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Moonlight on Butternut Creek, by Mary McNear #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, Moonlight on Butternut Lake Moonlight on Butternut Lake

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 12, 2015)

From the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Up at Butternut Lake comes the third novel in the Butternut Lake series—a dazzling story of two wounded souls seizing a second chance at life and love.

On the run from her abusive husband, Mila Jones flees Minneapolis for the safety and serenity of Butternut Lake. Ready to forge a new life, Mila’s position as home health aide to Reid Ford is more than a job. It’s a chance at a fresh start. Though her sullen patient seems determined to make her quit, she refuses to give up on him.

Haunted by the car accident that nearly killed him, Reid retreats to his brother’s cabin on Butternut Lake and lashes out at anyone who tries to help. Reid wishes Mila would just go away. . .until he notices the strength, and the secrets, behind her sad, brown eyes.

Against all odds, Mila slowly draws Reid out. Soon they form a tentative, yet increasingly deeper, bond as Mila lowers her guard and begins to trust again, and Reid learns how to let this woman who has managed to crack through his protective shell into his life. While the seemingly endless days of summer unfold, Reid and Mila take the first steps to healing as they discover love can be more than just a dream.

Buy, read, and discuss Moonlight on Butternut Lake

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound  | Goodreads


About the author, Mary McNear Mary McNear

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Mary McNear is a writer living in San Francisco with her husband, two teenage children, and a high-strung, minuscule white dog named Macaroon. She writes her novels in a local donut shop where she sips Diet Pepsi, observes the hubbub of neighborhood life, and tries to resist the constant temptation of freshly made donuts. She bases her novels on a lifetime of summers spent in a small town on a lake in the northern Midwest.

Connect with Mary

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My Thoughts:

Visiting Butternut Lake via Mary McNear’s always-engaging novels has become something of an annual habit, as I’ve now reviewed all three in the series. I always really enjoy the way she writes small-town life, and the way the local diner, Pearl’s, and the lake itself, are characters in and of themselves.

But it’s the human characters, drawn so well that you totally feel like you could run into them at a diner, or on the lake shore, that really drive McNear’s stories. In this one, we see Allie and Walter and their two children again, but they’re supporting characters. The story really centers around Walter’s brother Reid, recent survivor of a terrible car wreck, and Mila, on the run from a bad relationship (though the details aren’t revealed til the end of the novel) and looking for a fresh start.

That the two of them eventually connect with each other isn’t at all surprising – it’s inevitable – but McNear has created characters so real, and a setting so vivid, that it doesn’t matter how predictable the ultimate ending is, because when you’re traveling the twisting, turning road to Butternut Lake, it really IS about the journey.

And what a journey! This novel has the perfect blend of romance, suspense, small town living, and earthy supporting characters. You can hear the Minnesota accents in the dialogue of the locals, but they never, ever stray outside of credibility and into caricature.

Congratulations, Mary McNear, on bringing us all to Butternut Lake once more, and how fitting that my visit landed on Memorial Day weekend.

Goes well with: strawberry-rhubarb pie and homemade vanilla ice cream.


Mary McNear’s Blog Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, May 12th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, May 12th: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Wednesday, May 13th: Fuelled by Fiction

Thursday, May 14th: Raven Haired Girl

Friday, May 15th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, May 18th: Always With a Book

Tuesday, May 19th: Mrs. Mommy Booknerd’s Book Reviews

Monday, May 25th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, May 20th: Walking With Nora

Wednesday, May 20th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, June 3rd: Reading Reality

TBD: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

A Match for Marcus Cynster, by Stephanie Laurens #Excerpt Tour #Giveaway @TLCBookTours

A Match for Marcus Cynster Excerpt Tour

I’m so excited to be part of the TLC Book Tours EXCERPT TOUR for the release of the latest book in Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster Series, A Match for Marcus Cynster!

About the book, A Match for Marcus Cynster A Match for Marcus Cynster

  • Series: Cynster (#23)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 438 pages
  • Publisher: Mira (May 26, 2015)

Duty compels her to turn her back on marriage. Fate drives him to protect her come what may. Then love takes a hand in this battle of yearning hearts, stubborn wills, and a match too powerful to deny. #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens returns to rugged Scotland with a dramatic tale of passionate desire and unwavering devotion.

Restless and impatient, Marcus Cynster waits for Fate to come calling. He knows his destiny lies in the lands surrounding his family home, but what will his future be and with whom will he share it?

Of one fact he feels certain: his fated bride will not be Niniver Carrick. His elusive neighbor attracts him mightily, yet he feels compelled to protect her—even from himself. Fickle Fate, he’s sure, would never be so kind as to decree that Niniver should be his. The best he can do for them both is to avoid her.

Niniver has vowed to return her clan to prosperity. The epitome of fragile femininity, her delicate and ethereal exterior cloaks a stubborn will and an unflinching devotion to the people in her care. She accepts that she cannot risk marrying and losing her grip on the clan’s reins to an inevitably controlling husband. Unfortunately, many local men see her as their opportunity.

Soon, she’s forced to seek help to get rid of her unwelcome suitors. Powerful and dangerous, Marcus Cynster is perfect for the task. Suppressing her wariness over tangling with a gentleman who so excites her passions, she appeals to him for assistance with her peculiar problem.

Although at first he resists, Marcus discovers that, contrary to his expectations, his fated role is to stand by Niniver’s side and, ultimately, to claim her hand. Yet in order to convince her to be his bride, they must plunge headlong into a journey full of challenges, unforeseen dangers, passion, and yearning, until Niniver grasps the essential truth—that she is indeed a match for Marcus Cynster.

~ Excerpt ~

They buried Nigel and Nolan three days later. The atmosphere was more that of a witnessing than an honoring. The ambiance was strikingly different from that which had prevailed at their father’s funeral—but then Manachan had been revered by the clan and respected throughout the community, while Nigel and Nolan had been tolerated purely on the basis of being Manachan’s sons. As for acquaintances within the wider community, theirs proved to be limited to young hellions of similar ilk to themselves—irresponsible males intent on enjoying a hedonistic life with nary a thought for anyone or anything else.

Several of the latter unexpectedly turned up, driving curricles and phaetons, and greeting each other raucously.

The clan ignored them.

Initially, Niniver had been surprised by how many of the clan had chosen to attend. Then she’d realized that, for them as for her, the somber service marked the end of two years of uncertainty and unrest—two years of confusion, of not knowing what was going on, and of lost faith in the clan’s leadership.

Nigel was buried next to their father and mother in the Carrick family plot.

Nolan was buried in a far corner of the graveyard—rejected and disowned by all.

It was she who cast the first sod on Nolan’s coffin. Stony-faced, the clan elders followed her lead.

And then it was done.

No one felt any need to linger; everyone was glad to turn their backs and walk away.

As the gathering dispersed and the clan returned to the carts and drays that had brought them there, several of Nigel and Nolan’s friends surrounded her and attempted to press their patently insincere condolences on her.

She avoided society—in part because of just such men—but she’d long ago perfected one social art, that of keeping her feelings concealed and maintaining a mask of unruffled calm. Yet to be invited to join several would-be dandies on a picnic and, when she politely declined, to have her words ignored…

Luckily, Thomas intervened, and with several cutting words and a black scowl, he sent the horde packing. Together with Ferguson, Thomas escorted her away; she allowed them to lead her to her carriage, help her in, and shut the door.

Sean set the horses trotting, and the carriage pulled into the road, and finally, it was over.

She rested her head against the squabs and closed her eyes, holding in the tears that, suddenly, threatened to overflow.AMFMC Quote

Her family was gone—all of them. Thomas was her nearest blood relative, and he had his own place, his own role as consort to the future Lady of the Vale.

She…was alone. Completely alone. She had no place, no role—no life.

She was the one left behind.

But she knew the clan wouldn’t throw her out; she would have a place, a role, within it, even if she didn’t yet know what that would be.

She told herself to remain positive, or at least to keep her thoughts focused on what she yet had to do that day, on what lay immediately ahead.

The clan meeting to elect a new laird.

She sighed, opened her eyes, and glanced out of the window. “One way or another, I will find a way.”

Buy, read, and discuss A Match for Marcus Cynster

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


About Stephanie Laurens Stephanie Laurens

New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens originally began writing as an escape from the dry world of professional science. Her hobby quickly became a career; she has been writing historical romance novels for more than 20 years. Currently living outside Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two cats, she spends most of her days writing new stories in her signature ‘Errol Flynn meets Jane Austen” style.

Connect with Stephanie

Website | Facebook


Giveaway AMFMC Prize Pack

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Stephanie Laurens’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, May 11th: From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, May 12th: Reading Reality

Wednesday, May 13th: Mom in Love with Fiction

Thursday, May 14th: In the Hammock

Friday, May 15th: Broken Teepee

Monday, May 18th: Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, May 19th: Bibliophilia, Please

Wednesday, May 20th: Bibliotica

Thursday, May 21st: Bell, Book & Candle

Friday, May 22nd: Urban Girl Reader

Monday, May 25th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Tuesday, May 26th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, May 27th: The Romance Dish

Wednesday, May 27th: Read Love Blog

Thursday, May 28th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, May 29th: Written Love Reviews

The Mapmaker’s Children, by Sarah McCoy (@SarahMMcCoy) #review @TLCBookTours #Giveaway

The Mapmaker's Children

About the book, The Mapmaker’s Children The Mapmaker's Children, by Sarah McCoy

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: Crown (May 5, 2015)

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

Buy, read, and discuss The Mapmaker’s Children

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Sarah McCoy Sarah McCoy

SARAH McCOY is the  New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Ricoand The Mapmaker’s Children (Crown, May 5, 2015).

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas.

Connect with Sarah

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

There are novels that you pick up thinking, “Hmm, this might be interesting,” and then you forget you have them until weeks later, when they resurface and you find yourself gripped – completely gripped – by the story, and kicking yourself for not reading it the second you got home. The Mapmaker’s Children was almost like that for me, because the original galley provider ignored my request for it more than once, and then when I finally got it, I was convinced it wasn’t going to be my cup of tea at all.

I was wrong.

I was so very wrong.

First, the historical part of this story – a fictional possibility of what the life of Sarah Brown, daughter of famed abolitionist James Brown (and, yes, you will have the song rolling through the back of your mind as you read this) may have been like, suggesting that she might have followed in her father’s footsteps, and put her artistic talent to use making maps for use on the Underground Railroad, is amazing. Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s fiction that feels completely plausible, especially since the author worked in real world touches. I especially liked the fact that Louisa May Alcott’s book of fairy stories was an important element of the story, and that so many real historical figures (including Louisa and her father Bronson) were rubbing elbows with the fictional, and quasi-fictional characters.

