignorance – which drives me crazy. Like when yet another person from my small town marries their high school sweetheart without having left the state, I kept on asking myself “This is all  you want from life? You’re happy with just this?”

Allison writes very convincingly of life in a small town, which intrigues me, since I know from Twitter that she lives in NYC (which is far from Tilly’s comfort zone).  The one day it took me to read this book made me have feelings all over the map – a sense of comradeship with Tilly at the beginning over the comfort she feels in her small town, to disgust that she is unwilling to look at her husband’s dreams, to a feeling of “finally! You get it!” towards the end.  I must admit, the ending did surprise me.  I don’t think this is a spoiler, but just a warning ending is going to be discussed: I was pleased with THE ONE THAT I WANT not having a cookie-cutter happy ending, but I do wish Tilly had expanded her wings just a little bit more instead of throwing in the towel.

I enjoyed THE ONE THAT I WANT and if you’re looking for a not-totally light hearted but still enjoyable summer read, encourage you to pick this one up!  While the storyline has been told before, Allison is talented at weaving in many facets (sisterly relationships, a mother’s death, a father’s drunkenness, high school memories) to make it a fresh tale.

You can purchase this novel from the following retailers: Amazon, B&N, Borders, IndieBound, and I encourage you to “get to know” Allison via her blog and Twitter, or visit her website.

Thank you, TLC!

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