Review: Echoes of Family, by Barbara Claypole White

About the book, Echoes of Family Echoes of Family

  • Paperback: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (September 27, 2016)

Sometimes the only way through darkness is to return to where it began.

Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.

In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Barbara Claypole White Barbara Claypole White

A Brit living in North Carolina, Barbara Claypole White writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book, and The In-Between Hour was chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick. Her third novel, The Perfect Son, was a semifinalist in the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Fiction.

Connect with Barbara

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve heard Barbara Claypole White’s name forever, it seems, and yet Echoes of Family is the first time I’ve actually read her writing. Even so,  falling into this novel was like falling into the story of an old friend. Marianne, with the trauma that has lingered with her from girlhood, is sometimes manic, sometimes darkly depressed, but always a force to be reckoned with, and she loves with all her heart, when her head lets her. Jade, her unofficially adopted daughter is also a compelling character, and watching the way the stories of these two women unfold and overlap each other was incredibly rewarding and satisfying.

Fundamentally, this novel is about family – the kind we’re born to and the kind we choose – but it’s also about grief, loss, personal growth, and letting go of the things we cannot change, or that merely fester in the deepest parts of psyches. Claypole’s characters are dimensional and real, but it’s her handling of the interpersonal relationships between them that I found completely gripping. The simplest interactions are laced with nuance and subtlety that just sings off the page.

If you enjoy contemporary fiction with female characters who are both strong and realistically flawed, you will absolutely love Echoes of Family.

Barbara Claypole White’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Sunday, September 25th: Writer Unboxed – guest post, “Ten Tips for Writing Through Family Stress”

Monday, September 26th: BookBub Blog – “Family Crises of the Month Book Club”

Tuesday, September 27th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, September 28th: Just One More Chapter

Friday, September 30th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, October 3rd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Monday, October 3rd: BookNAround

Wednesday, October 5th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

Thursday, October 6th: Broken Teepee

Friday, October 7th: Not in Jersey

Tuesday, October 11th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Thursday, October 13th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Friday, October 14th: Books ‘n Bindings

Monday, October 17th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, October 18th: The Baking Bookworm

Wednesday, October 19th: Bibliotica

Monday, October 24th: Mom’s Small Victories

Review: Cease & Desist, by Stephen David Hurley

About the book, Cease & Desist Cease & Desist


  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: RiverBrook Books (July 24, 2016)

What if the secret to being charismatic were actually a gene you could inherit, and pass along to your children. What if this “X-factor” could make you a star? Welcome to the world of Cease de Menich, a sixteen-year-old actress in New York City who gets cast as Joan-of-Arc in a reality-drama, only to discover her “acting gift” has been passed down through her bloodline for almost six-hundred-years. Cease finds the plot of the drama reveals dark secrets from her past–an abusive mother, a brother who committed suicide–and the reader must decide if she’s a reliable narrator or a terrified girl who’s succumb to the pressure of fame and the abuse of her past.

Cease & Desist is a dark, contemporary YA thriller with a supernatural twist. Readers of books like I Let You Go and The Girl on the Train will enjoy this coming-of-age story, which struggles with the realities of sexuality, violence as entertainment, and mental illness. Cease & Desist has excellent crossover potential into the adult marketplace.

Buy, read, & discuss Cease & Desist

Amazon | Goodreads

About the author, Stephen David Hurley Stephen David Hurley

Stephen David Hurley teaches and coaches at independent middle schools in San Francisco. He writes about fiction, faith and young people.

Connect with Stephen

Website | Blog

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

As a book-blogger, about seventy-five percent of the titles I review come from a publicists and book tour coordinators. Another fifteen percent come from my own purchases, or contests (“enter to win five beach books” and things of that ilk) and the remaining ten percent come from authors who have landed on my site for one reason or another, and contacted me directly.

Stephen David Hurley is one of the latter. He originally approached me about reviewing his YA novel Cease & Desist last summer, and while I was a little trepidatious when he mentioned that he writes about faith (see the line in his brief bio, above), I was hooked on his high-concept story – teenagers in a reality drama about historical figures.

Trustingly, Stephen sent me a Word doc – a WORD doc! – of his novel, and because I was curious, even though I was under a thousand deadlines, I started reading it on my phone within seconds of its arrival, and from main character Cecile “Cease” de Menich’s first introduction I was hooked. Here was a character who was smart, snarky, and seemingly successful, all while still being a supremely believable teenager.

I forced myself to set the novel aside, but I kept thinking about it. This is one of the things I love about Hurley’s writing. His characters live in a heightened situation (and I mean, heightened beyond the Hollywood reality-drama setting) but their voices are so clear, so present, so truthful, that they instantly take up residence in your brain, nudging you to come back and read more.

I’m glad I responded to that nudging.

Told in first person, from Cease’s point of view, this novel addresses subjects as varied as truth in performance and in the choice of how and when to embrace our own sexuality. Sex, violence, death – these are all handled with great candor, but in ways that remain true to the characters and world the author has created.

While Cease is the focal character, she is far from the only character. Nina – her aunt and guardian, Brad and Rex (two of the boys who are her castmates) and a myriad of publicists, producers, and other performers populate the pages of Cease & Desist, and while we do not get to experience the same level of intimacy with their thoughts and feelings that we do with Cease, there isn’t a single one of them who doesn’t feel like a real, dimensional person.

What I particularly liked about Cease & Desist was the way real history was worked into the Hollywood story. “This is Hollywood, not history,” is an oft-repeated mantra throughout the story, but for those of us who are reasonably familiar with the actual stories of people like Jeanne  d’Arc there are hidden treasures in what is, ultimately, a contemporary story.

I’ve often stated that I feel the Young Adult ‘genre’ is where some of today’s strongest female characters and most provocative stories can be found. Cease & Desist is the perfect proof of that statement. It is absolutely on the more ‘adult’ side of  young adult, going to places that are quite edgy, but I think even people my age (46) will find it to be a meaty and fascinating read.

Goes well with a brownie and a cappuccino, because (let’s face it) no one drinks actual milk anymore.




Review: Mercury, by Margot Livesey

About the book, Mercury Mercury

• Hardcover: 336 pages
• Publisher: Harper (September 27, 2016)

Donald believes he knows all there is to know about seeing. An optometrist in suburban Boston, he is sure that he and his wife, Viv, who runs the local stables, are both devoted to their two children and to each other. Then Mercury—a gorgeous young thoroughbred with a murky past—arrives at Windy Hill and everything changes.

Mercury’s owner, Hilary, is a newcomer to town who has enrolled her daughter in riding lessons. When she brings Mercury to board at Windy Hill, everyone is struck by his beauty and prowess, particularly Viv. As she rides him, Viv begins to dream of competing again, embracing the ambitions that she had harbored, and relinquished, as a young woman. Her daydreams soon morph into consuming desire, and her infatuation with the thoroughbred escalates to obsession.

Donald may have 20/20 vision but he is slow to notice how profoundly Viv has changed and how these changes threaten their quiet, secure world. By the time he does, it is too late to stop the catastrophic collision of Viv’s ambitions and his own myopia.

Buy, read, and discuss Mercury

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Margot Livesey margot-livesey-ap-photo-by-tony-rinaldi

Margot Livesey is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The House on Fortune Street, Banishing Verona, Eva Moves the Furniture, The Missing World, Criminals, and Homework. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Atlantic, and she is the recipient of grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The House on Fortune Street won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Born in Scotland, Livesey currently lives in the Boston area and is a professor of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Connect with Margot

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I would have been completely satisfied with the first nineteen chapters of this novel, which were all from the perspective of Donald, Scottish ex-pat who moved to America as a child, and never entirely assimilated. His story was interesting and felt complete, and I loved the experience of reading about love, marriage, and parenthood, as well as about the different dynamics of working in a high pressure job, or a small practice (he’s an ophthalmologist) and big cities vs. small towns.

Were his perceptions accurate or was Donald the type to to “see, but not observe” as Sherlock Holmes would phrase it.

If the novel had only included Donald’s POV, we might never have known.

But author Margot Livesey gives us a treat. Embracing the Rashomon effect whole-heartedly, we get to backtrack to the beginning, and see everything from the point of view of Viv, Donald’s brilliant, passionate wife.

It was an interesting twist to an already compelling novel, and while it could have ended up falling flat, under Livesey’s deft hand, it worked amazingly well.

In truth, I liked both Donald and Viv very much, and I really enjoyed reading their story. It’s so rare that a novel begins with a marriage, rather than the lead-up to it, that even the ensuing drama still made me feel like this story was fresh and original.

Of the supporting cast, and there were some great characters, Jack and Claudia chief among them, I would like to say that I believe any of them could conceivably be the central character in their own story, and I greatly appreciated the amount of nuance expressed by each one.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants a compelling story about characters who feel supremely real.

Goes well with pot roast, mashed potatoes and a hearty salad.

Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 27th: Bibliophiliac

Wednesday, September 28th: The Reading Date

Thursday, September 29th: Real Life Reading

Friday, September 30th: Booksie’s Blog

Monday, October 3rd: Tina Says…

Wednesday, October 5th: Back Porchervations

Thursday, October 6th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, October 10th: I Brought a Book

Tuesday, October 11th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, October 12th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Thursday, October 13th: Art Books Coffee

Monday, October 17th: BookNAround

Tuesday, October 18th: Rebecca Radish

Wednesday, October 19th: Staircase Wit

Thursday, October 20th: Sweet Southern Home

Friday, October 21st: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts

TBD: The Ludic Reader

Review: The Taste of Air, by Gail Cleare

About the book The Taste of Air The Taste of Air


  • Publisher: Red Adept Publishing, LLC (273 pages)
  • Publication Date: September 22, 2016


When Mary Reilly turns up in a hospital hundreds of miles from the senior community where she lives, Nell and Bridget discover their mother has been hiding a second life. She has a lakeside cottage in Vermont and a series of complex relationships with people her daughters have never met. The family drama that is gradually uncovered reveals truths about all three women, the sacrifices they’ve made and the secrets they carry.

Nell is a carpool mom and corporate trophy wife who yearns for a life of her own. Bridget is a glamorous interior designer who transforms herself for every new man, always attracted to the bad ones. Their mother Mary was an army nurse in the Vietnam War, then married handsome navy pilot Thomas Reilly and lived happily ever after…or did she?

Buy, read, and discuss The Taste of Air

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Kobo | Goodreads

About the author, Gail Cleare Gail Cleare

Gail Cleare has written for newspapers, magazines, Fortune 50 companies and AOL. Her award-winning ad agency represented the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She was the turtle Leonardo’s date for the world premiere of the second TMNT movie, and got to wear a black evening gown and sparkly shoes.

Gail lives on an 18th century farm in Massachusetts with her family and dogs, cats, chickens, black bears, blue herons, rushing streams and wide, windy skies. She’s into organic gardening and nature photography, and can often be found stalking wild creatures with a 300 mm lens.

Connect with Gail

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

My first thought after finishing The Taste of Air was that this was an incredibly satisfying novel.

My second thought was that I want to live in a cute cottage in New England when I’m older, though my dream cottage would be big enough to share with my husband and our collection of dogs.

In this novel, author Gail Cleare introduces us to a trio of women, each of whom are strong and weak in individual ways. Mary Ellen, the mother, has been leading a secret life for decades, and was apparently content to do so until suddenly, her secret is revealed when she is sent to the hospital.

Her daughters, Nell and Bridget, discover their mothers double existence when Nell is called to her bedside. Nell is the ultimate caregiver, sacrificing her own happiness for her family, while Bridget repeatedly chooses men who don’t treat her well.

Together, these three women form both a family, glimpsed mainly in flashbacks, and the nucleus of the novel.

What I loved was that author Cleare really captured the subconscious patterns that family members develop, the ones that demonstrate connection as much, or more than, any physical attributes. I also liked that each woman had her own journey, and that while those journeys intersected, each story was given equal weight.

It would have been so easy to focus on Mary Ellen, for example, unraveling the mystery of her cottage refuge without her ever speaking a word in the present day. It would have been just as easy to focus on Nell, whose point of view opens the story. (In truth, even though my only children have four feet and fur, it was Nell I most identified with.) Or Bridget, who is probably the most outwardly together and inwardly unhappy woman in the story, and who has dual quests – a satisfying relationship where she’s treated with respect, and the search for the baby she had as a teenager, and subsequently gave up for adoption.

All three stories are compelling, and as we meet the men, the other women, the children, in the lives of Mary Ellen and her daughters, what results is a family portrait that is less a posed and stilted (and somewhat horrific) presentation, and more a collage of hard truths, past mistakes, present ambitions, and great love.

I would recommend this book to women (and men) of all ages, who want to truly understand how multi-dimensional we all are.

Goes well with an open window, a cozy chair, a mug of coffee and a plate of crisp apples and sharp cheddar cheese.

Review: Composing Temple Sunrise, by Hassan El-Tayyab

About the book Composing Temple Sunrise Composing Temple Sunrise

  • Paperback: 202 pages
  • Publisher: Poetic Matrix Press (July 15, 2016)

Composing Temple Sunrise is a coming-of-age memoir about a 26-year-old songwriter’s journey across America to find his lost muse.

Triggered by the Great Recession of 2008, Hassan El-Tayyab loses his special education teaching job in Boston and sets out on a cross-country adventure with a woman named Hope Rideout, determined to find his lost muse. His journey brings him to Berkeley, CA, where he befriends a female metal art collective constructing a 37-foot Burning Man art sculpture named “Fishbug.” What follows is a life-changing odyssey through Burning Man that helps Hassan harness his creative spirit, overcome his self-critic, confront his childhood trauma, and realize the healing power of musical expression.

In this candid, inspiring memoir, singer-songwriter Hassan El-Tayyab of the Bay Area’s American Nomad takes us deep into the heart of what it means to chase a creative dream.

After experiencing multiple losses (family, home, love, job, self-confidence) , El-Tayyab sets out on a transcontinental quest that eventually lands him in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. His vivid descriptions capture both the vast, surreal landscapes of the Burning Man festival and the hard practice of making art.

Buy, read, and discuss Composing Temple Sunrise

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Composing Temple Sunrise Website | Goodreads

About the author, Hassan El-Tayyab Hassan El-Tayyab

Hassan El-Tayyab is an award-winning singer/songwriter, author, teacher, and cultural activist currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. His critically acclaimed Americana act American Nomad performs regularly at festivals and venues up and down the West Coast and beyond and he teaches music in the Bay Area.

Connect with Hassan


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I have to confess: before I read this book I’d never heard of the author or his band American Nomad, nor did I have a clear picture of what Burning Man actually is. I mean, I’d heard of it, of course, who hasn’t? I just didn’t have correct information.

As it turned out, none of that mattered, and I began reading Hassan El-Tayyab’s memoir with no expectations except that I would ‘meet’ a new person within its pages.

I always feel odd about reviewing memoirs, as if I’m critiquing the author’s actual life, and not just the way they chose to depict it on paper (real or virtual).  Forgive me then, for nitpicking. This memoir could have used another pass by a line editor or proof reader. Some of the grammar is a little ‘off.’ Despite that, however, I found myself thoroughly engaged, and I even managed to suppress my grammar-police tendencies.

Composing Temple Sunrise is not an entire book about composing a single song. Rather, it’s the story of the author’s journey from a place of frustration  – having just lost a job that he was good at, though it wasn’t his true calling – and a series of losses that began in childhood, to a place where he could unleash the full force of his creativity.

It is a fascinating study of both the creative process and in general, and El-Tayyab’s personal journey, and how the two intertwine. As a writer, improvisor, amateur musician (I sing, I’ve played the cello since childhood, and I and bought my first guitar last year, but so far, I only know how to tune it), I found everything he wrote about – from undertaking a cross-country road-trip just to do something, to waking up one morning with a whole composition (the song “Temple Sunrise” referred to in the title) in his head – incredibly compelling and truthful.

While I was intrigued by the author’s experiences at Burning Man, and appreciated finally learning about what it really was, I found myself both yearning for that kind of conversion of creative energies, and also recognizing that I, a woman who believes ‘roughing it’ means staying in a hotel that doesn’t have room service or wifi, would not benefit from that specific event.

But it isn’t about me, except in the sense that we, as readers, bring our own experiences and perceptions to every book we begin. It’s about Hassan El-Tayyab, and his journey, and I feel privileged to have shared it with him, even if it was only virtually, and after the fact.

Whether or not you have creative pursuits, Composing Temple Sunrise is a fascinating glimpse at both the artist’s personality, and one artist specifically.

Goes well with vegan pad Thai made with grilled tofu and your favorite craft beer.


Provided to YouTube by CDBaby, here’s the track referenced in the title: “Temple Sunrise”

Tour Stops Poetic Book Tours

Sept. 1: OakTreeReviews (Review)

Sept. 2: The Serial Reader (Review)
Sept. 3: Applied Book Reviews (Review)
Sept. 7: Everything Distils Into Reading (Review)
Sept. 13: The Soapy Violinist (Review)
Sept. 15: Bermudaonion (Guest Post)
Sept. 20: Tea Leaves (Review)
Sept. 23: Write-Read-Life (Review)
Sept. 30: DonnaBookReviews (Review)
Oct. 5: Eva Lucia’s Reviews (Review)
Oct. 6: Bibliotica (Review)
Oct. 11: Eva Lucia’s Reviews (Interview)
Oct. 13: Katherine & Books (Review)
Oct. 17: Margaret Reviews Books (Review)
Oct. 20: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)
Oct. 26: Peeking Between the Pages (Guest Post)
Oct. 27: Rainy Day Reviews (Review)
Nov. 3: Sportochick’s Musings (Review)

Review: The Bitch is Back, edited by Cathi Hanauer

About the book, The Bitch is Back the-bitch-is-back-cover

• Hardcover: 368 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (September 27, 2016)

More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.

“Born out of anger,” the essays in The Bitch in the House chronicled the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium. Now those funny, smart, passionate contributors—today less bitter and resentful, and more confident, competent, and content—capture the spirit of postfeminism in this equally provocative, illuminating, and compelling companion anthology.

Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these “bitches”—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the “original bitches” (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions.

As a “new wave” of feminists begins to take center stage, this powerful, timely collection sheds a much-needed light on both past and present, offering understanding, compassion, and wisdom for modern women’s lives, all the while pointing toward the exciting possibilities of tomorrow.

Buy, read, and discuss The Bitch is Back

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the editor, Cathi Hanauer cathi-hanauer-ap

Cathi Hanauer is the author of three novels—My Sister’s Bones, Sweet Ruin, and Gone—and is the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House. A former columnist for Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen, she has written for The New York Times, Elle, Self, Real Simple, and other magazines. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, New York Times “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones, and their daughter and son.

Connect with Cathi

Website, | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I loved this book. It’s funny and feisty and fierce, but at the same time it’s serious and poignant. Some of the authors included are women whose work I’ve been reading all my life and some are new to me, and even when they were describing situations that were foreign to me I found their words interesting, relevant, and often provocative. These are real women writing about their real lives. They write about marriage and family and being single and being professional and turning your back on what people expect.

They write with honest voices full of wit and wisdom and no small amount of warmth.

And these writings very obviously come from a place where Truth is deeply rooted.

Ordinarily, this is the part of my review where I would pick out a few favorites from the collection of essays and highlight them, but I can’t do that. Why? Because to highlight any of them feels like slighting the rest.

Instead, let me just share my enthusiasm, no – my delight – in the fact that this true stories were from women my age and older. Strong women. Smart women. And, yes, bitchy women, but only in the sense that these women have reclaimed the word ‘bitch’ and made it representative of feminism, personal choice, and self expression in only the best ways. If these women are bitches, then, damn! I want to be a bitch, too.

Essay after essay, I could not stop reading these words. The woman who declared that she was trans after years of marriage and still shares a home and a life with her original wife. Beautiful. The college president owning her fight to stay youthful. I completely get that. The book unwinds, the tales go on, and  – seriously – I read in the bathroom a lot, and my feet fell asleep more than once because I was so engaged in these words.

I’ve found myself enthralled by books before. I’ve found myself completely engaged in stories both fictional and non.

But The Bitch is Back grabbed my attention from the first word of the forward, and never let me waver until I’d sucked the last sentence into my soul.

Read it. I promise. You’ll find yourself nodding you head and smiling and laughing  – and sometimes cursing – only to smile and laugh and nod some more.

Goes well with whatever you love. I chose coffee and a toasted bagel and Greek yogurt with fruit and honey.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 27th: Dwell in Possibility

Wednesday, September 28th: G. Jacks Writes

Thursday, September 29th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Monday, October 3rd: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Tuesday, October 4th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, October 5th: Book Hooked Blog

Thursday, October 6th: In Bed with Books

Monday, October 10th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Tuesday, October 11th: Stranded in Chaos

Thursday, October 13th: West Metro Mommy

TBD: Doing Dewey


Buzz! They Were Like Family to Me, by Helen Maryles Shankman

Like Family - Postcard

Critically praised, beloved by readers, In the Land of Armadillos has an evocative new cover and title, They Were Like Family to Me. Now in Paperback! Available October 4.
1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish citizens. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town. We meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the Jewish creator of his son’s favorite picture book; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, They Were Like Family to Me is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

“One of the most original and consistently captivating short story collections to have appeared in recent years…(They Were Like Family to Me) is a singularly inventive collection of chilling stark realism enhanced by the hallucinatory ingredient of top-drawer magical realism, interrogating the value of art, storytelling, and dreams in a time of peril and presenting hard truths with wisdom, magic, and grace.” —Jewish Book Council

“Moving and unsettling…Like Joyce’s Dubliners, this book circles the same streets and encounters the same people as it depicts the horrors of Germany’s invasion of Poland through the microcosm of one village…Shankman’s prose is inventive and taut… A deeply humane demonstration of wringing art from catastrophe.” —Kirkus Reviews

“…by turns forthright and tender, oblique and intimate, brutal and ethereal…Though each story stands beautifully on its own, it is the completed tapestry of interwoven details that finally reveals the entire picture and provides the full emotional depth of the collected stories…The author’s greatest accomplishment is in leaving the horror to speak for itself, and instead giving voice to the enchantment.” —Historical Novel Society

More about They Were Like Family to Me They Were Like Family to Me

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (October 4, 2016)

1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its monstrous power, Hitler’s SS fires up the new crematorium at Auschwitz and the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish citizens. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival depends on unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire, a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

“Filled with rich attention to the details of flora and fauna and insightful descriptions of the nuances of rural and small-town life” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town at a crossroads: we meet an SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book; a Messiah who announces that he is quitting; a Jewish girl who is hidden by an outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are the enigmatic Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Buy, read, and discuss:

Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About Helen Maryles Shankman Helen Maryles Shankman

Helen Maryles Shankman’s stories have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Her stories have appeared in The Kenyon ReviewGargoyleCream City Review2 Bridges ReviewGrift,, and other publications. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Color of Light and the story collection They Were Like Family to Me. She lives in New Jersey, with her husband and four children.

Connect with Helen:

Website | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads


TLC Book Tours

Review: The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

About the book, The Perfect Girl The Perfect Girl

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 6, 2016)

From Gilly Macmillan, the international bestselling and Edgar Award nominated author of What She Knew, comes this whip-smart, addictive, and harrowing novel of psychological suspense—perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Kimberly McCreight.

“With tightly drawn characters, a fascinating storyline and absolutely exquisite narration, The Perfect Girl is sure to keep readers up all night. Gilly Macmillan proves once again to be a master of the written word and is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. Literary suspense at its finest.”—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Baby

Zoe Maisey is a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy with a genius IQ. Three years ago, she was involved in a tragic incident that left three classmates dead. She served her time, and now her mother, Maria, is resolved to keep that devastating fact tucked far away from their new beginning, hiding the past even from her new husband and demanding Zoe do the same.

Tonight Zoe is giving a recital that Maria has been planning for months. It needs to be the performance of her life. But instead, by the end of the evening, Maria is dead.

In the aftermath, everyone—police, family, Zoe’s former solicitor, and Zoe herself—tries to piece together what happened. But as Zoe knows all too well, the truth is rarely straightforward, and the closer we are to someone, the less we may see.

Unfolding over a span of twenty-four hours through three compelling narratives, The Perfect Girl is gripping, surprising, and emotionally complex—a richly layered look at loyalty, second chances, and the way secrets unravel us all.

Buy, read, and discuss The Perfect Girl

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Gilly Macmillan Gilly Macmillan

Gilly Macmillan is the Edgar Nominated and New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew. She grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and lived in Northern California in her late teens. She worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a part-time lecturer in photography, and now writes full-time. She resides in Bristol, England.

Connect with Gilly

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My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I wasn’t certain, at first, if I would enjoy this book. For some reason, the rapidly changing points of view were jarring at first, even though I often read novels with similar styles. I put the novel away for a few days, then picked it up again, and found myself absorbed in it from the (re)start. Sometimes you have to meet a book at the right time.

Author Gilly Macmillan has given us, in The Perfect Girl a practically perfect story. The characters – Zoe, Tessa, Sam, Richard – everyone – are interesting and dimensional, and the choice to alternate first-person points of view is both bold and deftly handled. Each character has a distinct personality, a specific voice, and they are never muddled or muddied (though only three actually have their POVs presented).

The plot of this novel is also near-perfect. As we learn about Zoe’s mother’s death, we also learn about Zoe’s past (an incident that occurred when she was fourteen) and the relationships between the people without her. It’s as much human drama as it is mystery or thriller, and I found myself equally interested in every aspect of the story.

What I really liked was that the entire story took place over one 24-hour period, and while there was a lot going on, it never felt implausible or too compressed.

Bottom line: If you want a really great story that’s a little bit thriller and a little bit drama, this is the novel for you.

Goes well with a curry and the lager of your choice.

Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 6th: Mama Reads Hazel Sleeps

Wednesday, September 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, September 8th: bookchickdi

Friday, September 9th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Monday, September 12th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, September 13th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, September 14th: Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, September 15th: West Metro Mommy

Monday, September 19th: she treads softly

Tuesday, September 20th: A Bookworm’s World

Wednesday, September 21st: Comfy Reading

Monday, September 26th: I Brought a Book

Tuesday, September 27th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, September 28th: Vox Libris

Thursday, September 29th: What Will She Read Next

TBD: Book Hooked Blog

Agatha Christie: Closed Casket, by Sophie Hannah

About the book Closed Casket Closed Casket

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (September 6, 2016)

“What I intend to say to you will come as a shock…”

With these words, Lady Athelinda Playford — one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors — springs a surprise on the lawyer entrusted with her will. As guests arrive for a party at her Irish mansion, Lady Playford has decided to cut off her two children without a penny . . . and leave her vast fortune to someone else: an invalid who has only weeks to live.

Among Lady Playford’s visitors are two strangers: the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited — until Poirot begins to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murder. But why does she seem so determined to provoke a killer? And why — when the crime is committed despite Poirot’s best efforts to stop it — does the identity of the victim make no sense at all?

Buy, read, and discuss Closed Casket

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About series creator, Agatha Christie Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her books have sold more than a billion copies in English and another billion in a hundred foreign languages. She died in 1976.

Learn more about Agatha Christie through her official website.

About the author, Sophie Hannah Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah is the New York Times-bestselling author of numerous psychological thrillers, which have been published in 27 countries and adapted for television, as well as The Monogram Murders, the first Hercule Poirot novel authorized by the estate of Agatha Christie.

Connect with Sophie

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My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

It’s never easy when a new author tries to take over from a legend. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books have been written by multitudes of authors hiding behind the existing pen names since forever. Robert Goldsborough successfully stepped into Rex Stout’s shoes and gave us the continuing stories of on Nero Wolfe a couple of decades ago.  With this novel, Closed Casket, Sophie Hannah has stepped up to write about one of Ms. Christie’s beloved creations, Hercule Poirot, and I have to confess, I asked to review it as much because as I love the dapper Belgian as because I was curious to see if he was safe in Hannah’s hands.

I needn’t have worried. Closed Casket is everything a Poirot novel should be… interwoven plot lines, layers of social behavior, clues upon clues, and through it all, his keen intellect leading us down the path to the solution.

From the moment we are first introduced to Lady Playford this novel is compelling. Why leave all your money to someone who may well die before you? Why invite a private detective and a Scotland Yard inspector to a weekend in the country? Why indeed… if it isn’t to force deep truths from your friends and family?

It’s hard to review a mystery without spoiling it… suffice to say that all of Hannah’s characters are well drawn. I heard echoes of David Suchet’s performances in Poirot’s speech, and would happily watch a weekly police drama featuring Catchpool. It felt a little like Playford was meant to represent Christie herself, in a way, but I think every reader will come away with that sense, even if it isn’t accurate.

