Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

About the book, The Almost Sisters The-Almost-Sisters-cover

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (July 11, 2017)

Selected as the #1 Indie Next Pick for August

With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

Buy, read, and discuss The Almost Sisters:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including gods in Alabama and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, Jackson is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

Connect with Joshilyn:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My ThoughtsMelissa A. Bartell

I’ve enjoyed Joshilyn Jackson’s work ever since I was first introduced to her writing by my good friend Debra, but I was especially excited about The Almost Sisters once I realized that the protagonist, Leia, shared my geeky sensibility.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen so hard for a main character, and I really wish Leia’s comicbook (Stan Lee insists that should be one word, and who am I to argue with Stan Lee?) was real, because Violence in Violet sounds like something I would completely connect with.

But I digress.

Leia and Rachel are ‘almost sisters’ – stepsisters from the age of three, who couldn’t be more different, and yet who share a deep family bond. The way they support each other during Leia’s discovery (and announcement) that she’s pregnant by a Batman cos-player she had a one-night-stand with at a con, Rachel’s marital woes, and Birchie’s (Leia’s grandmother) rapidly deteriorating mental health is absolutely lovely. Real and poignant, and often funny, these two women jump off the page and take up positions on your couch. They even bring the wine.

But Birchie and her girlfriend since childhood, Wattie, are also ‘almost sisters,’ and their friendship is beautiful and rich, layered with decades of familiarity, and colored by the fear of inevitable loss and death.

This novel is essentially a family drama, but it’s also a celebration of its southern roots and southern setting. There’s a sultry-ness that lurks in the background of every scene, and the soundtrack is equal parts southern rock, traditional blues, Americana, and a little bit of country-folk, blended with the rhythmic click of sprinklers resetting and the contrapuntal harmony of cicadas. None of that is spelled out, of course. Jackson’s writing is just so tied to place, and her descriptions are so vivid that you can’t help but add in your own imagined sound.

The Almost Sisters is funny and sad, poignant and prosaic, completely readable, and incredibly compelling. Read it. Read it now. Then share it with a friend.

Goes well with fried catfish, wedge salad with cherry tomatoes, cornbread, and sweet tea.


Tour StopsTLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 11th: Book by Book

Wednesday, July 12th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World

Thursday, July 13th: bookchickdi

Friday, July 14th: Time 2 Read

Monday, July 17th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, July 18th: StephTheBookworm

Wednesday, July 19th: BookNAround

Thursday, July 20th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Friday, July 21st: Bibliotica

Monday, July 24th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, July 25th: Leigh Kramer

Wednesday, July 26th: Always With a Book

Thursday, July 27th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Thursday, July 27th: Wining Wife

Friday, July 28th: SJ2B House Of Books

Monday, July 31st: she treads softly

Review: Kiss Carlo, by Adriana Trigiani

Kiss CarloAbout the book, Kiss Carlo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read and discuss Kiss Carlo:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


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

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

Connect with Adriana:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Goes well with spaghetti with meatballs and homemade tomato gravy.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 20th: Life By Kristen

Wednesday, June 21st: bookchickdi

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

Friday, June 23rd: Time 2 Read

Monday, June 26th: Library of Clean Reads

Tuesday, June 27th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, June 28th: Always With a Book

Friday, June 30th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, July 3rd: Kritters Ramblings

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

Wednesday, July 5th: Tina Says…

Friday, July 7th: My Journey Back

Friday, July 7th: Stephany Writes

Monday, July 10th: Wining Wife

Tuesday, July 11th: West Metro Mommy

Wednesday, July 12th: BookNAround

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

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

Tuesday, July 18th: Bibliotica

Review: Soulmates, by Jessica Grose

Soulmates, by Jessica GroseAbout the book, Soulmates

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 13, 2017)

“For anyone who has ever suspected something sinister lurking behind the craze of new-age spirituality, Jessica Grose has crafted just the tale for you. With the delicious bite of satire and the page-turning satisfaction of a thriller, Soulmates is a deeply compelling, funny and sharply observed look at just how far we will go to achieve inner peace.”—Lena Dunham

A clever, timely novel about a marriage, and infidelity, the meaning of true spirituality, perception and reality from the author of Sad Desk Salad, in which a scorned ex-wife tries to puzzle out the pieces of her husband’s mysterious death at a yoga retreat and their life together.

It’s been two years since the divorce, and Dana has moved on. She’s killing it at her law firm, she’s never looked better, thanks to all those healthy meals she cooks, and she’s thrown away Ethan’s ratty old plaid recliner. She hardly thinks about her husband—ex-husband—anymore, or about how the man she’d known since college ran away to the Southwest with a yoga instructor, spouting spiritual claptrap that Dana still can’t comprehend.

But when she sees Ethan’s picture splashed across the front page of the New York Post—”Nama-Slay: Yoga Couple Found Dead in New Mexico Cave”—Dana discovers she hasn’t fully let go of Ethan or the past. The article implies that it was a murder-suicide, and Ethan’s to blame. How could the man she once loved so deeply be a killer? Restless to find answers that might help her finally to let go, Dana begins to dig into the mystery surrounding Ethan’s death. Sifting through the clues of his life, Dana finds herself back in the last years of their marriage . . . and discovers that their relationship—like Ethan’s death—wasn’t what it appeared to be.

A novel of marriage, meditation, and all the spaces in between, Soulmates is a page-turning mystery, a delicious satire of our feel-good spiritual culture, and a nuanced look at contemporary relationships by one of the sharpest writers working today.

Buy, read, and discuss Soulmates:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Jessica-Grose-AP-Photo-by-Judith-EbensteinAbout the author, Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a writer and editor. She was previously a senior editor at Slate and an editor at Jezebel. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Glamour, Marie Claire, Spin, and several other publications, and on Salon.com. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Connect with Jessica:

Website | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

This novel, Soulmates, is a quirky little book, and even after reading, I’m not sure I quite ‘got’ it, or that I was the right audience for it.

Author Jessica Grose is a talented writer. She blended the funny and the pathetic, the grim and the poignant in this story really well, and the whole thing has a very contemporary, wry, point of view of the sort that I typically appreciate.

That said, I had a difficult time connecting with the main character Dana. Sure, I understand not getting over an ex – especially when the ex is an ex-husband. Even the worst marriages have a level of intimacy that doesn’t really compare to anything else, and when that relationship ends, it’s natural to be at a loss. The opening chapters, which talk about her cyberstalking her ex-husband Ethan and his new partner were flat-out funny, especially the depiction of her friends getting tired of her obsession.

But when the book shifted from wry social commentary to mystery – Ethan and his new partner are found dead, and the story is on the front page of a major newspaper – I began to lose touch with the story. Maybe this was my own reaction to the whole ashram-commune mindset. (I don’t share well.) Maybe it’s my age showing – at 47, I’m outside the youthful/hipster demographic.

Or maybe it’s just that not every reader connects with every book the same way.

We’d like to believe that we read books with pure hearts and minds, but the reality is that we – or at least I – bring ourselves to the story as much as the author’s words and characters – we see things through the lens of our own lives – and my life just isn’t meshy with the last part of Soulmates.

Do not think that I’m panning this novel. I’m NOT.

As I said, author Grose is a talented writer. Her characters are vividly drawn, and feel plausible (that may be why I had such a visceral reaction to Dana’s arc). Her use of language feels like the best television shows, and her plot is strong.

If you are a little bit younger than me, or more open to things like communal living and yoga as a lifestyle and not merely a form of exercise, you will love this novel.

Even if you’re not into those things, there’s a good chance you’ll like it.

Goes well with grilled tofu, tabouleh, and iced mint tea. 


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Friday, June 23rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Saturday, June 24th: The Desert Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 27th: Bewitched Bookworms

Friday, June 30th: Sara the Introvert

Monday, July 3rd: Wining Wife

Wednesday, July 5th: Dreams, Etc.

Thursday, July 6th: StephTheBookworm

Friday, July 7th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, July 10th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, July 11th: Art @ Home

Wednesday, July 12th: My Military Savings

Friday, July 14th: Mama Reads Hazel Sleeps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes &  Noble | Goodreads


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

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

Connect with Amy:

Website | Facebook


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Goes well with banana pudding with ‘nilla wafers.


My Glory Was I Had Such Friends Giveaway

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

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


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 27th: Leigh Kramer

Wednesday, June 28th: Becklist

Thursday, June 29th: Tina Says…

Friday, June 30th: Openly Bookish

Monday, July 3rd: StephTheBookworm

Tuesday, July 4th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, July 5th: BookNAround

Thursday, July 6th: Bibliotica

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

Tuesday, July 11th: Literary Quicksand

Wednesday, July 12th: The Desert Bibliophile

Thursday, July 13th: Sara the Introvert

Monday, July 17th: She’s All Booked

Tuesday, July 18th: Everyone Needs Therapy

Wednesday, July 19th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, July 20th: Wining Wife

Review: All Our Waves Are Water, by Jamail Yogis – with Giveaway

All Our Waves Are Water coverAbout the book All Our Waves Are Water

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Wave (July 4, 2017)

In this meditative memoir—a compelling fusion of Barbarian Days and the journals of Thomas Merton—the author of Saltwater Buddha reflects on his “failing toward enlightenment,” his continued search to find meaning and a greater understanding of the Divine in the world’s oceans as well as everyday life.

For Jaimal Yogis, the path to enlightenment is surfing. Between water and air, between control and surrender, between the tangible and intangible realities of life, the spiritual can be found. Born to a family of seekers, he left home at sixteen to surf in Hawaii and join a monastery—an adventure he chronicled in Saltwater Buddha. Now, in his early twenties, his heart is broken and he’s lost his way. Hitting the road again, he lands in a monastery in Dharamsala, where he meets Sonam, a displaced Tibetan.

To help his friend, Jaimal makes a cockamamie attempt to reunite him with his family in Tibet by way of America. Though he does not succeed, witnessing Sonam’s indomitable spirit in the face of failure offers Jaimal a deeper understanding of faith. When the two friends part, he cannot fathom the unlikely circumstances that will reunite them.

All Our Waves Are Water follows Jaimal’s trek from the Himalayas to Indonesia; to a Franciscan Friary in New York City to the dusty streets of Jerusalem; and finally to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. Along his journey, Jaimal prays and surfs; mourning a lost love and seeking something that keeps eluding him, until he ultimately finds what he’s been looking for—that the perfect ride may well be the one we are on right now.

The poet Rumi wrote, “we are not a drop in the ocean. We are the ocean in a drop.” All Our Waves Are Water is Jaimal’s “attempt to understand the ocean in a drop, to find that one moon shining in the water everywhere”—to find the Divine that unites us all.

Buy, read, and discuss All Our Waves Are Water:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Jaimal Yogis AP Photo by Peter DawsonAbout the author, Jaimal Yogis

Jaimal Yogis is an award-winning writer, outdoorsman, and frequent teacher. He is the author of the memoir Saltwater Buddha, which has been made into a feature documentary film, and The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing, and Love.

A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, he has written for ESPN: The Magazine, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco magazine, Surfer’s Journal, and many other publications.He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and their three sons.

Connect with Jaimal:

Website | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

Defining Jaimal Yogis’ most recent book, All Our Waves Are Water, proved difficult for me. As I was describing the book to friends and family, I said, “well, it’s kind of a travel memoir, but it’s also about spirituality and physics  and neuroscience and surfing.” The truth is, that book is all of those things, but it’s also the perfect example of a finished product, a whole work, being much greater than the sum of its parts, because it’s also about creativity, finding your own path, and practicing self-care.

I don’t surf (I swim recreationally), but I eagerly read about surfing, because I share that connection to the water. That’s what initially drew me to this book, but all too quickly I found myself sharing bits of it that resonated with me with my husband, my friends, and my social media followers. I even tweeted the author as I was beginning to read it, sharing that I was hooked from the first page. (He was very kind in his response.)

I love it when a book grabs me like this, when it makes me think, examine, ponder, and then – because it’s the way I’m wired – pick up a notebook and pen and write something of my own. The first passage I quoted at people, I actually turned into a jpeg so I could put it on Instagram, with credit of course:

“The paths are simply fingers pointing at the moon, rafts across the ocean of suffering, different strokes for different folks. Or to use my favorite metaphor, the paths – like all things subject to birth and death – are waves.”

“God is the sea.”

And it went on from there.

Yogis’ writing is sophisticated, but still accessible. He’s sometimes funny, but his humor is the organic kind that is inspired by ordinary life. He’s candid, but never treads into TMI territory, and when he does discuss deeper subjects he does so in a way that is both informative and insightful. He never panders, but assumes that his audience can keep up with the shifts between tone and topic.

If you’re looking for a smarmy attempt to convince you to learn surfing and take up meditation – you won’t find it in All Our Waves are Water.

But… if you want to spend a few hours feeling like you’re having a conversation with a man who’s sharing some of his own experiences and life-lessons, you should read this book. No, you should devour it – absorb it the way I did.

Goes well with a mug of hot coffee and fresh scones, preferably enjoyed on a chilly coastal morning, while gazing at the ocean.


All Our Waves Are Water coverGiveaway

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

Deadline is 11:59 PM CDT on Friday, August 4th. Winner will be notified by email.


Tour StopsTLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 4th: Bibliotica

Monday, July 17th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Tuesday, July 18th: Openly Bookish

Thursday, July 20th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Monday, July 24th: Toning the OM

Thursday, August 3rd: The Desert Bibliophile

Friday, August 4th: Everyone Needs Therapy

TBD: Jathan & Heather

TBD: Breezes at Dawn

TBD: Girl in a Boy House

Review: Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning

Monticello About the book, Monticello

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 27, 2017)

From the critically acclaimed author of The Widow’s War comes a captivating work of literary historical fiction that explores the tenuous relationship between a brilliant and complex father and his devoted daughter—Thomas Jefferson and Martha Jefferson Randolph.

After the death of her beloved mother, Martha Jefferson spent five years abroad with her father, Thomas Jefferson, on his first diplomatic mission to France. Now, at seventeen, Jefferson’s bright, handsome eldest daughter is returning to the lush hills of the family’s beloved Virginia plantation, Monticello. While the large, beautiful estate is the same as she remembers, Martha has changed. The young girl that sailed to Europe is now a woman with a heart made heavy by a first love gone wrong.

The world around her has also become far more complicated than it once seemed. The doting father she idolized since childhood has begun to pull away. Moving back into political life, he has become distracted by the tumultuous fight for power and troubling new attachments. The home she adores depends on slavery, a practice Martha abhors. But Monticello is burdened by debt, and it cannot survive without the labor of her family’s slaves. The exotic distant cousin she is drawn to has a taste for dangerous passions, dark desires that will eventually compromise her own.

As her life becomes constrained by the demands of marriage, motherhood, politics, scandal, and her family’s increasing impoverishment, Martha yearns to find her way back to the gentle beauty and quiet happiness of the world she once knew at the top of her father’s “little mountain.”

Buy, read, and discuss Monticello:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Sally Cabot GunningAbout the author, Sally Cabot Gunning

A lifelong resident of New England, Sally Cabot Gunning has immersed herself in its history from a young age. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Satucket Novels—The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke—and, writing as Sally Cabot, the equally acclaimed Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. She lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom.

Connect with Sally:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I’ve always been fascinated by the lives of our forefathers and foremothers, and as someone who’s still riding the high of seeing Hamilton: An American Musical on Broadway, this novel, Monticello, came at the perfect time for me.

We tend to gloss over the more unsavory aspects of our history – the fact that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, for example. Most of us eventually get to a place where we can accept that even great men and women are still human, with human failings. This novel gives us a glimpse at the more human side of Jefferson, as seen through the eyes of his eldest daughter, Martha.

I really liked the way author Sally Cabot Gunning depicted Martha from the start. She’s clearly both compassionate and intelligent. As well, she’s a girl who is just coming into the fullness of womanhood, with all of the responsibilities that entails.

We first meet her on the carriage ride taking her, along with her father, her sister, and Sally Hemings (an historical figure in her own right) back to their estate, Monticello, for the first time after several years of life in Paris, and we see it through the eyes, not of contemporary tourists searching for a connection to American history, but of a young woman who must marry the glorified memories with the truth of her home and her life.

Author Gunning paints vivid pictures of life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in America, blending the personal with the political, and letting us see the dichotomy of Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father and Thomas Jefferson, father. As well, she gives us, in Martha Jefferson (eventually Martha Jefferson Randolph) a woman who becomes more and more aware of the culture and climate of her country, as juxtaposed with her rather sheltered life up on the hill.

I enjoyed seeing Jefferson through Martha’s eyes, but I enjoyed Martha’s own story – her burgeoning political and civil awareness, the difficult choices she must make in honoring her father’s legacy, but also answering to her own beliefs, and her personal life – loves lost and found, and friendships made and kept.

This is a novel, and must be treated as such, but the characters and settings are so dimensional, the research obviously painstakingly done, that it feels like truth, even when it may not necessarily be 100% factual. It’s definitely a gripping and compelling read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves history, yes, but also to anyone who enjoys stories about strong, smart young women finding their places in the world.

Goes well with hot tea, short bread, and sliced strawberries.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 27th: Lit and Life

Wednesday, June 28th: My Military Savings

Wednesday, June 28th: West Metro Mommy

Thursday, June 29th: Man of La Book

Thursday, June 29th: Bibliotica

Friday, June 30th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, July 3rd: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, July 4th: Library of Clean Reads

Wednesday, July 5th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, July 6th: alyssarossblog

Monday, July 10th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, July 11th: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, July 12th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Thursday, July 13th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, July 13th: Into the Hall of Books

Review: The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn

The Alice NetworkAbout the book, The Alice Network

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss The Alice Network:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


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

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

Connect with Kate:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 6th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, June 7th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, June 9th: Staircase Wit

Monday, June 12th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, June 13th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Tuesday, June 13th: Laura’s Reviews

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

Thursday, June 15th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, June 15th: Girl Who Reads

Friday, June 16th: BookNAround

Monday, June 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Tuesday, June 20th: The Cactus Chronicles

Wednesday, June 21th: Unabridged Chick

Thursday, June 22nd: Bibliotica

Friday, June 23rd: Leah DeCesare

Monday, June 26th: Book by Book

Tuesday, June 27th: Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, June 28th: Kritters Ramblings

Thursday, June 29th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, June 30th: Literary Quicksand

Review: The Beach at Painter’s Cove, by Shelley Noble

The Beach at Painter's CoveAbout the book, The Beach at Painter’s Cove

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 13, 2017)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Whisper Beach comes another heartwarming story of four generations of women who reunite in their crumbling family mansion by the sea for a dramatic summer filled with love, family, secrets and sisterhood.

The Whitaker family’s Connecticut mansion, Muses by the Sea, has always been a haven for artists, a hotbed of creativity, extravagances, and the occasional scandal. Art patrons for generations, the Whitakers supported strangers but drained the life out of each other. Now, after being estranged for years, four generations of Whitaker women find themselves once again at The Muses.

Leo, the Whitaker matriarch, lives in the rambling mansion crammed with artwork and junk. She plans to stay there until she joins her husband Wes on the knoll overlooking the cove and meadow where they first met. Her sister-in-law Fae, the town eccentric, is desperate to keep a secret she has been hiding for years.

Jillian, is a jet setting actress, down on her luck, and has run out of men to support her. She thinks selling The Muses will make life easier for her mother, Leo, and Fae by moving them into assisted living. The sale will also bring her the funds to get herself back on top.

Issy, Jillian’s daughter, has a successful life as a museum exhibit designer that takes her around the world. But the Muses and her grandmother are the only family she’s known and when her sister leaves her own children with Leo, Issy knows she has to step in to help.

Steph, is only twelve-years-old and desperately needs someone to fire her imagination and bring her out of her shell. What she begins to discover at the Muses could change the course of her future.

As Issy martials the family together to restore the mansion and catalogue the massive art collection, a surprising thing happens. Despite storms and moonlight dancing, diva attacks and cat fights, trips to the beach and flights of fancy, these four generations of erratic, dramatic women may just find a way to save the Muses and reunite their family.

Buy, read, and discuss The Beach at Painter’s Cove:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Shelley Noble Shelley Noble

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

Connect with Shelley:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts:

My mother asked me, a few weeks ago, to recommend a “beach book,” with the understanding that, like me, she considers a beach book to be anything that takes place at or near the shore, not necessarily frothy fiction, so immediately I answered with this book. Then I realized this novel, The Beach at Painter’s Cove, hadn’t actually been released at that point, so I told her to get Shelly Noble’s previous novel.

I stand by both suggestions.

Author Noble has crafted a story, here, that introduces us to several generations of women in the same family, a family that isn’t particularly close, but that still has similar traits – running from responsibility among them -that are threaded through each character’s arc.

And there are a lot of characters. Even I, who don’t typically have such issues, had to really pay attention in the opening chapters to keep track of who was who and how they were related to each other, but once I understood each of the different personalities, I really enjoyed the way the various character arcs were woven together, and moved back and forth, rather like ocean waves on a breezy day.

I also want to mention that, appropriately, the family manse, The Muses, was absolutely a character in its own right, and I would happily have moved in, once restoration was complete.

I have a love for “project” stories  like this one, where a group of characters must come together to make,  build, or plan and execute something and it’s clear from her vivid descriptions that Ms. Noble must as well.

One thing I truly appreciated was that everything felt cinematic. I could see the houses, the chalk drawings, each character; I could feel breezes and smell flowers. I wouldn’t be surprise if this novel were optioned for a movie because everything felt so cohesive  – there was nothing extraneous, and yet nothing ever felt underwritten – that I believe it would play well on screen.

Goes well with hot coffee and strawberry-rhubarb pie, preferably eaten on a patio.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 6th: Book by Book

Wednesday, June 7th: alyssarossblog

Wednesday, June 7th: StephTheBookworm

Thursday, June 8th: Into the Hall of Books

Friday, June 9th: Just Commonly

Friday, June 9th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, June 12th: The Book Bag

Tuesday, June 13th: BookNAround

Thursday, June 15th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Friday, June 16th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, June 20th: My Journey Back

Tuesday, June 20th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, June 21st: Stranded in Chaos

Thursday, June 22nd: Ms. Nose in a Book

Friday, June 23rd: Dreams, Etc.

TBD: Back Porchervations

TBD: A Chick Who Reads

 

Review: Sweet Tea Tuesdays, by Ashley Farley

About the book, Sweet Tea Tuesdays Sweet Tea Tuesdays

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Leisure Time Books (May 3, 2017)

Three best friends met every Tuesday for twenty-six years. And then they stopped.

From the author of the bestselling Sweeney Sisters Series comes a novel of friendship, family, and hope.

When new next-door neighbors Georgia, Midge, and Lula first assembled on Georgia’s porch in Charleston for sweet tea, they couldn’t have known their gathering was the beginning of a treasured tradition. For twenty-six years they have met on Tuesdays at four o’clock, watching the seasons change and their children grow up, supporting each other in good times and in bad. With their ambitions as different as their personalities, these best friends anticipate many more years of tea time. And then, one Tuesday, Georgia shares news that brings their long-standing social hour to an abrupt halt. And that’s only the beginning as unraveling secrets threaten to alter their friendship forever.

Buy, read, and discuss Sweet Tea Tuesdays:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Ashley Farley Ashley Farley

Ashley Farley writes books about women for women. Her characters are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives facing real-life issues. Her goal is to keep you turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning. If her story stays with you long after you’ve read the last word, then she’s done her job.

After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshipped, the man she could not save.

Ashley is a wife and mother of two young adult children. While she’s lived in Richmond, Virginia for the past 21 years, part of her heart remains in the salty marshes of the South Carolina Lowcountry where she grew up. Through the eyes of her characters, she’s able to experience the moss-draped trees, delectable cuisine, and kind-hearted folks with lazy drawls that make the area so unique.


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Many people like their summer reading to be a little lighter than the books they focus on during the rest of the year, and I’m no exception. On the surface, Sweet Tea Tuesdays seems like a typical summer read – a bunch of woman who’ve been friends since forever, meet for a weekly gossip session on the porch.

But to dismiss this novel, which is, at times, both heart-breaking and heart-warming, as just a summer read would be to deny it the credit it deserves, for in this novel, author Ashley Farley gives us a group of real women – Lula, Midge, and Georgia – who could be any of us who are older than the Redbook demographic, but don’t really feel our ages.

This is a glimpse into three lives that seem as real, as vibrant, as those of any of the women I routinely talk to. I laughed at Lula putting paper towels under her breasts to sop up sweat when her air conditioner was broken, and I cringed at the way Midge’s new fiance treated her. I sympathized with Georgia, and at times wanted to hug or shake all three of these women.

Author Farley does a great job handling southern dialogue, and sets her scenes well. Nothing is over-written, but the sense of place is strong. I could hear the mosquitoes buzzing and feel the humidity in her words.

As well, Farley is incredibly skilled at capturing those moments of all-to-human humor that happen organically. The accidental turn of phrase, the times we make unintended slips – those are sprinkled throughout this novel, lightening some of the heavier moments, yes, but also giving the entire story a deeper reality.

Goes well with iced sweet tea and peach pie.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, June 5th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Tuesday, June 6th: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, June 7th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, June 8th: Reading is My Super Power

Friday, June 9th: Bibliotica

Monday, June 12th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Monday, June 12th: Jathan & Heather

Tuesday, June 13th: Tina Says…

Thursday, June 15th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, June 16th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, June 19th: Based on a True Story

Tuesday, June 20th: StephTheBookworm

Wednesday, June 21st: Buried Under Books

Thursday, June 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life

Review: The Gypsy Moth Summer, by Julia Fierro

About the book, The Gypsy Moth Summer Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (June 6, 2017)
  • Scroll down for giveaway

It is the summer of 1992 and a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon Island. Ravenous caterpillars disrupt early summer serenity on Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island–dropping onto novels left open on picnic blankets, crawling across the T-shirts of children playing games of tag and capture the flag in the island’s leafy woods. The caterpillars become a relentless topic of island conversation and the inescapable soundtrack of the season.

It is also the summer Leslie Day Marshall–only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family–returns with her husband, a botanist, and their children to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest estate. Leslie’s husband Jules is African-American, and their children bi-racial, and islanders from both sides of the tracks form fast and dangerous opinions about the new arrivals.

