TLC Tours Presents: Painted Hands

Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair

Release date: 2013 / 336 pages

(First, a quick aside…  After experiencing three computer viruses in a week, I am patiently awaiting my new computer and making do with two older computers — I apologize if this review’s format is a bit rough!  What you see before you took many hours to create.  I loved this novel, so I hope the review below does this justice!)

Review: A few weeks ago I wrote a review on a romance that described why I am not usually drawn to this genre.  However, after reading Painted Hands, I was reminded that I enjoy any genre that includes strong, well-developed, flawed but deeply likeable characters, themes that go beyond simply finding a compatible partner, and hopefully a healthy splash of hero’s journey archetype in the plot.  Painted Hands includes all of the above – and is a compelling look at the challenges Muslim-Americans face in the post-911 not-always-United States of America.

The author, Jennifer Zobair, shares a few qualities with her characters including degrees from Smith College and Georgetown Law School as well as a conversion to Islam, and creates incredibly likeable characters who attempt to balance family, culture, career, love and fulfillment.  In Zobair’s world of Islam, women do not always find this balance easily (as in the world beyond Islam), but reading about their efforts reminded me that truth truly can be found in fiction.

Zainab Mir is the right-hand-woman of an outspoken Republican Senate candidate and is drawn to a charismatic adversary.  Amra Abbas is on the partner track of a prestigious Boston law firm when she finds herself inconveniently on the marriage track as well.  But Zainab and Amra are only two of the many fascinating characters who fill this novel.  Zobair also provides substantial male characters, too – refreshing! – and I agree with the reviewer on the cover who described Painted Hands as The Namesake meets Sex in the City.

I’m afraid that there will be no giveaway this time!  Painted Hands (a reference to the tradition of painting one’s deepest wishes into the palm of one’s hands with henna before a wedding) will find a home in my guest room where I will recommend it often!


Posted in Future Classics...? | 3 Comments

TLC Book Tours Presents: Visiting Tom Review

51KfdqgEQcL. SL190 PIsitb sticker arrow dp,TopRight,12, 18 SH30 OU01 AA190  TLC Book Tours Presents: Visiting Tom Review Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry

Release date: 2013 / 336 pages

Synopsis(from Booklist): Though Perry makes no claim to being an actual farmer whose livelihood is dependent on his labor, he offers a loving portrait of the occasional rigors and quirks of farm life. In this book, the focus is on his neighbor Tom Hartwig, a man who has lived 82 years in one farmhouse in rural Wisconsin, on a farm that survived the construction of a four-lane interstate in its front yard in 1965. Tom, known for his hobby of building and occasionally firing cannons, offers pearls of wisdom on everything from living with whizzing traffic outside your kitchen window, to repairing tools ranging from massive farm equipment to shovel handles, to raising daughters…

Review: Perry states “Ultimately this book is a love story” and while he is referring to Tom and Arlene’s relationship — married nearly 60 years — I couldn’t help but think this is a love story about rural Wisconsin as well — and am so glad Perry has focused his prodigious talents on the lush rolling hills and stately pines and oaks of a state that I, too, love dearly.  I have so many happy memories of central Wisconsin and the cabin in Rome where my husband proposed, and Perry does such lovely justice to this part of the country.

While the focus of Perry’s latest is on his love of “old-timers” and on his battle with the local highway commissioner, this premise is just a “front” for his musings on the most ephemeral aspects of existence — fatherhood, youth, equanimity, perseverance, rectitude…  Perry’s writing brings to mind echoes of E.B. White’s essays and John Updike’s short stories and occasionally Wilder’s Our Town.  Fortunately, Perry escapes sentimentality through his wit, in fine form yet again: “Back on the interstate, I turn on the radio, a mistake I rectify by snapping it right back off when the purple-faced politics pour forth — an experience akin to opening the garden window, only to be greeted by the rear end of an explosively diarrheic donkey.”

The book’s central “protagonist,” Tom, is compelling.  His calm in the face of the highway traffic storming through his formerly bucolic landscape is remarkable.  But the truth is, Michael Perry could turn any subject into a fascinating foray into human nature.  I have only read Coop and Tom thus far, but am looking forward to reading Truck: A Love Story very soon as well as his earlier works.

I’m afraid I will be keeping this one, but be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:

Wednesday, August 14th: Bibliotica

Thursday, August 15th: BookNAround

Monday, August 19th: The Road to Here

Tuesday, August 20th: Book Club Classics!

Thursday, August 22nd: Capricious Reader

Wednesday, September 4th: Sophisticated Dorkiness

Thursday, September 5th: Apples and Arteries

Monday, September 9th: It’s All About Books

Tuesday, September 10th: Read. Write. Repeat.

