Blog Tour & Book Review: Us by David Nicholls

usI’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating Us, the brand-new novel by David Nicholls, author of the amazing One Day. Thank you, TLC Book Tours, for inviting me to participate!

Us is the story of a marriage that may or may not be ending, how it got that way, and what a man in love will do to hold onto what he’s about to lose.

Main character Douglas Petersen is a desperate man. His wife has just informed him that once their teen son Albie leaves for college in the fall, she’s planning to leave too. According to Connie, their marriage has “run its course”, and it’s time for her to move on to the next chapter of life.

Douglas is an odd but determined man. He’s a scientist, very logical, very methodical; the opposite, in many ways, of free-spirit Connie, who was an artist when they first met but has since moved into the business side of the art world. And then there’s their son Albie, a typically sullen 17-year-old with nothing, it seems, but contempt for the father who just doesn’t get him.

The family has a European vacation planned for the summer, the classic “Grand Tour”, and Douglas views it as a last chance to save his marriage and hold his family together. And of course, it’s a complete disaster. Douglas has every step of the trip planned down to the minute,  including viewing every piece of important art and historical artifact in Europe, with no time left in the schedule for spontaneity or fun — which pretty much encapsulates his approach to life in general. Finally, there’s a blow-up, and Albie takes off on his own, leaving Douglas to pursue him in a one-man quest to make amends and repair something that may be irreparable. And, Douglas thinks, if he can come home triumphantly with Albie by his side, Connie may see the error of her ways and stay with him after all.

Nothing goes as it should. Douglas is a crazy smart man, but his people skills are sorely lacking. Time and again, he does just the wrong thing at just the wrong time. It’s no wonder Connie wants out and Albie wants away. Douglas must be insufferable to be around — and yet, Us is Douglas’s first-person narrative, which is a wonderful trick on the part of the author. Seen from the outside, Douglas would be awful. But seeing through his eyes, the picture is quite different: Here’s a man, full of awkwardness, madly in love with his wife from the moment he met her, who tries his best, yet always comes up short. His perception of the world around him makes perfect sense; it just doesn’t necessarily mean that the world understands.

Us is a sad story of what happens to a marriage over the course of many years, no matter how much love it starts with and how much true caring exists between the partners. Over time, the newness erodes, and familiarity takes the place of discovery:

Of course, after nearly a quarter of a century, the questions about our distant pasts have all been posed and we’re left with “how was your day?” and “when will you be home?” and “have you put the bins out?” Our biographies involve each other so intrinsically now that we’re both on nearly every page. We know the answers because we were there, and so curiosity becomes hard to maintain; replaced, I suppose, by nostalgia.

The writing in Us is absolutely sparkling. This is one of those books that will make you very annoying to your friends and family, as you’ll be wanting to read the clever and funny bits out loud constantly — and there are clever and funny bits on every page.

She looked fresh, healthy and tasteful, and yet I found myself instinctively wanting to do up an extra button. I wondered if I might be the only man in the world to have dressed a woman with his eyes.

Douglas may be a rigid and opinionated middle-aged man, but he’s also funny, smart, and full of love, even though the love he feels never quite translates into dialogue that sits well with his wife and son. They’re constantly amused at his expense, seemingly cool and in the know in a way he can never be.

A humorous (yet sad) ongoing theme is Douglas’s inability to understand art — particularly sad, given that his wife is an artist. He’s always stuck for what to say in a museum, resorting to either parroting the audiotour narration or making inane observations on the colors or details of a painting. “Look at the reflection in his eye!” or “I love the blue!” And the more desperate he is to connect, the more he fails:

They stared and stared and I wondered, what was I meant to take from this? What were they seeing? Once again I was struck by the power of great art to make me feel excluded.

Finally, it takes Douglas’s hitting an emotional bottom of sorts and finding himself completely bereft of his usual resources and coping mechanisms before he’s able to achieve any measure of rapprochement with Albie. The father-son relationship is not easy, but there’s still love there, despite the years of snarkiness and incomprehension.

“Da-ad!” he growled, shielding his eyes against the light. “What’s up?”

“I got jumped. By some jellyfish.”

He sat up. “In the water?”

“No, on the land. They took my keys and wallet.”

Interestingly, towards the very end, the author takes a few pages to show us how the same story might have been told by Connie or by Albie, and of course, it’s completely different. And yet, it’s thanks to Douglas’s narration that the not so very unusual tale of a disintegrating marriage becomes something unique.

