The Accidental Pilgrim, by Stephen Kitsakos (@stephenkitsakos) #review @TLCBookTours

About the book The Accidental Pilgrim The Accidental Pilgrim

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: ASD Publishing (January 20, 2015)

In the summer of 1974, Dr. Rose Strongin, a marine biologist, inexplicably disappears for three hours on the last day of an archaeological dig at the Sea of Galilee. She has no memory of the disappearance, but it causes her to miss her flight home from Israel. That plane, TWA 841, explodes over the Mediterranean killing all aboard. Twelve years later she learns that a 2,000 year-old perfectly preserved vessel, dubbed the “Jesus Boat,” is uncovered at the site of her disappearance and she begins to understand what happened and why.

The novel crosses several decades exploring the intersection of science, religion and the unexplainable as a family gathers to say goodbye to the matriarch who held a family secret.

Buy, read, and discuss The Accidental Pilgrim

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Stephen Kitsakos Stephen Kitsakos

Stephen Kitsakos is a theatre writer and journalist as well as the author of three opera librettos. His current project is the opera adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s international bestseller, A Thousand Splendid Suns with music by Sheila Silver. Other works include the Sackler-Prize award winning “The Wooden Sword” and “The White Rooster: A Tale of Compassion” for the Smithsonian Institution. His work often explores the connection between religion and art. He divides his time between Key West and New York.

Connect with Stephen

Website | Twitter

My Thoughts:

I tend to be pretty wary about any novel that is remotely related to religion, but I trust Trish at TLC Book Tours, so when she highlighted The Accidental Pilgrim and said she thought I’d really appreciate it, I said, “Okay.” In truth, I wish I’d had more time to sit with this novel before posting my review, because while the surface story is an easy one, the deeper story requires some digestion.

I’m glad I did, because this book a gem of a novel. First the story is completely compelling, combining family drama both in the present, as a father and his three grown children come together to pay last respects to his wife/their mother, and in the past, as we meet Rose (the wife/mother) in flashbacks and memories. Actually it’s pretty gutsy for a writer to have the main character begin the novel already dead, but this novel is really Rose’s story, though her husband (Simon) and her children (Sharon, Barbara, Nathan) have their parts to play.

Every single character was memorable, though Nathan is my favorite of the ‘children.’ I understood his prickly moodiness – he’s a musician, after all – and resonated with it. I loved experiencing Rose’s journey through her own eyes, and through the eyes of those around her. I also liked the way every character was flawed, and so very real. The two daughters, one like her mother, one more like her father, reminded me of my own aunts and their ability to bicker constantly but still completely love each other.

Then there’s the setting: most of the novel takes place on the Sea of Galilee, so we get to glimpse both contemporary Israel, and the Israel of the recent past, as well as a few other time-hops that I won’t go into for fear of spoiling some truly interesting plot twists. I’ve never had a particular desire to visit contemporary Israel (my fantasies tend to involve places like Fez, Tangier, or Algiers), but this novel gave me a deep appreciation for a region that is so entwined in political and cultural turmoil that I doubt resolution will ever come.

Finally, there is the author’s sense of craft. In an email to him yesterday, I commented that I loved the way he told us the way characters pronounced things – it really made me hear the subtle accents – Canadian, American, Russian, Israeli, British, etc. – and added a layer of realism that truly made the novel sing. Specifically, I mentioned a line early in the novel where he describes a character saying the word “kids” with a “k” that sounds like “…a small ball of phlegm stuck in his throat…” That’s the first example that struck me, but those little touches and nuances exist throughout the novel.

As I said, I’m wary about novels that have anything to do with religion, but when I open myself to one, I’m invariably led to a place where I’m provoked to examine some of my own beliefs and attitudes. (And as a culturally Catholic, liberal Episco-tarian (I’m UU in my heart but love the ritual and language of the Episcopal church) feminist with an ethnically Jewish stepfather and a Baptist husband, you can IMAGINE what my beliefs and attitudes might be.) This happened to me when I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s Certain Women. It happened when I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. It also happened as I was reading this book, The Accidental Pilgrim.

If you’re in the mood for family drama, this novel will appeal to you, and it’s possible to read it and just skim the surface. If, however, you prefer to delve deeper, this novel is meaty enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for a discussion of philosophy, religion, and science, and where the three intersect.

Goes well with mint tea, falafel, tabbouleh, and a handful of Medjool dates.

Stephen’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 27th: Raven Haired Girl

Thursday, April 30th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Monday, May 4th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies

Tuesday, May 5th: Lavish Bookshelf

Wednesday, May 6th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Friday, May 8th: Mom in Love With Fiction

Monday, May 18th: Victoria Weisfeld

Monday, May 25th: Broken Teepee

Thursday, June 25th: Wall-to-Wall Books

TBD: Novel Escapes

The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg #review @TLCBookTours @NetGalley

About the book, The Dream Lover The Dream Lover

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 14, 2015)

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg has written a lush historical novel based on the sensuous Parisian life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand—which is perfect for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.

Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?

Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.

Buy, read, and discuss, The Dream Lover

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million  | Goodreads

About the author, Elizabeth Berg Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including Tapestry of Fortunes, The Last Time I Saw You, Home Safe, The Year of Pleasures, and Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, as well as two collections of short stories and two works of nonfiction. Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for an Abby Award, and The Pull of the Moon was adapted into a play. Berg has been honored by both the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library. She is a popular speaker at venues around the country, and her work has been translated into twenty-seven languages. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a reading series designed to serve author, audience, and community. She divides her time between Chicago and San Francisco.

My Thoughts

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Berg’s contemporary fiction for years, so when her newest work, an historical novel about the life of George Sand, was offered to me by the awesome women at TLC Book Tours, I jumped at the chance.

From the very first paragraphs, I was caught in Berg’s delicious prose. It’s haunting, gentle, lyrical, even when she’s discussing things that are not at all gentle (or lyrical). But she’s writing about nineteenth-century France, so the language should feel like that, and the sense of place and time she gives us in this novel is so strong, so vivid, that I found myself not only reading passages of this novel aloud – as I do whenever the language or rhythm really entrances me – but reading it aloud in a French accent. (You would have been enthralled, I tell you, by my performance. My dogs certainly were.)

I always love behind-the-scenes information – I buy DVD’s just for the director’s commentary – and I love a good origin story, and The Dream Lover has both. Yes, we get to see the childhood of the woman who grows up to become George Sand, but we also get a glimpse into her life, her loves (not all of which were fulfilling or successful) and her craft. This is NOT a ‘writing book,’ but it’s definitely a writers’ novel. If you, like me, have literary aspirations, you HAVE to read this.

A passage about the writerly imagination, and how Aurore/George has heard the story of her birth so often that something told to her has become memory, really resonated with me. Here’s the actual passage (I can’t quote page numbers, because I read a digital ARC, but it’s at Loc 372/7% in on the Kindle version):

A writer has a most fertile mind, or he is no writer at all. He has an imagination that soars when given the most meager starts: a wet blade of grass, croissant crumbs on a plate, the sight of a woman hurriedly crossing a street. And in the way that the fiction a writer produces can assume a truth of its own, these details of my birth seem less story to me than memory.

How many of us haven’t shared similar experiences with frequently told stories?

The Dream Lover is full of such nuggets of human truth, and that’s what makes it such a great read. It’s not at all a “beach read,” but it’s not so heavy that you couldn’t read it at the beach, if that’s where you happen to be.

Goes well with A plate of fruit and cheese with a lightly sweetened palmiere pastry and a hand-crafted cappuccino in a proper cup, not some cardboard contraption.

Elizabeth Berg’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 13th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, April 14th: Let Them Read Books

Monday, April 20th: Bibliophilia, Please

Monday, April 20th: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, April 22nd: Books on the Table – Bookstore Event post

Wednesday, April 22nd: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, April 27th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, April 28th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, April 28th: The Novel Life

Wednesday, April 29th: Bibliotica – That’s ME

Thursday, April 30th: Life is Story

Thursday, April 30th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, May 1st: 100 Pages a Day… Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Monday, May 4th: Laura’s Reviews

Monday, May 4th: Book Babe

Wednesday, May 6th: Unshelfish

Monday, May 11th: Broken Teepee

TBD: Unabridged Chick – review

TBD: Unabridged Chick – author Q&A

About a Girl, by Lindsey Kelk (@LindseyKelk) #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, About a Girl About a Girl

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 14, 2015)

Tess Brookes has always been a Girl with a Plan. But when the Plan goes belly up, she’s forced to reconsider.

After accidently answering her roommate Vanessa’s phone, she decides that since being Tess isn’t going so well, she might try being Vanessa. With nothing left to lose, she accepts Vanessa’s photography assignment to Hawaii – she used to be an amateur snapper, how hard can it be? Right?

But Tess is soon in big trouble. And the gorgeous journalist on the shoot with her, who is making it very clear he’d like to get into her pants, is an egotistical monster. Far from home and in someone else’s shoes, Tess must decide whether to fight on through, or ‘fess up and run…

Buy, read, and discuss About a Girl

Amazon  | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the author, Lindsey Kelk Lindsey Kelk

Lindsey Kelk is a writer and children’s book editor. When she isn’t writing, reading, listening to music, or watching more TV than is healthy, Lindsey likes to wear shoes, shop for shoes, and judge the shoes of others. Born in England, Lindsey loves living in New York but misses Sherbet Fountains, London, and drinking gin and elderflower cocktails with her friends. Not necessarily in that order.