Wednesday, September 11th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

Thursday, September 12th: The Library of Alexandra

Posted in Future Classics...?, Reviews | 3 Comments

TLC Book Tours Presents: Hungry Review and Free Giveaway

51QA1VubMhL. AA190  TLC Book Tours Presents: Hungry Review and Free GiveawayHungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me about Life, Love, and the Power of Good Food by Darlene Barnes

Release date: 2013 / 272 pages

Synopsis(from Amazon): Newly arrived in Seattle, Darlene Barnes stumbles on a job ad for a cook at the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity on the University of Washington, Seattle, campus, a prospect most serious food professionals would automatically reject.  But Barnes envisions something other than kegs and corn dogs; she sees an opportunity to bring fresh, real food to an audience accustomed to “Asian Surprise” and other unidentifiable casseroles dropped by a catering service.  And she sees a chance to reinvent herself, by turning a maligned job into meaningful work of her own creation: “I was the new girl and didn’t know or care about the rules.”

Review: When I mentioned to a few people that I was reading about a fraternity house chef, the common response was, “Why?”  This just happened to be the reaction Darlene Barnes received from countless people when she stated she was cooking for a fraternity house!  The short answer to the question I was asked was that I had heard positive reviews and was just too curious about why  — figuring a sense of humor must have been involved somewhere.  The long answer to the question Darlene was asked resulted in an always funny, often poignant, and surprisingly thoughtful memoir that is difficult to set aside.

The true strength of Hungry is Darlene’s reflections on her life outside the frat house, what lead her to accept the job, and why she kept returning.  The “antics” within the house are much to be expected and not nearly as compelling as the author’s journey of self-acceptance and self-fulfillment.  Early on, Darlene decides to go against the common frat cook practice of “easy and cheap” and cook “from scratch” — introducing a type of cooking rarely experienced in a frat house.  Examples of recipes here.  This leads to amusing wrangling with her food service providers and a number of expected challenges, given her audience, but also endears her to the fraternity and helps form lasting relationships as unexpected as they are fulfilling.

Darlene is brash, sassy, and difficult to please, but her “boys” seems to relish the challenge and by the end, few readers would need to ask why Darlene returned year-after-year.  I recommend this as a light, but thoughtful, memoir well-suited to foodies and memoir-lovers alike. Interested in winning a copy? Drop me a comment below!

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Monday, August 5th:  Life, Love & Books

Tuesday, August 6th:  Lit and Life

Wednesday, August 7th:  ::steph chows::

Thursday, August 8th:  Peppermint Ph.D.

Monday, August 12th:  A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Thursday, August 15th:  Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, August 19th:  Book Club Classics!

Wednesday, August 21st:  Guiltless Reading

Thursday, August 22nd:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Monday, August 26th:  Bookchickdi

Wednesday, August 28th:  The Well Read Redhead

Tuesday, September 3rd:  Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, September 5th:  BookNAround

Monday, September 9th:  girlichef

Saturday, September 14th:  Joyfully Retired

Posted in Reviews | 12 Comments

TLC Book Tours Presents: Equilibrium

516c8fYpMtL. SL190 PIsitb sticker arrow dp,TopRight,12, 18 SH30 OU01 AA190  TLC Book Tours Presents: EquilibriumEquilibrium by Lorrie Thomson

Release date: 2013 / 320 pages

Synopsis(from Amazon): In the year since her husband died, Laura Klein’s world has shifted on its axis. It’s not just that she’s raising two children alone—fact is, Laura always did the parenting for both of them. But now her fifteen-year-old daughter, Darcy, is dating a boy with a fast car and faster hands, and thirteen-year-old Troy’s attitude has plummeted along with his voice. Just when she’s resigning herself to a life of worry and selfless support, her charismatic new tenant offers what Laura least expects: a second chance.

Review: For some reason, I keep assuming every book I agree to read is a memoir and am repeatedly surprised when it turns out to be fiction!  I think this must be because I read so many memoirs…  When I realized that Equilibrium was not only a novel, but a romance, I was a bit worried.  It’s been quite a few years since I’ve read a romance intentionally and I had forgotten about the remarkable coincidences and need to suspend disbelief so often required with this genre.

However, once my resistance slipped away, I remembered that coincidence and make believe are also two of the loveliest comforts of romance.  Even a novel filled with suicidal, bi-polar, wife-beating men (not all the same man) will somehow get around to a happy ending where smiles and goodwill abound.  The heroes were very likable (and the “bad guys” predictably punished) and the pages slipped by quickly and seamlessly.

Will the genre of romance return to my TBR pile?  Not likely…  But reading Equilibrium was a pleasant distraction and a not unwelcome reminder of why this genre is so popular.

Want to win a copy? Drop me a comment below!

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Tuesday, August 13th: Book Club Classics!

Wednesday, August 14th: BookNAround

Thursday, August 15th: A Patchwork of Books

Tuesday, August 20th: The House of the Seven Tails

Wednesday, August 21st: Time 2 Read

Thursday, August 22nd: A Book Geek

Tuesday, September 3rd: Becca’s Byline

Wednesday, September 4th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, September 5th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, September 9th: Sweet Southern Home

Tuesday, September 10th: BoundByWords

Wednesday, September 11th: Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, September 12th: My Bookshelf

Monday, September 16th: Melissa Firmin

Tuesday, September 17th: Dreaming in Books

Posted in Reviews | 6 Comments

TLC Book Tours Presents: Race Across the Sky Review and Giveaway

51T1f1ALr3L. SL190 PIsitb sticker arrow dp,TopRight,12, 18 SH30 OU01 AA190  TLC Book Tours Presents: Race Across the Sky Review and GiveawayRace Across the Sky by Derek Sherman

Release date: 2013 / 384 pages

Synopsis(from Amazon): Caleb Oberest is an ultra marathon runner, who severed all ties to his family to race brutal 100-mile marathons across mountains. Shane Oberest is a sales rep for a cutting-edge biotechnology firm, creating new cures for the diseases of our time. Shane has spent his life longing to connect with his older brother, but the distance between them was always too vast. Caleb’s running group live by strict rules, but Caleb is breaking one of them. He has fallen in love with a new member and her infant daughter.  When Caleb discovers that the baby has a fatal genetic disease, he reaches out to Shane…

Review: When I first agreed to read and review Race Across the Sky, I thought it was a memoir about long-distance running and was initially disappointed to see it was a novel (before I began reading it).  However, Sherman’s imagery and character development soon captivated me and I finished reading it in two days.

The narration alternates between the perspectives of two brothers who have grown distant as a result of the older brother’s obsession with long-distance running.  The younger brother is a happily married new father, leaving behind a job as a pharmaceutical rep that has grown distasteful to embark on a new career focused on biotechnology.  The older brother, Caleb, has spent the past decade with an exclusive and reclusive running club outside Boulder and only reaches out to his brother when he believes Shane can help the woman Caleb loves.

The information provided about biotechnology is fascinating — I look forward to learning even more on my own.  And the sections on long-distance running are hypnotic, especially the imagery provided of the Front Range, as well as the single-minded dedication needed to push the human body to extreme limits.  The shared, albeit convenient, parallel belief that the human body can “heal itself” — whether through biotechnology or kinetic energy — is a fascinating thread that joins the two plot lines as well as the two brothers.

Now, if this first-time novelist were to ask my advice before embarking on his second (and I hope there will be a second) novel, I would just mention that the reader does have to suspend her disbelief quite a bit.  A series of coincidences — the younger brother happens to get a job at a lab that just happens to have a possible cure that the older brother needs, for example — or that Caleb could run from Yosemite to San Francisco nearly non-stop with a toddler on his back — are a bit much at times.  Also, as a resident of the Front Range, I was surprised to read about the humidity and swarming mosquitoes in the Rocky Mountain National Park.  We have a lot of natural challenges here on the Front Range — wildfires, extreme winds, large predators — but, happily, humidity and bugs are not amongst them.  And, on a personal note, as a lucky owner of a pitbull, the metaphor of comparing cancer cells to a pitbull — who will attack anything in its path unless trained to do otherwise — hit a strikingly false note.  Anyone who has spent time with pitbulls knows it is there “people-pleasing nature” that allows ill-intentioned people to train them to attack and not their nnate inclination.  (This may sound nit-picky, but imagine if the author had stated Golden Retrievers instead — a breed that fails temperament tests more often than pitbulls, by the way: ).  “Pitbulls” are maligned quite often out of ignorance, but as an informed owner of one, I felt the need to point this inaccuracy out as well.

But despite a few “false notes,” I did enjoy this debut novel and appreciated learning about biotechnology and long-distance running. Interested in winning a free copy? Drop me a comment below!

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Monday, July 29th:  BookNAround

Tuesday, July 30th:  Super Kate

Wednesday, July 31st:  A Musing Reviews

Monday, August 5th:  The Well Read Redhead

Tuesday, August 6th:  Jill Will Run

Tuesday, August 6th:  Caribousmom

Wednesday, August 7th:  River City Reading

Thursday, August 8th:  Run to the Finish

Monday, August 12th:  Book Club Classics!

Tuesday, August 13th:  The Happy Runner

Wednesday, August 14th:  A Patchwork of Books

Thursday, August 15th:  The Boring Runner

Monday, August 19th:  Between the Covers

Tuesday, August 20th:  Ambitious Aspirations

Wednesday, August 21st:  Overflowing Bookshelves

Posted in Reviews | 14 Comments