Then, there’s the contemporary part of the story. As a woman in her 40s who has had two miscarriages, Eden’s desperation to have a child resonated with me (though in my case, dogs are totally a substitute for children; I have five.) in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Her story was one where at times I wanted to hug her, at times I wanted to throttle her, and most of the time, I wanted to bake her some scones, brew some really good coffee and sit down for a cathartic venting session.

Author Sarah McCoy wove both stories, one based on history, one based on so many contemporary stories, into one lovely, gorgeous, satisfying tapestry of a novel. It made me want to go upstairs, pull out a quilting book and FINALLY learn to do something beyond hemming pants with my sewing machine. It also made me want to bake organic meatloaf suitable for all members of my family, whether they have two feet or four.

The Mapmaker’s Children is a well-crafted, brilliantly written novel, and I highly recommend it, especially to animal lovers, childless adults, and history buffs.

Goes well with Roasted free-range chicken with buttered carrots, and a spring green salad. Homemade cornbread on the side.


Giveaway The Mapmaker's Children, by Sarah McCoy

One lucky reader in the USA or Canada will win a copy of this book. How? Leave a comment on this post (include a valid email address in the comment form – only I will see the email address) telling me what historical figure you’d most like to hang out and have coffee with. Alternatively, find my post about this book in my twitter feed (I’m @melysse) and retweet it.

The winner will be announced next Thursday.


Sarah’s Tour Schedule: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 21st: Savvy Verse & Wit

Wednesday, April 22nd: My Book Retreat

Thursday, April 23rd: BookNAround

Monday, April 27th: Man of La Book

Tuesday, April 28th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 29th: Always With a Book

Thursday, April 30th: Booksie’s Blog

Monday, May 4th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

Tuesday, May 5th: Books on the Table

Wednesday, May 6th: West Metro Mommy

Thursday, May 7th: Bibliotica

Friday, May 8th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, May 11th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, May 12th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, May 13th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, May 14th: FictionZeal

Friday, May 15th: Bookshelf Fantasies

Monday, May 18th: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, May 19th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, May 20th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, May 21st: Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, May 22nd: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews

Monday, May 25th: Readers’ Oasis

Tuesday, May 26th: Walking With Nora

Wednesday, May 27th: Raven Haired Girl

Thursday, May 28th: Reading Reality

Friday, May 29th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Monday, June 1st: Doing Dewey

Tuesday, June 2nd: Ms. Nose in a Book

Wednesday, June 3rd: Books in the Burbs

Thursday, June 4th: Drey’s Library

Tuesday, June 9th: The Book Bag

Wednesday, June 10th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, June 11th: Literary Feline

Friday, June 12th: Broken Teepee

Monday, June 15th: Staircase Wit

Running Fire, by Lindsay McKenna (@lindsaymckenna) #review @TLCBookTours #Giveaway

Running Fire

About the book, Running Fire Running Fire

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books (April 28, 2015)

He was a haven in the midst of Hell…

Temporarily assigned to the Shadow Squadron in a troubled region of Afghanistan, Chief Warrant Officer and pilot Leah Mackenzie is no stranger to conflict—even if most of her physical and emotional scars are courtesy of her vicious ex. Still, she’s got a bad feeling about picking up a team of stranded SEALs. A feeling that’s all too justified once enemy fire hits their helicopter and all hell breaks loose…

SEAL Kell Ballard’s goal was to get the injured pilot out of harm’s way and find shelter deep in the labyrinth of caves. It’s a place of dark intimacy, where Leah finds unexpected safety in a man’s arms. Where prohibited attraction burns brightly. And where they’ll hide until the time comes to face the enemy outside…and the enemy within their ranks.

Buy, read, and discuss Running Fire

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


About the author, Lindsay McKenna Lindsay McKenna

A U.S. Navy veteran, she was a meteorologist while serving her country. She pioneered the military romance in 1993 with Captive of Fate, Silhouette Special edition.  Her heart and focus is on honoring and showing our military men and women.  Creator of the Wyoming Series and Shadow Warriors series for HQN, she writes emotionally and romantically intense suspense stories.

Connect with Lindsay

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

I don’t read a lot of Harlequin novels. Oh, I’m not judging – they’re great novels when you want to escape into something fun and frothy for a couple of hours, and the contemporary incarnation of the imprint tends to favor strong female characters who have lived a little bit, rather than doe-eyed, barely post-pubescent innocents. I don’t typically read them simply because it doesn’t occur to me.

That said, when I was offered the chance to read Lindsay McKenna’s Running Fire I said, “Please, sign me up,” because I’m do enjoy a good romance from time to time, and because the military aspect appealed to me. I am, after all, the granddaughter of a career Army officer, and a member of Soldiers’ Angels. As well, I lost a really good friend a couple of years ago, a friend who was one of my oldest ‘blog buddies’ and whose last email to me included pictures of an afternoon in Kabul. (He survived two tours in that region, only to die of cancer at far too young an age, but that’s another story.)