Connect with Lindsey

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

My Thoughts

From the first words of the preface to the last word of the last page I was hooked by the fresh, funny, fantastic read. Who among us doesn’t want to step into someone else’s life for a while? Which of us hasn’t been tempted to try to be someone we’re not?

What I love about this novel is that the author, Lindsey Kelk, really captured the truth inside a preposterous situation. Scenes that would have been played solely for laughs under less meticulous crafting, instead balanced humor and pathos. This is especially true with the lead character, Tess, whose voice narrates the novel, but even scenes where she wasn’t the central figure never felt two-dimensional.

I also love Kelk’s use of language, especially the way twenty-somethings tend to overuse casual curse words. I remember the my friends and I all had such potty mouths at that age, even though we were all working professionals. It was as if we were reveling in some kind of lingering linguistic freedom, a last frolic before we reached thirty. (Translation: Tess uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot. I find this to be a perfectly legitimate character choice.) Also, as an American reader, I have to say, I’ve always thought the British concept of “you’ve been made redundant” sounds so much kinder than “you’re fired,” even though the meaning is the same.

While Tess’s story may not appeal to everyone, if you’re looking for a fast, entertaining read – perfect for the beach or bathtub! – About a Girl is just about the best choice you could make. Read it now, so you’re prepared for the sequel, What a Girl Wants, which was published in the UK last summer, and is due to hit the USA soon.

Goes well with Poi, barbecued pork, and any drink that comes in a hollowed-out coconut or pineapple. Bonus if there’s also an umbrella.

Lindsey’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 14th: Unshelfish

Wednesday, April 15th: The Book Bag

Thursday, April 16th: BookNAround

Friday, April 17th: Stephany Writes

Monday, April 20th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, April 21st: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Thursday, April 23rd: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, April 27th: girlichef

Tuesday, April 28th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Wednesday, April 29th: Books and Binding

Thursday, April 30th: fangirl confessions

TBD: Kahakai Kitchen

Dear Carolina, by Kristy Woodson Harvey (@kristywharvey) #review

About the book, Dear Carolina Dear Carolina

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (May 5, 2015)

One baby girl.
Two strong Southern women.
And the most difficult decision they’ll ever make.

Frances “Khaki” Mason has it all: a thriving interior design career, a loving husband and son, homes in North Carolina and Manhattan—everything except the second child she has always wanted. Jodi, her husband’s nineteen-year-old cousin, is fresh out of rehab, pregnant, and alone. Although the two women couldn’t seem more different, they forge a lifelong connection as Khaki reaches out to Jodi, encouraging her to have her baby. But as Jodi struggles to be the mother she knows her daughter deserves, she will ask Khaki the ultimate favor…

Written to baby Carolina, by both her birth mother and her adoptive one, this is a story that proves that life circumstances shape us but don’t define us—and that families aren’t born, they’re made…

Buy, read, and discuss Dear Carolina

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the author, Kristy Woodson Harvey:

Kristy Woodson Harvey holds a degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s in English from East Carolina University. She writes about interior design and loves connecting with readers. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and three-year-old son. Dear Carolina is her first novel.

Connect with Kristy

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts

When Kristy Woodson Harvey contacted me asking me if I’d be interested in reading her book, I jumped at the chance, because it sounded exactly like something I’d love to read.

I was not wrong. This is a fantastic novel about mothers and daughters, and what exactly constitutes family.

Written in alternating first-person accounts, letters to the title character, this book focuses on Jodi, the nineteen-year-old biological mother of Carolina, and Khaki (real name Frances) her older, married cousin, and Carolina’s adopted mother, and how the lives and stories of all concerned are intertwined, woven into a tapestry where love is ever present.

I loved the way the rhythms of southern speech infused this novel. All through it, I found myself reading bits aloud because I wanted to hear the words, not just read them, and the author did an excellent job of keeping the two main voices of the novel separate and distinct, but clearly related. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but she did it with aplomb.

Based on this novel, I believe it’s safe to say that Harvey has a bright future ahead of her. I loved this book, but I’m also looking forward to whatever she comes up with next.

Goes well with homemade bread slathered with jam made from fresh-picked berries.

Threshold, by G.M. Ford #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, Threshold Threshold

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (April 21, 2015)

Acclaimed for his best-selling books featuring P.I. Leo Waterman, Ford introduces readers to a new, yet equally unorthodox hero in THRESHOLD: embattled Detective Sergeant Mickey Dolan. Still smarting from the very public breakup of his marriage and facing conduct complaints for use of excessive force, Dolan is at the end of his rope – and possibly at the end of his career – when he catches a case that just might turn things around: the disappearance of the wife and daughters of a powerful city councilman. Assisted by a remarkable young woman who may know the terrible truth about the missing family, Dolan soon finds he must choose between helping his career and protecting innocent lives. A suspenseful police thriller about a not-so-good cop given the opportunity to do the right – and most difficult – thing, THRESHOLD is a new chapter for G.M. Ford that is sure to satisfy fans of his Waterman and Frank Corso stories and new readers alike.

