Review: Shapeshifting by Michelle Ross

ShapeshiftingAbout the book: Shapeshifting: Stories

  • Publisher: Stillhouse Press
  • Paperback: 232 pages

The fourteen spellbinding stories in Michelle Ross’s second collection invite readers into the shadows of social-media perfectionism and the relentless cult of motherhood. A recovering alcoholic navigates the social landscape of a toddler playdate; a mother of two camps out in a van to secure her son’s spot at a prestigious kindergarten; a young girl forces her friends to play an elaborate, unwinnable game. With unflinching honesty and vivid, lyric prose, Ross explores the familial ties that bind us together-or, sometimes, tear us apart.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Goodreads


About the author, Michelle Ross

Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections, There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award and Finalist for the 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, Shapeshifting, winner of the Stillhouse Press Short Story Award (forthcoming in 2021), and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (forthcoming in Spring 2022). Her fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, The Common, Epiphany, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, TriQuarterly, Witness, and other venues. Her fiction has been selected for Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and the Wigleaf Top 50, among other anthologies. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review and was a consulting editor for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology. A native of Texas, she received her B.A. from Emory University and her M.F.A and M.A. from Indiana University. She currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband and son.

Connect with Michelle:

Website


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellMichelle Ross’s collection of short stories, Shapeshifting, is a haunting, provocative anthology focusing on motherhood and womanhood, and how the two are intertwined.

These  fourteen stories are not shiny, fluffy, stories about how becoming a mother is the be-all and end-all of life. Rather they are  often hilarious, sometimes dark glimpses at the struggle to retain oneself within the context of being responsible for another human being.

Rather than the retouched moms and tots we see on Instagram, these stories show a mother sleeping in a van with her still-nursing baby to get her other child into the right school, while her husband can’t even feed said child dinner because he’s busy running parenting support groups and offering advice. Ross also shows us a mother separated from her adult daughter and the bitter, skewed images each has of the other, and the collection goes on – different mothers, different stages of motherhood, all flawed and dimensional and real. All individual women.

What I loved about Ross’s writing, in addition to her brutal clarity, was the detail she put in each story – the way mothers will extend their arms to keep their children safe in their plane or car seats, even though they have seat belts – something my own mother still does when we’re in a car together even though I’m now fifty-one.

Motherhood is often called a transformative experience. Ross’s stories look at the truth of those transformations, these shifting shapes of our bodies, our minds, and our souls and reveal the parts we think, but don’t share. They are compelling mirrors of the lives of women.

Goes well with: hot coffee, a cinnamon pastry, and twenty minutes of solitude.


00-tlc-tour-hostTour Stops

Monday, January 3rd: Lit and Life

Wednesday, January 5th: @purrfectpages

Wednesday, January 5th: @openbookbyleila

Thursday, January 6th: @nurse_bookie

Friday, January 7th: @webreakforbooks

Monday, January 10th: Stranded in Chaos and @sarastrand9438

Tuesday, January 11th: @secretreadinglife

Wednesday, January 12th: @lyon.brit.andthebookshelf

Wednesday, January 12th: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 13th: @mommaleighellensbooknook

Friday, January 14th: 5 Minutes for Mom

Monday, January 17th: The Cozy Book Blog

Monday, January 17th: @nerdy_book_lover_1987

Tuesday, January 18th: Forever Lost in Literature

Wednesday, January 19th: Musings of a Literary Wanderer

Thursday, January 20th: @megsbookclub

Friday, January 21st: @kristens.reading.nook

Friday, January 21st: @wonderousreads

Monday, January 24th: Reading is My Remedy

Tuesday,  January 25th: Run Wright and @karen_runwrightreads

Wednesday, January 26th: @kelly_hunsaker_reads

Review: The Blue Zones Challenge, by Dan Buettner

About the Book, The Blue Zones Challenge

• National Geographic (December 7, 2021)
• Hardcover (240 pages)

Blue Zones ChallengeIn this companion to the number one New York Times bestseller The Blue Zones Kitchen, Dan Buettner offers a four-week guide and year-long sustainability program to jump-start your journey to better health, happiness, less stress, and a longer life.
Get started on the path to a longer, healthier, happier life with this quick start to building your own Blue Zones lifestyle. Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones and author of the New York Times number one best-selling Blue Zones Kitchen, offers the challenge of a lifetime: Build a foundation for better nutrition, more exercise, and a stronger social life that will extend your lifetime by years.
In this easy-to-implement guide, you’ll start with the rules of the Blue Zones Challenge, including tips and tricks from the five Blue Zones–locations around the world where people consistently live to 100–advice for setting up a successful kitchen and pantry, and resources for expanding you support network. Then, follow week-by-week prompts to
• Change your diet
• Increase your activity
• Update your living spaces
• Build your social life.

After four weeks–and with the help of easy-to-use worksheets and recipes–you’ll see results in your weight, your well-being, and your general health. From there, follow the Blue Zones challenge through the rest of the year with an 11-month sustainability calendar that will continue to encourage you and build upon the foundation you’ve already started.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Dan BuettnerAbout the author, Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner is the founder of Blue Zones, an organization that helps Americans live longer, healthier lives. His groundbreaking work on longevity led to his 2005 National Geographic cover story “Secrets of Living Longer” and two national bestsellers, The Blue Zones and Thrive. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

Connect with Dan:

Visit him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, and at his website bluezones.com.


My Thoughts

MissMeliss2021In March, 2020, I had the privilege of reviewing Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones Kitchen, which I loved so much, I bought copies for friends and family, so I was excited about this book, The Blue Zones Challenge, not the least because we’ve all developed some Pandemic Pudge.

What I love about Buettner’s work is that he’s passionate about his subject. The Blue Zones represent parts of the world where people practice clean eating as a way of life, and live longer, healthier lives because of it. Dan Buettner suggests that if we alter our diets to emulate those found in those zones, we, too, will live longer, healthier lives.

My familiarity with Buettner’s previous work meant that I was expecting these recipes to be mainly vegetarian, with seafood as the dominant animal protein. But this book isn’t just a cookbook. It has some recipe suggestions, but it’s really a holistic approach to a better lifestyle overall.

The best part is, the suggestions in the book aren’t difficult, and there’s no judgement in the author’s tone. Rather, there are guidelines on how to do small things to improve your overall health. Move more. Eat mindfully. Choose foods that aren’t processed. Make sure your social needs are met as well.

With the new year and “resolution” season approaching, this book could not be better timed. The Blue Zones Challenge is the perfect way to begin 2022 as you mean to go on.

Goes well with: Pumpkin Pancakes.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, December 7th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, December 8th:  Instagram: @nurse_bookie

Monday, December 13th: Jathan & Heather

Tuesday, December 14th: Instagram: @literannie

Wednesday, December 15th: Run Wright

Thursday, December 16th: Instagram: @americanlitteacher

Monday, December 20th: Instagram: @megs.notes

Tuesday, December 21st: Bibliotica

Wednesday, December 22nd: Instagram: @readresa

Thursday, December 23rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Cover Reveal: Perfect Payback by Bill Briscoe

BNR Revealed Perfect Payback

 

About the book, Perfect Payback

(Book 3 of the Pepperman Mystery Series)

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Categories: Mystery / Thriller / Suspense
  • Expected Publication: February, 2022
  • Number of Pages: 250 pages

Cover Perfect Payback_final

 

When Jim and Laura Pepperman find a musty German Olympic jacket and an old journal in their attic, they stumble onto a gripping pre-World War II story of a cousin Jim knows nothing about.

After a career-ending injury forces Hans Pepperman to lose his spot on the 1936 Olympic boxing team, he trades his athletic aspirations for a degree in mechanical engineering and secures his dream job working for the famous Willy Messerschmitt. Tasked to solve the stalling issues of the BF109 fighter plane engine, Hans finds himself smack in the middle of the Abwher Intelligence Service’s radar. Pro-Germany but anti-Nazi, he reluctantly agrees to help flush out the spy leaking secret information on the BF109 engine to foreign agencies . . . and finds himself a suspect of espionage and murder. Unsure who to trust, he must unravel the tangle of lies he’s caught in before he falls prey to the Nazi agenda slowly and stealthily taking over the country he loves.

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Prequel—Pepperman’s Promise

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About the author, Bill Briscoe

Author photo BriscoeAward-winning author Bill Briscoe grew up in the oil and gas refinery town of Phillips in the Texas Panhandle. As his retirement was on the horizon, he had an idea about a book. That idea became Pepperman’s Promise, the prequel to The Pepperman Mystery Series, leading to Perplexity, Panic Point, and now Perfect Payback, books one, two, and three of the series. Bill and his wife of over fifty years live in West Texas.

Connect with Bill:

WEBSITE  |  FACEBOOK  |   AMAZON  | GOODREADS  |  TWITTER  |   BOOKBUB

 

 

 

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Review: Wild Seas, by Thomas Peschak

About the book Wild Seas

• Publisher: National Geographic (November 30, 2021)
• Hardcover: 240 pages

Wild SeasOne of @NatGeo’s most popular nature photographers shares 200 breathtaking images — and the stories behind them — from a wide swath of wild ocean locales around the globe.

