TLC Book Tour: The Opposite of Everything, Joshilyn Jackson

tlc1I have had the pleasure of reading and of meeting Joshilyn Jackson before, so when TLC Book Tours offered her latest novel, The Opposite of Everything, I was excited to be included. Jackson is a fresh Southern voice, and I have enjoyed her previous work very much.

This novel is the story of Paula Vauss, a gutsy divorce lawyer living in Atlanta. Paula grew up nearly homeless, constantly moving and changing her name, with her hippie mother Kai, an admirer of Indian religious philosophy who called Paula Kali, after the Indian goddess. Paula carries a great deal of guilt over her broken relationship with her mother and blames herself for her mother’s stint in prison because it was Paula who called 911 and summoned the police the day Kai was taken to jail. However, when some unexpected and unknown elements of Kai’s past drop into Paula’s life, she has to decide what to do and whether to let Kai—and those relics of her troubled past—into her life and reconcile with her mother’s ghost.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s a mix of Southern humor and Southern gothic, as most great Southern literature is. Jackson is very funny in person, and this humor spills over into her books, even when she’s dealing with the dark subject matter of unwanted children, foster care, and ugly divorces. Paula is a wounded character who has built up a tough exterior so she can face the world, but she is completely discombobulated by what she discovers about her mother. I loved the end—it was perfect. I used to live in Atlanta, and Jackson is on familiar territory here, too. She clearly knows the city well and captures it without making it a necessary part of the narrative. Her characters are well-drawn and true-to-life. Paula conjures the memory of her mother with perfect clarity. The reader has no doubt how much feeling has passed between Paula and her mother, as much as Paula herself tries to distance herself from that past. It winds up very much a part of her present, and she discovers that owning it and dealing with it will finally make her whole.

Rating: ★★★★½

tlc2Tour Schedule

Tuesday, October 11th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Wednesday, October 12th: G. Jacks Writes
Friday, October 14th: Art @ Home
Monday, October 17th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, October 18th: The Book Bag
Tuesday, October 18th: Wall-to-Wall Books
Thursday, October 20th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, October 25th: The Reading Date
Wednesday, October 26th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, October 27th: Mom’s Small Victories
Friday, October 28th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

the-opposite-of-everyone-pb-coverAbout The Opposite of Everyone

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 11, 2016)

A fiercely independent divorce lawyer learns the power of family and connection when she receives a cryptic message from her estranged mother in this bittersweet, witty novel from the nationally bestselling author of Someone Else’s Love Story and gods in Alabama—an emotionally resonant tale about the endurance of love and the power of stories to shape and transform our lives.

Born in Alabama, Paula Vauss spent the first decade of her life on the road with her free-spirited young mother, Kai, an itinerant storyteller who blended Hindu mythology with southern oral tradition to re-invent their history as they roved. But everything, including Paula’s birth name Kali Jai, changed when she told a story of her own—one that landed Kai in prison and Paula in foster care. Separated, each holding secrets of her own, the intense bond they once shared was fractured.

These days, Paula has reincarnated herself as a tough-as-nails divorce attorney with a successful practice in Atlanta. While she hasn’t seen Kai in fifteen years, she’s still making payments on that Karmic debt—until the day her last check is returned in the mail, along with a mysterious note: “I am going on a journey, Kali. I am going back to my beginning; death is not the end. You will be the end. We will meet again, and there will be new stories. You know how Karma works.”

Then Kai’s most treasured secret literally lands on Paula’s doorstep, throwing her life into chaos and transforming her from only child to older sister. Desperate to find her mother before it’s too late, Paula sets off on a journey of discovery that will take her back to the past and into the deepest recesses of her heart. With the help of her ex-lover Birdwine, an intrepid and emotionally volatile private eye who still carries a torch for her, this brilliant woman, an expert at wrecking families, now has to figure out how to put one back together—her own.

The Opposite of Everyone is a story about story itself, how the tales we tell connect us, break us, and define us, and how the endings and beginnings we choose can destroy us… and make us whole. Laced with sharp humor and poignant insight, it is beloved New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson at her very best.

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Joshilyn JacksonAbout Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including gods in Alabama, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, and Someone Else’s Love Story. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, she is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

Connect with her through her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

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TLC Book Tour: Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

tlc1I’ve been seeing Ann Patchett’s newest novel Commonwealth on all the “best of the fall” lists and displays in bookstores, so I was really excited to be among the first to read it, courtesy of the TLC Book Tours. I was also excited to read it because I really enjoyed State of Wonder. I haven’t read her book Bel Canto, but I understand it’s amazing.

Commonwealth begins at Franny Keating’s christening party in Southern California, when Bert Cousins, attorney at the DA office, shows up uninvited with a bottle of gin that never seems to run out and the idea to make screwdrivers with oranges, abundant in the trees of suburban LA. Before long, Bert is Franny’s stepfather. She and her older sister spend most of the year in Virginia, where Bert and Beverly, Franny’s mother, move after their marriage. Meanwhile, Fix Keating, Franny’s father, stays in California, close to where the Cousins children spend most of their year with their mother. However, during the summer, the families combine when the Cousins children fly out to Virginia to spend time with their father. Bert and Beverly, clearly worn out by caring for all six children at once, don’t pay quite as much attention to the wild adventures the children undertake—an oversight that will prove disastrous and ripple through the family for decades. Years later, Franny meets renowned author Leon Posen, and her family story finds its way into his first novel in years.

This book flashes around in time and takes on different points of view, but for the most part, it is told by Franny. I am not sure if the revelations about Franny’s family or the aftermath when they become the subject of Leon’s book would have been as effective without time jumps, but all the same, it makes it more challenging to follow the plot. However, this book is much more about the characters and how they relate than it is about the plot. Some readers might want to return to other parts, and it’s easy to miss a small but important detail. I did feel the plot meandered too much, and I kept looking for a great revelation or some major event that would tie the ends together in a grand theme, which I did see in State of Wonder. The writing at the sentence level was great—Patchett on form. Patchett pulls some sleight of hand with the pivotal event (I can’t reveal too much) that seems unfair à la Chekov’s gun. Honestly, that particular choice somehow made the universe feel especially cruel. I’d be interested to see if other readers felt the same way. The novel takes a while to get into, but once it grabbed me, it was hard to put down. I wanted to find out how everything would end. The result didn’t feel like a novel story—it felt more like a real family story, passed down over the years, with all the flaws, gaps, and drawbacks as well as all the great realism and importance that a family story is.

Rating: ★★★★☆

tlc2Tour Schedule

Tuesday, September 13th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 14th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, September 15th: Vox Libris
Friday, September 16th: Art @ Home
Friday, September 16th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, September 19th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, September 21st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, September 22nd: Tina Says…
Monday, September 26th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, September 27th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, September 28th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, September 29th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, October 3rd: Fictionophile
Tuesday, October 4th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, October 4th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, October 5th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Thursday, October 6th: Lit and Life
Friday, October 7th: The Well-Read Redhead

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

commonwealth-coverAbout Commonwealth

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper (September 13, 2016)

The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

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Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney

Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney

About Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Find out more about Ann on her website and follow her bookstore, Parnassus Books, on Twitter.

Harper Collins was kind enough to send me an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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TLC Book Tour: The Bitch is Back, ed. Cathi Hanauer

tlc1I’m glad I had the opportunity to read The Bitch is Back, edited by Cathi Hanauer for TLC Book Tours. First, I wanted to share my own thoughts about the book, and what follows is more information provided by the publishers.

I have not read The Bitch is in the House, to which The Bitch is Back is a sequel, but my understanding is that it, like The Bitch is Back, is a collection of essays written by women about “the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium.” Some of the original writers returned for The Bitch is Back, and a few of these returned to their original essays and reflected on the women they once were and the changes over the last 15 years.

If I had to guess, I’d say the audience for this book is women in their late thirties through their late sixties, and I fall in that bracket. As such, I felt like this book spoke to me in a way it might not speak to younger millennial women or older women. The essays in this book treat on subjects as diverse as marriage and parenting, divorce and adultery, transsexualism, homosexuality, domestic abuse, child abuse, arranged marriage, romance, aging, and sex. I found myself underlining lines and dogearing pages that spoke to me, both of which I rarely do when reading for pleasure. These bitches have a lot to say! They have many of the same fears and questions I do:

  • What, exactly, is menopause going to do to my body? And what about sex?
  • How do you keep a marriage going past its twentieth year?
  • What about aging? What can I expect?

They discuss these and other issues candidly in the essays. Some standouts for me included “Vagina Notwithstanding” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, in which Boylan discusses her transition from male to female and its impact on her marriage to a woman; “Coming of Age: Sex 102” by Sarah Crichton (and Sarah, if you see this, THANK YOU for the shopping recommendation—she, and anyone else who reads the essay, will get it), in which Crichton discusses sex after menopause and a long dry spell; “Living Alone: A Fantasy” by Sandra Tsing Loh, in which Loh discusses the end of her marriage and living with her boyfriend Charlie; and “Second Time Around” by Kate Christensen, in which Christensen discusses advocating for what you need out of marriage. I found nuggets of wisdom in most of the essays, however.

One criticism I have read of The Bitch in the House is that all of the writers were white women who wrote for a living and as such, the collective experience of womanhood wasn’t represented. In The Bitch is Back, Cathi Hanauer appears to have attempted to answer that criticism with the inclusion of more women of color (though the bulk of the women seem to be white) and women in lower classes. As a result, the essays feel a bit uneven, but I think trying for diversity, even if it results in a bit of unevenness, is a worthy goal. It struck me that most of the women seemed to live in the northeast, and in New York and New England in particular, but I also live in New England—another area in which I related with the writers. I found the book to be enlightening and enjoyable. And I definitely wanted to go out for drinks with some of these ladies.

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Tour Schedule

tlc2Tuesday, September 27th: Dwell in Possibility
Wednesday, September 28th: G. Jacks Writes
Thursday, September 29th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Friday, September 30th: Doing Dewey
Monday, October 3rd: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Tuesday, October 4th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, October 5th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, October 6th: In Bed with Books
Monday, October 10th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, October 11th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, October 13th: West Metro Mommy

the-bitch-is-back-coverAbout The Bitch is Back

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (September 27, 2016)

More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.

“Born out of anger,” the essays in The Bitch in the House chronicled the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium. Now those funny, smart, passionate contributors—today less bitter and resentful, and more confident, competent, and content—capture the spirit of post-feminism in this equally provocative, illuminating, and compelling companion anthology.

Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these “bitches”—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the “original bitches” (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions.

As a “new wave” of feminists begins to take center stage, this powerful, timely collection sheds a much-needed light on both past and present, offering understanding, compassion, and wisdom for modern women’s lives, all the while pointing toward the exciting possibilities of tomorrow.

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HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

cathi-hanauer-apAbout Cathi Hanauer

Cathi Hanauer is the author of three novels—My Sister’s Bones, Sweet Ruin, and Gone—and is the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House. A former columnist for Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen, she has written for The New York Times, Elle, Self, Real Simple, and other magazines. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, New York Times “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones, and their daughter and son.

Find out more about Cathi and her books at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @cathihanauer.

Harper Collins was kind enough to send me an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Site Has Returned

I apologize to folks who have been trying to access this site and found it had been suspended by my former host. I wrote a post on my education blog about my experience, so I don’t feel the need to replicate it here. Just follow the link if you are interested. In the end, I was able to find a new host and get my site up and running again within three days. I wish I had spent the last three days reading on the beach instead, but nope!

Some books in the review pipeline:

I have finished the first one and the second and third are in progress. I am reviewing the first two as part of a TLC Book Tour in the beginning of October, so those reviews won’t appear until then. Also, I joined up with three different reading/book subscription boxes—think Birch Box or Stitch Fix for books. I plan to review/unbox each of them here on the blog. I am hoping to get back into it with my reading mojo pretty soon. I did really enjoy The Bitch is Back, but I didn’t read a lot this summer, and now it’s nearly over. One week from today, I need to return to work. Students will be returning soon after.

We did have a good summer, though. We went to Bar Harbor, Maine and visited Acadia National Park, which is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. We drove up to Montpelier and Waterbury, Vermont and bought maple syrup and cheese and toured the Ben & Jerry’s factory. My oldest daughter visited and we took her to Salem, MA (it was hot as the side of the sun that day!) and Amherst (to see Emily’s house, naturally). We also went to the Worcester Art Museum, and wouldn’t you know it, I recognized this painting from an old paperback cover of The Scarlet Letter. Because that is how I would recognize a painting, you know? It was a fairly excellent summer for exploring New England a bit for sure.

I’ll leave you with a poem.

