Tag Archives: TLC Book Tours

TLC Tour: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

13th August 2013


*This book was sent to me by the publisher Hogarth in coordination with TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

 Maybe if there’s nobody else that remembers them, then it’s like they didnae happen. They’re just gone then. If they fried out my memories it’d be like I never existed, ’cause there isnae a sister, or aunty, or da who’s gonnae say: Oh, remember when Anais broke her ankle? Remember when she cried on her birthday? Remember when she ate a whole cake and was sick at the back of the bus!

Anais doesn’t have any of that at 16. Born into the system, she’s been shuffled around 50 placements and has a pretty severe drug addiction. Now she’s being transferred to the Panopticon, a Scottish care facility designed so that all rooms are visible from the watchtower. Anais believes it’s part of a grand experiment, that someone is always watching her, waiting for her demise.

Told from her perspective, her words accented throughout, it’s difficult to tell whether or not the experiment is a manifestation of the drugs she’s taking or the paranoia she feels. She stands accused of putting a cop into a coma and arrives at the Panopticon with bloody clothes, though she can’t remember where the blood came from.

But the Panopticon harbors the kind of people Anais understands – a mother who has HIV and has passed it to her twins, a kid whose mom has cancer and who has no other family, a prostitute in love with another resident. Yet instead of exploring the scenarios she sets up, Fagan allows Anais Hendricks to delve in and out of memories, in and out of possible delusions to set up the injustice of the Scottish foster care system. Anais has only one person really looking out for her, Angus, a grad student taking up her case where her last social worker left off.

As Anais hurtles toward her court date, she watches as the Panopticon breaks down those inside, and she, too, makes a decision that breaks her in ways she seems to anticipate all along. However, some of the biggest questions the novel sets up never get answered, and it leaves The Panopticon a read that, much like its protagonist’s fear, seems to be an experiment.

The writing is harsh, graphic and sometimes difficult to get through in its attention to dialect, and though its raw exposure of foster care and the system is interesting, I never felt enough “story” to really relate to those within the walls of the Panopticon. That said, most reviews rave about this book, many calling it a best read of 2013.  Just check out Goodreads.

Review: Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy

27th September 2012

*This book was sent to me by the publisher The University of Georgia Press in exchange for an honest review.

Love, In Theory has the perfect cover, a flow chart of sorts, and I want to illustrate the paths. It says:

Ten Stories

…of love and passion in theory, in fact, in fiction, in love.

…of love and passion and heartbreak in fact, in fiction, in love.

…of love and betrayal and heartbreak in fact, in fiction, in love.

…of love and betrayal between women and women in fiction in love.

…of love and betrayal between women and men and men in love.

But Love, In Theory isn’t romance. It’s love, as it says, in theory. Why in theory? Many of the characters in these stories don’t seem quite sure what love is, or at least they have clicked to the fact that love is not, in fact, birds chirping sweetly and fish swimming around lovers in rowboats.

I have to confess that I haven’t finished this book, but only because I’ve been so incredibly busy. I will say, though, that in the hospital and in hospice, I kept coming back to it. I couldn’t sustain a novel, and it was so nice to pick up a story, read it, and put it down again. As Audra mentioned in her review, the first story “The Best Way Not to Freeze” was so affecting, I had to read it twice.

Then there were moments where the emotion and writing just seemed so perfect:

Panic, she recalls, was named for the god of wilderness. She heads for home.

She takes the parkway fast, rounds a lake and then another and then she is in the woods. Passing Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, it occurs to Lisa to stop, but she has spent too much time already in this dark wood; she is ready to be done with it. She’ll find no Virgil there to guide her; she’s going to have to make her way alone for now and maybe for years to come, alone, and the thought of this – of herself alone, without Richard, in the vast stretch of time that is her future – makes her, finally, cry.

And this:

Cab rides in New York are like a love affair: one surrenders oneself to the care of strangers, trusting that they will take you to the right place. To the place you cannot get to on your own.

Full of love at its best and worst, Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy is a readable, addictive collection of stories about love, lust, loss, and loneliness.

Check out other opinions or add it to your shelf on Goodreads. Also, make sure to check out the other tour stops!

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

13th August 2012

*I received this book from the publisher Random House in coordination with TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

From the back cover:

Meet Harold Fry…recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then, one morning, the mail arrives and there is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. Thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick upon Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessy will live.

Ahh, Harold Fry. Perfectly British, the novel made the Man Booker longlist, quite a feat for a debut novelist. And though everyone I can possibly think of loved this novel…I did not.

The writing is good. Harold Fry, admirable. His painful past is lamentable and is introduced in well-paced revelations. However, even with all that, I did not quite like Harold Fry because I felt I did not really know him. Granted, this sounds odd as I just told you his past is revealed and his character honorable. But instead of feeling a kinship with Harold, I felt increasingly distanced from him as his observations bordered on kitschy needlepoint pillow fare:

He had learned it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.

