Review: The Turning Point, by Freya North

About the book, The Turning Point The Turning Point

• Paperback: 480 pages
• Publisher: Harper (May 3, 2016)

“Rich, romantic, beautifully drawn and utterly compelling” Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author

Life is short. Sometimes you have to take a chance…

Two single parents, Scott and Frankie, meet by chance.

Their homes are thousands of miles apart: Frankie lives somewhat chaotically with her children on the shoreline of North Norfolk, while Scott’s life is in the mountains of British Columbia. Distance divides them – but it seems that a million little things connect them. A spark ignites, one so strong that it dares them to take a risk.

But fatehas one more trick in store…

There are some truths about life and family we only learn when we grow up. There are some we never thought we’d have to.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Freya North Freya North

Freya North is the author of many bestselling novels which have been translated into numerous languages. She was born in London but lives in rural Hertfordshire, where she writes from a stable in her back garden. A passionate reader since childhood, Freya was originally inspired by Mary Wesley, Rose Tremain and Barbara Trapido: fiction with strong and original characters.

Connect with Freya

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I started this book expecting it to be a kind of cozy contemporary romance story, and ended up with a rich novel about love, loss, and second chances, as well as glimpses into the creative process, which makes sense since the lead characters are a writer and a musician, respectively.

I was intrigued by Scott almost from the start, because he isn’t the typical romantic lead. He’s gregarious and handsome, yes, but he’s also very earthy and real. I love that in his scenes with Jenna, their relationship is a little nebulous at first, making the reader guess, although the cover blurb says both characters are single parents, so the guessing is only if your eyes are closed to the obvious.

Frankie annoyed me a little. I understand all to well what it’s like when a project isn’t speaking to you, but when I’m stuck on a piece of writing I write something else. Also, I felt that her refusal to use modern technology, and social media, felt a little contrived. Did it add to her richness as a character? Maybe. But it made her feel older than she actually was. (For the record, these characters are in the forties, roughly my age.)

But together Frankie and Scott were an amazing pair, and separately, each of them felt like a totally legitimate single parent, one with two adolescent (or nearly so) kids, and one with a young-adult daughter. I’d happily have been either of their children, or taken their children in. That’s how dimensional and well written these characters were.

As for the plot, it starts out feeling like a mature version of a typical romance, and ends up being something vastly different, but even when sadness takes over for a while, the pace is perfect, the story is never maudlin, and the end is both hopeful and satisfying.

I want to applaud author Freya North for making me laugh, cry, fume, and cheer,  all in less than 500 pages. I want to give her a standing ovation for having lead characters who are flawed, human, fully-formed adults who still recognize that there are new things to learn and experience.

I loved this book.

Goes well with steak and chips and a cold beer.

Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, May 23rd: Bibliotica

Tuesday, May 24th: The Book Chick

Thursday, May 26th: Comfy Reading

Friday, May 27th: Booksellers Without Borders

Monday, May 30th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, May 31st: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, June 1st: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, June 2nd: As I turn the pages

Monday, June 6th: Into the Hall of Books

Tuesday, June 7th: Book by Book

Thursday, June 9th: Ageless Pages Reviews

Review: The Bridge Ladies, by Betsy Lerner

About the book,  The Bridge Ladies The Bridge Ladies

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (May 3, 2016)

A fifty-year-old Bridge game provides an unexpected way to cross the generational divide between a daughter and her mother. Betsy Lerner takes us on a powerfully personal literary journey, where we learn a little about Bridge and a lot about life.

By turns darkly funny and deeply moving, The Bridge Ladies is the unforgettable story of a hard-won—but never-too-late—bond between mother and daughter.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollinsAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Betsy Lerner Betsy-Lerner-AP

Betsy Lerner is the author of The Forest for the Trees and Food and Loathing. She is a recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, and the Tony Godwin Prize for Editors, and was selected as one of PEN’s Emerging Writers. Lerner is a partner with the literary agency Dunow, Carlson & Lerner and resides in New Haven, Connecticut.

Connect with Betsy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I always find it odd to be reviewing a memoir, as if I’m passing judgement on the life lived, rather than the book about the life that was lived. If I disagree with a life choice, does that mean I don’t like the book, or don’t like the person? It’s a difficult position.

But The Bridge Ladies was not a difficult memoir to review, partly because it’s brilliantly written, and partly because it really resonated with me. The ladies in their dressy clothes and pearls, pumps and lipstick, playing cards and sharing food reminded me of my Italian grandmother and my great-aunts and cousins gathered around the table playing cards on hot summer nights. They played Canasta, rather than Bridge, but the echoes are there.

But I digress.

Lerner’s story is, at heart, a mother-daughter story. It’s a candid, funny, sometimes dark, often poignant glimpse into the lives of her mother and her mother’s friends, but it’s also a mirror through which Lerner examines herself. As someone who looks in the mirror most days and hears my own mother’s voice urging me to iron that or change my hair or stand up straighter, I completely understand the need for maternal approval that never entirely goes away, even when you try to rebel against it. As someone whose mother’s friends see her as a completely different person than I do, I also understand the way we sometimes have to step outside ourselves to really comprehend events, ideas, people.

That Lerner’s writing style is incredibly readable, almost conversational, helps suck you into The Bridge Ladies, but she also has a great ear for dialog and a great eye for detail. I could see the way those old women dressed, and I could hear their voices in my head almost as well as I could heart the cards being riffled and shuffled and dealt out.

The thing about memoirs is that even when you know, intellectually, that comparison is unhealthy, you can’t help but measure yourself against the person about whom you’re reading. In my case, I recognized that while her story resonates with me, I’m nothing like Betsy Lerner.

At the same time, though, I am – as all women are – a lot like Betsy Lerner: I still grade myself on the scale of Mom, and at nearly 46 years old, I crave and dread her company, simultaneously. This book made me realize that while my own mother is only 66, time goes by too quickly, and even mother-daughter relationships require a little investment.

This book also made me grateful for the relationship my mother and I actually have – the one where we can talk – and LAUGH – about nearly anything. Other women should be so lucky.

This is, I know, a rather odd review. But here’s the thing. Books should touch us. Stories should make us examine ourselves. The Bridge Ladies did both for me, and I’m betting it will do both for other readers as well.

And if it doesn’t, well, maybe it will at least urge some readers to pick up the phone and call their mothers.

Goes well with strong coffee and Stella D’oro anisette toast.

Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, May 3rd: Raven Haired Girl

Wednesday, May 4th: BookNAround

Thursday, May 5th: Books and Bindings

Friday, May 6th: Books on the Table – author interview

Monday, May 9th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Tuesday, May 10th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, May 11th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Monday, May 16th: Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, May 17th: Puddletown Reviews

Wednesday, May 18th: Bibliotica

Thursday, May 19th: West Metro Mommy

Friday, May 20th: Olduvai Reads

Monday, May 23rd: Worth Getting in Bed For

Tuesday, May 24th: I’m Shelf-ish

Wednesday, May 25th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Thursday, May 26th: The many thoughts of a reader

Friday, May 27th: Life By Kristen

TBD: Lavish Bookshelf

Review: Out Rider, by Lindsay McKenna

About the book,  Out Rider Out Rider

  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books (April 26, 2016)

With her return to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, New York Times bestselling author Lindsay McKenna shows how love can find a way out of the darkness… 

A fresh start—that’s all Devorah McGuire wants. As a former Marine and current Ranger with the US Forest Service, she’s grown accustomed to keeping others safe. But when the unthinkable happens, she can only hope that a transfer to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, will allow her to put the past behind her for good.

Dev’s mentor at Grand Tetons National Park is fellow canine handler and horseman Sloan Rankin. He shows Dev the spectacular trails, never knowing the terror that stalks her every move. Despite her lingering fear, Dev feels an attraction for Sloan as wild as their surroundings.

With Sloan, Dev can envision a new life—a real home. Unless a vengeful man fresh out of prison succeeds in finishing what he started…

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | 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 Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve reviewed and/or spotlighted a few of Lindsay McKenna‘s books now, and I find that even though I’m not a heavy reader of romance novels, I always enjoy visiting with her characters, because the women are always strong and independent, and the men are usually sensitive and incredibly respectful of women, and both of those things need to be modeled more in our media.

While I’m NOT a fan of anything that smacks of Western, I have five dogs, and I grew up with a love of horses, and was fortunate enough to spend a couple of summers at riding camp in New Jersey, or visiting friends in Nebraska and Colorado who had horses. It was the horse-and-dog connection, as much as McKenna’s name,  that really drew me to this novel. I mean, the story was so engaging she made me want to visit Wyoming.

What I love about McKenna’s characters is that they’re usually seasoned adults. In the case of Out Rider, Dev and Sloane have each had their requisite tragic (for whatever reason) love affair/marriage. They’ve lived in the world, and experienced life’s fears and joys. That tempering, the fact that they’re not twenty-two-year-olds, is what I really love about this novel, in particular, and this author’s work in general. Yes, this couple is slightly idealized – it’s a romance novel, after all – but they’re still believable, dimensional characters.

I also appreciate the way McKenna, who is ex-Navy, works military backstories into her work. Many of her characters, both men and women, are either active-duty or ex-military, and not just as a line-item in a description. They rely on skills taught while they were in the service, and demonstrate a love of country that feels sincere without being preachy. It takes a really smart writer to pull that off.

As I mentioned before, part of what drew me to this novel was the animals. Dogs and horses are a classic combination, in life, and in fiction, and stories built around them always appeal. McKenna ties the love of these animals into the story making them almost-characters, but never, ever, allowing them to stray into cuteseyness.

If you want to read a formula romance, this is NOT the novel for you.

If, however, you want to read a really good love story about people who could be real (and maybe fall a little bit in love with Wyoming), I highly recommend Out Rider.

Goes well with chili rellenos, black beans and rice, and a cold beer.

Giveaway Out Rider

Want to read Out Rider for yourself. One lucky winner will get a DIGITAL COPY (e-book) of this novel. How do you enter? Find my post about this review on Twitter (@Melysse) and retweet it, or find my post on Facebook and like/share it. One of my dogs and I will pick the winner from all entries received by 11:59 PM  US CDT, on Sunday, May 29th.

Please note: aside from selecting the winner, I have NO CONTROL over this giveaway. I will supply the winner’s email address to the publicist, and they will be responsible for sending the book (in this case, an ebook).

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

Monday, April 25th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, April 27th: The Sassy Bookster

Wednesday, April 27th: Written Love Reviews – guest post

Friday, April 29th: Bookaholics Not-So-Anonymous

Monday, May 2nd: Read Love Blog

Tuesday, May 3rd: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, May 4th: Booked on a Feeling

Thursday, May 5th: Reading Reality

Friday, May 6th: Book Reviews & More by Kathy – guest post

Monday, May 9th: Books a la Mode – guest post

Wednesday, May 11th: Palmer’s Page Turners – guest post

Monday, May 16th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, May 18th: Stranded in Chaos

Thursday, May 19th: The Reading Cove Book Club

Friday, May 20th: What I’m Reading

Monday, May 23rd: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, May 25th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Review: The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom, by Alison Love

About the book, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 19, 2016)

An epic love story featuring an Italian singer and a British dancer, set against the backdrop of war-torn England.

The first meeting between Antonio and Olivia at the Paradise Ballroom is brief, but electric.

Years later, on the dawn of World War II, when struggling Italian singer Antonio meets the wife of his wealthy new patron, he recognizes her instantly: it is Olivia, the captivating dance hostess he once encountered in the seedy Paradise Ballroom. Olivia fears Antonio will betray the secrets of her past, but little by little they are drawn together, outsiders in a glittering world to which they do not belong. At last, with conflict looming across Europe, the attraction between them becomes impossible to resist–but when Italy declares war on England, the impact threatens to separate them forever.

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is a story of forbidden love and family loyalties amid the most devastating war in human history.

Buy, read, and discuss The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom

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



About the author, Alison Love Alison Love

ALISON LOVE is the author of the historical novels Mallingford and Serafina. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and in 2013 her story Sophie Stops the Clock was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize. Alison has worked in the theater, television, and public relations. The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is her American fiction debut.

Connect with Alison




My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

The first thing that struck me about this novel, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom,  was that it has a very specific soundtrack. We meet Antonio when he is a temporary singer at the eponymous Paradise Ballroom, and song titles are peppered throughout the story. All those lovely standards, classics, even if they’re not classical, didn’t just set the period for this novel; they set the tone, and they did so brilliantly. As a musician, I found that the mentions of songs peppered throughout the narrative really kept me hooked.

Similarly, the use of language in this novel was just thrilling. Alison Love’s biography (see above) says that she’s worked in theatre, so maybe that’s where she honed her ear for dialogue, but she also excels at evocative description. Read this paragraph from early in the book:

In Soho one of the cafes, Ricci’s, was open still. Antonio could hear the rise and fall of voices punctuated by the twang of a mandolin. He thought of Maurice Goodyear’s parchment face, of eanie’s violent scent, of the way he had fluffed a high note in “Night and Day.” He tried not to think  about the tango dancer, and the terrible thing she had done to her own body.

And then read this one, from near the end:

A flock of rooks flew across the iron-gray sky, cawing as they landed in the beech trees beyond the orchard. Olivia was standing on the terrace where once, on a sunlit evening, she had drunk juniper-scented Negronis with Uncle Dickie. She was huge and stately in a loose crimson dress, her hair knotted untidily at her neck.

Language like this is just delicious to read, to submerge yourself in.

Of course, language and music aren’t enough, there has to be plot an character, but again, Love’s work is outstanding. Olivia and Antonio are the central figures of the novel, and they are brilliantly written: flawed, funny, sad, passionate, vivid, real people., but the supporting characters, Bernard, Danila, Filomena, others, are equally well-defined. The story – two people who meet and connect, who are constantly drawn to each other despite having separate lives, and being committed to other people – is a familiar one, but even though the bones of the plot are familiar, mixing it into a period piece that focuses on the Italian experience of World War II makes it fresh and interesting.

I didn’t just enjoy reading The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom; I felt as though I’d been transported by it.

I hope you let yourself be transported, as well.

Goes well with a glass of Merlot and a smoky baritone.

Giveaway The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom

One lucky reader in the United States or Canada will win a paperback copy of this book. To enter, find me on Twitter (@Melysse), follow me, and retweet my tweet about this book review OR leave a comment here (you must use a valid email address) and tell me about a song that has particular meaning for you. 

The winner will be chosen by me, and their information will be forwarded to the tour host/publicist for fulfillment. This may take up to six weeks after the day of the end of this blog tour.

This giveaway opportunity is open until noon, central time, on Monday, May 23rd.

Alison Love’s TLC Book Tour’s TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 18th: Luxury Reading

Monday, April 18th: The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, April 19th: The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, April 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, April 21st: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, April 25th: Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway

Tuesday, April 26th: Mom’s Small Victories

Wednesday, April 27th: BookNAround

Thursday, April 28th: Just Commonly

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

Monday, May 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, May 3rd: The Best Books Ever

Wednesday, May 4th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Thursday, May 5th: Write Read Life

Monday, May 9th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, May 10th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, May 11th: A Bookaholic Swede

Friday, May 13th: Broken Teepee

Monday, May 16th: Diary of an Eccentric

Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier #review #tlcbooktours

About Reader, I Married Himthe book Reader, I Married Him

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 22, 2016)

This collection of original stories by today’s finest women writers takes inspiration from the famous line in Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel, Jane Eyre.

A fixture in the literary canon, Charlotte Brontë is revered by readers all over the world. Her books featuring unforgettable, strong heroines still resonate with millions today. And who could forget one of literatures’ best-known lines: “Reader, I married him” from her classic novel Jane Eyre?

Part of a remarkable family that produced three acclaimed female writers at a time in 19th-century Britain when few women wrote, and fewer were published, Brontë has become a great source of inspiration to writers, especially women, ever since. Now in Reader, I Married Him, twenty of today’s most celebrated women authors have spun original stories, using the opening line from Jane Eyre as a springboard for their own flights of imagination.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Featured Authors


Tracy Chevalier – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Sarah Hall – Website | Facebook

Helen Dunmore – Website | Twitter

Kirsty Gunn – Website | Facebook

Joanna Briscoe – Website | Twitter

Emma Donoghue – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Susan Hill – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Elif Shafak – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Evie Wyld – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Patricia Park – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Salley Vickers – Website | Twitter

Nadifa Mohamed – Twitter

Esther Freud – Website

Linda Grant – Website | Twitter

Lionel Shriver – Facebook

Audrey Niffenegger – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Namwali Serpell – Website | Twitter

Elizabeth McCracken – Website | Facebook | Twitter

My ThoughtsMelissa A. Bartell

I’ve had a long relationship with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It began when I was pretty young –  nine or ten, I think – and found it on the shelf above my bed in the room I always used when I visited my grandparents over the summer. I remember reading it during a wild summer storm, and rereading it again several years later. It’s one of those novels I go back to, every so often, finding something new in it with every visit, as if it’s the book that’s changing, instead of me.

When I was offered the chance to review this anthology of short stories, all by women, inspired by Jane Eyre’s iconic line, “Reader, I married him,” I knew I had to read this book.

It’s a funny thing. I write short stories, but I don’t often read them any more. So first, this book reminded me that short stories are a great way to sample the work of a new author, or at least, an author who is new to me.

The stories in this anthology range from close interpretations (Grace Poole’s version of the story is especially poignant) to stories that only have unconventional marriages, or vague hand-waving in Jane’s direction to connect them with the original work.

I couldn’t possibly review all of them, but five of my favorites were:

  • “Dangerous Dog,” by Kirsty Gunn – a woman saves a dog and introduces would-be bullies to the joys of Jane.
  • “Reader, I Married Him,” by Susan Hill – about a rather famous unconventional marriage involving an American divorcee and an abdicating ruler.
  • “The Mirror,” by Francine Prose – a dark look at what happens in Jane and Rochester’s marriage after the novel ends. A concise, compelling, psychological thriller.
  • “Dorset Gap,” by Tracy Chevalier, who edited the anthology – Ed and Jenn met at a rave the night before, and now they’re on a hike.
  • “The Orphan Exchange,” by Audrey Niffenegger – re-sets the novel in a contemporary, albeit war-torn, country, with an ending that I’ve always suspected was a possibility.

But those five stories are only a representative sample… this collection looks at marriage from so many angles, and uses Jane Eyre as the connecting tissue, even if sometimes it’s not obvious.

What I loved is that each of these twenty-one tales was written by a woman, and each was completely relevant to modern readers, in a way the Brontë sisters’ work was to their contemporaries. As well, I’m tickled that there was diversity – older women, young girls, gay men, and lesbians, several religions, and many cultures (including one story about an Argentian-raised Korean woman in New York) were represented.

What I didn’t love is that there were only twenty-one stories. I’d love to see more. I’d love to see an annual contest sort of like the Strange New Worlds contest that used to be run every year for Star Trek fans, where aspiring writers could write their own short stories inspired by Jane.

Still, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that it left you wanting more, I think the author – or authors, in this case – has done their job.

Whether Jane Eyre was a literary companion of your childhood, or you met her later in life, there’s something for you in this collection, Reader, I Married Him.

Goes well with, a proper English tea, or a bowl of venison stew served near a crackling fire on a cold and rainy day.


Tour StopsTLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, March 23rd: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, March 24th: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, March 25th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, March 28th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, March 29th: Raven Haired Girl

Wednesday, March 30th: BookNAround

Thursday, March 31st: Reading Reality

Friday, April 1st: View from the Birdhouse

Wednesday, April 6th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, April 7th: Bibliotica


The Crooked Heart of Mercy, by Billie Livingston (@BillieLiving) #review #TLCBookTours

About the book, The Crooked Heart of Mercy

• Paperback: 272 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 8, 2016)

The Crooked Heart of MercyFrom acclaimed Canadian novelist Billie Livingston comes this powerful U.S. debut that unfolds over a riveting dual narrative—an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh, A. Manette Ansay, and Jennifer Egan.

Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can’t explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spent nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched . . . how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy . . . how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.

Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with a video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.

Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest  in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date. . . .When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lay in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.

Buy, read, and discuss The Crooked Heart of Mercy

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Billie Livingston

Billie LivingstonBillie Livingston is the award-winning author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a poetry collection.  Her most recent novel, One Good Hustle, a Globe and Mail Best Book selection, was nominated for the  Giller Prize and for the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Connect with Billie

Find out more about Billie at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

My Thoughts

MelissaMake no mistake, this book, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is dark. It’s a difficult read, told in alternating first person chapters from Ben and Maggie, one of whom in in a psych ward, and the other of whom probably should be. It’s obvious from the start that these people have deep love for each other, but that love is being tested by circumstance, by low-percentage choices, and half a dozen other reasons that I don’t wish to list for fear of ruining the story.

The thing is, even though Maggie and Ben love each other, they’re both also fragile and broken. Maggie is trying to get her life back together, while Ben is trying to put his brain back together, and each, in their way, is also recovering from both a terrible personal tragedy, and the knowledge that their lifestyle was responsible for that tragedy.

Enter Maggie’s brother Francis. He’s a gay, alcoholic priest who decides that the best way to serve his penance, and kill his temptation for sex and booze, is to helf fix Maggie and Ben, as individuals and as a couple.

Author Billie Livingston nails the first person POVs  giving each character a distinctive voice. Ben’s parts are particularly surreal, as he literally has a hole in his head, while Maggie’s work the pathos – she really is struggling to improve.

I enjoyed the dark wit, the off kilter unfolding of the back story, and the earthy reality of the entire novel, but I also recognize that even for people like me, who appreciate snark and sarcasm and characters with somewhat murky moral codes this will be a difficult read. It deals with some difficult subjects and hard themes, and it deals with them in a brutally honest manner, but the storytelling is so good, that it sucks you in despite yourself, and you are compelled to keep reading until the ultimate resolution.

Goes well with pastrami on rye and a cold beer.

Tour Stops

TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 8th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, March 9th: BookNAround

Wednesday, March 9th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog

Thursday, March 10th: A Bookworm’s World

Friday, March 11th: Bibliotica

Monday, March 14th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Tuesday, March 15th: The Reader’s Hollow

Friday, March 18th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, March 21st: Novel Escapes

Tuesday, March 22nd: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Wednesday, March 23rd: BoundbyWords

Thursday, March 24th: she treads softly

The Lady’s Command, by Stephanie Laurens #review #TLCBookTours

About the book, The Lady’s Command The Lady's Command

  • Series: The Adventurers Quartet (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mira (December 29, 2015)

#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens brings you THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a riveting blend of Regency-era high seas adventure, intrigue and romance

His to cherish

Declan Frobisher chose Lady Edwina Delbraith as his wife. Scion of a bold, seafaring dynasty, he’s accustomed to getting his way—Edwina would be the woman who graced his arm, warmed his bed and remained safely at home when he returned to sea. But once the knot is tied, Declan discovers Edwina is unconventional and strong-willed, and his marriage promises to be as tempestuous as the high seas.

Hers to command

Edwina’s fairy-princess beauty hides a spine of steel. Born into the aristocracy—born to rule—and with Declan’s ring gracing her finger, she expects to forge a marriage by his side. Then bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is recruited to sail on a secret mission. Edwina—naturally—declares she must accompany him.

Theirs to conquer

Facing unforeseen perils and unexpected enemies while battling to expose a dastardly scheme, Declan and Edwina discover that their unusual marriage demands something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.

JOIN THE ADVENTURERS—four couples whose passionate voyages will transport you. Start the journey here and follow the adventures, the mysteries and the romances to the cataclysmic end!

Buy, read, and discuss The Lady’s Command.

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

My Thoughts MissMeliss

Buckle your swashes and loosen those corsets so you can breathe because this book, the first in a quartet, both honors the historical romance genre and turns it on its ear, and it does so with a fast-paced adventure balanced with a believable love story that may not make you swoon, but it will definitely make you long for the cool sea breeze (and salt spray) in your face as you and your beloved ride the wild waves.

Here’s what I loved about this book: Declan and Edwina could be cookie-cutter romance novel characters. He’s the son of a seafaring family – rugged, dashing, well-informed. She’s an aristocrat born and bred, with the expected beauty that goes within such characters. But author Stephanie Laurens defies the trope by making Edwina an action-seeker in her own right. She doesn’t want to sit at home or pace a widow’s walk, she wants to be on the ship, at the wheel, with her husband. Better yet, Declan goes along with it, so husband and wife form a team.

I enjoyed the interplay between the two characters, and the way they would play against either other and with others when situations required it, but I also loved the way they would always come together in the end.

The dialogue and settings felt true to the period without being at all stilted (as can often happen in historical novels) and the supporting characters had enough dimension to feel like real people, whether they were sailors, other members of society, or just average people.

I’m not usually a fan of historical romances, but I am a great fan of any kind of high seas adventure, so asking to review this was an impulsive choice, and one I’m glad I made, because I was engaged the entire time I was reading.

My only issue with this novel is that it’s book one of a quartet, which means I have to read three more books to have the whole story!

(I expect I’ll survive.)

Don’t be a scurvy dog; read this book. You’ll enjoy every word of it.

Goes well with fresh caught fish, pan seared with limes, and a crisp chablis – OR – fish’n’chips with proper vinegar and a good local lager.

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

Monday, January 4th: Romancing the Book

Tuesday, January 5th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, January 6th: The Sassy Bookster

Friday, January 8th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, January 11th: The Romance Dish

Tuesday, January 12th: BookNAround

Wednesday, January 13th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, January 15th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Monday, January 18th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, January 19th: The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, January 20th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot

Thursday, January 21st: FictionZeal

Friday, January 22nd: View from the Birdhouse

Tuesday, January 26th: A Night’s Dream of Books

Tuesday, January 26th: Books a la Mode – excerpt and giveaway

Thursday, January 28th: It’s a Mad Mad World

Friday, January 29th: Stranded in Chaos

Monday, February 1st: Bibliotica

TBD: One Curvy Blogger

TBD: Worth Getting in Bed For

Night Hawk by Lindsay McKenna (@lindsaymckenna) #review @TLCBookTours #Giveaway

About the book,  Night Hawk Night Hawk

  • Series: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books (December 29, 2015)


After losing his comrade, Sergeant Gil Hanford thought a visit to the man’s widow would be the decent way to honor his late friend. But Gil found more than comfort in Kai Tiernan—he had always secretly desired beautiful Kai, but a sudden, mutual passion helped assuage their grief…until duty reared its head, removing him from her arms, seemingly forever.

Four years later, Kai is starting over at the Triple H Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Born a rancher, she is looking for a new beginning—but her new boss is unforgivably familiar. Kai has tried to move past the memory of what happened between her and Gil, even though she’s never forgiven him for leaving her. But even as they begin their journey toward something new and oh-so-uncertain, a shadow emerges, determined to claim Kai for itself.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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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 MissMeliss

Lindsay McKenna is a really engaging writer, and even though I don’t go out of my way to read romances, I pleaded to be allowed on this blog tour, because I respect her work so much. I love that she honors our military (active duty and veterans) by featuring military characters in her novels, and I love that she treats both the people and the institution with honesty and respect.

I am less a fan of westerns, so for me, Night Hawk was a little difficult because of the Wyoming ranch community setting. A childhood that took place, in part, in the Colorado Rockies, and a marriage that began in the Great Plains of South Dakota taught me that there is beauty in those rugged, wide open places, but I’m really glad I only ever have to visit them in books and movies. I’m a city girl with beachy proclivities, and I’m okay with that.

But enough about me. Kai, the heroine of this novel, is ex-military, retired after ten years of service, and looking for work as a wrangler or mechanic when we first meet her, and from page one, I wanted to befriend her. Gil, Kai’s one-time lover, and best friend of her deceased husband, is the perfect romance novel hero, but with the depth and nuance that only Ms. McKenna can bring. Actually, it’s her depiction of the heroes where I think McKenna particularly excels, because while romance novels are usually written by women, for women, with women as protagonists, if the men don’t come across as dimensional beings, the romance doesn’t work.

Their story is one of grief and loss, hope and love, separation and coming back together, and McKenna handles each mood with a deft hand, making the novel feel like a glimpse into an ever-so-slightly-heightened version of reality. There are no roller-coaster extreme ups and downs, no soap opera-esque histrionics, just solid storytelling and a good amount of yummy love scenes that feel steamy without being uncomfortably explicit.

I look forward to more from Ms. McKenna, in this series, and her others.

Goes well with a bowl of thick, spicy chili, and a cold beer.

Giveaway Wolf Haven

One person in the US/Canada can win a copy of one of Lindsay McKenna’s other novels, Wolf Haven.

How? You have two options:

1) Follow me on Twitter (@melysse) and retweet MY tweet with the link to this review.


2) Leave a comment (make sure there’s a valid email address – no one will see it but me) telling me about a person you reconnected with after a long separation.

You have until 11:59 PM US Central time on Tuesday, February 2nd.

Winner will be informed by email or direct message on Twitter (as applicable).

Lindsay McKenna’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, January 4th: Majorly Delicious

Monday, January 4th: The Sassy Bookster

Wednesday, January 6th: Reading Reality

Friday, January 8th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, January 11th: Worth Getting in Bed For

Tuesday, January 12th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, January 13th: Mignon Mykel Reviews

Friday, January 15th: Read Love Blog

Monday, January 18th: Romantic Reads and Such

Tuesday, January 19th: It’s A Reading Thing

Wednesday, January 20th: Book Reviews & More by Kathy

Thursday, January 21st: Life is Story

Friday, January 22nd: Raven Haired Girl

Monday, January 25th: What I’m Reading

Tuesday, January 26th: Bookaholics Not-so-Anonymous

Wednesday, January 27th: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 28th: Books a la Mode

Friday, January 29th: Black ‘n Gold Girls Book Spot

TBR: From the TBR Pile

Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse, by Stephanie Osborn (@writersteph) #review

About the Book, Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy's Curse

Print Length: 250 pages
Publisher: Pro Se Press (November 2, 2015)
Publication Date: November 2, 2015
Series: Sherlock Holmes: Gentleman Aegis

Holmes and Watson. Two names linked by mystery and danger from the beginning.

Within the first year of their friendship and while both are young men, Holmes and Watson are still finding their way in the world, with all the troubles that such young men usually have: Financial straits, troubles of the female persuasion, hazings, misunderstandings between friends, and more. Watson’s Afghan wounds are still tender, his health not yet fully recovered, and there can be no consideration of his beginning a new practice as yet. Holmes, in his turn, is still struggling to found the new profession of consulting detective. Not yet truly established in London, let alone with the reputations they will one day possess, they are between cases and at loose ends when Holmes’ old professor of archaeology contacts him.

Professor Willingham Whitesell makes an appeal to Holmes’ unusual skill set and a request. Holmes is to bring Watson to serve as the dig team’s physician and come to Egypt at once to translate hieroglyphics for his prestigious archaeological dig. There in the wilds of the Egyptian desert, plagued by heat, dust, drought and cobras, the team hopes to find the very first Pharaoh. Instead, they find something very different…

Noted Author Stephanie Osborn (Creator of the Displaced Detective series) presents the first book in her Sherlock Holmes, Gentleman Aegis series – Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse, the debut volume of Pro Se Productions’ Holmes Apocrypha imprint.

Buy, read, and discuss Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse

Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Paperback) | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Stephanie Osborn Stephanie Osborn

Veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and
chemical weapons effects.

Stephanie holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences:
astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several
more, including geology and anatomy.

In addition she possesses a license of ministry, has been a duly sworn, certified police officer, and is a National Weather Service certified storm spotter.

Her travels have taken her to the top of Pikes Peak, across the world’s highest suspension bridge, down gold mines, in the footsteps of dinosaurs, through groves of giant Sequoias, and even to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, where she was present for several phreatic eruptions of Mount St. Helens.

Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga,” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” She recently released the paranormal/horror novella El Vengador, based on a true story, as an ebook.

In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

The Mystery continues.

Connect with Stephanie

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts MissMeliss

I’ve been a fan of Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series since I reviewed the first one in the series as part of a blog tour several years ago. Her writing is always engaging and well-researched, and even when she’s playing with familiar characters, she manages to put her own spin on them, while still remaining true to the original author’s vision. When I was offered a chance to read this book, Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse, you’d better believe I jumped at the chance.

I’m so glad I did.

In this book, which is the first in a new series from Osborn (Sherlock Holmes: Gentleman Aegis), she’s gone back to the beginning of Holmes and Watson’s friendship, and given them a classic adventure that’s much more’ best-buds in an action adventure’ than the sort of contemporary bromance we see in shows like the BBC’s Sherlock (not that I dislike Sherlock. I’m as big a fan as anyone.) It’s a story that takes them to Egypt on a fast-paced hunt for an ancient Pharoah, and includes explorations into mythology and history as well as conventional mystery.

I really liked seeing a Holmes who wasn’t quite so confident in his ability to make a go of his consulting detective business and a Watson who was still in recovery from his war injury. The glimpses at each man’s vulnerability were subtle, but effective, and only served to make them seem even more dimensional than they would have otherwise.

Just as every fan of Doctor Who has ‘their’ doctor, every Sherlock Holmes fan has their preferred Holmes. I grew up watching Jeremy Brett on PBS, so, for me, any Holmes that ‘sounds’ like him is one I’m guaranteed to love. Osborn’s Holmes meets this criteria, but if Brett’s Holmes isn’t your preference, never fear, the Sherlock in this novel isn’t an imitation. He is absolutely his own character.

One thing I really liked about the structure of Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse is that the author included footnotes to explain archaic word-forms as well as the lines written in foreign languages (Arabic, French, Portuguese, Spanish) and certain cultural points of interest. In the Kindle version, these notes show up as clickable superscript numbers, that link you to the collection of end notes at the ‘back’ of the book. As someone who is addicted to annotated copies of favorite novels (the annotated Dracula even has a recipe for Chicken Paprikash), I really appreciated this, but if you’re someone who finds such insertions annoying, never fear, the notes are not at all intrusive, and you can absolutely enjoy the story without stopping to read them, if you so choose.

Bottom line: if you love classic Sherlock Holmes adventures, you will love this book, but if your only experience with the Great Detective is only through the BBC show (or the American Elementary, which, I confess, I don’t watch) you will likely enjoy it, too.

Goes well with either candy cane tea and pfeffernusse cookies or that spinach artichoke dip baked in a skillet with a ring of frozen dinner rolls, and a glass of pinot noir. (Why yes, I did start reading this over the holidays.)


The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, by Elizabeth LaBan (@ElizabethLaBan) #review #giveaway

About the book, The Restaurant Critic’s Wife The Restaurant Critic's Wife

Paperback: 313 pages

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (January 5, 2016)

What could be better than being married to a restaurant critic? All those amazing meals at the best restaurants…pure nirvana, right? Well, Lila Soto, the heroine of Elizabeth LaBan’s charming new novel, The Restaurant Critic’s Wife (Lake Union Publishing; January 5, 2016), might tell you otherwise. Sure the food is heavenly, but the downsides are considerable—especially being married to a man who is obsessed with his job and paranoid to the point of absurdity about being “outed” from his anonymity. Add to the scenario the fact that Lila has given up her own career to follow her husband’s job to a new, unfamiliar city, and that she is now a fulltime stay-at-home mom—a gig she never aspired to, despite loving her kids—and you begin to see why Lila is doubting every life decision she’s ever made.

Though it Ais not an autobiography by any means, it can’t be overlooked that Elizabeth LaBan is herself married to Philadelphia restaurant critic Craig LaBan. “This book wouldn’t exist without my husband,” she says, “who brings excitement, adventure, love, and great food into our lives every day, and has always been open to my writing a novel about a woman who is married to a wacky restaurant critic. For the record, Craig is not obsessive or controlling like Sam—and Craig did not tell me to say that.” But, even if her main characters are fictitious, there is no denying that Elizabeth draws on aspects of her own life to lend a delicious verisimilitude to the novel.

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is a charming portrait of the complexities of life that many women face when dealing with their marriages, their children, their friendships, and their careers. All the talk about exquisite food is merely the icing on a one-of-a-kind cake. 

Buy, read, and discuss The Restaurant Critic’s Wife

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About the author, Elizabeth LaBan Elizabeth LaBan

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is also the author of The Tragedy Paper, which has been translated into eleven languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, which has been translated into seven languages.

Connect with Elizabeth

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts MissMeliss

This novel, The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, was the perfect novel to begin a new year of reviews. It was well written, engaging, drawn from aspects of the author’s life, but vastly different than her actual story, and most importantly, the characters were all incredibly real with quirks and flaws that made them feel just like those people at the next table over in the restaurant you’ve been dying to try.

From the first, I really empathized with Lila. I’ve got dogs, not kids, but I know all too well what it’s like to find yourself in a life you didn’t really choose, even if there are bits of it that you like, and I also know what it’s like to be in a new place without a support system. LaBan set up Lila’s isolation and need for community incredibly well, and I felt that it was especially poignant when juxtaposed with Sam’s obsession with secrecy and anonymity.

Lila’s mother annoyed me at first, but I think that’s only because some of her points were valid – points I’ve heard from my own mother over the years  – trust me: you are never too old to resent that your mother is almost always right.

Overall, this book was a great read. It was meaty without being too heavy, and nicely balanced drama and wit. I haven’t read any of Elizabeth LaBan’s other work, but after reading The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, I really want to.

Goes well with baked brie en croute and a glass of wine.

Giveaway The Restaurant Critic's Wife

One person in the US/Canada can win a copy of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife. How? You have two options:

  1. Follow me on Twitter (@melysse) and retweet MY tweet with the link to this review.
  2. Leave a comment (make sure there’s a valid email address – no one will see it but me) telling me about the best (or worst) restaurant meal you’ve ever had.

You have until 11:59 PM on Wednesday, January 13th.

Winner will be informed by email or direct message on Twitter (as applicable).

Elizabeth LaBan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, January 4th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Tuesday, January 5th: Why Girls are Weird

Wednesday, January 6th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Thursday, January 7th: Bibliotica

Monday, January 11th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, January 12th: Chick Lit Central – author guest post

Wednesday, January 13th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Thursday, January 14th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, January 15th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, January 18th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, January 19th: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, January 20th: I’m Shelf-ish

Thursday, January 21st: Patricia’s Wisdom

Friday, January 22nd: From the TBR Pile

Monday, January 25th: Read. Write. Repeat.

Tuesday, January 26th: Read Love Blog

Wednesday, January 27th: Mom in Love with Fiction

Thursday, January 28th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, February 1st: Just Commonly

Wednesday, February 3rd: Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

Friday, February 5th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers