Review: Signs & Seasons: An Astrology Cookbook, by Amy Zerner and Monte Farber with Chef John Okas

About the book, Signs & Seasons Signs & Seasons: An Astrology Cookbook

• Hardcover: 272 pages
• Publisher: HarperElixir (May 2, 2017)

Discover how to eat for your sign and nourish your soul in Signs and Seasons, the one-of-a-kind cookbook that pairs chef-driven seasonal recipes with deep insight into how astrology shapes our appetites, from iconic astrologer Monte Farber and artist Amy Zerner.

Food connects us to our families, history, culture, and to the natural world itself—to the seasons and the cycle of life. Just as our path around the sun—and through the Zodiac—dictates the seasons, the seasons dictate what will flourish, from the tender greens of early spring to late summer’s lush and impossible perfect tomatoes.

In Signs and Seasons, Farber and Zerner—along with chef John Okas—take home cooks through the four seasons and each of their astrological signs in over 95 tantalizing seasonal recipes that include starters; meat, seafood, and vegetarian mains; sides; and desserts for each sign.

Inspired by the cuisine of the Mediterranean, home of the Greco-Roman cultures that named the planets after their gods, Signs and Seasons teaches you how to:

·         Feed friends and loved ones based on their signs and the season

·         Deepen your understanding of Nature and the Universe

·         Discover how astrology shapes our personalities, tastes, and appetites

Whether exploring the “Twin nature” and “Mercurial spirit” of ramps (a spring delicacy well suited Geminis) in a recipe for Ramps al Olio or the historical association of saffron with Venus in the recipe for Roasted Corn Orecchiette, Signs and Seasons is the perfect guide for eating in a way that emphasizes both sensual nourishment and psychic satisfaction. Beautifully photographed in full color by Monte Farber and illustrated by Amy Zerner, Signs and Seasons is a one-of-a-kind source of inspiration for astrology enthusiasts and home chefs alike.

Buy, read, and discuss Signs & Seasons:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the Authors Amy Zerner & Monte Farber and Chef John Okas

Since 1988, AMY ZERNER, a U.S. National Endowment for the Arts award-winning fine artist, and her husband, author MONTE FARBER, have created what they call their family of “spiritual power tools,” including The Enchanted Tarot, Instant Tarot, Sun Sign Secrets, Karma Cards, Little Reminders: The Law of Attraction Deck, Chakra Meditation Kit, The Truth Fairy Pendulum Kit, The Soulmate Path and Quantum Affirmations. There are over two million copies of their works in print in sixteen languages. The couple lives in East Hampton, NY. They believe that adding love, light, and laughter to everything one cooks is essential to creating great meals and a great life.  More at www.theenchantedworld.net.

CHEF JOHN OKAS began his career in childhood, cooking alongside his Sicilian grandmother in their family kitchen. He has cooked at Paradox in Manhattan, Georgette’s in Easthampton, and the Captiva Inn in Florida. Under the pen name John Penza, he is the author of Sicilian-American Pasta and Sicilian Vegetarian Cooking. He currently lives in Bridgehampton, New York, where he is a personal chef and is also associated with the Highway Restaurant.


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I don’t really believe in astrology except as a form of entertainment, but I love to cook, and I was curious about this book would work, so I asked to review it.

I was pleasantly surprised by the actual book.

First, it’s gorgeous. There are great pictures of the recipes included, the paper is good quality, and each section (beginning with Spring) is laid out with a table of contents divided by type (starters, salads pasta, seafood, meat, vegetarian, sides, and desserts), each labeled with the sign that is most likely to be represented by each dish. (I take issue with a watermelon dish being assigned to Leo only because I’m allergic to watermelon.)

Then, it’s well-written. It has a pleasantly spiritual tone, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a section before the actual recipes that gives a breakdown of how each sign likes to cook, eat, and entertain. I read it out loud to my husband and a couple of friends and we all nodded and smiled (and sometimes grimaced) and admitted it was fairly accurate.

But of course, the real interest any of us have in a cookbook is the food, and this cookbook did not disappoint. While I did not have time to try every recipe, I’ve read through many, and marked them for future meals (there’s a red snapper dish I’m dying to try – this Leo is half mermaid and likes meat and fish in equal measure).

I’m an intuitive cook who thinks of cooking as “kitchen improv” and recipes as mere guidelines, and I love that these recipes are designed to give you a foolproof result if you follow them to the letter, but also serve as excellent jumping-off points.

