Agoraphobics in Love

Agoraphobics in Love: A Short Story by Lisa Tucker
Published by Simon & Schuster

Losing both of her parents at once caused Emily to retreat inwards – both into herself and into her house. When the thought of leaving home becomes unbearable, she finds solace in an online board for agoraphobics, where she meets Jules, a former ad director who lives within driving distance – if it weren’t for the fact that neither of them is willing to get in the car and drive.

Agoraphobics in Love is a lovely short story. Tucker manages fantastic characterization and a perfect story arc in the 50 pages of her narrative. Emily and Jules are both engaging and easy to relate to, even for readers without agoraphobia. I found myself wanting more than anything for their pseudo-love affair to work out.

If Tucker can do this with 50 pages, I’m very much looking forward to what she will do in a novel.

Tucker’s short story – which includes the first four chapters of her new book, The Winters in Bloom – is available now as an ebook for only $0.99. Buy it from your preferred ebook retailer.

About The Winters in Bloom, coming September 13 from Simon & Schuster:

Together for over a decade, Kyra and David Winter are happier than they ever thought they could be. They have a comfortable home, stable careers, and a young son, Michael, who they love more than anything. Yet because of their complicated histories, Kyra and David have always feared that this domestic bliss couldn’t last – that the life they created was destined to be disrupted. And on one perfectly ordinary summer day, it is: Michael disappears from his own backyard. The only question is whose past has finally caught up with them: David feels sure that Michael was taken by his troubled ex-wife, while Kyra believes the kidnapper must be someone from her estranged family, someone she betrayed years ago.

As the Winters embark on a journey of time and memory to find Michael, they will be forced to admit these suspicions, revealing secrets about themselves they’ve always kept hidden. But they will also have a chance to discover that it’s not too late to have the family they’ve dreamed of; that even if the world is full of risks, as long as they have hope, the future can bloom.

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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch – Book Review

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

When Nina Sankovitch’s sister died of a quickly killing cancer at the age of 46, Nina was heartbroken. Unable to figure out how life without Anne-Marie could even continue to go on, Nina was in a serious funk; certainly she was still functioning, but the day-to-day living was largely without joy, and the reality of grief was wearing Nina down, bit by bit. Finally, Nina realized she had to do something to take back her life, not to forget Anne-Marie, but to make peace with her passing, to escape the grief. It was then that she decided on a year of reading.

Books. The more I thought about how to stop and get myself back together as one sane, whole person, the more I thought about books. I thought about escape. Not running to escape, but reading to escape. –p. 20

And so Nina decided that her job, for one year of her own life, would be simply to read. She was going to read one book per day, and begin every morning by writing a review of the previous day’s book on her website, Along the way, she began to be revived by her time with books, a passion which she and Anne-Marie had always shared.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is an absolutely lovely account of the healing power of literature, of the power that books new and old have to speak to our lives today. That said, it had the potential to go very wrong, a book about all the books one person read in a year could easily be banal, a series of “and then I read… and it was….” Sankovitch managed to take the books she read and the lessons learned from them, though, and weave them together with the year of her life as well as some family history to create a cohesive and compelling narrative with many quotable lines about the power inherent in books.

Similarly risky was the structuring of the narrative with Anne-Marie’s death at the beginning. The reader does not know either Nina or Anne-Marie when their story starts, and so the grief of Anne-Marie’s passing could have fallen flat, been simply an uncomfortable truth. Instead, Nina draws the reader immediately into her family and her own feelings, to the point where you would be better off not starting this book in a public place (I nearly cried in Chipotle).

A story of individual growth and rediscovery, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair manages to avoid the trap of becoming maudlin and ridiculous as so many in that genre fall into, and instead has a note of universality for readers. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Life After Yes by Aidan Donnelly Rowley – Book Review

Life After Yes by Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Published by Avon A, an imprint of Harper Collins

A successful young lawyer, it seems that Quinn’s life should be perfect when her handsome, loving investment banker boyfriend Sage whisks her to Paris for the weekend to propose. Shortly after she tells him ‘yes,’ however, the doubts begin with a dream in which she feels trapped and finds herself at the altar facing three grooms, including her ex-boyfriend and her trainer from the gym. Her doubts, exacerbated by her grief of losing her father in the World Trade Center during 9/11 just a few short months earlier, lead her to be nasty to Sage and drink entirely too much, not to mention flirting too much with other men. It is time for Quinn to really consider what she wants from life, and it won’t be easy.

I’m afraid you all are going to get sick of my raving about books, but here is another one that I L.O.V.E.D. loved.

Quinn’s voice was just so completely authentic that I got completely caught up in her story and finished the entire 300+ page book in one weekend day, staying up far later than I had intended because I couldn’t bear to wait to complete this journey with Quinn. Some of the things she did I very much disagreed with, but I could empathize with how she arrived at every decision. Parts of the basic storyline – girl gets engaged, has doubts, boozes it up – may make “Life After Yes” sound fluffy, but Rowley brought a great deal of depth to Quinn and her storyline. I also thought that the death of Quinn’s father in 9/11 was done very well. It brought an added layer of gravity to the story, but I never felt that Rowley was using it in a way that felt manipulative of people’s 9/11 sentiments or cheapened the event.  Instead it informed Quinn’s character and her actions in very believable ways.

I really loved this book, and very highly recommend it. We will be discussing it with Aidan Donnelly Rowley and the rest of the SheKnows Book Club on Thursday, December 9th 8-11pm Eastern. Plenty of time to grab it and get it read, so I hope to see some of you there!

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

Source: SheKnows Book Club.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane – Book Review

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
Published by Graywolf Press

In 1943, a shelter in Bethnal Green, London became the site of the largest civilian accident of World War II. Citizens of Bethnal Green, anticipating a retaliatory air strike, crowded into the station. Before 9pm, 173 of them were dead, although the Germans did not bomb London that night. After the accident, there was much finger-pointing in many directions: from the lack of light and the late arrival of the constable to the general existence of Jewish refugees. In order to quell unrest, the government appoints the young and popular local magistrate, Laurence Dunne, to conduct a private investigation. He works with surprising speed to create a report he hopes will mend the broken ties of the city in general and Bethnal Green in particular.

When I picked up “The Report,” I expected a competent novelization of a fascinating historical event and mystery. I also expected the account to be somewhat dry, if interesting, based both on the less than titilating title and the fact that it is essentially the story of how a governmental report came to be. Still, I was interested enough in the Bethnal Green tragedy, of which I had never heard before, to give it a go.

How wrong I was to be expecting something dry!

Kane takes an ensemble cast of characters and manages to make all of their stories compelling, without spending so much time on character development that she loses the thread of the story. A major element in this success is the inclusion of a secondary storyline, that of a documentary film maker – who has his own ties to the tragedy – who contacts Dunne to enlist his help in a documentary that will memorialize the 30th anniversary of Dunne’s report. This storyline serves as a nice foil to the primary storyline,  moving events along and explaining what is necessary, without being overly expository.

“The Report” is a surprisingly compelling novel about a seemingly unlikely subject. A fabulous read if you are at all curious to explore history and human nature. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound

This review was done with a book received from the publisher for review.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette – Book Review

Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette
Published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin

Grief is a funny thing: it can cause a woman who loses her husband, the love of her life, to walk around day after day bra-less, with her deceased husband’s camouflage apron tied over her clothes. This is Zell’s experience, at least, ever since the accident while her husband Nick was in New Orleans reporting on a local team who headed down for recovery efforts.  The grief may also be part of the reason she voices what she imagines to be her dog, Captain Ahab’s, thoughts in pirate vernacular. Although she has rarely ever cooked anything – let alone baked something  – Zell decides to enter the Polly Pinch baking contest when she realizes that the prize money is exactly the amount that Nick talked about raising for the people of New Orleans before he failed to come home. All the remains to be seen is whether this new venture will help her heal or cause her to sink more deeply into her depression.

I have to admit, I was slightly hesitant about “Simply from Scratch” at the beginning. Zell endeared herself greatly to me when she made comments about her newfound eccentricities being just her “widow style.” But then she started saying “balls” all over the place, which sort of shocked me. I wasn’t really expecting this from a widow entering a baking contest. But Zell isn’t your stereotypical widow. She’s a fiesty young woman who has had a terrible, unexpected loss. Although she has real, raw grief, she’s still a fiesty woman – even when it is only expressed by talking a pirate voice for a dog. Although I wasn’t sure what to think of her initially, Zell’s tough-exterior-ed vulnerability made her hugely endearing to me.

Bessette’s writing and plotting were strong. Indeed, I loved the way she slowly revealed what happened to Nick in New Orleans and what gift it was that he left her. But Zell was the real star of the story. Bessette wrote her in such a real way with such real heart that she was hugely endearing and brought me to a point near the end of “Simply from Scratch” where I could simply not bear to put down the book.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.