North of Here, by Laurel Saville (@savillel) #review #tlcbooktours

About the book,  North of Here North of Here

  • Hardcover: 257 Pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (March 1, 2016)

Many may dream of a simpler life in the north woods, far away from the complications of the modern world. But in her absorbing and uncompromising second novel, North of Here (Lake Union; March 1, 2016), Laurel Saville reveals the dark side of such a life for four young people living in the Adirondack Mountains. This story of misguided decisions, a dangerous back-to-nature cult, and the universal search for meaning and love intertwines these troubled lives into a riveting blend of penetrating love story and persuasive page-turner. Saville, author of the #1 Kindle bestseller Henry and Rachel, once again taps her astute narrative powers in a tale of tragedy, survival, and love.

At the heart of the drama are four unforgettable, strikingly-drawn characters:

  • Miranda: A young “heiress” who discovers that the mountain property she has inherited is encumbered by her father’s debts and misdealing.
  • Dix: A self-assured “mountain man” who is really an educated, financially secure son of two accomplished professionals.
  • Darius: A preppy trust fund refugee who turns his own quest for meaning into a dangerous back-to-nature cult bent on healing lost souls
  • Sally: A brassy, street-smart social worker who, despite being perpetually unlucky in love, ultimately has the foresight to see the perils of loving Darius.

As this masterful novel unfolds, these four will become inextricably entwined in troubles that far exceed simple crimes of the heart.

Buy, read, and discuss North of Here

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

About the author, Laurel Saville Laurel Saville

Laurel Saville is the award-winning author of the memoir Unraveling Anne, the novel Henry and Rachel, and the four-part short story “How Much Living Can You Buy,” as well as numerous essays, short stories, and articles. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College.

Once again, Laurel Saville applies her “poetic, lyrical voice” (Booklist) to a story that captures the complications of the lives we live—or wish to live.

Connect with Laurel

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts

This book North of Here was my first exposure to Laurel Saville’s work, but reading her  work felt like curling up in a favorite couch – her language wasn’t at all simplistic, but it was still a very comfortable narrative style.

I really liked the way the four central characters, Dix, Miranda, Sally, and Darius, had distinct voices. At first Iwas concerned the Dix/Miranda story would play out like a cheesy romance novel, but Saville made both characters so real and flawed, and then turned the trope of the rugged handyman saving the spoiled damsel on its head, which I really appreciated. Similarly, in Sally and Darius she gave us two characters who were both difficult to suss out at first – Darius seemed like a nice, if slightly misguided guy, and Sally was portrayed as a white trash bitch – but then we were shown the truth of both characters.

In any other author’s hands the events in this novel – loss, death, depression, wanderlust, soul-searching, etc., would have been a story full of cliches and annoyances, something akin to old-school soap operas, and not in a good way.

Thankfully, Saville is incredibly talented. The Booklist quote above refers to her lyrical voice, and I have to agree. Saville’s storytelling never feels redundant, never slips into cliches or overly dramatic moments. Instead it is a gentle novel full of stark sadness  and incredible, naked truth.

It is that truthfulness that makes North of Here so gripping. The characters are completely vivid, and the book itself sings.

Goes well with homemade pie made with wild-picked berries, and a mug of strong coffee.

Laurel Saville’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 1st: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Wednesday, March 2nd: Bibliotica

Thursday, March 3rd: Just Commonly

Monday, March 7th: Reading is My Superpower

Tuesday, March 8th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Wednesday, March 9th: It’s a Mad Mad World

Thursday, March 10th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, March 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, March 15th: Book Dilettante

Wednesday, March 16th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Thursday, March 17th: FictionZeal

Friday, March 18th: My Book Retreat

Monday, March 21st: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Tuesday, March 22nd: Puddletown Reviews

Tuesday, March 22nd: A Holland Reads

Wednesday, March 23rd: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, March 24th: Why Girls Are Weird

Friday, March 25th: Walking with Nora

Monday, March 28th: Life is Story

Tuesday, March 29th: Mom in Love with Fiction

Wednesday, March 30th: A Bookish Affair

The Christos Mosaic, by Vincent Czyz

About the book, The Christos Mosaic The Christos Mosaic

  • Hardcover: 531 pages
  • Publisher: Blank Slate Press (October 27, 2015)

A suspicious death in Istanbul leaves one ancient scroll and clues to finding another in the hands of Drew Korchula, a thirty-two-year-old American ex-pat, a Turkish dwarf named Kadir, and Zafer, a Special Forces washout. Drew is desperate to turn everything over to the academic community, and in the process redeem himself in the eyes of his estranged wife, but Kadir and Zafer are only interested in what they can get for the scrolls on the black market. None of them anticipated a coven of shadowy Church operatives determined to prevent the revelations embodied in the priceless manuscripts from ever going public.

An action-packed, intellectual thriller unraveling a theological cold case more than two thousand years old, The Christos Mosaic is a monumental work of biblical research wrapped in a story of love, faith, human frailty, friendship, and forgiveness. The novel takes the reader through the backstreets of Istanbul, Antakya (ancient Antioch), and Cairo, to clandestine negotiations with wealthy antiquities smugglers and ruthless soldiers of fortune, to dusty Egyptian monasteries, on a nautical skirmish off the coast of Alexandria, and  finally to the ruins of Constantine’s palace buried beneath the streets of present-day Istanbul.

Buy, read, and discuss The Christos Mosaic

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

About the author, Vincent Czyz Vincent Czyz

Vincent Czyz is the author of The Christos Mosaic, a novel, and Adrift in a Vanishing City, a collection of short fiction. He received two fellowships from the NJ Council on the Arts and the W. Faulkner-W. Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction. The 2011 Truman Capote Fellow at Rutgers University, his stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, Shenandoah, AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, Tin House (online), Boston Review, Quiddity, The Tampa Review, The Georgetown Review, and Skidrow Penthouse, among other publications. He spent a total of nearly a decade in Istanbul, Turkey before settling in Jersey City. His work often deals with the existential themes found in art, myth and religion, dreams, and primal ways of perceiving the world.

My Thoughts MissMeliss

I confess, it took me a bit to really get into this book. I just didn’t connect with the main character, Drew, as he was in college, and at first, I couldn’t see why the Drew-at-university chapter was even there. At some point I realized that part of my reaction was because I received this book – which is a meaty 531 pages long – later than I’d hoped, so I didn’t have the time to sit with it, and the material, which basically boils down to “Was Jesus Real?” deserves, and even requires some digestion.

In terms of the subject of his novel, the theological and historical context, the mystery of the scroll in question, etc. Vincent Czyz has shown himself to be incredibly well-read, either from intense research or lifelong knowledge (probably both). You may not agree with some of the theories this book includes, but you can’t deny that the various arguments are supported.

As a novelist, author Czyz is a bit less polished, a bit more uneven. His dialogue is good, and even engaging, but I felt that his characters, especially Drew, could have used a little more depth. The plot was interesting, but the ending was predictable. Where he excelled was with his descriptions of places. In those cases, I felt like I was in Turkey, or on a college campus, or wherever the story was taking us.

If you’re really into religious history and the ages-old argument between fact and faith, you’ll probably enjoy this novel. If not, it’s likely to be the kind of thing that will appeal if you’re in the right mood when it comes into your life.

I believe Czyz has potential to grow as a novelist, and I liked this book enough that I’d definitely read his work again, but I’d be sure to set aside more time than I had.

Goes well with honeyed lamb, couscous, and mint tea.

Vincent Czyz’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, February 8th: It’s A Mad Mad World

Thursday, February 11th: Bibliotica

Monday, February 15th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, February 17th: Ace and Hoser Blog

Monday, March 7th: Life is Story

Date TBD: Patricia’s Wisdom


The Past, by Tessa Hadley #review #ThePastbook #TLCBookTours

About the book, The Past The Past

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: Harper (January 5, 2016)

“An exquisite writer, a writer’s writer, with a fine eye for detail and a way of crafting sentences that make you stop and inhale . . .  Hadley should be a bestseller rather than literary fiction’s best kept secret.”—The Times (London)

Three sisters and a brother, complete with children, a new wife, and an ex-boyfriend’s son, descend on their grandparents’ dilapidated old home in the Somerset countryside for a final summer holiday, where simmering tensions and secrets rise to the surface over three long, hot weeks.The house is full of memories of their childhood and their past—their mother took them there to live when she left their father—but now, they may have to sell it. And beneath the idyllic pastoral surface lie tensions.

Sophisticated and sleek, Roland’s new wife (his third) arouses his sisters’ jealousies and insecurities. Kasim, the twenty-year-old son of Alice’s ex-boyfriend, becomes enchanted with Molly, Roland’s sixteen-year-old daughter. Fran’s young children make an unsettling discovery in an abandoned cottage in the woods that shatters their innocence. Passion erupts where it’s least expected, leveling the quiet self-possession of Harriet, the eldest sister. As the family’s stories and silences intertwine, small disturbances build into familial crises, and a way of life—bourgeois, literate, ritualized, Anglican—winds down to its inevitable end.

Over five novels and two collections of stories, Tessa Hadley has earned a reputation as a fiction writer of remarkable gifts. She brings all of her considerable skill to The Past, a work of breathtaking scope and beauty—her most ambitious and accomplished novel yet.

Buy, read, and discuss The Past

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Tessa Hadley Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley is the author of five highly praised novels: Accidents in the Home, which was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award; Everything Will Be All Right; The Master Bedroom; The London Train, which was a New York Times Notable Book; and Clever Girl. She is also the author of two short story collections,Sunstroke and Married Love, which were New York Times Notable Books as well. Her stories appear regularly in The New Yorker. She lives in London.

My Thoughts MissMeliss

It’s a good thing this book had me gripped from page one, because my iPhone neglected to remind me I had a review due until one o’clock this morning! I’m a fast reader, but reading with any real speed requires that I find the material truly engaging.

And this novel, The Past, is truly engaging.

It’s a perfect example of contemporary fiction: a bit of family drama, a bit of the interpersonal relationships among women, a bit of loss of innocence, and a bit of coming of age, all rolled into one sometimes tense, often poignant, family holiday at the cottage they’ve owned (collectively) for years.

We meet the players in ones and twos: Harriet, the pragmatic sister whose hair is going white, Alice and her quasi-stepson Kasim (age 20), Fran and her twin children Ivy and Arthur, and Roland, the brother, with his newest wife, Pilar, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Molly (age 16).  In a move that would feel like something out of an Agatha Christie story if this novel were an overt mystery (it’s not, though there are little bits of mystery), everyone is together at this house, there’s no signal for anyone’s mobile devices, and the configurations keep changing.