Even though it’s not yet summer, I live in Texas, so I skipped ahead and made the Frittata Caprese, which everyone loved but I also had great success with a Spring selection: Couscous & Cracked Wheat Tabbouleh. I’ve only ever used the Near East boxed tabbouleh, or ordered it at restaurants so making my own – and loving it – was a pleasure and a thrill.

Whether or not you believe in astrology, if you’re a home cook looking for inspiration, I recommend Signs & Seasons. The recipes are fairly healthy (most of the desserts include fruit) and reasonably easy to prepare.

Your family and friends will thank you.

(And if you’re a Leo, like me, they’ll give you the applause you rightfully expect.)


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, May 2nd: Sara the Introvert

Tuesday, May 2nd: I Brought a Book

Wednesday, May 3rd: Wining Wife

Thursday, May 4th: Stranded in Chaos

Friday, May 5th: Bibliotica

Monday, May 8th: Mother’s Kitchen

Tuesday, May 9th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, May 10th: Becklist

Thursday, May 11th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, May 15th: Dwell in Possibility

Tuesday, May 16th: In Bed with Books

Thursday, May 18th: Unabridged Chick

Monday, May 22nd: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, May 23rd: The Cactus Chronicles

Wednesday, May 24th: Books & Tea

Thursday, May 25th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Tuesday, May 30th: Kahakai Kitchen

Review: The Mermaids of Lake Michigan, by Suzanne Kamata

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss The Mermaids of Lake Michigan

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


About the author, Suzanne Kamata Suzanne Kamata

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

Connect with Suzanne

Website | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, February 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, February 15th: Books and Bindings

Thursday, February 16th: Bibliotica

Friday, February 17th: Books ‘n Tea

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

Tuesday, February 21st: Write Read Life

Wednesday, February 22nd: Reading is My Superpower

Wednesday, February 22nd: Just Commonly

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

Friday, February 24th: Readaholic Zone

Monday, February 27th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, March 1st: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, March 2nd: Sweet Southern Home

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

Monday, March 6th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, March 7th: Dreams, Etc.

Thursday, March 9th: Art @ Home

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

Wednesday, March 15th: Dreaming Big

Monday, March 20th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Review: Lord of the Privateers, by Stephanie Laurens – with Giveaway

Lord of the PrivateersAbout the book, Lord of the Privateers

  • Series: Adventurers Quartet
  • Mass Market Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: MIRA (December 27, 2016)

The eldest of the Frobisher brothers and widely known as the lord of the privateers, Royd Frobisher expects to execute the final leg of the rescue mission his brothers have been pursuing. What he does not expect is to be pressured into taking his emotional nemesis, childhood sweetheart, ex-handfasted bride, and current business partner, Isobel Carmichael, with him. But is it Isobel doing the pressuring, or his own restless unfulfilled psyche?

Resolute, determined, and an all but unstoppable force of nature, Isobel has a mission of her own—find her cousin Katherine and bring her safely home. And if, along the way, she can rid herself of the lingering dreams of a life with Royd that still haunt her, well and good.

Neither expects the shock that awaits them as they set sail aboard Royd’s ship, much less the new horizons that open before them as they call into London, then, armed with the necessary orders and all arrangements in place, embark on a full-scale rescue-assault on the mining compound buried in the jungle.

Yet even with the support of his brothers and their ladies and, once rescued, all the ex-captives, Royd and Isobel discover that freeing the captives is only half the battle. In order to identify and convict the backers behind the illicit enterprise—and protect the government from catastrophic destabilization—they must return to the ballrooms of the haut ton, and with the help of a small army of supporters, hunt the villains on their home ground.

But having found each other again, having glimpsed the heaven that could be theirs again, how much are they willing to risk in the name of duty?

Buy, read, and discuss Lord of the Privateers

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


Stephanie LaurensAbout the author, 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


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I love a good swashbuckler, and I love a good romance, especially when the characters feel equally matched. In Lord of the Privateers, Stephanie Laurens gives us exactly that. The romance – actually a rekindling of a relationship both parties keep trying to forget – has just the right amount of sizzle, and the sparks aren’t limited just to chemistry. Isobel and Royd banter, argue, bicker, make up, and start all over, all while handling the care and maintenance of a shipyard, a sailing fleet, their specific ship the Corsair, family drama, and a greater mission.