From gregarious gray whales plying the waters of Baja California to acrobatic manta rays in the Maldives and parading penguins in Antarctica, National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak has spent a lifetime documenting the beauty and fragility of underwater life and the majesty of wild coastlines.

This awe-inspiring book of photography charts his transformation from marine biologist to full-time conservation advocate, armed with little more than a mask, fins and a camera. In these vivid pages, Peschak photographs sharks in a feeding frenzy, tracks sea turtles the size of bears, and dodges marine poachers, to reveal the splendor of pristine seas as well as the dark side of pollution, overfishing, and climate change.

Filled with magnificent images from Southern Africa, the Galápagos, Seychelles, and more, this illuminating collection offers an impassioned case for revering and preserving the world’s oceans.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Thomas Peschak

Thomas Peschak is a National Geographic photographer who documents the beauty and fragility of the world’s oceans and coasts. Originally trained as a marine biologist, he embraced photography after realizing his images could have a greater conservation impact than his research. As the Director of Storytelling for the Save our Seas Foundation and a National Geographic Society Fellow, he merges science with photojournalism to tackle critical conservation issues. His TED Talk, “Dive into an Ocean Photographer’s World” has been viewed more than one million times. When he is not underwater or exploring remote islands, Peschak calls Cape Town, South Africa home.


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellOpening Thomas Peschak’s new book, Wild Seas, is an amazing experience. Full color photos spread across the initial pages, and continue on almost every subsequent page, generally with brief captions clarifying what each image presents, and where it was captured. It’s almost as though one is stepping into an art exhibit rather than merely turning pages in a book, and, in fact, there have been exhibits that included some of the photos from this piece.

But Wild Seas is more than just pretty pictures. It also tells a story: Peschak’s own story, in which we learn about his childhood, his educational background, and what drew him to a great love of our planet’s oceans and their inhabitants, and how that love led to a career as one of National Geographic’s most popular lensmen. It is that story that had me turning page after page. The pictures, of course, are amazing, but the glimpse at the artist who took them, is equally so.

Ecology, oceanography, marine biology, and art all coalesce in this beautiful book. It’s heavy – the kind of book you leave on the coffee table so you can pick it up every so often and revisit your favorite sections (for me, it’s the chapters on Manta Rays and Sharks)  – and that your friends will gush over when you see it.

As the quotation goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In Wild Seas, Thomas Peschak shows that with words and with photos, he’s a serious storyteller.

Goes well with: Steamed mussels with garlic and butter, and a crisp Pinot Grigio.


Review Stops

00-tlc-tour-hostSunday, December 5th: Stranded in Chaos

Tuesday, December 7th: Instagram: @geronimoreads

Wednesday, December 8th: Bibliotica

Thursday, December 9th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, December 13th: Instagram: @pickagoodbook

Tuesday, December 14th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Wednesday, December 15th: Man of La Book

Friday, December 17th: Kahakai Kitchen

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Review & Giveaway – Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy, by Marlene M. Bell

Scattered Legacy

 

About the book, Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy

  • Genre: Mystery / Romance
  • Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
  • Date of Publication: November 4, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 352 pages
  • Series: Annalisse (Book 3)
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Scattered LegacyTo outsiders, the relationship between Manhattan antiquities assessor Annalisse Drury and sports car magnate Alec Zavos must look carefree and glamorous. In reality, it’s a love affair regularly punctuated by treasure hunting, high adventure, and the occasional dead body.

When Alec schedules a getaway trip to show Annalisse his mother’s Italian birthplace, he squeezes in the high-stakes business of divesting his family’s corporation. But things go terribly wrong as murder makes its familiar reappearance in their lives – and this time it’s Alec’s disgraced former CFO who’s the main suspect.

Accompanied by friend and detective Bill Drake, Annalisse and Alec find themselves embroiled in a behind-closed-doors conspiracy that threatens the reputation and legacy of Alec’s late father – linking him to embezzlement, extortion, and the dirty business of the Sicilian Mafia. The key to it all might be a gifted set of rosary beads where Annalisse can use her skills for appraising artifacts to uncover the truth. She leads Alec toward answers that are unthinkable—and events that will change their futures forever.