In any case, I began reading Ms. McKenna’s novel and found myself devouring it over the space of just a few hours. Her depiction of the male lead, Kell, matches my own experience with the SEALs I’ve met: off the job, they tend to be incredibly intelligent, kind, people, but once they’re in work mode their focus is laser-sharp. Likewise, I enjoyed seeing military life from the point of view of a woman who as also an officer. McKenna did a really good job of letting Leah be vulnerable, without diminishing the fact of her own training. Even when she was injured, she was never entirely helpless, and I thought the whole Leah/Kell relationship was treated as one of equals who had differing strengths.

To be honest, I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. I think I always start any military story being wary of the politics that might crop up. (Mine are decidedly liberal – I’m very much of the ‘love the soldier, hate the war’ school of thought). I needn’t have been concerned. In this story, there’s almost no mention of politics. Instead everything is very much in the present for each character: what do I have to do to survive this day, and improve my connection to this other person?

As a novel that does take place ‘in theater,’ as well as one that deals with (I’m trying hard not to spoil plot) past sexual abuse, there are a couple of bits of violence that may be off-putting for some readers, but it wasn’t gratuitous violence, and it wasn’t described in the kind of visceral detail that is likely to cause nightmares or anything.

As I said, I rarely read Harlequin novels, but when I do, I’m happy to share what I’ve read. I found McKenna’s work so engaging that I’m curious to read other novels in this series.

Goes well with Any variety of MRE…no, just kidding. Cheeseburgers, crinkle-cut fries, and Coca-cola.


Giveaway

If you want to experience Lindsay McKenna’s military romances for yourself, I have the opportunity for ONE reader from the USA or Canada to receive a copy of an earlier title in this collection: Taking Fire.

Taking Fire

To win: leave a comment here (make sure you leave a valid email address when filling out the comment form) or tweet about this review, and tag me in your tweet (@Melysse). I’ll announce the winner next Wednesday.


Lindsay McKenna’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 13th: Book Mama Blog – author guest post

Monday, April 20th: Feminist Reflections

Tuesday, April 21st: Palmer’s Page Turners

Wednesday, April 22nd: The World As I See It

Thursday, April 23rd: Romance Novels for the Beach

Friday, April 24th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Monday, April 27th: The Romance Dish – author guest post

Monday, April 27th: Hot Guys in Books

Monday, April 27th: Booked on a Feeling

Tuesday, April 28th: My Life. One Story At a Time.

Wednesday, April 29th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, April 30th: Mignon Mykel Reviews

Friday, May 1st: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Monday, May 4th: Books and Spoons

Tuesday, May 5th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Wednesday, May 6th: Bibliotica – That’s ME.

Thursday, May 7th: The Pen and Muse

Friday, May 8th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, May 8th: Written Love Reviews

Monday, May 11th: Life is Story

Wednesday, May 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Thursday, May 14th: Read Love Blog

The Accidental Pilgrim, by Stephen Kitsakos (@stephenkitsakos) #review @TLCBookTours

About the book The Accidental Pilgrim The Accidental Pilgrim

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: ASD Publishing (January 20, 2015)

In the summer of 1974, Dr. Rose Strongin, a marine biologist, inexplicably disappears for three hours on the last day of an archaeological dig at the Sea of Galilee. She has no memory of the disappearance, but it causes her to miss her flight home from Israel. That plane, TWA 841, explodes over the Mediterranean killing all aboard. Twelve years later she learns that a 2,000 year-old perfectly preserved vessel, dubbed the “Jesus Boat,” is uncovered at the site of her disappearance and she begins to understand what happened and why.

The novel crosses several decades exploring the intersection of science, religion and the unexplainable as a family gathers to say goodbye to the matriarch who held a family secret.

Buy, read, and discuss The Accidental Pilgrim

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Stephen Kitsakos Stephen Kitsakos

Stephen Kitsakos is a theatre writer and journalist as well as the author of three opera librettos. His current project is the opera adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s international bestseller, A Thousand Splendid Suns with music by Sheila Silver. Other works include the Sackler-Prize award winning “The Wooden Sword” and “The White Rooster: A Tale of Compassion” for the Smithsonian Institution. His work often explores the connection between religion and art. He divides his time between Key West and New York.

Connect with Stephen

Website | Twitter


My Thoughts:

I tend to be pretty wary about any novel that is remotely related to religion, but I trust Trish at TLC Book Tours, so when she highlighted The Accidental Pilgrim and said she thought I’d really appreciate it, I said, “Okay.” In truth, I wish I’d had more time to sit with this novel before posting my review, because while the surface story is an easy one, the deeper story requires some digestion.

I’m glad I did, because this book a gem of a novel. First the story is completely compelling, combining family drama both in the present, as a father and his three grown children come together to pay last respects to his wife/their mother, and in the past, as we meet Rose (the wife/mother) in flashbacks and memories. Actually it’s pretty gutsy for a writer to have the main character begin the novel already dead, but this novel is really Rose’s story, though her husband (Simon) and her children (Sharon, Barbara, Nathan) have their parts to play.

Every single character was memorable, though Nathan is my favorite of the ‘children.’ I understood his prickly moodiness – he’s a musician, after all – and resonated with it. I loved experiencing Rose’s journey through her own eyes, and through the eyes of those around her. I also liked the way every character was flawed, and so very real. The two daughters, one like her mother, one more like her father, reminded me of my own aunts and their ability to bicker constantly but still completely love each other.

Then there’s the setting: most of the novel takes place on the Sea of Galilee, so we get to glimpse both contemporary Israel, and the Israel of the recent past, as well as a few other time-hops that I won’t go into for fear of spoiling some truly interesting plot twists. I’ve never had a particular desire to visit contemporary Israel (my fantasies tend to involve places like Fez, Tangier, or Algiers), but this novel gave me a deep appreciation for a region that is so entwined in political and cultural turmoil that I doubt resolution will ever come.

Finally, there is the author’s sense of craft. In an email to him yesterday, I commented that I loved the way he told us the way characters pronounced things – it really made me hear the subtle accents – Canadian, American, Russian, Israeli, British, etc. – and added a layer of realism that truly made the novel sing. Specifically, I mentioned a line early in the novel where he describes a character saying the word “kids” with a “k” that sounds like “…a small ball of phlegm stuck in his throat…” That’s the first example that struck me, but those little touches and nuances exist throughout the novel.

As I said, I’m wary about novels that have anything to do with religion, but when I open myself to one, I’m invariably led to a place where I’m provoked to examine some of my own beliefs and attitudes. (And as a culturally Catholic, liberal Episco-tarian (I’m UU in my heart but love the ritual and language of the Episcopal church) feminist with an ethnically Jewish stepfather and a Baptist husband, you can IMAGINE what my beliefs and attitudes might be.) This happened to me when I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s Certain Women. It happened when I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. It also happened as I was reading this book, The Accidental Pilgrim.

If you’re in the mood for family drama, this novel will appeal to you, and it’s possible to read it and just skim the surface. If, however, you prefer to delve deeper, this novel is meaty enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for a discussion of philosophy, religion, and science, and where the three intersect.

Goes well with mint tea, falafel, tabbouleh, and a handful of Medjool dates.


Stephen’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 27th: Raven Haired Girl

Thursday, April 30th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Monday, May 4th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies

Tuesday, May 5th: Lavish Bookshelf

Wednesday, May 6th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Friday, May 8th: Mom in Love With Fiction

Monday, May 18th: Victoria Weisfeld

Monday, May 25th: Broken Teepee

Thursday, June 25th: Wall-to-Wall Books

TBD: Novel Escapes

About a Girl, by Lindsey Kelk (@LindseyKelk) #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, About a Girl About a Girl

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (April 14, 2015)

Tess Brookes has always been a Girl with a Plan. But when the Plan goes belly up, she’s forced to reconsider.

After accidently answering her roommate Vanessa’s phone, she decides that since being Tess isn’t going so well, she might try being Vanessa. With nothing left to lose, she accepts Vanessa’s photography assignment to Hawaii – she used to be an amateur snapper, how hard can it be? Right?

But Tess is soon in big trouble. And the gorgeous journalist on the shoot with her, who is making it very clear he’d like to get into her pants, is an egotistical monster. Far from home and in someone else’s shoes, Tess must decide whether to fight on through, or ‘fess up and run…

Buy, read, and discuss About a Girl

Amazon  | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Lindsey Kelk Lindsey Kelk

Lindsey Kelk is a writer and children’s book editor. When she isn’t writing, reading, listening to music, or watching more TV than is healthy, Lindsey likes to wear shoes, shop for shoes, and judge the shoes of others. Born in England, Lindsey loves living in New York but misses Sherbet Fountains, London, and drinking gin and elderflower cocktails with her friends. Not necessarily in that order.

Connect with Lindsey

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

From the first words of the preface to the last word of the last page I was hooked by the fresh, funny, fantastic read. Who among us doesn’t want to step into someone else’s life for a while? Which of us hasn’t been tempted to try to be someone we’re not?

What I love about this novel is that the author, Lindsey Kelk, really captured the truth inside a preposterous situation. Scenes that would have been played solely for laughs under less meticulous crafting, instead balanced humor and pathos. This is especially true with the lead character, Tess, whose voice narrates the novel, but even scenes where she wasn’t the central figure never felt two-dimensional.

I also love Kelk’s use of language, especially the way twenty-somethings tend to overuse casual curse words. I remember the my friends and I all had such potty mouths at that age, even though we were all working professionals. It was as if we were reveling in some kind of lingering linguistic freedom, a last frolic before we reached thirty. (Translation: Tess uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot. I find this to be a perfectly legitimate character choice.) Also, as an American reader, I have to say, I’ve always thought the British concept of “you’ve been made redundant” sounds so much kinder than “you’re fired,” even though the meaning is the same.

While Tess’s story may not appeal to everyone, if you’re looking for a fast, entertaining read – perfect for the beach or bathtub! – About a Girl is just about the best choice you could make. Read it now, so you’re prepared for the sequel, What a Girl Wants, which was published in the UK last summer, and is due to hit the USA soon.

Goes well with Poi, barbecued pork, and any drink that comes in a hollowed-out coconut or pineapple. Bonus if there’s also an umbrella.


Lindsey’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 14th: Unshelfish

Wednesday, April 15th: The Book Bag

Thursday, April 16th: BookNAround

Friday, April 17th: Stephany Writes

Monday, April 20th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, April 21st: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Thursday, April 23rd: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, April 27th: girlichef

Tuesday, April 28th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Wednesday, April 29th: Books and Binding

Thursday, April 30th: fangirl confessions

TBD: Kahakai Kitchen

Ivory Ghosts, by Caitlin O’Connell #review #giveaway @TLCBookTours

About the book, Ivory Ghosts: A Catherine Sohon Elephant Mystery Ivory Ghosts

  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Alibi (April 7, 2015)

In a blockbuster debut thriller brimming with majestic wildlife, village politics, and international intrigue, a chilling quadruple homicide raises the stakes in the battle to save Africa’s elephants.