And they do it well. Seriously if Amy Sherman Palladino or Aaron Sorkin wrote Age of Sail romantic comedies, the result would be Stephanie Laurens’ work, except that Laurens has her own voice, and her own point of view, and nothing she does feels anything but fresh, fun, and interesting.

What I loved was Isobel in general. Yes, I found one plot point – one key decision she made – a little contrived, but over all she’s smart, strong, funny, and supremely real.

What I didn’t love: no one used a cutlass to slide down a mainsail. Okay, these weren’t actually pirates, but privateers – there is a distinction – but still.

If you want a romance that will have you totally hooked from page one, that will make you sigh with longing even as you feel imagined salt air in your face, and also balances the love story with the adventure story,  Lord of the Privateers is the novel for you.

Goes well with fish and chips and a good ale.


Giveaway

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TLC book tours: Catherine Ryan HydeStephanie Laurens’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, January 16th: The Sassy Bookster

Wednesday, January 18th: Bibliotica

Friday, January 20th: Reading Reality

Monday, January 23rd: Buried Under Romance

Tuesday, January 24th: Dwell in Possibility

Wednesday, January 25th: The Romance Dish

Friday, January 27th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, January 30th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, January 30th: Let Them Read Books – Excerpt

Wednesday, February 1st: A. Holland Reads

Friday, February 3rd: Becky on Books

Monday, February 6th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, February 7th: Laura’s Reviews

Wednesday, February 8th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot

Friday, February 10th: The Maiden’s Court

Review: Hound of the Sea, by Garret McNamara (with Karen Karbo)

About the book, Hound of the Sea Hound of the Sea

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (November 15, 2016)

In this thrilling and candid memoir, world record-holding and controversial Big Wave surfer Garrett McNamara chronicles his emotional quest to ride the most formidable waves on earth.

Garrett McNamara—affectionately known as GMac—set the world record for the sport, surfing a seventy-eight-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal in 2011, a record he smashed two years later at the same break. Propelled by the challenge and promise of bigger, more difficult waves, this adrenaline-fueled loner and polarizing figure travels the globe to ride the most dangerous swells the oceans have to offer, from calving glaciers to hurricane swells.

But what motivates McNamara to go to such extremes—to risk everything for one thrilling ride? Is riding giant waves the ultimate exercise in control or surrender?

Personal and emotional, readers will know GMac as never before, seeing for the first time the personal alongside the professional in an exciting, intimate look at what drives this inventive, iconoclastic man. Surfing awesome giants isn’t just thrill seeking, he explains—it’s about vanquishing fears and defeating obstacles past and present. Surfers and non-surfers alike will embrace McNamara’s story—as they have William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days—and its intimate look at the enigmatic pursuit of riding waves, big and small.

Hound of the Sea is a record of perseverance, passion, and healing. Thoughtful, suspenseful, and spiritually profound, McNamara reveals the beautiful soul of surfing through the eyes of one of its most daring and devoted disciples.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Garrett McNamara Garrett McNamara

Garrett McNamara holds the Guinness record for surfing the world’s largest wave, in addition to garnering numerous first-place wins in professional competitions around the world. He is the first foreigner ever to be awarded the prestigious Vasco de Gama Medal of Honor from the Portuguese Navy. McNamara splits his time between Hawaii, Portugal, and the rest of the world, where he explores with his family.

Connect with Garrett

Website | Facebook


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’m not a surfer, but as someone who was almost born on the beach, I’ve always been fascinated by the sport, and I became even more so a few years ago after reading Susan Casey’s book The Wave, and seeing the movie Chasing Mavericks. I have fond memories of watching the surfers in Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, California. Therefore, when I had the chance to read Hound of the Sea, I jumped at the chance.

I spent a couple of lovely, chilly afternoons immersed – even submerged – in GMac’s story. Not only were the details about surfing fascinating, but his self-analysis of the part of his psyche that drives him to continue raising the difficulty level of his chosen sport.

At times, I felt like I was right there on the board with him, and I would not have been surprised if I had looked up from a chapter to find my hair wet or crusted with salt. At other times I felt his frustration at being out of the water because of injury, or some other circumstance.

As is often the case when I’m reviewing a memoir or (auto)biography, I find myself having to separate my critique of the actual text from my opinion of the person. In this case, I found the book to be well-written and interesting, and I believe even people with zero knowledge of surfing would find it a compelling and informative read.

