Review: Return to Glow, by Chandi Wyant

About the book, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy

 

  • Print Length: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Chandi Wyant (March 30, 2017)

In her early forties, Chandi Wyant’s world implodes in the wake of a divorce and traumatic illness. Determined to embrace life by following her heart, she sets out on Italy’s historic pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, to walk for forty days to Rome.

Weakened by her recent illness, she walks over the Apennines, through the valleys of Tuscany, and beside busy highways on her 425-kilometer trek equipped with a nineteen-pound pack, two journals, and three pens.

Return to Glow chronicles this journey that is both profoundly spiritual and ruggedly adventuresome. As Chandi traverses this ancient pilgrim’s route, she rediscovers awe in the splendor of the Italian countryside and finds sustenance and comfort from surprising sources. Drawing on her profession as a college history instructor, she gracefully weaves in relevant anecdotes, melding past and present in this odyssey toward her soul.

This delightful, transporting tale awakens the senses while inviting readers to discover their own inner glow by letting go of fixed expectations, choosing courage over comfort, and following their heart.

Buy, read, and discuss Return to Glow:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Chandi Wyant Chandi Wyant

A world traveler, photographer, writer and historian, Chandi Wyant has lived in Qatar, India, Italy, Switzerland and England, and has been returning to Italy with unremitting passion since she first lived there at age twenty. She holds a Masters degree in Florentine Renaissance history and is the former head of Sogni Italiani, an events planning firm specializing in weddings, vow renewals, and honeymoons in Italy.  The manuscript of her memoir, Return to Glow (2017), won third place in the 2015 National Association of Memoir contest.

When she’s not dreaming in Italian, she can be found teaching history and writing about travel for the Huffington Post and her blog, Paradise of Exiles.

Connect with Chandi:

Blog | Facebook | Instagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

If you came across Chandi Wyant’s fascinating memoir Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy, you might note the athletic-looking blonde woman on the cover and think, “Oh, this is a rip-off of Wild,” and pass it by.

You would be missing out on a story that shares the barest of similarities with that oh-so-famous book – “woman heals herself emotionally and spiritually by taking a long hike”  – but is absolutely original. Even more, I found this book to be highly engaging, and really uplifting, though, forgive me, I will remain an armchair hiker.

When we first meet Chandi, she is recovering from the emergency appendectomy she had to undergo while on vacation in Italy, a relatively routine surgery that was complicated by sepsis. Back in the states, still healing physically, Chandi is also in the midst of a divorce, and is re-evaluating her life.

A variety of factors, including the sometimes bone-deep chill of Boulder, CO, during a damp winter, sends Chandi on her new mission: she will walk across Italy. Research is begun  – are there trails? Are there convenient stops on the most promising route? Finally something connects: Chandi will hike the Via Francigena – the road that connects Canterbury to Rome.

Of course, Wyant’s route doesn’t actually start in England, but at the Italian border – a 40-day hike on this ancient trail, sometimes in solitude, sometimes running into strangers and sharing their stories. There’s time in a convent, and time on the open trail, and the entire story meshes beautifully as the author’s hike leads her, not just to one of the world’s most famous cities, but back to her best self, back to her glow.

In some ways, each chapter of this book felt like a separate essay, but there was still connection. Part travelogue, part memoir, I found Wyant’s writing style to be intimate and conversational, her descriptions as vivid as the photos she takes.

If you read only one “personal transformation” memoir this year, make it Return to Glow. After reading it, I felt closer to my own glow, even without the physical pilgrimage.

Goes well with roasted chicken and vegetables and a glass of wine.

 

 

Review: The Widow’s House, by Carol Goodman

About the book, The Widow’s House The Widow's House

• Paperback: 352 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 7, 2017)

This chilling novel from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Lake of Dead Languages blends the gothic allure of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and the crazed undertones of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper with the twisty, contemporary edge of A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife—a harrowing tale of psychological suspense set in New York’s Hudson Valley.

When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation—of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is—this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate—it seems to be after Clare next…

Buy, read, and discuss The Widow’s House:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Carol Goodman

Carol Goodman is the critically acclaimed author of fourteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches writing and literature at the New School and SUNY New Paltz.

Connect with Carol:

Facebook


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I love a good thriller, but The Widow’s House is much more than merely a thriller. Yes, it’s the story of the secrets that main characters Clare and Jess Martin uncover as creepy – and downright scary – things happen to them in their new roles as caretakers of of Riven House, but it’s also the story of the tension that can happen in a marriage when one partner succeeds and the other is still struggling.

Author Goodman weaves a compelling story, balancing dramatic tension both in the obvious story of the house and its history, but also in the interpersonal dynamic between Jess and Clare.

As a struggling writer myself, I really empathized with Clare, but I also disagreed with some of her choices. Still, I felt she, Jess, and the other characters we meet in this novel were all very realistically drawn, with hopes and dreams, quirks, and flaws.

If you love a thriller, this book has it all – vivid descriptions, a spooky location, jeopardy that feels very real, and characters that are easy to care about.

Goes well with homemade baguette, Stilton cheese, and a glass of red wine. Anything except Merlot.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours - The Widow's House

Tuesday, March 21st: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Wednesday, March 22nd: Staircase Wit

Thursday, March 23rd: Tina Says…

Monday, March 27th: Booksie’s Blog

Tuesday, March 28th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, April 5th: Why Girls Are Weird

Tuesday, April 11th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, April 12th: Bibliotica

Thursday, April 13th: Book by Book

Wednesday, April 19th: Unabridged Chick

Thursday, April 20th: Jathan & Heather

Review: By the Wayside, by Anne Leigh Parrish

About the book, By the Wayside By the Wayside

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Unsolicited Press (January 31, 2017)

Marvelous. Honest. Generous. From the first story to the last, “By the Wayside” catches your attention and demands that you give into its every whirl. Each character unfolds with a precision that will have you wondering how Parrish managed to create such real-to-the-bones people within a world that captivates you with ease.

Buy, read, and discuss By the Wayside:

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


About the author, Anne Leigh Parrish Anne Leigh Parrish

Anne Leigh Parrish is the author of All the Roads That Lead From Home, stories (Press 53, 2011); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014). Her new novel, Women Within, is forthcoming from Black Rose Writing in September 2017.

Connect with Anne:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I love short stories.

As a writer, I love the way short stories give you the freedom to experiment with different styles of writing – voice, narrative style, POV, genre. In this way, short stories are like play.

As a reader, I enjoy seeing what individual writers do with various literary forms, but I also appreciate pieces that are short enough to read in one sitting – one cup of tea, one good soak in the bathtub.

The stories in By the Wayside include all the things I appreciate as a reader. Deft use of language, clever turns of dialogue, interesting characters. I particularly enjoyed “How She Was Found” and “Artichokes,” but the rest of the collection was equally compelling, sometimes sad, often poignant.

I enjoyed the different characters author Parrish let us meet, by the different lifestyles we were able to glimpse. In addition, I found that Ms. Parrish is incredibly adept at subtly twisting expectations. In “The Professor,” the young girl is NOT seduced, for example.

By The Wayside is a collection of stories worth reading. Keep it in your bathroom or on your nightstand and savor the tales, one at a time. You won’t be sorry.


Anne Leigh Parrish’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours - By the Wayside

Monday, April 3rd: Dwell in Possibility

Wednesday, April 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, April 6th: Lit and Life – author guest post

Monday, April 10th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, April 12th: Mama Vicky Says

Thursday, April 13th: Bibliophiliac

Monday, April 17th: Books ‘n Tea

Wednesday, April 19th: Susan Peterson

Thursday, April 20th: Dreaming Big

Monday, April 24th: BookNAround

Tuesday, April 25th: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, April 26th: Maureen Downing

Thursday, April 27th: Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Monday, May 1st: 100 Pages a Day – author guest post

Wednesday, May 3rd: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Thursday, May 4th: Seaside Booknook

Friday, May 5th: Readaholic Zone

Review: Abby’s Journey, by Steena Holmes

About the book, Abby’s Journey Abby's Journey

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (February 14, 2017)

Twenty-year-old Abigail Turner has only known her mother, Claire—who died shortly after she was born—through letters, videos, postcards, and journals. Abby’s father, Josh, has raised his precious daughter himself, but his overprotectiveness has become stifling. Abby longs to forge out on her own and see the world after a childhood trapped indoors: she suffers from bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which means a case of the sniffles can rapidly escalate into life-threatening pneumonia.

But when Abby’s doctor declares her healthy—for now—her grandmother Millie whisks her away to Europe to visit the Christmas markets that her mother cherished and chronicled in her travel journals. Despite her father’s objections, Abby and Millie embark on a journey of discovery in which Abby will learn secrets that force her to reevaluate her image of her mother and come to a more mature understanding of a parent-child bond that transcends death.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes offers a tender and heartfelt exploration of parental love and a daughter’s longing for connection in the poignant next chapter following Saving Abby.

Buy, read, and discuss Abby’s Journey

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


About the author, Steena Holmes Steena Holmes

About Steena Holmes

After writing her first novel while working as a receptionist, Steena Holmes made her dream of being a full-time writer a reality. She won the National Indie Excellence Book Award in 2012 for her bestselling novel Finding Emma. Now both a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Steena continues to write stories that touch every parent’s heart in one way or another. To find out more about her books and her love for traveling, you can visit her website at www.steenaholmes.com or follow her journeys over on Instagram @steenaholmes.

Connect with Steena

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Abby’s Journey is the sequel to another novel by Steena Holmes, Saving Abby, but while the first book does provide context, it’s not necessary to read one in order to enjoy the other.

In many ways, Abby’s Journey is a typical coming-of-age story. Yes, the title character is twenty, not a teenager, but she’s lived a sheltered life as the combined result of life-long health issues and a doting widowed father. Still, she’s taking control of her own life for the first time, and watching the way her interactions with people and the world change is really fascinating.

Overall, this is a gentle story… a family drama with Abby at the center, punctuated by letters written by her dead mother, Claire, in the months before Abby was born. The characters all feel very real, especially Abby, her best friend/godmother Sam, her father, Josh, and her grandparents. (I had a great aunt named Millie, so seeing that name was especially heartwarming for me.)

I loved the use of letters, blog entries, and postcards within this story, even though it wasn’t really an epistolary novel, and I truly loved the way Holmes’s contemporary writing style is both accessible and very vivid.

More than reading a novel, I felt as though I was taking Abby’s journey with her, following her footsteps first into her snowy back yard, and later, onto a plane and to Germany during the tradition pre-Christmas festivities.

Goes well with hot chocolate and pfeffernüsse cookies.


Steena Holmes’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, February 14th: Book Mama

Wednesday, February 15th: Just Commonly

Thursday, February 16th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, February 20th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, February 22nd: Suzy Approved

Monday, February 27th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Wednesday, March 1st: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, March 2nd: I Brought a Book

Friday, March 3rd: Not in Jersey

Monday, March 6th: Book Dilettante

Wednesday, March 8th: Chick Lit Central – author guest post

Thursday, March 9th: Readaholic Zone

Friday, March 10th: Stranded in Chaos

Monday, March 13th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Thursday, March 16th: An Accidental Blog

Friday, March 17th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, March 21st: Bibliotica

Friday, March 24th: Mom’s Small Victories

Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan

About the book, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir The-Chilbury-Ladies-Choir-Jacket-678x1024

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 14, 2017)

“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”

As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead “carry on singing.” Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and journals, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit– a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past– we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life. In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the homefront, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.

Buy, read, and discuss The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

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


About the author, Jennifer Ryan Jennifer-Ryan-Photo-©-Nina-Subin

Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor.

Connect with Jennifer

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My Thoughts

I’ve spent a lot of years in church choirs of various flavors. I’ve been in the choir of an Episcopalian church with a director who was such an amazing musician that if a piece of music didn’t work for our voices, he would simply write a new arrangement. I’ve also been in a UU choir where the director made us rehearse a capella to force us to truly listen to each other.

Many people erroneously believe that the point of choral singing is to blend everyone’s voice into one homogeneous sound, but the real goal is for each voice to harmonize, so that many individual voices combine into new sounds. Sometimes they’re unison, sometimes the separate notes – the separate voices – are meant to be heard.

In this lovely novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan has done the latter. She has created a collection of individual voices – a young window, a refugee, the church ladies you expect to find in such a setting, and she has given them solid unison pieces in which they blend – their determination to keep their choir alive with all the men gone – but she has also let their individual talents shine.

Epistolary novels can be tricky – it’s much harder to maintain the distinctions between characters when so much of the story is in first-person accounts – but Ryan has done so deftly. I felt immersed in these women’s lives, enjoying their triumphs and shedding tears at their  sorrows.

Each of the women whose voices we hear in this novel are distinct personalities, with loves and fears and wants and desires, and each one has a compelling story that, when blended together forms a chorus of voices painting a word-picture of their village in a specific period of time.

Many people have compared this novel to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, me included, but though they share a similar period, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is vastly different – it’s more candid, more personal, and more rooted in feminine sensibilities. Still, if you liked one, you’ll probably enjoy the other. I did.

Goes well with shortbread biscuits and hot tea, maybe with a splash of whiskey in it.


Jennifer Ryan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 13th: Dwell in Possibility

Tuesday, February 14th: Building Bookshelves

Thursday, February 16th: Reading Reality

Monday, February 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, February 21st: Laura’s Reviews

Thursday, February 23rd: BookNAround

Friday, February 24th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, February 27th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, March 2nd: Savvy Verse and Wit

Monday, March 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, March 7th: West Metro Mommy Reads

Thursday, March 9th: Joyfully Retired

Friday, March 10th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, March 13th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, March 14th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Wednesday, March 15th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, March 16th: Just One More Chapter

Friday, March 17th: Art @ Home

Monday, March 20th: Diary of an Eccentric

Wednesday, March 22nd: A Literary Vacation

 

 

Review: The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff

About the book,  The Orphan’s Tale The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: MIRA (February 21, 2017)

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival 

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

Buy, read, and discuss The Orphan’s Tale:

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


About the author, Pam Jenoff  Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Connect with Pam

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

As I was reading this novel, The Orphan’s Tale, one word kept coming back to me: grace. Because this book, this story, is full of grace in every sense of the word.

It has the “there but for the grace of god” moments, but it also has the kind of grace that allows for sacrifices between friends. And then, when you add in the art and artistry both of a young lover who wants to be a painter, and the circus folk who work on wires and trapezes, you have that other, more physical kind of grace – the one that expands into people being graceful.

This story of Noa and Astrid, two very different women whose lives converge and then separate during one of the bleakest parts of human history – World War II – is more than just a novel. It’s a glimpse at a piece of history we don’t often hear about. We know that people “hid” Jews on farms and in attics, and in the music and theatre worlds, but the circus? Most of the stories that involve the circus have little to do with the political climate.

Exploring such a human story from this point of view made a novel that could, in a less talented writer’s hands,  have been another us-against-the-Nazi’s tear-jerker into a story that had added depth and life beyond the actual characters. I learned something new, and was compelled to do my own reading outside the novel because I was fascinated.

(I should add that I’ve been fascinated by the circus since forever, so it’s not surprising that this was the element that truly hooked me.)

Aside from that, though, Jenoff writes with a deft hand. Her characters feel like real people, flawed and beautiful in their simple humanity, and her settings, based on real places, are described in enough detail to make you feel as if you are there, stepping through time to see the horror of a train-car full of nameless, crying babies, or the magic of someone sailing through the air on a trapeze.

Jenoff’s lyrical style only adds to the effect. At times it was like looking through a mirror into a past that isn’t necessarily pretty, but is still vivid.

This novel is a must-read for fans of historical fiction, but I’d recommend it to almost anyone who just wants to immerse themselves in a truly compelling story.

Goes well with a cappuccino and a bar of dark chocolate, eaten one tiny shard at a time.


Follow the Excerpt Tour, and Mark Your Calendar for the Review Tour TLC Book Tours - The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale Excerpt Tour:

Monday, February 6th: The Sassy Bookster

Tuesday, February 7th: Just Commonly

Wednesday, February 8th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, February 9th: Chick Lit Central

Friday, February 10th: Bibliotica

Monday February 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Tuesday, February 14th: Read Love Blog

Wednesday, February 15th: The Lit Bitch

Thursday, February 16th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Friday, February 17th: Books a la Mode

The Orphan’s Tale Review Tour:

Monday, February 20th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, February 20th: Barbara Khan

Tuesday, February 21st: Savvy Verse and Wit

Wednesday, February 22nd: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Thursday, February 23rd: West Metro Mommy

Friday, February 24th: Reading is My SuperPower

Friday, February 24th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, February 27th: Building Bookshelves

Monday, February 27th: Just Commonly

Tuesday, February 28th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, March 1st: Susan Peterson

Thursday, March 2nd: A Literary Vacation

Friday, March 3rd: Cindy Burnett

Monday, March 6th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, March 6th: Literary Quicksand

Tuesday, March 7th: The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, March 8th: The Romance Dish

Thursday, March 9th: Just One More Chapter

Friday, March 10th: Suzy Approved

Monday, March 13th: Reading Reality

Monday, March 13th: Diary of an Eccentric

Tuesday, March 14th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, March 15th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, March 16th: The Maiden’s Court

Friday, March 17th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, March 20th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, March 21st: Write Read Life

Wednesday, March 22nd: 100 Pages a Day

Thursday, March 23rd: Silver’s Reviews

Friday, March 24th: Not in Jersey

Friday March 24th: SJ2B House of Books

Tuesday, March 28th: Travelling Birdy

Review: The Mermaids of Lake Michigan, by Suzanne Kamata

About the book, The Mermaids of Lake Michigan The Mermaids of Lake Michigan

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing (February 14, 2017)

Elise Faulkner is more at home in the waters of her beloved Lake Michigan than on land where her beauty queen mom is always on her back about her lack of a social life; her sister is dating the boy of her dreams; her favorite penpal–the one who wrote about mermaids in Ghana–has gotten married and ended their correspondence; and no one’s allowed to talk about her glamorous great-grandmother, the deep-sea wreck diver. Elise is biding her time with books until she can flee. But then crazy Chiara Hanover pops into her life, as does Miguel, a mysterious carnival worker whose dark future has been predicted by a gypsy.

Buy, read, and discuss The Mermaids of Lake Michigan

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


About the author, Suzanne Kamata Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne Kamata was born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan. She is most recently from Lexington, South Carolina, and now lives in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan with her husband and two children. Her short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications including Real Simple, Brain, Child, Crab Orchard Review, and The Japan Times. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a Special Mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/ Wingspan Fiction Contest, winner of the Paris Book Festival Award, and winner of the Half the World Global Literati Award for the novel.

Connect with Suzanne

Website | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Like the main character of The Mermaids of Lake Michigan, Elise, I spent a lot of my teen years with my nose in a book, not bothering to be part of the social activities at my school. Like Elise, I am happiest when I’m in the water. But unlike Elise, I’m not a fictional character growing up in the midwest, and my own coming-of-age was vastly different than hers.

Still, I found the entire novel quite engaging. Elise is a relatable narrator, and the mixture of innocence and candor in her story captured my attention from the first page, and kept me reading to the last.

While this novel is Elise’s story, I found the arcs of the other characters who were spotlighted just as compelling. Amanda, the younger sister who is more advanced socially, Chiara, the wild best friend, and even Julia, Elise’s mother, whose secrets come out slowly, as her daughter discovers them.

It is this focus on the women in the piece that I found truly interesting about Kamata’s book. Certainly men are present – Elise’s father, Miguel, the gypsy she meets at the carnival, Chiara and Amanda’s respective boyfriends – but they are incidental, used to illustrate the changes in their female counterparts, more than fully-dimensional characters in their own right.

What results from this blend of honesty and exploration is a novel that feels both familiar and unfamiliar at once, like a long walk where there’s always something new and interesting around the next bend.


Suzanne Kamata’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, February 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, February 15th: Books and Bindings

Thursday, February 16th: Bibliotica

Friday, February 17th: Books ‘n Tea

Monday, February 20th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, February 21st: Write Read Life

Wednesday, February 22nd: Reading is My Superpower

Wednesday, February 22nd: Just Commonly

Thursday, February 23rd: Ms. Nose in a Book

Friday, February 24th: Readaholic Zone

Monday, February 27th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, March 1st: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, March 2nd: Sweet Southern Home

Friday, March 3rd: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Monday, March 6th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, March 7th: Dreams, Etc.

Thursday, March 9th: Art @ Home

Monday, March 13th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Wednesday, March 15th: Dreaming Big

Monday, March 20th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Excerpt from The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

About the book,  The Orphan’s Tale The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: MIRA (February 21, 2017)

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival 

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

Buy, read, and discuss The Orphan’s Tale:

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


About the author, Pam Jenoff  Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Connect with Pam

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Read an Excerpt from The Orphan’s Tale

Blog Tour – Excerpt 5

2

Astrid

Germany, 1942—fourteen months earlier

I stand at the edge of the withered grounds that had once been our winter quarters. Though there has been no fighting here, the valley looks like a battlefield, broken wagons and scrap metal scattered everywhere. A cold wind blows through the hollow window frames of the deserted cabins, sending tattered fabric curtains wafting upward before they fall deflated. Most of the windows are shattered and I try not to wonder if that had happened with time, or if someone had smashed them in a struggle or rage. The creaking doors are open, properties fallen into disrepair as they surely never would have if Mama been here to care for them. There is a hint of smoke on the air as though someone has been burning brush recently. In the distance, a crow cries out in protest.

Drawing my coat closer around me, I walk away from the wreckage and start up toward the villa that once was my home. The grounds are exactly as they had been when I was a girl, the hill rising before the front door in that way that sent the water rushing haphazardly into the foyer when the spring rains came. But the garden where my mother tended hydrangeas so lovingly each spring is withered and crushed to dirt. I see my brothers wrestling in the front yard before being cowed into practice, scolded for wasting their energy and risking an injury that would jeopardize the show. As children we loved to sleep under the open sky in the yard in summer, fingers intertwined, the sky a canopy of stars above us.

I stop. A large red flag with a black swastika hangs above the door. Someone, a high-ranking SS officer no doubt, has moved into the home that once was ours. I clench my fists, sickened to think of them using our linens and dishes, soiling Mama’s beautiful sofa and rugs with their boots. Then I look away. It is not the material things for which I mourn.

I search the windows of the villa, looking in vain for a familiar face. I had known that my family was no longer here ever since my last letter returned undeliverable. I had come anyway, though, some part of me imagining life unchanged, or at least hoping for a clue as to where they had gone. But wind blows through the desolate grounds. There is nothing left anymore.

I should not be here either, I realize. Anxiety quickly replaces my sadness. I cannot afford to loiter and risk being spotted by whoever lives here now, or face questions about who I am and why I have come. My eyes travel across the hill toward the adjacent estate where the Circus Neuhoff has their winter quarters. Their hulking slate villa stands opposite ours, two sentries guarding the Rheinhessen valley between.

Earlier as the train neared Darmstadt, I saw a poster advertising the Circus Neuhoff. At first, my usual distaste at the name rose. Klemt and Neuhoff were rival circuses and we had competed for years, trying to outdo one another. But the circus, though dysfunctional, was still a family. Our two circuses had grown up alongside one another like siblings in separate bedrooms. We had been rivals on the road. In the off-season, though, we children went to school and played together, sledding down the hill and occasionally sharing meals. Once when Herr Neuhoff had been felled by a bad back and could not serve as ringmaster, we sent my brother Jules to help their show.

I have not seen Herr Neuhoff in years, though. And he is Gentile, so everything has changed. His circus flourishes while ours is gone. No, I cannot expect help from Herr Neuhoff, but perhaps he knows what became of my family.

When I reach the Neuhoff estate, a maidservant I do not recognize opens the door. “Guten Abend,” I say. “Ist Herr Neuhoff hier?” I am suddenly shy, embarrassed to arrive unannounced on their doorstep like some sort of beggar. “I’m Ingrid Klemt.” I use my maiden name. The woman’s face reveals that she already knows who I am, though from the circus or from somewhere else, I cannot tell. My departure years earlier had been remarkable, whispered about for miles around.

One did not leave to marry a German officer as I had—especially if one was Jewish.

Erich had first come to the circus in the spring of 1934. I noticed him from behind the curtains—it is a myth that we cannot see the audience beyond the lights—not only because of his uniform but because he sat alone, without a wife or children. I was not some young girl, easily wooed, but nearly twenty-nine. Busy with the circus and constantly on the road, I had assumed that marriage had passed me by. Erich was impossibly handsome, though, with a strong jaw marred only by a cleft chin, and square features softened by the bluest of eyes. He came a second night and pink roses appeared before my dressing room door. We courted that spring, and he made the long trip down from Berlin every weekend to the cities where we performed to spend time with me between shows and on Sundays.

We should have known even then that our relationship was doomed. Though Hitler had just come to power a year earlier, the Reich had already made clear its hatred for the Jews. But there was passion and intensity in Erich’s eyes that made everything around us cease to exist. When he proposed, I didn’t think twice. We did not see the problems that loomed large, making our future together impossible—we simply looked the other way.


Follow the Excerpt Tour, and Mark Your Calendar for the Review Tour TLC Book Tours - The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale Excerpt Tour:

Monday, February 6th: The Sassy Bookster

Tuesday, February 7th: Just Commonly

Wednesday, February 8th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, February 9th: Chick Lit Central

Friday, February 10th: Bibliotica

Monday February 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Tuesday, February 14th: Read Love Blog

Wednesday, February 15th: The Lit Bitch

Thursday, February 16th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Friday, February 17th: Books a la Mode

The Orphan’s Tale Review Tour:

Monday, February 20th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, February 20th: Barbara Khan

Tuesday, February 21st: Savvy Verse and Wit

Wednesday, February 22nd: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Thursday, February 23rd: West Metro Mommy

Friday, February 24th: Reading is My SuperPower

Friday, February 24th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, February 27th: Building Bookshelves

Monday, February 27th: Just Commonly

Tuesday, February 28th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, March 1st: Susan Peterson

Thursday, March 2nd: A Literary Vacation

Friday, March 3rd: Cindy Burnett

Monday, March 6th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, March 6th: Literary Quicksand

Tuesday, March 7th: The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, March 8th: The Romance Dish

Thursday, March 9th: Just One More Chapter

Friday, March 10th: Suzy Approved

Monday, March 13th: Reading Reality

Monday, March 13th: Diary of an Eccentric

Tuesday, March 14th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, March 15th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, March 16th: The Maiden’s Court

Friday, March 17th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, March 20th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, March 21st: Write Read Life

Wednesday, March 22nd: 100 Pages a Day

Thursday, March 23rd: Silver’s Reviews

Friday, March 24th: Not in Jersey

Friday March 24th: SJ2B House of Books

Tuesday, March 28th: Travelling Birdy

Review: Touch Justice: Countdown (part 1 of 8) by Carla Cassidy

TOUGH JUSTICE COUNTDOWN Tough Justice: Countdown

This action-packed thriller unfolds in eight gripping installments, each written by top authors including Carla Cassidy, Tyler Anne Snell, Emmy Curtis and Janie Crouch.

This review covers only Part I.


About the book, Tough Justice Countdown (Part 1 of 8) Tough Justice Countdown Part I

  • Print Length: 85 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin Special Releases (February 1, 2017)

Tick. Tock. BOOM.

FBI Special Agent Lara Grant had thought that she’d put her past behind her—finally—with her last case. But now a serial bomber is targeting Manhattan’s elite power players, offering them a choice between saving hundreds of lives or seeing their darkest secrets exposed. Lara is working with the Crisis Management Unit to stop the bomber, but how will she react when she’s the one who has to choose between truth…or death?

Part 1 of 8: an explosive new installment in the thrilling FBI serial from New York Times bestselling author Carla Cassidy and Tyler Anne Snell, Emmy Curtis and Janie Crouch.

Buy, read, and discuss Tough Justice Countdown (Part 1 of 8)

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

 

For more information on the Tough Justice series, visit toughjusticeseries.com.


My Thoughts: Melissa A. Bartell

At 85 pages, Tough Justice Countdown (Part I) is a quick read, more a novella than a short story. It opens, almost literally with a *boom*  – a bomb threat that is actually (apparently) followed through on within the first couple of pages. It’s an amazing way to start off a series, and from that moment, I felt like we were racing through an adventure reminiscent of the best episodes of shows like 24 and Person of Interest.

FBI agents Nick and Lara – especially Lara, as this is really her story more than anyone else’s quickly became very real to me, as much so as if they were crime-solving partners in a movie or television series (Netflix needs to buy this series. Seriously.), and I liked the way they were effective partners while actively working, but also supported each other emotionally. This is a Harlequin series so I’m assuming there will be overt romance in later installments (I have them all, but am reviewing this one without having read the rest, because I didn’t want to color my perceptions with too much foreknowledge), so I’m going on record: I ship Lara/Nick.

Obviously there were many other characters. Victoria was a standout for me, as were Xander and James.

I liked the way the procedural parts of this story were full of brisk professionalism, and included some of that hurry-up-and-wait sense that is so prevalent when you’re waiting for information, or trying to connect dots.

Overall, I thought this was a gripping story with likeable characters, and I recommend it, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Goes well with pastrami and swiss on rye with good mustard and a bottle of vanilla seltzer or cherry coke.


Giveaway (ends 2/14 at 11:59 PM Central) Tough Justice Countdown Part I

One lucky reader in the US will win a digital copy of Part I of this series. Since it’s a digital copy, this giveaway is limited to Twitter. Find MY post with this review (I’m @melysse), retweet it, and also reply to it telling me you’ve done so.


TLC TOUR STOPS for TOUGH JUSTICE COUNTDOWN: TLC Book Tours - Tough Justice Countdown

Wednesday, February 1st: Books and Spoons

Friday, February 3rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, February 6th: Staircase Wit

Tuesday, February 7th: Reading Reality

Wednesday, February 8th: Bibliotica

Thursday, February 9th: Back Porchervations

Friday, February 10th: Dog-Eared Daydreams

Monday, February 13th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, February 15th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, February 16th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, February 17th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, February 21st: Becky on Books

Review: Unbound, by Steph Jagger

About the book, Unbound Unbound

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (January 24, 2017)

A young woman follows winter across five continents on a physical and spiritual journey that tests her body and soul, in this transformative memoir, full of heart and courage, that speaks to the adventurousness in all of us.

Steph Jagger had always been a force of nature. Dissatisfied with the passive, limited roles she saw for women growing up, she emulated the men in her life—chasing success, climbing the corporate ladder, ticking the boxes, playing by the rules of a masculine ideal. She was accomplished. She was living “The Dream.” But it wasn’t her dream.

Then the universe caught her attention with a sign: Raise Restraining Device. Steph had seen this ski lift sign on countless occasions in the past, but the familiar words suddenly became a personal call to shake off the life she had built in a search for something different, something more.

Steph soon decided to walk away from the success and security she had worked long and hard to obtain. She quit her job, took a second mortgage on her house, sold everything except her ski equipment and her laptop, and bought a bundle of plane tickets. For the next year, she followed winter across North and South America, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand—and up and down the mountains of nine countries—on a mission to ski four million vertical feet in a year.

What hiking was for Cheryl Strayed, skiing became for Steph: a crucible in which to crack open her life and get to the very center of herself. But she would have to break herself down—first physically, then emotionally—before she could start to rebuild. And it was through this journey that she came to understand how to be a woman, how to love, and how to live authentically.

Electrifying, heartfelt, and full of humor, Unbound is Steph’s story—an odyssey of courage and self-discovery that, like Wild and Eat, Pray, Love, will inspire readers to remove their own restraining devices and pursue the life they are meant to lead.

Buy, read, and discuss Unbound:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Steph Jagger Steph Jagger

Steph Jagger splits her time between Southern California and British Columbia where she dreams big dreams, writes her heart out, and runs an executive & life coaching practice. She holds a CEC (certified Executive Coach) degree from Royal Roads University and she believes courageous living doesn’t happen with one toe dangling in, but that we jump in, fully submerge, and sit in the juice. Think pickle, not cucumber.

Connect with Steph:

Website | Instagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’m not an athlete, and when I play tourist it’s almost always to cities and towns known for art and culture and amazing food. I don’t do rural. I don’t camp. I don’t even like movies where the people are cold, tired, hungry, dirty, or lacking toilet paper for too long. I lived in Colorado for seven years as a kid and never learned to ski (but I was a pretty decent recreational ice skater). My idea of ‘roughing it’ used to be a hotel without room service; now it’s a hotel without wifi. And it’s good that I know this about myself because it keeps me from trying crazy things that would only leave me, and anyone traveling with me, feeling utterly miserable.

Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by stories of people – especially women – who undertake such feats as solo circumnavigations in sailboats (Tania Aebi) or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed), so when I was offered a chance to read and review Unbound, I jumped at the chance, and spent a weekend fully submerged in this memoir of author Steph Jagger’s attempt to ski around the world.

Her writing style is almost conversational, and I really enjoyed that about this book. She isn’t afraid of coarse language, but uses it where it’s appropriate, something I always find really refreshing. She’s also incredibly candid – how many people do you know who would open a memoir with a scene involving puking and raw self-analysis?

As I read Unbound I found that even though the author and I are radically different people, and choose to define success in vastly different ways, I still learned a lot about determinaton, self-reliance, and how each of us must be willing to do the hard work of looking at our worst selves, and using that information to build and become our best.

Oh, and the parts about actual skiing were also great to read, and made me almost – almost – miss winter.

Goes well with: grilled cheese, tomato soup, and Sam Adams Winter Lager.


Tour Stops for Unbound TLC Book Tours - Unbound

Wednesday, January 25th: Cait’s Cozy Corner

Tuesday, January 31st: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, February 2nd: She’s Got Books On Her Mind

Monday, February 6th: Wining Wife

Tuesday, February 7th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, February 8th: Dwell in Possibility

Sunday, February 12th: Readaholic Zone

Tuesday, February 14th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, February 15th: Writing and Running Through Life

Thursday, February 16th: Eliot’s Eats

Monday, February 20th: Book Dilettante

Friday, February 24th: Sara the Introvert

Monday, February 27th: Read Till Dawn