Us is funny and sad, familiar in its slice of life approach to ordinary people, and yet with many moments that are surprising and unexpected. Any family has its ups and downs; any long-term marriage has its pain, boredom, and exasperation — but there’s still hope, and tenderness, deep caring, and the possibility that there are still more surprises and fresh chapters to explore.

I recommend Us wholeheartedly. Full of crisp, snappy writing and quirky yet relatable characters, Us is a story of love, how it can change over time, and what it means to be a family. For anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction about people and relationships with a ring of truth, don’t miss this terrific new novel.

Find out more:

Check out the Goodreads link, or watch this book trailer:

 

Buy the book!

Amazon,
IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

David NichollsDavid Nicholls’s most recent novel, the New York Times bestseller One Day, has sold over 2 million copies and been translated into thirty-seven languages; he also wrote the screenplay for the 2010 film adaptation starring Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway. Trained as an actor before making the switch to writing, Nicholls’s previous novels include Starter for Ten (originally published in the U.S. as A Question of Attraction), adapted into a film starring James McAvoy, for which Nicholls also wrote the screenplay; and The Understudy. He continues to write for film and TV as well as writing novels and adapting them for the screen, and has twice been nominated for the BAFTA awards. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

Find out more about David at his website and connect with him on Facebook.

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The details:

Title: Us
Author: David Nicholls
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Length: 396 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

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I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour ( courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours) for the newest historical fiction release from Deanna Raybourn, author of A Spear of Summer Grass, City of Jasmine, and the Lady Julia Grey mystery series.

Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Harlequin MIRA
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn returns with a Jazz Age tale of grand adventure…

On the verge of a stilted life as an aristocrat’s wife, Poppy Hammond does the only sensible thing—she flees the chapel in her wedding gown. Assisted by the handsome curate who calls himself Sebastian Cantrip, she spirits away to her estranged father’s quiet country village, pursued by the family she left in uproar. But when the dust of her broken engagement settles and Sebastian disappears under mysterious circumstances, Poppy discovers there is more to her hero than it seems.

With only her feisty lady’s maid for company, Poppy secures employment and travels incognita—east across the seas, chasing a hunch and the whisper of clues. Danger abounds beneath the canopies of the silken city, and Poppy finds herself in the perilous sights of those who will stop at nothing to recover a fabled ancient treasure. Torn between allegiance to her kindly employer and a dashing, shadowy figure, Poppy will risk it all as she attempts to unravel a much larger plan—one that stretches to the very heart of the British government, and one that could endanger everything, and everyone, that she holds dear.

 

My thoughts:

Deanna Raybourn excels at creating strong, sassy heroines with a flair for adventure, who aren’t afraid to break from the confines of society’s expectations and seize life (and love) whenever they get the chance.

Poppy Hammond certainly fits the bill. After her dramatic exit as a runaway bride, Poppy is restless and yearning, knowing only that she needs more in her life. The nice man who helped her flee the wedding is someone she’d like to at least thank for his efforts, leading to an impulsive escapade in which Poppy winds up in Damascus under an assumed identity… right in the midst of political upheaval, treasure hunters, danger and intrigue. Definitely all the ingredients needed to please a girl seeking adventure!

Sebastian is a heroic leading man, insultingly misunderstood by Poppy to start with, only revealing his true character and capabilities to her over time, as they plunge from one dangerous situation to another, fleeing across deserts, hiding out in old ruins, and evading bad guys with a flair that would put Indiana Jones to shame.

As in City of Jasmine, the Middle East of the 1920s offers just the right combination of beauty, danger, and old-timey espionage thrills to make Night of a Thousand Stars a romantic, exciting adventure story. The politics and history of the region in that tumultuous time are well-explained, but never in a way that’s boring or instructional. Instead, the intrigue serves as an exhilarating backdrop to Poppy and Sebastian’s growing flirtation and affections, and the two play off each other marvelously, displaying the mingled exasperation and amusement you might encounter in an old movie à la The African Queen.

While Night of a Thousand Stars works as a stand-alone novel, characters from the author’s earlier works (City of Jasmine, the Lady Julia books) are referenced. There’s no reason that you couldn’t enjoy Night on its own, but if you’re so inclined, I’d recommend reading City of Jasmine (and its companion novella, Whisper of Jasmine) first.

Overall, I found Night of a Thousand Stars to be a fun, engaging, romantic read. If you’re a fan of romantic espionage tales, don’t miss it!

Other reviews:

Interested in Deanna Raybourn’s other books? See my previously posted reviews:
A Spear of Summer Grass
City of Jasmine

Buy the Book

Amazon (Kindle)
Amazon (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble (Paperback)
Books-a-Million
iTunes
Kobo

About the Author

03_Deanna RaybournA sixth-generation native Texan, Deanna Raybourn grew up in San Antonio, where she met her college sweetheart. She married him on her graduation day and went on to teach high school English and history. During summer vacation at the age of twenty-three, she wrote her first novel. After three years as a teacher, Deanna left education to have a baby and pursue writing full-time.

Deanna Raybourn is the author of the bestselling and award-winning Lady Julia series, as well as, The Dead Travel Fast, A Spear of Summer Grass, and City of Jasmine.

For more information please visit Deanna Raybourn’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

 

Giveaway:

With thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, I’m delighted to be able to offer a paperback edition of Night of a Thousand Stars (available to US residents only). Click the link below to enter:

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Blog Tour & Book Review: The Curiosity

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Book Review: The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The CuriosityI’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating the paperback release of The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan.

In The Curiosity, scientific exploration bumps up against the culture of celebrity and the perils of popularity. Through the voices of a dedicated scientist, a muckraking journalist, and an egomaniacal millionaire, we chart the rise and fall of Jeremiah Rice, a man who’s either a miracle or an abomination, depending on whose perspective you believe.

Kate Philo is the lead-off narrator, and the person who generates the most sympathy. Kate is a cell biologist, a 30-something researcher acknowledged as a genius in her field, who leads a team of Arctic explorers pursuing “hard-ice” on a project funded by the Carthage Institute for Cellular Seeking. Headed by the obsessive-compulsive but brilliant Erastus Carthage, the goal of the Institute is to locate organisms flash-frozen in icebergs and reanimate them. Up to now, the work has focused on krill and other tiny creatures. But one fateful day, Kate and her crew discover something large in a massive berg. Is it a whale? A seal? Nope. It’s the frozen body of a man, stuck in the ice for at least one hundred years.

Back in their Boston lab, the ice man is the center of a media frenzy. The whole world is watching as the team prepares the risky and arduous process of reanimation. Lo and behold, it works: The ice man’s heart begins to beat, he draws breath, and — after an excruciating wait — he opens his eyes and speaks.

The man is Jeremiah Rice, a judge from the early 1900s who disappeared during an Arctic voyage, leaving behind a beloved wife and daughter. Judge Rice is the hottest commodity around, immediately the focus of every story-hungry reporter, the source of endless speculation and online gossip, and debateably the property of Carthage’s Lazarus Project. Kept in a secure room and monitored 24/7, is Judge Rice a person or a laboratory subject? Or, as the growing mass of protestors would have it, is he an abomination, a perversion of God’s will, an affront to people of belief?

Kate, meanwhile, introduces Jeremiah to the 21st century, leading him on outings through the streets of Boston, introducing him to the people and the city of this new era, so different from the world he left behind. And as they venture out, Jeremiah begins to share the story of his life… and he and Kate form a bond that moves beyond science into the untested waters of human emotions.

We know from the outset, however, that this is not a story with a happy ending. Kate warns us in her very first chapter that public sentiment changed dramatically, that she and the project were skewered in the court of public opinion, and that she’s left with nothing but her memories. We know too from an early demonstration of the reanimation process that the reanimated krill go through a lifecycle that’s predictable and doomed to an unavoidable demise. When things start to go badly for Jeremiah, it’s not a surprise, but by then, we’ve come to know him. Jeremiah is a good, decent man — and knowing that, the inevitable end becomes tragic.

There’s much to love about The Curiosity. The book raises some interesting questions: What constitutes a human life? When does science become exploitation? How has 24/7 internet coverage changed the meaning of truth? In this age of constant access, who is responsible for damage to an individual’s life or reputation? And with the hounding of paparazzi and “gotcha” news, can even a truly good person escape the muck?

The scientific processes and discoveries in The Curiosity are fascinating. We’ve seen goofy versions of the “man frozen in ice” concept in movies and TV shows before, but here, the dilemmas involved for the scientists and for the subject himself are taken seriously. In the early chapters, the reader can practically feel the freezing Arctic seas as the diving crews prepare to salvage the unknown object in the iceberg. There’s tension, and drama, and excitement.

Later on, the focus begins to feel a bit scattered, and I’d have preferred to spend a little less time on the protesters and on Erastus Carthage’s point of view.

Overall, however, the narrative moves quickly, and the shifting perspective helps the reader get a clearer picture of the events and people closing in on Jeremiah Rice. As despicable as some of the point-of-view characters are, hearing the story through their words lets us see just how steep the odds are, and just how far people are willing to go to come out on top.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the romantic elements of the story, which I felt needed more room to breathe and grow. Still, the friendship, trust, and growing feelings between Kate and Jeremiah are moving to witness, if perhaps a bit overly condensed. Kate and Jeremiah are both decent, honest people caught up in events that they can’t control. Jeremiah, especially, is a lovely, tragic figure, full of pathos and yearning for a world forever lost to him, only just starting to adapt to the 21st century when that too slips away.

I recommend The Curiosity both as a tale of scientific exploration and as a study of compelling characters caught up in events they can’t control. Exciting and moving, The Curiosity will hold your attention from start to finish.

About the Author:

Stephen KiernanStephen Kiernan is the author of the 2013 novel THE CURIOSITY. His nonfiction books are LAST RIGHTS and AUTHENTIC PATRIOTISM.

He was born in Newtonville, NY the sixth of seven children. A graduate of Middlebury College, he received a Master of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Over two-plus decades as a journalist he has won 40 awards, including the Brechner Institute’s Freedom of Information Award, the Gerald Loeb Award for financial journalism (two time commentary finalist) and the George Polk Award.

He has taught at Middlebury College and the New England Young Writers Conference, and has worked on the staff of the Breadloaf School of English and the Breadloaf Writers Conference. He chairs the board of the Young Writers Project, served on the Vermont Legislative Committee on Pain and Palliative Care, and joined the advisory board of the New Hampshire Palliative Care Initiative.

Stephen travels the country speaking to a wide variety of audiences about improving life’s last chapters, restoring America through volunteerism and philanthropy, and using the power of creativity to transform lives.

A performer on the guitar since he was ten years old, Stephen has recorded 3 CDs of solo instrumentals, and composed music for dance, the stage, documentaries and TV specials.

He lives in Vermont with his two amazing sons.

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The details:

Title: The Curiosity
Author: Stephen P. Kiernan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: 2013 (hardcover); paperback release July 1, 2014
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, visit the author’s website or stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Serpent of Venice

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Book Review: The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

The Serpent of Venice: A NovelI’m thrilled to be participating in the blog tour for the brand-new Christopher Moore novel, The Serpent of Venice.

Christopher Moore writes about demons, sea monster, and vampires. Also about Jesus and Impressionist painters, talking fruitbats and humpback whales. In other words, this is an author who defies categorization, yet one thing is for sure: If you don’t fall on the floor laughing at least a few times reading any of his many novels, well… you’re probably doing it wrong!

Moore’s trademark humor is firmly in place in his newest novel, The Serpent of Venice, a follow-up to his 2009 novel Fool. Fool is a retelling of King Lear, with the king’s fool Pocket serving as main character and very clever (and occasionally obscene) narrator. In The Serpent of Venice, Moore returns to Shakespeare with the further adventures of Pocket, using as his framework not one but two Shakespearean plays, plus a little Edgar Allan Poe for good measure.

Loosely weaving together the plotlines of The Merchant of Venice and Othello (trust me, it works), with a bit of The Cask of Amontillado thrown in as well, The Serpent of Venice follows Pocket the Fool as he maneuvers his way through the devilish machinations of a host of scheming bad guys. He meets up with Shylock and his daughter Jessica, confronts the evil Iago, befriends the great general Othello and his wife Desdemona — and plays all sides against one another, with daring, wit, agility, and plenty of Christopher Moore’s trademark “heinous fuckery most foul”.

Remarkably, Moore weaves the source material into his outrageous new work almost seamlessly, so that for those who enjoy such things, it’s possible to take certain scenes and follow along paragraph by paragraph, and compare back to the same scene in the Shakespearean plays. Combining these works, modernizing the language as needed, adding in raucous humor and heaps of vulgarity — plus Marco Polo, a sea serpent, and a monkey named Jeff — may sound like a crazy mess, but in The Serpent of Venice, there’s a certain beauty to the wackiness, and it really  holds together in a way that’s a wonder to behold.

Fans of the author will be gratified, as always, by his quirky, irreverent approach to language, not afraid to take some of the most honored works in the English canon and stand them on their ears:

“Thou mendacious fuckweasel,” said Emilia, almost spitting it, disgusted now rather than hysterical.

