Archives

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

Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King – Review

About the book, Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King Dreaming Spies

Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes
Publisher: Bantam (17 February 2015)
Hardcover: 352 Pages

Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are critically acclaimed and beloved by readers for the author’s adept interplay of history and adventure. Now the intrepid duo is finally trying to take a little time for themselves—only to be swept up in a baffling case that will lead them from the idyllic panoramas of Japan to the depths of Oxford’s most revered institution.

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

Buy a copy of Dreaming Spies

Amazon | Barnes & Noble


My Thoughts:

I’ve been a fan of the Russell/Holmes series since they first started, so when I realized there was a chance I could review the latest book before it’s release date (thank you NetGalley), I begged for the chance. Okay, I didn’t beg, but I did make the request, and was granted permission. I’m glad I did, because this was a great read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story takes place in two parts. The first is on the way to, and then in, Japan, and involves the Russell/Holmes version of a road trip as they learn to appreciate Japanese culture, and even to blend in, slightly, though their journey culminates in espionage and an attempt to help protect the Emperor’s honor.

The second place takes place back home – Russell’s home – in Oxford, and is basically the ‘what happens after’ part of the original mission.

I liked the new characters, the explanations of the history of ninjas and the use of traditional (albeit translated) haiku as chapter headers. I also liked the touches that author King puts in that let us peek behind the curtains of Russell’s and Holmes’s relationship – Holmes doesn’t like to play the ‘older husband to a young girl’ role, and yet, he is older, and she is younger, and I think his aging is factoring into things more and more…

King, as always, blends mystery with social commentary and a close look at non-western cultures, and does so in a way that is incredibly satisfying, but not so much so that the reader isn’t immediately looking forward to the next novel in the series.

I didn’t want this book to end.
I can’t wait for the next one.

Goes well with miso soup, sashimi, tempura, and jasmine tea.

All That Glitters, by Michael Murphy – Review

About the book All That Glitters All That Glitters

Publisher: Alibi (January 6, 2015)
Pages: 266

In Michael Murphy’s rollicking new Jake & Laura mystery, the hard-boiled writer and the aspiring movie star head for sun-drenched Los Angeles, where a cold-blooded murderer lurks behind the scenes.

Just arrived from New York, Broadway actress Laura Wilson is slated to star in Hollywood’s newest screwball comedy. At her side, of course, is Jake Donovan, under pressure to write his next mystery novel. But peace and quiet are not to be had when an all-too-real murder plot intrudes: After a glitzy party, the son of a studio honcho is discovered dead from a gunshot wound. And since Jake exchanged words with the hothead just hours before his death, the bestselling author becomes the LAPD’s prime suspect.

In 1930s Tinseltown, anything goes. Proving his innocence won’t be easy in a town where sex, seduction, and naked power run rampant. With gossip columnist Louella Parsons dead-set on publicizing the charges against him, Jake has no choice but to do what everyone else does in the City of Angels: act like someone else. Blackie Doyle, the tough-talking, fist-swinging, womanizing hero from Jake’s novels wouldn’t pull any punches until he exposed the real killer—nor will Jake, to keep the role of a lifetime from being his last.

Buy, read, and discuss All That Glitters

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


About the author, Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy is a full-time writer and part-time urban chicken rancher. He lives in Arizona with his wife of more than forty years and the four children they adopted this past year. He’s active in several local writers’ groups and conducts novel-writing workshops at bookstores and libraries.


My Thoughts:

I loved Michael Murphy’s first Jake & Laura mystery, The Yankee Club, so when I was offered the chance to review the sequel, All That Glitters, I didn’t have to think about it before I said yes.

I had so much fun reading this book. First, Jake Donovan and Laura Wilson are fantastic characters, and feel so real and alive that every word they utter feels like it’s crackling with energy. I especially love that Laura slips in and out of different characters when the situation calls for it – I do that myself, and it’s always nice to know I’m not the only one.

As well, the ages-old friendship between the two lead characters has matured into a grown-up kind of love, and seeing them navigate their deepening relationship at the same time that Jake is attempting to balance writing his novel, polishing someone else’s screenplay, and helping to solve a case he’s sort of a suspect in, while Laura is learning how to transition from stage actress to screen star is both funny and poignant.

The setting of 1930’s Hollywood is the perfect backdrop for such bigger-than-life characters (seriously, why isn’t someone making a series, or series of films out of these books?) and the supporting cast feels like it came right out of a David O. Selznick production. Annabelle, the female LAPD chief who is competent at work and incompetent at relationships is one of my favorite noir women, ever, but everyone else has their moment in the spotlight as well, and no one feels cheated.

Of course, Murphy’s got the mystery part of the novel perfect as well, and kept me guessing ‘whodunnit’ nearly to the end of the book, but while his plots are always well-crafted what I really love is that he acknowledges the pop culture of the day. (Part of the reason Jake is asked to polish that script is because Dashiel Hammett recommended him, after all, and Jack Benny teases him about buying dinner for Louella Parsons whom he ‘just met.’)

It’s this richness of setting and character that makes Murphy’s novels really work for me, and I’m eagerly awaiting book three, because hanging out with Jake and Laura for a few hundred pages is always vastly entertaining, though I must not forget to add that I love the way he continues to address contemporary issues (the economy, racism) in his historical pieces.

Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore (or it’s website) and buy All That Glitters today, because while all that glitters may not, actually, be gold, Michael Murphy’s novels absolutely are.

Goes well with Authentic Mexican food and a cold bottle of Negro Modelo beer.


Michael Murphy’s TLC Book Tours Tour Stops:TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour organized by TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.

Saturday, December 27th: Vic’s Media Room – Review of Book 1, The Yankee Club

Monday, January 5th: Omnimystery News - author guest post

Tuesday, January 6th: Reading Reality

Wednesday, January 7th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

Thursday, January 8th: Joyfully Retired

Friday, January 9th: The Reader’s Hollow

Monday, January 12th: Mystery Playground

Tuesday, January 13th: A Book Geek

Tuesday, January 13th: Vic’s Media Room

Thursday, January 15th: Dwell in Possibility

Friday, January 16th: Fiction Zeal

Monday, January 19th: Open Book Society

Monday, January 19th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, January 21st: Lilac Reviews

Monday, January 26th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, January 26th: Psychotic State Book Reviews

Tuesday, January 27th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, January 28th: The Discerning Reader

Thursday, January 29th: Mom in Love with Fiction

Friday, January 30th: Laura’s Booklist

Date TBD: Read a Latte

Almost Perfect, by Diane Daniels Manning – Review

About the book Almost Perfect Almost Perfect

Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Beltor (January 28, 2014)

A YA novel about two unlikely friends, their dogs, and the competitions that bring them and their community together. (Kirkus Reviews)

An old woman who has given up hope and a boy who believes the impossible wonder if life would be perfect at the Westminster Dog Show.

Seventy-year old Bess Rutledge has dreamed of winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life. Despite her decades-long career as one of America’s top Standard Poodle breeders, she has decided she’s too old to hold on to her foolish dream. She sells off all the dogs in her once famous kennel except for the aging champion McCreery and his mischievous, handsome son Breaker. Part of her senses they might have been the ones to take her to Westminster, if only she’d dared to try.

Bess meets Benny, a teenager with mild autism who attends a therapeutic special school, and learns he has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. Benny is drawn into the world of dog shows and becomes convinced he has found the perfect way to win his mother’s attention. If he can win Westminster with either McCreery or Breaker, he just knows she will finally be proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy. . .

Buy, read, and discuss Almost Perfect

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


My Thoughts:

This book is a bit of a slow burner…but once you get into it and really get to know the characters, you find that it has it’s own special charm. Bess and Benny the two central characters, couldn’t be more different, and yet, through love of dogs and strange circumstances both of these slightly bent (if not actually broken) people become friends in the way that old souls and young souls tend to do.

I enjoyed the sense of otherness the author used when writing Benny’s scenes. He’s autistic, but high functioning, and there is never any question that his brain is wired a bit differently from those who are neurotypical. There is also no question that this is BAD. It isn’t. It’s just one part of who this boy – young man, really – is.

Likewise, Bess’s stubbornness is a key character trait without being her only character trait. It makes you want to goad her into being your friend, deliver hot tea and baked goods to her while she’s tending a bitch in labor, and then massage her feet afterward, just because she clearly NEEDS someone to give her as much TLC as she gives her dogs, especially McCreery.

I have five dogs living in my house right now. Four are mine, all rescues. One is my current foster-dog. I love them all as if they were the purebred poodles that Bess breeds, and I know how quickly each of them has become a vital piece of my heart, so the fact that this story was so tied up in the human-canine bond really resonated with me.

Bottom line: Almost Perfect was a fabulous read full of three-dimensional characters and great dialogue. Read. This. Book.

(Confession: I read this months ago, and only now had a moment to write the review. Apologies to the author for the delay.)

Goes well with Shepherd’s pie and a glass of apple cider (hard or not, doesn’t matter.)

Woman with a Gun, by Phillip Margolin – Review

About the book, Woman with a Gun Woman with a Gun

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (December 2, 2014)

This compelling thriller, from New York Times bestseller Phillip Margolin, centers on an intriguing photograph that may contain long-hidden answers to the mystery of a millionaire’s murder.

At a retrospective on the work of acclaimed photographer Kathy Moran, aspiring novelist Stacey Kim is fascinated by the exhibition’s centerpiece: the famous Woman with a Gun, which launched the artist’s career. Shot from behind, the enigmatic black-and-white image depicts a woman in a wedding dress standing on the shore at night, facing the sea. But this is no serene, romantic portrait. In her right hand, which is hidden behind her back, she holds a six-shooter.

The picture captures Stacey’s imagination and raises a host of compelling questions: Who is this woman? Is this a photograph of her on her wedding day? Does she plan to kill herself or someone else? Obsessed with finding answers, she soon discovers the identity of the woman: a suspect in a ten-year-old murder investigation. Convinced that proof of the woman’s guilt, or innocence, is somehow connected to the photograph, Stacey embarks on a relentless investigation.

Drawn deeper into the case, Stacey finds that everyone involved has a different opinion of the woman’s culpability. But the one person who may know the whole story—Kathy Moran—isn’t talking. Stacey must find a way to get to the reclusive photographer, and get her to talk, or the truth about what happened that day will stay forever hidden in the shadows.

Buy, read, and discuss Woman with a Gun

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Phillip Margolin Phillip Margolin

Phillip Margolin has written eighteen novels, many of them New York Times bestsellers, including the recent Worthy Brown’s Daughter, Sleight of Hand, and the Washington Trilogy. Each displays a unique, compelling insider’s view of criminal behavior, which comes from his long background as a criminal defense attorney who has handled thirty murder cases. Winner of the Distinguished Northwest Writer Award, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Connect with Phillip:

Website | Facebook.


My Thoughts

How often do we see a photograph, a painting, a sculpture, and want to know the story behind it? How often do we actually go after the story once we’ve begun to wonder. In Woman with a Gun, Stacey Kim does what all of us (or at least I) have fantasized about – she sees the picture “Woman with a Gun” and is driven to find out the story.

I enjoyed the layers of this tale – the actual police investigation and Stacey’s more writerly one. I enjoyed the use of language, and the depth displayed by all of the characters. Stacey was especially engaging, but the photographer Kathy Moran was equally compelling, and all the other characters held my interest and never felt flat or at all like ‘stock’ characters.

I’m usually a step ahead of the story when it comes to whodunnits, but in this case I enjoyed being in the dark to the very end, and further enjoyed the blend of ‘mystery’ and ‘thriller’ that author Margolin mixed up for this novel.

I haven’t read any of his other work, but my Amazon wishlist has just expanded by several titles.

Goes well with Steak, mashed potatoes, a green salad, and a stiff drink.


Phillip’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below or click HERE.

Tuesday, December 2nd: The Steadfast Reader

Tuesday, December 2nd: Staircase Wit

Wednesday, December 3rd: Books in the Burbs

Thursday, December 4th: Under My Apple Tree

Monday, December 8th: The Daily Dosage

Tuesday, December 9th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, December 10th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, December 10th: Great Minds Read Alike

Thursday, December 11th: Bibliotica

Friday, December 12th: FictionZeal

Monday, December 15th: Fuelled by Fiction

Tuesday, December 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, December 17th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

Thursday, December 18th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Friday, December 19th: Reading in Black & White

Monday, December 22nd: Ace and Hoser Blook

Tuesday, December 23rd: Living in the Kitchen

TBD: BoundbyWords

Release, by Hope Russell Nunki (@hotbluestar) – Review

About the book, Release Release

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Noon Key Productions LLC (November 15, 2014)
  • Ecstasy. Absolution. Escape. After three years of desperation, her release may be a new beginning… or it may be her end. Miscarrying Theodore on Leap Day devastated Mandelyn and Henry in ways that weren’t obvious at first. As year followed year, postpartum depression, marital dysfunction, and ethical corruption quietly metastasized under the guise of a lovely home and stable careers. To free herself of yearning and regret, Mandelyn turns to journaling with a virtual counselor, waxing nostalgic for past loves-sharp-witted Joshua, mercurial Sam, and enigmatic Dante. Never mind that Joshua came out of the closet after years of chaste camaraderie, Sam toyed with her emotions, and Dante, after a steamy year that culminated in a summer trip to India, simply faded from her life without explanation. Never mind that, discovering her journals, Henry makes a heartbreaking decision: “I release you. Go. Find yourself. See if something or someone- in your past or in your future-holds the keys to your happiness. Maybe you’ll find that you have what you need somewhere inside you. If you don’t live this life fully, Mandelyn, it won’t be on my account. I think you know I love you, but if the character of my love doesn’t fulfill you, I don’t have anything else to offer. Quantum nonlocality, Proustian memory, and the energy vortexes of Sedona, Arizona play into the Odyssey takes through the chasms between science and religion, perception and reality, masculine and feminine, head and heart, love and lust, and forgiveness and gratitude.

    Buy, read, and discuss Release

    Amazon (paperback) | Amazon (Kindle) | Facebook


    About the author, Hope Russell Nunki (in her words)

    “I am a former professional mascot, signmaker, thespian, and school teacher. The common thread among these roles is a passion for illuminating common yet complex issues in accessible yet unusual ways. With a degree in theatre arts, communications, and English from Simpson College, I taught, directed plays, and coached speech teams in central Iowa before returning to my roots in the suburbs of Chicago.”

    “With more than 15 years of experience in professional services marketing, I ghost-write and by-lines articles by day. By night, I volunteer her time and opinions far too easily and laugh really obnoxiously. I serve at the pleasure of my Alpha Chi Omega alumnae chapter, the local Panhellenic society, my daughters’ elementary school association, and the Society for Marketing Professional Services. I practice hatha yoga intermittently and run 5K races poorly. My husband and I are raising four daughters who are convinced we are the modern day incarnation of the March family.”

    Connect with Hope

    Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


    My Thoughts

    When I was offered a review copy of this novel, I hesitated for a while, but only because I had so many reviews that I’d committed to. As it is, I waited longer than I meant to before posting it. This is in no way a reflection of Hope Russell Nunki’s fantastic novel.

    From the first scene, where Mandelyn comes home to find her husband Henry confronting her with information about her files, through the next chapter, where we learn about their stillborn son, four years earlier, through the rest of the novel, the author writes with a clear voice, in first person (which can often be tricky). We feel her protagonist’s pain even when we sympathize with Harry…and we want to see her life improve.

    What follows is a journey through pain and loss to self-awareness, and eventually self-fulfillment. The pitch I received described this novel as both ‘poignant’ and ‘hilarious’ and both are equally true. This is contemporary women’s fiction at its best: full of characters that sound real, emotions that ring true, and situations that may be somewhat heightened versions of reality, but never lack plausibility.

    It’s a gripping debut novel, a compelling read, and one I highly recommend. As well, I look forward to what Hope Russell Nunki creates next (no pressure.)

    Goes well with Koval white rye, and a cheese plate.

    Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, by S. R. Mallery (@sarahmallery1) – Review

    About the book, Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    • Publication Date: December 16, 2013
    • Publisher:Mockingbird Lane Press
    • Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio Book
    • Pages:
    • Genre: Historical Fiction/Short Stories

    The eleven long short stories in Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads combine history, mystery, action and/or romance, and range from drug trafficking using Guatemalan hand-woven wallets, to an Antebellum U.S. slave using codes in her quilts as a message system to freedom; from an ex-journalist and her Hopi Indian maid solving a cold case together involving Katchina spirits, to a couple hiding Christian passports in a comforter in Nazi Germany; from a wedding quilt curse dating back to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, to a mystery involving a young seamstress in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; from a 1980s Romeo and Juliet romance between a rising Wall Street financial star and an eclectic fiber artist, to a Haight-Asbury love affair between a professor and a beautiful macrami artist gone horribly askew, just to name a few.

    Watch the trailer for Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    Buy, read, and discuss Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

    Buy the audio version of Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    Amazon | Audible.com | iTunes


    About the author, S. R. Mallery S.R. Mallery

    S.R. Mallery has worn various hats in her life.

    First, a classical/pop singer/composer, she moved on to the professional world of production art and calligraphy. Next came a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/Reading instructor. Her short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt.

    Unexpected Gifts, her debut novel, is currently available on Amazon. Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, her collection of short stories, was released in Jan. 2014. Both books are from Mockingbird Lane Press.

    Connect with S.R.

    Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


    My Thoughts

    I don’t sew. I mean, I can hem pants if I really have to, and I can sew a button on, or make basic curtains, but I don’t have the love of fabric that real sewists (my mother’s word) have. I grew up in a house, however, where going barefoot meant you’d probably end up impaled by a straight pin, or three, and background noise nearly always included the cozy hum of a sewing machine’s flywheel punctuated by my mother’s cursing whenever something didn’t go according to plan.

    Despite not being a creator of fiber arts, myself, I have dabbled in crewel embroidery (and still do on rare occasions), I’ve tried to learn to knit (I had an excellent teacher, I am incapable of relaxing my grip enough), and I’m fascinated by quilting, and really will try it one day. The mostly-straight lines I can cope with, but quilting also involves math, and geometry was never my favorite subject.

    Reading about sewing, and other kinds of fiber arts, however, is something I love to do, so when I had the chance to review Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, I asked for it in paperback, partly because I knew the short stories would make the perfect “bath book,” and partly because I knew I could pass it on to my mother. (It’s part of her Christmas present this year. Shhh! Don’t tell her!!)

    I planned to read this book in the bath over a few days, but the first story hooked me so deeply that I was absorbed by Mallery’s prose and forgot to fill the tub. Also, like potato chips, you cannot (well, I cannot) read just one short story, so I had to keep going. Before I knew it, I’d read away a whole night, and only the fact that I didn’t have a bright enough light made me put this book down.

    My favorite piece is the the second story, which is about quilts and curses, and appealed to my love of all things spooky and dark, but every single story is a gem – or, more accurately, a hand-sewn bead among a collection of hand-sewn beads. Mallery’s voice is clear and consistent even when moods and tones are radically different, and it was lovely having so many different women as protagonists. Many of these stories could easily be expanded into longer works, if the author chose to do so, but they also stand well in their current format.

    Read this for yourself, even if you don’t sew. And buy a copy for a woman in your life who does sew, because she’ll love it.

    Goes well with Bold dark coffee laced with egg nog and mince pie served slightly warm.


    Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads Blog Tour Schedule Sewing Can Be Dangerous Blog Tour

    This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.

    Monday, December 1
    Review at Unshelfish

    Tuesday, December 2
    Review at Bibliotica

    Wednesday, December 3
    Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

    Thursday, December 4
    Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews and More

    Friday, December 5
    Guest Post at What Is That Book About
    Interview at Dianne Ascroft Blog

    Monday, December 8
    Review at WV Stitcher

    Tuesday, December 9
    Review at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
    Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

    Wednesday, December 10
    Review at A Book Geek

    Thursday, December 11
    Review at Book Nerd

    Friday, December 12
    Review at Based on a True Story

    Monday, December 15
    Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

    Tuesday, December 16
    Review at Book Babe

    Wednesday, December 17
    Review at Just One More Chapter

    Friday, December 19
    Review at Book Drunkard