*Giveaway* Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg

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Tom Wrought is being framed. Life hadn't been easy up to this point, but he never expected it to get this bad. A Pulitzer prize and colloquial respect as a historian did little to protect Tom from the hysteria of McCarthy's crusade against communism. Black-listed and humiliated, Tom relocated to Oxford where he found the love of his life Liz. The only problem. . . Liz is married.

As the affair of Tom and Liz progresses, the two become soulmates. But the bliss of love is soon interrupted by the sudden murder of Liz's husband. The poor man is pushed in front of a train on the London Underground, and Tom is the prime suspect. The authorities see the event as a cut and dry case of "the other man" killing the husband out of jealousy. Despite the clear motive, Tom adamantly proclaims his innocence.

Lucky for Tom, Liz believes him. She hires a young lawyer to defend him and to get to the bottom of who would frame him. As the story unfolds, we learn secrets of Toms past that have the potential to unearth an even larger conspiracy of global proportions.

In Autumn in Oxford, author Alex Rosenberg crafts a deliberately plotted thriller that is riveting from start to finish. I was reminded of the works of Joseph Kanon, especially The Good German, as I read this historical novel that was full of twists and turns that come with Cold War espionage. The characters are intricately drawn and help to keep the pages turning even when the action stalls. It was particularly refreshing to have two women, Liz and her solicitor, take the reigns of the investigation, especially given the time period of the story. Autumn in Oxford is a novel that could have benefited from one final editing pass, but ultimately the heart of the characters and intrigue of the plot elevate the book into a fascinating and engaging read.

For more information, visit Amazon, Goodreads, and TLC Book Tours.

(2016, 28)

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Storm Front by John Sandford

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"There're not many angels around anymore. Not in my work."

The Virgil Flowers series by John Sandford is one of my all time favorites. Flowers, a quirky investigator who has his own way of going about his job, is one of the most charismatic and unconventional leads in a popular mystery series. His long hair, obscure music group t-shirts, and cowboy boots make him instantly recognizable by wardrobe alone. His reputation as maverick investigator who solves "the hard ones" places him in some of the most dangerous situations that the state of Minnesota has to offer. Storm Front finds Flowers in an investigation that has stakes reaching far beyond the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Elijah Jones is in the biggest trouble of his life. For years, Jones has cared for his wife who suffers from Alzheimers. Now, as he faces his own terminal cancer diagnosis, Jones sets a plan in motion that could potentially keep his wife cared for long after he has died. During a recent archeological dig in Israel, Jone's team discovered an ancient artifact that seemingly alters history dating back to the Bible. He smuggles the artifact home to Minnesota in the hopes of auctioning it to the highest bidder and securing the wellbeing of his wife for years to come.

Enter Virgil Flowers. He is busy investigating a petty case of local fraud when his boss Lucas Davenport gives him a call. Shortly after, Flowers is at the airport picking up an Israeli expert who he will assist in retrieving the artifact. But Israel is not the only party with interest in the relic. The history and religion altering implication of the ancient stele has a host of parties from around the world racing to retrieve it. From an American television personality to a notorious terrorist, it seems like everyone wants to get their hands on the artifact. This leaves Virgil in a unique situation. Is an ancient rock really worth dying for?

As with the previous novels in this series, it is really fun to read about Virgil Flowers working out a case in his unique way. John Sandford writes with a crisp urgency that makes Storm Front a real page turner. That being said, this is the first novel in the series that I didn't come out of wanting more. The plot of this book strays a bit to far from reality for me. The globe spanning historical implications of the premise seem more fitting to Dan Brown's Robert Langdon than Virgil Flowers. Flowers seemed so out of place, in fact, that I found myself more interested in the subplot of antique lumber fraud than the main story. Some have suggested that Sandford may have employed another author to help him write this novel. Whether this is true or not, Storm Front, is an installment that does not reach the height of the novels that preceded it. For the sake of his fantastic character, I hope this novel does not mark the beginning of a decline in what remains one of my favorite series.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 27)

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

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I don't have any kids (unless you count my dog), so I wouldn't consider myself an expert on children's books by any means. That being said, I came across B.J. Novak's The Book With No Pictures recently and was so impressed by it that I had to write a review. Novak is probably best known for his role on the hit comedy The Office. In The Book With No Pictures, he uses his comedic abilities to create a bedtime story that both kids and parents are sure to enjoy.

As you probably guessed by the title, this children's book has no pictures. Instead, the book relies on the simple premise that whoever reads the book aloud is bound to say every word that is written...even if that word is something as silly as "Blork!" This soon creates a conflict as the reader does their best to avoid the crazy words, but they are bound by the rules to read them. There's nonsensical words, silly phrases, and even a song.

I really admire what Novak has done with this book. He breaks the fourth wall and creates a story that both kids and adults will get a kick out of. The publisher recommends the book for kids aged 4-8, but I imagine this could be enjoyed by kids who are a little younger. The book's premise truly allows for the reader to get creative in their delivery, allowing for endless variety from read to read. The Book With No Pictures is a unique offering in the crowded genre of children's books that is sure to inspire a life long love of reading in every household that it reaches.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 26)

Binge by Tyler Oakley

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Before reading his book, Binge, I wasn't very familiar with Tyler Oakley. I've seen him hosting some awards show red carpet coverage and a few of his YouTube videos, but I'd never pretend to be one of his fans. That being said,  I couldn't help but be curious about Oakley. He took a YouTube channel and turned it into a brand that has earned him a comfortable career and celebrity status.

The book compiles Oakley's musings about life, love, and the random things that have made him such a fascinating character. He mixes serious sections such as one about being in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with funny recollections about the hotness of Disney princes and the culinary wonders of Cheesecake Factory. Reading his candid recollections reveal the reason for his success. He has an undeniable charisma that makes him seem like a close friend.

Tyler has capitalized on his affable personality by turning himself into a recognizable brand. But broadcasting his life to the world has not come without a personal cost. In one of the more terrifying sections, he writes about being bombarded by fans at a YouTube convention. The event happened to fall on his birthday, and the large group of fans only wanted to send Tyler their well wishes. Despite the positive intentions, a large throng of people rushing the vehicle and yelling his name startled the young star and left him contemplating a retreat from the public eye.

Thankfully, Tyler decided the pros of fame far outweigh the cons. After reading his book, I am impressed at the way he uses his platform to inspire his fans. By broadcasting his life, Tyler encourages us to embrace ourselves no matter who we may be. His book is an authentic look behind the scenes that shows that deep down he is an ordinary person who faces many of the same obstacles that we do. “I was taught that being myself was not only okay, but encouraged - and by being unapologetically yourself, you thrive and inspire others to thrive.” 

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 25)


The Gifts of Memoir by Christine Hale

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In A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations, I've written about myself but not for myself.

I talk about a childhood in southern Appalachia that included abuse and neglect as well plenty of freedom to read and explore the natural world. I tell the stranger-than-fiction true story of together-tattoos with my teen children. And I relive the odd pleasures and striking solitudes of a series of spiritual retreats. I piece all of this together like a crazy quilt of vivid colors to suggest some truths about the human condition.

It's true that in the book's earliest draft, I wrote to try to explain myself to myself. I wrote down what shocked and hurt and amazed me about my life to that point. I wrote the questions I couldn't answer--except by speculation--about people I'd lost, found, given up on or given another chance. The process was cathartic--it made me feel better able to accept what I couldn't change. But the writing was also instructive. Putting it all down on paper helped me connect the dots, in ways I'd never imagined possible, between things I'd done at widely different points in my life, or between things I'd done and my mother had done, for instance. And, another gift of memoir: the process of trying to remember made me remember more and more. I reclaimed and relived some very sweet memories.

So, I was enjoying writing the book and learning about myself, but I had to stop and ask why I was writing a book about my life. I mean, who wants to read about me?

That question comes up nearly every time I mentor a creative writer who wants to write a memoir. Self-doubt, even a touch of shame, about presuming to share one's own "ordinary" live story. But if you can learn from writing about your life, I tell them, why wouldn't readers learn from what you've learned?

It took me years to feel comfortable saying that. But I am confident of it now. Readers of my memoir tell me that they idetnify with the struggles and the triumphs in the book, that they are reminded of their own sweetest memories, that they reel reconnected with people they've lost, or that they have new insight into someone who was a powerful and painful mystery in their life. Some have said, simply, "It helped me."

During the years I worked on my book, I came to realize that I wanted it to become a gift, humbly offered. I want readers to take away a feeling that they are not alone in their doubts, fears, confusion, strivings, and hopes. That these feeling are the essence of being human. I want readers to get from the book their own personal version of what I got from writing it--clarity and release.

For more information, visit the author's website and Amazon.
Be sure to check out all of the other posts that are a part of this tour!

Bossypants by Tina Fey

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"To say I'm an overrated troll, when you've never even seen me guard a bridge, is pretty unfair."

I wouldn't consider myself a huge Tina Fey fan. She was on Saturday Night Live before I was really old enough to watch it, and I've only seen 30 Rock a few times. Her spot on impression of vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin is probably the only significant part of her work that I'm familiar with. Still, one dollar for a copy of her memoir Bossypants at my local used bookstore was too good of a deal to pass up.

The book chronicles Fey's unlikely rise from awkward drama student to running her own critically acclaimed television show. The early portions of the book focus on her formative years and offer glimpses of the career that would follow. During high school she spent her summers acting and directing in a drama camp. The camps were usually made up of outsiders, all of whom Fey embraced and built lasting relationships with. Her stint with the Second City improv group after college introduced her to Amy Poehler and paved the way for her start with SNL.

Interspersed with the mostly straightforward biography are one liners and tangents that illustrate Fey's gift as a comedic writer. She hilariously describes her struggle to balance life and work and the ridiculous added pressure of being a woman in a male dominated industry. No section illustrates this more than the part where Fey is at the height of her stint as Sarah Palin while equally stressing the smallest details of her daughter's birthday party. I think that is what I find most interesting about Tina Fey. She somehow manages to stay true to herself despite all of the absurdities of being a celebrity.

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads.

(2016, 24)

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