Review: The Silent Fountain, by Victoria Fox

About the book, The Silent FountainThe Silent Fountain

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: MIRA (October 31, 2017)

Hollywood, 1978 

Tragedy sends troubled film star Vivien Lockhart into the arms of Giovanni Moretti—and it seems her fortunes have finally changed. Until she meets his sister and learns that her new husband’s past holds dark secrets…

Tuscany, Present day 

Lucy Whittaker needs to disappear. But her new home, the crumbling Castillo Barbarossa, is far from the secluded paradise it seemed. Strange sounds come from the attic. The owner of the house will never meet her in person.

The fountain in the courtyard is silent—but has never run dry.

Across the decades, Vivien and Lucy find themselves trapped in the idyllic Italian villa. 

And if they are ever to truly escape its walls, they must first unearth its secrets…

Buy, read, and discuss The Silent Fountain:

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


About the author, Victoria Fox Victoria Fox

Victoria Fox is a bestselling author in the UK. She used to work in publishing and is now the author of six novels. The Silent Fountain is her breakout novel in North America. She divides her time between Bristol and London.

Connect with Victoria:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts: Melissa A. Bartell

The Silent Fountain is not a fast read. Rather, it unwinds like a road through the Italian countryside, the kind where there might be sunflowers on one side and a grove of olive trees on the other. It’s full of intrigue and deception, scandal and sorrow, and it’s worth every moment it takes to follow the various twists and turns.

I’ve always enjoyed parallel stories. In this novel, we have the story of faded movie star, Vivian Lockhart, a recluse wrapped in mystery and loss, and Lucy, young, vibrant, and equally troubled. As these two women exist near each other, around each other, and eventually open up to each other, each works through her own issues, and while the bond they form is neither lasting nor unbreakable, it’s supremely real nevertheless.

Of course, there is a third primary character in this moody book: Castillo Barbarossa itself. It’s an old, spooky house with dark corners and the titular “Silent Fountain,” and it looms large throughout the entire story, serving as both setting and silent chorus.

While this book was, ultimately, nothing like what I expected, it was a compelling read, well crafted, and truly beautiful.

Goes well with buttery roasted chicken, roasted peppers and tomatoes, and a bottle of any local table wine you like.


Victoria Fox’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: The Silent Fountain at TLC Book Tours

Monday, October 30th: OMG Reads – excerpt

Tuesday, October 31st: From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, October 31st: Art Books Coffee on Instagram

Tuesday, October 31st: A Thousand Books to Read on Instagram

Wednesday, November 1st: Annika B Bauer on Instagram

Wednesday, November 1st: Beach.House.Books on Instagram

Thursday, November 2nd: The Lit Bitch

Monday, November 6th: A Holland Reads

Monday, November 6th: Girls in Books blog and Instagram

Tuesday, November 7th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen blog and Instagram

Wednesday, November 8th: Suzy Approved – excerpt

Thursday, November 9th: Books & Bindings

Friday, November 10th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Friday, November 10th: Palmer’s Page Turners – excerpt

Friday, November 10th: Bookish Cassie on Instagram

Saturday, November 11th: From the Library of Mrs. Gardner blog and Instagram

Monday, November 13th: Ms Nose in a Book

Monday, November 13th: Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, November 14th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Wednesday, November 15th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, November 16th: Broken Teepee blog and Instagram

Thursday, November 16th: Bibliotica

Friday, November 17th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, November 20th: LiteraryJo Reviews blog and Instagram

Tuesday, November 21st: Novel Gossip blog and Instagram

Wednesday, November 22nd: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Friday, November 24th: Kahakai Kitchen blog and Instagram

Review: The Welcome Home Diner, by Peggy Lampman

About the book, The Welcome Home DinerThe Welcome Home Diner

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (October 10, 2017)

Betting on the city of Detroit’s eventual comeback, cousins Addie and Samantha decide to risk it all on an affordable new house and a culinary career that starts with renovating a vintage diner in a depressed area of town. There’s just one little snag in their vision.

Angus, a weary, beloved local, is strongly opposed to his neighborhood’s gentrification—and his concerns reflect the suspicion of the community. Shocked by their reception, Addie and Samantha begin to have second thoughts.