Scattered Legacy is the third in Marlene M. Bell’s thrilling Annalisse series, which weaves romance, crime, and historical mystery into addictive tales to instantly captivate fans of TV show Bones or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

Watch the trailer for this book:

 

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Purchase | Goodreads


About the author, Marlene M. Bell

Marlene M. BellMarlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.

Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named, Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo and Squeaks, the cats that believe they rule the household—and do.

Connect with Marlene:

WEBSITE  ◆  BLOG ◆ FACEBOOK  ◆  TWITTER ◆ AMAZON  ◆  GOODREADS  ◆ BOOKBUB


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellMurder. Intrigue. Scandal. Romance. Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy has it all.

While this is the third book in Marlene M. Bell’s Annalisse series, it’s my introduction to the series (though I did feature a guest post from the author when book one was published several years ago). Nevertheless, I had no trouble recognizing the relationships between Anna and Alec, and Anna and Gen (both of which are central to the story) or following any of the through-plots that were obviously set up in previous installments. Rather, I found this to be a richly developed, if slightly heightened, version of reality. Bell’s opening scene captured my attention from the first paragraph. The juxtaposition of impending doom, family drama, and a shoplifting attempt (that clearly meant something more) was instantly intriguing.

As a second-generation Italian-American myself, I really appreciated the way Italian words and slang were dropped into the dialogue by some of the characters (Gen, especially) and how naturally ALL the dialogue sounded. I loved the way the family drama was both sweeping, involving an antique rosary, and intimate at the same time. The interactions between all the core characters felt believable. In many ways, I felt as if I’d met them before.

I also appreciated the pacing of the novel, which had a contemporary feel complimented by a neo-noire undertone that worked perfectly. Exposition unrolled organically, and I never felt like any scene was just a gratuitous info-dump. Of course, when the action moved to Italy, everything became even more heightened. The Italian characters really stood out here, but Anna and the rest of the non-Italians, Bill Drake most prominently, were equally dynamic. (In truth, I’d read a whole series about Bill.)

But it was the story that stayed front-and-center, and Bell did not let me down. Passion, scandal, blackmail, murder, intrigue, and even history are woven into a intricate plot with just enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing without causing confusion. I’m definitely going to go back and read the first two novels – I’m hooked on Anna and her story. This book was a satisfying read as a stand-alone, but I want more.

Goes well with: Sicilian blood oranges and a glass of chilled Prosecco.

Scattered Legacy


Giveaway

 THREE WINNERS (US ONLY):

1st SUPER GRANDPRIZE ($425 VALUE):
Patricia Nash leather bag; Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Puglia Region of Italy; Orecchiette Pasta from the Puglia Region; Weekly 2022 Engagement Spiral Calendar; Silver/Gold Italy Coin necklace on 18” silver chain; autographed copy of Scattered Legacy; $50 VISA gift card.

2ND PRIZE & 3rd PRIZE – Signed copies of Scattered Legacy.

(US only; ends midnight, CST, 12/10/21)

Giveaway Scattered Legacy

 

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11/30/21 Review The Plain-Spoken Pen
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12/2/21 Review The Book’s Delight
12/3/21 Review Forgotten Winds
12/3/21 Review Julia Picks 1
12/4/21 Review Momma on the Rocks
12/5/21 Review Jennifer Silverwood
12/6/21 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
12/6/21 Review Book Fidelity
12/7/21 Review Bibliotica
12/7/21 BONUS Promo All the Ups and Downs
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Review: I Am Beauty: Timeless Skincare and Beauty for Women 40 and Over, by Riku Campo

About the Book, I Am Beauty: Timeless Skincare and Beauty for Women 40 and Over

• Publisher: HarperOne (September 15, 2020)
• Hardcover: 240 pages

I Am Beauty-CoverA groundbreaking celebration of ageless beauty, providing the ultimate skincare and makeup guide for women in their forties and beyond from celebrity makeup artist Riku Campo.

The first makeup guide to celebrate and support women forty and over, I Am Beauty is Riku Campo’s labor of love. Riku has worked with some of the most beautiful and recognized faces in the world, like Cindy Crawford, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Anne Hathaway. But he has always wanted to create a book honoring those women we don’t always see on the runaways and in magazines—women like his mother, whose beauty is everlasting.

I Am Beauty includes step-by-step tutorials, advice from skincare experts, and Riku’s best behind-the-chair tips every woman needs to revitalize her routine, including:

  • Day and night skincare routines that keep you fresh and beautiful, whether you’re in your forties, fifties, sixties, or beyond
  • At-home facial massages to stimulate collagen production and optimal skin health
  • Must-have everyday makeup tools
  • Choosing the right foundation for all skin tones, types, and textures
  • Tricks for modern, elegant eyebrows and keeping lipstick fresh all day
  • Eyeshadow colors and types that work best on mature skin
  • Finding the eyeglass designs that best complement your style and daily makeup

Riku also has one-on-one conversations and day-and-night makeovers with sixteen incredible women—each with her own unique style—and shares their secrets for finding beauty in all parts of life.

