Review: Bound in Silence, by Christena Stephens

BNR Bound in Silence

 

About the book, Bound in Silence Cover Bound in Silence

  • Genre: True Crime / Texas History / Nonfiction
  • Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing
  • Page Count: 286 pages
  • Publication Date: February 26, 2024
  • Scroll down for a giveaway!

On a nearly moonless night in October 1943, a single gunshot rang out in Littlefield, Texas. A prominent Texas doctor and his wife were found bound, shot, beaten, and murdered. The only witness: their five-year-old daughter, who was bound to silence and refused to speak about what happened for 70 years.

The heinous crime remains unsolved. For years, the courts tried to convict one suspect, but forensic evidence contradicted the prosecution’s case. Investigators, including the famed Texas Rangers, failed to bring anyone to justice.

Eight decades later, the questions linger over the plains of the Texas Panhandle: who killed the Hunts and why?

Author and historian Christena Stephens spent more than a decade researching the Hunt murders, re-examining every twist and turn in the legal process, uncovering new evidence, and drawing new conclusions about who might have been responsible. She also convinced Jo Ann Hunt to break 70 years of silence and tell her story for the first time. Armed with Jo Ann’s account, Stephens takes the reader back to that deadly night and through the years of trauma that followed.

Why did the criminal justice system repeatedly fail to bring anyone to justice? What could have scared a 5-year-old girl into a lifetime of silence? What did investigators miss? And most importantly, who killed Roy and Mae Hunt?

Bound in Silence is a true crime tour-de-force, a meticulously researched, impeccably told tale of unsolved murder on the High Plains.

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About the author, Christena Stephens Author Photo Stephens Bound in Silence

Christena Stephens is a native Texan growing up amongst cotton fields and spending time exploring the nature of the Llano Estacado. After earning two Master of Science degrees, she started a project to preserve ahistorical Texas ranch, thus began her interest in history, research, and writing. She did not intend to be a historian but was mentored by the best Texas historians. Several of her writings have been published in anthologies, along with her photographs. In science and history, truths need to be accurately told. That is her mission-truth and authenticity. She still resides on the Llano Estacado enjoying sunsets and chance porcupine encounters. She is an ardent advocate of wildlife conservation and her heart belongs to her dogs.

Connect with Christena:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Christena Stephens’s new book, Bound in Silence is where true crime, history, and creative non-fiction all meet to form a whole that is both a gripping story and a grisly one.

In this case, this book really tells two stories, the first is a murder mystery taken from the pages of Texas history: the death by shooting of a doctor (Roy Hunt) and his wife (Mae). And author Stephens takes down a well-researched and equally well-written path of whodunnit, and why, and how.

The second story is that of the Hunt’s older daughter, JoAnn, who was in the room (albeit stuffed in a closet) while her parents were being murdered. For decades, she kept silent, scared into event-specific muteness, until the author got her story.

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Stephens’s narrative style is straight to the point without being dull or dry. Her photographer’s eye comes in handy – her descriptions of people and places, while taken from photos and press clippings – feel cinematic. Her choice of topic is a compelling one, because it gives a glimpse into the psychology of childhood trauma and fear, as well as into the gory events themselves.

Overall, this is a well-crafted account, and deserving of a lot of notice.

Goes well with: a whiskey flight and Texas barbecue.


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5/28/24 LSBBT Blog Review
5/29/24 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review
5/30/24 The Clueless Gent Review
5/31/24 Hall Ways Blog Review
6/1/24 StoreyBook Reviews Review
6/2/24 The Real World According to Sam Review
6/3/24 Rox Burkey Blog Review
6/4/24 Book Fidelity Review
6/5/24 Bibliotica Review
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Review: Escape to The Tuscan Vineyard by Carrie Walker

Escape to the Tuscan Vineyard

 

About the book, Escape to the Tuscan Vineyard Escape to the Tuscan Vineyard

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Aria (August 13, 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 288 pages

Pack your bags and uncork the laughter in this delightful romantic escapade!

After getting her heart broken in her early twenties, Abi Mason vowed to live by a simple (but non-negotiable) rule: no second dates. Who needs a boyfriend, or anything else for that matter, when you have a career to think about?

But life has other plans: with some unexpected time on her hands, Abi finds herself on holiday in Tuscany. Among sun-dappled vineyards and olive groves, Abi meets dashing American Tony, and it seems the universe is conspiring to force her out of her comfort zone…

If Abi can break her own rules, could this unexpected Italian fling lead her to a happiness she never dared to dream of?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Carrie Walker Carrie Walker

Author Bio – Carrie Walker is a Brummie born rom-com lover with a lifelong passion for travel. She has lived in a ski resort, by a beach, in the country and the city, and travelled solo through Asia, South America and Europe. Her own love life was more com than rom until she met her husband a few years ago and settled down with him and her dog Ziggy in a small pub-filled village in Essex. Escape to the Swiss Chalet was her debut novel.

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

What a delightful summer read! Escape to the Tuscan Vineyard has everything I love about contemporary fiction:  a plucky lead character, an exotic location, and a romance that’s sprinkled with a healthy dose of organic comedy – the kind that comes from people and situations and never feels contrived.

What I loved was that Abi isn’t perfect but is beautifully flawed.  A bad relationship when she was young has given her very believable trust issues, and watching her untangle herself from her history was both endearing and funny.  Especially once she meets Tony, who might just be worth some mental  – and emotional  – unpacking.

I also appreciated that Abi’s friends were really supportive of her – even pointing out that she does things for other people all the time, and therefore should let them take care of her for a change (I’m looking at you, Holly.)  Her visit to her friend is, of course, the catalyst for the bulk of the novel.

 

Similarly, I enjoyed the villain of the piece. Blake was written brilliantly – just the right blend of smiles and sleaze.

 

Author Carrie Walker’s breezy style is ideal for this type of story. It’s light without being frothy, and the characters, while living in a somewhat heightened version of reality, are also extremely relatable. (I laughed out loud at the opening scene with Abi and her mother.)

 

Overall, this is a solid rom-com with some great moments.

 

Goes well with: limoncello, on a balcony, at dusk.


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Review: Come Fly With Me, by Helen Rolfe

Come Fly With Me

 

About the book, Come Fly with Me

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Boldwood Books (May 22, 2024)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ May 22, 2024
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English

Come Fly With MeTake to the skies in this gorgeous and gripping new series, perfect for fans of Jo Bartlett and Cathy Bramley.

A Second Chance…

For Maya, serving as a pilot in the Whistlestop River air ambulance team is a dream come true. And now, with her divorce from her overbearing husband finally complete, flying over the fields of Dorset, and saving lives with the Skylarks, is the centre of her world. If only her ex would accept their separation as readily as she had, life would be perfect…

A fresh start…

Having recently transferred from London to Dorset, paramedic Noah is ready for a new start. But he’s brought with him a lot of baggage, not least his infant niece who he’s been looking after since his sister died unexpectedly earlier that year. Noah adores Eva, but is he really cut out to look after a baby?

A risk worth taking?

When Noah and Maya find themselves on the same rescue team, they’re immediately drawn to each other. Yet, with so many complications in their personal lives, do they have time to open their hearts to someone new?

As their friendship grows, Noah and Maya are both about to discover that life is worth nothing unless you share it with the people you love.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Helen Rolfe Author photograph for Helen J Rolfe

Helen Rolfe writes contemporary women’s fiction and romantic fiction. She enjoys weaving stories about family, friendship, secrets, and relationships. Characters often face challenges and must fight to overcome them, but above all, Helen’s stories always have a happy ending.

Helen loves creating village settings or places with a small-town feel and a big sense of community. Location has always been a big part of the adventure in Helen’s books and she enjoys setting stories in different cities and countries around the world. So far, locations have included Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Connecticut, Bath, Paris and the Cotswolds.

Helen has added Dorset to her list of locations with the launch of Come Fly With Me, set in the fictitious town of Whistlestop River. Come Fly With Me is the first book in Helen’s brand new series centred around an air ambulance team, the Skylarks, who take to the skies to save lives.

Born and raised in the UK, Helen graduated from University with a business degree and began working in I.T. This job took her over to Australia where she eventually turned her attentions back to the career she’d dreamt of since she was fourteen. She studied writing and journalism and wrote articles for women’s health and fitness magazines. Helen began writing fiction in 2011 and hasn’t missed the I.T. world one little bit… in fact she may just have found her dream job!

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

I recently binged all of the available episodes of the American/Canadian show SkyMed and the Australian show RFDS, both of which feature flying medical services, so picking up Helen Rolfe’s novel, Come Fly with Me was the perfect follow up. I read it in one weekend, and then spent a few nights listening to the audiobook as I fell asleep, and enjoyed both immensely.

What I liked most was that this isn’t a story about innocent ingenues. Both Maya and Noah have life experience, and been adversely affected by it. Reading a friends-to-romance story about actual adults with jobs and children was wonderful, and both characters really sang.

I also liked the choice to set it in a flying EMT service. I love hospital dramas as much as anyone, but adding the element of flight took things to another level (no pun intended) and really let Rolfe show off her research skills as well.

The pacing of the story seemed pretty much perfect to me, and I enjoyed the side characters as well, because they rounded out the story and added dimension to the leads. I also appreciated Rolfe’s vivid descriptions of the fields around Dorset and the skies above them. I felt like I was along for the helicopter ride, racing to someone’s rescue.

Overall, this is a fantastic read, much deeper than a typical romance, with a really satisfying story.  The fact that it’s book one of a new series is an added bonus.

Goes well with coffee and a breakfast sandwich from a local café.


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Review: The Ghost of Whispering Willow, by Amanda M. Thrasher

Ghost of Whispering Willow - Banner

 

About the book, The Ghost of Whispering Willow (Second Edition)  Ghost of Whispering Willow High Def Front Cover

  • Genre: Children’s Horror / Fantasy / Magic / Chapter Book
  • Publisher: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press
  • Publication Date: January 9, 2024
  • Page Count: 246
  • Scroll down for Giveaway.

Full of surprises, feuds, kidnappings and a family reunited!

Stewart sees a ghostly figure out of the corner of his eye. He and his friend, Andy, begin a ghost investigation that leads to an adventure of a lifetime.  Coming face-to-face with a ghost, the boys make a decision to join forces with a group of girls, who have encountered a ghost of their own. The kids soon find that the ghosts that they’ve encountered are in imminent danger and need their help. Can the kids devise a plan to help the ghost in time? Will they be able to reunite a ghost with his lost family? Complete with a ghost village and a feud, this story takes on a life of its own.

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About the author, Amanda M. Thrasher  Author Photo Thrasher (1)

Award-winning author Amanda M. Thrasher was born in England and moved to Texas, where she lives with her family. She writes YA, general fiction, middle grade, early reader chapter, and picture books. She is the founder and CEO of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press.

Connect with Amanda:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Amanda M. Thrasher’s novel, The Ghost of Whispering Willow, may be targeted toward kids in middle grades, but this adult found the story both engaging and entertaining. It manages to hit you both in the amygdala (because most humans like to be scared when we know it’s fictional), and in the heart, once the truth is discovered.

What I loved most was the perfect depiction of childhood adventures – sneaking out at night, taking notes on whatever is observed, and the timeless debate of whether or not boys and girls are friends or enemies, or a little of both.

I enjoyed the interaction between Andy and Stewart, especially, and the way they were so different – one precise about every detail he observed, one much more casual about it. It was so refreshing to see boys written as good, kids – too often in literature middle-grade boys are depicted as troublemakers, and it gets old.

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I also appreciated the way their interactions changed once Krista and her friends become involved. The whispers among the girls and the boys about who likes whom made me smile and nod in fond appreciation of the details the author included – they weren’t necessarily crucial to the plot of the story, but they made the characters seem more real.

Overall, this is a well-paced, well-plotted book and I would recommend it to readers of all ages and genders.

Goes well with: bologna and cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and Dr. Pepper.


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Review: Old Girls Behaving Badly by Kate Galley

Old Girls Behaving Badly

 

About the book, Old Girls Behaving Badly Old Girls Behaving Badly ebook

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Boldwood Books (May 13, 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages

A delightfully heartwarming and funny story that proves it’s never too late to change the habits of a lifetime, perfect for fans of Judy Leigh, Hazel Prior and Maddie Please.

Something old, something new, something stolen…?

Gina Knight is looking forward to the prospect of retirement with her husband of forty-three years. Until, to her surprise, said husband decides he needs to ‘find himself’ – alone – and disappears to Santa Fe, leaving divorce papers in his wake.

Now Gina needs a new role in life, not to mention somewhere to live, so she applies for the position of Companion to elderly Dorothy Reed. At eighty-three, ‘Dot’ needs someone to help her around the house – or at least, her family seems to think so. Her companion’s first role would be to accompany Dot for a week-long extravagant wedding party.

But when Georgina arrives at the large Norfolk estate where the wedding will take place, she quickly discovers Dot has an ulterior motive for hiring her. While the other guests are busy sipping champagne and playing croquet, Dot needs Georgina to help her solve a mystery – about a missing painting, which she believes is hidden somewhere in the house.

Because, after all, who would suspect two old ladies of getting up to mischief?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Kate Galley Kate Galley

Kate Galley writes UpLit and Bookclub fiction full of heart and humour. The older generation are at the centre of her stories and are usually wrapped up in a mystery.

She lives with her family in Buckinghamshire and works part time as a mobile hairdresser in the surrounding Chiltern villages.

In her spare time she crochets blankets, knits jumpers and also disappears into her workshop to play with kiln formed glass.

Kate is the author of The Second Chance Holiday Club – which has been optioned for TV – and The Golden Girls’ Road Trip.

Connect with Kate:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

There’s a meme going around which reads, “Your time on earth is limited. Don’t try to age with grace. Age with mischief, audacity, and a good story to tell.”  Gina and Dorothy, the two women at the heart of this novel are perfect representations of that thought. Gina is 71 when her husband asks for a divorce and, in an attempt to rebuild her life, answers an ad to be a companion for an older woman. The woman in question, Dorothy, is in her eighties and while her faculties seem fine, she did have a fall that has her children concerned.

What I liked about this novel is that it’s a love story but not in the romantic sense. Rather it’s the story of each of these women learning to love themselves, and the loving friendship they form through the course of the novel, which also has a wedding, business betrayals, adult children having issues about their parents’ divorce, and many other every-day dramas.

Author Kate Galley has given us a pair of vivid central characters, who are refreshingly authentic and timeless in the way the best writing always is. As someone who is inching ever closer to being Gina’s age, I was tickled to see older women portrayed with vitality and curiosity. As someone who lives in Florida, where there is a very large population of retirees, I see such women every day, and both of these characters felt like the same people I sit next to in the nail salon, or are at the next table and whatever lunch spot I take my mother to.

Also worthy of note was the pacing. This  book moved well – it’s  a relatively fast read, but felt much shorter than its 280 (in print) pages, never dragging.

Over all, this is a solid novel, perfect for summer reading, and it kept my interest all the way through.

Goes well with: strawberry shortcake.


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Review: We Burned Our Boats, by Karen Jones Gowen

About the book, We Burned Our Boats We Burned Our Boats

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ WiDo Publishing (January 18, 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 306 pages

Bruce and Karen Gowen are facing a retirement that neither one wants. Bruce can’t imagine life without employment. Karen wants change, adventure, a chance to spread her wings and fly away after thirty years of raising their large family.

Their opportunity comes in a way they can both helping their daughter and son-in-law with a hotel project in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Never ones to do anything halfway, the Gowens sell everything, including one of their businesses. What they can’t sell, they give away. With their worldly possessions down to two checked bags and two carry-ons each, they fly one way to Guatemala City. Then on to Panajachel, a tourist town on scenic Lake Atitlan, in the southern highlands of Guatemala.

Here they begin their new life, a time filled with incredible experiences, tough challenges, and unexpected adventure in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. A place where the Maya culture permeates the land. A land and people that will transform anyone fortunate enough to encounter the magic of these hills in Guatemala.

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About the author, Karen Jones Gowen Karen Jones Gowan

Born and raised in central Illinois, Karen attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She transferred to Brigham Young University, where she met her husband Bruce, and there graduated with a degree in English and American Literature.

Karen and Bruce have lived in Utah, Illinois, California and Washington, currently residing in Panajachel, Guatemala. They are the parents of ten children. Not surprisingly, family relationships are a recurring theme in Karen’s writing.


My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Many people – me included – fantasize about giving up everything we know and going on a mad adventure in another place. Most of us never do so, but Brian and Karen Gowen did, and their story is chronicled in We Burned Our Boats.

Part adventure-travel memoir, part personal examination, part analysis of a marriage and a life, the Gowens’ story has it all: love, fear, courageous acts, and international intrigue. Okay, maybe more like being intrigued by new customs and habits. It’s an easy read, and very vividly related. Karen’s writing makes you feel like you’re with them on their journey.

I’ve never really considered relocating to Guatemala (my fantasies typically involve Fez or Marrakech), but this book made me almost – almost – consider it.

I recommend We Burned our Boats to anyone who loves memoirs or travel, or travel-memoirs.

Goes well with tostadas and Moza dark lager.

Book Spotlight: SECOND LIVES: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers – Now Available as an Audiobook!

BNR Second Lives

 

I’m so excited to be bringing you this spotlight. The authors have brought a personal, informational, deeply important subject to us in an accessible way. And now, it’s also available as an audiobook! Please take a look at

SECOND LIVES: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers, by Ralph B. Lilly, MD & Diane F. Kramer, with Joyce Stamp Lilly – Narrated by Loren C. Steffy & Joyce Stamp Lilly

About the book, SECOND LIVES: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers

  • Genre: Audiobook / Biography / Medical Professionals / Neuroscience
  • Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing
  • Listening Length: 6 hours and 21 minutes
  • Publication Date: February 28, 2024

Version 1.0.0“Discharged from a hospital just means you’re not dead.” These words of Ralph B. Lilly, M.D., describe his early struggle to recover from a traumatic brain injury. Lilly was a forty-four-year-old practicing neurologist sitting on his motorcycle at a red light when a drunk driver rear-ended him in 1980. In the ICU, after regaining consciousness and being told what happened, he asked, “What’s a hospital? What’s a motorcycle?” This tragic experience transformed his life and his approach to his neurology practice: doctors treat those with brain injury; but loved ones heal them.

Second Lives: The Journey of Brain Injury Survivors and Their Healers is written by Dr. Lilly and Diane F. Kramer. After his death in 2021, Kramer completed the book with the assistance of Lilly’s wife Joyce Stamp Lilly. This memoir weaves together Ralph Lilly’s experience with a collage of stories about his patients and their healers. After his recovery, Lilly retrained in the emerging field of behavioral neurology, which focuses on behavior, memory, cognition, and emotion after brain injury.

His clinical skills and expert witness testimony were sought by physicians, survivors, families, and attorneys to secure the best “second life” for survivors. His many patients marveled at his uniquely compassionate approach: “What doctor gives you his cell number and says call any time?” Lilly’s pioneering career spanned forty years from Brown University’s Butler Psychiatric Hospital in Rhode Island to Nexus Health System and private practice in Houston, Texas. He treated ER and hospital inpatients whose loved ones were in acute quandary, as well as outpatients who’d long given up finding a doctor who knew how to help. Lilly’s memoir is full of heart, not science, and will provide insight to general readers, family, and friends of patients with brain injury, as well as those who treat them.

His narration is unintentionally poignant, often punctuated by wry humor. He generously incorporates the words of his patients and their families in telling their stories. Their gratitude for his care is profound. As one former patient said, “Without Dr. Lilly, I’d be dead or in jail.”

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About the authors, Ralph B Lilly, M.D. and Diane F. Kramer

Ralph B. Lilly, MD Author photo Ralph Lilly

A neurologist for over half a century, Ralph B. Lilly, MD had a passion for learning and teaching. A traumatic brain injury in 1980 shifted his focus from general neurology to behavioral neurology, the study of how brain injury affects behavior. After completing a fellowship in neurobehavior at the University of California, Los Angeles, he served as a clinical assistant professor with the Brown University Program in Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island, consulting with psychiatrists looking for possible neurological causes for their patients’ psychiatric symptoms. In Texas, he worked joined what is now Nexus Health Systems and became a clinical assistant professor at The University of Texas in Houston. Lilly focused his life’s work on treating brain-injury survivors and counseling their families, who were victims in their own right. He saw these “healers” as instrumental in guiding the injured loved one to a “new life.” He practiced in Arizona, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Texas, and wherever he was called to help. Before his death in 2021, Lilly lived in Washington, Texas, with his wife, Joyce, three dogs, six cats, and two horses.

 

Author photo Diane F. KramerDiane F. Kramer

Diane F. Kramer retired from the counseling and psychology departments of Austin Community College in 2008 and began writing personal essays, family histories, and fiction. As a volunteer with the Brenham Animal Shelter, she wrote a weekly column on animal welfare for The Brenham Banner Press. Her writing has also appeared in Alamo Bay Press anthologies and blogs Peace through Pie and Drash Pit. She currently writes website copy and press releases for Brenham Lifetime Learning and the Read of Washington County. She lives with her husband and their rescue dog and cat in rural Texas.

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Review: Annie in Paris by Carmen Reid

Annie In Paris

 

About the book, Annie in Paris 

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Boldwood Books (April 30, 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 336 pages

Personal shopper Annie Valentine is back! Older and bolder! Annie In Paris

Fashion guru Annie is struggling to cope with her hectic life. With the demands of two older children, plus four-year-old twins, her marriage to Ed is in a romance-free rut and she’s clinging by a couture thread to her job as the nation’s favourite fashion fixer.

And where is Svetlana, her multi-millionaire friend, when Annie needs her? Busy with an expensive mid-life crisis, that’s where!

When Ed gets the chance to teach in Paris, Annie thinks time apart could be the answer. Wrong!

In Paris, Ed transforms into a debonair silver fox, attracting the attentions of stylish siren Sylvie.

Annie can’t lose her man or the job she loves, so bundling her bags, her babies and a reluctant Svetlana onto the Eurostar, she sets off to the rescue. But can the City of Love deliver the ooh la la that her marriage, and her fashion series, so desperately needs?

Another brilliant laugh out loud emotional read, perfect for fans of Fiona Gibson, Tracy Bloom and Sophie Ranald!

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About the author, Carmen Reid Carmen Reid

Carmen Reid is the bestselling author of numerous woman’s fiction titles including the Personal Shopper series starring Annie Valentine. After taking a break from writing she is back, introducing her hallmark feisty women characters to a new generation of readers. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and children.

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

I’m new to Carmen Reid’s Annie Valentine series, but she provided a helpful character guide at the beginning of the book, which made jumping in at book seven much easier. It’s possible that I would have noticed different details or responded to in-jokes if I were more familiar with the series, but I felt this book, Annie in Paris, was perfectly enjoyable as a stand-alone.

I really loved that Annie is the working mother of young twins plus older children, and that we get to see the very real (if humor-injected) struggle of managing work and family.  I also appreciated that Annie is, essentially, a problem-solver, even though some of her solutions are over the top.

The ultimate example of this is, of course, the premise of the novel itself: when her husband, who is off in Paris on a work trip, is photographed sitting a little too close to his female colleague, Annie arranges for childcare, calls her producers (she’s a tv host) and goes to Paris herself.

Added to the mix is Annie’s close friend, Svetlana, who is feeling age creeping a bit to close – she joins the chaos in France as well, getting a much needed wardrobe update in the process.

Author Reid has given us some serious subjects in this book – fidelity (or lack thereof), aging, work/life-balance – but she wraps everything with the perfect combination of poignance and organic humor.

Overall, this is a lovely story, the perfect read for summer.

Goes well with: warm croissants, fresh strawberries, and café au lait.


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Review: Just a Hat by Shanah Khubiar

BNR Just a Hat

 

About the book, Just a Hat Cover Just a Hat

  • Genre: Young Adult / Coming of Age / Jewish Fiction / Small-Town Texas / 1970s
  • Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
  • Page Count: 254
  • Publication Date: July 18, 2023
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Action-packed, humorous, and bittersweet, this 1970s-era coming-of-age novel is more relevant than ever–exploring how a second-generation immigrant kid in a new hometown must navigate bullying, unexpected friendships, and the struggle of keeping both feet firmly planted in two very different cultures.

It’s 1979, and thirteen-year-old Joseph Nissan can’t help but notice that small-town Texas has something in common with Revolution-era Iran: an absence of fellow Jews. And in such a small town it seems obvious that a brown kid like him was bound to make friends with Latinos–which is a plus, since his new buds, the Ybarra twins, have his back. But when the Iran hostage crisis, two neighborhood bullies, and the local reverend’s beautiful daughter put him in all sorts of danger, Joseph must find new ways to cope at home and at school.

As he struggles to trust others and stay true to himself, a fiercely guarded family secret keeps his father at a distance, and even his piano teacher, Miss Eleanor–who is like a grandmother to him–can’t always protect him. But Joseph is not alone, and with a little help from his friends, he finds the courage to confront his fears and discovers he can inspire others to find their courage, too.

Just a Hat is an authentically one-of-a-kind YA debut that fuses the humor of Firoozeh Dumas’s Funny in Farsi with the poignancy of Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue.

This book comes with an Educator’s Guide.

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About the author, Shanah Khubiar Author Photo Khubiar

Shanah Khubiar is a retired law enforcement officer, and she is now self-employed as a subject matter specialist. She holds a BS and MEd in education from East Texas State University and a PhD in philosophy.

A student of her Persian ancestry, she incorporates (Mizrachi) Middle Eastern Jewry into her fiction, examining the historical challenges and triumphs of a different culture and narrative than what usually appears in literature. Khubiar is a sometime resident and always fan of most things Texas.

Connect with Shanah:

Website | GoodReads | Amazon | BookBub | X (Twitter) | Blackstone Publishing


My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Shanah Khubiar’s new young adult novel, Just a Hat is a brilliant, sometimes discomfiting, portrayal of what it’s like to be “other” in America.

Set in the Texas of the late 1970s, with the Iran hostage crisis as its background, this story introduces us to teenaged Joseph (Youssef) Nissan, the only Jewish-Iranian boy in his class. We walk with him as he navigates the cultural differences he experiences – he’s brown skinned, so gets along with the Mexican boys, especially Roberto and Mateo who are both friends and defenders, but he’s not Latino. He’s Persian. He’s a piano student but practicing on Shabat is considered “work” and therefore disallowed. And then there’s the whole thing about not being allowed to touch girls, even casually. It’s a lot to handle when you’ve got feet in different worlds – the secular world at large, and the closer, religious world of his family.

As someone who is not Jewish, but sort of Jewish-adjacent (my stepfather was Jewish, and his mother, my Bubbie, was a special person in my life) I found the glimpses of Iranian Jewish traditions particularly interesting. I’m familiar with eastern-European (Ashkenazi) traditions, and have been recently learning more about Iberian (Sephardic) traditions, but it’s my understanding that most Iranian Jews are actually Mizrahi, and the specifics were new to me.

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What I loved was the relationship Joseph had with Miss Eleanor – LaLa – the elderly piano teacher whom he helps out by buying groceries and other household tasks. I also appreciated that Joseph and his Baba – his father – managed to work through family history and family secrets and end up with a closer relationship after tackling difficult subjects.

The title can be taken literally – the different hats Joseph wears include his kippah (yarmulke) and his football helmet. But it also works as a metaphor, representing the different “hats” we all wear, – the roles we have in life – including those we use in order to hide our true selves for whatever reason.

Overall, I found this to be a very moving story, with interesting characters, and a well-paced coming-of-age plot. At times very serious, because it deals with fear, racism, and antisemitism, it’s also heartfelt and full of humor – the kind that comes from real life.

Goes well with: peach sharbet.


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In Their Words: Caroline James, author of The French Cookery School

 

 

I’m so excited to bring you this guest post from Caroline James, author of The French Cookery School. I read the novel, and it’s a delightful story full of food, France, friendship, and second-chance romance. Scroll down for purchase links after guest post.  I also reviewed one of her previous novels, The Cruise. Thanks to Ms. James and Rachel’s Random Resources for this opportunity.

The French Cookery School

In Their Words: Caroline James Caroline Cooking - Source: https://www.carolinejamesauthor.co.uk/

In this guest post I ask – what is it about romcom fiction that keeps readers coming back for more?

 

When asked what genre I write, I’m never quite sure how to answer and romcom is generally my reply. My books feature romance at the heart of every story and always a happy ending but I endeavour to cover serious issues and include plenty of humour too.

 

So what is romcom?  Romantic comedies, or romcoms for short, have long been a popular genre in fiction and audiences have always been drawn to stories of love, laughter, and happily-ever-after endings. At its core, romcom fiction is all about the journey of two people falling in love. The best romcoms not only make us laugh, but they also make us care deeply about the characters and their relationships. We root for them to overcome obstacles and find their way to each other, even if we know that the outcome is predetermined. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that, no matter how crazy and chaotic life gets, true love will always find a way.

 

Romcoms allow us to escape into a world where the odds may be stacked against our protagonists, but their determination and chemistry ultimately win out. We can live vicariously through their ups and downs, knowing that, in the end, everything will work out just the way it’s supposed to. In recent years, thankfully, there’s also been a push for more diverse representation in romcoms, which has opened up the genre to a wider audience and allowed for even more wonderful stories to be told.

 

Romcoms also offer a refreshing break from the heavier, more serious stories that dominate much of fiction. While there’s certainly a place for complex dramas and serious literary works, romcoms remind us that sometimes, having fun is okay. They offer a chance to escape into a light-hearted world where love and laughter are the only things that truly matter. I love to leave my readers feeling uplifted and in a good mood.

 

So the next time you’re in the mood for a little romance, a feel-good movie and a lot of fun, don’t hesitate to pick up a rom-com!


About the book, The French Cookery School  The-French-Cookery-School-cover

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ One More Chapter (April 25, 2024)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ April 25, 2024
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English

Mix together a group of mature students:

A culinary Sloane, a take-away cook and a food journalist.

Add in:

A handsome host

Season with:

A celebrity chef

Bring to the boil:

At a luxurious cookery school in France!

 

Waltho Williams has no idea what he’s letting himself in for when he opens the doors of La Maison du Paradis, his beautiful French home. But with dwindling funds, a cookery school seems like the ideal business plan.

Running away from an impending divorce, super-snob Caroline Carrington hopes a luxurious cookery holiday will put her back on her feet. Blackpool fish and chip café owner Fran Cartwright thinks she’s won the lottery when her husband Sid books her on a week working alongside a celebrity chef. Meanwhile, feeling she is fading at fifty, journalist Sally Parker-Brown hopes her press week covering the cookery course will enable her to boost her career.

But will the eclectic group be a recipe for success, or will the mismatched relationships sink like a souffle?

Whip out an apron, grab a wooden spoon and take a culinary trip to La Maison du Paradis, then sit back and enjoy The French Cookery School!

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About the author, Caroline James Caroline James

Caroline James always wanted to write, but instead of taking a literary route, followed a career in the hospitality industry, which included owning a pub and a beautiful country house hotel. She was also a media agent representing celebrity chefs. When she finally glued her rear to a chair and began to write, the words flowed, and several novels later, she has gained many bestseller badges for her books.

Her Amazon Top Five Bestseller, The Cruise, is described as: ‘Girl power for the over sixties!’ Caroline’s hilarious novels include The Spa Break and The Best Boomerville Hotel, depicted as ‘Britain’s answer to the Best Marigold Hotel’.

The French Cookery School is set in the magical environment of La Maison du Paradis, where an eclectic group of guests get more than they bargained for when they come together for an unforgettable week.

Caroline likes to write in Venus, her holiday home on wheels and in her spare time, walks with Fred, her Westie, or swims in a local lake. Caroline is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the SoA, ARRA and the Society of Women’s Writers & Journalists. She is also a speaker with many amusing talks heard by a variety of audiences, including cruise ship guests.

Books by Caroline James:

The French Cookery School

The Cruise

The Spa Break

Hattie Goes to Hollywood

Boomerville at Ballymegille

The Best Boomerville Hotel

Coffee Tea the Gypsy & Me

Coffee Tea the Chef & Me

Coffee Tea the Caribbean & Me

Jungle Rock

Connect with Caroline:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | X (Twitter)


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