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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Review: A Kiss in Kashmir by Monica Saigal

A Kiss in Kashmir

 

About the book, A Kiss in Kashmir A Kiss. in Kashmir by Monica Saigal

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Bodes Well Publishing (January 1, 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 236 pages

Sharmila, a painter entering the autumn of her life, had gently set aside hopes of love after a heart-wrenching loss. In Kashmir to orchestrate her daughter Alina’s wedding, Sharmila never anticipated that the universe was crafting a different plan—one of second chances and unexpected love.

She crosses paths with George, a professor of Indian art history and a kindred spirit bearing the weight of lost love. Together, they explore Kashmir’s lush valleys, snow-draped mountains, clear lakes, and ancient shrines. A fragile romance quietly blossoms, gently guiding their hearts toward a future neither dared to dream of.

Is it possible for a single glance to kindle a connection, or for one to find a soulmate twice?
Yet, as their burgeoning love blooms, a startling revelation threatens to cut their story short. With the breathtaking beauty of Kashmir as its canvas, “A Kiss in Kashmir” is a touching story of love, loss, and second chances.

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About the author, Monica Saigal Monica Saigal 01

Equal parts storyteller and globe-trotter, Monica Saigal (Bhide), is an award-winning author, accomplished literary coach, and educator who transcends countless borders—chronological, geographical, religious, and economical—to inspire her readers. Born in New Delhi, raised in the Middle East, and now residing outside Washington, D.C., she currently serves as a corporate storyteller for one of the world’s leading professional services companies.

 

Monica writes in a variety of genres and has written best-selling short story collections and heartwarming love stories, as well as acclaimed memoirs and cookbooks—Eat Your Books chose Monica’s memoir, A Life of Spice as one of the top five food memoirs of 2015 and Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi picked Monica’s Modern Spice as one of the “Best Books Ever” for Newsweek in 2009. Her novel, Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken, is a book club favorite and inspired the NPR café in Washington, D.C., to serve up creations inspired by her protagonist chef. Her much anticipated upcoming novel, A Kiss in Kashmir will be released in February 2024.

Connect with Monica:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

There are so many words I can think of to describe A Kiss in Kashmir: magical, beautiful, colorful, soulful, tender.  Using the titular Kashmir as the setting, author Saigal has immersed the reading in the colors and culture of the region while spinning a believable romance between mature adults.

Art is a key theme, but also the way life’s sadnesses are balanced by joy. The central event in this story a wedding, but it’s the mother of the bride, Sharmila the painter, who is the primary figure in the composition. When she meets George, who teaches Indian art history, she finds a kindred spirit, and a second chance at love in the latter half of her life.

I liked the way Saigal balanced the art and history, the male and female, the old and young, in this story. I appreciated the way art wasn’t just something characters talked about, but something they lived. I wanted to step inside one of Sharmila’s paintings just so I would have a better view of her life.

Saigal’s writing style is also worthy of note. It begins with simple sentences, but they grow in complexity, becoming almost lyrical as the story unfolds. Unexpectedly, this novel was a quick read for me – it felt so fluid that I didn’t realize how much I was speeding through it, until, as sometimes happens with very vivid stories, I came to the end and felt myself having to readjust to my own world.

Overall, this is a deeply satisfying novel with excellent characters and rich storytelling.

Goes well with: fish curry and rice.

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Review: A Beggar’s Bargain, by Jan Sikes – with Giveaway

BNR A Beggar's Bargain

 

About the book, A Beggar’s Bargain

  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Literary Fiction
  • Publisher: Fresh Ink Group
  • Date of Publication: March 12, 2024
  • Number of Pages: 324 pages
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Cover A Beggar's BargainA shocking proposal that changes everything

Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.

Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and for time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an alternative proposition—marry his unwanted daughter, Sara Beth, in exchange for a two-year extension. Out of options, money, and time, Layken agrees to the bargain.

Now, he has two years to make a living off the land while he shares his life with a stranger.

If he fails at either, he’ll lose it all.

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About the author, Jan Sikes Author Photo Sikes

Jan Sikes writes compelling and creative stories from the heart.

 

She openly admits that she never set out in life to be an author, although she’s been an avid reader all her life. But she had a story to tell. Not just any story, but a true story that rivals any fiction creation. She brought the entertaining true story to life through fictitious characters in an intricately woven tale that encompasses four books, accompanying music CDs, and a book of poetry and art.

 

And now, this author can’t put down the pen. She continues to write fiction in a variety of genres and has published many award-winning short stories and novels.

 

Jan is an active blogger, a member of Story Empire, a devoted fan of Texas music, and a grandmother of five. She resides in North Texas.

Connect with Jan:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

While I’m not typically a fan of the forced marriage trope, I am familiar with author Jan Sikes’s work, and trust her ability to tell a good story, so I gave A Beggar’s Bargain a chance, and I’m so glad I did. From the first page to the last, this book is a tender, honest, period piece that shows the real meaning of “chosen family” and the strength behind such creations.

 

I found myself completely absorbed by Laykin and Sara Beth’s story – how they formed a partnership, then welcomed ‘Uncle Seymour’ into their home to become a team, adding stray humans and animals as they went along, showing that kindness is a universal quality, and trust can be restored even after it’s been lost.

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Sikes’s language in this book is plain, but not simple, and while the details of this story were definitely gritty, with challenges and villains that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic western, the way she made everyday people seem special and interesting reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder – if the Little House books had been written for an adult audience.

 

Maybe, then, Jan Sikes is one of Wilder’s spiritual successors, because this tale about a Little Farmhouse in Missouri has the makings of a classic. It’s also the first book in a series, and I’m excited to learn what happens next.

 

Goes well with cold tea and warm cornbread… or coffee and homemade chocolate cake.


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04/09/24 Forgotten Winds Guest Post
04/09/24 Hall Ways Blog Book Trailer
04/10/24 The Clueless Gent Review
04/10/24 LSBBT Blog Excerpt
04/11/24 The Book’s Delight Review
04/12/24 The Page Unbound Author Interview
04/13/24 Bibliotica Review
04/14/24 StoreyBook Reviews Top Ten List
04/15/24 It’s Not All Gravy Review
04/16/24 The Real World According to Sam Excerpt
04/17/24 Rox Burkey Blog Review
04/18/24 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review

 

 

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Review & Giveaway: To Rescue a Witch by Lisa A Traugott

BNR To Rescue a Witch PUBH

 

About the book, To Rescue a Witch COVER Traugott_RescueWitch_Ebook

  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Action & Adventure / Witch Trials
  • Page Count: 398 pages
  • Publication Date: March 1, 2024
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It’s 1739. An abused girl accused of witchcraft must be defended by a man married to an actual witch.

William MacLeod, a fierce Scottish lawyer with a kind heart, takes on a daunting task—rescue young Annaliese from the clutches of her tormentors in the untamed wilds of Virginia colony and deliver her safely to her aristocratic father in London. But lurking in the shadows are enemies eager to expose MacLeod’s own wife, Fiona, as a witch with a dark secret.

Their perilous journey takes an unexpected turn when their ship wrecks, and Annaliese’s haunting nightmares and unexplained Devil Marks trigger suspicion among the crew. Tension peaks when MacLeod must become Annaliese’s unwavering protector in a witch trial, where Fiona’s clairvoyance and a murder are unveiled.

To Rescue a Witch navigates themes of betrayal and redemption, in a spellbinding narrative that blends history, magic, and the unyielding resilience of the human spirit.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the Author, Lisa A. Traugott author photo Traugott

Lisa A. Traugott is an award-winning author and World Championship public speaker semifinalist — who also spoke five lines on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She lives in Austin with her husband, two kids and English bulldog, Bruno.

Connect with Lisa:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

Lisa A. Traugott’s new novel To Rescue a Witch is brilliant and powerful, telling the story of three different women (one is really a little girl) and one Scotsman in alternating points of view. It’s very much a portrait of the social strictures of the period – it’s set in 1739 – but it’s also, by turns, an action-adventure, a vigilante tale, a romance, a courtroom saga, and a redemption story. Add witchcraft, a shipwreck, and intense family drama to the mix, and this book has something for everyone.

At the center is William McLeod, a kindhearted lawyer who needs significant nudging from his wife, Fiona, in order to heed the better angels of his nature. Author Traugott has done a masterful job depicting him has a flawed human being who is sometimes too quick to act but is trying to curb his baser instincts.

Surrounding McLeod are three women, whose stories are told in alternating chapters. Fiona, McLeod’s wife is a devoted mother, a loving spouse, and an actual witch who makes protective charms and has portentous dreams. Lady Margaret is the epitome of a fairytale villainous queen translated to the real world of eighteenth century Scotland. And then there’s Annaliese. If McLeod is the central male figure of this novel, Fiery, feisty, nine-and-a-half-year-old Annaliese is the central female figure. Raised in filth and brutality by her stepfather, it’s really amazing that she’s alive at all, let alone serving as a protector to her younger half-brother. Like Fiona, she also has portentous dreams, but as a child doesn’t know how to filter what she shares.

While the novel has moments of lightness and humor, the opening chapters, especially, are brutal and visceral, with mentions of sexual abuse of children and violence toward children, women, and men.

Overall, To Rescue a Witch is a compelling story, with equal measures of explicit physical situations, poignant emotional scenes, and high-seas adventure, blended with a healthy dose of witch trials and the politics of the period. The characters are dimensional, each with their own failings and graces, and the dialogue is a rich blend of early American English, Scots English, and  British English.

It’s a worthy read, and one that is not soon forgotten.

Goes well with: baked salmon and mashed potatoes, followed by a healthy shot of whisky.

 


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Spotlight and Review: The Knotted Ring by Myra Hargrave McIlvain

BNR The Knotted Ring Blitz

 

I’m thrilled to be spotlighting this book today. It looks like a moving story rich in history and character.

About the book, The Knotted Ring Cover The Knotted Ring

  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Family Saga / Historical Romance
  • Publisher: Next Chapter
  • Page Count: 412
  • Publication Date: December 7, 2023
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Susannah Mobley, expecting a baby by her lover, a slave owned by her family, submits to an arranged marriage to Hezekiah James who is headed to Texas to claim a Spanish land grant. Caught in a series of lies about the origin of a beautiful ring woven from her red hair and the circumstances of her pregnancy, Susannah embarks on the harsh trip to Texas, grieving for her lost love and determined to control her destiny.

On the wagon train journey, Hezekiah is tested by his beliefs and strengths with his slaves and Native Americans, as well as a strange Mad Stone. His determination to build a plantation as fine as Susannah’s home place and to make the best decisions for Susannah fails. Susannah will have to decide if she can live with the consequences of her lies and open herself to this man who shows every form of contrition or if she will allow longing for what she cannot have to destroy her life.

The Knotted Ring is currently a semi-finalist in the Laramie Awards for Western and Americana Fiction.

Praise for this book:

“An often engrossing and well-handled story of the 19th century.” —Kirkus Reviews

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About the author, Myra Hargrave McIlvain Author Photo McIlvain

Myra Hargrave McIlvain, a sixth-generation Texan, is a storyteller who has written Texas historical markers (yes, real people write those things lining Texas highways), articles for newspapers and magazines such as Texas Highways, and six nonfiction books about famous and infamous Texas characters and places.

McIlvain found her real love when she wrote her first historical fiction. All her tales take place in Texas during major periods of its history. However, The Knotted Ring was inspired by an old family story, and in her search to understand what may have happened, she imagined their lives set in a time that she knew well––the establishment of the first Anglo colony.

McIlvain views history as the story of a people; the people she knows best have made Texas home.

Connect with Myra:

Website | FacebookX (Twitter) | Amazon | Goodreads

 

 

 

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

There are some books that you race through, and there are others that are better experienced as a slow simmer, taking time to truly savor the emotional truths and excellent research the author wrote into it. The Knotted Ring, by Myra Hargrave McIlvain is definitely one of the latter.

This story focuses on Susannah – her forbidden love, her struggle in the confines of a period in time where women didn’t have a lot of choice, and the trials and tribulations that come with life on the frontier. She’s a strong woman living in nearly impossible conditions, and I enjoyed meeting her, though I also felt for her situation.

This author is obviously highly skilled at her craft, because even though this novel abounds with lies and lawlessness and the hardship of a journey in less-than-ideal conditions, its heart is the often-strained, but still deep, relationship of a woman and man. The weaving in of Texas history felt organic and not overly expositional, and the plot moved at an acceptable pace.

Some novels are quick cups of soup – flavorful, but not necessarily sustaining. The Knotted Ring is a rich stew or Texas chili. Rich, hearty, and not without a little bit of bite in the form of social conventions and physical hardships. Ladle this novel into your reading bowl and immerse yourself in the storytelling. You won’t be sorry.

Goes well with: Chili made with brisket – no beans – and seasoned with “cowboy coffee.”


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Review: The Girls from Sandycove by Sian O’Gorman

The Girls From Sandycove

About the Book, The Girls of Sandycove

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Boldwood Books (January 23, 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 328 pages

THE GIRLS FROM SANDYCOVE hi 4 boldwood.A mother and daughter adrift, a friend in need, and a village to call home…

When Kate O’Hare discovers she’s pregnant, she is determined to return to her hometown of Sandycove in Dublin.

On the other side of the Atlantic, her estranged mother, international superstar, Lola, is heartbroken following the loss of her soulmate, Paulie. On hearing Kate’s plan, Lola follows her, seeking a second chance at motherhood.

Kate discovers her best friend, Flora, is back in her childhood bedroom, her marriage and self-esteem in tatters following her husband’s public betrayal.

Flora now finds herself with no husband, home, or future, while her own mother Patsy is stepping out of her comfort zone into the world of interiors. Can Patsy’s new life reignite Flora’s talent and creativity?

And what of the O’Hare family secret which has the power to unlock a pathway to greater mutual understanding? And will music and the magic of Sandycove be enough to empower the women through such challenging times?

An emotive story of forgiveness, new beginnings and happy-ever-afters…

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the Author, Sian O’Gorman Sian O'G

Sian O’Gorman was born in Galway and now lives just along the coast from Dublin. She works as a radio producer alongside writing contemporary women’s fiction inspired by friend and family relationships.

Connect with Sian:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

This was my first “visit” to Sandycove, but it definitely won’t be my last.

In The Girls from Sandycove, author Sian O’Gorman has given us a story about mothers and daughters, exploring both the mother-daughter dynamic and exploring each role on its own. Her subject matter is universal, and her characters are relatable – who hasn’t run home to mom (at least figuratively) when their life has gone sour? Who hasn’t sometimes felt overshadowed by a particularly successful parent? (My own mother freely  admits that she prefers to always be the center of attention.)

So, this story of Flora and Patsy, Kate and Lola is written with realistic dialogue and mostly plausible situations. I liked that each mother-daughter pair had conflict but also drew strength from each other, and I loved that all of this was centered around Sandycove, a village “near Dublin.”

As someone who never really had a hometown, I’ve always been drawn to “hometown stories,” and this novel is no exception. There’s a special kind of magic in returning to the place where you grew up – nostalgic on one level, but a bit like a faded postcard on another – and O’Gorman has captured all of it, making Sandycove its own character.

If you like heartwarming family drama, strong female characters, and a story where people struggle but ultimately grow, read The Girls from Sandycove.

Goes well with: a sunny day, sandy feet, and sharing a bottle of prosecco with your mother, your daughter, or both.


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