As the long hours, problematic love interests, and underhanded pressures mount, the two women find themselves increasingly at odds, and soon their problems threaten everything they’ve worked for. If they are going to realize their dreams, Addie and Samantha must focus on rebuilding their relationship. But will the neighborhood open their hearts to welcome them home?

Buy, read, and discuss The Welcome Home Diner:

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


About the author, Peggy Lampman

Peggy LampmanPeggy Lampman was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications—summa cum laude—from the University of Michigan, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter and photographer for a public-relations firm. When she returned to Ann Arbor, her college town, she opened a specialty foods store, the Back Alley Gourmet. Years later, she sold the store and started writing a weekly food column for the Ann Arbor News and MLive. Lampman’s first novel, The Promise Kitchen, published in 2016, garnered several awards and accolades. She is married and has two children. She also writes the popular blog www.dinnerfeed.com.

Connect with Peggy:

Website | BlogFacebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I didn’t grow up working in the New Jersey diner my family owned, but that’s mostly because my mother moved us away from New Jersey… and also because I was too young… but I have fond memories of spinning on the blue vinyl stools until I was sick, or arriving with my grandparents and being given a dish of my cousin Anthony’s amazing rice pudding.

Peggy Lampman’s novel The Welcome Home Diner reminded me of all the best parts of the diner experience – the regulars, being an integral part of the neighborhood – but it also reminded me of the drama that comes with any family-owned business: the resentment, the stress, the struggle to have a life separate from work.

I really enjoyed the dynamic between Addie and Samantha, these cousins who act much like sisters. I have cousins like that as well, but I’m not sure I’d want to go into business with them.

While the diner Addie and Samantha are trying to restore and reopen is almost its own character in this story, I found the heart of the novel to be family. What won’t we do for those we love, and what will we jump into, sometimes without due preparation?

Full of vivid characters, emotionally truthful situations, and great descriptions, The Welcome Home Diner is better than any blue plate special.

Goes well with a cup of coffee and a dish of rice pudding.


Peggy Lampman’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, October 16th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, October 17th: A Thousand Books to Read

Wednesday, October 18th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Thursday, October 19th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Friday, October 20th: Katy’s Library blog and Instagram

Saturday, October 21st: Beth Fish Reads

Monday, October 23rd: The Sketchy Reader

Tuesday, October 24th: The Sketchy Reader – recipe from the book

Tuesday, October 24th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Wednesday, October 25th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, October 26th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, October 27th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Wednesday, November 1st: Why Girls are Weird

Thursday, November 2nd: Bookchickdi

Friday, November 3rd: BookNAround

Monday, November 6th: Read Write Repeat

Tuesday, November 7th: Booksie’s Blog

Thursday, November 9th: Bibliotica

Thursday, November 9th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Friday, November 10th: What is That Book About

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).)


Watch the Trailer


Enter the Giveaway

Win

  • Biscotti artigianale
  • Local honey
  • 3 x DVD of the Cookucina series
  • Plus a signed copy of A Recipe For Disaster

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Hiddensee, by Gregory Maguire

Hiddensee, by Gregory MaguireAbout the book, Hiddensee

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (October 31, 2017)

From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.

Buy, read, and discuss Hiddensee:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gregory Maguire Gregory-Maguire-AP-2017-Photo-credit-Andy-Newman

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly StepsisterLostMirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes WickedSon of a WitchA 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


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I’ve been a fan of The Nutcracker in all its variations since a family friend gifted me with a copy of the book A Very Young Dancer when I was five. Forty-two years later, I still can’t get enough of it. The Tchaikovsky music is ever present in my iTunes playlist, and I spend the month of December watching every single production of the ballet that makes it to cable. (Ovation‘s annual ‘Battle of the Nutcrackers’ is a favorite event.) Somewhere in a box, I even have a wooden nutcracker doll, sent to me by my oldest auntie, when she and her husband were stationed in Ramstein, Germany in the 1970s.

My point is, The Nutcracker is part of my DNA, and the reason I was initially drawn to read and review this book, Hiddensee.

The thing is, Gregory Maguire’s novel has no resemblance to the story we all love. At first, that was disappointing. I was looking forward to an in-depth look at the Nutcracker-Prince’s story. I was hoping for the unresolved sexual tension between Herr Drosselmeier and Klara (known as Marie in some versions of the story) to be resolved.

That is not what Hiddensee is.

Instead, Maguire’s novel is the origin story of Dirk Drosselmeier, the boy who grows up to become the toymaker who creates the famous doll.

In terms of style and craft, Hiddensee is excellent. Maguire has a way of using simple language to create vivid scenes, evoke real emotion, and immerse us in whatever world he’s choosing to inhabit. In this novel, he recreated the tone of all those early E.T.A. Hoffman (who wrote the original Nutcracker fairy tale) and the Brothers Grimm, mixing in more than a little German romanticism. If you’ve ever read Rilke or Goethe, you will be extremely comfortable with Hiddensee, because it has that faintly dreamlike quality those two poets used to great effect.

In terms of story, I was a little disappointed. Oh, I was invested in young Dirk as a character, but I was expecting a Nutcracker story, not a coming-of-age story about a young man. As well, I found that this novel lacked Maguire’s typically excellent pacing, having a start-and-stop effect that I found a bit off-putting.

Perhaps my perception was colored by expectation, or perhaps in the twenty years since Maguire gave us Wicked (and I was an early reader of that novel), he’s lost sight of his goals, because I’m honestly not entirely sure what story he was trying to tell. Dirk is an interesting young man, but there was an air of detachment about him – almost as if he was on the Asperger’s spectrum – that kept me slightly disconnected from his story.

Then, too, there was the fact that every time the story started to rev up, it seemed to stall.

Don’t get me wrong, an ‘average’ offering from Maguire is still more engaging than any offering from a host of other authors, and there was much about this story to love – introductions to German philosophy included – but if you’re going into it expecting it to be a rehashing of the ballet or the fairy tale, you will be disappointed.

Bottom line: read this without the ballet goggles and you’ll find much to enjoy.

Goes well with chestnut pastries and strong coffee.


Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 31st: BookExpression

Wednesday, November 1st: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, November 2nd: Man of La Book

Friday, November 3rd: The Desert Bibliophile

Monday, November 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, November 7th: The Sketchy Reader

Wednesday, November 8th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Wednesday, November 8th: Reading Reality

Thursday, November 9th: Broken Teepee

Friday, November 10th: Literary Quicksand

Monday, November 13th: Sara the Introvert

Tuesday, November 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, November 15th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick

Friday, November 17th: Based on a True Story

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: A Deadly Eclair: a French Bistro Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber

About the book, A Deadly EclairA Deadly Eclair

 

  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (November 7, 2017)

It’s always been Mimi Rousseau’s dream to open her own bistro, but it seems beyond her grasp since she’s been chased back home to Nouvelle Vie in Napa Valley by her late husband’s tremendous debt. Until her best friend Jorianne James introduces her to entrepreneur Bryan Baker who invests in promising prospects. Now, working the bistro and inn until she’s able to pay it off and call it her own, Mimi is throwing the inn’s first wedding ever.

The wedding will be the talk of the town, as famous talk show host Angelica Edmonton, daughter of Bryan’s half-brother, Edison, has chosen the inn as her perfect venue. Anxious, Mimi is sure things are going to turn south, especially when Edison gets drunk and rowdy at the out-of-towners’ dinner, but by the evening, things begin to look up again. That is until six AM rolls around, and Bryan is found dead at the bistro with an éclair stuffed in his mouth. And the fingers point at Mimi, whose entire loan is forgiven in Bryan’s will.

Now it’s up to Mimi to clear her name and get to the bottom of things before the killer turns up the heat again in A Deadly Éclair, the scrumptious series debut by Agatha Award-winning author Daryl Wood Gerber.

Buy, read, and discuss A Deadly Eclair:

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


About the author, Daryl Wood Gerber

Daryl Wood GerberAgatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber is best known for her nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries and CHEESE SHOP MYSTERIES, which she pens as Avery Aames. She will soon debut the new French Bistro Mysteries. Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: DAYS OF SECRETS and GIRL ON THE RUN. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl:

Website | Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellI saved reading this book until October, knowing that I’d be writing my review to go live on Halloween, and I ended up reading it while watching the wildfires in California decimate a significant amount of the Napa valley and surrounding areas, which made this lovely, cozy mystery feel just a little bit bittersweet. I can’t help but wonder if the author, Daryl Wood Gerber, will use the fires in future entries into this series.

Brutal reality aside, I really enjoyed this book. Cozy mysteries can sometimes feel too saccharine, but Gerber’s writing is witty and on point, and her plot moved at the perfect pace. True, a wine country wedding in a French bistro is inherently frothy, but she made sure most of the froth was in coffee drinks and on dresses.

Bistro owner-cum-amateur detective Mimi was likeable from the first page, though I felt that some of her interactions while in sleuthing mode were a little bit abrupt. Overall, however, the balance of cooking and questioning was a good one, and the wedding background was the perfect choice for a series opener.

I also really liked Heather, whose no-nonsense style was the perfect counter to Mimi’s self-doubt, Jorianne, her best friend, and Bryan, who, sadly, becomes the victim of the eponymous eclair.

“Go big or don’t go at all,” Mimi is advised by entrepreneur (and uncle of the bride), Bryan Baker, but it would seem that Daryl Wood Gerber received the same advice, because she’s certainly gone big with the launch of her new French Bistro series, giving us a great story full of lively, interesting characters as well as a collection of the recipes used in the novel (as much as I love eclairs, I’m most interested in the onion soup).

Goes well with espresso or cappuccino and either a raspberry  sour cream tart (see the book for recipe).

 

 

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)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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: Rarity from the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton

About the book, Rarity from the Hollow Rarity from the Hollow

 

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Dog Horn Publishing; 2nd Revised edition edition (November 3, 2016)

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out,and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage — an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It’s up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.

Will Lacy’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy,comedy and satire. It is a children’s story for adults, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended.

Praise for Rarity from the Hollow:

“The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in years.” —Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former editor for Reader’s Digest

“Quirky, profane, disturbing… In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.” –Evelyn Somers, The Missouri Review

. “…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse…tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…profound…a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” — Awesome Indies (Gold Medal)

“…sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…a brilliant writer.” —Readers’ Favorite (Gold Medal)

“Rarity from the Hollow is an original and interesting story of a backwoods girl who saves the Universe in her fashion. Not for the prudish.” —Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author

“…Good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” — The Baryon Review 

“…Brilliant satires such as this are genius works of literature in the same class as Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’ I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.” — Marcha’s Two-Cents Worth

“…I know this all sounds pretty whack, and it is, but it’s also quite moving. Lacy Dawn and her supporting cast – even Brownie, the dog – are some of the most engaging characters I’ve run across in a novel in some time….”  — Danehy-Oakes, Critic whose book reviews often appear in the New York Review of Science Fiction

“… The author gives us much pause for thought as we read this uniquely crafted story about some real life situations handled in very unorthodox ways filled with humor, sarcasm, heartfelt situations and fun.” — Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ Magazine

Buy, read, and discuss Rarity from the Hollow:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Robert Eggleton

Robert EggletonRobert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from1982 through 1997.

Today, he is a retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Author proceeds support the prevention of child maltreatment. http://www.childhswv.org/

Connect with Robert:

Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI first read Rarity from the Hollow two years ago, when the author, Robert Eggleton contacted me and asked me to consider it. It seemed interesting, edgy and different, so I took a chance, and was immediately hooked on his concept and his story. I was supposed to review it then, life got in the way, and it was a year (and a revised edition) later before I wrote a review. Somehow, that review got eaten by WordPress, and after far too much patience on Mr. Eggleton’s part, I’ve rewritten it and am posting it now.

Described as a ‘fairy tale for adults,’ this novel looks at PTSD, poverty, child sexual abuse and child murder – any one of which could be considered a trigger for most readers – wraps them in literary science fiction, and gives us a protagonist in Lacy Dawn (who is also the primary POV character) who is sensitive, spunky, inquisitive, and manages to contain within herself a combination of too much awareness and childish innocence that should not work, but strangely does.

Calling this novel a fairy tale or science fiction, while accurate, is also limiting, because it’s so much more than both. Parts of this story are quite tragic – when we first meet Lacy Dawn, she is coaching her best friend Faith on a spelling test, her father is abusive and her mother is battered in both body and spirit. Within a few chapters, Faith has been killed, but her spirit lingers and her relationship with Lacy Dawn does as well, but then, our heroine also talks to trees, understands her dog Brownie, and has an android boyfriend named DotCom who is also recruiting her for a business venture (no, nothing salacious).

(As an aside, DotCom is my favorite of the supporting characters – but that’s probably because of my decades old crush on Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

In many ways, Rarity from the Hollow feels like a coming-of-age novel for adults. As we experience the end of true childhood and the beginning of adolescence with Lacy Dawn, we also confront the leftover issues from our own childhoods – our relationships with our friends and families, our own choices about sex and love and when to act on each, how we handled college and our first careers.

Unlike Lacy Dawn, we don’t have magical abilities or help from androids from other planets. We have to muddle through our lives in a world that is increasingly dangerous and frightening, but novels like Rarity from the Hollow give us the ability to engage in self-reflection while living vicariously through fictional characters. Author Eggleton has couched some very important truths in a story that is equal parts entertaining and provocative.

Not to be overlooked are some truly comic moments. DotCom’s anatomy changes as he moves toward an adult relationship and there’s a creative use of a laptop and the inner wish that perhaps he should have worn clothes that is described in a way worthy of a Monty Python sketch.

If you enjoyed Piers Anthony’s Mode series (which I haven’t read in over twenty years), or are a fan of the work of Douglas Adams (Not just The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m addressing those who like Dirk Gently, also.) you will likely enjoy Rarity from the Hollow, because Robert Eggleton excels at mixing the absurd and nearly preposterous with the incredibly real. However, even if you’re not a fan of those authors, I still recommend this novel. It’s sharply written, well crafted, genre-defying, and totally worth the time spent reading it.

Goes well with anything you enjoy, but I’d recommend Mexican street tacos – the kind where you get a kilo of grilled steak and a stack of tortillas and fill them yourself – and a bottle of Indio or Negra Modelo beer.

 

 

 

Review: The First Signs of April, by Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

About the book, The First Signs of April

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: She Writes Press (September 5, 2017)

The First Signs of AprilWounds fester and spread in the darkness of silence. The swirling reds, oranges, and yellows of fall’s foliage dance alongside Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe like flames as she tears through the winding back roads of the Northeast Kingdom, Vermont. Desperate to outrun memories that flood her mind, no matter how hard she rolls her motorcycle’s throttle, she cannot escape them.

Shut down and disconnected, Briscoe has lived her life in silence in order to stay alive. Her grief is buried, and shame is the skin that wraps around her bones—but then, following the brutal murder of a local teacher, she is forced as a grief counselor to face her lifetime of unresolved sorrow. Will she finally be able to crack the hard edges of her heart and allow in the light of truth so real healing can occur?

Buy, read, and discuss The First Signs of April

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the Author, Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

Mary-Elizabeth BriscoeMary-Elizabeth Briscoe is a licensed mental health counselor currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice in northeastern Vermont. She currently spends her time between Cape Cod, Vermont, and Ireland. She has a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and a Certified Trauma Professional. She has been a lecturer for Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies St. Johnsbury, Vermont campus. She has contributed to Cape Woman Online and Sweatpants and Coffee magazine. This is her first book. 

Connect with Mary-Elizabeth

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI love memoirs, because I love to peek into other people’s lives, but I often feel weird reviewing them, because in a way, reviewing a memoir is like passing judgement on the writer’s life, rather than just their book.

In this case, I didn’t have that problem, because Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe’s memoir The First Signs of April, is so well written it feels like reading a novel. Her descriptions are vivid and realistic – I felt like I was on her motorcycle with her, or walking her dog, or any number of other places – and her voice is one of wit and candor mixed with hard-won self-awareness.

I really appreciated the way Briscoe alternated chapters set in the ‘present’ of her memoir – 2014 – with chapters in 2000 and 1982. It really felt cinematic experiencing her story that way, her growing up/coming of age, her early adulthood, and her more contemporary self, and it’s that juxtaposition that really made this book more than just a memoir, but something truly special.

True, there are some very dark moment in Briscoe’s story. There is blood and loss and heartache. Overall, though, I believe that this memoir has a note of hope running through it.

Goes well with sharp cheddar, fresh bread, and a nice red wine.