As well, McNamara as a person is the kind of guy I’d love to sit down and share a pot of tea with, because the whole mindset of pushing to be the best at something intrigues me.

Goes well with grilled sea bass wrapped in seaweed and coconut-infused rice.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, November 16th: Rambling Reviews

Monday, November 21st: Bibliotica

Tuesday, November 22nd: Tina Says…

Monday, November 28th: Rebecca Radish

Thursday, December 1st: Love Life Surf

Friday, December 9th: Surfer Dad

TBD: Back Porchervations

TBD: Sapphire Ng

TBD: Luxury Reading

 

 

 

Review: Mercury, by Margot Livesey

About the book, Mercury Mercury

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss Mercury

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


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

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

Connect with Margot

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 27th: Bibliophiliac

Wednesday, September 28th: The Reading Date

Thursday, September 29th: Real Life Reading

Friday, September 30th: Booksie’s Blog

Monday, October 3rd: Tina Says…

Wednesday, October 5th: Back Porchervations

Thursday, October 6th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, October 10th: I Brought a Book

Tuesday, October 11th: Bibliotica

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

Thursday, October 13th: Art Books Coffee

Monday, October 17th: BookNAround

Tuesday, October 18th: Rebecca Radish

Wednesday, October 19th: Staircase Wit

Thursday, October 20th: Sweet Southern Home

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

TBD: The Ludic Reader

Review: The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

About the book, The Perfect Girl The Perfect Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss The Perfect Girl

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gilly Macmillan Gilly Macmillan

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

Connect with Gilly

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 6th: Mama Reads Hazel Sleeps

Wednesday, September 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, September 8th: bookchickdi

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

Monday, September 12th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, September 13th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, September 14th: Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, September 15th: West Metro Mommy

Monday, September 19th: she treads softly

Tuesday, September 20th: A Bookworm’s World

Wednesday, September 21st: Comfy Reading

Monday, September 26th: I Brought a Book

Tuesday, September 27th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, September 28th: Vox Libris

Thursday, September 29th: What Will She Read Next

TBD: Book Hooked Blog

Review: After Alice, by Gregory Maguire – with Giveaway

About the book, After Alice After Alice

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 5, 2016)

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis’s Carroll’s beloved classic.

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gregory Maguire Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Connect with Gregory:

Website | Facebook


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve been a fan of Gregory Maguire’s work since Wicked first hit shelves eons ago. (I read it before it was popular, before there was a musical, before Amazon became my primary source of books, because I saw it on the “New Fiction” shelf at Barnes & Noble.) I remember thinking that I loved his way of not only twisting a common story – providing backstory, highlighting one of the supporting characters, writing prequels and sequels.

In reading After Alice, and having had a lot of experience with improv in the intervening years since my first introduction to Maguire’s work, I realized that he also uses the style of the original work as a jumping-off point. I won’t call him a mimic, because he isn’t mimicking Lewis Carroll here, so much as evoking it.  In a way, the title thus becomes a pun. Yes, it’s after Alice’s adventures, and the impact they caused both to the ‘real’ world and to Wonderland, but it’s also ‘after’ Alice in the sense of ‘in the style of.’ Gotta love a good literary pun.

One of my favorite books is The Annotated Alice, which has both the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the sequel Through the Looking Glass, and a ton of notes in teeny, tiny print. My copy wasn’t handy as I was reading this, and having it certainly isn’t necessary in order to appreciate Maguire’s novel, but I kind of wish I’d had it to read along-side, even so.

But back to After Alice. It’s the story of Alice’s childhood friend Ada, whom the help seems to find a bit disagreeable (the governess has a bit of inner monologue where she reflects that the child is so inactive that at some point she’ll require a wheel chair) who inadvertently follows her friend down the rabbit hole, and it shows how a different perspective, a different personality, completely changes the interactions with the characters we all know and love.

More than that, however, this is a look at the way society in the late 1800’s looked at people, and especially girls and women, who didn’t fit into cultural norms. More than once Alice is referred to as being ‘off with the fairies again,’ and there are also a lot of observations about how Miss Armstrong, the governess, might as well be invisible, as she exists between the real ‘help’ – cooks and maids – and the upper class employers who pay her to care for Ada.

As always, Maguire’s wit is reflected in his writing, and the end result is a smart, funny, engaging novel that, like most good stories, exists to entertain on one level, while also provoking thought on another. It’s better appreciated if, like me, you know the original story, but it’s certainly a great read even if you don’t.