Quite right, Harold, and there are easily two dozen pins on Pinterest which say virtually the same thing, as does Joyce here, in another passage:

It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.

Notice, I subconsciously introduced this quote by mentioning Joyce, and I think that is my biggest stumbling block: it didn’t feel as though Harold were making these observations but rather that Joyce was so inserted into the novel that I was being told how Joyce thought I should think Harold felt. If that makes sense.

In the first half of the book, these observations were touching, and there are several truly humbling moments when people open up to Harold and tell him about themselves in poignant ways; however, by the time the reader learns just what Harold has kept pent up within himself, these run-ins seem trite and forced, much like the group who, mainly for selfish reasons, decides to follow Harold in his pilgrimage. In other words, I wish Joyce had simply shown me these things instead of told me again and again.

However, this is quite possibly a case where I’m being much too cynical because, as I mentioned, many of those whose opinions I respect really enjoyed this book, as did most of the people on Goodreads [add it to your shelf if you like]. In fact, after finishing the book, I will say I had to really question myself: Am I unused to this kind of sacrifice and faith? Have I reached the point where sentiment seems manipulative? If so, what does that say about me?

I’m not sure I like the answers, and that, in and of itself, makes The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry an interesting read.

Check out others’ opinions on the book through TLC Book Tours.

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

2nd May 2012

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher Crown for a TLC Book Tour.

On a bucolic afternoon at an after-school Game Day, Grace looks at the school behind her and sees smoke. Her child has just run to get his cake from inside his classroom to celebrate his birthday. She races to the school and sees her son outside on the steps, but her 17-year-old daughter Jenny – working temporarily as school nurse – is nowhere to be seen. Setting aside any thoughts of her own safety, Grace rushes inside and drags her daughter from danger before collapsing. Both are severely injured, but Grace wakes, trapped in a hospital bed but able to move out of her body. She finds Jenny down the hall doing the same. Jenny has no remembrance of the fire, and Grace realizes how crucial it is for her to know the truth because something dark is still in the hospital with them. Grace and Jenny reconvene throughout the day, comparing notes and discussing Jenny’s condition: it’s not good. She needs a transplant, but it’s beginning to look as though she may not make it. Grace comforts out-of-body Jenny, and as they are dealing with this crisis, another comes along. Grace’s young son Adam is accused of starting the fire, and she is frantic and desperate in her attempts to piece together the oddities of the afternoon that changed their lives.

Nothing like a good ole out-of-body experience in a book, right?

Let me start off by saying that Afterwards is incredibly readable. I read it in two sittings, listening to Grace tell her husband (in her head) of her grief, her suspicion, and her fear, and watching as Grace moves about the hospital, observing her mother, husband, son, sister-in-law, and friends as they deal with the aftermath of the horrific fire that has critically injured both her and her daughter. It is evident that the fire was no accident, but the question is who began the fire and why? Was Jenny hurt intentionally? And who is the furtive dark figure that attempts to harm Jenny’s body in the hospital? Grace’s unusual perspective allows her and the reader a new understanding of the people in her life, such as the tough-as-nails sister-in-law who Grace has always been somewhat jealous of for the close relationship her husband has with the sister who raised him. As she watches, she’s touched by the way Sarah fights for Grace and her children while comforting Mike. She also watches as her husband visits her bedside with updates of their daughter, begging Grace to come back to him. She flits between these people she loves as well as those involved in the case.

Grace’s out-of-body experience is also very convenient for exploring a mystery, and Grace can even leave the hospital. It’s painful…but she can go along with Sarah (a police officer) as she interviews witnesses and collects evidence, and Grace builds up a case of her own, though it’s unclear what she’ll be able to do with this knowledge.

Afterwards is a mystery that also wants to be a Jodi Picoult novel. I’ve read a couple of Picoult novels, and the success of Picoult’s novels depends on an outpouring of emotion. Not knocking them, but this is what she does. You know, like when a mother saves her daughter from fire and both are unconscious and the daughter needs a transplant, but no one can supply her with one except the mother who is brain dead but not dying. Yeah. So if you were the kid reading all those sad books in middle school where teenage girls got cancer and died (Lurlene McDaniel) or if you love Jodi Picoult, this book is definitely for you.

