Review: Abby’s Journey, by Steena Holmes

About the book, Abby’s Journey Abby's Journey

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (February 14, 2017)

Twenty-year-old Abigail Turner has only known her mother, Claire—who died shortly after she was born—through letters, videos, postcards, and journals. Abby’s father, Josh, has raised his precious daughter himself, but his overprotectiveness has become stifling. Abby longs to forge out on her own and see the world after a childhood trapped indoors: she suffers from bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which means a case of the sniffles can rapidly escalate into life-threatening pneumonia.

But when Abby’s doctor declares her healthy—for now—her grandmother Millie whisks her away to Europe to visit the Christmas markets that her mother cherished and chronicled in her travel journals. Despite her father’s objections, Abby and Millie embark on a journey of discovery in which Abby will learn secrets that force her to reevaluate her image of her mother and come to a more mature understanding of a parent-child bond that transcends death.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes offers a tender and heartfelt exploration of parental love and a daughter’s longing for connection in the poignant next chapter following Saving Abby.

Buy, read, and discuss Abby’s Journey

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

About the author, Steena Holmes Steena Holmes

About Steena Holmes

After writing her first novel while working as a receptionist, Steena Holmes made her dream of being a full-time writer a reality. She won the National Indie Excellence Book Award in 2012 for her bestselling novel Finding Emma. Now both a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Steena continues to write stories that touch every parent’s heart in one way or another. To find out more about her books and her love for traveling, you can visit her website at or follow her journeys over on Instagram @steenaholmes.

Connect with Steena

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Abby’s Journey is the sequel to another novel by Steena Holmes, Saving Abby, but while the first book does provide context, it’s not necessary to read one in order to enjoy the other.

In many ways, Abby’s Journey is a typical coming-of-age story. Yes, the title character is twenty, not a teenager, but she’s lived a sheltered life as the combined result of life-long health issues and a doting widowed father. Still, she’s taking control of her own life for the first time, and watching the way her interactions with people and the world change is really fascinating.

Overall, this is a gentle story… a family drama with Abby at the center, punctuated by letters written by her dead mother, Claire, in the months before Abby was born. The characters all feel very real, especially Abby, her best friend/godmother Sam, her father, Josh, and her grandparents. (I had a great aunt named Millie, so seeing that name was especially heartwarming for me.)

I loved the use of letters, blog entries, and postcards within this story, even though it wasn’t really an epistolary novel, and I truly loved the way Holmes’s contemporary writing style is both accessible and very vivid.

More than reading a novel, I felt as though I was taking Abby’s journey with her, following her footsteps first into her snowy back yard, and later, onto a plane and to Germany during the tradition pre-Christmas festivities.

Goes well with hot chocolate and pfeffernüsse cookies.

Steena Holmes’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, February 14th: Book Mama

Wednesday, February 15th: Just Commonly

Thursday, February 16th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, February 20th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, February 22nd: Suzy Approved

Monday, February 27th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Wednesday, March 1st: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, March 2nd: I Brought a Book

Friday, March 3rd: Not in Jersey

Monday, March 6th: Book Dilettante

Wednesday, March 8th: Chick Lit Central – author guest post

Thursday, March 9th: Readaholic Zone

Friday, March 10th: Stranded in Chaos

Monday, March 13th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Thursday, March 16th: An Accidental Blog

Friday, March 17th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, March 21st: Bibliotica

Friday, March 24th: Mom’s Small Victories

The Christos Mosaic, by Vincent Czyz

About the book, The Christos Mosaic The Christos Mosaic

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss The Christos Mosaic

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

About the author, Vincent Czyz Vincent Czyz

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

My Thoughts MissMeliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 11th: Bibliotica

Monday, February 15th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, February 17th: Ace and Hoser Blog

Monday, March 7th: Life is Story

Date TBD: Patricia’s Wisdom


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

About the book, The Past The Past

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss The Past

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Tessa Hadley Tessa Hadley

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

My Thoughts MissMeliss

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

And this novel, The Past, is truly engaging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tessa’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, January 5th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, January 6th: BookNAround

Thursday, January 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, January 11th: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, January 12th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, January 13th: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 14th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

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

Monday, January 18th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, January 19th: Bibliophiliac

Wednesday, January 20th: Curling Up by the Fire

Thursday, January 21st: From the TBR Pile

Friday, January 22nd: A Book Geek

Monday, January 25th: Novel Escapes

Tuesday, January 26th: Dreams, Etc.

Spotlight: The Santa Claus Man, by Alex Palmer #TLCBookTours #GiftOption

About The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York The Santa Claus Man

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press (October 1, 2015)

Miracle on 34th Street meets The Wolf of Wall Street in this true crime adventure, set in New York City in the Roaring Twenties.

Before the charismatic John Duval Gluck, Jr. came along, letters from New York City children to Santa Claus were destroyed, unopened, by the U.S. Post Office Department. Gluck saw an opportunity, and created the Santa Claus Association. The effort delighted the public, and for 15 years money and gifts flowed to the only group authorized to answer Santa’s mail. Gluck became a Jazz Age celebrity, rubbing shoulders with the era’s movie stars and politicians, and even planned to erect a vast Santa Claus monument in the center of Manhattan — until Gotham’s crusading charity commissioner discovered some dark secrets in Santa’s workshop.

The rise and fall of the Santa Claus Association is a caper both heartwarming and hardboiled, involving stolen art, phony Boy Scouts, a kidnapping, pursuit by the FBI, a Coney Island bullfight, and above all, the thrills and dangers of a wild imagination. It’s also the larger story of how Christmas became the extravagant holiday we celebrate today, from Santa’s early beginnings in New York to the country’s first citywide tree lighting to Macy’s first grand holiday parade. The Santa Claus Man is a holiday tale with a dark underbelly, and an essential read for lovers of Christmas stories, true crime, and New York City history.

Other holiday highlights found in The Santa Clause Man:

  •        The secret history of Santa letters, including a trove of original Santa letters and previously unpublished correspondences between the post office and charity groups arguing whether Santa’s mail should be answered.
  •        The surprising origins of Christmas as we celebrate it today. From “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the image of Santa Claus popularized by Coca-Cola, this book outlines how modern Christmas came to be, and includes a standalone timeline of holiday milestones.
  •        The rise of modern-day charity— and charity fraud. Unchecked giving exploded after the First World War and this book follows this growth, as well as some of the most egregious exploiters of the country’s goodwill (including the Santa Claus Man himself), and how they were finally exposed.
  •        Dozens of original vintage holiday photos, including a sculpture of Santa Claus made of 5,000 pulped letters to Santa, and a detailed sketch of a proposed Santa Claus Building, planned but never built in midtown Manhattan.

“Highly readable” — Publishers Weekly

“Required reading” — New York Post

“A rich, sensational story of holiday spirit corrupted by audacity and greed, fueled by the media at the dawning of the Jazz Age.”— Greg Young, cohost of Bowery Boys NYC history podcast

“A Christmas pudding of a book, studded with historical nuggets and spiced with larceny.”— Gerard Helferich, author of Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin

The Santa Claus Man was featured in this New York Times post entitled “Mama Says That Santa Claus Does Not Come to Poor People

Buy, read, and discuss The Santa Claus Man

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About the author, Alex Palmer Alex Palmer

Author Alex Palmer has written for Slate, Vulture, Smithsonian Magazine, New York Daily News and many other outlets. The author of previous nonfiction books Weird-o-Pedia and Literary Miscellany, he is also the great-grandnephew of John Duval Gluck, Jr.

Connect with Alex

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Special blog tour Christmas gift:

Get a free Santa bookplate signed by the author, plus two vintage Santa Claus Association holiday seals. Just email proof once you buy The Santa Claus Man (online receipt, photo of bookstore receipt, etc.) along with the mailing address where you’d like the gift sent to santaclausmanbook[at]gmail[dot]com. Email before 12/21 to guarantee delivery by Christmas.

Alex Palmer’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, November 30th: A Chick Who Reads – Excerpt 1

Tuesday, December 1st: Time 2 Read – Excerpt 2

Wednesday, December 2nd: Life by Kristen – review

Thursday, December 3rd: Bibliotica – spotlight

Friday, December 4th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen – Excerpt 3

Monday, December 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller – author guest post

Tuesday, December 8th: BookBub – “7 True Holiday Tales to Put You in the Christmas Spirit”

Wednesday, December 9th: From the TBR Pile – Excerpt 4

Wednesday, December 9th: Buried Under Books – author guest post

Thursday, December 10th: Books on the Table – review and guest post

Thursday, December 10th: Broken Teepee – spotlight

Friday, December 11th: A Literary Vacation – author Q&A

Monday, December 14th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty – review

Tuesday, December 15th: Mom in Love with Fiction – Excerpt 5

Thursday, December 17th: Open Book Society – review

Thursday, December 17th: BookNAround – review

Friday, December 18th: Dreams, Etc. – review

Thursday, December 24th: FictionZeal – spotlight