Review: The Deep Translucent Pond, by James Shelley

Deep Translucent PondAbout the book, The Deep Translucent Pond

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Adelaide Books (February 5, 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 192 pages

In The Deep Translucent Pond, a 40 year old attorney, Jerome Konigsberg, and 30 year old nurse, Natalija Gasper, are winners of poetry fellowships which allow them rare access to a once famous, now reclusive poet with the nom de plume, The Black Magus. At their first meeting the Black Magus “hijacks” the fellowship, proclaiming it the final piece of a secretive ten-year project known as the Triangulum, its goal: The re-enchantment of the world.

The key to re-enchantment is The Deep Translucent Pond which the Black Magus has identified as “a hideout of the fugitive gods.” If he can reach into it—as placid as a reactor cooling pool—and retrieve a mysterious object from the bottom, re-enchantment will be ignited. He elaborately recruits his two fellowship “students” to help. For their part, they accommodate his severe eccentricities in exchange for flashes of insight into their lives and a feeling that he is guiding them to a higher place.

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James ShelleyAbout the author, James Shelley

James Shelley has spent his professional life shifting between the underworld and higher places. He’s been a psychiatric attendant, land surveyor, arts critic, mental health case worker, archivist for the Rockefellers, and a bagpiper playing at the funerals of men and women he’s never met. As an educator, his innovative work at an Ohio college supporting at-risk male students has attracted national media attention, including The Atlantic and NPR.
As a writer, Shelley started out writing plays for experimental theatre before shifting to fiction, early efforts earning him an Ohio Arts Prize. In his poetry and fiction, he has always been fascinated with how prosaic moments can unexpectedly transcend, expanding into spaces that were not there before.

Connect with James:

Website | Amazon Author Page | Goodreads

 

 

 


My Thoughts

MissMelissI’m woefully late in posting this review, but it’s because my life has been chaotic lately. The Deep Translucent Pond is an engaging and interesting novel that explores the process of writing, but also shows us how writing helps us process change and growth as well. Three characters: The Black Magus (not his real name, obviously) is an aging recluse who was once a famous poem. Every year he takes on two students and in this year the lucky two are Jerome, an attorney, and Natalija, a nurse. The three meet initially at a local cafe, but subsequent meetings are at the Magus’s home, where they sit in the shape of a triangle.

When the Magus called attention to an image of The Last Supper, I was very concerned this novel would be an imitation of The DaVinci Code, but it was not. Instead, that image was used to show off the power of triangles and pyramids, which continues to be a theme throughout the story. “A pyramid cannot be pushed over,” the Magus states, and what is implied is that the three of them will, over the course of their work together, form a cohesive whole.

In addition to the physics and metaphysics of triangles and pyramids, this novel explores the concept of finding our purpose – our true calling – in life, and how engaging that purpose can change – or in this case enchant the world. Similarly, author James Shelley enchants his readers. His use of dialogue is specific and appropriate to each character, and he has also created the poems (dubbed writings) of each character as well. Shelley has also chosen different focal characters for each chapter, which gives us different perspectives on the other two. In a way, the setup is reminiscent of Sartre’s No Exit, except that this novel is set on contemporary earth, and these characters genuinely like each other. Perhaps, then, every such triangle – or Triangulum – will have such a superficial similarity.

Where this book shines most is with the exploration of the writer and their writings, and how each informs the other. It’s a worthy read for artists, writers, and anyone who appreciates both.

Goes well with: piping-hot mugs of hot tea, and anisette toast.

 

Book Spotlight & Giveaway: A Shot in the 80% Dark, by Amber Royer

Banner: A Shot in the 80% Dark

 

About the book, A Shot in the 80% Dark

Cover A Shot in the 80 Percent Dark(Book 4 in the Bean to Bar series)

  • Cozy Mystery / Culinary Mystery /Woman Sleuth
  • Publisher: Golden Tip Press
  • Date of Publication: July 15, 2022
  • Number of Pages: 285 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Felicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop is thriving. Despite everything she’s been through with the murders she’s helped solve, Felicity is ready to take on new challenges. So when a local museum offers her a contract to create a chocolate replica of a gigantic sailing ship sculpture for a gala celebrating Galveston’s history, she jumps at the chance to combine chocolate-crafting with art.

The project is fun – right up until there’s not just one but two dead artists on the scene, and Felicity has to change gears back to detective. Logan, Felicity’s business partner and previous bodyguard, and Arlo, Felicity’s ex who is now the cop investigating the case, are split on which victim they think was actually the intended one. Felicity may have to take some chances, both emotionally and in luring out a killer, to determine the truth.

Can she find out how Galveston’s history relates to the murders, unmask a killer, and prepare 2,000 chocolate desserts for the gala all at the same time?

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About the Author, Amber Royer

Author Pic Amber Royer

Amber Royer writes the Chocoverse comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series and the Bean to Bar Mysteries. She is also the author of Story Like a Journalist: a Workbook for Novelists, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She also teaches creative writing and is an author coach.

Amber and her husband live in the DFW Area, where you can often find them hiking or taking landscape/architecture/wildlife photographs. If you are very nice to Amber, she might make you cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes, of course! Amber blogs about creative writing technique and all things chocolate.

Connect with Amber:

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter   |  Amazon | Goodreads | Instagram | Youtube

 

Bean to Bar Series


My Thoughts

MissMelissWhether it’s the yellow and green parrot repeating “Allez vous-en, allez vous-en! Sapristi! That’s all right!” in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, or Renoir the cockatoo’s rather dire warning, “If you do that, I’ll kill you,” in this fourth installment of Amber Royer’s Bean to Bar mysteries, A Shot in the 80% Dark, talking birds never bode well.

Indeed, within a relatively few pages of her receipt of a copy of Treasure Island, Felicity Koerber, professional chocolatier and amateur detective, has stumbled into another murder.

This book takes place in Galveston, Texas, a touristy island community that Felicity calls home, and that has a rich maritime tradition. (It’s also, I recently learned, one of the major ports immigrants came through in the early twentieth century. But that’s just a random fact.)

As with the other books, this can easily be read as a standalone novel, though reading the earlier books does lend context. The key elements are chocolate (of course), maritime history, pirate lore, the local art scene, and how they merge when Felicity agrees to design and create a chocolate copy of a found-materials pirate ship sculpture for an event at the art museum. Only Amber Royer could take these disparate threads and weave them into a cohesive whole, and she does so with her usual deftness.

Mainly character driven, this story has a love triangle with Felicity, her first love Arlo, and her partner Logan, the latter two of whom have become friends. As well, there is an entire cast of art gallery staffers and artists each with their individual personalities and interpersonal conflicts that mix and match to create conflict, suspicion, and delightful drama.

In A Shot in the 80% Dark, Amber Royer has created a snappy, interesting read that remains unpredictable to the end.

In fact, the only flaw in this novel is that it doesn’t come with a supply of organic chocolate to nibble while reading.

Goes well with: an iced mocha made with unsweetened espresso chocolate.


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Review: The House on the Hill, by Chris Penhall

 

About the book, The House on the Hill The House on the Hill by Chris Penhall

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Ruby Fiction (a Choc Lit imprint) (June 28, 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 247 pages

The House on the Hill: A Summer in the Algarve

Layla is calm, in control and is definitely not about to lose her serenity for the man next door!
Surely it can’t be hard to stay peaceful at one of the oldest yoga and mindfulness retreats in the Algarve, surrounded by sea, sun and serenity? Mostly, owner Layla Garcia manages it – with the help of meditation and plenty of camomile tea, of course.
But keeping her grandparents’ legacy alive is stressful, and Layla has become so shackled to the work that, for her, The House on the Hill is fast becoming ‘The Fortress on the Hill’.
Then writer Luke Mackie moves to the villa next door, bringing with him a healthy dose of chaos to disrupt Layla’s plans, plus a painful reminder of a time when she was less-than-serene. But could his influence be just what Layla needs to ‘dance like no-one’s watching’ and have the fun she’s been missing?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Chris PenhallThe House on the Hill Author

Chris Penhall won the 2019 Choc-Lit Search for a Star competition, sponsored by Your Cat Magazine, for her debut novel, The House That Alice Built. The sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun was published in August 2020. Both are available in paperback, e-book and audio and are part of the Portuguese Paradise series. Finding Summer Happiness, which is set in Pembrokeshire in South West Wales is available in e-book, audio and paperback, and The House on the Hill – A Summer in the Algarve, the third novel in the Portuguese Paradise series, is published in e-book on 28th June 2022.

Chris is an author and freelance radio producer for BBC Local Radio.

She also has her own podcast – The Talking to My Friends About Book Podcast in which she chats to her friends about books. Good title!

Born in Neath in South Wales, she has also lived in London and in Portugal, which is where The House That Alice Built is set. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it!

A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook, and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea.

Connect with Chris:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

MissMelissWhenever I acquire a new Chris Penhall title, I know I’m in for a great read. The third installment in her Portuguese Paradise series, The House on the Hill did not disappoint.

This multi-generational novel focuses on Layla and her Aunt Minnie who run a yoga retreat in Lagos. Each is competent, vivacious, dimensional, but neither has a love interest who will stick – at least when we meet them. But this isn’t a book just about romantic love. It’s about the love we have for our true passion, whether it’s health food (Layla), dance (Minnie) or yoga and general wellness (both). It’s also about the familial love that exists between aunt and niece, and the strong friendships each forms in their community.

Okay, yes, there’s also romance.

What I love about all of Penhall’s books is that they’re never too fluffy. Yes, they exist in a somewhat heightened version of reality where the bougainvillea flowers are a bit bigger, the limoncello is a bit stronger, and the sun shines a bit brighter, but overall the events in The House on the Hill, as with the author’s previous works, are plausible. And that makes the reading so much better, because you can be an armchair tourist in Layla’s (or Minnie’s) life, and never have to expend energy on willful suspension of disbelief.

What really sells this book is the way the author differentiates these characters of such disparate ages. Layla is more focused, and uses more contemporary language, while Minnie is slightly scattered and uses slightly “vintage” syntax. It’s subtle, but it really makes each woman truly breathe.

I should mention that the actual house is also a character in a way, as it plays host to the bulk of the story, and is really the heart of the family  – both blood and chosen – that Layla and Minnie have created in Portugal.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants a summer read that feels like a summer vacation. It’s well written, perfectly paced, and leaves the reader truly satisfied (but not so much so that a fourth book in this series wouldn’t be welcome).

Goes well with: a fruit plate that includes pinapples, passion fruit, and plums. Or a green smoothie.


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Review and Giveaway: Out of Temper, by Amber Royer

BNR Out of Temper

 

About the Book: Out of Temper (Bean to Bar Mysteries #3)

  • Categories: Cozy Mystery / Women Sleuth / Romance
  • Publisher: Golden Tip Press
  • Date of Publication: February 1, 2022
  • Number of Pages: 264 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Out of TemperFelicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop on Galveston’s historic Strand has been the scene of two murders – both of which she has been instrumental in helping solve. So when she gets invited to demo her chocolate skills aboard a cruise ship sailing out of the local port, she’s excited at the chance to get away from the shop long enough to regain her equilibrium. She even brings her best friend along and makes plans for time at the spa. But when she gets on board, she finds out that she’s been booked for a mystery-themed cruise, and said best friend, Autumn, has to finally deal with the real reasons she quit writing mysteries. Only – if that wasn’t stressful enough – it doesn’t take long before there’s a real murder on the cruise, and someone Felicity knows becomes the prime suspect. When said suspect asks her for help, she can’t exactly say no, can she?

Felicity finds herself surrounded by cruise goers who all had connections to the victim – and finds that both Logan (her business partner, whom she recently kissed) and Arlo (the cop who was once Felicity’s first boyfriend, before she moved away from Galveston) are dealing with the case until more official help can arrive. How will Felicity survive the ensuing awkwardness?

One thing that helps: the retired police dog turned therapy dog she meets on board. Satchmo helps Felicity deal with being back on the water after tragedy in her past – and also helps her uncover a vital clue to the case. Can Felicity unmask the killer and keep a friend from being framed before all the suspects leave the ship?

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About the Author, Amber Royer

Amber RoyerAmber Royer writes the Chocoverse comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series, and the Bean to Bar Mysteries. She is also the author of Story Like a Journalist: a Workbook for Novelists, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She also teaches creative writing and is an author coach. Amber and her husband live in the DFW Area, where you can often find them hiking or taking landscape/architecture/wildlife photographs.  If you are very nice to Amber, she might make you cupcakes.  Chocolate cupcakes, of course! Amber blogs about creative writing technique and all things chocolate.

Connect with Amber

WEBSITE ◆ BLOG ◆ FACEBOOK ◆ TWITTER AMAZON ◆ GOODREADS  ◆INSTAGRAM  ◆  YOUTUBE


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI’ve long been a fan of cozy mysteries having been raised – rather appropriately – on TV shows like Magnum P.I. (he can believe he’s an action hero all he wants, that show was cozy) and Murder, She Wrote, and on series like Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who… novels, and the amazing Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman. It’s as if I’ve had a lifetime of training that left me primed and ready for Amber Royer’s “Bean to Bar” series, though alas, I’m only encountering it with this book – book three – Out of Temper.

I’m so sorry I waited this long.

Out of Temper is a breathtakingly brilliant read combining a dynamic cast of quirky characters, led by chocolatier and accidental sleuth, Felicity Koerber, with the perfect “locked room” setting: a cruise ship, and mixing in a murder.

I liked Felicity from the start, and really enjoyed the first-person narrative from her perspective. First person can be tricky to do well, but author Royer handles it deftly, and it really gave this story more impact. Felicity’s best friend, Autumn, who just happens to write mysteries, her colleague Logan, and her longtime-friend Arlo comprise the core cast, but Ash, Craig, Bea, and Bea’s beagle, Satchmo, round out the story providing motive, murder, and a means of solving it (not necessarily in that order – because spoilers).

It will only out me as a dog lover when I confess that after Felicity, Satchmo was my favorite character.

What I liked about this novel was the way Royer balanced the pacing. The business of the convention at sea was intercut nicely  both with Felicitiy’s angst over her lovelife, her legitimate concern about her chocolate making, and her amateur detective work. No element seemed out of place, no thread was too long or too short.

I also want to applaud Royer for working animals into her story so organically. Like small children, animals can take over a story in unpleasant ways if written too sweetly. This author made Satchmo a true character rather than an accessory or a piece of comic relief and I appreciated it immensely. I really like the detail that Felicity encouraged the animal’s friendship with bits of beef given under the table.

If you want a cozy mystery that is equal parts sleuthing and serious chocolate, you need to read Out of Temper.

Goes well with: extra sharp cheddar cheese, a glass of red wine, and a chocolate “salami” from Dude, Sweet Chocolate in Dallas, TX.

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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:

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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.


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

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Monday, January 24th: Reading is My Remedy

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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:

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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.


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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.

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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:

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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)

Spotlight: The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens by Chrysta Castañeda & Loren Steffy

BNR T Boone Pickens

 

About the book, The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens

  • Genre: Biography/Autobiography, Courtroom Drama
  • Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing Group
  • Date of Paperback Publication: September 15, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 300 Pages

Cover Last Trial of T Boone Pickens 1Finalist, 2020 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award

T. Boone Pickens, legendary Texas oilman and infamous corporate raider from the 1980s, climbed the steps of the Reeves County courthouse in Pecos, Texas in early November 2016. He entered the solitary courtroom and settled into the witness stand for two days of testimony in what would be the final trial of his life.

Pickens, who was 88 by then, had made and lost billions over his long career, but he’d come to Pecos seeking justice from several other oil companies. He claimed they cut him out of what became the biggest oil play he’d ever invested in—in an oil-rich section of far West Texas that was primed for an unprecedented boom. After years of dealing with the media, shareholders and politicians, Pickens would need to win over a dozen West Texas jurors in one last battle.

To lead his legal fight, he chose an unlikely advocate—Chrysta Castañeda, a Dallas solo practitioner who had only recently returned to the practice of law after a hiatus borne of disillusionment with big firms. Pickens was a hardline Republican, while Castañeda had run for public office as a Democrat. But they shared an unwavering determination to win and formed a friendship that spanned their differences in age, politics, and gender.

In a town where frontier justice was once meted out by Judge Roy Bean—“The Law West of the Pecos”—Pickens would gird for one final courtroom showdown. Sitting through trial every day, he was determined to prevail, even at the cost of his health.

The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens is a high-stakes courtroom drama told through the eyes of Castañeda. It’s the story of an American business legend still fighting in the twilight of his long career, and the lawyer determined to help him make one final stand for justice.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Purchase Link | Goodreads

Stoney Creek Publishing

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Praise for this book:

“Think you know T. Boone Pickens, the larger-than-life business titan, energy trader, and corporate raider? Think again. The attorney representing Pickens in his final major court battle and the business writer who covered him most over the decades reveal a whole other T. Boone that few people outside his bubble could have ever imagined.” —     Joe Nick Patoski, author of Austin to ATX and host of the Texas Music Hour of Power 

“Chrysta Castañeda and Loren Steffy have accomplished the remarkable. They’ve taken issues most familiar to lawyers and judges, woven them into an incredible story and presented to all an enjoyable journey through The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens.” —    Craig Enoch, Former Texas Supreme Court Justice and founder of the Enoch Kever law firm 

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About the authors, Chrysta Castañeda & Loren Steffy

Author Pic CastanedaCHRYSTA CASTAÑEDA

… is a Texas trial attorney specializing in oil and gas disputes. She formed her own boutique law firm in 2014 after more than twenty years as a partner and associate in some of the world’s top law firms.

Connect with Chrysta:

TWITTER ◆ FACEBOOK ◆  AMAZON ◆  BOOKBUB

Author Pic SteffyLOREN STEFFY

… is a journalist and author of four other nonfiction books: Deconstructed: An Insider’s View of Illegal Immigration and the Building Trades (with Stan Marek) (Stoney Creek Publishing, 2020), George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet (Texas A&M University Press, 2019), Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit (McGraw-Hill, 2010) and The Man Who Thought Like a Ship (Texas A&M University Press, 2012). His first novel, The Big Empty, was published in April 2021.

Connect with Loren:

TWITTER FACEBOOK   AMAZONGOODREADS BOOKBUB WEBSITE


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3-chapter Review: Divine Lola by Cristina Morato (translated by Andrea Rosenberg)

About the book, Divine Lola: A True Story of Scandal and Celebrity

  • Publisher: Amazon Crossing (September 1, 2021)
  • Hardcover: 448 pages

Divine Lola CoverAn enthralling biography about one of the most intriguing women of the Victorian age: the first self-invented international social celebrity.

Lola Montez was one of the most celebrated and notorious women of the nineteenth century. A raven-haired Andalusian who performed her scandalous “Spider Dance” in the greatest performance halls across Europe, she dazzled and beguiled all who met her with her astonishing beauty, sexuality, and shocking disregard for propriety. But Lola was an impostor, a self-invention. Born Eliza Gilbert, the beautiful Irish wild child escaped a stifling marriage and reimagined herself as Lola the Sevillian flamenco dancer and noblewoman, choosing a life of adventure, fame, sex, and scandal rather than submitting to the strictures of her era.

Lola cast her spell on the European aristocracy and the most famous intellectuals and artists of the time, including Alexandre Dumas, Franz Liszt, and George Sand, and became the obsession of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. She then set out for the New World, arriving in San Francisco at the height of the gold rush, where she lived like a pioneer and performed for rowdy miners before making her way to New York. There, her inevitable downfall was every bit as dramatic as her rise. Yet there was one final reinvention to come for the most defiant woman of the Victorian age—a woman known as a “savage beauty” who was idolized, romanticized, vilified, truly known by no one, and a century ahead of her time.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Cristina Morato

Born in Barcelona in 1961, Cristina Morató is a journalist, reporter, and author dedicated to writing about the lives of great women innovators and explorers that history has overlooked. Her research, tracing the footsteps of these remarkable women, has led her to travel to more than forty countries and has resulted in eight biographies: Viajeras intrépidas y aventureras(Intrepid and Adventurous Women Travelers); Las Reinas de África (African Queens); Las Damas de Oriente (Ladies of the East); Cautiva en Arabia (Arabian Captive); Divas rebeldes (Rebel Divas); Reinas malditas (Tragic Queens); Diosas de Hollywood (Hollywood Goddesses); and Divina Lola (Divine Lola), Cristina’s first to be translated into English. She is a founding member and the current vice president of the Spanish Geographical Society and belongs to the Royal Geographic Society of London.

For more information visit www.cristinamorato.com/home-2.

About the translator, Andrea Rosenberg

Andrea Rosenberg is a translator from Spanish and Portuguese. Her full-length translations include novels, graphic narratives, and nonfiction, including works by Manuel Vilas, Tomás González, Inês Pedrosa, Aura Xilonen, Juan Gómez Bárcena, Paco Roca, and Marcelo D’Salete. Two of her translations have won Eisner Awards, and she has been the recipient of awards and grants from the Fulbright Program, the American Literary Translators Association, and the Banff International Literary Translation Centre.


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellNeither a true biography nor a true work of fiction, but a hybrid of both, Cristina Morato’s Divine Lola is an accessible story of a fascinating woman: Eliza “Lola” Gilbert is a larger-than-life character, worthy of a limited series on the streaming platform of your choice, with a veritable who’s who of friends and acquaintances. Sure, she was famous for her scandalous “spider” dance, but she touched a lot more lives than those who saw her perform.

What I liked about this book was that there was enough history to provide context without overwhelming the extrapolated dialogue. Balance is key, and Morato struck exactly the right one. She also used a fabulous literary device, opening the book after Lola has died, making the entire narrative a flashback, in a sense, thus showing how much impact the woman really had.

Because this is a translation, it’s hard to know if the flow of the language is the work of Andrea Rosenberg, the translator, or the author herself, but either way, it’s an easy read, contemporary enough to be accessible, and yet still “period” enough to not be jarring.

I’ll definitely be finishing this book, and recommend it as a solid entry into the creative biography genre.


Tour Schedule

00-tlc-tour-hostWednesday, September 1st: Books, Cooks, Looks – excerpt

Friday, September 3rd: Seaside Book Nook – excerpt

Sunday, September 5th: The Cozy Book Blog – excerpt

Monday, September 6th: @babygotbooks4life

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Friday, October 1st: @amanda.the.bookish

Monday, October 4th: Reading is My Remedy

 

Review: Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir Inspired by True Events, by Brent Spiner

About the book, Fan Fiction

  • Publisher: ‎ St. Martin’s Press (October 5,  2021)
  • Language: ‎ English
  • Print length: ‎ 256 pages

Fan FictionBrent Spiner’s explosive and hilarious novel is a personal look at the slightly askew relationship between a celebrity and his fans. If the Coen Brothers were to make a Star Trek movie, involving the complexity of fan obsession and sci-fi, this noir comedy might just be the one.

Set in 1991, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation has rocketed the cast to global fame, the young and impressionable actor Brent Spiner receives a mysterious package and a series of disturbing letters, that take him on a terrifying and bizarre journey that enlists Paramount Security, the LAPD, and even the FBI in putting a stop to the danger that has his life and career hanging in the balance.

Featuring a cast of characters from Patrick Stewart to Levar Burton to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, to some completely imagined, this is the fictional autobiography that takes readers into the life of Brent Spiner, and tells an amazing tale about the trappings of celebrity and the fear he has carried with him his entire life.

Fan Fiction is a zany love letter to a world in which we all participate, the phenomenon of “Fandom.”

Praise for this book:

“Like the man himself, this book is funny, sharp, and brilliant. You’re going to love it, and Brent, even if you’ve never heard of “Star Trek”. It’s one of the most entertaining books ever written about entertainment.” ―Phil Rosenthal (creator, writer, producer), creator of Everybody Loves Raymond and star of Somebody Feed Phil

Fan Fiction is perfect! I loved that damn book. Lots of laugh out loud moments and real heart. Actor Brent Spiner’s pop-culture infused memoir is hilarious, warm, insightful, and absolutely delightful! Highly recommended!” ―Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of V-Wars and Ink

“Brent Spiner’s rollicking meta-memoir is a meditation on celebrity, Hollywood, fandom, ego, and self-discovery, hidden inside a black comedy shell. This wildly entertaining novel opens the doors to the Starship Enterprise and the making of Star Trek: The Next Generation even as it peers into the soul of the actor and the utterly crazy world around him. Richly comic and surprisingly moving, Fan Fiction is a gift to both Trek fans and general readers. So put on your Raymond Chandler fedora, or your Starfleet uniform, and settle in for a wild ride through the underbelly and outer space of Hollywood.” ―John Logan, screenwriter of Skyfall, Gladiator, The Aviator

“Both laugh out loud funny and painfully dark, Brent Spiner has created a fictional autobiography that is filled with surprises.” ―Jonathan Frakes

“Brent takes us all on a wild ride in this fanciful tale.” ―Leonard Maltin

“Of all the pleasures Fan Fiction affords the reader ― a gripping plot, deftly and delightfully twisted; an insider’s slant on a pop culture mega-phenomenon; an affecting personal narrative of childhood trauma overcome; an insightful meditation on the ambiguities of fandom ― the greatest and most singular is Brent Spiner’s prose style. Dry, urbane, acerbic, self-deprecating and gently absurdist, it evokes a lost age of Hollywood autobiography. If Groucho Marx had played Commander Data, this is the kind of memoir he might have written.” ―Michael Chabon, Pulitzer-Prize winning author

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | NetGalley | Goodreads


Watch the Book Trailer

 

 


About the author, Brent Spiner

Brent SpinerBRENT SPINER is an actor, comedian, and singer best known for playing the android Lieutenant Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1987-1994. He has appeared in numerous television roles, in films, and in theatre on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in Los Angeles. He currently has a role in the T.V. series Star Trek: Picard.

Connect with Brent

Facebook | Twitter

 


My ThoughtsMissMeliss2021

I’ve known Brent Spiner was a fantastic storyteller from his panels at conventions, brief interactions with him at those conventions, and from a thing he did on Twitter many years ago where he also wrote a fictionalized noir-esque version of his life. I cannot deny that part of my interest in reading Fan Fiction was because I am a longtime fan of his work. I have, therefore, tried to temper my review in order to counter my own bias.

In a book about improv (it might have been Truth in Comedy) I read that as long as you ground your scene work in emotional truth, the audience will take the journey with you no matter how preposterous things get. Spiner states in this book that everything in the prologue is true, and everything after is not, but he’s put in enough emotional truth that readers will happily stick with the story.

It’s important to remember when reading this, that Brent played Data on TV, but he isn’t an emotionless, perfectly correct android in real life, and in this tale which takes place in a heightened (at the very least) reality gives readers a decidedly earthy version of the actor. Die-hard fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation (in general) and Data (specifically) may find the cursing and references to sex and drugs (nothing scary) off-putting. I personally found them refreshing. Brent-the-character sounds like a real guy, with the sorts of neuroses so many gifted and talented people tend to display.  Similarly, the exaggerated versions of his TNG castmates (and the Roddenberries) added humor, but also helped tie the book more closely to reality.

The invented characters, especially Cindy and Candy, were breaths of fresh air, and despite their roles in the story (FBI agent and bodyguard, respectively) also added necessary warmth and light. If they came off as slightly shallow, I can only assume they were meant to be.

And then there are the Daddy issues. Those are a strong theme in this story, both in Brent’s memories and feelings about his stepfather and in the stalker who identifies as the character Lal. The latter leads to a “cameo” from Hallie Todd that is both hilarious and disturbing. The former… I can only hope that some of those instances really are fiction.

Overall, this piece of meta-fiction is a solid entry into the contemporary noir oeuvre and a fast (it took me three hours), enjoyable read. I’ve always felt that some of Spiner’s best work is when he plays darker characters. I’ve often heard that the best comedy comes from pain. In Fan Fiction, Brent Spiner shows that both are true.

Goes well with: Vegetables. Lots of vegetables… or a double espresso and a bagel with cream cheese and lox.