Still grieving over the tragic death of her fiancé, American wildlife biologist Catherine Sohon leaves South Africa and drives to a remote outpost in northeast Namibia, where she plans to face off against the shadowy forces of corruption and relentless human greed in the fight against elephant poaching. Undercover as a census pilot tracking the local elephant population, she’ll really be collecting evidence on the ruthless ivory traffickers.

But before she even reaches her destination, Catherine stumbles onto a scene of horrifying carnage: three people shot dead in their car, and a fourth nearby—with his brain removed. The slaughter appears to be the handiwork of a Zambian smuggler known as “the witchdoctor,” a figure reviled by activists and poachers alike. Forced to play nice with local officials, Catherine finds herself drawn to the prickly but charismatic Jon Baggs, head of the Ministry of Conservation, whose blustery exterior belies his deep investment in the poaching wars.

Torn between her developing feelings and her unofficial investigation, she takes to the air, only to be grounded by a vicious turf war between competing factions of a black-market operation that reaches far beyond the borders of Africa. With the mortality rate—both human and animal—skyrocketing, Catherine races to intercept a valuable shipment. Now she’s flying blind, and a cunning killer is on the move.

Buy, read, and discuss Ivory Ghosts

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


About the author, Caitlin O’Connell

A world-renowned expert on elephants, Caitlin O’Connell holds a Ph.D. in ecology and is a faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as director of life sciences for HNu Photonics. She is the author five nonfiction books about elephants, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense, An Elephant’s Life, A Baby Elephant in the Wild, and Elephant Don, and co-author of the award-winning The Elephant Scientist. She is the co-founder and CEO of Utopia Scientific, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and science education, and the co-founder of Triple Helix Productions, a global media forum with a mandate to develop more accurate and entertaining science content for the media.

When not in the field with elephants, O’Connell divides her time between San Diego, California, and Maui, Hawaii, with her husband, Tim Rodwell, and their dog, Frodo.


My Thoughts

It’s apparently the Year of the Elephant on my reading list, because this novel was the second of three elephant themed books I’ve got on my slate between now and the end of June. (The first was The Tusk that Did the Damage which I reviewed here.)

This novel is also a mystery, and you all know I love mysteries. Author Caitlin O’Connell took the sage advice to “write what you know” to heart, and used her own field expertise on elephants to create the setting and background for Ivory Ghosts, and in doing so she follows in the footsteps of people like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Kathy Reichs, who all spun their science careers into entertaining, educational, and interesting novels and short stories.

O’Connell’s descriptions are so vivid, her sense of place so strong, that when Catherine spent her first night in the ranger station’s less-than-comfortable cabin, I was sweaty and itchy in sympathy. Likewise, the characters she draws feel incredibly real, and completely believable.

The author’s use of elephant poaching and the ivory industry as both background and plot point made Ivory Ghosts as topical as it was terrifying. Early in the novel, Catherine stumbles upon a murder scene, and things only get more thrilling from there – but Catherine is also shown to be a flawed, feeling, human being, one we care about, root for, and ultimately hope (at least I do) we will get to travel with again.

This may be the author’s debut novel, but it reads like something from a seasoned professional, and I really hope O’Connell’s first foray into fiction is as successful as her non-fiction literary career seems to be.

Goes well with Ethiopian food (yes, even though it’s a completely different region), especially that tart yogurt, injera bread, and stewed lentils and sweet potatoes, and Tusker’s beer.


Giveaway

This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 eGift card to the eBook Retailer of the winner’s choice + an eBook copy of IVORY GHOSTS. Here is the coding for the Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Caitlin O’Connell’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 6th: 100 Pages a Day

Wednesday, April 8th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, April 9th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, April 13th: Book Nerd

Monday, April 13th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, April 15th: Bell, Book & Candle

Thursday, April 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, April 17th: Reading Reality

Monday, April 20th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Wednesday, April 22nd: It’s a Mad Mad World

Friday, April 24th: Back Porchervations

Monday, April 27th: A Book Geek

Tuesday, April 28th: Read Love Blog

Wednesday, April 29th: Life Between Reads

Thursday, April 30th: Mom in Love with Fiction

Monday, May 4th: The Novel Life

Imaginary Things, by Andrea Lochen #review (@astorandblue)

About the book Imaginary Things Imaginary Things

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Astor + Blue Editions (April 27, 2015)

From Andrea Lochen, award-winning author of The Repeat Year, comes an enchanting tale about family, love, and the courage it takes to face your demons and start over again.

Burned-out and completely broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents’ rural Wisconsin home for the summer—her four-year-old, David, in tow. Returning to Salsburg reminds Anna of simpler times—fireflies, picnics, Neapolitan ice cream—long before she met her unstable ex and everything changed. But the sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs awakens Anna from this small-town spell, and forces her to believe she has either lost her mind or can somehow see her son’s active imagination. Frightened, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, but what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son’s imaginary friends truly represent and hidden secrets about her own childhood.

Buy, read, and discuss Imaginary Things

Amazon | Astor + Blue | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Goodreads


About the author, Andrea Lochen Andrea Lochen

Andrea Lochen is the author of two novels, IMAGINARY THINGS and THE REPEAT YEAR. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and lives in Madison with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Andrea

Website | Facebook | Goodreads


My Thoughts

When the publicist from Astor + Blue contacted me about reviewing this novel, I was intrigued by the description, and immediately squeezed it into my schedule. I’m really glad I did, because this book is the perfect blend of straight up contemporary fiction and magical realism.

In Anna, author Andrea Lochen has given us a young woman who could be any young woman: a single mother who’s lost her most recent job and has had to slink back home to the grandparents who have always been the most stable influence in her life, in the tiny town where she was sent every time her own mother grew too bored/busy/distracted to be a parent herself.

As a daughter/granddaughter, Anna is still very much unfinished. She’s still at the point where she defines herself through her relationships with others, rather than having a truly mature self-identity. As a mother, Anna is fierce, protective, and loving, but also a bit permissive, partly as a reaction to her own upbringing.

While the Imaginary Things of the book’s title and description spring from Anna’s son David’s imagination, they are really there to serve as a sort of Greek chorus for Anna herself. It is through them that she learns to be stronger, more responsible, more open to love, and a better parent.

This novel isn’t about the destination, as much as it’s about the journey, and Anna’s companions on this journey include her son David, from whose imagination amazing things come, her grandparents Duffy and Winston, and her childhood friend (and so much more) Jamie, as well as the darker presence of David’s father, who is mentally unstable. Each of them is a fully-faceted character in his or her own right, and they interact so organically that at times if feels as though Lochen has drawn her characters from life.

The story is interesting and compelling, one of personal growth, maturation, the loss of innocence, and the acceptance of adulthood, but it’s never preachy, and never lectures.

If you pick up this novel expecting a traditional romantic comedy or romantic drama, you will be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you want a meaty contemporary read (almost literary really) with just enough magic to keep life interesting, you will not be disappointed. Imaginary Things is unimaginably awesome.

Goes well with Grilled cheese, tomato soup, and homemade lemonade.

Life from Scratch, by Sasha Martin (@globaltable) #review @tlcbooktours #giveaway

About the book, Life from Scratch Life from Scratch

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (March 3, 2015)

It was a culinary journey like no other: Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook—and eat—a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother to a string of foster homes to the house from which she launches her own cooking adventure, Martin’s heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal—and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.

buy, read, and discuss Life from Scratch

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Sasha Martin Sasha Martin

SASHA MARTIN is an award-winning writer and blogger who spent almost four years cooking her way around the world. Her work has been featured on NPR (Travel with Rick Steves), Whole LivingBon AppetitThe SmithsonianThe Huffington Post, CNNgo, and Food52. Her website, Global Table Adventure, is a go-to hub for foodies around the world.

Connect with Sasha

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

When this book showed up on my doorstep in the middle of an ice storm, I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead of an ARC, which is typical for someone participating in a book tour, I’d received the actual hardcover edition. I confess, I was so excited about it that I hugged it to my chest, and I’ve been reading and re-reading it ever since.

It’s a really wonderful book.

Memoirs are tricky things, riding the line between pure fact and ‘creative’ non-fiction. Even the most interesting person can come off as dry and boring if they don’t have a good writer’s voice. Sasha Martin, who honed her voice with a popular blog (which, I confess, I’d never visited until I read Life from Scratch, despite it being right up my alley), never seems dry or boring, though at times the situations she was in, whether by her own design or precipitated by others, made me want to reach into the book and throttle people.

When you have that visceral a reaction to words on a page, you KNOW it’s a good story.

And Sasha’s story, while sometimes dark, and a bit overloaded with disappointments, is a truly interesting, fairly candid account of her life, her coming of age, her relationship with family, food, and cooking.

As the daughter of a single mother, many elements of Sasha’s story were familiar to me, though I’m very lucky that, if my mother and I were ever in any situations half as dire as hers, I was never aware of it. Still, the comfort of cooking, the pops and sizzles, burbles and whistles of kitchen noises, the enticing aromas of different spices, and the gradual understanding of how those spices work with each other…those are nearly universal, and she describes them so well, that at times I wanted to reach out and steal her slice of raisin cinnamon toast “pizza.”

As Sasha’s memoir (and forgive me for referring to her by first name, but reading her book really makes you feel like you’ve met her) approaches her contemporary life, the mellowing, the settling, of her personality and the way it conflicts with the ingrained wanderlust of her childhood felt all too familiar. I know what it’s like to constantly be uprooted, to always be the new kid, to never quite belong, and though our circumstances are radically different, I think it’s this familiarity that made this book resonate with me so deeply.

That said, even if you’ve never been the child of a single parent, and never found that a favorite food from childhood (and one said single mother invented out of necessity) has lost its appeal to your adult palate – even if you’ve lived in one place your entire life, I think Martin’s book will still appeal to you. Why? Because food and cooking are universal elements of community. Because her recipes are nearly intoxicating on the page, and the itch to try them is almost palpable.

Because this is a well-written, well-crafted love story to youth and family and to the concept of the kitchen as the heart of a home, and to not read it would be to miss out on a very rare treat.

Goes well with homemade pizza made on raisin bread, and a glass of horchata.


Giveaway

One lucky reader (US only) will win a copy of Life from Scratch for their very own. How? Tweet the link to this review (tag @Melysse on Twitter), or comment on this post. Winner will be selected by random drawing on the night of Sunday, March 22, and announced on Monday, March 23.


Sasha’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 3rd: Books on the Table

Thursday, March 5th: The Well-Read Redhead

Friday, March 6th: girlichef

Monday, March 9th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, March 10th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, March 11th: Bibliotica (That’s ME!)

Thursday, March 12th: Pickles and Cheese

Monday, March 16th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, March 17th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 18th: Booksie’s Blog

Thursday, March 19th: Wholistic Woman

Friday, March 20th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Scent of Butterflies by Dora Levy Mossanen – Review

About the book Scent of ButterfliesScent of Butterflies

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (January 7, 2014)

Betrayal, forgiveness, identity and obsession churn against the tumultuous landscape of the Islamic revolution and seemingly perfect gardens of southern California in this compelling novel from bestselling author Dora Levy Mossanen.

Amidst a shattering betrayal and a country in turmoil, Soraya flees Iran to make a new life for herself in Los Angeles. The cruel and intimate blow her husband has dealt her awakens an obsessive streak that explodes in the heated world of Southern California, as Soraya plots her revenge against the other woman, her best friend, Butterfly. What she discovers proves far more devastating than anything she had ever imagined, unleashing a whirlwind of events that leave the reader breathless.

A novel singed by the flavors of Tehran, imbued with the Iranian roots of Persepolis and the culture clash of Rooftops of Tehran, this is a striking, nuanced story of a woman caught between two worlds, from the bestselling author of HaremCourtesan, and The Last Romanov.

Buy, read, and discuss Scent of Butterflies

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


About the author, Dora Levy Mossanen Dora Levy Mossanen

Dora Levy Mossanen was born in Israel and moved to Iran when she was nine. At the onset of the Islamic revolution, she and her family moved to the United States. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of California-Los Angeles and a master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

Dora is the bestselling author of the acclaimed novels Harem, Courtesan, and The Last Romanov. Her fourth and most provocative book, Scent of Butterflies, was released January 7, 2014. She is a frequent contributor to numerous media outlets including the Huffington Post and the Jewish Journal. She has been featured on KCRW, The Politics of Culture, Voice of Russia, Radio Iran and numerous other radio and television programs. She is the recipient of the prestigious San Diego Editors’ choice award and was accepted as contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Dora Levy Mossanen’s novels have been translated into numerous languages world-wide.


My Thoughts:

While Soraya’s story was both interesting and compelling, I found myself distracted by two things: one: how on earth did she have the funds with which to make her escape from Tehran and set up a whole new lifestyle in California, and why wasn’t she more likeable?

The first question may have been answered in the text, and I simply missed it. The second, I think, is by design. Soraya was betrayed, yes, but she is the perfect embodiment of blind revenge, setting up everything she can in order to get even with the people who have wronged her. Of course, betrayals within marriages cause some of the deepest wounds, and betrayals among long-time friends are just as hurtful, so maybe it’s not surprising that the main character is a little too ‘hard,’ a little too inscrutable, a little too difficult to empathize with.

Aside from my utter inability to like the main character, I thought Mossanen’s novel was truly well-written, the language almost lyrical in places. Even somewhat creepy passages (when Soraya literally squeezes the life from a butterfly for her collection) had a sort of dark beauty about them. Similarly, the descriptions of place, the spare use of language, the recurring themes of butterflies, both in the body of Soraya’s friend Butterfly, and in her vast collection of dead insects, really blended well to give this book a sort of otherworldly feeling. The repeated references to the human Butterfly’s preference for Chanel No. 5 were familiar to me – I have a great aunt who has worn Taboo for so many years that when I smell it, it smells like rice pudding to me, because I associate it with her work in our family’s diner. How sad to have Soraya’s more negative sense memory of her childhood friend’s preferred scent.

Early in Soraya’s time in California she references advice the once received, about only moving somewhere with the same color sky. With her writing, Mossanen makes us see the beauty of the Tehran that was, even in the Los Angeles that is, and I enjoyed that aspect of the novel.

I’ll confess that I had a personal interest in this book: when I was very young (one or two) my mother was dating a young Iranian officer visiting the U.S. on an exchange. He was a member of the Shah’s army, and actually tried to convince my mother to marry him and move to Iran (fortunately for both of us, she refused). While I have no distinct memories of him, I find familiarity in the rhythms of spoken Farsi.

At times, reading Scent of Butterflies, I felt like I was hearing those rhythms, the particular cadences that only those language families have.

I do want to mention that the twist near the end of the novel DID surprise me, and I thought the whole book was well-crafted. I think I’m just not quite cynical enough to resonate with Soraya, even though her story was well told.

Goes well with Falafel and tahini sauce and mint tea.


Dora Levy Mossanen’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.
Monday, February 2nd: My Book Self

Wednesday, February 4th: Bibliotica

Friday, February 6th: Back Porchervations

Wednesday, February 11th: Books a la Mode – guest post

Friday, February 13th: Reading and Eating

Monday, February 16th: Chick Lit Central

Monday, February 16th: A Bookish Affair – guest post

Tuesday, February 17th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Wednesday, February 18th: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, February 23rd: Bibliophiliac

Friday, February 27th: Shelf Pleasure – guest post

Monday, March 2nd: Snowdrop Dreams of Books

Tuesday, March 3rd: Too Fond

Thursday, March 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom