Review: The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes, by David Handler

About The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes

• Paperback: 288 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 15, 2017)

Fans of JANET EVANOVICH and CARL HIAASEN, get ready. If you haven’t yet discovered wisecracking sleuth Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag and his faithful basset hound Lulu, you’re in for a sharp, hilarious treat.

Once upon a time, Hoagy had it all: a hugely successful debut novel, a gorgeous celebrity wife, the glamorous world of New York City at his feet. These days, he scrapes by as a celebrity ghostwriter. A celebrity ghostwriter who finds himself investigating murders more often than he’d like.

And once upon a time, Richard Aintree was the most famous writer in America — high school students across the country read his one and only novel, a modern classic on par with The Catcher in the Rye. But after his wife’s death, Richard went into mourning… and then into hiding. No one has heard from him in twenty years.

Until now. Richard Aintree — or someone pretending to be Richard Aintree — has at last reached out to his two estranged daughters. Monette is a lifestyle queen à la Martha Stewart whose empire is crumbling; and once upon a time, Reggie was the love of Hoagy’s life. Both sisters have received mysterious typewritten letters from their father.

Hoagy is already on the case, having been hired to ghostwrite a tell-all book about the troubled Aintree family. But no sooner does he set up shop in the pool house of Monette’s Los Angeles mansion than murder strikes. With Lulu at his side — or more often cowering in his shadow — it’s up to Hoagy to unravel the mystery, catch the killer, and pour himself that perfect single-malt Scotch… before it’s too late.

Buy, read, and discuss The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, David Handler

David Handler has written nine novels about dapper celebrity ghostwriter Stewart Hoag, including the Edgar and American Mystery Award–winning, The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as eleven novels in the bestselling Berger & Mitry series. He lives in a 230-year-old carriage house in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Connect with David:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

This book, The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes, is sort of a series reboot for David Handler’s detective duo Stwart “Hoagy” Hoag and his canine companion Lulu the Basset Hound. Or, if not technically a reboot (it’s set in the nineties) it’s a revisit, or a return.

Whatever you want to call it, this literary mystery is funny and smart, and it was refreshing to read something relatively light after so many deeper books. I love that author Handler doesn’t take himself or his material too seriously, but that Hoagy and Lulu still feel like real people – well, a real person and a real dog.

What I especially liked about this book was the period setting (and wow, do I feel old calling 1990 ‘period’). Handler reminded me of what it was like back then  – waiting for faxes, cell phones being relatively new and kind of rare – just the time it took to acquire or share information.

I also love Lulu. I’d read a series just about her. I might be biased, though, because I work in rescue and have four dogs of my own.

As someone who hadn’t read any of the other Stewart Hoag mysteries before this one, I do have to say that while The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes reads well as a stand-alone, it’s probably better appreciated if you’ve read the previous titles, which include:

The Man Who Died Laughing
The Man Who Lived By Night
The Man Who Would be F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Woman Who Fell From Grace
The Boy Who Never Grew Up
The Man Who Cancelled Himself
The Girl Who Ran Off With Daddy
The Man Who Loved Women to Death

Goes well with Chinese food and beer. Preferably delivered.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, August 15th: Brown Dog Solutions

Wednesday, August 16th: Broken Teepee

Wednesday, August 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, August 18th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, August 21st: The Book Diva’s Reads

Tuesday, August 22nd: Tina Says…

Wednesday, August 23rd: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, August 23rd: Buried Under Books

Thursday, August 24th: Bibliotica

Monday, August 28th: Mama Vicky Says

Tuesday, August 29th: Reading is My Super Power

Wednesday, August 30th: Dreams, Etc.

Thursday, August 31st: BookNAround

TBD: In Bed with Books

TBD: Writing and Running Through Life

Review: Presidents’ Day by Seth Margolis

About the book, Presidents’ Day Presidents' Day

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Diversion Publishing (February 7, 2017)

For readers of David Baldacci and Brad Meltzer comes a timely political thriller from the bestselling author of Losing Isaiah.

In this twisting, ferocious novel of suspense, the presidential race has a number of men all clawing to get to the top. Each man has a locked closet of secrets. And one man holds every key.

Julian Mellow has spent his life amassing a fortune out of low-risk / high-reward investments. But the one time in his life he got in over his head, he left another man holding the bag, and made an enemy for life, one who has nothing to lose. Now, Mellow has an even greater ambition–to select the next President of the United States–and to make that man do his bidding, in business and beyond.

It all ties to an African nation where his son died years before, where a brutal dictator still rules supreme, and where a resistance movement lurks in the alleys, waiting for the right time to strike. Margolis spans the globe to weave together a brilliant story of politics at its most venal, where murder is a part of the political process, where anyone’s life is up for sale, and where one man–that bad penny of an enemy–could bring the whole kingdom toppling.

As the new President is inaugurated, Seth Margolis has penned a perfect thriller for the voting public, one that asks who really puts the next person in the White House? And at what cost?

Buy, read, and discuss Presidents’ Day:

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


About the author, Seth Margolis Seth Margolis

Seth Margolis lives with his wife in New York City and has two grown children. He received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment.

Connect with Seth:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

If I hadn’t read enough interviews with author Seth Margolis to know that he’d written Presidents’ Day  before Donald Trump ever announced that he was running for president last year, I’d have been convinced this novel was inspired by real events.

In actuality, however, Margolis’s work is witty and smart, two traits that reality seems to be somewhat lacking these days, and his globe-spanning story of power machinations, intrigue, and retribution is a meaty, gripping novel that kept me enthralled for the entire 360 pages.

It’s also a novel with a fairly substantial cast of character. Julian Mellow, is, of course the central character, with Zach Springer being one of the other main voices we hear, but I definitely felt like there was a sort of ‘cast of thousands’ inhabiting the pages of this book.

What really struck me was the cinematic quality to Margolis’s writing. From the opening scene in San Francisco, to the final one in Florida this book is immersive. I could feel the steepness of that hill in the first chapter and see the drab, grubby room in the last, and in between, whether the setting was an opulent hotel, a conference room in an office building, or the White House, itself, the sense of place is incredibly strong.

Ultimately, Presidents’ Day is a read with as much social commentary as satisfying plot twists, and I recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers or political fiction.

Goes well with a Reuben sandwich and a bottle of micro-brew beer.


Seth Margolis’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, July 31st: Tales of a Book Addict

Wednesday, August 2nd: Write Read Life

Monday, August 7th: Book Nerd

Tuesday, August 8th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, August 10th: Mystery Suspense Reviews

Friday, August 11th: Cheryl’s Book Nook

Tuesday, August 15th: Helen’s Book Blog

Wednesday, August 23rd: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, August 24th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Friday, August 25th: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, August 31st: Bibliotica

Thursday, August 31st: Tome Tender

Monday, September 4th: Jathan & Heather

TBD: Staircase Wit

TBD: Blogging with A

TBD: Brooke Blogs

Review: It’s Messy, by Amanda de Cadenet

About the book, It’s Messy Its-Messy-cover

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Wave (September 19, 2017)

In this deeply personal collection of essays, creator of the The Conversation Amanda de Cadenet shares the hard-won advice and practical insights she’s gained through her experiences as businesswoman, friend, wife, and mother.

Amanda is on a mission to facilitate conversations that allow all women to be seen, heard, and understood. Through her multimedia platform The Conversation, she interviews some of today’s most bad ass women—from Hillary Clinton to Lady Gaga—in no-holds-barred conversations that get to the heart of what means to be female. Now, in It’s Messy, Amanda offers readers an extension of that conversation, inviting them into her life and sharing her own story.

From childhood fame to a high-profile marriage (and divorce) to teen motherhood to the sexism that threatened to end her career before it started, Amanda shares the good, the bad, and the messy of her life, synthesizing lessons she’s learned along the way. Through it all, she offers an original perspective as a feminist on the front lines of celebrity culture. Edgy, irreverent, poignant and provocative, It’s Messy addresses the issues, concerns, and experiences relevant to women today.

Buy, read, and discuss It’s Messy:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Amanda de Cadenet

Amanda-de-Cadenet-APAmanda de Cadenet is a creative force with a lifelong career in the media. She began as a host on British television at the age of fifteen and became a sought-after photographer shortly after—as a result her impressive photography career already spans nearly twenty years. She is the youngest woman ever to shoot a Vogue cover and has photographed many of the most influential figures in popular and political culture. As a media entrepreneur, Amanda is the creator of The Conversation, a series that showcases her in-depth interviews on real topics with celebrated women. Whether it’s in conversations with Lady Gaga, Sarah Silverman, Zoe Saldana, Chelsea Handler, or Gwyneth Paltrow, or in discussions with devoted followers of her social channels, Amanda delivers an honest and authentic voice. The series has aired in eighteen countries and is featured online, with over ten million viewers. In January 2016, Amanda conducted an exclusive one-on-one interview with presidential candidate Secretary Clinton. In February 2016, Amanda launched #Girlgaze, a digital media company utilizing user submitted content and highlighting the work of  Gen Z women photographers and directors.

Connect with Amanda:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I love collections of essays and short stories. You can pick them up and put them down, start from random points, if you’re of a mind to, and leave them in the bathroom for a week, to be read when you’re pretty much a captive audience. When such a collection is good, it hooks you, makes you think, makes you want to phone the author and gush over her words.

It’s Messy was good  – in that way – for me.

The author, Amanda de Cadenet is, like me, a solid GenXer. Okay, she’s British and comes from a famous family, and we had radically different lives, but she has a sensibility I really responded to – to the point where I was following my husband around our house reading bits of her essays out loud.

Here’s what I loved about It’s Messy: It’s candid – it’s candid in the kind of way I wish I was comfortable being. It’s not ha-ha funny, but there’s a wry undertone that runs through even the most poignant of pieces. I responded to that very strongly. And mostly – it’s universal. Sure, the details are specific to the author, but the emotional truths she shares, the life lessons she relates  – those apply to all of us.

I also liked – and this may seem a small thing, but in an age when we are just learning about intersectionality, it’s important – in her introduction she referred to “anyone who identifies as female.” As an ally, that phrase sold me on the entire book.

And, let me be clear, It’s Messy: Essays on Boys, Boobs, and Badass Women, is a great book. I laughed, I cried, I felt like I’d been having a two hundred-ish-page-long conversation with a dear friend, the kind who is insightful and blunt, but also caring.

Because people always want to know what our favorites are, I will call out two of the essays as things I responded to particularly. The first is “Life According to Little Amanda” which is sort of a bio, but a little bit deeper, and slightly less linear. While I’ve never sat down next to a member of Duran Duran and ended up dating him, or spend time in juvie, I know what it is to feel out of place, or like regular life just isn’t working.

The second which I particularly enjoyed despite the fact that I’m not a parent, is “How to Parent in the Time of Trump,” because it’s so very important that we nurture our younger generation but that we’re also honest with them. Many of my friends have kids who are asking the same sorts of questions Amanda’s kids are asking, and I feel like I should make copies of this essay and share it with all of them.

Naah… they all just need the whole book.

Goes well with a tall glass of milk (or your favorite milk-alternative) and a slice of leftover birthday cake.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, August 22nd: A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, August 23rd: Lit and Life

Thursday, August 24th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, August 28th: From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, August 29th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 30th: Comfy Reading

Thursday, August 31st: Book Hooked Blog

Friday, September 1st: The Geeky Bibliophile

Tuesday, September 5th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, September 6th: Wining Wife

Thursday, September 7th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Friday, September 8th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Monday, September 11th: Literary Quicksand

TBD: Books & Tea

Review: Red Year, by Jan Shapin

About the book Red Year Red Year

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss Red Year:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Jan Shapin Jan Shapin

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

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

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

Connect with Jan:

Website


My Thoughts: Melissa A. Bartell

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tour Stops:TLC Book Tours

Thursday, July 27th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, August 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, August 2nd: Wining Wife

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

Monday, August 7th: The Paperback Pilgrim

Tuesday, August 15th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, August 21st: Dwell in Possibility

Tuesday, August 22nd: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 30th: Girl Who Reads

TBD: Sara the Introvert

Review: A Mother Like Mine, by Kate Hewitt

About the book, A Mother Like Mine A Mother Like Mine

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (August 8, 2017)

Welcome to England’s beautiful Lake District, where a reluctant reunion forges a new bond between a daughter and her wayward mother….
 
Abby Rhodes is just starting to get her life on track. After her fiancé’s unexpected death, she returned with her young son to the small village where she grew up and threw herself into helping her ailing grandmother run the town’s beach café. Then one evening, her mother, Laura, shows up in Hartley-by-the-Sea and announces her plan to stay. After twenty years away, she now wants to focus on the future—and has no intention, it seems, of revisiting the painful past.

Laura Rhodes has made a lot of mistakes, and many of them concern her daughter. But as Abby gets little glimpses into her mother’s life, she begins to realize there are depths to Laura she never knew. Slowly, Abby and Laura start making tentative steps toward each other, only to have life become even more complicated when an unexpected tragedy arises. Together, the two women will discover truths both sad and surprising that draw them closer to a new understanding of what it means to truly forgive someone you love.

Buy, read, and discuss A Mother Like Mine:

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


About the author, Kate Hewitt Kate Hewitt

Kate Hewitt is the USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty books, including the Hartley-by-the-Sea novels Rainy Day Sisters and Now and Then Friends, and more recently, the Willoughby Close series. A former New Yorker, she now lives in Wales with her husband five children. She also writes as Katharine Swartz.

Connect with Kate:

Website | BlogFacebook | Twitter | Instagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

My first introduction to Kate Hewitt’s work was when a copy of Rainy Day Sisters showed up in my mailbox, unsolicited. I emailed the publisher’s rep and she said, “Well, do you mind reviewing it if you have time?” In a nutshell, I loved that book, and I feel in love with Hewitt’s writing.

In this novel, A Mother Like Mine, Hewitt has again set a story in Hartley-by-the-Sea, and is again examining the various permutations of family, and especially the ever-changing dynamics between mother and daughter, which, I know from lifelong experience as the latter, is never an uncomplicated relationship.

In both Abby and Laura, Hewitt has given us characters who are flawed and deep and supremely real. Abby is a single mother with a young son, and we see her in that role first, establishing her as an independent adult. It’s only after we see her competence and self-reliance that Laura arrives, and suddenly we meet Abby, the daughter, while Laura has the mother-role, to a point.

Their ongoing interactions, both with each other, and with the cast of characters that populates this lovely coastal village (am I the only one who’d love to live there?) are sometimes stressful, sometimes funny, often poignant, and always incredibly realistic. At times I was reminded by conversations with my own mother, who has been a constant part of my life, though often chose to put her happiness before mine, and, I believe, wisely so.

I was just having a chat with a friend who said she didn’t think her writing was ever interesting enough. I get that that. I sometimes worry about the same thing. Then I look at novelists like Kate Hewitt who make universal themes into compelling, satisfying stories, and I think we’re all worrying too much.

In any case, I recommend this novel, A Mother Like Mine to all mothers and all daughters, and all women who are both.

Goes well with tea and scones… mainly because it’s raining as I write this review, and I’m craving both.


Kate Hewitt’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, August 8th: Books & Bindings

Thursday, August 10th: Chick Lit Central – author Q&A

Friday, August 11th: Girl Who Reads

Monday, August 14th: Mama Vicky Says

Thursday, August 17th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 23rd: Book Mama Blog

Friday, August 25th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, August 28th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Wednesday, August 30th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, September 1st: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, September 4th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, September 5th: Time 2 Read

Wednesday, September 6th: Just Commonly

Thursday, September 7th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Friday, September 8th: Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 12th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, September 13th: Just One More Chapter

Thursday, September 14th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Review: The Dress in the Window, by Sofia Grant

About  the book, The Dress in the Window The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 25, 2017)

A perfect debut novel is like a perfect dress—it’s a “must have” and when you “try it on” it fits perfectly. In this richly patterned story of sisterhood, ambition, and reinvention Sofia Grant has created a story just right for fans of Vintage and The Dress Shop of Dreams.

World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.

Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancé she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town.  But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.

Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.

Buy, read, and discuss The Dress in the Window:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Sofia Grant Sofia-Grant-AP-Photo-by-Madeira-James

Sofia Grant has the heart of a homemaker, the curiosity of a cat, and the keen eye of a scout. She works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.

Connect with Sofia:

Website | Facebook | TwitterInstagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I don’t sew, but I’m the daughter of a talented sewist, so I chose to review this book in part so I could pass it on to her.  I’m glad I did, because the story was fantastically crafted, both Jeanne and Peggy (and less so Thelma and Tommie) have stitched their way into my heart.

Practical Jeanne and ambitious, dreaming Peggy struck me as being both perfectly complementary sisters – each balancing the other  – but also as representing the duality of all of us who are creative, and must constantly decide whether to let our business sense or our romanticism take the lead. I found their relationship reminiscent of my mother’s relationship with her own sisters, though I really only see that in glimpses.

Beyond just their sisterhood, though, I found the journeys each woman takes to be quite compelling. I like that each woman ends up more self-aware at the end of the book than they were at the start. Each of them is stronger and more confident in who they are and what they truly want in life.

In addition to the actual story, I really loved the way the book was designed. Yes, there’s that fantastic Dior-inspired dress on the cover of the book, but inside, each section is linked to a kind of fabric, beginning with taffeta. (I remember my mother cursing over certain kinds of fabrics when I was a kid, and I’ve called her to find her doing the same thing much more recently.

Author Sofia Grant has put a lot detail – historical, sewing, family, setting – into this book, and her care shows. The book never feels affected. Rather, it seems effortless, a sure sign of a great deal of work.

You don’t have to sew, or have a relative who sews to appreciate this book. The period setting, the family relationships – those are what make the novel. The rest? That’s window dressing. Really, really good window dressing.

Goes well with a Philly cheese-steak sandwich. Not because it has anything to do with the novel, aside from the fact that much of it is set there, but because I really want one.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 25th: Life By Kristen

Friday, July 28th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, July 31st: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, August 1st: BookNAround

Wednesday, August 2nd: Based on a True Story

Thursday, August 3rd: Tina Says…

Friday, August 4th: Bibliotica

Monday, August 7th: Time 2 Read

Tuesday, August 8th: Into the Hall of Books

Wednesday, August 9th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, August 11th: StephTheBookworm

TBD: Book by Book

TBD: View from the Birdhouse

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