The Summer that we did not prize
Her treasures were so easy
Instructs us by departure now
And recognition lazy—
Bestirs itself—puts on its Coat
And scans with fatal promptness
For Trains that moment out of sight
Unconscious of his smartness—

Emily Dickinson, Fr# 1622

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TLC Book Tour: Pleasantville, Attica Locke

Jay Porter, the hero of Attica Locke’s new novel Pleasantville, has had a devastating year. Barely able to cope with the death of his wife, he finds himself a single father to his two children and his law practice is shriveling on the vine. He won a major victory against Cole Oil, but appeals have dragged the case on, and Porter is losing his conviction that he will ever see a dime of the money his clients were awarded. Furthermore, so are his clients, who are being wooed away by a slick attorney trying to make a buck. Meanwhile, Jay’s office is broken into, and a young girl connected with the Houston mayoral campaign goes missing, and Jay is dragged into the crime when he is coerced into taking on one more difficult case—this time, a murder trial.

I have never read the first book about Jay Porter, Black Water Rising. I loved Locke’s novel, The Cutting Season, however. I think reading Black Water Rising would probably have been helpful, as I know I might have understood some elements of Pleasantville a little better. I do wish I’d kept a character list or that one had been provided. I found some of the characters difficult to distinguish from one another (it could just be me, however). Pleasantville is a tight crime thriller. I might compare it to a John Grisham novel had I read one, though having seen the movies, I have an idea this novel is along those lines. In some places, the pace dragged a bit for me, but I always wanted to finish and find out what would happen, and as the court case really started, I finished the book in two big gulps. I think it might make a pretty good movie as well. The political intrigues were fascinating in their way. Politics are dirty business. The ending also went a little crazy for me, and some aspects of it seemed a little far-fetched, but overall, I have to say I enjoyed reading this book. I think anyone who likes a crime thriller, courtroom novel, or a good mystery would enjoy Pleasantville.

Attica LockeAbout Attica Locke

Attica Locke is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Black Water Rising, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was shortlisted for the UK’s Orange Prize. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Attica at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

tlc logo

Rating: ★★★½☆

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Sunday Post #13: Not Much Reading Going On

Sunday PostI have not had a lot of time to read over the last two weeks with some extra work, and I’m hoping it changes in week ahead. I did finish the first volume of John Lewis’s memoir March, and I immediately purchased the second volume. It was weird. I ordered the book from Amazon on a Friday night, and I received the book the following Sunday. I have never had that happen. Since when do carriers deliver on Sunday? I must have missed that memo. I am not complaining—just surprised. I don’t know. Maybe I am a bit worried about carriers and days off. Still, if they are delivering on Sunday, they must get some other day off, right?

I am still reading the other books I started prior to or near the beginning of the month: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, Pleasantville by Attica Locke, The Annotated Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I have to admit I’ve put aside the Marie Antoinette bio for the most part because the other two books are more pressing for me to finish. Pleasantville is part of a TLC Book Tour stop here on April 17. I am trying to finish The Annotated Wuthering Heights for a challenge.

I like to listen to audio books while I clean house or make soap, so I started Katherine Howe’s Conversion, which I think is her first, and perhaps at this point, her only YA book. I am liking it so far. As someone who has visited Salem and lives in Massachusetts, I can appreciate the research that Howe always does with her books. I did notice she made Channel 7 the ABC affiliate in her book, but Channel 5 is actually Boston’s ABC affiliate. I wonder if she was made to change that because of legal concerns. Otherwise, I haven’t noticed any wrong notes. The book’s narrator, Khristine Hvam, nails an early American Massachusetts accent (at least based on what I understand it sounded like). I love Katherine Howe, not just as a writer, but as a person. She is so kind and personable to her fans. I am glad to see her returning to “witches” again. I will read practically anything with a Salem Witch Trials connection (practically, I said—I imagine there are some books I’d avoid). As a teacher at a New England prep school, there is much about St. Joan’s that I recognize, too.

Last week was the first week I’ve missed the Sunday Post meme since I started doing it. Truthfully, I didn’t have much to report at that point. Still, I am a little bummed I forgot to post. I am hoping some things settle down so I have more reading time. I always, always say that we make time for things that are important, and when people ask me how I find time to read, I say that I make time because it’s important. I have not been making much time lately.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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TLC Book Tour: The Tell-Tale Heart, Jill Dawson

The Tell-Tale HeartJill Dawson’s novel The Tell-Tale Heart begins with an unusual premise: Patrick, a fifty-year-old history professor, undergoes a heart transplant. He begins to notice subtle changes in his personality. He discovers his heart donor was a teenage boy named Drew Beamish, and he finds himself becoming curious about Drew.

Patrick discovers Drew was a local boy with a long family history in the Cambridgeshire Fens close to the hospital in Papworth Everard where Patrick’s transplant occurs.