The twins are drawn to the Anglo-Indian Kasim, Harriet and Pilar bond, Alice buries herself in nostalgia, Fran grumbles a bit (her husband didn’t join the family on this holiday). Roland is the most opaque of the characters, sort of there as a presence, but without having the strong influence of the other characters, but that makes sense, I guess, because it’s the women – Harriet, Alice, Fran, and Pilar, and the girls, Molly and Ivy, who really move the plot while Kasim, Arthur, and, yes, Roland, observe, nudge, and stabilize. New configurations come from the original ones: Kasim and Molly discover each other, for example.

While the overarching theme of The Past had a lot to do with the way women approach aging, and the way we all must let go of things from our pasts, I felt, at times, that it was almost a graceful collection of character studies, interwoven with realistic dialogue and vivid descriptions of the house and its environs.

It was a great book to read quickly, but would probably be even better if savored.

One issue I had was with the presentation: dialogue, at least in the digital proof that I read, was set off by dashes rather than quotation marks. As someone who tends to use a lot of dashes within dialogue when I’m writing my own stuff, this choice combined with the lateness of the hour to muddle some of the attributions. I don’t know if the completed copies of the novel use this structure, so consider it a word of warning – it’s good, sometimes, to know what to expect.

Goes well with endless mugs of tea, and slices of navel oranges, with the occasional butter cookie.

Tessa’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, January 5th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, January 6th: BookNAround

Thursday, January 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, January 11th: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, January 12th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, January 13th: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 14th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Friday, January 15th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Monday, January 18th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, January 19th: Bibliophiliac

Wednesday, January 20th: Curling Up by the Fire

Thursday, January 21st: From the TBR Pile

Friday, January 22nd: A Book Geek

Monday, January 25th: Novel Escapes

Tuesday, January 26th: Dreams, Etc.

Return to the Outer Banks House, by Diann Ducharme (@diannducharme) #review @hfvbt

About the book Return to the Outer Banks House Return to the Outer Banks House

  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Kill Devil Publishing; 1 edition (December 10, 2014)

She was the spirited daughter of a North Carolina plantation owner, and he was a poor fisherman who she tutored on the porch of her family’s Nags Head cottage. When we last saw Abigail Sinclair and Ben Whimble at the close of The Outer Banks House, they’d overcome their differences in life stations and defied convention to begin their new life together.

But now it’s seven years later, and Return to the Outer Banks House finds the couple married and in hard times—riddled by poverty, miscarriages, and weakened family ties. The strong bonds that once held them together have eroded over time, and their marriage threatens to unravel, particularly when relationships from the past and ambitions for the future find their way into the mismatched couple’s present predicament.

Can their love survive? Or are the challenges they face insurmountable? Return to the Outer Banks House carries readers back to 1875 to answer these questions and explore the ebb and flow of a rocky marriage set against the enchanting North Carolina shoreline. Replete with history, intrigue, and plenty of maritime drama, it’s an evocative tale of struggle in the Reconstruction-era South.

Buy, read, and discuss Return to the Outer Banks House

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Diann Ducharme Diann Ducharme

Diann was born in Indiana in 1971, but she spent the majority of her childhood in Newport News, Virginia. She majored in English literature at the University of Virginia, but she never wrote creatively until, after the birth of her second child in 2003, she sat down to write The Outer Banks House. She soon followed up with her second book, Chasing Eternity, and in 2015 the sequel to her first novel, Return to the Outer Banks House.

Diann has vacationed on the Outer Banks since the age of three. She even married her husband of 10 years, Sean Ducharme, in Duck, North Carolina, immediately after a stubborn Hurricane Bonnie churned through the Outer Banks. Conveniently, the family beach house in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina provided shelter while she conducted research for her historical fiction novels.

She has three beach-loving children and a border collie named Toby, who enjoys his sprints along the shore. The family lives in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia, counting down the months until summer.

Connect with Diann

Website | Blog | Twitter | Goodreads

My Thoughts:

In Return to the Outer Banks House, Diann Ducharme brings us back to Nag’s Head seven years after we first met Abigail and Ben in The Outer Banks House, but this novel, set against the Reconstruction of the South is also about the deconstruction of a marriage. The lovers from the first novel have gone through so much, that it’s actually pretty realistic that their relationship is strained, and I applaud the author for writing such an open, honest story, and trusting that we readers will get it.

At the same time, though, the ultimate resolution of Abbie and Ben’s issues is a sad one, and comes as a bitter blow after all the love and hope that existed between them in the first novel. Ducharme does give us a secondary character to follow, Eliza, replete with her own love story, but while she’s an interesting character, it’s not quite the same, and I felt like the whole tone of this book was a subdued one.

Still, it was a great read, even if the ending wasn’t what I expected. Ducharme’s descriptions of the land and sea and sky are almost photo-realistic, and this novel is almost worth it just to get to read more of that. As well, she continues to excel at writing dialogue that feels both natural and period at the same time, using dialect effectively to show differences in class, status, and origin.

This novel can be read alone, but is much more effective, and makes more sense, if you read The Outer Banks House first, though, now that I’ve written that, I wonder if the focus would be more on Eliza, and the readerly response a bit brighter if it’s read as a standalone, without the investment in Abigail and Ben as the primary couple in the tale. Something to ponder, I suppose.

Again, this novel takes place at the shore, but it isn’t at all a typical “beach read,” and I believe it will appeal both to casual readers and those who prefer more literary fiction.

Goes well with fresh caught fish, homegrown tomatoes, and sweet corn.

The Outer Banks Series Blog Tour Schedule 05_Outer-Banks-Series_Blog-Tour-Banner_FINAL-1024x327

Monday, May 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Raven Haired Girl

Tuesday, May 26
Guest Post & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing

Wednesday, May 27
Review (Book One) at Back Porchervations

Thursday, May 28
Review (Book One) at In a Minute

Friday, May 29
Interview & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book

Saturday, May 30
Spotlight at Becky on Books

Sunday, May 31
Review (Book One) at Book Nerd

Monday, June 1
Review (Book Two) at Let them Read Books
Spotlight at I’d So Rather Be Reading

Tuesday, June 2
Review (Book One) at Book Lovers Paradise

Wednesday, June 3
Review (Book Two) at Back Porchervations

Thursday, June 4
Spotlight & Giveaway (Book One) at View from the Birdhouse

Friday, June 5
Review (Both Books) at Bibliotica

Sunday, June 7
Review (Book One) at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, June 8
Review (Book One) at Ageless Pages Reviews
Guest Post at Curling Up With A Good Book

Tuesday, June 9
Review & Giveaway (Book One) at A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, June 10
Review (Both Books) at Unshelfish
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, June 11
Review (Book Two) at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at Boom Baby Reviews

Friday, June 12
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

Sunday, June 14
Review (Book Two) at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, June 15
Review & Giveaway (Both Books) at Genre Queen

Tuesday, June 16
Interview at Books and Benches
Spotlight at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, June 17
Review (Both Books) at Luxury Reading

Thursday, June 18
Review (Book One) at Books and Benches
Interview at Layered Pages

Friday, June 19
Review (Book One) at Build a Bookshelf
Review (Book Two) at Ageless Pages Reviews

Trail of Broken Wings, by Sejal Badani #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, Trail of Broken Wings Trail of Broken Wings

  • Paperback: 378 Pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (May 1, 2015)

When her father falls into a coma, Indian American photographer Sonya reluctantly returns to the family she’d fled years before. Since she left home, Sonya has lived on the run, free of any ties, while her soft-spoken sister, Trisha, has created a perfect suburban life, and her ambitious sister, Marin, has built her own successful career. But as these women come together, their various methods of coping with a terrifying history can no longer hold their memories at bay.

Buried secrets rise to the surface as their father—the victim of humiliating racism and perpetrator of horrible violence—remains unconscious. As his condition worsens, the daughters and their mother wrestle with private hopes for his survival or death, as well as their own demons and buried secrets.

Told with forceful honesty, Trail of Broken Wings reveals the burden of shame and secrets, the toxicity of cruelty and aggression, and the exquisite, liberating power of speaking and owning truth.

Buy, read, and discuss Trail of Broken Wings

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

About the author, Sejal Badani Sejal Badani

Sejal Badani is a former attorney. She currently lives on the West Coast with her family and their two dogs.

My Thoughts:

Everyone knows that old saying about how there are three sides to every story, yours, mine, and the truth, and never has that been more true than in Sejal Badani’s new novel Trail of Broken Wings, where each of the four women in the story (mother, Ranee, and her three daughters, Marin, Trisha, and Sonya) has her own story and her own truth, but so do the men in their lives, although those truths are more quietly spoken.

With four main characters, you might think the narrative would be a little bit confusing, but Badani makes all the characters – not just Ranee and her daughters – distinct and dimensional, just each of their stories is distinct. I especially liked the subtle ways in which Badani used language – Ranees is more stylized, highlighting her status as someone who immigrated as an adult, while the daughters are all much more American in their speech patterns.

The mostly male supporting characters – Gia (Marin’s teenaged daughter) Raj (Marin’s husband by an arranged marriage), Eric (Trisha’s husband), and David (the handsome doctor destined to be Sonya’s love interest) are all fully realized – something a lot of women don’t always do well, just as a lot of mean never fully realize their female supporting characters.  Of all of them, Raj was the least open to us, as readers, and I have to confess, I’d have liked more of him.

Then there’s Brent, Ranee’s husband, and father of her girls. Also an immigrant (he and Ranee married and started their family back in India), he spends most of the novel in a coma, but his presence is strongly felt throughout the novel, even so, and, as his actions dictate almost everyone else’s choices, without ever speaking a line, he becomes one of the most influential characters in the book.

I liked the structure of this novel – alternating chapters, headed with the POV character’s name, and I liked the way the past both formed the present, and became a release, as well. It was a satisfying read, and ended with a note of hope, if not a perfect pat ending, and I like that better than pretty bows, anyway.

The use of Indian culture as both a grounding mechanism and as  counterpoint to modern American life worked really well, and the constant descriptions of food made my mouth water, and might seem out of place, unless you believe, as I do, that food is a source of both culture and comfort.

While this book does deal with very dark subjects (child abuse, domestic violence, rape), it does so in a sensitive manner based in truth, and never sensationalized.

If you’re up for a good family drama that straddles the line between contemporary and literary fiction, you will not be disappointed by Trail of Broken Wings.

Goes well with: chai tea, garlic naan, and whatever other Indian food suits your fancy.

Sejal Badani’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, May 4th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, May 5th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Wednesday, May 6th: Lit and Life

Thursday, May 7th: She Treads Softly

Monday, May 11th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Tuesday, May 12th: Book Nerd

Wednesday, May 13th: BookNAround

Thursday, May 14th: Bell, Book & Candle

Monday, May 18th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Tuesday, May 19th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, May 20th: Unshelfish

Tuesday, May 26th: Life is Story

Wednesday, May 27th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Thursday, May 28th: A Reader’s Oasis

Wednesday, June 3rd: Bibliotica

Thursday, June 4th: Broken Teepee

TBD: Ageless Pages Reviews


Five Night Stand, by Richard J. Alley (@richardalley) #review #giveaway @TLCBookTours

About the book, Five Night Stand Five Night Stand

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (May 12, 2015)

Legendary jazz pianist Oliver Pleasant finds himself alone at the end of his career, playing his last five shows, hoping the music will draw his estranged family back… Frank Severs, a middle-aged, out-of-work journalist, is at a crossroads as his longtime dreams and marriage grind to a standstill… And piano prodigy Agnes Cassady is desperately grasping for fulfillment before a debilitating disease wrenches control from her trembling fingers… When Frank and Agnes come to New York to witness Oliver’s final five-night stand, the timeless force of Oliver’s music pulls the trio together. Over the course of five nights, the three reflect on their triumphs and their sorrows: families forsaken, ideals left along the wayside, secrets kept. Their shared search for meaning and direction in a fractured world creates an unexpected kinship that just might help them make sense of the past, find peace in the present, and muster the courage to face the future.

Buy, read, and discuss Five Night Stand

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

About the author, Richard J. Alley Richard J. Alley

Richard J. Alley is an award-winning reporter, columnist, and editor from Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children.

Connect with Richard

Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Thoughts

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember – I even think in music most of the time. My first instrument is cello, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate jazz, and, in fact, one of my early teachers was starting to teach me slap cello (yes, it’s a thing) before we moved away.

It should be no surprise, then, that I responded to Five Night Stand very favorably.

The plot, while simple, was captivating – three people brought together by music – all for different reason. The individual stories, especially those of Oliver and Agnes were poignant, bordering on sad in some places, but all three characters seemed to sing, their perfectly captured voices projecting far beyond the margins of the printed page. By the end of the novel, I felt like I knew these people.

The structure of the novel also worked: five nights, a finite space of time, but so much character development, so many nuances, filled those five nights. I felt like, more than writing a story, Richard Alley was conducting a symphony. A jazz symphony, with surprises of syncopation and deviations of meter that worked together to enhance the whole. Even the dissonant moments only added to the whole competition.

The language, though, is what hooked me. At first, like some of the other reviewers on this tour, it felt poetic to me, and then I realized, no, it’s not poetry, it’s a riff. It’s this wonderful booze-y, blues-y use of language that combines the sharp notes of New York with the softer ones of the South, where jazz and blues were really born.

Usually, when I finish reading a novel that I acquired solely for the purpose of reviewing, I delete the file from my over-packed Kindle to save space. Five Night Stand, however, has been moved to my ‘favorites’ collection, where, much like a much loved album, I can revisit it at my leisure and see what new things I find upon rereading it.

Goes well with: bbq ribs for an early dinner, followed by a glass of Scotch during the show.

Giveaway Five Night Stand

If you live in the U.S.A. or Canada and want to experience Five Night Stand for yourself, leave a comment here on the blog telling me about your favorite musicians. Make sure you provide a valid email address (only I will see it) because winners will be contacted by email. Alternatively, find my twitter post about this review, and re-tweet it, tagging me: @Melysse.

Richard J. Alley’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, May 11th: The Avid Reader

Tuesday, May 12th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, May 12th: Bell, Book & Candle

Wednesday, May 13th: Ageless Pages Reviews

Thursday, May 14th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Monday, May 18th: BookNAround

Monday, May 18th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Tuesday, May 19th: Mom’s Small Victories

Thursday, May 21st: Colloquium

Friday, May 22nd: Tina Says…

Tuesday, May 26th: My Book Retreat

Wednesday, May 27th: Unshelfish

Thursday, May 28th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Monday, June 1st: Priscilla and her Books

Tuesday, June 2nd: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, June 3rd: Fictionophile

Friday, June 5th: The Well-Read Redhead


The Accidental Pilgrim, by Stephen Kitsakos (@stephenkitsakos) #review @TLCBookTours

About the book The Accidental Pilgrim The Accidental Pilgrim

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: ASD Publishing (January 20, 2015)

In the summer of 1974, Dr. Rose Strongin, a marine biologist, inexplicably disappears for three hours on the last day of an archaeological dig at the Sea of Galilee. She has no memory of the disappearance, but it causes her to miss her flight home from Israel. That plane, TWA 841, explodes over the Mediterranean killing all aboard. Twelve years later she learns that a 2,000 year-old perfectly preserved vessel, dubbed the “Jesus Boat,” is uncovered at the site of her disappearance and she begins to understand what happened and why.

The novel crosses several decades exploring the intersection of science, religion and the unexplainable as a family gathers to say goodbye to the matriarch who held a family secret.

Buy, read, and discuss The Accidental Pilgrim

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Stephen Kitsakos Stephen Kitsakos

Stephen Kitsakos is a theatre writer and journalist as well as the author of three opera librettos. His current project is the opera adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s international bestseller, A Thousand Splendid Suns with music by Sheila Silver. Other works include the Sackler-Prize award winning “The Wooden Sword” and “The White Rooster: A Tale of Compassion” for the Smithsonian Institution. His work often explores the connection between religion and art. He divides his time between Key West and New York.

Connect with Stephen

Website | Twitter

My Thoughts:

I tend to be pretty wary about any novel that is remotely related to religion, but I trust Trish at TLC Book Tours, so when she highlighted The Accidental Pilgrim and said she thought I’d really appreciate it, I said, “Okay.” In truth, I wish I’d had more time to sit with this novel before posting my review, because while the surface story is an easy one, the deeper story requires some digestion.

I’m glad I did, because this book a gem of a novel. First the story is completely compelling, combining family drama both in the present, as a father and his three grown children come together to pay last respects to his wife/their mother, and in the past, as we meet Rose (the wife/mother) in flashbacks and memories. Actually it’s pretty gutsy for a writer to have the main character begin the novel already dead, but this novel is really Rose’s story, though her husband (Simon) and her children (Sharon, Barbara, Nathan) have their parts to play.

Every single character was memorable, though Nathan is my favorite of the ‘children.’ I understood his prickly moodiness – he’s a musician, after all – and resonated with it. I loved experiencing Rose’s journey through her own eyes, and through the eyes of those around her. I also liked the way every character was flawed, and so very real. The two daughters, one like her mother, one more like her father, reminded me of my own aunts and their ability to bicker constantly but still completely love each other.

Then there’s the setting: most of the novel takes place on the Sea of Galilee, so we get to glimpse both contemporary Israel, and the Israel of the recent past, as well as a few other time-hops that I won’t go into for fear of spoiling some truly interesting plot twists. I’ve never had a particular desire to visit contemporary Israel (my fantasies tend to involve places like Fez, Tangier, or Algiers), but this novel gave me a deep appreciation for a region that is so entwined in political and cultural turmoil that I doubt resolution will ever come.

Finally, there is the author’s sense of craft. In an email to him yesterday, I commented that I loved the way he told us the way characters pronounced things – it really made me hear the subtle accents – Canadian, American, Russian, Israeli, British, etc. – and added a layer of realism that truly made the novel sing. Specifically, I mentioned a line early in the novel where he describes a character saying the word “kids” with a “k” that sounds like “…a small ball of phlegm stuck in his throat…” That’s the first example that struck me, but those little touches and nuances exist throughout the novel.

As I said, I’m wary about novels that have anything to do with religion, but when I open myself to one, I’m invariably led to a place where I’m provoked to examine some of my own beliefs and attitudes. (And as a culturally Catholic, liberal Episco-tarian (I’m UU in my heart but love the ritual and language of the Episcopal church) feminist with an ethnically Jewish stepfather and a Baptist husband, you can IMAGINE what my beliefs and attitudes might be.) This happened to me when I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s Certain Women. It happened when I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. It also happened as I was reading this book, The Accidental Pilgrim.

If you’re in the mood for family drama, this novel will appeal to you, and it’s possible to read it and just skim the surface. If, however, you prefer to delve deeper, this novel is meaty enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for a discussion of philosophy, religion, and science, and where the three intersect.

Goes well with mint tea, falafel, tabbouleh, and a handful of Medjool dates.

Stephen’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 27th: Raven Haired Girl

Thursday, April 30th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Monday, May 4th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies

Tuesday, May 5th: Lavish Bookshelf

Wednesday, May 6th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Friday, May 8th: Mom in Love With Fiction

Monday, May 18th: Victoria Weisfeld

Monday, May 25th: Broken Teepee

Thursday, June 25th: Wall-to-Wall Books

TBD: Novel Escapes

The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg #review @TLCBookTours @NetGalley

About the book, The Dream Lover The Dream Lover

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 14, 2015)

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg has written a lush historical novel based on the sensuous Parisian life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand—which is perfect for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.

Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?

Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.

Buy, read, and discuss, The Dream Lover

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

About the author, Elizabeth Berg Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including Tapestry of Fortunes, The Last Time I Saw You, Home Safe, The Year of Pleasures, and Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, as well as two collections of short stories and two works of nonfiction. Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for an Abby Award, and The Pull of the Moon was adapted into a play. Berg has been honored by both the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library. She is a popular speaker at venues around the country, and her work has been translated into twenty-seven languages. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a reading series designed to serve author, audience, and community. She divides her time between Chicago and San Francisco.

My Thoughts

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Berg’s contemporary fiction for years, so when her newest work, an historical novel about the life of George Sand, was offered to me by the awesome women at TLC Book Tours, I jumped at the chance.

From the very first paragraphs, I was caught in Berg’s delicious prose. It’s haunting, gentle, lyrical, even when she’s discussing things that are not at all gentle (or lyrical). But she’s writing about nineteenth-century France, so the language should feel like that, and the sense of place and time she gives us in this novel is so strong, so vivid, that I found myself not only reading passages of this novel aloud – as I do whenever the language or rhythm really entrances me – but reading it aloud in a French accent. (You would have been enthralled, I tell you, by my performance. My dogs certainly were.)

I always love behind-the-scenes information – I buy DVD’s just for the director’s commentary – and I love a good origin story, and The Dream Lover has both. Yes, we get to see the childhood of the woman who grows up to become George Sand, but we also get a glimpse into her life, her loves (not all of which were fulfilling or successful) and her craft. This is NOT a ‘writing book,’ but it’s definitely a writers’ novel. If you, like me, have literary aspirations, you HAVE to read this.

A passage about the writerly imagination, and how Aurore/George has heard the story of her birth so often that something told to her has become memory, really resonated with me. Here’s the actual passage (I can’t quote page numbers, because I read a digital ARC, but it’s at Loc 372/7% in on the Kindle version):

A writer has a most fertile mind, or he is no writer at all. He has an imagination that soars when given the most meager starts: a wet blade of grass, croissant crumbs on a plate, the sight of a woman hurriedly crossing a street. And in the way that the fiction a writer produces can assume a truth of its own, these details of my birth seem less story to me than memory.

How many of us haven’t shared similar experiences with frequently told stories?

The Dream Lover is full of such nuggets of human truth, and that’s what makes it such a great read. It’s not at all a “beach read,” but it’s not so heavy that you couldn’t read it at the beach, if that’s where you happen to be.

Goes well with A plate of fruit and cheese with a lightly sweetened palmiere pastry and a hand-crafted cappuccino in a proper cup, not some cardboard contraption.

Elizabeth Berg’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 13th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, April 14th: Let Them Read Books

Monday, April 20th: Bibliophilia, Please

Monday, April 20th: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, April 22nd: Books on the Table – Bookstore Event post

Wednesday, April 22nd: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, April 27th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, April 28th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, April 28th: The Novel Life

Wednesday, April 29th: Bibliotica – That’s ME

Thursday, April 30th: Life is Story

Thursday, April 30th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, May 1st: 100 Pages a Day… Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Monday, May 4th: Laura’s Reviews

Monday, May 4th: Book Babe

Wednesday, May 6th: Unshelfish

Monday, May 11th: Broken Teepee

TBD: Unabridged Chick – review

TBD: Unabridged Chick – author Q&A

Orient, by Christopher Bollen #review @TLCBookTours

About the book, Orient Orient

  • Print Length: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (May 5, 2015)

As summer draws to a close, a small Long Island town is plagued by a series of mysterious deaths— and one young man, a loner taken in by a local, tries to piece together the crimes before his own time runs out.

Orient is an isolated hamlet on the North Fork of Long Island—a quiet, historic village that swells each summer with vacationers, Manhattan escapees, and wealthy young artists from the city with designs on local real estate. On the last day of summer, a teenage drifter named Mills Chevern arrives in town. Soon after, the village is rocked by a series of unsettling events: the local caretaker is found floating lifeless in the ocean; an elderly neighbor dies under mysterious circumstances; and a monstrous animal corpse is discovered on the beach not far from a research lab often suspected of harboring biological experiments. Before long, other more horrific events plunge the community into a spiral of paranoia.

As the village struggles to make sense of the wave of violence, anxious eyes settle on the mysterious Mills, a troubled orphan with no family, a hazy history, and unknown intentions. But he finds one friend in Beth, an Orient native in retreat from Manhattan, who is determined to unravel the mystery before the small town devours itself.

Suffused with tension, rich with character and a haunting sense of lives suspended against an uncertain future, Orient is both a galvanic thriller and a provocative portrait of the dark side of the American dream: an idyllic community where no one is safe. It marks the emergence of a novelist of enormous talent.

Buy, read, and discuss Orient

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the author, Christopher Bollen Christopher Bollen

Christopher Bollen is an editor at large for Interview magazine. He is the author of the novel Lightning People, and his work has appeared in GQ, the New York Times, the Believer, and Artforum, among other publications. He lives in New York.

Find out more about Christopher at his website.

My Thoughts

I had a hard time sinking into this book, at first, in part because I’d just read two cozy, beachy novels back to back, and was still in that mindset. Once I reminded myself that this was a thriller that just happened to be set in a shore town, I went back and re-read the opening pages, and found myself much more into the novel. Who says there aren’t different reading moods?

I was expecting Mills, the young man (referred to as a ‘teen drifter’ in the blurbs, but at nineteen he’s really more a young adult) to be the POV person for the whole novel, so when author Bollen kept introducing us to more and more new characters, and letting us see inside their heads, it was a little confusing. Eventually, though, I found myself really enjoying his writing style, which blends all the best of contemporary mystery/thrillers with a truly literary penchant for description and psychodrama.

I also found that his style made me much more likely to alter my perceptions of characters as I got to know them. The central character, Beth, was one I really disliked upon first ‘meeting’ but by the end of the book, I really wanted her to solve the mystery and succeed at something. I love it when writers can do that, and Bollen has a knack for making plots twist on a dime in a way that is really quite delicious.

If you read the cover blurb for this novel and assume that because it’s set in a summer beach town it will be light on mystery and heavy on soap-y drama, you will be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you are ready to sink into a deep, dark literary thriller, you will find yourself riveted through all 600 pages of this novel.

This is the author’s debut novel, and I really hope Bollen’s agents and editors appreciate his distinct voice, because we need to hear more from this writer, and I fear that commercial success will cause him to change the way he writes, which would be a pity.

Goes well with Atlantic blue fish, fresh caught, and grilled on the beach, Jersey tomatoes marinated in salt and lemon, and a crisp summer ale. Sam Adams will do in a pinch.

Christopher’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, April 10th: As I turn the pages

Monday, April 13th: BoundbyWords

Tuesday, April 14th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!

Wednesday, April 15th: A Bookworm’s World

Monday, April 20th: The Discerning Reader

Tuesday, April 21st: Books and Things

Wednesday, April 22nd: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, April 23rd: A Dream Within a Dream

Monday, April 27th: Open Book Society

Tuesday, April 28th: Kissin Blue Karen

Friday, May 1st: Wordsmithonia

Monday, May 4th: Ace and Hoser Blook

Wednesday, May 6th: My Bookish Ways

Thursday, May 7th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies


Scent of Butterflies by Dora Levy Mossanen – Review

About the book Scent of ButterfliesScent of Butterflies

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (January 7, 2014)

Betrayal, forgiveness, identity and obsession churn against the tumultuous landscape of the Islamic revolution and seemingly perfect gardens of southern California in this compelling novel from bestselling author Dora Levy Mossanen.

Amidst a shattering betrayal and a country in turmoil, Soraya flees Iran to make a new life for herself in Los Angeles. The cruel and intimate blow her husband has dealt her awakens an obsessive streak that explodes in the heated world of Southern California, as Soraya plots her revenge against the other woman, her best friend, Butterfly. What she discovers proves far more devastating than anything she had ever imagined, unleashing a whirlwind of events that leave the reader breathless.

A novel singed by the flavors of Tehran, imbued with the Iranian roots of Persepolis and the culture clash of Rooftops of Tehran, this is a striking, nuanced story of a woman caught between two worlds, from the bestselling author of HaremCourtesan, and The Last Romanov.

Buy, read, and discuss Scent of Butterflies

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

About the author, Dora Levy Mossanen Dora Levy Mossanen

Dora Levy Mossanen was born in Israel and moved to Iran when she was nine. At the onset of the Islamic revolution, she and her family moved to the United States. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of California-Los Angeles and a master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

Dora is the bestselling author of the acclaimed novels Harem, Courtesan, and The Last Romanov. Her fourth and most provocative book, Scent of Butterflies, was released January 7, 2014. She is a frequent contributor to numerous media outlets including the Huffington Post and the Jewish Journal. She has been featured on KCRW, The Politics of Culture, Voice of Russia, Radio Iran and numerous other radio and television programs. She is the recipient of the prestigious San Diego Editors’ choice award and was accepted as contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Dora Levy Mossanen’s novels have been translated into numerous languages world-wide.

My Thoughts:

While Soraya’s story was both interesting and compelling, I found myself distracted by two things: one: how on earth did she have the funds with which to make her escape from Tehran and set up a whole new lifestyle in California, and why wasn’t she more likeable?

The first question may have been answered in the text, and I simply missed it. The second, I think, is by design. Soraya was betrayed, yes, but she is the perfect embodiment of blind revenge, setting up everything she can in order to get even with the people who have wronged her. Of course, betrayals within marriages cause some of the deepest wounds, and betrayals among long-time friends are just as hurtful, so maybe it’s not surprising that the main character is a little too ‘hard,’ a little too inscrutable, a little too difficult to empathize with.

Aside from my utter inability to like the main character, I thought Mossanen’s novel was truly well-written, the language almost lyrical in places. Even somewhat creepy passages (when Soraya literally squeezes the life from a butterfly for her collection) had a sort of dark beauty about them. Similarly, the descriptions of place, the spare use of language, the recurring themes of butterflies, both in the body of Soraya’s friend Butterfly, and in her vast collection of dead insects, really blended well to give this book a sort of otherworldly feeling. The repeated references to the human Butterfly’s preference for Chanel No. 5 were familiar to me – I have a great aunt who has worn Taboo for so many years that when I smell it, it smells like rice pudding to me, because I associate it with her work in our family’s diner. How sad to have Soraya’s more negative sense memory of her childhood friend’s preferred scent.

Early in Soraya’s time in California she references advice the once received, about only moving somewhere with the same color sky. With her writing, Mossanen makes us see the beauty of the Tehran that was, even in the Los Angeles that is, and I enjoyed that aspect of the novel.

I’ll confess that I had a personal interest in this book: when I was very young (one or two) my mother was dating a young Iranian officer visiting the U.S. on an exchange. He was a member of the Shah’s army, and actually tried to convince my mother to marry him and move to Iran (fortunately for both of us, she refused). While I have no distinct memories of him, I find familiarity in the rhythms of spoken Farsi.

At times, reading Scent of Butterflies, I felt like I was hearing those rhythms, the particular cadences that only those language families have.

I do want to mention that the twist near the end of the novel DID surprise me, and I thought the whole book was well-crafted. I think I’m just not quite cynical enough to resonate with Soraya, even though her story was well told.

Goes well with Falafel and tahini sauce and mint tea.

Dora Levy Mossanen’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.
Monday, February 2nd: My Book Self

Wednesday, February 4th: Bibliotica

Friday, February 6th: Back Porchervations

Wednesday, February 11th: Books a la Mode – guest post

Friday, February 13th: Reading and Eating

Monday, February 16th: Chick Lit Central

Monday, February 16th: A Bookish Affair – guest post

Tuesday, February 17th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Wednesday, February 18th: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, February 23rd: Bibliophiliac

Friday, February 27th: Shelf Pleasure – guest post

Monday, March 2nd: Snowdrop Dreams of Books

Tuesday, March 3rd: Too Fond

Thursday, March 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom