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.:


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.

Giveaway (US Only)

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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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.


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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

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:


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.

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Thursday, July 27th: Tina Says…

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Wednesday, August 2nd: Wining Wife

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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.

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Tuesday, June 20th: Life By Kristen

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

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Monday, June 26th: Library of Clean Reads

Tuesday, June 27th: Based on a True Story

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

Wednesday, July 5th: Tina Says…

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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

Review: The Year of Loving, by Traci L. Slatton

The Year of LovingAbout the book, The Year of Loving


  • Print Length: 433 pages
  • Publisher: Parvati Press (October 10, 2016)

Art gallerist Sarah Paige’s world is crumbling. One daughter barely speaks to her and the other is off the rails. Sarah is struggling to keep her gallery afloat in a tough market when she learns that her most beloved friend has cancer. In the midst of her second divorce, two men come into her life: an older man who offers companionship and stability and an exciting younger man whose life is as chaotic as hers.

Sarah’s courage, humor, and spirit strengthen her, but how much can she bear, and what sustains her when all else falls away?

Buy, read, and discuss The Year of Loving:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Traci L. SlattonAbout the author, Traci L. Slatton

Traci L. Slatton is the international bestselling author of historical, paranormal, and romantic novels, including Immortal and Broken; the award-winning dystopian After series, which includes FallenCold LightFar Shore and Blood Sky; the bittersweet romantic comedy The Love of My (Other) Life; and the vampire art history romp The Botticelli Affair. She has also published the lyrical poetry collection Dancing in the Tabernacle and The Art of Life, a photo-essay about figurative sculpture through the ages. Her book Piercing Time & Space explores the meeting ground of science and spirituality.

Connect with Traci

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

From the first moment of meeting Sarah, the twice (almost)-divorced mother of two girls, I was hooked on her story. Who else could meet a man by literally sticking her ass in his face (okay, it’s a clothed ass, and it’s accidental – she’s just tripped over her umbrella, knocked over a store display, and is bending over to solve both problems when her skirt rides up)? But what seems like a setup for a stereotypical romantic comedy is actually just one of many humorous moments in a story that, at times, is gravely serious. It’s that ability to find the priceless laughter in the midst of poignant narrative where author Traci L. Slatton really shines.

Sarah, of course, is the most vivid character in the book, because it’s her story. She’s suffering financial and emotional bankruptcy. Her soon-to-be-ex husband is playing their daughters against her, and her best friend reveals she has cancer. As well, she’s caught between two men, one too young, a representative of that class of people my friends and I often refer to as an entitlement of hipsters, the other older, possibly too much so, and more reserved.

It’s enough fodder for a year of soap opera-esque drama, but author Slatton keeps things grounded, giving us a story of a real-seeming woman’s struggles and satisfactions, tribulations and triumphs that keeps us glued to her story from that afore-mentioned first meeting to the very last page.

If you like reading about smart, sassy, somewhat sarcastic women who find their inner strength just when they most need it, and understand that love is both a risk and reward, you will love The Year of Loving.



Review: The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn

The Alice NetworkAbout the book, The Alice Network

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 6, 2017)

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Buy, read, and discuss The Alice Network:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Kate Quinn Kate Quinn - Photo Credit: Kate Furek (AP)

Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Connect with Kate:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

Even in fiction there aren’t enough stories about female spies. Aside from Mata Hari, the only one I can think of is the Pink Carnation, the fictional character at the heart of Lauren Willig’s series which jumps off from The Scarlet Pimpernel.

The Alice Network is nothing like Willig’s novels. Rather, author Kate Quinn has given us a double story about a network of female spies operating during World War I & II. In the earlier time period, we meet Eve, strong, courageous, and determined. In the latter, the focus is on Charlie, brought to Europe by her parents to take care of a ‘little problem,’ of the type women have been quietly handling since the dawn of time.

She’s also searching for her cousin Rose, presumed dead, whom no one has  heard from in three years.

Inevitably, Charlie’s and Eve’s stories become intertwined, but even as the two get to know each other, and Charlie finds a place in the world of her own choosing, Eve’s story unwinds for us also.

Both women are intelligent, passionate, driven, and somewhat ‘damaged’ by what life has handed them, and both fight against the constraints that society puts on women. To me, it was fascinating to see what shifted between those two wars, and what remained the same. As well, it was interesting to consider what still hasn’t changed, in the years since then.

I found both characters to be quite engaging, dimensional women. Charlie, especially, is someone I’d love to share tea or coffee with, but all of Quinn’s creations felt like real people. Charlie’s mother made me laugh and cringe in the opening scenes – I think every young woman has a relative a little like her, or knows someone who does.

I also appreciated Quinn’s eye for detail and specifics (Charlie smokes Gauloises, for example).

If you like meaty, gripping historical fiction with strong female characters and themes that echo down the years, you will love The Alice Network.

Goes well with a snack plate of sliced baguette with brie or Stilton cheese (depending on your taste), some olives, and a glass of red wine, followed by an espresso and a piece of dark chocolate.

TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 6th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, June 7th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, June 9th: Staircase Wit

Monday, June 12th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, June 13th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Tuesday, June 13th: Laura’s Reviews

Wednesday, June 14th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot

Thursday, June 15th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, June 15th: Girl Who Reads

Friday, June 16th: BookNAround

Monday, June 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Tuesday, June 20th: The Cactus Chronicles

Wednesday, June 21th: Unabridged Chick

Thursday, June 22nd: Bibliotica

Friday, June 23rd: Leah DeCesare

Monday, June 26th: Book by Book

Tuesday, June 27th: Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, June 28th: Kritters Ramblings

Thursday, June 29th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, June 30th: Literary Quicksand