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” said Iago.

“Methinks the lady protests just the right amount,” said Emilia. “Methinks the lady is just getting fucking started protesting.”

Even from the book’s very beginning, we get a dose of prime Moore in the introduction “The Stage” that lets us know what we’re in for:

Strangely, although most of the characters are Venetian, everybody speaks English, and with an English accent.

Unless otherwise described, assume conditions to be humid.

For me, one of the most amazing pieces of this book is the author’s afterward. After laughing my way through the book itself, it was fascinating to read about the author’s research, his careful study of the source material, the decisions he made about the setting and time periods, and the historical elements woven into the story. Without being too preachy or teachy, he manages to convey a ton of information in these few short pages, so that I walked away from The Serpent of Venice not just having laughed, but also having learned about Venetian history in the 13th century, racism and anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s time… and what Christopher Moore really thinks about *ahem* being intimate with dragons.

Either Christopher Moore’s crazy approach to life and writing appeals to you or it doesn’t — and if it does, The Serpent of Venice is a treat. Fans will absolutely want to read The Serpent of Venice, and will not be disappointed. If you’ve never read anything by Christopher Moore — and you like to laugh and you’re not easily offended — I’d say give him a try! For Shakespeare with a twist, start with Fool and then read The Serpent of Venice… and if those appeal to your sense of offbeat humor, you’ll end up wanting to read everything else in the author’s catalog of funny, weird, and wonderful books.

About the Author:

CMooreChristopher Moore is the author of eleven novels, including the international bestsellers, Lamb, A Dirty Job and You Suck. His latest novel is Fool, a retelling of King Lear from the perspective of Pocket, the Fool.

Chris was born in Toledo, Ohio and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. His father was a highway patrolman and his mother sold major appliances at a department store. He attended Ohio State University and Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. He moved to California when he was 19 years old and lived on the Central Coast until 2003, when he moved to Hawaii.

Before publishing his first novel, Practical Demonkeeping in 1992, he worked as a roofer, a grocery clerk, a hotel night auditor, and insurance broker, a waiter, a photographer, and a rock and roll DJ. Chris has drawn on all of these work experiences to create the characters in his books. When he’s not writing, Chris enjoys ocean kayaking, scuba diving, photography, and sumi-e ink painting. He divides his time between Hawaii and San Francisco.

Christopher Moore’s website: http://www.chrismoore.com/

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The details:

Title: The Serpent of Venice
Author: Christopher Moore
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: April 22, 2014
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, visit the author’s website or stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Blog Tour & a Giveaway: Sunrise by Mike Mullin

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I’m thrilled to be participating in the blog tour for Sunrise by Mike Mullin. Thank you to Books With Bite for organizing the tour!

Sunrise is the third book in the outstanding young adult trilogy which begins with Ashfall and continues in Ashen Winter.

Synopsis:

The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived the eruption has collapsed completely. The ham radio has gone silent. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors’ constant companions.

When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task requiring even more guts and more smarts than ever—and unthinkable sacrifice. If they fail . . . they, their loved ones, and the few remaining survivors will perish.

This epic finale has the heart of Ashfall, the action of Ashen Winter, and a depth all its own, examining questions of responsibility and bravery, civilization and society, illuminated by the story of an unshakable love that transcends a post-apocalyptic world and even life itself.

My thoughts:

sunrise1Ashfall and then Ashen Winter blew me away, and I had high expectations as I waited for the release of Sunrise. Well, those expectations were absolutely met, and then some! Sunrise continues the breakneck pace of the earlier books, with non-stop action and unrelenting danger around every corner.

Alex and Darla make a formidable team, and as young leaders trying to create a new community, they face challenges both from external threats and from internal mistrust and dissension. The pair are remarkably brave and cool-headed, and despite their youth, they manage to organize their small community’s defenses as well as to provide a vision for the future that just may get them — and their loved ones — through the grim realities of the awful present and into a future that might actually contain hope.

There are some truly horrifying moments, and the danger is real and insidious — all the worse because the most life-threatening dangers come not from the natural disaster, but from human reactions in the aftermath. Practically no one comes through unscathed, but the fact that Alex and Darla manage to pull together a random group of people into a community with a future is astounding — and given how far we’ve come with these two characters, it’s also quite believable.

I’ve tended to shy away from YA series lately after feeling let down or not fulfilled by the wrap-up. In the case of the Ashfall trilogy, I can definitely say that it’s worth sticking with! This trilogy delivers in all three books. No filler, no slack, no let-up — all three books are detailed, tight, and compelling, and once you start reading them, it’s impossible to stop.

About the Author:

Mike MullinMike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out.

Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Ashen Winter is his second novel. His debut, Ashfall, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association

Giveaway!

Don’t miss out on the awesome giveaway offered by Books With Bite! You could win a complete set of the Ashfall series!

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Blog Tour Info:

To buy Sunrise:

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Want to read my reviews of the first two books in the series? Here are the links:

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni PBI’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour for the paperback release of The Golem and the Jinni!

The Golem and the Jinni was certainly one of the buzziest books of 2013. Written by a debut author, this book started showing up everywhere! For myself, I sat up and took notice as soon as I read the title (and saw that gorgeous cover) — then paid even more attention as the initial reviews rolled in, all marveling over the originality of the story and the beauty of the writing.

Well, guess what? All that praise? Totally justified.

I finally read The Golem and the Jinni as one of my last books in 2013 — and wanted to kick myself for waiting so long to read it!

In brief, The Golem and the Jinni is the story of two mythical beings from two very different cultures: The Golem is a creature from Jewish mysticism, a human-like creature of clay whose purpose is to obey and protect its master. (Most famously, there is the legend of a golem created by the Rabbi of Prague in the 16th century to defend the Jewish ghetto against attack. Once the golem’s mission was completed, it returned to inanimate clay.) The Jinni is a legendary being from Arabian tales, a desert spirit of fire with the ability to take on different forms — but don’t confuse the Jinni in The Golem and the Jinni with the big blue guy from Disney’s Aladdin!

In this lovely novel, a female golem and a male jinni — both with human appearance — find themselves, accidentally and unwillingly, in New York in 1899, and must find a way to blend in, survive, and adapt to living among humans. Chava, the golem, is taken in by a kindly rabbi and finds a home in the Jewish Lower East Side, by all appearances a modest young widow who keeps to herself while working in a bakery and taking in mending. Ahmad, the jinni, can work wonders with metals of all kinds and finds refuge and employment with a tinsmith in the Little Syria neighborhood, but is filled with rage at his lack of freedom and spends each night wandering the city. When Chava and Ahmad cross paths, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit, and form a bond that’s full of disagreement and polarity, but also a deep understanding of what it means to be trapped, to hide one’s true nature, and to long for freedom and purpose.

I loved everything about The Golem and the Jinni. The writing here is lovely, conveying the feeling of listening to a master storyteller. There’s a sense of mythology and otherworldly power pervading the story, and yet it is most firmly rooted in the day-to-day realities of life in the early days of the 20th century. New York comes alive within the pages, filled with immigrant communities, ethnic loyalties, the sights and smells of a cramped city without modern conveniences; yet it is also a city striving to improve itself and modernize from moment to moment. From the Bowery to Central Park, the characters explore the nooks and crannies of Manhattan, its beauty and its ugliness, as well as the people who call it home.

We come to care deeply about Chava and Ahmad, and yet can also understand the sentiments and superstitions of the people who meet them and, without understanding why, sense innately that these two are different and perhaps dangerous. Embedded within the story is an examination of what it means to have a purpose in life, and whether anyone can truly overcome his or her essential nature and make themselves over into someone new. As Chava and Ahmad struggle to change their destinies and find freedom, they confront their own limitations and must either find a way to start fresh — or admit defeat, and allow themselves to be destroyed.

There are small moments of great beauty — for example, Ahmad’s ability to create delicate silver and gold animals using only his hands — as well as excitement, danger, and even peace. The scenes of bustling New York are set in contrast with Ahmad’s memories of his lost life in the desert, pursuing a Bedouin encampment and ultimately falling victim to its vengeance. In The Golem and the Jinni, the author skillfully weaves together a modern-day tale with something out of legend, and the blending is masterfully done.

I simply can’t recommend this book highly enough! Start to finish, The Golem and the Jinni is captivating and magical, and an absolute treat to read.

About the Author:

Helene WeckerHelene Wecker grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduating, she worked a number of marketing and communications jobs in Minneapolis and Seattle before deciding to return to her first love, fiction writing. Accordingly, she moved to New York to pursue a Master’s in fiction at Columbia University.

She now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter. The Golem and the Jinni is her first novel.

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The details:

Title: The Golem and the Jinni
Author: Helene Wecker
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours.

tlc logoFor further information, visit the author’s website or stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.