Patrick’s story is woven together with that of Drew and of Drew’s ancestors, who were involved in the Littleport labor riot of 1816.

The heart has always been the symbolic seat of human emotion, and when Patrick finds himself changing after his transplant, unsettled with his previous self and wondering about his link to Drew and his family, he begins to wonder if the heart’s role is more than symbolic.

Patrick is a womanizer and a bit of jerk, but given his reflective nature and the changes in his personality, it’s easy for the reader to like him. His new heart not only gives him a second chance at life but also allows him to rethink his old ways. Even Patrick seems not to like the old Patrick very much (perhaps old Patrick didn’t like old Patrick either).

Drew, on the other hand, inherited a rebellious streak from the Beamishes, who first make waves in Littleport when they are involved in labor riots. Drew himself discovers his family’s history and becomes fascinated not only by their story but by history itself—and his history teacher. A young boy with much intellectual promise, much like his ancestors, Drew has also inherited a constant heart from another of his ancestors as well.

I enjoyed this story. The historical aspect was intriguing and was told in the novel much as it actually happened. Papworth Hospital, the setting for Patrick’s transplant, is a heart and lung hospital known for performing some of the first beating-heart transplants, just as described in the novel. Interspersing Drew’s story along with that of his ancestors underscored the circular nature of time, and Patrick finds himself connected to the Cambridgeshire Fens in ways he can’t explain after the transplant.
QuoteI have felt this kind of connection myself to places near where I later discovered my ancestors lived 200 years earlier. Patrick’s desire to simplify, reflect, and reconnect made sense to me. I found myself much more drawn to his story than to Drew’s, but that may be because I’m closer to Patrick’s age and stage of life than I am to Drew’s. I found the flashback to Drew’s ancestors interesting, but it also felt a little disconnected from the rest of the book. It establishes some rather important aspects of Drew’s personality, but I wonder how it might have been integrated more tightly with Patrick and Drew’s stories.

The Tell-Tale Heart is an interesting read that will make you wonder about the power of the human heart.

Jill DawsonJill Dawson’s website | Twitter

tlc logoRating: ★★★★☆

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Sunday Post #7: Forest and Fen

Sunday PostI finished up two books this week, but I am waiting to review both of them. The first is William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which I had never read before, but had decided to read way back when I read A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (review). It was during that year that Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. I liked it, though not as much as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, but I wanted to watch a movie version of it so I could review both the play and the movie version together. Unfortunately, Netflix is being extremely slow about sending it along.

The other book I finished just today is The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am reviewing this book as part of a TLC Book Tour this coming Friday. The book has an interesting premise regarding the after-effects of a heart transplant, and it did get me thinking quite a bit, but more on that this Friday.

Both books allowed me to explore two counties in the Reading England Challenge. The Forest of Arden in As You Like It was in Shakespeare’s own home county of Warwickshire. Sadly, I discovered, not much of it remains aside from a few very old trees. The Tell-Tale Heart is set in some smaller towns around Cambridge in the Fens in Cambridgeshire. Both books relied a great deal on setting in the stories to the extent that moving them might change the story quite a bit, especially in The Tell-Tale Heart.

I am still reading Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I will probably take up a new paperback today since Marie Antoinette is on the Kindle and Trigger Warning is an audio book. Some weeks ago, I was feeling in the mood for The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born. He left when my mother was, I think, about six months pregnant with me. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set there. I have several students from Vietnam. Last year, one of my Vietnamese students used to have really interesting conversations with me about the differences between our countries.

I am still waiting for The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan and I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira to arrive in the mail, though I’m really looking forward to reading those books. I did order them from third-party sellers, so shipping is not the quick Prime shipping I’m used to from Amazon. I think I have decided to read Hilary Mantel’s massive French Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety as well. I am not sure when I’ll get to that one, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I’ll likely get that on the Kindle so I don’t have to try to hold it up.

In case you missed it, I posted my review for Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice this week. I haven’t written any other reviews this week, nor have I started other books.

Given how much snow we’ve had, I suppose it’s logical that I have been able to do so much reading. I think I’ve read more so far this year than I can remember reading in the same time period… ever. Also, my kitchen scale broke, which is a necessity for soapmaking, so I wasn’t able to make soap this weekend either. It’s sad because I have a few wholesale orders and a custom request as well as some spring soaps I want to make up. It will have to wait!

In other bookish news, I have a book club! I am an idiot and somehow missed the memo about the book we were supposed to read until it was too late for me to finish before the meeting, but I did go, and we did talk about the book, and it was wonderful. For the record, the book I was supposed to read (which is on my list, though I didn’t get to it this time) was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. We are reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for next time, so I should be in good shape for that meeting at least.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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TLC Book Tour: The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore

The Serpent of VeniceWhat do you get if you take a generous helping each of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Othello, a dash of King Lear, and a big splash of Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado” and put it in a blender with Monty Python? I’m not sure, but I think it would look a lot like Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice.

The Serpent of Venice is the continuing story of King Lear’s fool, Pocket, first introduced in Moore’s book Fool. Lured to Venice by Montressor Brabantio, Iago, and Antonio, Pocket is chained and walled up inside Brabantio’s dungeon. A mysterious creature rescues Pocket, who seeks his revenge against the trio with the help of Othello, Shylock, and Jessica and the mysterious creature, the Serpent of Venice herself.

I found the mashup of Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays to be interesting. A little stitching, and it all comes together nicely, though the tragedy of Othello is sacrificed in this comedic novel. Moore explains in his Afterword that he shifted the time settings of the two Shakespeare plays, which are more contemporary to Shakespeare’s own time, to the thirteenth century and adjusted some of the finer points (Othello is fighting the Genoans rather than the Turks). A famous Venetian of the 13th century makes an appearance late in the book. As Moore explains:

I chose Merchant and Othello, obviously, because they are set in Venice. Early on, as I dissected them to see what parts I could stitch back together to make the abomination that became The Serpent of Venice, I started noting that the characters in each of the plays perform similar functions, and although I didn’t research it, I suspect the parts were written for the same actors.

I admit the Shakespearean scholar in me wants to take that project on. It would be interesting to uncover—I’m sure someone’s done it already. For the record, The Merchant of Venice is dated from around 1596-1597, while the earliest mention of Othello is 1604. Will Kempe, Shakespeare’s famous clown, departed the Lord Chamberlain’s Men acting company in 1599 and thus his successor Robert Armin likely played the Fool or Clown in Othello and also in King Lear, though Kempe probably did play Lancelot Gobbo in Merchant. Richard Burbage certainly played Othello, and this epitaph suggests he played Shylock. More research is beyond the scope of the resources I have at hand.

Nevertheless, the entire Afterword reveals the depth of research Moore did in order to bring 13th century Venice alive, as well as combine the three major works of literature that comprise this tale. Further, it’s intriguing that the two Shakespearean plays, aside from being set in Venice, are also the two major plays that include marginalized characters such as Shylock and Othello.

In fact, I quite enjoyed the characters in this novel, particularly the protagonist Pocket and Jessica. Pocket is smart and resourceful, but he’s no one to mess with either. For that matter, the same could be said of Jessica. Where the book particularly shines is in its witty dialogue. The book’s Chorus is a lot of fun. Witness this exchange, a flashback to events preceding the book’s main narrative, when Othello saves Pocket’s life:

CHORUS: And thus was friendship formed. Two outsiders, outside a palace in the night, found fellowship in their troubles, and there one’s problems became the other’s purpose.

“Who is that?” asked the fool.

“I don’t know him,” said the Moor. “Is he following us?”

“No, he’s just yammering on about the bloody obvious to no one. A nutter, no doubt.”

“I cannot carry him, too,” said Othello. (28-29)

The reviews on this one are a little mixed, and I gather it’s mainly folks who don’t appreciate the humor who give the book low ratings. I laughed often as I read. Moore has a gift for humor, or at least I think he’s funny, though I should think folks who find it sacrilegious to tamper with Shakespeare and don’t even like it when his plays have modern settings should probably not read this book. I think having read Shakespeare will help the reader appreciate the humor and allusions in this book. This book is probably not right for everyone, but I loved it.

For the record, I think Shakespeare himself would have loved it, too. Edgar Allan Poe? Famously a strange guy. I’m not sure what he would have thought. Of course, I also think that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the best King Arthur movie ever made (and I’m not even kidding about that—it’s closest to the Welsh stories that are the origin for Arthurian legend).

Possibly as good a test as any to determine whether this book is right for you is this bit of dialogue between Pocket, shielding himself behind the identity of Lancelot Gobbo, and Shylock:

He wheeled on me, stopped, and assumed the posture of one about to lecture. I had seen it before. Everywhere. “Since the time we were first chosen, Lancelot, suffering has been the lot of our people, but still, we must take our lessons from the prophets. And what do we learn from the story of Moses confronting the pharaoh? When Moses did call down the ten plagues upon the Egyptians? What do we learn from this, young Lancelot?”

“As plagues go, frogs are not so bad?” I was raised in a nunnery. I know Testaments Old and New.

“No, what we learn is, do not fuck with Moses!” (79)

If you think that’s funny (I laughed out loud), then you’re probably game for the rest of the book. If you were offended, this is not the book for you. For my part, I’m running right out to read Moore’s other books.

Christopher MooreChristopher Moore’s website | Facebook | Twitter

Rating: ★★★★★

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Sunday Post #2: Lazy Reading Week

Sunday PostI did not do a whole lot of reading this week. My students’ semester 1 grades were due, and I was stressed out (which means I probably should have read), so I wound up wasting a lot of time playing games on my iDevices, noodling around the the Internet, and listening to the Runaways (and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts). I am super excited that Joan Jett is being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (about time!). I have always thought she just oozed cool. I remember watching her music videos when I was a kid—her dark hair and makeup and her black clothes. I didn’t consciously model my teenage look on her, but now that I look back, I can tell I was definitely dressing and making up my face a bit like a tamer version of Joan Jett. I am also excited to see Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Green Day, the Smiths, and Nine Inch Nails being inducted. It makes me feel old, though, because all of these groups were music I listened to in high school, and they shouldn’t be old enough to be inducted. I don’t feel that old. Actually, Green Day came after high school for me. And don’t remind me Nirvana was inducted last year.

In other book news, I will be participating in some TLC Book Tours soon, and these two books arrived in my mail this week.

The Tell-Tale Heart and the Serpent of VeniceI actually have never read Christopher Moore before, but a work colleague has and said he’s funny. I hope I can still follow along in [amazon_link id=”0061779776″ target=”_blank” ]The Serpent of Venice[/amazon_link] without having read [amazon_link id=”0060590327″ target=”_blank” ]Fool[/amazon_link] first. I admit I wanted to read it after hearing comparisons to Monty Python and reading that it’s a mashup of Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Who could resist that?

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters—the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago—have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of spirits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

As an English teacher who has long taught “The Cask of Amontillado,” I have often wondered, and engaged students in wondering as well, what the thousand injuries of Fortunato were. I hope I remember enough of The Merchant of Venice to follow along.

I thought the premise of [amazon_link id=”0062348809″ target=”_blank” ]The Tell-Tale Heart[/amazon_link] looked interesting:

After years of excessive drink and sex, Patrick has suffered a massive heart attack. Although he’s only fifty, he’s got just months to live. But a tragic accident involving a teenager and a motorcycle gives the university professor a second chance. He receives the boy’s heart in a transplant, and by this miracle of science, two strangers are forever linked.

Though Patrick’s body accepts his new heart, his old life seems to reject him. Bored by the things that once enticed him, he begins to look for meaning in his experience. Discovering that his donor was a local boy named Drew Beamish, he becomes intensely curious about Drew’s life and the influences that shaped him—from the eighteenth-century ancestor involved in a labor riot to the bleak beauty of the Cambridgeshire countryside in which he was raised. Patrick longs to know the story of this heart that is now his own.

It’s not my usual fare, but the aspect of the blurb that piqued my curiosity was Patrick’s quest to learn more about the boy and even his family history.

In addition to these two books, here is the shortlist of books I want to read next:

 
 

 I have actually had The Lotus Eaters for a while—I seem to recall receiving it from PaperBackSwap. I heard about All the Bright Places from Shelf Awareness. I heard about We Were Liars at a recent English teachers’ conference. I was actually able to hear E. Lockhart and David Levithan speak at that conference (Jacqueline Woodson, too!). Men Explain Things To Me may have been another Shelf Awareness find, but I can’t recall. I do clearly remember reading a review or a blurb or something. I was raised in a different time, and I’ve only recently realized some of the ways in which my voice has been silenced. I know that sounds pretty crazy to some people, but conditioning and simply being used to things really affects awareness. And acceptance, too, I think.

Before I dive into all of these books, however, I need to finish [amazon_link id=”B00B9ZGZBI” target=”_blank” ]The Traitor’s Wife[/amazon_link] aka The Wolves of Andover. I’m about halfway done with that one.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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