Buy, read, and discuss Threshold

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Goodreads

About the author, G. M. Ford

G.M. Ford broke onto the mystery scene with Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca?, a gin-soaked tome featuring Seattle private investigator Leo Waterman. The six-book Leo Waterman series was nominated for several awards, including the Shamus, the Anthony, and the Lefty. In 2001, Ford launched a new series featuring disgraced reporter Frank Corso and his goth assistant, Meg Dougherty. In 2011, after a twelve-year hiatus, he decided to write a new Leo Waterman novel, Thicker Than Water, which Thomas & Mercer promptly bought. His eighth Leo Waterman book, Chump Change, followed in 2014. Ford lives and works in Seattle, and is married to the beautiful and talented mystery author Skye Kathleen Moody.

My Thoughts

I love a good mystery (I’ve said that before) and Threshold is a great mystery, so I was hooked all the way through. I especially liked the way author G.M. Ford combines a retro pot-boiler sensibility with an absolutely contemporary story. Mickey Dolan, to me, seemed like he’d have been equally comfortable in a Sam Spade novel and an episode of CSI.

I also liked that the plot was fast-paced, but so well written that even when it was running at breakneck speed, I, as a reader, never felt out of the loop. I didn’t quite manage to solve the crime before Dolan had, but that’s only because I was paying more attention to character and language than details. (Sometimes I’m like that.)

I could analyze the characters, and tell you that author Ford knows his tropes well, and uses them with great success, or gush over the way every character felt gritty and real and interesting – even the bit characters who barely have dialogue.

Instead, I’ll keep things succint: if you like crime novels and are looking for a gripping new series from a writer with a ton of expertise, Threshold is the book for you. In fact, I suspect it will be a gateway book (pun absolutely intended) to more of Ford’s work, which, hopefully, will include a second (and more) adventure with Detective Sergeant Dolan, et al.

Goes well with A fully-loaded hotdog, and a beer.

G. M. Ford’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 13th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Tuesday, April 14th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, April 15th: 5 Minutes for Books 

Monday, April 20th: Life is Story

Wednesday, April 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, April 23rd: MariReads

Friday, April 24th:Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Monday, April 27th: Mystery Playground

Tuesday, April 28th: Words by Webb

Wednesday, April 29th: Built By Story

Thursday, April 30th: Bell, Book & Candle

Monday, May 4th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, May 5th: Mom in Love with Fiction

Monday, May 11th: FictionZeal

Tuesday, May 12th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Thursday, May 14th: A Bookworm’s World

Smash Cut, by Brad Gooch #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, Smash Cut Smash Cut

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 14, 2015)

Brad Gooch, the author of the acclaimed City Poet, returns with a searing memoir of life in 1980s New York City.

Brad Gooch arrived in New York in the 1970s, eager for artistic and personal freedom. Smash Cut is his bold and intimate memoir of this exhilarating time and place, complete with its cast of wild bohemians, celebrities, and budding artists, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, William Burroughs, and Madonna. At its center is his love affair with film director Howard Brookner, recreated from fragments of memory and a crosshatch of conflicting emotions, from innocent romance to bleak despair.

Gooch and Brookner’s intense relationship is challenged by sex and drugs, and by a culture of extreme experimentation. As both men try to reconcile love and fidelity with the irresistible desire to sample the legendary abandon of the era, they live together and apart. Gooch works briefly as a model in Milan, then returns to the city and discovers his vocation as a writer.

Brookner falls ill with a mysterious virus that soon has a terrifying name: AIDS. And the story, and life in the city, is suddenly overshadowed by this new plague that will ravage a generation and transform the creative world. Gooch charts the progress of Brookner through his illness, and writes unforgettably about endings: of a great talent, a passionate love affair, and an incandescent era.

Beautifully written, full of rich detail and poignant reflection, recalling a city and particular period and group of friends with affection and clarity, Smash Cut is an extraordinary memoir and an exquisite unflinching account of an epoch.

Buy, read, and discuss Smash Cut
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the author, Brad Gooch Brad Gooch

Brad Gooch is the author of the acclaimed biographies City Poet and Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, as well as other nonfiction and three novels. The recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim fellowships, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and is professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey. He lives in New York City.

Find out more about Brad at his website.

My Thoughts

Smash Cut is subtitled, “A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s,” and really that subtitle is both a perfect description, and a string of words that says very little, because while Brad Gooch’s book does cover all of those things, in a delightfully rambling fashion full of celebrity namedropping and lovely (and sometimes poignant) tangential anecdotes, it focuses on the author’s longterm relationship with Howard Brookner.