As with all Christie mysteries, this isn’t a novel that involves car chases or gun fights. There is little ‘action,’ there is no gore. This is not a spy thriller.

What Closed Casket is, is a perfectly plotted, well drawn continuation of a beloved character’s adventures. Hannah’s writing was endorsed by Christie’s estate. I hope she continues to write in this world, but I’m also intrigued to check out her other works.

Goes well with a pot of tea, a plate of scones, and whatever you do, don’t look behind that billowing curtain.

Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 6th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, September 7th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Thursday, September 8th: A Bookworm’s World

Monday, September 12th: Joyfully Retired

Tuesday, September 13th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, September 14th: Dwell in Possibility

Monday, September 19th: Reading Reality

Wednesday, September 21st: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, September 22nd: In Bed with Books

Friday, September 23rd: Bibliotica

TBD: A Wondrous Bookshelf

Review: The Things We Wish Were True, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

About the book The Things We Wish Were True The Things We Wish Were True

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (September 1, 2016)

In an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations.

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

Buy, read, and discuss The Things We Wish Were True

Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is the author of five previous novels and speaks to women’s groups around the United States. She is the cofounder of the popular women’s fiction site She Reads and is active in a local writers’ group. Marybeth and her husband, Curt, have been married for twenty-four years and are the parents of six children, ranging from young adult to elementary age. The family lives in North Carolina. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel.

Connect with Marybeth

Website | She Reads | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I always enjoy novels that involve many characters, or groups of characters, each with individual arcs but intersecting plots. Maeve Binchy was a master of such stories. This is the first of Marybeth Mayhew Whalen’s that I’ve encountered, but if it’s anything to judge by, she’s also masterful when it comes to interweaving separate stories.

And this novel is very much a collection of separate-but-intertwined stories. Two children whose mother works like crazy, but never seems to have enough, a wife who cannot seem to function any more, pairs of adults and children who don’t always connect – it’s a microcosm of American suburbia, drawn with just enough darkness at the edges to keep the sweet moments from being saccharine.

This typical suburban life was never my reality, and I’m wondering if the sense that I was looking through a slightly distorted lens, a warped window or clouded mirror was because of my own disconnect from such neighborhoods – everyone I knew growing up went to beaches or had their own pool, so a community pool was never part of my experience – or intentional on the author’s part, but the feeling worked for the story, making the people of Sycamore Glen feel like folks you don’t really know, but have maybe seen at the grocery store and so have a passing familiarity with. It’s similar to the sense of an endless summer, but a little more heightened.

Whalen’s characters all felt dimensional. I don’t have a favorite… they were all so well-drawn, that to pick one out seems impossible. Jencey, I think, the mother on the run from a bad relationship, her two kids in tow, really stood out for me, as did Bryte, but Cailey, the bright, determined little girl half of the sister-and-brother team in the rental house really shone. I’d love a folllow-up novel tracking her as an adult. She had grit and spunk, and those things appeal to me.

Overall, this is a perfect summer read, but it’s not a novel that would be out of place at any time of year. It is well crafted, with excellent characters, a connective plot that is quietly compelling, and a theme of resilience, neighborliness, and hope.

Goes well with egg salad sandwiches and lemonade.

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS TLC Book Tours

Monday, August 29th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Wednesdsay, August 31st: Reading is my Superpower

Wednesday, August 31st: Mrs. Mommy Booknerd

Thursday, September 1st: Girls in White Dresses

Friday, September 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, September 6th: Reading Cove Book Club

Wednesday, September 7th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Thursday, September 8th: Books and Spoons

Friday, September 9th: Books and Bindings

Friday, September 9th: Books a la Mode – excerpt

Monday, September 12th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, September 13th: I’d Rather Be at the Beach

Thursday, September 15th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Friday, September 16th: A Splendid Messy Life

Monday, September 19th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, September 21st: Palmer’s Page Turners

Thursday, September 22nd: Just Commonly

Monday, September 26th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, September 26th: FictionZeal

Thursday, September 29th: 5 Minutes for Books

Friday, September 30th: Not in Jersey