Maddie Pencott LaRosa straddles those tracks: a teen queen with roots in the tony precincts of East Avalon and the crowded working class corner of West Avalon, home to Grudder Aviation factory, the island’s bread-and-butter and birthplace of generations of bombers and war machines. Maddie falls in love with Brooks, Leslie’s and Jules’ son, and that love feels as urgent to Maddie as the questions about the new and deadly cancers showing up across the island. Could Grudder Aviation, the pride of the island–and its patriarch, the Colonel–be to blame?

As the gypsy moths burst from cocoons in flocks that seem to eclipse the sun, Maddie’s and Brooks’ passion for each other grows and she begins planning a life for them off Avalon Island.

Vivid with young lovers, gangs of anxious outsiders; a plotting aged matriarch and her husband, a demented military patriarch; and a troubled young boy, each seeking his or her own refuge, escape and revenge, The Gypsy Moth Summer is about love, gaps in understanding, and the struggle to connect: within families; among friends; between neighbors and entire generations.

Buy, read, and discuss Gypsy Moth Summer:

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


About the author, Julia Fierro Julia Fierro

JULIA FIERRO is the founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, a creative home to more than 4,000 writers in New York City, Los Angeles and online. Her first novel CUTTING TEETH, was praised by The Boston Globe (“at once modern and timeless”) and The New Yorker (“a comically energetic début”).  A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Julia lives in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

Connect with Julia:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I was hooked from the first page of this novel The Gypsy Moth Summer, and author Fierro’s description of the way different sets of the younger residents of Avalon Island sought refuge in the woods on summer evenings. That description really resonated with my own memories of coming home, hot and pink, from the Jersey shore, and then wandering around my grandparents’ neighborhood until after dusk, playing freeze-tag with my friends, or hunting fireflies, or, later, finding that one spot where the honeysuckle vines formed a privacy curtain for a little private time with the boy of the moment.

With the subsequent introduction to Maddie, part of the IT-girl group, but not really one of them, I went from ‘hooked’ to ‘totally enthralled.’ I was twenty-two when this novel took place, but I remember what it was like to be on the fringe of different popular groups, wanting to be part of them, but never really meshing with the groupthink.

Beyond high school girl dynamics, though, this novel has it all – mysterious residents who return with new families, young love, small town scandal, and, of course, the life cycle of gypsy moths juxtaposed against it all.

Part classic beach read, part gripping community drama, part mystery, all brilliantly put together with language that moves from vivid and lyrical to snappy dialogue and back, as necessary, The Gypsy Moth Summer should be at the top of your summer reading list.

Goes well with a soft pretzel and an orange julius-type drink, preferably enjoyed on a boardwalk, amusement pier, or at a county fair.


Giveaway Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

One lucky reader in the US or Canada will win a copy of this novel. How? Leave a comment here telling me about your favorite summer refuge. Include a valid email so I can contact you if you win. Giveaway ends Wednesday, June 14th at 11:59 PM CDT.


Julia Fierro’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, May 31st: BookNAround

Friday, June 2nd: View from the Birdhouse

Sunday, June 4th: Writer Unboxed – author guest post

Monday, June 5th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, June 6th: Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Wednesday, June 7th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, June 8th: Bibliotica

Friday, June 9th: Readaholic Zone

Monday, June 12th: Girl Who Reads

Tuesday, June 13th: Suzy Approved

Wednesday, June 14th: Bookchickdi

Thursday, June 15th: Wildmoo Books

Friday, June 16th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Monday, June 19th: BookBub Blog – author guest post

Monday, June 19th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, June 20th: Anita Loves Books

Wednesday, June 21st: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, June 22nd: Write Read Life

Friday, June 23rd: I Brought a Book

Monday, June 26th: Art, Books, & Coffee

Tuesday, June 27th: Book Chatter

Wednesday, June 28th: 5 Minutes for Books

Thursday, June 29th: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, June 30th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, June 30th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Date TBD: Patricia’s Wisdom