One could even go so far as to call it a love story.

It is, however, a love story that feels like a conversation (or several conversations), that explains place and time, lets us glimpse at the culture – general, gay, and celebrity culture – of the decades in question, and drops us into the dawn of the AIDS epidemic in a way only And the Band Played On and The Normal Heart have done before.

Gooch’s writing is engaging and honest. His comic timing is perfect, his sense of pathos equally so – as they should be, because he’s relating his own story, through a slightly misty lens.

Even though I’m a couple of decades younger than Mr. Gooch, I was familiar with a lot of people he mentioned, so it was interesting seeing them through his eyes, especially as most of them were relatively young at the time. Mentions of the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, in particular, really struck me, because I consider my 21st-birthday visit to his (posthumous) art show one of the final ‘coming of age’ moments of my own life.

If I came away from this memoir with any one grain of truth, or piece of insight, it’s the reminder that love is universal, and should be embraced, and enjoyed for as long as possible.

You don’t have to be gay or a man to enjoy Smash Cut. (I’m neither.)
You do have to be willing to treat it as though a friend of a friend is telling you their story… a story you may have heard a couple of bits of, but never from the source. A story of fame and art and two really interesting decades of the twentieth century.

It’s a love story.
Let’s leave it at that.

Goes well with an ’80’s style champagne brunch on the deck.

Brad’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 7th: missris

Wednesday, April 8th: Freda’s Voice

Thursday, April 9th: Sophisticated Dorkiness

Monday, April 13th: Inner Workings of the Female Mind

Thursday, April 16th: In the Garden of Eva

Tuesday, April 21st: Bell, Book and Candle

Thursday, April 23rd: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Monday, April 27th: Reviews by Amos Lassen

Tuesday, April 28th: Conceptual Reception

Wednesday, April 29th: Queerly Seen

Thursday, April 30th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Friday, May 1st: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Thursday, May 21st: Raven Haired Girl

Date TBD: Wordsmithonia

Read Bottom Up, by Neel Shah & Skye Chatham #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, Read Bottom Up Read Bottom Up

  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Dey Street Books (April 7, 2015)
  • A charming novel about falling in love (or like) in the digital age—the never-before-seen full story.

    Madeline and Elliot meet at a New York City restaurant opening. Flirtation—online—ensues. A romance, potentially eternal, possibly doomed, begins.

    And, like most things in life today, their early exchanges are available to be scrutinized and interpreted by well-intentioned friends who are a mere click away.

    Madeline and Elliot’s relationship unfolds through a series of thrilling, confounding, and funny exchanges with each other, and, of course, with their best friends and dubious confidants (Emily and David). The result is a brand-new kind of modern romantic comedy, in format, in content, and even in creation—the authors exchanged e-mails in real time, blind to each other’s side conversations. You will nod in appreciation and roll your eyes in recognition; you’ll learn a thing or two about how the other half approaches a new relationship . . . and you will cheer for an unexpected ending that just might restore your faith in falling in love, twenty-first-century style.

    Buy, read, and discuss Read Bottom Up

    Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndieBound | Goodreads

    About the authors, Neel Shah and Skye Chatham

    Neel ShahNeel Shah is a screenwriter in Los Angeles. He used to be a reporter at the New York Post and his work has appeared in Glamour, GQ, and New York magazine.

    Skye ChathamSkye Chatham is a writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in various publications, including GQ and Maxim.

    My Thoughts

    I always enjoy the way different authors, or teams of authors, handle epistolary stories. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, after all, is mostly a series of journal entries and letters, and it’s probably what got me hooked on the structure, though possibly Bridget Jones’s Diary is a better contemporary example of the same.

    Read Bottom Up actually owes a lot to Helen Fielding’s novel, I feel, because it has a similar contemporary sensibility, and a similar feeling of freshness and fun. It makes sense, in an age where we are all glued to our smartphones and iOS devices for a good chunk of our waking life, that our reading materials would reflect this, and – let’s be honest – how often do any of us make actual phone calls from our phones and phablets, rather than just sending a text, an email, a tweet, or a private message on some other social media site?

    Read Bottom Up, then, is a natural extension of reality into fiction, and while the creation of the novel seems a bit contrived (apparently the authors wrote it in real time, from separate locations, each taking two characters, and didn’t see the whole product until they came together at the end of their project), it also absolutely works.

    It also means it’s a blissfully quick read, which isn’t to say that the novel is bad – it’s actually pretty engaging – but just as the perfect romantic comedy movie is about ninety minutes long, this novel is a ninety minute – two hour read. Any more than that would be too much. Any less, and the story wouldn’t have room to become what it eventually does: a depiction of a very real, very believable modern romance.

    All of the characters – Madeline, Elliot, Emily, and David, were interesting and at least somewhat likeable. The ultimate ending was not a particular surprise. At times, I wanted to throttle each of the four ‘voices’ we hear in the book. Is it great literature? Probably not. But it’s a great afternoon read, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does become a film someday.

    I mean, I’d watch it.

    Goes well with iced tea and a cashew chicken salad from that trendy bistro you know you want to try out.

    Tour Stops for Read Bottom Up TLC Book Tours

    Tuesday, April 7th: From the TBR Pile

    Wednesday, April 8th: A Chick Who Reads

    Thursday, April 9th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

    Friday, April 10th: A Bookish Way of Life

    Tuesday, April 14th: BookNAround

    Wednesday, April 15th: bookchickdi

    Thursday, April 16th: Peeking Between the Pages

    Friday, April 17th: 5 Minutes For Books

    Monday, April 20th: Booksie’s Blog

    Wednesday, April 22nd: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

    Thursday, April 23rd: Thoughts On This ‘n That

    Monday, April 27th: Mom in Love With Fiction

    Tuesday, April 28th: Walking With Nora

    Wednesday, April 29th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

    Thursday, April 30th: Kritters Ramblings

    Monday, May 4th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

    Wednesday, May 6th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews

    Friday, May 8th: The Discerning Reader

The Hurricane Sisters, by Dorothea Benton Frank (@dorotheafrank) #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, The Hurricane Sisters The Hurricane Sisters

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (April 7, 2015)

Hurricane season begins early and rumbles all summer long, well into September. Often people’s lives reflect the weather and The Hurricane Sisters is just such a story.

Once again Dorothea Benton Frank takes us deep into the heart of her magical South Carolina Lowcountry on a tumultuous journey filled with longings, disappointments, and, finally, a road toward happiness that is hard earned. There we meet three generations of women buried in secrets. The determined matriarch, Maisie Pringle, at eighty, is a force to be reckoned with because she will have the final word on everything, especially when she’s dead wrong. Her daughter, Liz, is caught up in the classic maelstrom of being middle-age and in an emotionally demanding career that will eventually open all their eyes to a terrible truth. And Liz’s beautiful twenty-something daughter, Ashley, whose dreamy ambitions of her unlikely future keeps them all at odds.

Luckily for Ashley, her wonderful older brother, Ivy, is her fierce champion but he can only do so much from San Francisco where he resides with his partner. And Mary Beth, her dearest friend, tries to have her back but even she can’t talk headstrong Ashley out of a relationship with an ambitious politician who seems slightly too old for her.

Actually, Ashley and Mary Beth have yet to launch themselves into solvency. Their prospects seem bleak. So while they wait for the world to discover them and deliver them from a ramen-based existence, they placate themselves with a hare-brained scheme to make money but one that threatens to land them in huge trouble with the authorities.

So where is Clayton, Liz’s husband? He seems more distracted than usual. Ashley desperately needs her father’s love and attention but what kind of a parent can he be to Ashley with one foot in Manhattan and the other one planted in indiscretion? And Liz, who’s an expert in the field of troubled domestic life, refuses to acknowledge Ashley’s precarious situation. Who’s in charge of this family? The wake-up call is about to arrive.

The Lowcountry has endured its share of war and bloodshed like the rest of the South, but this storm season we watch Maisie, Liz, Ashley, and Mary Beth deal with challenges that demand they face the truth about themselves. After a terrible confrontation they are forced to rise to forgiveness, but can they establish a new order for the future of them all?

Frank, with her hallmark scintillating wit and crisp insight, captures how a complex family of disparate characters and their close friends can overcome anything through the power of love and reconciliation. This is the often hilarious, sometimes sobering, but always entertaining story of how these unforgettable women became The Hurricane Sisters.

Buy, read, and discuss The Hurricane Sisters

Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndieBound  | Goodreads

About the author, Dorothea Benton Frank Dorothea Benton Frank

New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. She is the author of many New York Times bestselling novels, including Lowcountry Summer and Return to Sullivans Island. She resides in the New York area with her husband.

Connect with Dorothea

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts

There are certain authors I gravitate to whenever I want a compelling drama with strong women, complex relationships, and fabulous coastal settings. Dorothea Benton Frank is one of them, and I know that when her name is on a book cover, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be disappointed in the story, even if I don’t always connect with the characters. (I suspect this is because of my bleeding-heart liberal, Yankee upbringing.)

When I was offered the opportunity to review The Hurricane Sisters in tandem with it’s release in paperback (it was originally published last summer), I leaped at the chance, and the book caught me in it’s pages and gave me a long, stormy afternoon’s entertainment. (There’s something eerie about reading a novel set against an impending hurricane, while tornado warnings are going on around you.)