Comprehensive, practical, and inspiring, packed with more than 100 full-color photos, I Am Beauty is the ultimate resource for women to maintain their glow and live their most joyful, beautiful lives.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Riku Campo

Riku CampoFinnish-born international skincare expert, makeup artist, and beauty director Riku Campo has worked as a makeup artist since 1988 and has lived in the United States since 2003. His work has been featured in major fashion and beauty magazines and ad campaigns for L’oreal, Neiman Marcus, Saks, Smashbox, Guess, and others, and he has worked with some of Hollywood’s most renowned actresses. Riku is passionate about bringing out the beauty of many different women by highlighting their own personal style. Instead of following strict rules, he believes in using makeup to bring out joy and confidence.

Connect with Riku:

Find our more about Riku on his website, Instagram, and Facebook.


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellEven if you work from home and only wear makeup if you have to go out, or be on a Zoom call – like me – Riku Campo’s I Am Beauty is an essential read. As we age (I turned 51 a few months ago) our skin changes. If we were oily as teenagers, chances are we’re dryer (but with fewer wrinkles) and we don’t know how to deal with dry skin. If we have always been dry, we might not have been moisturizing correctly. Campo covers all of that, and more.

Aided by the work of photographer Samantha Rapp, Campo talks about what makeup to choose, not so much specific brands, but types – water based vs. oil, powder vs. cream – and what eyeshadow colors give us the most natural look. All of this advice is offered with sensitivity and tact. You never feel pandered to or like a face without a person behind it.

What I really loved, though, were the day-to-night makeovers featured in the book. While still respecting each woman’s own style, Campo demonstrated transformations that ranged from the subtle to the sublime and explained how he achieved each look. It was incredibly informative.

I loved everything about this book.

It should be required reading for every woman who wants to look her best at any age.

Goes well with: a glass of cucumber water, some grilled shrimp, avocado, and cherry tomatoes.

 


Review Stops 00-tlc-tour-host

Monday, September 20th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, September 21st: Instagram: @readalotwritealot

Wednesday, September 22nd: Books, Cooks, and Looks

Thursday, September 23rd: Stacy’s Books

Friday, September 24th: What Is That Book About

Monday, September 27th: Instagram: @mrsboomreads

Tuesday, September 28th: Instagram: @pickagoodbook

Wednesday, September 29th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, October 1st: Instagram: @jenniaahava

Monday, October 4th: Run Wright

Tuesday, October 5th: Instagram: @nurse_bookie

Wednesday, October 6th: Instagram: @oddandbookish

Monday, October 11th: Instagram: @andrea.c.lowry.reads

Wednesday, October 13th: Instagram: @bookishly_overdue

Monday, December 6th, Bibliotica

 

 

Review & Giveaway: The Big Empty, by Loren C. Steffy

BNR The Big Empty

 

About the book, The Big Empty

  • Genre: Western / Rural Fiction / Small Town
  • Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing Group
  • Date of Publication: May 25, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 304 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Cover Big Empty, TheWhen Trace Malloy and Blaine Witherspoon collide on a desolate West Texas highway, their fender bender sets the tone for escalating clashes that will determine the future of the town of Conquistador.  

Malloy, a ranch manager and lifelong cowboy, knows that his occupation—and his community—are dying. He wants new- millennium opportunities for his son, even though he himself failed to summon the courage to leave familiar touchstones behind.

Witherspoon, an ambitious, Lexus-driving techie, offers a solution. He moves to Conquistador to build and run a state-of-the-art semiconductor plant that will bring prestige and high-paying technology jobs to revive the town—and advance his own career.

What neither man anticipates is the power the “Big Empty” will wield over their plans. The flat, endless expanse of dusty plain is as much a character in the conflict as are the locals struggling to subsist in this timeworn backwater and the high-tech transplants hell-bent on conquering it. While Malloy grapples with the flaws of his ancestors and his growing ambivalence toward the chip plant, Witherspoon falls prey to construction snafus, corporate backstabbing, and financial fraud. As they each confront personal fears, they find themselves united in the search for their own version of purpose in a uniquely untamable Texas landscape.

Praise for this book:

“The Big Empty” captures a moment when Big Tech seemingly promised everything. By turns funny and painful, Steffy’s story builds like an accelerating freight train, reaching a fast-paced climax.”   The Epoch Times 

 “Like the titular land itself, Steffy’s novel is uncompromising in spotlighting the strains that the drive toward material achievement puts on the individual in the face of nature’s whims.”  — Southern Review of Books

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Loren C. Steffy

author pic steffyLoren C. Steffy is the author of five nonfiction books. He is a writer at large for Texas Monthly, and his work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. He has previously worked for news organizations including Bloomberg and the Houston Chronicle, and he is a managing director for 30 Point Strategies, where he leads the 30 Point Press publishing imprint. His is a frequent guest on radio and television programs and is the co-host of the Rational Middle podcast. The Big Empty is his first novel. Steffy holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M University. He lives in Wimberley, Texas, with his wife, three dogs and an ungrateful cat.

Connect with Loren:

WEBSITE  | FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER |  AMAZON  |  GOODREADS  |  INSTAGRAM | LINKEDIN |

Connect with Stoney Creek Publishing:

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | LINKEDIN | INSTAGRAM


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellLoren C. Steffy’s debut novel is the perfect blend of his journalistic experience and a flair for good storytelling.

Set in the West Texas of the recent past, The Big Empty is a contemporary western, pitting modern cowboys against big technology, with a two-prong through line that addresses water access and the inevitability of modern development.

It’s a story Steffy tells well. The main characters literally crash into each other in the preface, and it’s obvious that these two men, cowboy Trace Malloy and techie Blaine Witherspoon will be confronting each other throughout the book.

What I found compelling about this story was that each man wants a better future for his family – Witherspoon wants to be settled in once place for a while, something he promised his wife – with a stable life for his family. Malloy wants a future for his son that isn’t tied to ranching, and includes college.

Each of these men also has different beliefs in how these things should be achieved, however. Malloy loves his West Texas home – the titular Big Empty – a flat stretch of land that’s home to cows, of course, but also to host of resident wildlife, including rattlesnakes and scorpions. Witherspoon, on the other hand, thinks technological progress is automatically good and right. In a way, he believes he’s bringing economic water to this proverbial desert.

Steffy has a good ear for dialogue, and that really helped to define the setting, as well as illustrating who was a native Texan and who was newcomer – a ‘homie’ in Malloy’s vernacular. He’s also presented, through this novel, an issue that is still very present in today’s world where we have corporations buying up small towns’ water supplies, and climate change has storms and droughts both increasing in strength and extremity.

It’s this combination of fiction and reality, as well as the conflict that comes between the characters, and how that conflict changes when they must unite – to a point – to fight a common enemy in the final third of the novel – that makes The Big Empty both full of literary craft, and as satisfying as a West Texas sunset.

Goes well with: Chicken fried steak, home fries, and a cold beer.


Giveaway

Giveaway The Big Empty

GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!

 THREE WINNERS:
Signed copy of The Big Empty and logo hat.
(US only; ends midnight CST 11/25/21)

 

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11/15/21 Author Video Chapter Break Book Blog
11/15/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
11/15/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
11/16/21 Review The Book’s Delight
11/16/21 BONUS Promo Hall Ways Blog
11/17/21 Excerpt All the Ups and Downs
11/17/21 Guest Post The Page Unbound
11/18/21 Review The Plain-Spoken Pen
11/19/21 Review Jennie Reads
11/19/21 Excerpt Book Fidelity
11/20/21 Review It’s Not All Gravy
11/21/21 Deleted Scene Forgotten Winds
11/22/21 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
11/22/21 Guest Post Missus Gonzo
11/23/21 Playlist The Clueless Gent
11/24/21 Review Bibliotica
11/24/21 Review Reading by Moonlight

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Review & Giveaway: The Yes Dare, a Pies, Books, & Jesus Book Club Novel by Kathleen Y’Barbo

The Yes Dare

 

About the book, The Yes Dare

The Yes Dare

  • Genre: Romance / Clean Romance
  • Date of Publication: July 15, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 246 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Have you ever wished for a second chance to fix something you’ve messed up or for the courage to say yes to something that just may change your life? Sometimes saying yes to the last thing you want can mean saying yes to exactly what you need.

Ryan “The Rocket” Sutton’s winning streak is legendary makes him the undisputed best quarterback in the NFL. However, thanks to one dumb mistake, he’s a failure as a husband to Coco, the only woman he’s ever loved. When a judge’s mistake in divorce paperwork means Coco is still his wife, Ryan makes up his mind to fix what he ruined. Ryan’s game plan doesn’t count on an internationally famous movie director’s camera crew following him as he competes for Coco’s love.

After spending most of her adult life as a football wife and mother to twin sons, fashionista Coco Sutton is learning how to be single and fabulous. Emphasis on Fabulous. The sports trophies, memorabilia, and heavy masculine wood furniture in the home she used to share with Ryan have been banished to the attic, and her home is now a cozy haven of plush candle-scented comfort. She’s got big plans that include owning a boutique or maybe an art gallery, but she never planned to take on the biggest challenge of her life: staying single. Then her best friend gives her a copy of a book called The Yes Dare, and all her plans are turned upside down.

From a Hollywood movie to the local spring event formerly known as the Cow Chip Toss Festival and a country crooner with a crush on Coco, will Ryan dodge the obstacles to win back the only woman he ever loved?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the Author, Kathleen Y’Barbo

Author Pic Y'BarboPublishers Weekly bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee and bestselling author of more than one hundred books with over two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she is a member of the Texas Bar Association Paralegal Division, Texas A&M Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Women Former Students (Aggie Women), Texas Historical Society, Sisters in Crime, Faith Hope and Love Christian Writers, and American Christian Fiction Writers. She would also be a member of the Daughters of the American Republic, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and a few others if she would just remember to fill out the paperwork that Great Aunt Mary Beth has sent her more than once.

Kathleen and her hero in combat boots husband have their own surprise love story that unfolded on social media a few years back. They make their home just north of Houston, Texas, and are the parents, grandparents, and in-laws of a blended family of Texans, Okies, and a trio of adorable Londoners.

Connect with Kathleen:

Website | BookBub | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon | Goodreads | Pinterest


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI was a little trepidatious about starting The Yes Dare, because I’m not really a sports person. (Well, I like the froufrou expensive sports like figure skating), but even though the main character, Ryan, is a professional athlete I found him to be so engaging that the sports stuff wasn’t bogging me down at all. In fact, I was enchanted by the entire story.

So many romances focus on first love or love at first sight. This novel is a refreshing change, because the love story at the heart of the novel, that of Ryan and Coco, is a return to love, with adult characters who have real life experience. As someone who is old enough to be an empty-nester (except that we never had children) I really appreciated seeing mature characters at the center of a really good story.

As engaging as I found the character of Ryan, I found Coco to be even more so, because she’s really discovering who she is both in and out of the roles of wife and mother. I’ve always believed that you cannot be happy in any role unless you’re happy being just yourself, and this woman’s arc really proves that to be true.

Some people may feel that a title billed as a “clean” romance is going to be insipid, but The Yes Dare is absolutely wonderful. The leads are smart, interesting people, the supporting characters are dimensional, and there’s as much humor – the organic “comes from life” kind – as there is personal and family drama.

One thing I really appreciated was the way the author, Kathleen Y’Barbo allowed both Ryan and Coco to acknowledge their own flaws and foibles. It’s often said that the only people who know the truth of a relationship are the people in it. In The Yes Dare we got to peek at the truth of a complicated marriage – one where both parties have made mistakes, and both parties are eager to grow.

Personal growth is a key element of this novel. Every character finishes the story in a better place than where they started, though some of the changes are more subtle than others.

If you’re looking for a sensational romance with heightened emotions and starry-eyed naifs, this is NOT the book for you. If, however, you want a really satisfying read with grown-up characters and heartfelt feelings, you will love The Yes Dare. I certainly did.

Goes well with: Coffee and pie. Definitely pie.


Giveaway

GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!

 FOUR WINNERS:
Grand Prize:
Full PB&J series, autographed by Kathleen Y’Barbo

and the real Bonnie Sue.
Three Winners:
Autographed copy of The Yes Dare
(US only; ends midnight, CST, 11/12/21)

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11/2/21 Video Guest Post All the Ups and Downs
11/2/21 BONUS Notable Quotable Hall Ways Blog
11/3/21 Review The Plain-Spoken Pen
11/3/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
11/4/21 Review The Adventures of a Travelers Wife
11/5/21 Excerpt Julia Picks 1
11/6/21 Review Carpe Diem Chronicles
11/7/21 Author Interview The Page Unbound
11/8/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
11/9/21 Series Spotlight The Book’s Delight
11/10/21 Review Librariel Book Adventures
11/11/21 Review Bibliotica

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Spotlight and Giveaway: Under the Texas Mistletoe, by Karen Witemeyer

Under the TX Mistletoe

 

About the book, Under the Texas Mistletoe

Under the Texas Mistletoe

  • Genre: Holiday Fiction / Christian Historical Romance / Novellas
  • Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
  • Date of Publication: August 31, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 304 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

This historical romance novella collection presents “A Texas Christmas Carol,” where a town’s wealthy, Scrooge-like bachelor finds his world invaded by a woman set on earning his donation for helping the local poor, and the penetrating questions of three mysterious visitors. It also includes “An Archer Family Christmas.” When the Archer clan gathers for the holiday, they encounter an unexpected request for help that will require all their effort and a Christmas miracle to see them through. In previously published “Gift of the Heart,” a widow uses the family brooch as collateral for a loan from the local resort owner. But the more she comes to know the man behind the stern businessman, the more she hopes for a second chance at love this Christmas.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Bethany House Publishers | Goodreads

 

Holiday Novellas - Under the Texas Mistletoe

 


About the author, Karen Witemeyer

Karen Witemeyer

Voted #1 Reader’s Favorite Christian Romance Author of 2019 by Family Fiction Magazine, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes.

Connect with Karen:

WEBSITEFACEBOOK   AMAZONGOODREADSJOIN THE POSSE  ◆ BOOKBUB

 

 


Giveaway

FOUR WINNERS!
Grand Prize:
Autographed copy of the Under the Texas Mistletoe plus a decorative Christmas sign;
Three Winners:
Signed copies of the book.
(US only; ends midnight, CST, 11/4/21.)

 

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Under the Texas Mistletoe

Review: The Lighthouse by Christopher Parker

About the book, The Lighthouse

Lighthouse_Book

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Beacon Press Limited (October 22, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 368 pages

Amy Tucker is struggling to put her life back together following the death of her mother. The loss has left the eighteen-year-old heartbroken, and she doesn’t know if her world will ever be whole again.

Meanwhile, in Seabrook, a small town famous for its haunted lighthouse, Ryan Porter lives a simple but busy life, maintaining the ranch which he shares with his father. Separated by hundreds of miles, yet drawn to each other by forces they can’t understand, Amy and Ryan spend a magical day together and quickly forge a deep connection. But all is not what it seems in Seabrook and when strange events begin happening around town, they question if their meeting really was an accident at all.

Trusting in themselves and in each other, they attempt to unravel the mystery of why fate has brought them together, and in doing so they embark on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery, a journey that leads straight to the heart of Seabrook’s mysterious lighthouse where they uncover the most shocking secret of all… a secret that will change the course of their lives forever.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Christopher Parker

Christopher ParkerChristopher Parker was born in Takapuna, a seaside suburb in Auckland, New Zealand, where he currently lives with his daughter. Having loved writing stories growing up, it was a walk along Takapuna beach and a chance glimpse at a distant lighthouse that made him want to revisit his childhood passion and try his hand at producing a novel. Nearly 10 years on from that fateful stroll, he is proud to finally share his story.

Connect with Christopher:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI’m a sucker for lighthouses, and have even visited several, so when Simone from BooksForward PR offered me the chance to read Christopher Parker’s debut novel, The Lighthouse, I was happy to accept. I’m glad I did, because this haunting, hopeful story was just what I needed this fall, and while it’s not really scary, it has enough supernatural touches that it is perfect for a rainy-day read… especially in October.

I loved that all the major characters in this novel are flawed. Amy Tucker, age eighteen, is grieving for the mother she recently lost to a car accident. Her father, Kevin, a state police detective, is grieving the loss of his wife, and the apparent disconnection between himself and Amy. Then there’s Ryan, who is caring for his ailing father and trying desperately to save his horse ranch, which is in dire straits.

While Kevin disappears for the bulk of the story, his influence is felt throughout the tale. Amy is always concerned that something dangerous has happened to her father, clearly caring for him despite the communication issues the two have. I really liked how plausible Amy felt. Moody, grieving, acting out in small ways but still essentially a good kid, she tries to help herself, and ends up helping others.

Similarly, Ryan, with all he has to deal with, is still a good person. His love of animals is beautiful to see, and his distress over a missing horse is palpable.

Author Christopher Parker has created a cozy (with ominous undertones) village in Seabrook, making the coastal locale a character in its own right. He’s also very deft with dialogue and has created very real, dimensional characters whom the reader roots for from the very beginning.

Haunting, sometimes even spooky, but also cozy hopeful and full of love, The Lighthouse is a fast read defining its own genre: the cozy neo-gothic.

Goes well with: hot chocolate and pbj sandwiches (need not be deep-fried)