Goes well with hot tea, and scones with clotted cream and jam (but only every other day.)


Giveaway After Alice

One lucky reader from the United States or Canada will win my copy (trade paperback) of this book.

Three ways to enter (one entry per person for each choice, so if you do all three, you’re entered three times).

  1. Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse).
  2. Find  my  Facebook post about this book  and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse).
  3. Leave a comment here on this post telling me what fictional world you’d love to explore. Wonderland? Narnia? Somewhere else?

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Thursday, July 21st.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 5th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Wednesday, July 6th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Wednesday, July 6th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, July 8th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, July 11th: Freda’s Voice

Tuesday, July 12th: Ms.Bookish.com

Wednesday, July 13th: Jen’s Book Thoughts

Thursday, July 14th: Bibliotica

Monday, July 18th: A Book Geek

Tuesday, July 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Wednesday, July 20th: Adorkable Me

TBD: Book Hooked Blog

Review: The Hummingbird, by Stephen P. Kiernan – with Giveaway

About  the book, The Hummingbird The Hummingbird

• Paperback: 336 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 28, 2016)

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse who never gives up—not with her patients, not in her life. But her skills and experience are fully tested by the condition her husband, Michael, is in when he returns from his third deployment to Iraq. Tormented by nightmares, anxiety, and rage, Michael has become cold and withdrawn. Still grateful that he is home at last, Deborah is determined to heal him and restore their loving, passionate marriage.

But Michael is not her only challenge. Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and fierce curmudgeon. An expert on the Pacific Theater of World War II, Barclay is suffering from terminal kidney cancer and haunted by ghosts from his past, including the academic scandal that ended his career.

Barclay’s last wish is for Deborah to read to him from his final and unfinished book—a little-known story from World War II that may hold the key to helping Michael conquer his demons. Together, nurse, patient, and soldier embark on an unforgettable emotional journey that transforms them all, offering astonishing insights into life and death, suffering, and finding peace.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Stephen P. Kiernan Stephen P. Kiernan

Stephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Brechner Center’s Freedom of Information Award, the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. He is the author of The Curiosity, his first novel, and two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.

Connect with Stephen

Website | Facebook


My ThoughtsMelissa A. Bartell

The Hummingbird is a stunning novel. It’s hopeful. It’s uplifting. It’s supremely real. And it is all those things while still, ultimately, spending a lot of time talking about hospice care and post-traumatic stress in candid terms, through the eyes of a home health nurse (Deborah) her prickly patient Professor Barclay, who wrote many books about Japan and America in World War II, and her husband Michael, recently returned from Iraq.  It’s a triangle (though not a love triangle) that becomes a sort of remote triumvirate, as Deborah breaks down Barclay’s walls and learns his story, and then, in turn, takes what she learns from her patient and applies it to her husband.

I really loved all three characters – Michael is tortured, but you can tell he doesn’t want to be, and that he still loves his wife. Barclay is irascible, but there is a lonely heart beneath his curmudgeonly ways. Deborah is not a saint, but a real woman, one who can be quite earthy when the situation calls for it. The supporting characters also – the night nurses who spell Deborah, for example, are all well drawn, too, but it’s the main three characters that really grab you, look you in the eyes and demand that you hear their stories.

One convention that author Stephen P. Kiernan used, and that I thought worked incredibly well, was interspersing “Barclay’s” last book between the chapters. Not only was that text a fascinating read on its own (and based on a real story) but it was also  a fantastic and compelling way to make the professor seem more dimensional, especially since he’s already greatly diminished when we meet him.

The Hummingbird is a meaty novel,  with rich prose and characters whose flaws only make them more fascinating and more interesting to travel with on their different, parallel journeys.

Goes well with a steak and white cheddar panini and French onion soup.


Giveaway The Hummingbird

One lucky reader from the United States or Canada will win my copy (trade paperback) of this book.

Three ways to enter (one entry per person for each choice, so if you do all three, you’re entered three times).

  1. Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse).
  2. Find  my  Facebook post about this book  and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse).
  3. Leave a comment here on this post telling how you’d like to spend your last few months on Earth.