What I love about all of Frank’s work is true of this novel: Interesting female characters, male characters who aren’t just cookie-cutter creations in pastel shirts – and a truly intergenerational story that is intertwined with Charleston and Sullivan’s Island. I felt for poor Ashley, being so betwixt and between, identified more than I care to admit with Liz, and wanted to adopt Maisie as my own grandmother (I would totally have offered her a third martini. I like mine dirty. I’m sure she wouldn’t care.) I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Clayton, slightly bewildered father, and Ivy, the gay brother who is the most functional and stable of the family.

I also liked that this book wasn’t just a coming-of-age novel for Ashley, or a coming-out novel for Ivy, and it wasn’t just a bonding story, or a family drama – it was all of these things and more, woven together the way real family issues intersect with each other, running parallel at times, and perpendicular at others.

The thread of domestic violence that runs through the tapestry of this story only made it more relevant for me. Not that I dislike Frank’s less message-laden work, but I could tell that something in her research really affected the author, and, indeed, she mentions this in the afterword.

As with any author’s work, every reader will respond to different stories in their own way. In the past, I haven’t always felt like I was ready for some of Frank’s work, enjoying it, but missing the point. Reading The Hurricane Sisters as someone fast approaching her 45th birthday, I feel like I’m finally part of her target demographic, but no matter your age, I still say, it’s highly unlikely that YOU will be disappointed by any book with Dorothea Benton Frank’s name listed as the author, and especially not this one.

Goes well with gin martini’s, dirty, followed by a steak and shrimp and a simple salad.

Dorothea’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 7th: The Discerning Reader

Wednesday, April 8th: The man thoughts of a reader

Thursday, April 9th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Friday, April 10th: Books and Bindings

Monday, April 13th: Lavish Bookshelf

Tuesday, April 14th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, April 15th: Bookshelf Fantasies

Monday, April 20th: Books in the Burbs

Tuesday, April 21st: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Wednesday, April 22nd: Jorie Loves a Story

Thursday, April 23rd: A Novel Review

TBD: A Chick Who Reads

Ivory Ghosts, by Caitlin O’Connell #review #giveaway @TLCBookTours

About the book, Ivory Ghosts: A Catherine Sohon Elephant Mystery Ivory Ghosts

  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Alibi (April 7, 2015)

In a blockbuster debut thriller brimming with majestic wildlife, village politics, and international intrigue, a chilling quadruple homicide raises the stakes in the battle to save Africa’s elephants.

Still grieving over the tragic death of her fiancé, American wildlife biologist Catherine Sohon leaves South Africa and drives to a remote outpost in northeast Namibia, where she plans to face off against the shadowy forces of corruption and relentless human greed in the fight against elephant poaching. Undercover as a census pilot tracking the local elephant population, she’ll really be collecting evidence on the ruthless ivory traffickers.

But before she even reaches her destination, Catherine stumbles onto a scene of horrifying carnage: three people shot dead in their car, and a fourth nearby—with his brain removed. The slaughter appears to be the handiwork of a Zambian smuggler known as “the witchdoctor,” a figure reviled by activists and poachers alike. Forced to play nice with local officials, Catherine finds herself drawn to the prickly but charismatic Jon Baggs, head of the Ministry of Conservation, whose blustery exterior belies his deep investment in the poaching wars.

Torn between her developing feelings and her unofficial investigation, she takes to the air, only to be grounded by a vicious turf war between competing factions of a black-market operation that reaches far beyond the borders of Africa. With the mortality rate—both human and animal—skyrocketing, Catherine races to intercept a valuable shipment. Now she’s flying blind, and a cunning killer is on the move.

Buy, read, and discuss Ivory Ghosts

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Goodreads

About the author, Caitlin O’Connell

A world-renowned expert on elephants, Caitlin O’Connell holds a Ph.D. in ecology and is a faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as director of life sciences for HNu Photonics. She is the author five nonfiction books about elephants, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense, An Elephant’s Life, A Baby Elephant in the Wild, and Elephant Don, and co-author of the award-winning The Elephant Scientist. She is the co-founder and CEO of Utopia Scientific, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and science education, and the co-founder of Triple Helix Productions, a global media forum with a mandate to develop more accurate and entertaining science content for the media.

When not in the field with elephants, O’Connell divides her time between San Diego, California, and Maui, Hawaii, with her husband, Tim Rodwell, and their dog, Frodo.

My Thoughts

It’s apparently the Year of the Elephant on my reading list, because this novel was the second of three elephant themed books I’ve got on my slate between now and the end of June. (The first was The Tusk that Did the Damage which I reviewed here.)

This novel is also a mystery, and you all know I love mysteries. Author Caitlin O’Connell took the sage advice to “write what you know” to heart, and used her own field expertise on elephants to create the setting and background for Ivory Ghosts, and in doing so she follows in the footsteps of people like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Kathy Reichs, who all spun their science careers into entertaining, educational, and interesting novels and short stories.

