Review: A Recipe for Disaster, by Stephen Phelps – with Giveaway

About the book, A Recipe for Disaster: Cooking up a Big Italian Idea

A Recipe for Disaster is a cookbook, a travelogue and the companion to Cookucina, a six-part TV series available on Amazon Video, iTunes and Google Play – see www.cookucina.com .

It’s also the entertaining journey of an Englishman struggling with the ups and downs of living in rural Italy. After giving up a successful career in television, Stephen found himself dragged back into a world he had happily given up when his neighbour, Lia, persuaded him to listen to her Big Idea – making a TV cookery series. But Lia speaks no English.

And Stephen’s partner, Tam, can’t cook. So, much against Stephen’s better judgement, the three of them embarked on a six-part series set among the rolling hills of the little-known, but spectacularly beautiful, Italian region of Le Marche. In the Cookucina TV series Lia teaches Tam to cook alla Marchigiana, while Tam translates. A Recipe for Disaster follows their many encounters with the real Italy – a world away from the picture-book ideal of summer holidays in Tuscany.

As the team try to construct a professional series with no funding they come to rely on the generosity of the Marchigiana people, while attempting to overcome the constant difficulties thrown up by those whose stubborn adherence to their age-old way of life is rooted in their beloved fields and woods. A Recipe for Disaster is a goldmine of simple yet delicious recipes, while peeling back the veneer of television professionalism and opening the door to a world of Italian surprise and delight.

A Recipe for Disaster comes with unique access to Cookucina, the final six-part TV series, so you can see for yourself how the team cracked their problems and (just about) held it all together in a blistering heatwave. Experience this contradictory world of vendettas and kind hearts through the laughter and frustrations of Stephen and the team, as you follow A Recipe for Disaster slowly coming to its surprising fruition.

Buy, read, and discuss A Recipe for Disaster:

Amazon (Paperback) | Amazon (Kindle) | iBooks | SmashWords | Goodreads


About the author, Stephen Phelps

Stephen PhelpsEducated at Oxford University, I began working with BBC Radio, moving to BBC TV where I launched Watchdog and produced the investigative legal series Rough Justice. In Hong Kong for BBC World Service Television I oversaw the start of BBC World. I then spent twelve years running my own TV production company, Just Television, specialising in investigative programmes in the field of law, justice and policing. In particular, Trial and Error for Channel 4 which exposed and investigated major miscarriages of justice, winning the Royal Television Society’s inaugural Specialist Journalism Award in 1999. Recently I have been working as a consultant for Aljazeera English on major documentary projects.

In 2002 I took an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Writing credits include many plays for BBC Radio, my most recent being a drama documentary for the 30th anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. Books: The Tizard Mission published by Westholme Publishing in the United States, tells the extraordinary story of how Britain’s top scientists travelled in secret to America in the autumn of 1940 to give away all their wartime secrets to secure US support in WWII. A Recipe for Disaster is a book about living in Italy while trying to make a TV cookery series, Cookucina (now available on Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes.

I have several other books and three screenplays in development.

Connect with Stephen:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Medium | Twitter


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellI love travelogues and cookbooks and true stories about people undertaking bold things. Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayle’s Provence series are some of my favorite books in this genre. I read them, and I imagine leaving my cushy suburban lifestyle and relocating to Guadalajara, MX, or somewhere in Scotland.

Agreeing to read and review A Recipe for Disaster: Cooking Up a Big Italian Idea was obviously a no-brainer for me. I expected that I would enjoy Stephen Phelps’ story about living and cooking in Italy, especially when he has a non-cooking partner. (My own partner has a limited repertoire of boxed pudding, soup from the deli, and pasta with pre-made sauce, and I still have to walk him through the latter.)

What I did not expect was to fall in love with the book so hard that I paid the $12 to buy the series from Amazon. What I did not expect was to spend page after page laughing, crying, and drooling over Stephen, Tam, and Lia, the process of making a tv show, the process of learning to cook, and the shared experience of living in such a surreal bubble in time.

Reading this book makes you want to get your grandmother’s recipe box and systematically work through every family favorite you’ve ever known, but it also makes you want to start a restaurant, make a tv show, and learn to cook a new-to-you kind of food, or speak a new-to-you language.

At the same time, makes you want to run far away from all those things because each one has its own frustrations.

Candid, funny, sometimes poignant, A Recipe for Disaster is one tasty piece of fiction.

Goes well with any of the food mentioned in the book with a glass of a good Italian table wine. Need not be fancy. (I really want to make the roasted tomatoes (with breadcrumbs, baked herbs and orange zest).)


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Review: Lona Chang, by AshleyRose Sullivan

About the book, Lona Chang

Lona Change: A Superhero Detective Story• Paperback
• Publisher: Seventh Star Press, LLC (August 30, 2017)

When one of the world’s greatest superheroes dies in her arms, Lona Chang takes it upon herself to investigate his murder. Armed only with a power she barely understands and a mysterious coded book, Lona begins a quest for answers that leads her down a dark rabbit hole of secrets—secrets the ancient organization known as the Guild is determined to keep hidden at all costs.

Meanwhile, when a new threat descends upon Arc City, Lona’s soulmate (and freshly minted superhero) Awesome Jones defies the Guild, dons the cape and cowl of his father and finds a group of unlikely allies. But can Awesome trust them—or himself? He’ll have to fight his own demons first if he has any hope of defending the town–and the people–he loves.

As tensions rise between the Guild, Lona, Awesome, his allies and Arc City’s criminal underground, Lona realizes that life, and the answers to its questions, are never as simple as they seem in comic books.

Buy, read, and discuss Lona Chang:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, AshleyRose Sullivan

AshleyRose SullivanOriginally from Appalachia, AshleyRose Sullivan lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their many imaginary friends. Her work has been published in places like The Rumpus, Barrelhouse, and Monkey Bicycle and her novels, Awesome Jones: A Superhero Fairy Tale and Silver Tongue are available from Seventh Star Press.

Connect with AshleyRose:

Website


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellLona Chang is a secretary in a print shop, but she’s also a budding superhero and an amateur detective. Her partner – in love and and saving people – is Awesome Jones, also a superhero, but a normal guy, as well. Together they fight crime.

Okay, this book is more than that. In concept Lona Chang and it’s predecessor are comicbooks (Stan Lee insists that it should be one word, and I refuse to argue with him on a such a topic) in novel form, but they’re also a bit more complex than an actual comic, because in a novel there’s time to dig into people’s inner monologues and really explore the details of a world.

Author AshleyRose (also one word) Sullivan has given us a fairy tale for adults, one rich with characters and backstories and interconnected relationships, as well as diametrically opposed goals and desires. She’s given us a compelling mystery and two people who are ordinary people on the surface, until they let their extraordinary selves take over.

The writing style is contemporary and upbeat, riding the blurred edge between sophisticated Young Adult/New Adult fare and general fiction. The dialogue is snappy and believable. The world of Arc City is as vivid as Gotham, Star City, or Metropolis ever were, and the plot is well-paced, and truly interesting. From opening to ending, I was hooked on this story.

While I enjoyed Lona Chang as a stand-alone (I’m pretty good at extrapolating things from context) there are a lot of relationships and details that are better understood if you read Awesome Jones first. This review was actually rescheduled so I could have time to go back and read the first novel, and I’m not sorry. Both books are enjoyable, but the second is so much better after having read the first.

If you (like me) used to tie your hoodie over your head and let the rest of it flow free so you could have a cape, or if you tucked a beach towel into the collar of your t-shirt (also as a cape) – if you have perfected your delivery of the phrase “I’m Batman” – if last summers Wonder Woman movie made you cry, you will love Lona Chang and Awesome Jones – the characters, and their stories.

Goes well with a hot dog and a Coke, purchased from a street vendor and – hey! Did you see someone WOOSH by just now?


Tour Stops

Monday, October 16th: G. Jacks Writes

Tuesday, October 17th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, October 18th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Thursday, October 19th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Friday, November 3rd: Bibliotica

Monday, November 6th: The Paperback Pilgrim

Thursday, November 16th: The Sketchy Reader – Awesome Jones

Friday, November 17th: The Sketchy Reader –Lona Chang

Monday, November 27th: Book Hooked Blog – Awesome Jones

Tuesday, November 28th: Book Hooked Blog – Lona Chang

Thursday, December 7th: The Desert Bibliophile

Review: Tidewater Hit, by M.Z. Thwaite

About the book, Tidewater Hit Tidewater Hit

  • Series: Tidewater Novels
  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher:

One determined woman refusing to leave well enough alone.

In a heart-stopping moment, while rowing off the coast of Georgia the summer of 1986, Abbey Taylor Bunn discovers a dazed boating hit-and-run victim.

In the days following the successful rescue, Abbey becomes acquainted with a new potential real estate client, but the unidentified man worries a recently awakened side of her, the sleuth.

Who is he? Who left him to die, and why?

Ever-curious and afraid of nothing, she digs for clues and is rewarded by discovery after discovery until a grim picture begins to form. Only when she confronts the assailant does the final piece fall into place, and she realizes how fully her moral duty inserted her into the wounded framework of the lives of others.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, M.Z. Thwaite MZ Thwaite

M. Z. Thwaite is the author of the literary suspense novel Tidewater Rip in which she shares her life-long love affair with Georgia’s golden coast. A licensed Realtor since 1983, she continues to enjoy the simple pleasures of the hunting and fishing club on the coast of Georgia co-founded by her maternal grandfather. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and lives in Beaufort, South Carolina with her artist husband Steve Weeks of Riverton, New Jersey.

Connect with M.Z.:

Website


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellTwo years ago, I read the first novel in this series, Tidewater Rip, and loved it to bits. Over the last full weekend of September, I devoured this sequel, Tidewater Hit, and am happy to report that the community of Kings Bluff, Georgia is one where I still feel completely at home.

Dropping in on the fictional adventures of Abbey Taylor Bunn is like visiting an old friend. You may not see them very often, but you know the ice tea will be sweet and cold, the dog will be waiting to greet you, and the mystery will be incredibly compelling.

Such is the case with this novel.

From the opening, with Abbey rowing and discovering a man floating in a place where one is more likely than not to become sharkbait through every twist and turn I was on the edge of my seat. Or I would have been if I hadn’t been reading this in the bathtub.

What I loved was that relationships from the original novel – specifically Abbey’s with Atlanta-based lawyer Tom, but others as well – were continued. I also loved Sarge and his ‘dead rise’ fishing boat, which can be used for a multitude of other purposes. He made a big impression on me.

As well, author Thwaite has turned the community of Kings Bluff and those secluded cabins into a character in its own right.

While Thwaite’s skill and plot and dialogue is undeniable, where she excels is at giving readers a vivid sense of place. As I was reading this, I could taste the salt air, feel the tiny stinging bites of sand fleas (sand gnats), and feel the muggy heat. It is that feeling, as much as the story itself, that made the novel for me.

While Tidewater Hit is better enjoyed if you’ve read the previous novel, it can be read as a stand-alone work with little confusion on the reader’s part. Thwaite gives us enough backstory to understand Abbey’s history and mindset, but not so much that we’re bogged down in any kind of literary ‘previously on…’

As well, the author does an excellent job of honoring the 1986 setting without making it feel campy or too ‘period.’ This story may be set 31 years in our past, but it reads as contemporary literature.

Read this book if you love mysteries with strong female characters, a touch of humor in the right places, and plots that are intricate enough to be interesting, but not so convoluted that a diagram is required.

Goes well with a tomato and vidalia onion sandwich, or, if you’re more mainstream, fresh-caught shrimp cooked however you like them and cold sweet tea or chilled beer.

 

 

 

 

Review: Understanding Cemetery Symbols by Tui Snider – with Giveaway

Understanding Cemetery Symbols

About the book Understanding Cemetery Symbols Understanding Cemetery Symbols

  • Series: Messages from the Dead
  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Castle Azle Press; 1 edition (August 19, 2017)

Graveyards don’t exist merely to shelter the dead. They also nurture the living. In fact, America’s garden cemeteries were our nation’s first public parks. People used to visit cemeteries not only to mourn the dead, but to have a pleasant day in nature with their family. “Understanding Cemetery Symbols” by Tui Snider helps history buffs, genealogists, ghost hunters and other curiosity seekers decode the forgotten meanings of the symbols our ancestors placed on their headstones. By understanding the meaning behind the architecture, acronyms, & symbols found in America’s burial grounds, readers will gain a deeper appreciation for these “messages from the dead.”

Buy, read, and discuss Understanding Cemetery Symbols:

Book ┃ Graveyard Journal Workbbook┃ Ghost Hunters Journal | Goodreads

Check out the trailer for Understanding Cemetery Symbols:

About the author, Tui Snider Tui Snider

Tui Snider is an award-winning writer, speaker, photographer, and musician specializing in quirky travel, overlooked history, cemetery symbolism, and haunted lore. As she puts it, “I used to write fiction, but then I moved to Texas!”

Tui lectures frequently at universities, libraries, conferences and bookstores. Her best-selling books include Paranormal Texas, The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber, Unexpected Texas, and Understanding Cemetery Symbols. She recently taught classes based on her books at Texas Christian University.

When not writing books, you can find Tui exploring the historic graveyards and backroads of Texas with her husband, Larry.

Connect with Tui:

WebsiteAuthor Facebook | Book Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

When I was given the opportunity to review this book, I didn’t merely sign up for it, I begged for the chance. Partly, of course, it’s because a lot of my writing lately is focusing on ghosts, but also it’s because the subject fascinates me. Maybe it’s because we don’t bury our dead in my family – we have them cremated and scatter the ashes somewhere meaningful – or maybe I’ve just read too many gothic novels with confrontations in family crypts, but graveyards have always intrigued me. In fact, one of the only things I remember from a clever gardening book I read several years ago, is that graveyard roses are the hardiest plants if you want to grow roses from a cutting.

Tui Snider’s book does not cover the best ways to filch roses from the dead, but it is a lot more than just a glossary of symbols commonly found on headstones.

In fact, Understanding Cemetery Symbols has several chapters explaining the history and trends of burial in America, including a rundown of different types of cemeteries and descriptions of the different words – such as burial ground, churchyard, graveyard, etc. – that were used in different eras and are still used in different parts of the country. (Confession: like the author, I agree that ‘graveyard’ is creepier than ‘cemetery.’)

Of course, it also explains the symbols the title references, but it does so in a way that is never dry or dull. Author Snider’s warm, witty style of writing feels more like a conversation with a friend than any kind of book, and I found myself both impressed with her research and eager to field-test her data.

Speaking of field-testing, my review copy also came with copies of Ms. Snider’s Graveyard Journal, for tracking the different graves you visit and what symbols are present, and her Ghost Hunter’s Journal, for those of us who have more than a passing fancy for the supernatural. Both of these supplementary books are well-designed, and now that the weather in Texas is cooling off I’m excited about doing some judicious exploration.

Understanding Cemetery Symbols is an interesting read even if you never plan to go tromping around old churchyards, but it’s indispensable if you do feel the urge to explore, and the two journals will only enhance your experience.

Goes well with tuna sandwiches and sweet tea, enjoyed on a picnic blanket in the middle of a cemetery.


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Giveaway: Understanding Cemetery Symbols

Grand Prize: Signed Copies of Understanding Cemetery Symbols + wGraveyard Journal Workbook + Ghost Hunters Journal 

2nd & 3rd Prizes: Signed Copies of Understanding Cemetery Symbols

October 18-October 27, 2017

(U.S. Only)

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Tour Stops for Understanding Cemetery Symbols

18-Oct Excerpt 1 Texan Girl Reads
19-Oct Review Chapter Break Book Blog
20-Oct Guest Post 1 Books in the Garden
21-Oct Review The Librarian Talks
22-Oct Author Interview Books and Broomsticks
23-Oct Excerpt 2 The Page Unbound
24-Oct Review Forgotten Winds
25-Oct Top 5 List Syd Savvy
26-Oct Guest Post 2 A Novel Reality
27-Oct Review Bibliotica

Lone Star Book Blog Tours

Lone Star Literary Life

Review: The Girl who Saved Ghosts, by K.C. Tansley

About the book, The Girl who Saved Ghosts

 

  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Beckett Publishing Group (October 17, 2017)
  • Series: The Unbelievables (Book 2)

The Girl Who Saved GhostsShe tried to ignore them. Now she might risk everything to save them.

After a summer spent in a haunted castle—a summer in which she traveled through time to solve a murder mystery—Kat is looking forward to a totally normal senior year at McTernan Academy. Then the ghost of a little girl appears and begs Kat for help, and more unquiet apparitions follow. All of them are terrified by the Dark One, and it soon becomes clear that that this evil force wants Kat dead.

Searching for help, Kat leaves school for the ancestral home she’s only just discovered. Her friend Evan, whose family is joined to her own by an arcane history, accompanies her. With the assistance of her eccentric great aunts and a loyal family ghost, Kat soon learns that she and Evan can only fix the present by traveling into the past.

As Kat and Evan make their way through nineteenth-century Vienna, the Dark One stalks them, and Kat must decide what she’s willing to sacrifice to save a ghost.

Buy, read, and discuss The Girl who Saved Ghosts:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads


About the author, K.C. Tansley

K.C. TansleyK.C. Tansley is the bestselling and award-winning author of The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts (2015). She lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, on a hill in Connecticut. Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days.

Connect with K.C.:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellK.C. Tansley’s Unbelievables series captured my imagination when I reviewed the first book in the series two years ago. Now, with the second book, The Girl who Saved Ghosts, I feel like I’m revisiting old friends. They’ve grown and changed a bit since our last meeting, but Kat and Evan are still brave, kind, and a little bit reckless, the way we all wish we could be.

Kat, I felt, was the most changed, since her decision to allow ghosts back into her life is literally draining the life from her, but when she’s given a mystery to solve, she leaps into the task, and that’s what I really love about her.

Similarly, Evan is a strong support system – who doesn’t want a friend like him?

Author Tansley’s flair for vivid detail is even stronger in this novel, and one thing I really appreciated was that she managed to increase the risk and jeopardy for her characters without making them seem older than they should be.

As before, there’s an element of time travel in this novel, and Tansley handles the period sections of this novel most ably. Reading this book, you are no mere observer; you are transported into elite educational institutions, creepy estates, and old-world Europe, and it all occurs with the most delicious shiver up and down your spine, as if there might be a ghost standing next to you, just waiting to be noticed.

While this book is best enjoyed after reading it’s predecessor, The Girl who Ignored Ghosts, it’s equally satisfying as a stand-alone story.

Goes well with a Twix candy bar and a cold Dr. Pepper.

 

 

Review: Equal Opportunity Hero by Phil Price

Equal Opportunity Hero

About the book, Equal Opportunity Hero: T.J. Patterson’s Service to West Texas

  • Texas Tech University Press (November, 2017)
  • 277 Pages

Equal Opportunity HeroOn April 7, 1984, T. J. Patterson became the first African American elected to the Lubbock City Council, winning handily over his four opponents. It was a position he would go on to hold for more than twenty years, and his natural leadership would lead him to state and national recognition.

Patterson grew up during a time of American social unrest, protest, and upheaval, and he recounts memorable instances of segregation and integration in West Texas. As a two-year-old, he survived polio when African Americans were excluded from “whites only” hospitals. When he attempted to enroll at Texas Tech after graduating from all-black Bishop College, he was not allowed even to enter the administration building–the president would speak with him only outside, and then only to say Patterson could not be enrolled. Two years later, his aunt would become the first African American to attend Texas Tech.

Patterson spent his whole adult life as a grassroots activist, and as a city councilman he understood how important it was to work in solid partnership with representatives from the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of the city. Over the years, Patterson took every opportunity to join African American and Hispanic forces, but with a few exceptions, the traditional geographic divide of the minority population limited his efforts–and yet Patterson never gave up. His brave public marches to homes of known drug dealers brought attention to their undesirable activities. Patterson also supported city investment in Lubbock history and culture, plus new development activity, from annexation to paved roads to water mains to fire stations. During his long career he truly was an equal-opportunity hero for all of Lubbock’s citizens.

Buy, read, and discuss Equal Opportunity Hero:

Purchase | Amazon | Texas Tech University Press | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


About the author, Phil Price

Phil PricePhil Price has been friends with T. J. Patterson for more than twenty years. Now retired, Price was President and CEO of a marketing and design agency. Over the years he has served the Lubbock Independent School District, the Lubbock Better Business Bureau, the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, and other city agencies. He lives in Lubbock USA, with his wife, Victoria.

 

 


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellAs someone who isn’t native to Texas, I always enjoy learning more about the people who helped to form the the state, or who were instrumental in its politics and culture over the decades. T.J. Patterson is one of the latter, and the author, his friend Phil Price, paints a picture of him that is vibrant and interesting, but also extremely real.

I appreciated that this biography was not a dry academic treatise, but a real glimpse into Patterson’s life, from his time at Bishop College (a black college) and beyond, Price shows him to be intelligent, witty, and somewhat self-deprecating, but also extremely self-aware.

Patterson is quoted extensively, to the point where it almost feels like his own voice outshines that of author Price, but maybe that’s how it should be. After all a biographer’s job is not to take the spotlight, but to put their subject in it. And in this book Patterson shines, not only in the glow of his own achievements but in the obvious affection and respect the author has for him.

As the child of activists, and someone who has been involved in her own causes since the age of twelve – not all the same causes, of course – I understand what it is to stand for the things you believe in, and I came away from this book knowing more about Texas, about how the civil rights movement was received in Texas, and about a fundamental player in recent Texas history.

Goes well with a tall glass of sweet tea and a baked potato stuffed with brisket.


CHECK OUT THE OTHER GREAT BLOGS ON THE TOUR:

10/3 Promo Tangled in Text
10/4 Review Bibliotica
10/5 Promo Missus Gonzo
10/6 Review A Page Before Bedtime
10/7 Author Interview StoreyBook Reviews
10/8 Promo Texas Book Lover
10/9 Review Hall Ways Blog
10/10 Excerpt Texan Girl Reads
10/11 Review Reading By Moonlight
10/12 Promo Chapter Break Book Blog

Lone Star Book Blog Tours

 

Lone Star Literary Life

Review: Sugar Pine Trail, by RaeAnne Thayne

Sugar Pine TrailAbout the book, Sugar Pine Trail

 

  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books (October 1, 2017)
  • Publication Date: September 26, 2017

 

Fans of the wildly popular Haven Point series won’t want to miss SUGAR PINE TRAIL (HQN Books; on-sale October 2017), the latest novel from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne. In this heartwarming holiday romance, unexpected attraction between two polar opposites might just make for the best match yet.

Haven Point librarian Julia Winston has spent most of her life taking care of other people. Now she’s 32 years old and feeling restless for the first time, banging around a big empty house with no one to share it with. In an effort to break free from her life of quiet complacency, Julia finds herself making a list of all the things she wants to do while she still has the chance—including getting a puppy, learning to ski, and kissing someone under the mistletoe. That someone, however, is most certainly not Jamie Caine, a military pilot who is temporarily renting a room in Julia’s home. Wary of Jamie’s blinding good looks and his reputation as the town’s resident heartbreaker, Julia puts up all her charm defenses, while the handsome pilot tries his best to steer clear of his mousy landlady (who, he has to admit, has some pretty stunning eyes).

But when Julia suddenly finds herself taking care of two young brothers in need, she and Jamie will come together to make an unforgettable holiday for the boys. Along the way, Jamie will learn that Julia has more spunk than she lets on, and Julia will realize that Jamie has more depth than she gave him credit for. Together, this unlikely pair will discover they have more in common than they ever imagined—all while fighting a powerful attraction that becomes more and more difficult to deny.

Set against a backdrop of mistletoe, lakeside lights, and Haven Point’s stunning snowy mountains, SUGAR PINE TRAIL makes for perfect winter reading this holiday season.

Buy, read, and discuss Sugar Pine Trail:

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


About the author, RaeAnne Thayne

RaeAnne ThayneNew York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne loves words. Her love affair started as soon as she learned to read, when she used to devour anything she could get her hands on: cereal boxes, encyclopedias, the phone book, you name it! She loves the way words sound, the way they look on the page, and the amazing way they can be jumbled together in so many combinations to tell a story.

Her love of reading and writing those words led her to a fifteen-year career in journalism as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Through it all, she dreamed of writing the kind of stories she loved best. She sold her first book in 1995 and since then she’s published more than 40 titles. Her books have won many honors, including three RITA® Award nominations from the Romance Writers of America and a Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews.

RaeAnne finds inspiration in the rugged northern Utah mountains, where she lives with her hero of a husband and their children. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellIt may seem like late September is a bit early to be reading books set during the winter holidays, but trust me, when it’s 90 degrees outside at ten in the morning, and you live in a place where snow is infrequent, at best, reading holiday fiction is a way to keep cool.

Keeping cool was a bit difficult while reading RaeAnne Thayne’s newest Haven Point novel, Sugar Pine Trail, because the story of 32-year-old librarian Julia Winston and military pilot Jamie Caine, who is renting the flat she’s carved out of her family manse, is warm and cozy, and everything that’s perfect for a holiday read.

What I loved was the way author Thayne has created an entire world in Haven Point. I haven’t read the other novels in the series, but I still felt as though I was coming home to a familiar place in this snowy mountain town. In fact, many of the scenes reminded me of my own childhood sojourn in Georgetown, CO.

Julia and Jamie’s story is a classic tale of “opposites attract”  – she’s a bit scattered, he’s incredibly precise. The family cats don’t like her, but love him. (She’s clearly a dog person, like me.). As their relationship evolves, so, too, do their responsibilities, eventually leading to becoming caretakers to two young boys who desperately need some holiday cheer.

It sounds as sweet as a Hallmark movie, I know (and that’s not a bad thing; I happen to indulge in Hallmark Movie weekends from time to time), but Thayne keeps her story grounded in common sense and humor, which keeps it only sweet, and never saccharine.

Goes well with hot chocolate, stirred with a peppermint stick, and Milano cookies.

 

 

Review: Red Year, by Jan Shapin

About the book Red Year Red Year

• Paperback: 286 pages
• Publisher: Cambridge Books (June 4, 2017)

Can a red-haired woman from Chicago single-handedly force Joseph Stalin to back down?

China, 1927. Thirty-three year old Rayna Prohme, accompanying her left-wing journalist husband, becomes the political confidant and lover of Mikhail Borodin, the Russian commander sent to prop up a failing Chinese revolution. In a bid to continue their love affair, Rayna hatches a plan to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the Chinese revolution’s founder, to Moscow.

But Moscow does not welcome the women. Borodin shuns them. Rayna’s stipend and housing arrangements are cancelled. “Go home,” she is told. But Rayna does not want to go home to an ordinary life, to her husband and Chicago. Instead, she applies to a Soviet espionage school that soon demands she spy on Mme. Sun. The Chinese widow is, by now, in grave danger as her exit visa is blocked. Rayna must make a choice — Borodin and Russia or Mme. Sun and China.

Buy, read, and discuss Red Year:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Jan Shapin Jan Shapin

Jan Shapin has been writing plays and screenplays for nearly thirty years, in the last decade concentrating on fiction. Shapin has studied playwriting at Catholic University in Washington, DC, screenwriting at the Film and Television Workshop and University of Southern California, and fiction writing at a variety of locations including Barnard College’s Writers on Writing seminar, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Her plays have been produced in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. She has received grants from the RI Council for the Humanities and has served as a juror for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts screenplay fellowship awards. Two previous novels, A Desire Path and A Snug Life Somewhere, were published in 2012 and 2014.

She lives in North Kingstown, RI with her photographer husband.

Connect with Jan:

Website


My Thoughts: Melissa A. Bartell

Several years ago, I came across a recording of the Interwar Duets, a series of compositions for violin and cello (my instrument) composed by a quartet of musicians including the man known best for his Bolero, Maurice Ravel. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with the period between World War I and World War II, which is the same period when this novel, Red Year, takes place.

So lyrical is Jan Shapin’s writing, that the Duets have become my soundtrack for this book.

Shapin opens her novel at a sporting event – one that is ‘like polo’ but not, and immediately our eye, and the eye of protagonist Rayna Prohme are fixed on one Mikhail Borodin, the Russian officer sent to take charge of China’s revolution. Even though she’s in China with her second husband, an ailing journalist with the rather forgettable (I suspect this was intended) name of Bill, Rayna is intrigued and attracted by Borodin, and the affair that follows, while predictable in fact, is a fascinating look at power and politics and the line where a relationship ends and a professional arrangement begins.

Always a fan of spy novels, I felt that Red Year really balanced the tension and fear of being discovered, and of having to choose one’s loyalties, exceptionally well. I also appreciated the obvious research that went into this story. The language never felt stilted as some period novels can, but neither did it sound too contemporary – it retained the flavor of the 20s, and the Chinese and Russian characters’ ‘voices’ felt true to their natures and countries of origin.

This is a thoughtful novel. It’s sexy, yes, and there’s no small amount of intrigue and jeopardy, but it’s also thoughtful. A quick read is possible, but I would encourage a slower, more measured experience to really appreciate all the nuance with which Shapin has infused her story.

Goes well with piroshkis, borscht, and strong, smoky, black tea. And seriously, listen to the Interwar Duets while you read. You won’t be sorry.


Tour Stops:TLC Book Tours

Thursday, July 27th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, August 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, August 2nd: Wining Wife

Saturday, August 5th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Monday, August 7th: The Paperback Pilgrim

Tuesday, August 15th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, August 21st: Dwell in Possibility

Tuesday, August 22nd: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 30th: Girl Who Reads

TBD: Sara the Introvert

Review: Kiss Carlo, by Adriana Trigiani

Kiss CarloAbout the book, Kiss Carlo

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 20, 2017)

From Adriana Trigiani, the beloved New York Times-bestselling author of The Shoemaker’s Wife, comes an exhilarating epic novel of love, loyalty, and creativitythe story of an Italian-American family on the cusp of change.

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.

Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.

From the dreamy mountaintop village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, to the vibrant streets of South Philly, to the close-knit enclave of Roseto, Pennsylvania, to New York City during the birth of the golden age of television, Kiss Carlo is a powerful, inter-generational story that celebrates the ties that bind, while staying true to oneself when all hope seems lost.

Told against the backdrop of some of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, this novel brims with romance as long buried secrets are revealed, mistaken identities are unmasked, scores are settled, broken hearts are mended and true love reigns. Trigiani’s consummate storytelling skill and her trademark wit, along with a dazzling cast of characters will enthrall readers. Once again, the author has returned to her own family garden to create an unforgettable feast. Kiss Carlo is a jubilee, resplendent with hope, love, and the abiding power of la famiglia.

Buy, read and discuss Kiss Carlo:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Adriana-Trigiani-AP-Photo-by-Tim-StephensonAbout the author, Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Connect with Adriana:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts:

I love Adriana Trigiani’s writing because her use of language is so lyrical and because her characters and plots celebrate working people – blue collar people – in a way that never panders.

In Kiss Carlo, we get to spend time with Trigiani characters in Italy, in South Philadelphia, and in New York, and we meet people who are cab drivers, flower sellers, and the company of a small Shakespeare company, and all are supremely real and vibrant and somewhat familiar to me, as half my own family are New Jersey Neapolitans who also refer to tomato sauce as gravy, the way Minna’s family does.

Nicky, the central figure in most of this story, is a cab driver moonlighting as a stage hand, and he practically leaps off the page, as do the multitudes of aunts, uncles and cousins who surround him.

While this is a period piece – set after World War II and at the dawn of Television’s golden age – it’s primarily a story about family – the people we love and hate and can’t live with, and wouldn’t dream of living without, and what it means when your dreams don’t align with what your family expects, and those things transcend period.

Goes well with spaghetti with meatballs and homemade tomato gravy.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 20th: Life By Kristen

Wednesday, June 21st: bookchickdi

Thursday, June 22nd: A Night’s Dream of Books

Friday, June 23rd: Time 2 Read

Monday, June 26th: Library of Clean Reads

Tuesday, June 27th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, June 28th: Always With a Book

Friday, June 30th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, July 3rd: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, July 4th: The many thoughts of a reader

Wednesday, July 5th: Tina Says…

Friday, July 7th: My Journey Back

Friday, July 7th: Stephany Writes

Monday, July 10th: Wining Wife

Tuesday, July 11th: West Metro Mommy

Wednesday, July 12th: BookNAround

Thursday, July 13th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Thursday, July 13th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Tuesday, July 18th: Bibliotica

Review: My Glory Was I have Such Friends, by Amy Silverstein – with Giveaway

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends About the book, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Wave (June 27, 2017)

In this moving memoir about the power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit, Amy Silverstein tells the story of the extraordinary group of women who supported her as she waited on the precipice for a life-saving heart transplant.

Nearly twenty-six years after receiving her first heart transplant, Amy Silverstein’s donor heart plummeted into failure. If she wanted to live, she had to take on the grueling quest for a new heart—immediately.

A shot at survival meant uprooting her life and moving across the country to California. When her friends heard of her plans, there was only one reaction: “I’m there.” Nine remarkable women—Joy, Jill, Leja, Jody, Lauren, Robin, Valerie, Ann, and Jane—put demanding jobs and pressing family obligations on hold to fly across the country and be by Amy’s side. Creating a calendar spreadsheet, the women—some of them strangers to one another—passed the baton of friendship, one to the next, and headed straight and strong into the battle to help save Amy’s life.

Empowered by the kind of empathy that can only grow with age, these women, each knowing Amy from different stages of her life, banded together to provide her with something that medicine alone could not.  Sleeping on a cot beside her bed, they rubbed her back and feet when the pain was unbearable, adorned her room with death-distracting decorations, and engaged in their “best talks ever.”  They saw the true measure of their friend’s strength, and they each responded in kind.

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends is a tribute to these women and the intense hours they spent together—hours of heightened emotion and self-awareness, where everything was laid bare. Candid and heartrending, this once-in-a-lifetime story of connection and empathy is a powerful reminder of the ultimate importance of “showing up” for those we love.

Buy, read, and discuss, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes &  Noble | Goodreads


Amy Silverstein AP Photo by Deborah FeingoldAbout the author, Amy Silverstein

Amy Silverstein is the author of Sick Girl, which won a “Books for a Better Life Award” and was a finalist for the Border’s Original Voices Award. She earned her Juris Doctor at New York University School of Law, has served on the Board of the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), and is an active speaker and writer on women’s health issues and patient advocacy. She lives in New York.

Connect with Amy:

Website | Facebook


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

Memoirs are always tricky things to review, at least for me, because it feels a little like you’re judging the author’s life, rather than their writing and storytelling skills. In the case of My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, though, I had to keep reminding myself that this is a memoir, because the writing is so tight, the voice so consistent, and the storytelling so well-paced that it reads like a novel.

Silverstein is candid in telling her story. I haven’t read her previous book, Sick Girl, but I’m guessing her tone was similar in that: upbeat, despite the description of sometimes-grim events, a little bit snarky, a little bit self-deprecating, a lot poignant…

What really struck me, though, is that Silverstein’s book is full of joy.

Obviously when writing a story about life-threatening heart issues and the race between remaining beats in your existing heart and time to be hooked up with a new organ ready for transplant, you’re going to be joyful just for having survived it (spoiler: she lived, and wrote this book). But the sense of joy I felt while reading this was more than that. It was the sense that every friend mentioned in this memoir, these women (including one actually called Joy) who took chunks of their lives to support the author through a harrowing experience, both gave Amy strength and comfort, but also received the same.

It is my hope that most of us will never have to get so close to a ‘premature’ death that we’re not just looking it in the eye, but smelling its foul breath (seriously, does death floss?) , but if we do, we should all be so lucky as to have friends like Amy’s, and like Amy herself, because it’s clear from this memoir that her friendships go both ways.

Goes well with banana pudding with ‘nilla wafers.


My Glory Was I Had Such Friends Giveaway

One lucky reader in the US can get a copy of this book. How? Leave a comment on this post (make sure you put a valid email in the box for it) telling me about your best friend. (You can also find my tweet about this post, and retweet it for a second entry – I’m @melysse.)

Deadline is 11:59 PM CDT on Thursday, July 20th. Winner will be notified by email.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 27th: Leigh Kramer

Wednesday, June 28th: Becklist

Thursday, June 29th: Tina Says…

Friday, June 30th: Openly Bookish

Monday, July 3rd: StephTheBookworm

Tuesday, July 4th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, July 5th: BookNAround

Thursday, July 6th: Bibliotica

Monday, July 10th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Tuesday, July 11th: Literary Quicksand

Wednesday, July 12th: The Desert Bibliophile

Thursday, July 13th: Sara the Introvert

Monday, July 17th: She’s All Booked

Tuesday, July 18th: Everyone Needs Therapy

Wednesday, July 19th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, July 20th: Wining Wife