Personally, I read the heck out of this book, but I was irritated for much of it. By placing Grace at the heart of this novel in the manner she does, Lupton overwhelms the reader with mother love goodness in this book. See? Grace ran into a burning building to save her daughter. Grace is out of body so she can be with her daughter who is also out of body. Grace investigates the crime to exonerate her son. Not that a mother wouldn’t try to save her daughter or prove her son is innocent, but the conceit Lupton uses with Grace’s condition takes it too far. Instead of feeling imaginative, it feels contrived because the only real purpose of Grace’s omniscient storytelling is for the reader; Lupton wants the reader in Grace’s mind because it’s more agonizing. Plus, the reader knows what Grace knows, which is more than any individual character in the novel does because they can’t be everywhere at once. But Grace is impotent to make any sort of change precisely because she is out of her body.

Sister, Lupton’s first novel, relies heavily on a conceit, but doesn’t feel contrived. Suspenseful and emotive with a definite twist, I recommended (and recommend) this to many. A nice trick in a novel once is interesting, particularly when it fits the story well, but when an author’s second novel also relies on something outlandish, I begin to get a little peeved, especially because Lupton is a good writer. However, I’d like to see a bit more true imagination and less Igottatotallysuspendmydisbelief-ness in her writing.

That said, plenty of people on the TLC Tour loved this book, and I’m going to give one of you a chance at my copy. You’ll probably love it. Remember, I’m the picky girl, so it’s probably just me. 🙂 How to win a copy of Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton? Leave a comment. Really, it’s that simple. Giveaway ends Friday, May 11, 2012 at midnight.

CONGRATS Twisty J of Twisting the Lens. You’ll get an email regarding your copy of Afterwards.

The Cove by Ron Rash

17th April 2012

*I received this book from the publisher Ecco for the TLC Book Tours.

Coincidence and ignorance, Miss Calicut said, but there had been times in the last year, especially after her father died, that Laurel felt she herself might be a ghost. Did a ghost even know it was a ghost? Days would pass and Laurel wouldn’t see a single living soul. Wasn’t that what a ghost was, a thing cut off from the living?

In World War I-era Appalachian North Carolina, superstitions and ignorance still rule. Laurel Shelton was born with a birthmark that locals in Mars Hill believe marks her as a witch, a suspicion reinforced as tragedy after tragedy strikes the cove where the Sheltons live. Forced to leave school by fearful parents of other schoolchildren, she cares for her ailing father while her brother goes off to World War I, and Laurel is lonely, lonelier still when her father dies, leaving her alone in the cove, where she sometimes doesn’t speak to anyone else for weeks.

Hank returns, wounded but alive, and brother and sister work hard to build up their land when a young mute man changes everything.

As she washes clothes in the stream one warm afternoon, Laurel hears a sweet song, the song of brightly-colored parakeets that once populated the cove. But the song isn’t from those birds, long gone after farmers began killing them. Instead, a man is playing a silver flute, tucked in the trees, hidden away. When she sees the man again, he is covered in yellow jacket stings, near death, and in taking him in, Laurel allows herself to hope for a bit of happiness, a happiness that will be shortlived, as the man has secrets darker and deeper than the cove.

This is a book of interiors, meaning much of what we know or learn is based on the characters’ interior thoughts, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a “show, don’t tell” kind of girl, but Ron Rash knows what he’s doing. Laurel has lived largely in her head, isolated and lonely, so it feels natural that Laurel’s thoughts are the place to which she would turn to narrate her story. Laurel is strong, but she is also heartbreaking. When Walter is preparing to leave, he kisses her briefly, and she tells herself, “Let it be enough. There’s been times you’d not believe you could have even this much.”

Because Laurel is truly an outcast. People cross the street if she is walking on the sidewalk. She is told not to touch the fabric in the dressmaker’s shop, and The Cove highlights outcasts: Chauncey Feith is a much-maligned army recruiter whose wealthy dad is the only reason he isn’t knee deep in trench mud. Slidell lives between the Shelton place and town, symbolic of his daddy’s unpopular stance as a “Lincolnite” and his own position as outcast all these many years later. Then there’s Walter, a man with talent but unable to show or use it because of his past.

Much of the novel is exposition, and it does drag the novel down a bit, particularly as some of these characters aren’t all that well developed. Walter and Slidell, for example, are given cursory scenes in which their pasts are brought forward while Chauncey Feith, the stereotypical coward and army dilettante, has several chapters in which to develop his dastardly character, except as a stereotype, he doesn’t change. It seemed an odd choice to lend him so much of the narrative. Additionally, while much of the novel is slow, detailing Laurel’s everyday activities and the digging of a well, the action at the end is rushed and confusing.

But Ron Rash is a beautiful writer, one that exposes the best and worst of human nature without preaching. Laurel’s happiness is infectious, but it is also apparent that the cove, or at least, those who allow the superstitions of the cove to govern them, cannot leave Laurel be.

The Cove is a novel of hope and dread, ignorance and truth, prejudice and acceptance, evocative of place and time.

 Read other reviews on the book tour here.