O’Connell’s descriptions are so vivid, her sense of place so strong, that when Catherine spent her first night in the ranger station’s less-than-comfortable cabin, I was sweaty and itchy in sympathy. Likewise, the characters she draws feel incredibly real, and completely believable.

The author’s use of elephant poaching and the ivory industry as both background and plot point made Ivory Ghosts as topical as it was terrifying. Early in the novel, Catherine stumbles upon a murder scene, and things only get more thrilling from there – but Catherine is also shown to be a flawed, feeling, human being, one we care about, root for, and ultimately hope (at least I do) we will get to travel with again.

This may be the author’s debut novel, but it reads like something from a seasoned professional, and I really hope O’Connell’s first foray into fiction is as successful as her non-fiction literary career seems to be.

Goes well with Ethiopian food (yes, even though it’s a completely different region), especially that tart yogurt, injera bread, and stewed lentils and sweet potatoes, and Tusker’s beer.


This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 eGift card to the eBook Retailer of the winner’s choice + an eBook copy of IVORY GHOSTS. Here is the coding for the Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Caitlin O’Connell’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 6th: 100 Pages a Day

Wednesday, April 8th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, April 9th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, April 13th: Book Nerd

Monday, April 13th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, April 15th: Bell, Book & Candle

Thursday, April 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, April 17th: Reading Reality

Monday, April 20th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Wednesday, April 22nd: It’s a Mad Mad World

Friday, April 24th: Back Porchervations

Monday, April 27th: A Book Geek

Tuesday, April 28th: Read Love Blog

Wednesday, April 29th: Life Between Reads

Thursday, April 30th: Mom in Love with Fiction

Monday, May 4th: The Novel Life

Imaginary Things, by Andrea Lochen #review (@astorandblue)

About the book Imaginary Things Imaginary Things

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Astor + Blue Editions (April 27, 2015)

From Andrea Lochen, award-winning author of The Repeat Year, comes an enchanting tale about family, love, and the courage it takes to face your demons and start over again.

Burned-out and completely broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents’ rural Wisconsin home for the summer—her four-year-old, David, in tow. Returning to Salsburg reminds Anna of simpler times—fireflies, picnics, Neapolitan ice cream—long before she met her unstable ex and everything changed. But the sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs awakens Anna from this small-town spell, and forces her to believe she has either lost her mind or can somehow see her son’s active imagination. Frightened, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, but what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son’s imaginary friends truly represent and hidden secrets about her own childhood.

Buy, read, and discuss Imaginary Things

Amazon | Astor + Blue | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Goodreads

About the author, Andrea Lochen Andrea Lochen

Andrea Lochen is the author of two novels, IMAGINARY THINGS and THE REPEAT YEAR. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and lives in Madison with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Andrea

Website | Facebook | Goodreads

My Thoughts

When the publicist from Astor + Blue contacted me about reviewing this novel, I was intrigued by the description, and immediately squeezed it into my schedule. I’m really glad I did, because this book is the perfect blend of straight up contemporary fiction and magical realism.

In Anna, author Andrea Lochen has given us a young woman who could be any young woman: a single mother who’s lost her most recent job and has had to slink back home to the grandparents who have always been the most stable influence in her life, in the tiny town where she was sent every time her own mother grew too bored/busy/distracted to be a parent herself.

As a daughter/granddaughter, Anna is still very much unfinished. She’s still at the point where she defines herself through her relationships with others, rather than having a truly mature self-identity. As a mother, Anna is fierce, protective, and loving, but also a bit permissive, partly as a reaction to her own upbringing.

While the Imaginary Things of the book’s title and description spring from Anna’s son David’s imagination, they are really there to serve as a sort of Greek chorus for Anna herself. It is through them that she learns to be stronger, more responsible, more open to love, and a better parent.

This novel isn’t about the destination, as much as it’s about the journey, and Anna’s companions on this journey include her son David, from whose imagination amazing things come, her grandparents Duffy and Winston, and her childhood friend (and so much more) Jamie, as well as the darker presence of David’s father, who is mentally unstable. Each of them is a fully-faceted character in his or her own right, and they interact so organically that at times if feels as though Lochen has drawn her characters from life.

The story is interesting and compelling, one of personal growth, maturation, the loss of innocence, and the acceptance of adulthood, but it’s never preachy, and never lectures.

If you pick up this novel expecting a traditional romantic comedy or romantic drama, you will be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you want a meaty contemporary read (almost literary really) with just enough magic to keep life interesting, you will not be disappointed. Imaginary Things is unimaginably awesome.

Goes well with Grilled cheese, tomato soup, and homemade lemonade.