Tour Schedule:

Sept. 7: Teddy Rose Book Reviews and Plus More (Book Spotlight/Giveaway)
Sept. 20: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom (Review)
Sept. 28: Debra Smouse (Review)
Oct. 3: Soapy Violinist (Review)
Oct. 4: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)
Oct. 18: The Book Connection (Guest Post)
Oct. 24: Bibliotica (Review)
Nov. 3: Life’s a Stage (Guest Post)
Nov. 4: Readaholic Zone (Review)
Nov. 15: Donna’s Book Reviews (Review)
 

Review: Scion of the Fox, by S.M. Beiko

 

Scion of the FoxAbout the book, Scion of the Fox

  • Print Length: 440 pages
  • Publisher: ECW Press (October 17, 2017)
  • Series: The Realms of the Ancient (Book 1)

Roan Harken considers herself a typical high school student — dead parents, an infected eyeball, and living in the house of her estranged, currently comatose grandmother (well, maybe not so typical) — but she’s uncovering the depth of the secrets her family left behind. Saved from the grasp of Death itself by a powerful fox spirit named Sil, Roan must harness mysterious ancient power . . . and quickly. A snake-monster called Zabor lies in wait in the bed of the frozen Assiniboine River, hungry for the sacrifice of spirit-blood in exchange for keeping the flood waters at bay. Thrust onto an ancient battlefield, Roan soon realizes that to maintain the balance of the world, she will have to sacrifice more than her life in order to take her place as Scion of the Fox. 

American Gods meets Princess Mononoke in this powerful first installment of a trilogy sure to capture readers’ imaginations everywhere.

Praise for Scion of the Fox

“A thrilling tale underscored by excellent, deep, and unique world-building.” — Kelley Armstrong, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“A smart, complex, animal-based fantasy.” — Kirkus Reviews

“S.M. Beiko’s Scion of the Fox is the thrilling first installment in what will surely be an exceptionally imaginative trilogy. Roan Harken is an instantly relatable heroine, a girl with guts and moxie in spades, and Beiko moves her story from hilarious to heartbreaking with true literary grace. Evocative prose and crisp, crackling dialogue perfectly define this rich fantasy world. I can’t wait for Book Two!” — Charlene Challenger, author of The Voices in Between and The Myth in Distance

“In Scion of the Fox, S.M. Beiko introduces us to Roan, a wry, fierce young woman whose world changes in the blink of an infected eye. She’s more than she has ever imagined, and there’s enchantment everywhere — flying, running, and swimming around her — transforming everything and everyone she has ever known. Beiko’s magic-steeped Winnipeg is a marvel, and Roan is a delight. I look forward to following her into her next adventure.” — Caitlin Sweet, author of The Pattern Scars

Buy, read, and discuss Scion of the Fox:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Kobo | Goodreads


About the author, S.M. Beiko

S.M. Beiko by Teri HoffordSamantha “S.M.” Beiko has been writing and drawing strange, fantastical things since before she can remember. She currently works as a freelance editor, graphic designer, and consultant and is the co-publisher of ChiZine Publications and ChiGraphic. Her first novel, The Lake and the Library, was nominated for the Manitoba Book Award for Best First Book as well as the 2014 Aurora Award. Scion of the Fox is the first book of the Realms of Ancient trilogy. Samantha lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Connect with Samantha:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellWhile I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, I don’t really read a lot of either genre any more. I still love it, I just have broader tastes than I did when I was a geeky teenager. Scion of the Fox, the first novel in S.M. Beiko’s Realms of the Ancient series might have successfully lured me back, though.

Engaging from the very first page, this novel has the perfect balance of teenage angst, supernatural intrigue, fantasy mysticism, and even talking animals that manage to be neither cute nor precious (they’re not really talking animals, of course, but Denizens, a breed of… shapeshifter is the closest analogy, but that’s not really accurate).

Protagonist Roan Harken mixes the vulnerability of the smart girl who doesn’t really fit in, with the strength of the female heroes we love to see in contemporary media. She’d easily hold her own against Buffy Summers or Veronica Mars, and end up best friends with them at the end. Just as strongly written are Roan’s closest friends, Phae, who has been both supporter and sidekick since grade school, and wheel-chair bound Barton, who has a sort of instant kinship with Roan.

As with many YA stories, regardless of medium, the adults in this piece are largely ineffective (c.f. Aunt Dierdre, who means well, but doesn’t really take much action) or villainous (Uncle Arnas) while the younger generation tends to go off half-cocked, but that works in this story, and, fantastic elements aside, all of the relationships felt incredibly plausible.

Scion of the Fox was my first introduction to S.M. Beiko’s work, but I’ll happily read the rest of this series as it becomes available, and I’d recommend it to actual young people as well as adults who appreciate YA fiction.

Goes well with sliced apples dipped in peanut butter and a steaming mug of hot chocolate, whipped cream optional.

Scion of the Fox Blog Tour