Review: A Deadly Eclair: a French Bistro Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber

About the book, A Deadly EclairA Deadly Eclair

 

  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (November 7, 2017)

It’s always been Mimi Rousseau’s dream to open her own bistro, but it seems beyond her grasp since she’s been chased back home to Nouvelle Vie in Napa Valley by her late husband’s tremendous debt. Until her best friend Jorianne James introduces her to entrepreneur Bryan Baker who invests in promising prospects. Now, working the bistro and inn until she’s able to pay it off and call it her own, Mimi is throwing the inn’s first wedding ever.

The wedding will be the talk of the town, as famous talk show host Angelica Edmonton, daughter of Bryan’s half-brother, Edison, has chosen the inn as her perfect venue. Anxious, Mimi is sure things are going to turn south, especially when Edison gets drunk and rowdy at the out-of-towners’ dinner, but by the evening, things begin to look up again. That is until six AM rolls around, and Bryan is found dead at the bistro with an éclair stuffed in his mouth. And the fingers point at Mimi, whose entire loan is forgiven in Bryan’s will.

Now it’s up to Mimi to clear her name and get to the bottom of things before the killer turns up the heat again in A Deadly Éclair, the scrumptious series debut by Agatha Award-winning author Daryl Wood Gerber.

Buy, read, and discuss A Deadly Eclair:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Daryl Wood Gerber

Daryl Wood GerberAgatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber is best known for her nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries and CHEESE SHOP MYSTERIES, which she pens as Avery Aames. She will soon debut the new French Bistro Mysteries. Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: DAYS OF SECRETS and GIRL ON THE RUN. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl:

Website | Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellI saved reading this book until October, knowing that I’d be writing my review to go live on Halloween, and I ended up reading it while watching the wildfires in California decimate a significant amount of the Napa valley and surrounding areas, which made this lovely, cozy mystery feel just a little bit bittersweet. I can’t help but wonder if the author, Daryl Wood Gerber, will use the fires in future entries into this series.

Brutal reality aside, I really enjoyed this book. Cozy mysteries can sometimes feel too saccharine, but Gerber’s writing is witty and on point, and her plot moved at the perfect pace. True, a wine country wedding in a French bistro is inherently frothy, but she made sure most of the froth was in coffee drinks and on dresses.

Bistro owner-cum-amateur detective Mimi was likeable from the first page, though I felt that some of her interactions while in sleuthing mode were a little bit abrupt. Overall, however, the balance of cooking and questioning was a good one, and the wedding background was the perfect choice for a series opener.

I also really liked Heather, whose no-nonsense style was the perfect counter to Mimi’s self-doubt, Jorianne, her best friend, and Bryan, who, sadly, becomes the victim of the eponymous eclair.

“Go big or don’t go at all,” Mimi is advised by entrepreneur (and uncle of the bride), Bryan Baker, but it would seem that Daryl Wood Gerber received the same advice, because she’s certainly gone big with the launch of her new French Bistro series, giving us a great story full of lively, interesting characters as well as a collection of the recipes used in the novel (as much as I love eclairs, I’m most interested in the onion soup).

Goes well with espresso or cappuccino and either a raspberry  sour cream tart (see the book for recipe).

 

 

Review: The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper

About the book, The Other Alcott

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper• Paperback: 432 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 5, 2017)

Named one of POPSUGAR’s 25 Books to Read This Fall!

Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right.

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”

Praise for The Other Alcott:

“Elise Hooper’s thoroughly modern debut gives a fresh take on one of literature’s most beloved families. To read this book is to understand why the women behind Little Women continue to cast a long shadow on our imaginations and dreams. Hooper is a writer to watch!”—Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens

Buy, read, and discuss The Other Alcott:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Elise Hooper

Elise HooperThough a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise Hooper lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle, where she teaches history and literature.

Connect with Elise:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellWhen I was six or seven, my mother and I started reading Little Women, a chapter a night, as we had every book until then. It was the last book we read that way, because my reading ability had finally progressed enough that the tiny print and paper-thin pages (it was all three of the March sisters’ novels in one volume) posed no challenge to me, and a chapter a night was no longer enough.

Like most fans of those books, I wanted to be Jo March. There are times when I still want to be Jo. But I never disliked Amy, and when I was given the chance to read The Other Alcott, a novelization of May Alcott’s (the model for Amy) life, I jumped at it. There might even have been begging involved.

I was not disappointed.

Author Elise Hooper has taken a massive amount of research and turned it into an engaging novel that gives us a glimpse at the youngest Alcott sister. As well, she shows how May and her fictional counterpart are similar, and how they are different.

While some of the connections May makes in this novel are merely supposition; others are true to life. Mary Cassatt, whose art I’ve loved ever since I learned what Impressionism was, was both a contemporary and a friend. May spent a lot of time in Europe, making the French countryside her home – and I find myself a bit envious.

Part biography, part love story (May has a  great love come into her life when he’s in her mid-thirties – old for the time) and entirely engaging, The Other Alcott exists in that area between pure fact and total fiction. It’s truthful even when the author has extrapolated information (or even just made stuff up) and it feels like a much-needed addition to the library of any Louisa May Alcott fan.

Goes well with hot tea served in hand-painted china cups, and scones with jam and clotted cream.


Tour Stops

TLC Book ToursThursday, September 7th: History From a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, September 8th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, September 13th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, September 14th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, September 18th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.

Thursday, September 21st: bookchickdi

Friday, September 22nd: A Bookish Affair

Monday, September 25th: Literary Lindsey

Tuesday, September 26th: BookNAround

Wednesday, September 27th: She’s All Booked

Thursday, September 28th: Openly Bookish

Friday, September 29th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, October 3rd: View From the Birdhouse

Wednesday, October 4th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, October 9th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, October 11th: A Literary Vacation

TBD: Unabridged Chick

TBD: Into the Hall of Books

Review: Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

About the book, Last Christmas in Paris

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb• Paperback: 400 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 3, 2017)

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

Buy, read and discuss Last Christmas in Paris:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the authors, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Hazel GaynorHAZEL GAYNOR is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year.

Hazel was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and her work has been translated into several languages.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland.

Connect with Hazel:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Heather WebbHEATHER WEBB writes historical fiction for Penguin, including her novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover.

As a former military brat, Heather naturally grew up obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before channeling these passions into fiction. When not writing, she flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

Connect with Heather:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellAs genres go, epistolary fiction is woefully underrepresented, but that’s probably because it’s really difficult to do well. In this novel, Last Christmas in Paris, authors Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb blew away all my fears, and gave me – gave all of us – a delightful read in the process.

While I enjoyed the novel as a whole, and nearly fell in love with Tom myself, it was Evie’s story that really gripped me. So many writers have the women just staying home when they write novels set during wartime, but Gaynor and Webb made their female lead into a woman with drive and determination, as well as a career, and friends that were separate from the circle of people she and Tom knew collectively. It’s so important to represent women as whole, dimensional beings, and these authors did so exceptionally well.

I felt the descriptions of places and people within this novel were incredibly cinematic, and I can easily imagine this story on the big screen as a Merchant Ivory production. As well, I felt that, despite things like the final letter being read at Christmastime in Paris, this novel managed to stay grounded in reality. It’s essentially an historical romance, yes, but it’s one grounded in reality, and the characters are incredibly human and flawed.

If you’re a sucker for a well-written letter, if you hoard stationery ‘just to have,’ as I do, or if you’re simply in the mood for a sentimental (but never sappy) love story, Last Christmas in Paris is the novel for you.

Goes well with hot chocolate and those ‘Danish’ butter cookies they sell in tins around holiday times.


Tour Stops

TLC Book ToursTuesday, October 3rd: Into the Hall of Books

Wednesday, October 4th: Back Porchervations

Thursday, October 5th: Bibliotica

Friday, October 6th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Monday, October 9th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, October 9th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, October 10th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, October 16th: BookNAround

Tuesday, October 17th: Jathan & Heather

Wednesday, October 18th: Girl Who Reads

Wednesday, October 18th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, October 19th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Friday, October 20th: Books and Bindings

Monday, October 23rd: West Metro Mommy

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: 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: Comfort Plans, by Kimberly Fish – with Giveaway

Comfort Plans Blog Tour

About the book, Comfort Plans Comfort Plans

  • Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction
  • Date of Publication: May 23, 2017
  • Number of Pages: 320
  • Scroll down for Giveaway

Colette Sheridan is being remodeled.

As a San Antonio architect, she’d have vowed her career was to investigate the history and create new functions for the structures everyone else saw as eyesores. The old German farmhouse in Comfort, Texas, might be the screeching end of that dream job. The assignment seemed so ideal at the start; generous clients, a stunning location, and a pocketful of letters that were surely meant to explain the ranch’s story. All that goodness crashed louder than a pile of two-by-fours when her grandfather announced he’d lured Colette’s ex-husband back to San Antonio to take over the family architecture firm. Now, not only does Colette have to endure the challenges posed by Beau Jefferson, the client’s handpicked contractor, a house that resists efforts to be modernized, and letters that may hold the secret to buried treasure, but she also has to decide if she has the courage to fight for her future.

Set against the backdrop of the Texas Hill Country, Colette and Beau have to rely on plans neither of them constructed in order to navigate the changes of a house with a story to tell, and a future they couldn’t even imagine.

Buy, read, and discuss Comfort Plans:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Kimberly Fish

Kimberly FishKimberly Fish started writing professionally with the birth of her second child and the purchase of a home computer. Having found this dubious outlet, she then entered and won The Writer’s League of Texas manuscript contest which fed her on-going fascination with story crafting. She has since published in magazines, newspapers, and online formats and in 2017, released the first novel in a series set during the World War II years in Longview, Texas—The Big Inch. She lives with her family in East Texas.

Connect with Kimberly:

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellThere’s often a fine line between contemporary fiction and romance. That’s not a bad thing, but it bears mentioning that while this novel, Comfort Plans has elements of romance (and two hot male leads in Julian and Beau) but it is really Collette’s story, the story of a woman who must face herself, face her choices, and face the new paths that life is offering her.  As such, it’s a bit deeper, a bit more reflective than traditional ‘romance’ novels.

Author Kimberly Fish has a writing style that feels fast and fresh. There is nothing unpolished or simple about this story, but she makes you feel like her words flowed effortlessly from her keyboard to your eyes. Collette feels dimensional, and as a reader, sympathizing with her struggles seems as natural as offering your best friend a reassuring hug and a glass of Merlot after a rough day.

I liked that Fish set up this novel so that Collette had to face the internal struggle of her own lack of confidence, as well as the external one of her ex-husband, and the prickly contractor she must work with. I liked that her strength ultimately was very real, and very human. Writing imperfect, but relatable characters is a skill that some authors take several novels to hone. Fish has already mastered it, and it was a pleasure to read her words. I especially appreciated the way she never wrote in dialect, but the Texas accent came through in her character’s dialogue even so. Again, it takes a deft hand to pull that off.

If you want a story that is equal parts comfort-read and woman-coming-into-her-power, plan on enjoying Comfort Plans. I did, and I’m recommending it to all my friends.

Goes well with BBQ brisket, corn on the cob, and a green salad accented with homegrown tomatoes and peppers. 


Giveaway

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Tour Stops

7/31 Excerpt 1 Books in the Garden
8/1 Review Bibliotica
8/2 Character Interview Texas Book Lover
8/3 Guest Post 1 CGB Blog Tours
8/4 Review Chapter Break Book Blog
8/5 Excerpt 2 Books and Broomsticks
8/6 Playlist Reading By Moonlight
8/7 Review Forgotten Winds
8/8 Video Guest Post Missus Gonzo
8/9 Review Hall Ways Blog
8/10 Excerpt 3 The Librarian Talks
8/11 Guest Post 2 The Page Unbound
8/12 Review StoreyBook Reviews
8/13 Excerpt 4 Margie’s Must Reads
8/14 Review Syd Savvy

Lone Star Book Blog Tours

Lone Star Literary Life

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: 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: Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning

Monticello About the book, Monticello

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss Monticello:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Sally Cabot GunningAbout the author, Sally Cabot Gunning

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

Connect with Sally:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 27th: Lit and Life

Wednesday, June 28th: My Military Savings

Wednesday, June 28th: West Metro Mommy

Thursday, June 29th: Man of La Book

Thursday, June 29th: Bibliotica

Friday, June 30th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, July 3rd: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, July 4th: Library of Clean Reads

Wednesday, July 5th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, July 6th: alyssarossblog

Monday, July 10th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, July 11th: Kritters Ramblings

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

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

Thursday, July 13th: Into the Hall of Books