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Thursday, July 14th.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, June 28th: BookNAround

Thursday, June 30th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, June 30th: Kritters Ramblings

Friday, July 1st: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, July 5th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, July 6th: she treads softly

Thursday, July 7th: Bibliotica

Friday, July 8th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World

Monday, July 11th: Literary Feline

Tuesday, July 12th: 5 Minutes For Books

Wednesday, July 13th: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Thursday, July 14th: Into the Hall of Books

Monday, July 18th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Review: Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon

About the book, Mystic Summer Mystic Summer

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (June 21, 2016)

A chance run-in with a college boyfriend puts a young woman’s picture-perfect life in perspective in this warm-hearted and lyrical novel—from the author of The Lake Season.

Since finishing graduate school, Maggie Griffin has worked hard to build an enviable life in Boston. She’s an elementary school teacher in a tony Boston suburb, a devoted sister, and a loving aunt. With her childhood best friend’s wedding quickly approaching and her own relationship blossoming, this is the summer she has been waiting for.

But when Maggie’s career is suddenly in jeopardy, her life begins to unravel. Stricken, Maggie returns home to seaside Mystic, Connecticut, where she expects to find comfort in family and familiarity. Instead, she runs into Cameron Wilder, a young man from her past who has also returned home, and whose life has taken a turn that puts Maggie’s city struggles in harsh perspective. When tragedy strikes for Cameron, Maggie is faced with big decisions as she weighs what matters most and strives to stay true to the person she’s become.

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a New England summer when past and present collide, Mystic Summer is a gorgeous novel about looking back, moving forward, and the beauty that blooms when fate intervenes.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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


About the author, Hannah McKinnon Hanna McKinnon

Hannah McKinnon is the author of The Lake Season and Mystic Summer. She graduated from Connecticut College and the University of South Australia. She lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut, with her family, a flock of chickens, and two rescue dogs.

Connect with Hannah

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

 

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

When I saw this title in the list of summer tours, I immediately sent an email begging to review it because it was ‘speaking’ to me. Having read it (twice) I’m glad I did, because this book is the perfect launch for the summer reading season.

I found main character Maggie to be really likeable, and I found both her roommate Erika (in the throes of wedding planning) and her actor-boyfriend Evan  so well drawn that I was immediately caught in fond reminiscences of the early days of my own marriage, when we lived in cheap apartments, and weren’t really working up to our level of potential – yet. I also liked the boy-next-door, childhood love, Cameron, who wasn’t pedestal perfect. I maintain that it’s the flaws in characters that make them feel real, and these characters are all well balanced with lovely attributes (loyalty, wit, intelligence) and flaws (indecision, prime among them).

I also loved the fact that most of the novel takes place in and around Mystic, CT. While I’ve never explored the whole town, I’ve made the requisite visits to the old Mystic Seaport, and loved it’s shippy, tarry, historical wonder, and I’ve also lived in tourist towns (Georgetown, CO), so I know what it’s like to be a townie, and understand the love-hate relationship that locals always have with tourists. Author Hannah McKinnon manages to make the town of Mystic, and the Mystic River into a character in its own right, and I really appreciate that the setting was so intrinsic to the story.

The story itself blends yearning and nostalgia, and the inevitable choices we make between embracing the new and returning to the old and familiar, and it does so in a way that is both compelling and interesting. While this novel could easily have turned into a formula romance (and I admit there’s a time and place for those), McKinnon’s writing is deeper than that, and her characters don’t always make the obvious choices.

One thing that struck me early in the novel was the obvious love Maggie’s mother has for her children. It’s talked about, but there’s a scene after Mom’s birthday where Maggie says she’s staying the night, and her mother’s response is basically, “Woohoo! She’s STAYING!”

Overall, Mystic Summer was a richly detailed, unputdownable story that is light enough to be a beach read, but deep enough to be satisfying and interesting all the way through.

Goes well with, New England clam chowder, crusty sourdough bread, and chilled Samuel Adams Summer Ale.


Giveaway Mystic Summer

One winner in the U.S. or Canada will get a copy of this book. Enter by commenting on this post (tell me one thing you’re looking forward to this summer), OR Like AND Share the Facebook post (I’m MissMelysse), OR Retweet my Twitter post about this review (I’m @Melysse). One entry per action. No more than one entry per action, per person. Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Wednesday, June 22nd.

 


Hanna McKinnon’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS TLC Book Tours

Monday, June 6th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, June 8th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Thursday, June 9th: Bilbiotica

Friday, June 10th: My Book Retreat

Monday, June 13th: Just Commonly

Monday, June 13th: Book Mama Blog

Tuesday, June 14th: Dreams, Etc.

Tuesday, June 14th: Chick Lit Central – Author Q&A

Wednesday, June 15th: Reading is my Superpower

Wednesday, June 15th: Bookmark Lit

Friday, June 17th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, June 20th: The Reading Date

Tuesday, June 21st: The Well Read Redhead

Saturday, July 2nd: Books a la Mode

Review: Forever Beach, by Shelley Noble

About the book,  Forever Beach Forever Beach

• Paperback: 416 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 7, 2016)

One woman struggling to hold on to what she has. . . .

One woman learning to forgive. . . .

Their lives entwined by one little girl.

Sarah Hargreave is anxious to finalize the adoption of her foster daughter, Leila. Once a foster child herself, Sarah longs to become Leila’s “forever” family and give her all the love and stability she was denied in her own childhood. When Leila’s biological mother suddenly reappears and petitions the court for the return of her daughter, Sarah is terrified she’ll lose the little girl she loves to the drug- addicted mother who abandoned her.

Having grown up in foster care, Ilona Cartwright is a lawyer who fights for the rights of children who have no one to fight for them. But to Sarah she is Nonie Blanchard, who grew up in the same group foster home as Sarah. They’d promised to be best friends forever, but then Nonie was adopted by a wealthy family, and Sarah never heard from her again. Sarah still hurts from the betrayal. But Nonie harbors her own resentment toward the past.

Mistrustful of each other, the two women form a tenuous alliance to ensure Leila’s future, but when Leila’s very survival is on the line, they’ll have to come to terms with their own feelings of hurt and rejection to save the child they both have come to love.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Shelley Noble Shelley Noble

Shelley Noble is a former professional dancer and choreographer and has worked on a number of films. She lives at the Jersey shore where she loves to visit lighthouses and vintage carousels. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America.

Connect with Shelley:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

It’s rare – very rare – that a book makes me cry, but this one did.

Shelley Noble’s writing is both subtle and cinematic, and if you think those two things exist in opposition to each other, this book will prove you wrong. At it’s heart, it’s a story about family – what constitutes a family? Are blood ties automatically stronger than the ties we choose for ourselves? When do friends become family to one another?

Forever Beach doesn’t provide any absolute answers to these questions, because there are no absolutes in human relationships. Instead, it gives us a glimpse, a cross-section of a group of people who live in a coastal community and have intersecting, and often interlocking, lives.

Sarah, the protagonist, is introduced to us at a moment of vulnerability, but we very quickly see that she has a support system of women and men who rally around her when she needs it, talk sense to her when she needs that, and generally have her back. I found that I quite often wanted to draw Sarah into a hug and assure her that everything would ultimately be okay, even though I didn’t know whether or not that it was true.

Sarah’s closest friends are Reese (former caseworker, still child protection services worker) and Karen (a fellow mother of young kids), women who know her past and her present. As well there’s Wyatt – hunky lifeguard and love interest – and may I just say, every single mother should have a guy like Wyatt in their corner. He’s not perfect – indeed NONE of these characters are anything but dimensional and flawed – but he’s good.

I really liked the interaction between all the members of this small community, Leila (Sarah’s foster  daughter whom she wants to adopt) and the other kids included. The way they go to the beach as a sort of neutral territory was all too familiar to me. Everything is better with sand and salt water. Everything.

Then there’s Ilona Cartright, badass lawyer. At first she seems prickly, but then we learn her backstory. If I perceived her truth a bit too easily, I don’t think that’s a problem with this book. In fact, knowing the truth too early doesn’t have any kind of negative impact to enjoyment of the story.

And what a story! It’s got all the right emotional notes, all the correct plot points to be a Hallmark film (oh, come on, you watch them, too), but with a level of grit and street-smarts that takes it out of the realm of squeaky clean romance novel territory and into a reality-based, emotionally-satisfying, contemporary story packed with diverse strong female characters.

Also, it made me cry.

Goes well with a soft-serve ice cream cone (sprinkles optional) eaten at the boardwalk.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, June 7th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, June 8th: Bibliotica

Thursday, June 9th: Comfy Reading

Monday, June 13th: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, June 14th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Wednesday, June 15th: Queen of All She Reads

Thursday, June 16th: Into the Hall of Books

Monday, June 20th: Book by Book

Tuesday, June 21st: StephTheBookworm

Thursday, June 23rd: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 28th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog