Nightlife in the Afterlife: Hereafter by Terri Bruce (Blog Tour)

Hereafter Blog Tour buttonIn Hereafter, an entertaining novel by first-time author Terri Bruce, 36-year-old Irene crashes her car driving home drunk after a night out with girlfriends and literally wakes up dead. It takes a little while for Irene to realize that she’s a ghost because she can still drive her car; her house in Salem, Mass., looks the same; her widowed mother still leaves annoying messages on Irene’s answering machine; and Irene has woken up wearing the same short, clingy, red dress from what seems like the night before.

But why can’t she remember anything after the big, harvest moon that looked like it was dead ahead on the road before her? Why did she wake up standing next to the car, not sitting behind the wheel? Why do vague memories of swirling water outside her car windows keep surfacing? Why didn’t anyone call the police to report a car parked on the side of the road by the river? And the biggest question of all – how could she have died before she’d done all the things she’d been meaning (vaguely) to do someday? Like grow up and stop acting like a teenager, for example.

As a ghost, Irene feels so much like herself that she finds it hard to accept that the afterlife can’t be the same as her old life (i.e. lots of hanging out in bars with friends) without all the downsides (e.g.  jobs, chores, family obligations, and hangovers.) Although Irene is someone who has to learn everything the hard way, as her father told her once, she luckily finds early on a good (though underage) friend in Jonah, a teenager from Irene’s neighborhood who has investigated theories of the afterlife and experimented enough with out-of-body experiences that he can see dead people like Irene. Mature and sensible, Jonah is like a 36-year-old in a 14-year-old’s body, while with Irene it’s more like the other way around.

Hereafter is a contemporary, paranormal fantasy that uses dark humor (also sarcasm, innovative insults, and ironic observations) to reflect on the serious topic of how best to live, and includes numerous factoids (mostly from Jonah) on beliefs about an afterlife in different cultures and at different times. There’s a bit of sexual tension but the author doesn’t go overboard with sex scenes, keeping readers interested instead with tight dialogue and nuggets gleaned from her extensive research. Readers looking for a lighthearted book that still touches on some serious themes or for a novel with fantasy elements that doesn’t feature a sexy vampire huntress or a paranormal detective agency might try Hereafter. Set in the fall in Salem and Boston, it would be an especially good one to read in September or October.

Author Terri Bruce has generously offered an international giveaway, with your choice of either a print copy or a e-book (in any format) of Hereafter. Giveaway runs through Sept. 10. Comments on this review are welcome but not necessary to enter the giveaway.

Click here to enter giveaway contest (Open internationally)

This is stop #6 on the Hereafter blog tour. The next stop is author Kristi Petersen Schoonover‘s blog, where Terri Bruce will be writing a guest post.

Check out Stops 1-5 for contests, other giveaways, and more info on Hereafter and author Terri Bruce:

8/13/12 Verbose Veracity HEREAFTER Excerpt Reading

8/14/12 Little Read Riding Hood Guest Post (Favorite Books w/Red Dresses) on the Cover) and Giveaway (copy of HEREAFTER)

8/15/12 Sonnet O’Dell Interview

8/16/12 I’m a Book Shark Guest Post (Top Ten Books w/Ghosts)  and Giveaway

8/17/12 Kelly A. Harmon Guest Post (Chinese Ghost Month) and The Writers’ Lens Blog Tour Writing Contest Start

For a list of all stops on the Hereafter blog tour, click here.

Hereafter
Eternal Press
August 1, 2012
eBook ISBN: 9781615727247
$7.95
Print ISBN: 9781615727254

Disclosure: I received a free e-galley of Hereafter from the author when I volunteered to participate in the Hereafter blog tour, but have also paid for a paperback copy from Barnes and Noble either for myself or to donate to the library so others can read it. (I haven’t decided which.)

Out of Amnesia: Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

In Garment of Shadows, the intrepid Mary Russell is back on serious territory after her unusual (and undesired) foray into the pop culture of the time (1924) with Fflytte Films (detailed in her last book of “memoirs”, Pirate King). This story is twelfth in the series of suspense novels by Laurie R. King (starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) about an unusual partnership between the retired famous detective Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, a young woman with a classical education from Oxford; well-versed in Judaism and other theologies; sharp-witted; an excellent shot (when she has her glasses on); and very skilled at wielding the sharp knife she keeps hidden in her boot (only when cornered or attacked.)

Garment of Shadows opens with Mary Russell concussed and amnesiac, trying to figure out who she is, where she is, and how she got there. Her life up until that point is a near-blank. Out of a haze of shadowy thoughts and with the help of muscle memory, she escapes this latest dangerous situation, and the latest adventure of this most unusual married couple (separated from each other at the moment) begins. This time, they are in the divided country of Morocco, where the borders of French and Spanish protectorates are being threatened by local tribal factions and where, it appears, civil war is imminent.

The Mary Russell series falls into the genre of historical mystery and suspense, but the author’s writing style gives them a contemporary feel. Russell is a thoroughly modern woman who drives, speaks her mind, and records such thoughts in her memoir as “It was damnably irritating” and “Oh, that was just great.” Neither the 25-year-old Russell nor the 70-something Holmes expect proper behavior from the other – allowing both partners to indulge in eccentricity, frequent disguises, dangerous exploits, and the exercise of their keen, complementary intelligence. Russell and Holmes do show a traditionally gentlemanly reluctance to kill in cold blood, and display good English sportsmanship when playing The Game (i.e. espionage) by only using deadly force when absolutely necessary to save another’s life.

Each of the books in the series can stand alone, but they really are best read in order, to appreciate the organic growth of the relationship of the main characters from mentor and pupil to equal partners in detection and espionage in the service of queen and country. You can read a substantial PDF excerpt from the beginning of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, when Mary Russell is only fifteen, from the author’s Web site.

Read my review of Pirate King here.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Garment of Shadows from Random House through NetGalley.

Garment of Shadows
King, Laurie R.
Random House, Sept. 4, 2012
978-0-553-80799-8
288 pp.
$26.00

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Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Cover image of Goodbye for NowIn Laurie Frankel‘s second novel, Goodbye for Now, there are many moments that will bring a tear to your eye, but not a single sappy sentence. I loved it. When an advanced reading copy came in the mail last week, I bumped it to the top of the TBR pile and read it in two days. To shower some of my highest praise on this book: Goodbye for Now reminded me of Laurie Colwin.

Although I haven’t read Laurie Colwin’s Happy All the Time;  Shine on, Bright and Dangerous Object; Family Happiness; and Goodbye Without Leaving in years, they remain among my favorite novels of all time. Although they were about relatively privileged New Yorkers in their late twenties and early thirties, the novels made the domestic lives of these smart, witty people, who were also down-to-earth and kind to each other, so irresistibly appealing that readers were drawn in and forgave them any faults, wanting only the best for them all. Throw in computer technology, social media, and improved  forms of electronic communication and you’ve extended the boundaries for a contemporary comedy of manners with family, friends, colleagues, and beyond. In Goodbye for Now, the author’s tweaking of the geek-boy-meets-geek-girl theme and the characters’ philosophical musings on digital afterlives (when we die, our Facebook pages remain) add to the humor and the pathos of the characters’ everyday lives.

The main characters in Goodbye for Now live in Seattle, not New York, but Sam Elling and Meredith Maxwell seem as made for one other as Laurie Colwin’s couples did (Sam’s new online dating algorithm doesn’t go wrong.) Here’s Sam, a lonely software engineer, meeting Meredith for the first time, having tried his newly developed software on himself:

The next step for Sam, of course, was to try it himself. He wanted to know if it worked. He wanted to prove that it worked. But mostly, he wanted it to work. He wanted it to search the world and point, to reach down like the finger of God and say, “Her.” How good was this algorithm? First time out, it set Sam up with Meredith Maxwell. She worked next door. In the marketing department. Of Sam’s own company. For their first date, they met for lunch in the cafeteria at work. She was leaning against the doorframe grinning at him when he got off the elevator, grinning helplessly himself.
“Meredith Maxwell,” she said, shaking Sam’s hand. “My friends mostly call me Max.”
“Not Merde?” Sam asked, incredulous, appalled with himself, even as he was doing so. Who made a joke like that–pretentious, scatological, and French–as a first impression? Sam was awkward and off-putting and a little gross.
Incredibly, Meredith Maxwell laughed. She thought it was funny. She thought Sam was funny. But it wasn’t a miracle. It was computer science.

Both in their early thirties and unattached, Sam and Meredith (forever known to Sam as “Merde”) fall in love so easily and undramatically that when events conspire to have them moving in together, it makes perfect sense to start the living-happily-ever-after part of their lives right away, now that the wonders of computer technology and Sam’s programming genius have brought them together. It’s best not to know much more of the plot in advance because serendipity and bolts from the blue play a major role in how the story goes, so I won’t say much more here, except that the theme of loss runs through the novel starting with the sudden death of Sam’s mother when Sam was only thirteen months old, leaving Sam’s father (also a software engineer) to miss her for many years and Sam with a hole in his life where his mother should have been and no memories of his own stored up.

I hope Goodbye for Now won’t be marketed as a romantic story for women, because there’s so much more here…about grieving, marriage, friendship, artificial intelligence, and (of course, as in all the best novels) the motives of the human heart. Male readers of male authors who write humorous yet sharply observed novels and sometimes touching novels like Jonathan Tropper, Nick Hornby, and Tom Perrotta, should also like Goodbye for Now. (Look! There are model airplanes on the cover, not shoes or a thin, pale white woman in a dress.) If you are a reader of either sex who likes novels by Meg Wolitzer (Surrender, Dorothy), or Carolyn Parkhurst (The Dogs of Babel), or Laurie Colwin, you should also pick up Goodbye for Now as soon as it comes out.

Goodbye for Now
Frankel, Laurie
Doubleday
Aug. 7, 2012
978-0-385-53618-9
288 pp., $25.95 U.S./$30.oo CAN

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of Goodbye for Now from Doubleday through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program.
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Finding Family, New & Old: So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore

Cover image of So Far AwayFor Meg Mitchell Moore‘s second novel, So Far Away, she has created historical diary entries from an Irish immigrant maid’s found notebook, as well as believable contemporary characters ranging in age from 57-year-old archivist Kathleen, to Kathleen’s 30-something friend and coworker Neil, down to 13-year-old Natalie, who travels by bus from her suburban Newburyport home to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Archives in Boston on her own. She brings a crumbling notebook filled with handwriting too spidery for Natalie to read that she found hidden away in her basement – which turns out to be a gripping personal account from a Bridget O’Connell Callaghan (writing in 1975 as an elderly woman) about her position as a young maid just over from Ireland in a Boston doctor’s household.
Natalie (whose parents have separated and haven’t been showing much interest in her life) is investigating her family history for a school project and as a way of escaping bullying classmates who are tormenting her with malicious text messages. Kathleen, living alone with her dog Lucy after losing her teenage daughter years ago, becomes concerned about Natalie, but isn’t sure whether or how to intervene.
The author skillfully brings together several different story lines – historical and contemporary. Readers who liked The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve, or novels by Laura Moriarty or Joanna Trollope, will also like this moving novel about how easily families can break apart and how hard it can be to create new ones.

So Far Away
Moore, Meg Mitchell
Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)
May 29, 2012
978-0-316-09769-7
$25.99

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of So Far Away from Little, Brown through NetGalley, but plan to purchase my own hardcover copy at an author signing at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library this month. Additional disclosure: I’m friends with the author’s mother-in-law, but I don’t think that influenced the review!

Other opinions of So Far Away (mostly good):
Amused by Books
Coffee and a Book Chick
Devourer of Books
Everyday I Write the Book
Jenn’s Bookshelves

Wartime Women: Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Cover image of Next to LoveWorld War II and the pre- and post-war years from the perspective of women in small-town America have already been well mined for fiction, but Next to Love by Ellen Feldman evokes the time and its social upheavals more subtly than The Postmistress by Jennifer Blake, although not quite as masterfully as Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh. Next to Love is set in the fictional western Massachusetts town of South Downs, but doesn’t have a strong sense of place. it is more of a universal story than a Massachusetts story; events similar to the ones in Next to Love were happening in small towns all across the country, and times were changing everywhere.

The title comes from the first epigraph in Next to Love, a quotation ascribed to a 1914 British war correspondent and lexicographer: “War … next to love, has most captured the world’s imagination.” The author doesn’t recreate battle scenes or women’s experiences overseas but imagines and describes the mostly unspoken-about psychological damage of war on soldiers and their families, in particular their wives and mothers, when husbands, sons, or close friends go into combat and come home changed or don’t come home at all.

Babe (known by this childhood nickname instead of by her given name, Bernadette) is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks with the funny last name (Dion) – the one who isn’t invited by her friends’ mothers to stay for dinner and the one whom the local librarian wouldn’t trust to check out more than one book at a time. She’s also the one whose boyfriend doesn’t propose marriage before leaving for the war while she’s bridesmaid at one friend’s rushed wedding after another before the young men of South Downs enlist or are drafted and also the only one of her circle of friends to take a wartime job. Having fallen in love with Claude Higgins, a local boy, Babe thinks, after traveling to meet him in North Carolina for a last-minute marriage before he ships out, that if it weren’t for the war he might never have crossed the class barrier and braved his parents’ disapproval to marry her, despite her intelligence and long legs.

Over the years during and after the war, she and her two childhood friends, Millie and Grace, remain loyal to each other, shedding some prejudices and overlooking others, trying to be good wives, mothers, and friends without losing too much of themselves. Here’s Babe, reflecting on their friendship, close to the end of the book:

They love one another with an atavistic ferocity, though, it occurs to Babe sitting in the sunporch, these days perhaps they do not much like one another. But she is asking too much of them. Friendship, like marriage, is not all of a piece. Sometimes she thinks she would kill for them. Sometimes she wants to kill them.

This novel would make a good book discussion book, touching as it does on issues of racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, feminism, and other topics on which there was a seismic cultural shift during the post-war decades. Next to Love is a bit too dark to be called women’s fiction – Babe’s outsider’s perspective and fettered intellect reminded me at times of Elizabeth Strout’s character Olive Kitteridge – but readers who enjoyed Laurie Graham’s book The Future Homemakers of America (as I did) or Baker Towers will probably like Next to Love.

Next to Love
Feldman, Ellen
Spiegel & Grau
Trade Paperback pub date: May 15, 2012
978-0-8129-8241-1
320 pp.
$15.00

Disclosure: I received an advance reader’s copy of Next to Love from Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers‘ program.

Other opinions on Next to Love (mostly good):
Fluidity of Time
Man of la Book
nomadreader
So Obsessed With

Dysfunctional Family Bonding Dysfunctionally: The Red House by Mark Haddon

Book Cover Image of The Red House by Mark HaddonDaily crises,  confrontations, misunderstandings, adolescent hormonal outbreaks, sexual tension, attempted suicide, a nervous breakdown, a dramatic brush with death, and no cell phone reception except in a tiny corner of an upstairs bedroom don’t make for a relaxing family holiday, but make The Red House by Mark Haddon, where much of what happens is happening inside someone’s head, an intriguing novel of family and identity.
Angela’s brother Richard phones Angela out of the blue after their mother’s funeral, to invite her, her under-employed husband of twenty years, Dominic, and their three kids (athletic Alex, age 17; born-again Daisy, 16; and dreamy Benjy, 8) – to spend a week’s holiday with him and his new wife, Louisa, and stepdaughter Melissa (age 16) in a rented house in the hilly countryside of Herefordshire on the Welsh border. Although resentful of Richard because of the years she spent dealing with their mother’s long, alcoholic decline while her financially successful younger brother paid the bills and kept his distance, Angela accepts his invitation –  unable to take her family on any vacation at all otherwise, much less to a more exotic locale, as she pointedly reminds Dominic, the failed family breadwinner. Five weeks from the surprising phone call, they’ve all met up at the shabby but comfortable rental house and started getting to know each other, somewhat stiffly and awkwardly.*
Sentence fragments. Many fragments. Passing thoughts, random images, partial memories, inchoate yearnings. (This was how I thought of starting out the review, but I was afraid it would sound negative, and I want readers of literary fiction to read The Red House, even though it is more like A Spot of Bother,** the author’s second novel, than his more popular first, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.)
It takes a while to get used to the poetic style of the author’s writing. (Sentence fragments. Many fragments.) You don’t always know what is being thought or who is doing the thinking at first, but this is the way the author gets the reader into the characters’ heads. People don’t think in fully-formed, coherent paragraphs, or even in full sentences, sometimes not even verbally.
Also confusing at first is the way the author uses italics instead of quotation marks to signify that a character is talking, not thinking – the opposite of the usual use of italics. I don’t know why the author decided to do this. Maybe just because most of the book would have been italicized if it had been done the usual way.
Even those who aren’t relative strangers to each other learn something about their siblings, spouses, parents, children, or themselves during the week away – some good, some bad – and have had to revise their thoughts about themselves or someone else during their time outside of usual life. Nothing is charming or particularly heartwarming (no group-hugs), but the brief period of togetherness makes their individual lives of quiet desperation a little less lonely and desperate.

*understatement of the year
**understatement of THAT year

Read a Telegraph article about author Mark Haddon here, which includes a short excerpt from near the beginning of The Red House.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from Doubleday through NetGalley.

The Red House
Haddon, Mark
Doubleday
June 12, 2012
978-0-385-53577-9
272 p., $25.95, hc

Guilty English Pleasure: More Than You Know by Penny Vincenzi

English author Penny Vincenzi‘s books are like granola bars – not much more nutritious than candy, but their mini chocolate chips and tiny marshmallows or sweetened dried cranberries satisfy a candy craving, with a few nutritious oats and nuts tossed in.
None of the author’s later books have ever appealed to me as much as The Spoils of Time trilogy, a saga of the Lytton publishing family in London. (The start of the trilogy, No Angel, was the first of her books to be published in the U.S. – in 2004 – and several books later, that’s the one that’s still mentioned on the cover of this one.) But I still find her books addictive, and whip right through each new one.
In More Than You Know, fashion journalism and fashion design in the sixties (which the author had first-hand experience of) form the backdrop of the drama that plays out when headstrong career-girl Eliza Fullerton-Clark – whose shabby genteel parents are struggling to maintain their large village house, Summercourt – falls for the working-class, chip-on-his-shoulder Matt Shaw – who is well on his way to making his first fortune in property development. Money and class; marriage and career; tradition and changing times…all these make for a stormy relationship between Eliza and Matt, eventually bringing them to the brink of the vicious child custody battle alluded to at the beginning of the book.
But that’s just one of the multiple story strands that readers of More Than You Know will be following. Along with the relationship ups-and-downs of Eliza’s brother and Matt’s sister (not together), Eliza’s ex-beau Jeremy (handsome and rich, like Matt, but from Eliza’s upper-class world), and friends of Matt’s or Eliza’s, there are soaring or flattening career arcs – with Eliza caught between motherhood and her burgeoning fashion journalism career and Matt working with cutthroat competition (sometimes within his own office) – the siren call of the kinds of temptation that the swinging sixties and seventies were rife with, parenting struggles, and too many other plot threads to mention, all switching back and forth across each other.
Penny Vincenzi is a master of the sexy, literary potboiler. More Than You Know will be devoured by her fans, but it might not be the one to hook a new reader unless the London fashion scene is a big draw. I still recommend No Angel if you’re trying to decide whether you’ll like Penny Vincenzi or not.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from Doubleday through NetGalley.

More Than You Know (published as The Decision in the U.K.)
Vincenzi, Penny
Doubleday
Pub Date: April 3, 2012
978-0-385-52825-2
608 pp.
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